Recently, I had the chance to visit Bohol for the 3rd time. Whenever Bohol is mentioned by friends or through social media, it always reminds me of the very first travel I did way back 2009.
At that time, I was clueless about what to do and not to do when traveling. Not to mention that I was all by myself with just my backpack, a map and a few drop of courage in my pocket.
I started my 7-day journey in Cebu City, traveled to Malapascua Island and spent the next four days in Bohol which was not part of my travel itinerary. They say that traveling is helpful to the soul. What I certainly agree with it was during this very first trip that I realized my ability to adapt to changes, the ability to make decisions on my own and the determination to face the results of each decision that I make.
That trip revealed the inner me. It showed me the braver version of myself long hidden by the comforts of the city. As Bohol revealed its beauty to me, I became more appreciative of the things which we normally take for granted, i.e.,., the cold breeze in the morning, the beautiful sunrise that unveils the beauty of all creation and even the sound of cricket at night.
I hired a tricycle to tour me around the countryside. I visited Bohol’s famous landscapes such as the ever famous Chocolate Hills. I visited historical places such as the statue of the Blood Compact. I was humbled to see the Baclayon Church and was amazed by its antiquity and serenity. I was stunned by the heights of the trees growing in the Man-made Forest. I crossed the hanging bridge with my knees shaking all the way. I went in one of the local’s backyard to take a glimpse of the shy tarsier. I had a fill during my Loboc River cruise and even sat with the locals as they play native songs through their bandurrias (acoustic instrument). That was my countryside tour.
As most of the travel articles say, you have never been to Bohol if you have not been to Panglao Island. I was fortunate enough to visit this island before too much development took place. Back then, there were just a few numbers of motor bancas in the island. You can still see a wider view of the horizon without the boats blocking it. Back then, the shore was wider, and there were more trees alongside.
I rented a boat that took me to Balicasag Island. I remember it vividly. The moment I stepped out of the boat I was greeted by three persons, two guys, and a lady. They offered to cook lunch for me, and the other guy offered to be my guide as I snorkel around the island. And yeah, that was my very first snorkeling experience. It was during this time that I experienced swimming with too many “Nemo’s” spinning around a very colorful coral. I remember seeing not just a school of big fishes but a tornado-like one swirling slowly in the ocean. I can still remember how my heart beat at the sight of these wonderful creatures. When it seemed I had enough; there was, even more, wonders the island offered to me freely.
After a few hours of basking under the sun, I had my very first island lunch, “Sinigang na Lapu-lapu.” It was the tastiest lapu-lapu I ever had. Then off we went to the “Virgin Island.” And I was awed.
The island boasts of a very beautiful stretch of sand surrounded by pristine waters. There were just bushes in the island, a lot of starfish and powdery white sand. It was immaculate. Divine if you want to call it. What a perfect way to cap off my very first sojourn. And I was never the same. I was changed.
You see, travelling to a different place will make you understand that there is the world out there waiting for you to discover. And it also reminds you that there is the world out there that you need to protect.
The second time I went to Bohol was with my co-workers. We did not have the luxury of time to go island- hopping. They wanted to do the countryside tour, and we enjoyed it too. The year was 2012. A lot has changed. There were additional attractions offered. Adventures like braving the zip line, riding a cable car, visiting a ship-house or meeting one of the smallest men on earth were just a few of them. A new Tarsier Conservation Center was built. Panglao has many beach resorts now. Part of the shore was paved with gravel and sand. Bohol has changed.
A year later, a massive 7.2 earthquake struck the island of Bohol. And it was never the same. The news showed clips of the destruction caused by the colossal earthquake wreaking havoc everywhere. It pained me to Baclayon Church losing parts of its tower. One of the Chocolate Hills looked like it was stripped of its clothes. People are losing their houses, locals losing their livelihood. Again, Bohol has changed.
It was May 2015 when an opportunity came for me to travel back to Bohol. I did not know what to expect. It was as if I’m visiting a strange land for the first time. The very first question I asked the tricycle driver was, “Kamusta na kayo, kamusta na ang Bohol?”(How are you, how is Bohol?). He answered me with a smile and said,”Bumabangon three po sir.” (Recovering sir). Indeed, I saw new establishments built in the city. The old mall was changed to a new one. The streets were busy. The driver took us to our resort in Panglao. It was already evening when we arrived.
The next morning, we took the countryside tour. We went to Bohol Bee Farm (my first time to visit the place, and I enjoyed it). We went to the statue of the Blood compact. There was now a new resort built just beside it. There is the old; there is the new. The hanging bridge is gone. The “smallest man” has passed away. The longest python is no longer alive. The shiphouse and the man-made forest are still there. The Hill’s viewing deck has been tarnished. The Baclayon’s tower was damaged. The river cruise offers the same feel and warmth and of course, sumptuous food. The tarsiers are getting older and are still amazing. It was a mix of the old and the new.
The following day, we took the island-hopping tour. The packages were pricier than what it was before, but I guess that’s part of the change too. The dolphins were cooperative! They once again took the spotlight. Balicasag Island looks crowdy. There is now a lounge area for the tourists where they can eat breakfast before going to the waters. They now offer three snorkeling areas with 3 separate fees (fish sanctuary, turtles, giant clams). I never had that before. It was way different and a bit costly.
From a personal point of view, I was saddened to see that the corals were different from how they looked like a few years ago. I wished I had an underwater camera to show the difference. Sadly, the changes stretched all the way to the Virgin Islands. It was a different sight. Bohol has once again changed.
About the Writer
Lester Fuentes was born and raised in Manila. At a very young age, he has learned on how to be resourceful and independent. Currently, he’s working as a Compliance Officer in a Financial Institution that provides services for Australian clients. Whenever he’s free, he likes to travel and visit places around the Philippines to experience and taste the diverse culture of his country.
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