Say, WHAT?
by missP on Sat Jul 22, 2006 9:01 am

Arriving at the Tagbilaran airport, hubby asked me how we would go to the island from the mainland. I told him I would need to ask around first as I have no idea how we would get there. Scratch that! I had an idea… I just didn’t know which bus or ferry boat to take. I heard that it will still take us about 25 minutes land trip to the port and from there another 45 minutes with the ferry. After claiming our bags at the baggage area of the airport, we wondered outside the arrival area, checking out signs of transportation going to the pier along the way. Just as we stepped out into the lanai of the arrival section, we heard somebody calling our names. Boy was I glad to hear my name. Somebody from the resort came to pick us up. This was unexpected because I forgot to arrange this beforehand. Thank goodness the resort made the arrangements themselves. We were met by some of our gracious hosts, Danny and Celso. We were driven to the Alona Beach resort where the boat waited. Apparently, it was already too late to dock the boat at the Panglao Pier because the waters were too shallow for the boat to be docked there.

The 45 minutes boat ride lasted 65 minutes because of the waves. I hadn’t expected there would be high waves if one travels in that area in the afternoon. Best travel time according to the locals, is only in the mornings. It’s a bit late for that info, but nevertheless, I will keep it in mind when we travel back to the mainland for some sightseeing tours. Still have to show my “luspad” guest the smallest monkey in the world (the Tarsier) and of course the chocolate hills, which can be found on the mainland of Bohol. After several minutes of combating the high waves, we finally reached the Balicasag Island Dive Resort. Located southwest of Bohol, we crossed the Bohol Strait to get to this secluded Philippine Tourism Authority resort. This is one of B.E.S.T offered by the government to our Balikbayans and foreign guests. The Balicasag Island Dive Resort is the best spot for divers.

The whole island is 25 hectares big. But the resort is only 1.5 hectares wide. The rest of the island is occupied by the local fishermen and their families. The island is government property, so no foreigner or outsider can just move into the island and develop or should I say, start abusing it.

On the afternoon we arrived, there was already an Indian family who arrived ahead of us that day. I found one of the Indian ladies asking the local vendors what they grew on the island. The local vendor could not give her an answer. I guess they don’t have any other means of living there except fishing and vending to foreigners/guests of the resort. I started talking to the locals myself and inquired about the conditions of their families there. At the same time, I just had to check out their trinkets which they sell as souvenirs to guests. They were really nice, but I digress.

All 115 families are controlled by the Navy. Any new face or outsider is then interrogated and is asked to leave the island. It seems that the ancestors of the locals there where fishermen who used to stop by on the island to rest before going back to the mainland. Later on, they started making their own families and building houses on the island as well. How they managed to eventually the piece of land where they put house, I have no idea. But they owned their land. Time passed by and the locals were not aware that they had to pay for taxes for their property. The time finally came when they couldn’t even afford to pay for the yearly property tax that the government requires them to pay. They eventually lost their properties to the government. Because they couldn’t pay the yearly taxes plus the backlog, they are now squatters on their own lands. These families are not forced to vacate the island though, but no one can move in anymore. The only thing is that, the population is growing so fast because, the kids of these fishermen grew up and started having their own families as well.

I asked them if they have any other means of living there aside from vending. Some families have a mother, father brother or sister working at the resort. Other’s not. Those are the ones who rely on selling some necklaces or bracelets or other souvenir trinkets to the guests. There are also some women who are clever enough to offer massage to the guests. Why not? The island resort is actually made for the divers and underwater world lovers. They dive and snorkel or do island hoping. At the end of the day, they need massage to loosen up tightened muscles. Some locals offer really good massages for the very affordable price of 300 pesos. 50 pesos goes to the resort and the rest is for them. But they clarified that they don’t get customers all the time. During the high season or summer time, they may have plenty to do but on lean seasons like from June till middle of December, they hardly have customers. It’s a hard life here, some said.

What about water conditions and electricity? Well, the water they use here is either salt water or rainwater. Salt water is for cleaning and other wet activities. For hygiene and cooking, they use rainwater. What if it doesn’t rain for months? It can happen that rain comes only once in three months. How would they cope then? They buy water from the mainland. They have big gallons that they fill with water from the mainland and transport them by boat back on the island. This can get really expensive. Talks have come up before about building some sort of a duct from the main island Panglao to the island for the water. Some sort of water pipe that will bring fresh water to the Balicasag island. But suddenly, according to the locals, of course, the talk just died. Nothing was made concrete, so until now freshwater is still as precious as gold to them. No matter, the transportation is okay, since the locals just hitch rides with the others who have business on the mainland. They don’t necessarily have to go extra and spend so much on gas just to buy water. But sometimes, it can happen. One thing is clear, they don’t ask for monetary payment with each other. They rather help each other alternately. Almost all of them have their own bangkas, but they still help each other to save by doing some sort of carpool.

