The 6 instances I found happiness in Bohol

January 24, 2012 § 7 Comments

The other day, while on holiday, my grandma pulled me aside to share something she read from Theosophical Digest with me. It said that happiness can’t be achieved by looking to material things or experiences. I agree with the first part – new iPhones get old, shiny cars depreciate, state of the art laptops break. The second part, hmmm. Not so much.

I spent the last four days in Bohol, Philippines, soaking up the sun and the local sights. For non-Filipinos reading this (I mean YOU, Aida :P), it’s this little island off the coast of Visayas, an hour-long plane ride south of Manila.

Now I thought I’d try my hand at travel-blogging my first adventure of 2012. I’m not going to bore you with the nitty-gritty details of said trip (like how we missed our flight, how the cute little kid behind us pooped in her diapers and filled half the cabin with suspiciously adult-smelling odors, how many mosquitoes feasted on my limbs, etc.etc). Nope, we’ll stick to the highlights.

Highlight #1: Bluewater Panglao

Truly the jewel in the crown of our whole trip. I don’t think our trip to Bohol would’ve been the same if we’d stayed elsewhere. We knew it was going to be a good time the minute we set our bags down at their front desk with a member of the staff handing us cold towels and lemongrass juice, with a warm “Maayong Buntag!” (Good day in the local dialect). The place was gorgeous – it was all pools and villas, with violin music and cricket noises filling the air.

The view of the never-ending pool from our rooms

The path to their beachfront

The facilities were excellent, at par with their 4.5 star rating, with the service being even more exceptional. I’m uncertain whether it was because it was their job or it’s the warmth characteristic of the Boholano, either way, it made me want to make friends with all of them – from the girl at the front desk to the masseuse I met a couple of nights later.

Where we got massages on our second night

Everything was quite like the movies – the open shower that let natural light flow through from above, the beds that weren’t quite touching the ground, the beach chairs in the middle of the pool, getting massages in little tropical huts. And now that I’m old enough to know that life is never quite like the movies, there is all the more value to be found here.

Just me and Jack Johnson under the stars

Just because I loved this place so much….here’s a link:

Highlight #2: The friendly locals

Okay, I suppose I just cleared up my own aforementioned uncertainty about the Boholano’s character. Most everyone was warm and friendly, unhesitatingly answering questions about their way of life, and going the extra mile to help you out. Props go to Kuya Oscar, the divemaster who took us snorkelling and managed not to laugh at me when I very quickly hauled myself out of the water onto the little boat when a great big swarm of little fishies came towards us at my dad’s bread-tossing not two feet away from me. He also very kindly took charge of our underwater camera to take a photo of ‘Mimo’ (a Bisayan version of Nemo, perhaps?). Also to Jemer, our guide at the butterfly farm, whose animal facts almost always were related to mating rituals (FACT: Butterflies mate for 6-24 hours, while Tarsiers mate for 4 seconds. FOUR, the same time it took you to read about Kuya Oscar.)

The Tarsier with the 4 second sex life. No wonder he looks so unhappy.

Highlight #3: Loboc River Cruise

The highlight of this river cruise really has to do with highlight #2 but I thought I’d describe the whole experience to put things into perspective.

Maybe it’s true when they say that life really is slower in the country. In the span of the 1.5 hour ride down the river and back, we managed to get angry (from hunger), content (when we finally got our share of the on-boat buffet – shrimp, grilled fish, barbecue, pancit and fresh fruits), amazed (at how utterly Amazonian-like the view looked), amused (at our fellow tourists enjoying themselves dancing to the live music on board), and heart-warmed. Okay, usage of that word is iffy in that sentence, but there’s no other way to describe what I felt when I saw what I did.

Yes, that

After the whole maelstrom of fighting the Koreans and the Brits and the Italians for a piece of the buffet and satiating self on said mountains of food, our boat got tethered to this floating stage made of bamboo and palm leaves. On it were around 40 locals of differing ages, playing stringed instruments, singing, and dancing. There was something about it that choked me up. I would never have admitted this had I not heard that my mum felt the same. There was nothing but pride in that moment – of being Filipino, of seeing my fellow Filipinos entertaining tourists in a way that was uniquely Filipino – with song and dance. There was something about it that was both personal and eager to please that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the States or in Australia. My mum described it as an intense desire to have this place succeed by being seen and being recognised by the world. If there’s one thing that living outside the Philippines has taught me, it’s to appreciate my own. Those ten minutes we were tethered to that stage probably wouldn’t have been as poignant had I not seen other places where they give you an iPod, an earpiece to virtually guide you through whatever it was you were looking at, whether it be the Melbourne Museum or the Grand Canyon. In comparison, that community performance felt like a warm hug from a wise, toothless granny, and a two year old, holding his hand out to offer you his last piece of candy, both at the same time. It was Filipino hospitality at its finest. Maybe the new tourism slogan shouldn’t have been about fun, maybe it should’ve been about THIS – community, hospitality, boundless warmth.

