Wednesday, 1 February 2012

From Siquijor to Bohol

In which the hills are chocolate and the trees are carpeted. 
Starring German the German and a bunch of knife wielding Russians.

Our luxurious stay on Siquijor came to an abrupt end with an early morning wake up – someone knocking on our door at 4:15am to check the mini bar before we left for our 6am ferry.  The horror of getting up so damn early is almost always offset with a lovely sunrise.  Jade and Chris continued on to Cebu City and we got out at Bohol. 
I hadn’t originally planned to go to Bohol but after the Canadian’s resounding recommendation it had to get added to the agenda.  Plus it has Chocolate Hills.  Alona Beach on a small island off the coast of Bohol is the main place to stay – the number of tourists and sheer scale of development was a rather nasty shock after our Siquijor luxury. It’s safe to say we didn’t exactly take to the place.

There is quite a lot to see on Bohol and if you had the time, which sadly, we didn’t, you could probably easily spend a few weeks exploring the beautiful coastline.  We hired a tricycle for the afternoon take us out to the Chocolate Hills and a Tarsier Sanctuary.  The trip out was long and rather cramped but through gorgeous rice terraces squeezed between patches of jungle and the steep slopes of the mountains.  Apparently in the right light, in certain seasons, the Chocolate Hills look like drops of chocolate. When we were there they mostly looked like very pretty little hills with skirts of trees and bald grassy heads.  

The next stop was the Tarsier Sanctuary where we followed a guide into the bush along muddy paths to wake up some of the tiny little creatures who look almost exactly like Gremlins and cling to the branches with their gecko fingers. They are nocturnal but the ones in this area get very little sleep as the guide shakes the trees to get them to blink at us with their huge glassy eyes. They can’t actually move their eyes so they have to rotate their heads to see around them. 

Then it was a rush back to Alona to join a kayaking tour we’d booked on for the evening.  You set off at sunset down a river – passing fishermen going out to see in the opposite direction – and as it gets dark you move further and further away from any of the villages and development.  As soon as the sun sets the fireflies start to appear, making their way from the ground up to the trees and by the time we’d turned around at the fresh spring at the far end and made our way back in the now almost complete darkness, the trees were alive with swarms of little green lights. They pulse in ‘tune’ with one another so from a slight distance is looks as if the trees are draped in a swaying carpet of green lights.  It was a rather more leisurely journey back as we stopped at tree after tree and even hopped out on a little beach beneath two huge trees absolutely packed with them.  Our guide Ray was absolutely passionate about kayaking and the preservation of the river.  Still smarting from accusations of not having talked to enough Filipinos about the situation I asked him what he thought of the local woman dating Western men.  He confirmed all our suspicions –that the woman generally come from extremely poor families, have no education and see it as an only option or are pushed into it by their families. 

We were so exhausted by our mammoth day out that I almost didn’t go diving the next day – but I’d heard the sea walls at Balicasag Island were the fish-iest in the whole of the Philippines and who would miss that?  Usually one of the nice things about diving is that you meet lots of like-minded people who love the countries they’re visiting and are passionate about everything beautiful beneath the waves and keeping it that way.  Not so, unfortunately, with this boat.  The day started on a bad note as four Russians got into an argument with the dive crew the minute they arrived that ended with the fattest of the bunch literally throwing his weights around.  One of his companions had brought his unhappy looking girlfriend with him and used her like a coat hanger – hanging his clothes on her as he shed them to get into his wetsuit. They all strapped huge knives to their legs and basically behaved as if there was no one else on the boat.  I managed to ignore them almost completely until the second dive when our group were going first and were queueing up at the narrow front end of the boat waiting our turns to strap on tanks and one of the guys pushed me aside to get past.  “Just wait a bit” I said and gestured for him to stop, standing firmly in his way.  He just shoved me harder, and squeezed past so that we then all had to wait for him before anyone else could get ready.  And then there was a German guy, rather originally named, German who had brought his Filipino girlfriend with him (also looking rather miserable).  He spent a good deal of the journey out telling some Australians about how great it was living in San Diego because he could get to Mexico very quickly where “you can find yourself all sorts of nice girlfriends”.  Not three sentences later I hear him saying how his wife is also German. Charming.  The other great thing about diving is that if you don’t like the people you’re with, you can’t hear them underwater.  And there’s really nice stuff to look at including turtles, barracuda and tons more fantastic coral.

We spent the rest of our limited time on Bohol chilling out in one of the beach bars and eating seafood. There was also a very nice fireworks display that evening thanks to a wedding happening round the corner (yes, since you ask – Filipino bride, western guy).

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