The island except the resort gets their electricity from Bohol National Power Corporation, who generously brought into the island one big generator. This generator provides the local families electricity everyday from 18:00 till 12:00 midnight. After which, the generator is turned off. Yes, they only have 6 hours of electricity. A bit brutal but the locals don’t mind. The resort alone, being run by the government, has its own generator which is in operation 24 hours/day. So, one can say there is ample supply of electricity hence all the rooms/cottages are air-conditioned. One is comfortable enough with their amenities. Aside from the complete diving/snorkeling gears, one also gets more than what one needs in the rooms. Decent toilets/baths, air-conditioned rooms with refrigerator and television and proper cabinets are on offer.

During the 9 days that I was on the island, I tried to mingle as, much with the locals not only with those who worked at the resort but also outside. Some days, I just walked through the houses of the locals and sometimes stopping at the sari-sari stores there where I got most of my info, straight from the horse’s mouth, so to say. I ended up buying stuff that I don’t really need but I thought this was my way of helping them out. Instead of buying, for example beer from the resort, I get it from the locals on the island. Or I ended up buying several instant noodles in cup that I never ate anyway. Hubby was wondering what I would do with them. I couldn’t tell him, I didn’t know myself. I just had the urge to buy them and help out. I also ended up buying some trinkets that the masseuse I hired was offering. I just couldn’t stop myself not to buy anything from her when I found out that she has 11 children to feed. Yes, 11. I almost fell off the bed when she told me this. If she was lying, it’s not my problem anymore. My intention was quiet clear. I didn’t need the stuff but I had to buy so she could give her three kids who go to school in Tagbilaran, their allowance for the following week. In the end, it was even better, because I found out that an ex-colleague would be celebrating her birthday on the third week of the month. I think I will just give her the set of black pearls (necklace, a pair of earrings and bracelet) as a birthday present. Yes, real black pearls but sold at a very affordable price of 5€. Can you imagine? Well, they are not biog pearls, just the rice pearl type. Still something like this is quiet hard to come by. Better get them now than regret it later.

After staying on the island of Balicasag for several days, (during which hubby did his course for scuba diving), hubby and I thought it was best for us to go back to the mainland for a bit. It was suddenly getting lonely what with the resort almost empty, there wasn’t much to do except swim, snorkel and dive during the day and sleep at night. We needed a bit of change of scenery. So, we packed each a backpack him for his camera, extra t-shirt, map and wallet. Et mo?, for my sun-block lotion, wallet and extra blouse. Plus another extra foldable duffel bag that we may need later on for whatever we may find at the mainland that is worth to bring back to Germany as present to his relatives and friends. One thing I learned from a very good friend and ex-colleague, to always bring a foldable bag whenever and wherever you have to go someplace else. You’ll never know what “good deal” or bargain you’ll find. Actually, this is a German attitude. In Germany, plastic bags in shops are not for free. If you buy something from the shop, better make sure you have your own tote bag to put in the stuff that you bought. Of course, in the department stores they have plastic bags for free but in the grocer’s, you’ll have to pay for the plastic/paper bags. That’s why people always bring a cloth/recyclable bag whenever they go for groceries or whenever they visit flohmarkets or tiangge’s. Again, I digress.

First target was for my hubby’s passport size picture which is required for his diving card registration and license. After having the picture taken and printed, we proceeded to one of the main attractions of Bohol, the Chocolate Hills. The hills are in total 1268 made up of corals that were washed off hundreds of years ago. Some hills are already covered with trees and wild plants but some are still very much distinguishable. The hills are supposed to be brown and baren. Once there, I have never seen so many tourists in Bohol. Most of them are actually balikbayans. Pinays with their kids who I presume probably were born outside the country. It’s a good thing that they were also introduced to their parent’s origins.

From the Chocolate hills, we drove down to have lunch at this very popular floating restaurant. While having lunch, which by the way, for 270 pesos has an “eat all you can” menu, the raft on which the tables are set, floats along the Loboc river. At the end of this river are five water falls, which seems to be the highlight of the cruise. In the menu were grilled stuffed squid, fried chicken, some grilled fish, jackfruit salad, pinakbet, pork barbecue and pansit. For dessert they had several fresh fruits and some native delicacies laid out on the long buffet table right in the middle of the raft. For two hours, I feasted on the bounty laid out before me. The lunch was even made more memorable for me by the folk singer. He sang some songs which I learned as a child. For example, the history of the Philippines in Bisaya (who among you bisdak’s still know the song?):

March 16, 1521
When the Philippines was discovered by Magellan
They were sailing day and night
Across the big ocean
Until they see small Limasawa Island…

…Or some Bohol-ano folksongs that I loved singing with my uncles since I was just 5 years old, perhaps even younger. Well, suffice it to say that I enjoyed it so much that at the end of the meal, when hubby suggested if we should give the guy a tip, I had no objections to it at all. Sure, he may have sung with a Visayan accent, hard on the e’s and a bit soft on the I’s,… or he may have just made a sound similar to the word that he didn’t know or made up the “sounding similar” lyrics to some songs, but it was all from the heart the way he was singing. And for this, he got big A’s from me. It didn’t matter that hubby in the end made a comment like: “He is really singing now in this very special “Filipino-English”. To which I’d be normally offended because it sounds so discriminating.

