Distant Serenity

Our second full day travelling through Bohol’s lush, verdant environment was even more far reaching than the first. After a quick, early breakfast consisting of a variety of small dishes, including a pumpkin and lentil soup with a unique flavour I couldn’t put my finger on, we were off once again, out and away from Tagbilaran. This time, our first destination wasn’t too far from the city. The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary was where we were headed.

The tarsier is the smallest primate in the world and has a very distinct look that was apparently the inspiration for both E.T. as well as Yoda from Star Wars. A full grown adult can fit in the palm of the human hand and their eyes are large and gaping. A long tail assists the tarsier with balance and movement. Like the Orang-utan, this species has a very limited range on the geographic scale. Existing for tens of millions of years, only a handful of locations are now a natural home to the tarsier; Bohol is one of those locales. Again, like the Orang-utan, deforestation and human mistreatment are the primary ails of the tarsier. The sanctuary we visited is quite possibly the only legitimate human establishment in Bohol with an interest in conserving the natural home of these truly adorable creatures. A slew of “conservation” areas on the island are really just cash grabs where the tarsier is mistreated. For anyone travelling here, or any of the few Southeast Asian islands home to the tarsier, if the tenants are allowing you to touch and hold these animals, it is NOT a sanctuary. It is harmful and stressful to them, and some have been known to cease food consumption until they die as a result of this kind of unnatural interaction.

After a 20-25 minute drive from the city, we arrived at the sanctuary as it opened around 9 AM. At the same time, a guide was arriving with some travellers. The tourists walked in while the guide waited at the entrance where Teresa and I were enjoying an early-morning Djarum before entering the grounds ourselves. Here, we struck up a conversation with him and he was able to provide us with some background information on the tarsier as well as the island itself. He was very kind to go out of his way to do this considering we weren’t paying customers, just independent travellers who happened to run into him.

Our stay was a lot briefer than we’d expected, and it all fell into the notion of not disrupting the tarsier or being in their presence for a long enough period to induce any level of stress. There was a multi-acre area where we could enter and where the tarsiers could come and go as they please, whether in the sanctuary or beyond its boundaries and into the deeper forests of Bohol. A conservation worker led us and three Filipino travellers through the sanctuary to where some of the tarsier come on a regular basis. The workers know where several of the tarsier will be as the animals have marked these locations with their urine.

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We saw four different tarsier, and only for about half a minute each before moving on to the next. We’d seen pictures of them beforehand, but to see them up close, and to take in how tiny they actually are, was absolutely incredible. It’s hard to believe they are primates; there is a slight resemblance to what I imagine a koala bear to look like up close, but with some stark differences as well, particularly the eyes. They would rotate their heads ever so slowly to have a look at us.

Before we knew it, we were being led out the gate and back to the main building. Here, Teresa and I watched a 15 minute documentary filmed by a New Zealand production company in the early 2000s. It gave us a great deal more information about the tarsier, its genealogical history, its habitat, feeding habits, and so forth. While I would have liked to spend more time seeing the animals, I really appreciated the concern as to their mental and physical wellbeing. The entrance fee was dirt cheap and we wound up donating more to the conservation efforts before leaving, unprompted by anyone there, again emphasizing the legitimacy of the sanctuary. We weren’t being hounded to spend a single peso. It was a peaceful setting as well, completely surrounded by forestry and less than 10 other travellers in total.

That was how the day started, but we had a long way to go before it ended. It was still very early in the morning, but the sun was already deadly hot. We’d decided we wanted some more beach. I’d read about a place on the eastern part of the island called Anda. I’d heard the beaches were spectacular and that very few people made it out to this more remote part of the island, considering it was on the opposite side of Tagbilaran where almost everyone lands upon arrival. It was a two and a half hour drive, mostly along coastal road and through town after town, village after village. The drive was blissful, but scorching. Again, I had to cover up my neck to avoid severe burns.

There were plenty of food options along the way and a wide variety of inexpensive, exotic fruits to purchase. We consistently found Teresa’s favourite. There are several names for it, but in Vietnam (and in the Chinese grocery stores in Toronto) they’re called bonbons. On the outside, they look sort of like a longan, which is in the same family as the lychee. The inside is a bit different, though. The meat of it has a thicker texture, and it isn’t quite as juicy as a lychee or longan. They were very nourishing, though, and absolutely delicious.

After the long drive, we finally made it to Anda’s coastal road. Driving along, we saw numerous pathways to various beachside hotels and resorts. We had to blindly choose one, hoping that particular stretch of beach would be nice. We drove down a random pathway which led to a very nice resort with its own private beach. When we spoke with the ladies at reception, they told us that we had to spend 1000 pesos between the two of us to use all of their amenities, including the pool, as well as the private beach. That worked for us because we were hungry, thirsty, and dying to jump into the water. The beach was gorgeous and no one was on it, and the pool was very nice too.

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We spent several hours here, each enjoying a massive lunch, playing some pool under the veranda after it started to rain, and just having an all-around great time after the long drive. I had the best piña colada I’ve ever had in my life, with chunks of a large coconut that came right off of a tree in front of me. That’s about as fresh as it gets.

After our long relaxing day, we had another long drive ahead of us, back to Tagbilaran. The drive back down the coastal road was bitter with sharp drops of rain smacking into my face and neck as I sped along. When we got back to the main road, we stopped for gas. One of the attendants was a 20 year old (I asked him) with a massive assault rifle slung around his neck. He was a nice kid; he and I joked about how young he was to be carrying around such heavy armaments. He looked so young and innocent; I truly wondered if he was ready to use that kind of machinery if the situation called for it.

The ride back was long, a bit more rainy, and freedom-filled as always. I love the long motorbike rides. It always lifts my spirits to have the wind blowing through my hair and on my face.

Again, we spent the night in Tagbilaran in a low key way: enjoying food, walking around a bit, and retiring for the evening back at Marcelina’s. We had one more full day in Bohol before taking a 6AM ferry the morning afterwards back to Cebu City where we’d be flying across the Sulu Sea to the Philippine’s far west stretches, almost touching Borneo, as a matter of fact. And yet, with this short amount of time left on the exotic island, there was still so much more to attract our interest. Organic bee farms and edible flower salads? What the hell.

11 thoughts on “Distant Serenity

  1. This sounds like it was an excellent trip. I’m also glad you took the time to explain the differences between the legitimate sanctuary you visited and the establishments that are less concerned with the welfare of their animals. I hope that will help future travelers make informed decisions about where to spend their money.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope so as well Josh. It’s easy for travellers to get roped into visiting places that advertise themselves as sanctuaries when in fact they are zoos, or worse. I’ll be writing about a supposed crocodile sanctuary in Palawan that, upon further research, turned out to actually be a distributor of crocodile meat. Luckily we did a bit of research beforehand and skipped this brutal enclosure altogether.

      Liked by 1 person

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