When JG and I went on our long-awaited vacation home, he made sure our scheduled was packed with trips. Determined was he to see as much of the Philippines as he can. I wasn’t so keen on this as much as he was, since I just really wanted to spend time with my family; but I really couldn’t fight JG on this since I know how much he was looking forward to get around after being stuck in the house in Tripoli. Plus it really doesn’t feel right when you are able to travel other countries while you haven’t seen as much of your own.
The first on our scheduled trip was to Bohol, an island located in the Central Visayan region of the Philippines. Aside from seeing the exotic Tarsiers in person, there really wasn’t much for me to look forward to seeing there. Of course there was the infamous Chocolate Hills, but like I said I only went to pay homage, as part of our quest to experience as much of our homeland. And anyway, like I always say, invite me for a swim anywhere and I’m there.
We went right after a tropical depression and were hoping that the weather would cooperate with us during our stay. When we arrived, it was looking promising; the sun was shining brightly when Mr. Vass picked us up at the airport. Mr. Vass is an Englishman who co-owned with his Filipina wife Isla Hayahay, the resort that we stayed in.
Isla Hayahay is hidden away in a small barrio outside the capital Tagbilaran, we had to pass by some dirt roads to get there, the kind that has been neglected by modern paving systems and the ones that are so narrow you’d have to sometimes park at the side to give way to bigger vehicles passing at the opposite direction. After a long stretch of mangroves later, and some locals having some chat in their makeshift roadside shades we arrived at a small villa with six small cottages surrounding a small garden. At the far side is a big open house where guests eat, or can enjoy a relaxing moment while reading a book from their small library or watch a DVD which they also have shelved. Right after the open house is a big wooden veranda that leads all the way down the ocean, where you can go for a swim or lie down in one of the hammocks while you look at the view that can see all the way to the island of Cebu.
I really have to say that the best part about the entire trip was staying at Isla Hayahay, simply because I really did not feel like I went to a resort. To me it felt more like visiting a relative that I haven’t seen in a long time. One thing new to me is that we did not have a schedule to follow; we were told early on that we can do everything in our own time, since as Mr. Vass pointed out that it was our vacation after all. The staff was all nice and friendly, and it wasn’t like the usual hotel staff that is there for the job, it is hard to explain but I could feel their genuine effort to make us feel as at home as possible. Plus, the two owners were not stuck in the office somewhere, they were there for you anytime, for whatever you need, even for a bit of intellectual chat about life, and living the Philippine way of life.
Another great thing about the place is the food, Oh my God the food! I am really not that good at describing cuisines, but let me make the pictures speak for themselves:
It isn’t just the how good all this is, one must also account the amount given to us, all this for just the two of us! It was really unlike many hotels where you find yourself being served with a tiny amount that is insulting even to a small child.
Anyway we availed of the resort’s package deal which includes a snorkeling trip, island hopping, and tour of Bohol. Unfortunately for us, our pleas of good climate were not approved and the weather did not cooperate, it wasn’t so bad but the entire trip was filled with gloomy pictures, staying indoors, and slippery roads that even lead to a slight accident.
But like I said, the people from the resort really made things better despite the set-backs. On the first day we decided that we wanted to go snorkeling, so we got into Mr. Vass’ small motor boat with an uber affectionate-towards-each-other French-Asian couple, plus another guide to help us through the waters. I was really looking forward to this part of the trip excited to test my new found techniques in swimming. After some spitting on my snorkeling gear for a clearer view, I made a decision. I really hate how the life vest raises up to my neck and armpits and how I couldn’t go down deeper if I wanted a closer look at the reefs below. So despite JG’s disapproval, and having had to break my solemn promise to my mom that I will wear a vest, I decided to brave the deep waters without it, despite not being an experienced swimmer. I was struggling at first and was afraid to go farther from the boat but Mr. Vass assured me that it was going to be okay and that he will make sure to watch over me. That gave me a bit of confidence, which to my great pleasure made the whole exercise a lot more fun. I saw a lot of great big live clams and many interesting sort of fishes. JG on the other hand struggled a bit as well especially none of the vests fit him; to which I found weird that he insisted on using one since he was a better swimmer than I am. It would’ve been a lot better if the weather wasn’t so cloudy and dark, but it was a memorable experience just the same, especially how proud I was of myself for going out without a vest. I got an earful from my mom, but what’s life without a little risk, yes?