After the trip and the meal, we docked on the other side of the restaurant where the smallest monkeys in the world, the Tarsier are shown to public. These nocturnal monkeys are actually wild and can only be found in the mountains of Bohol, Philippines. They are very small with big round eyes that actually, in pictures or films would look really scary. But in reality, they are the sweetest-looking monkeys I have ever seen.

Did I ever mention before that I am afraid of monkeys? Well, yes, after those stories about how kid’s brains were eaten by monkeys somewhere in the Philippines a very long time ago, came out, I lost my sentiments to these (family of monkeys). But, I was reassured by our tour guide that the Tarsiers are safe because they are tamed first after captivity, before they are shown to the public. Whatever that means!

Next stop for us was the longest and biggest Python caught on the Island of Bohol. The Python’s name is Prony. Prony was found and captured in one of the cemeteries in Tagbilaran, Bohol Island. She is made into a pet by this local girl named Ging-Ging. Prony has a presentor by the name of Marimar, which I think is actually more attracting than the Python, hahahaha! Marimar, dressed in a very pink top with white mini skirts and a very thick silvery, glittery, (Jen Rosendahl type) of belt, who’s lips are by the way as pink as her blouse, told the viewers/visitors about how the Python Prony was captured. How much meat the Python eats and how many times it is fed. “Prony loses skin once a month, a clear indication that she is growing bigger” … Marimar continues to describe.

On the other side of Prony’s cage are also four smaller Pythons. They are sleeping with their heads hidden, and according to Marimar, this was the sign that they are really sleeping. I am not sure if what Marimar was saying is true, suffice it to say that I had fun watching her and listening to her Bakla way of talking than looking at the Python, buwahahahaha!

Last stop for the tour, The Blood Compact of the Spaniards with the Filipinos to seal the friendship offered to each other. I didn’t recognize the people who were supposed to be in on that blood compact thing, but again, I was told that this was also another tourist attraction in Bohol and that’s why, we should also stop there. Very shallow, I know.

The Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia. This is continually proven by the old churches that we have in our country. The oldest one is The San Agustin Church which is situated in Manila. Hubby and I visited the church, the first time he came to the Philippines. It is a MUST SEE! The second oldest Catholic church is in Bohol, the Baclayon Church located in Baclayon, Bohol, Philippines. A part of the church is now made into a Museum where one can find very nice antiquities on display. Antique Saints and other Church paraphernalia can be found there, too. But they are not for sale. Nobody can even touch it or take pictures of it. In the church where I planned to light a candle, I was a bit disappointed that lighting a candle was not allowed. Although, one can take pictures. The pictures I managed to take from my Nokia phone didn’t do justice but it will do, for now. At least, until the pictures that hubby took are ready for posting in our Online Family Album/Gallery.

The Island vacation almost ended with a BANG! Was it not for the bad weather that was forming up on the Western front of the Island. Just two days before we left the island, rain poured and wind was blowing so hard. I guess, It can be a blessing in disguise for us. Hubby was able to witness how the tropical weather can get really nasty so fast, then again, in a few minutes, it gets better again. Now he has an idea of what to keep in mind when we eventually start building our little nest in Palawan. Someday, this dream will materialize and will cease to be a dream but a wish come true.

The day finally came. We were wondering if some cosmic force would hinder us from leaving the island. If Mother Nature would give us reason not to go back to real life. Two days before we were scheduled to leave, tropical storm Ester was brewing up. I thought this was it. I would have an excuse, an alibi to tell my employers why I couldn’t be back for work as planned. We thought this was at some point, the answer to the subconscious wish we both have. But it wasn’t. The storm barely hit the island. It went straight up to Japan missing the Philippine islands by some kilometers. Nevertheless, it was not the answer. But then again, perhaps, this was even for the better. Not just for me and for hubby but also for the locals who maybe endangered. There’ll be families who will be greatly affected by the typhoon. I even missed to consider them because of my greed and insensitivity.

We checked out as planned, but not without promising ourselves to come back. The island has somehow found a soft place in our hearts. We promised Jane we’ll be back and that I would even recommend the place to my friends and colleagues outside the country. I will be jealous when my friends would come to this place. I will die of envy. Still, I think that I would be able to help the locals and the government itself, in my own way by promoting the best that the Philippine Islands can offer. Word of mouth; yep!!! Still is the best advertising medium.

After the boat ride to the mainland, we went around town taking pictures of parts that to us were still interesting. To others, they may just be a simple hut or an old building but to us these places are significant in the sense that we don’t experience or see them everyday of our lives. These places will serve as our reminder that we were once in this beautiful Island of Bohol.

AS of writing this entry, hubby and I are sitting patiently at the Tagbilaran airport boarding gate, waiting to board the Cebu Pacific flight that will take us back to Manila. The plane is one hour delayed due to bad weather, hence there is heavy air traffic conditions in Manila according to the announcement. So, we wait.