Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - Bohol
My arrival in Bohol was a bit different than the way most people get there. Instead of arriving by plane or even a ferry, we arrived by banca, the modern version of the traditional banca (see photo at right). The banca is a large boat with twin outriggers, powered by a diesel truck engine and even with a normal truck gearbox. After an outstanding dive with more than 100 hammerhead sharks at Cabilao Island, we have motored to a wharf half way between Calape and Catagbacan on the south-west corner of the island.
Bohol is large island, about 80 long and 50 kilometres wide located 15 kilometres off Cebu in the Philippines. We are collected by two mini-buses belonging to the Bohol Beach Club. We start off on our scenic one hour and 45 minute trip to the resort which is located on Panglao Island at the southern end of Bohol Island. It is quite an interesting trip, past some very old villages with one, Loon, having a very attractive looking church which was built in 1753. We pass through Bohol's main town of Tagbilaran, a very lively and crowded place. The normal way to arrive in Tagbilaran is by plane from Manila or by ferry from Cebu (a very fast cat operates daily).
Bohol Beach Club is located at Alona Beach on Panglao Island which is connected to Tagbilaran by a causeway. The resort has very comfortable cabins spread out along a nice beach and the swimming pool has its own bar. The food here was quite good, with an excellent smorgasbord dinner on one night. The meals were inexpensive (entrees $4 to $7 and mains $8 to $12), beers $2 and soft drinks $1.
While here we did four dives which I have done as separate articles. Except for one dive which was of below average interest, we had an excellent two days of diving. Despite the high quality of the diving, there is far more to do on Bohol than just dive. This island has a tremendous amount of history, both natural and cultural, that is worth spending some time to see.
On our final day (after a lot of long, hard partying the night before) we went on a tour of Bohol. Our first stop was at Baclayon where there is a limestone church built in 1595. This 400 plus year old church (see photo at left) is presently undergoing restoration and is worth a look. From here we continued along the coast a bit to Loay before heading inland towards our destination, the Chocolate Hills. The first town we come to is Lobac which has another fascinating church almost 400 years old. This is even more amazing as a half completed bridge (at least that is what it looks like) has been built right up against the church and appears to have prevented the bridge being completed. At least it is comforting to realise that not only can Sydney be vandals when it comes to destroying the visage of its historic items.
We continue on our inland journey and are fascinated to see rice paddies spread over every piece of flat land. It is harvest time and the men and women are in the fields cutting and threshing the rice. After the rice is collected, it is laid out to dry. Every possible section of flat, dry land is used, including one lane of the main road. For 40 kilometres or so we see this repeated time after time. Even the centre of the small villages have rice drying.
Finally we arrive at the Chocolate Hills (see photo to right). These stunning features are composed of 1268 individual hills, shaped like scoops of ice cream. In between each hill the land is quite flat and covered by more rice paddies. The origin of the hills is a bit of contention, but the one thing that is known is that they are composed of limestone. One of the hills has on its top the Chocolate Hills Complex (from where the photo was taken), a small hotel, visitor centre, lookout and restaurant. From the lookout we get a fantastic view over most, if not all, of the hills. They are not chocolate in colour but mostly bright green but with a bit of brown. However, at the end of the dry season the grass covering the hills is dry and this apparently gives the hills their name. The hotel here looks not too bad, if not a bit basic although it does have a pool.
On the way back to our resort we stop off at a cockpit where there is big afternoon of cock fighting. We pay our $1 entry fee and enter the packed pit. The fights are held every couple of minutes and the noise is overwhelming. When a new fight is announced, the patrons shout and haggle with each other, it is difficult to follow how they can possibly arrange a bet. After a minute or two, the noise dies completely and then the fight begins. Within 60 seconds, it is over, one cock dead on the floor of the ring. Not a very nice entertainment, but worth visiting just to sample the real Philippines.
Soon after arriving back at the Bohol Beach Club it is time to leave for Manila. We travel back to Tagbilaran where the airport is located just on the outskirts of the town. The Philippine Airlines Fokker aircraft is already there and before too long we are in the air. Our eight days in the Philippines is almost over. I am not looking forward to going home as the trip has been most enjoyable.