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Posts tagged ‘Baclayon church’

Bohol’s Churches and Museums

The next time I visited Bohol, it was with some senior citizens because of my official work with DSWD. While we took in some of the usual tourist spots, we steered clear of the ones which required too much walking or climbing around. Thus, I discovered the other historic sites of Bohol worth visiting – its churches and museums.

By the time I returned to Bohol with my family, I made sure my senior citizen Mom and my sisters also saw the old churches. Being from the Ilocos region, my family and I were reminded of our own Augustinian-designed churches in Ilocos Sur. It may sound stereotypical, but my Mom enjoyed looking at the churches so much we stayed quite a while. In fact, she noted that Bohol could be a perfect Holy Week get-away; the sheer number of churches and their accessibility would make the minimum 7-parishes Visita Iglesia quite easy.

Thus we discovered that Dauis church actually has a well-spring underneath its altar flooring and its waters are said to have healing powers. Baclayon church, on the other hand, has its own museum with quite a collection of ancient relics and artifacts. They date back to the time when statuettes of angels and saints had heads and hands of pure ivory, while priestly vestments were ornate and made of expensive material. A little known fact about Baclayon is that it actually has a dungeon where Boholanos deemed to be violating certain rules of the church were tortured once upon a time. 

Meanwhile, Loboc church also has some of the old features of parishes then. Heavy wooden pews, confessionals, pulpits built high up on one of the pillars, plus a bamboo organ to accompany the choir in their Sunday singing. It is actually beside its museum area where the famous Loboc children’s choir practice. I noted some markers on a side wall of the church – two lines which indicate how high the flood waters reached when the Loboc river overflowed during two recent typhoons.

Meanwhile, in Tagbilaran City is the St. Joseph the Worker church. Situated in the city proper, it is one of those originally established by the Jesuits in the 1700s before being turned over to the Recollects. From a church made from simple materials, it was expanded and reconstructed in the 1800s until additions like its convent and belltower were put up. Unfortunately, it does not have that “old world look or feel” to it anymore since much of its design is already quite modern, most especially its facade. Now referred to as Tagbilaran’s Cathedral, the only remaining ancient aspect to it is its location. 

Another heritage site that also lost its unique historical flavour is the ancestral home of former Philippine President Carlos P. Garcia. This little known museum was rarely visited by tourists who would rather explore Bohol’s natural treasures rather than travel down memory lane. Besides family heirlooms and Presidential memorabilia, the old Garcia home also displayed some strange archeological finds within the islands. I remember the Chinese porcelain and clay pottery presumably carried by traders on their Chinese junks, some heavy silver, religious relics and artifacts to parts of cannons loaded on Spanish galleons. There were a variety of seashells which can be found in the beaches of Bohol and the skeletal remains of some ancient Boholano who happens to be a prehistoric female.

The great thing about coming back to Bohol is that each time there is always something new to do. At the Chocolates Hills, senior citizens who could no longer climb up to the viewing deck opted instead to have half-body massages offered by some enterprising locals at the waiting area-pavilion. At the tarsier enclosure, flies and other insects attached on long sticks were offered for “feeding” the cute marsupials. And Prony, the python, was now being introduced by its caretaker – a transgender nicknamed Marimar after the popular telenovela, who will even perform a song-and-dance number for additional donations.

Because my sister desperately wanted to go dolphin-watching as well, we discovered an affordable beach resort along the famous white sand beaches in Panglao island. Dumaluan beach with its even coastline and pristine waters was comparable to Alona beach and could give Boracay a run for its money. I would keep coming back to this place either for overnights or daytrips just to get a taste of Bohol’s picture-perfect beaches.

In the next few years, I would be back in Bohol with colleagues, family members and new lovers. I would see many changes to Bohol as it transformed into the truly eco-tourism destination it aimed to be. The tarsiers would finally be moved to a conservation area with a bigger space and more like their natural forest habitat. Prony, the python now had a few other animal friends, species that are also endemic to Bohol like birds and lizards. The municipality of Loboc would now have its own zipline that will fly across a panoramic view of the river. There’s the Extreme Adventure Tour (EAT) in Danao town which features a zipline, a “plunge”, wall-climbing, rappelling, river-tubing and kayaking among others.

