The same way Bohol is smackdab in the middle of the Philippines’ Southern Visayas, its temporal placement in the overall trip was no different. When I look back on the entirety of September 2015, the few days that Teresa and I had on this highly discoverable tropical island were as immersive as they could have been. It’s one of those travel segments where everything just went as it should, we had everything that we needed, and we left knowing that we got the most out of what was available to us in the time we were there.
Returning from the Camotes Islands was a simple reversal of our way there, back over sea to Cebu’s mainland, back to the province’s busy, yet relaxed capital. But instead of heading back to the airport, it was the docks where our next point of departure lay. Despite some bad weather delaying us a little longer than usual, we were happily on our way to the island province of Bohol on a smaller, much faster ferry than that which took us to Pacijan. We cut across the straight between Cebu and Bohol; the view provided us with a spanning perspective of the two large islands on either side, its enormity really feeding into my excitement for how far from home we were and what possible adventure might lay ahead.
We landed ashore at Tagbilaran with about 45 minutes of daylight to spare. While we found a dozen or two guesthouses when exploring the city later on, there were few I was able to find online and even less so of those that fit within our usual budget vs. quality parameters. The one I wanted to look in to was Marcelina’s Guesthouse on Lamdagan Street, about a 15-20 minute walk from the port. I was extremely pleased to find out that the new phone I’d bought a couple of weeks before the trip had GPS service regardless of internet connection and at no additional charge, so long as there was some kind of reception in the area. WiFi improved it, but it still worked fairly well almost anywhere we visited. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually find this out until the next day. When we arrived in Tagbilaran, I was going based on what I’d written down from the internet. It took a few questions of locals to guide us in the right direction, but it wasn’t long until we set our eyes on Marcelina’s.
It turned out to be exactly what we were looking for and at a very reasonable price. Inside, a large map of the island gave us a visual perspective of what Bohol had to offer.
Additionally, reception was able to hook us up with a motorbike for our stay. It cost a bit more than what we were getting in the Camotes, but between being confined to walking and public transportation, it is and always will be a no-brainer for me. I had some exploring to do.
The bike we wound up getting was actually the best I’d rented in Southeast Asia. It was larger and had a lot more power than the little scooters we would typically get, handy though they’ve all been for me. It really gave me new perspective as to long distance driving possibilities. The scooters can get you a couple of hours’ worth of distance and you have to be very careful handling them (wait till I tell you about what happened to us in Palawan). Upgrade the size and quality of the bike, however, and there are some excellent possibilities for travel.
The next morning, we decided to head out for the day and it was a scorcher. We knew ahead of time to apply a reasonable amount of sunblock for the drive. The wind blowing on your face and body, incredible as it is, is a deceitful relief that provides absolutely no protection. For longer drives, which many in Bohol were, I wrapped a small towel around my neck where the skin is particularly vulnerable.
Our first destination to hit were the famed Chocolate Hills, deep in the island’s centre, close to a town named Carmen. We didn’t do a whole lot of research on how to access the area, so we mostly assumed that the drive would consist of a landscape that contained these unusual formations protruding from the earth. In fact, it was actually a specific location with an almost aerial viewpoint where you can take in the entirety of the hills. We found it by pure luck.
Along the way, I overestimated how much gas was in the tank and how soon we’d come across a station. We saw them every couple of kilometres for a long time and then right when I needed one, we suddenly stopped seeing them and had gone along too far to turn back. Right when we were beginning to worry, minimizing the acceleration to conserve as much as possible, we came across a tiny village where a corner store was selling litres of petrol in dirty glass Coca-Cola bottles. The gas, like in the Camotes, was a light reddish colour. In other areas of Asia that I’ve driven through, it was always a yellowish-green.
We took a break here, bought some apples and other fruit, and chatted with the lady who owned the store and a few of her family and friends. The ladies wanted to take pictures with us on their cellphones and a group of school kids said “Hi” from the next store over. It was a very curious and friendly vibe coming from everyone; Teresa and I felt more than welcome.
We continued on a route which took us to the coast, facing back towards Cebu from where we’d come. It was around this point that I somehow noticed that my phone’s GPS was tracking me. At first, I panicked, thinking I’d somehow deactivated airplane mode and was getting charged ridiculous sums of money for data roaming. Then I realized that I had this service available to me with fairly accurate precision in a remote part of the island. This was also when I’d realized I’d come the wrong way, thinking I was on the opposite side of the island, facing south towards the Bohol Sea. With my newfound GPS, that was the last time I let that happen.
After driving along the road, towards Carmen, we came across a string of mounds, a peripheral area of the Chocolate Hills. A group of school children were walking along where we had stopped, next to a field of rice paddies. They all wanted pictures with Teresa who happily obliged.
Further along, we wound up in Carmen, drove around for a bit, checked out the market, enjoyed one of the Djarum’s we’d bought in Manila, and then headed out the other side of town. It was along this next road that we came to the entrance of the actual viewpoint for the Chocolate Hills, by complete accident.
The entrance consisted of buying tickets and having several people approaching us about buying snacks and water. We got a couple of bottles for slightly inflated prices, and drove to the top. After parking and climbing a little over 200 steps, we got to the viewpoint and took it all in.
The drive back was gorgeous and unencumbered. We stopped for some lunch, otherwise just enjoying the cruise for the fun that it was. The landscape kept changing, from emerald green fields of rice, jungled forest (a large portion of which was apparently planted by environmental authorities several decades back) and the flowing Loboc River which was an interesting icy-blue colour and where travellers can take daytime river cruises. We drove past this area more than once during our stay in Bohol.
We’d already enjoyed so much of the island as day transitioned to night. We didn’t do much in Tagbilaran itself, mostly sampling the food and taking a couple of relaxing hours in a coffee shop to read and reflect. We still had a few days left to explore Bohol. The diversity of what the island had to offer us made it feel like we’d been there a whole lot longer.