The next day we were scheduled for more swimming, which was dampened by the news that we were only going to visit one island because the waves were too big to go the next one. I am sad to say that was probably the worst island hopping experience I’ve been to so far. We had the island all to ourselves, but the water was too murky to enjoy, and it was raining a bit which made things a bit cold making swimming a little less enticing. JG and I entertained ourselves by exploring the island, and I was able to get a lot of nice shells for my collection. The couple we were with was a bit more preoccupied with each other, they were probably making the locals a tad embarrassed with their public display of affection but they neither cared nor felt it anyway, so on they went.
On the way back, the waves were even more unfriendly and we had to endure the cold winds and the onslaught of raindrops that felt like thousands of little pellets hitting me as it countered the speed of our boat. I didn’t mind much, it was still fun at least, but the Asian lady couldn’t take it and had to borrow Frenchy’s shirt and hide under their towel. When we got back, JG and I felt that we were left wanting so we decided to stay by the shore and swim a bit more, since the water near the resort were much more clearer than the one by the island. In fact it was so clear JG and I had a sort of Benny Hill moment when we saw a snake like creature swimming under the waters, to which unanimously decided that we had in fact enough swimming for the day.
The final part of the Bohol trip was of course the tour. By then we had given up praying that the weather was going to get better to at least give us a day of sun and blue skies. The night before that, the rain pounded as if endlessly, which again gave another opportunity for the resort staff to show off their hospitality by bringing our dinner to our cottage where we can enjoy more of their glorious food on our little balcony. So anyway, on the tour, we were picked up by a van with three other couples staying at the resort. Our guide/driver was also a really nice guy, but I would have to say could do more with his touring skill. He would point out a school or a church, add some superlatives like it being one of the oldest or the biggest, and would leave it at that.
Again, the weather made things a lot less interesting and fun, always the root of us having to make do with what should’ve been more. Our first stop was a visit to a small zoo that features the biggest Anaconda in the Philippines, as its main attraction. It was actually more like a backyard of some guy that takes care of exotic animals. It also has some monkeys, eagles, snakes, and of course Samantha, the prized pet of the place; a 50 feet Anaconda who has been visited by many Philippine celebrities, as seen in the pictures proudly displayed by her cage. The puddles made it hard for me to get closer to the cages, and the cages had really small grid-like designs which made it even more difficult to get good pictures. I must admit though that I never really enjoyed us Filipinos idea of zoos, I suppose other countries are now more concerned with the animals in their care, as suppose to ours which are more keen on making sure that the guests are safe from any incident or that they are prevented from feeding the animals or doing funny things. Whenever I go to such places I feel bad for the animals, I keep thinking if they could talk would they asked to be freed or would they wouldn’t they know any better being in captivity for so long?
We also stopped by this old gothic church, and were supposed to go inside their museum but were turned away and were told that the place closes at lunch time.
The coolest stop for me was going down the Hinagdanan Cave. The cave was discovered decades ago, which has this great big pool inside. Had I known we were going to such a place I would’ve prepared some swimming gear, but anyway we did not have enough time to stop.
Our scheduled lunch was at one of the famous floating restaurant which would have nice except the boat did not sale because the current was too strong. The food was okay, but it took some time for the food to be refilled to which is understanding since the only way to get in the boat was through a make shift bridge of chairs and tables since the pathway was already flooded with water. JG said that you we were also supposed to be serenaded by a popular children’s choir during the boat ride but was of course cancelled once again due to the bad weather.
Like I mentioned earlier I was more inclined to going to sanctuaries rather than zoos or others since I feel much better watching animals in habitats made for their well-being more than for tourists. But once again due to the bad weather, visiting the Tarsier Sanctuary was erased from the itinerary and we had to settle for this small Nipa hut that shelters a handful of the little guys and were surrounded by souvenir shops. I learned earlier on that the Tarsiers are sensitive little creatures who would commit suicide by banging their fragile heads at the slightest stress. So I wondered how those cute, wide-eyed, creatures were able to handle all those people taking their pictures, bothering their sleep.
And finally, the worst part the bad weather did was getting us into a slight accident. The road was really slippery, and I guess our driver was in a bit of hurry since we were already behind schedule I don’t know why. A small tricycle driven by an elderly man with a few passengers on board were for some reason parked on the road, our driver who probably thought he could over take them without lessening his speed miscalculated and hit the side of his van on the butt of the tricycle sending it leaping off the road while shattering a corner of the front glass of the van sending pieces of glass on JG and I who were sitting in front. Thankfully none of the people there got hurt, and JG and I were left unscathed. We soldiered on, despite losing a our right front signal light and I suppose the view of the Chocolate Hills made up for the bit of stress we encountered on the way.
I have to say that Bohol isn’t one of the best trips we’ve had, it was to be honest a little bit down at the list, but I suppose God wants us to go back to Bohol, so we can enjoy its beauty to the fullest hopefully with better weather next time.