The journey from Nalusuan to Bohol took most of Wednesday afternoon: from Nalusuan to Mactan Island by small boat; from there by minibus through the traffic jams of Cebu City to the ferry port; then by Oceanjet ferry (departing one hour late), arriving in Tagbilaran, Bohol after nightfall.
Fortunately, despite our late arrival, a car from our hotel was waiting to meet us. This was the Grand Luis Lodge in Dauis, Panglao Island, too new to feature in the guidebooks, but the recipient of some very positive reviews on the internet, all well deserved. Grand Luis Lodge is not particularly near the sea (in fact it is on top of a hill) but makes up for that in amenities and value for money, with a pool and poolside bar, attractive garden and well fitted rooms. The food was excellent, though the table service was a little slow. there was even Indian food on the menu (the hotel is owned by an Indian from South Africa) and I enjoyed easting something spicier than the usual Filipino fare.
We spent our first evening recovering from the journey from Nalusuan. The next day we were met by Vladimir, brother of our friend Rhoda in London, who took us on a tour of the traditional tourist sights of Bohol.
First stop was just a few minutes away in Dauis, the church of Our Lady of the Assumption, large Romanesque building with Byzantine touches around the bell tower. The sanctuary is quite unique – the statue of Our Lady above the altar is surrounded by cut-out angels on fluffy white clouds, which for some reason reminded me of a Terry Gilliam cartoon. (Since posting photos of our visit to Facebook our friend Rhodora mentions how, as a little girl, playing behind the angels with her cousins.) Like many of the churches in the region, the ceiling is painted with trompe l’oeil ‘stone’ and ‘plasterwork’.
Under the church there is a well, which is said to have a supernatural origin, as related by Nathan at Bohol Tours and Packages:
“A legend popular among locals says that when the town was invaded by pirates, the people locked themselves up in the church. When they ran out of provisions and water, a well miraculously appeared at the foot of the altar. This same well is the main source of water for the people living near the church up to the present. And although the church is very near the sea, the water from the well is fresh and is said to have healing powers.”
From Dauis we crossed the bridge from Panglao Island to mainland Bohol and followed the coastal road a few kilometres to the memorial celebrating the blood compact, or sandugo, between Lagazpi (who established the first permanent Spanish settlement in the Philippines and became the first Governor) and Rajah Sikatuna, the local ruler.
Continuing this historical theme, we went on to the church at Baclayon with its attached museum in the old convent containing mainly religious statues and old liturgical garments. Built by the Jesuits in 1717-27 on the site of an older building, this is one of the oldest surviving churches in the Philippines. The plain exterior, made of blocks of coral stone dragged from the sea, conceals a splendid interior with tiled floor and a highly ornate Baroque altarpiece. The windows of the church are fitted with panes of coloured glass and when we visited sunlight shining through these windows cast interesting patterns on the sanctuary floor.
From Baclayon we left the coastal road and headed inland to visit the feature of Bohol which appears in every guidebook and tourist poster – the Chocolate Hills. This is a formation of over a thousand conical or dome shaped limestone hills covering over 20 square miles of the central area of Bohol. The hills get their unusual name from their appearance in the dry season, when the covering grassy vegetation turns brown. When we visited they were an unchocolate-like shade of green.
Like most visitors, we stopped by the Chocolate Hills visitors complex, where there is a viewpoint. I think we were all more impressed than we were expecting to be: the hills are larger and – well – stranger than we had anticipated. The stark contrast between the grassy conical hills and the flat surrounding rice fields was particularly impressive.
By then it was getting late morning and we headed back toward the coast for our final destination before lunch, or to be more precise, our final destination for lunch. This was a short cruise of the Loboc River on one of the floating restaurant boats. As soon as we got on the boat we were invited to share in a buffet lunch, which was fairly standard, though quite acceptable fare. Music was provided by a duo of singer/keyboardist and guitarist singing lounge classics, including a medley of Christmas songs (So we had “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” as we made our way up a palm tree lined river.) On the way we passed old churches and simple houses, forest and waterfalls, and villagers washing their laundry in the river. We also stopped at a floating stage where we were entertained to a short cultural show of singing and dancing, including the famous tinikling, or bamboo-dance.
Like the Chocolate Hills, the Loboc River cruise was far more interesting and entertaining than we cynical Brits had been expecting and it set us up nicely for our last visit of the day. But that is the subject of another post.