And yes, as time passes, many things change. I remember my earlier visit with an old lover, when we were ogled and frowned upon for being an obvious same-sex partnership. But by the time I was campaigning for LADLAD in 2010, I saw openly-gay tourist guides, even a food attendant at the riverboat cruise, and Prony as much it’s caretaker, the transgender Marimar, had become one of the most popular tourist attractions, and her song-and-dance numbers are now full-blown production numbers.

Bohol held many reminders for me, from successfully accomplished tasks, or opportunities lost or taken advantaged of, to loved ones who are no longer in my life. It would have been quite painful to have such reminiscings while visiting Bohol again; but I always believed that even with the same old places, what is important is that new memories could still be made – sort of “exorcising” the past. And so, I kept doing just that. I had always loved Bohol and it held too many good memories for me not to share its beauty with someone significant in my life.

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The Beauty of Bohol: 2006 First Impressions

After the big earthquake that devastated much of Bohol, I regretted not ever having written anything about this beautiful place. Maybe because it was one of my favourite hide-aways that I refused to divulge its secrets to others. But now, I am sad that I never spoke about the many reasons why people should visit Bohol at least once in their lifetime. They will never see it as I saw it then, as it was evolving as a prime tourist destination and must-see vacation spot.

Bohol first captured my heart during a visit in 2006. I was still recovering from the end of a long-term relationship, and travelling was my only consolation. I did not know what the island had to offer in terms of tourism then, and I would’ve been happy to simply have an airconditioned room, with a bathtub, cable TV and room service during my entire stay there. But the rental car guy I contacted was too enterprising a businessman, that not only did he find me great and affordable hotel, he also doubled as a “tour guide” of sorts. And that was also the beginning of a lasting friendship with my “suki”, Rod. Over the years, I would keep recommending his services  to both family and friends visiting Bohol. So there it is: one of Bohol’s great treasures is its wonderful people.

First travel tip I learned in going to Bohol – you can double it with a side trip to Cebu. The plane fare is much cheaper to Cebu from Manila than going to Tagbilaran City directly. So take a day-tour or stay a few days in Cebu, before crossing over to Bohol via ferry boat from the port. One can have an itinerary much like a trip to Northern Mindanao’s Camiguin Island, where you can fly-in from Manila to Cagayan de Oro City, enjoy CDO’s sites or maybe drive over to Bukidnon for a day, before sailing off to have some beach fun at the island.

And so it is that Bohol is famous for its nice beaches in Panglao island in particular. But for my first visit, I went to see its caves and hills, its various flora and fauna, just as its own kind of “eco-tourism” was being advertised then. Rod’s services includes airport or pier pick-ups, before dropping off your stuff at your lodgings. Travel tip No.2, if you aren’t there to enjoy the beach anyway and will just be spending most of your time checking out the different tourist spots all day, accommodations in Tagbilaran City proper area would suffice. There are a lot of bed and breakfasts, pension houses and motels you can choose from with clean, spacious and airconditioned rooms at a much cheaper price range. City-based hotels also abound and some of them have swimming pools which more than compensates for the lack of a beachfront view. 

Preliminaries over and done with, Rod whisked us off on a 7-spot tour right away. Our first stop was the Hinagdanan Cave in Dauis, Panglao Island. This underground tourist attraction boasts of a freshwater pool where people can take a quick dip. Be warned though that the stairs going down are quite steep and sometimes slippery. Hence, if you are with elderly companions or people afflicted with arthritic or weak knees, you can skip this tourist site. An underground cave, it has a few electric lights but having your own flashlight can still be useful if you wish to have a clearer view of its limestone stalactites and stalagmites.    

Next up is the Blood Compact memorial which features life-size bronze statues depicting the historic meeting between the island’s chief, Datu Sikatuna and the Spaniard Miguel Lopez de Legaspi. Here they performed the ancient ritual of “sandugo” to forge peaceful and diplomatic ties. They say blood is drawn, not from the arm, but from the chest – just above the heart, and the blood is then collected and mixed with water or wine and equally divided to be drunk by the primary parties. Residents here believe the actual site of the blood compact is nearer one of the rivers, probably Loay, where Sikatuna and his party personally met Legaspi and his men. So this marker, for all its historic significance and appropriateness for photo-ops because of its great view, may not be that accurate after all.

