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.