Highlight #4: Seeing a 4th grade lesson brought to life – the Chocolate Hills

There’s something about seeing something for yourself. The 1, 776 mounds of the Chocolate Hills is something that’s been touted and studied since early gradeschool. So-called because of an American tourist that once commented that they looked like Mother Nature’s own version of Hersheys Kisses (In summer, vegetation gets dry and brown, like…Chocolate!). Seen on hundreds of postcards, it’s one of the Philippine sights that a Filipino should visit before anything else, my teachers always said. Now I believe them all. The Beatles shouldn’t have sung about Strawberry Fields, who cares about them? I would’ve sung about Chocolate hills forever…!

Not exactly Chocolatey....but still good.

Highlight #5: The food!

While the name Chocolate Hills will always ALWAYS bring to mind creamy bars of chocolatey goodness, the actual experience of food proved to be more of a challenge to the maintenance of a not-quite bikini body. The buffet breakfasts we had at Bluewater were (hands down!) the best I’ve ever come across. In comparison, the buffet breakfasts I’ve had in any of of the 15 US states or the 1 Canadian town don’t/can’t/won’t hold a candle to the overflowing tapa, tocino, danggit and eggs on offer. I was worried about missing out on breakfast during our 2nd day when we had to get up at the crack of dawn to see the dolphins before 6am. Not to worry, they very kindly packed our tapsilogs for us to take to the islands.

Mmmm...danggit for breakfast! If curious, ask me what danggit is!

For dessert....hardcore leche flan. Yummm!!!

And then there were the local delicacies, most of which were nut-related, somehow. Being a nut for nuts (excuse the pun), I fell in love at first bite! Okay, maybe those advertisers were right, it’s more fun in the Philippines!

Just when you thought barquillos couldn

Some peanut brittle a man sold us through our car at first bite!

Highlight #6: The sea, Oh the sea!

A view of the sea from our very unexpected hike over a cliff

Moby Dick?

I’ve finally come to understand why poets have written about the sea in a hundred different ways. There’s something just…wonderful about the sea, something majestic about how it goes on and on as far as the eye can reach, something both terrifying and thrilling about the wide array of life to be found under that blue blanket. Sitting on a boat with the roar of the engine, I found myself throwing all the worries that plagued me, all the anxieties pervading my every day out onto the waves for the universe to deal with, purging myself of all the bad energy. There’s perspective to be found in knowing how absolutely infinitesimal you are against the wide world and so none of the little cares should matter. I’ve sat in boats before, traveling between islands, and yet that feeling of absolute wonder never ceases to amaze me. The addition of seeing dolphins to the whole experience is something akin to watching a shooting star fall from the sky, making it all even more amazing. Pablo Neruda was right when he wrote an ode about it. If he hadn’t done it already, I probably would’ve. =P

The banca I hauled myself into to get away from the feeding frenzy.

We found Nemo!!!

Highlight # : the whole experience that is BOHOL

In comparison to other beach destinations like Boracay and Palawan, Bohol feels like a secret that hasn’t yet been revealed. Everything has managed to retain its charm and its guileless appeal, unlike, say Boracay which is known for its wild party circuit. Even Alona beach (the Bohol counterpart for all the stations of Bora) where the nightlife’s at feels less…spoiled and polluted somehow. Life is slower here, living up to all the ideas of a tropical retreat everyone has in mind.

We found the boats...but where

Road safety...Filipino style.

The altar of Baclayon church, built in 1727. One of the oldest churches in the Philippines.

Sing it with me....Under the seaaaa!

I’m not sure whether I agree that happiness shouldn’t be looked for in experiences because being in Bohol and witnessing its natural beauty and its rustic charms for myself sure feels a lot like happiness. Sure, it might be fleeting, disappearing once you return to the real world and its pressures welcome you with a hug like an old friend, but if those moments aren’t bits of happiness, I don’t know what is.

A Bohol sunrise


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