Next stop is Baclayon Church or what is actually the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception parish. Admittedly one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, it was originally established in the 1500s and was used by the Jesuits. The Augustinians eventually took over and its reconstruction into the classic coralstone building is now their most valuable contribution.

Like most churches, it was constructed utilizing forced labor of the locals. Boholanos were made to cut the coral straight from the sea and haul them inland to be mixed with eggs and molasses to bind them together. These carefully selected materials made for a strong structure that could endure the ravages of time. Till now, you can see corals and seashells imbedded in the limestone flooring near the façade of the church.      

Further on is another old church, Loboc’s the Church of San Pedro. This is where the Spanish friars moved their parish after realizing that Baclayon church’s location near the coastline exposed it to Moro marauders or pirates. The length of the Church of San Pedro spans a portion of the Loboc river and provides an awesome view of the waterway from the main road. However, the overflowing waters have flooded the church many times.

Near Loboc Church’s distant belltower, an unusual structure stands; an eye-sore of an unfinished bridge mars the landscape because of some government officials’ lack of respect for their Boholano heritage. Had the construction project pushed through, it would have entailed the demolition of one of their most popular parishes.

By the river are boats that can be rented to give you a few minutes ride to the small waterfalls, or to the other end where the brackish water of the river meets the saltwater of the sea. The “Floating” Restaurant meals are “a-must” though, and most tourists take advantage of the midday break to enjoy the spot. Besides a relaxing boatride on the river and a buffet meal, there is likewise on-board singing to entertain you, so the reasonable fee they charge is well worth it.      

After taking in lunch at Loboc, we soon left to see the famous Chocolate Hills located in the distant town of Carmen. On the way, we passed by an area planted to numerous mahogany trees. A tree-planting project in the 1970s by the local Boy Scouts, it has now grown into a splendid forest known as the Man-made Forest of Bilar. Perfect for some outdoor picture-taking, it actually gives one a feeling of being in Europe or in North America. More than three decades since that seemingly irrelevant outdoor activity, the Bilar forest now seems a worthy natural investment. 

Still far from the actual look-out point of the Chocolate Hills, approaching the town of Carmen from the long winding road already gives one a glimpse of the curious mounds rising out of the plains. Several hills dot the landscape which in summer look like giant chocolates, but which in the rainy season appear verdant like avocado ice cream scoops.

Travel tip No. 3, one must be physically fit or healthy enough for much of the walking and climbing to be done. Once again, one’s knees must be in tip-top shape to climb the hundred-or-so stairs to the look-out ridge. You can get about the same scenery at several rest-stops before the top if you’re not up to climbing all the way. The only difference is besides a “panoramic” view of the Chocolate Hills, there is also a bell and wishing well at the top which adds material to your photo album/scrapbook.

On the way back, I told Rod I had to see Bohol’s unique marsupial, the tarsier. The Philippine Tarsier is such a rare animal and it is believed to be found only in the province of Bohol. Fortunately, the souvenir shop where we went also had a Tarsier Reserve of sorts. The cute creatures were no bigger than one’s hand and clung to tree branches, peacefully sleeping the day away. Once it gets dark, that’s when they move around and scavenge for their food in the forests. Since they are so sensitive, tourists can’t touch or pet them. We had to content ourselves with photos taken from our cellphones or cameras with flashes turned off.  

Since there was still some daylight left or because he likewise enjoyed touring me around, Rod took me to two other “tourist” spots worth visiting, but not really known to the other tour guides.

The Hanging Bridge souvenir shop is where also the “buko-eating superman” lived. This middle-aged local man was already featured on Filipino television with his ability to crush open and shred a whole coconut with his bare teeth and hands only. For a small “donation”, he will show you his unique talent.  A few kilometres away was also Prony, the over-sized pet of a Bohol resident. Caught from the wild as a young snake, this reticulated python grew so fast in size and was now a several inches thick and several meters long…unusual for its age.

I was asking Rod so many questions about Bohol’s tourist spots and he gamely answered all my queries. Clearly, not only was he proficient in his home province’s unique features, he truly loved the places and things he grew up with and was proud to share them with visitors.

I would be back in Bohol many times over with family and loved ones, for leisure and for business. And each time, Bohol would have something new for me to see.

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