The probability of visiting the Philippines without realizing Bohol is almost nil. This was done by the national tourism authority.
Upon arrival at Manila airport, the country's promotional brochures feature a bug-eyed animal clinging to a tree, on a background made up of hills too round and verdant to look real.
Although Bohol has impressive old Hispanic churches, built largely from coral, they were the government's chosen trump cards to attract visitors.
And also by countless companies and brands that associate their products and services with them and exhibit them on TV and in the press.
This strange combination aroused our curiosity. To the point of choosing the island as one of our stops in the archipelago.
The flight from Manila only takes two hours but we've been traveling since Vigan (in the far north of the country) and the night before. We landed in Tagbilaran at 7:30 am exhausted, with no idea where we were going to stay.
We wait for the local Tourism desk to open and we pick up a tricycle folkloric. Fifteen minutes later, we are talking to Mrs. Onôncia D. Balco, a short-sighted director in her fifties who takes care of the matter in three stages: “I know perfectly well who will love to welcome you. It's just a minute and I'll deal with it."
The phone you use is still a disk. We wait half a minute for dialing the number to complete. Much more towards the end of the conversation, which oscillates between Tagalog and English, as is customary among Filipinos with education and possessions.
O Salvador welcome by Lucas Nunag at Casa Amarela
Putting down the receiver, the lady gives us the news: “Everything is arranged. We'll take you to Amarela, then the owner will take care of you.” We assume this is a hotel. In any case, by that time, we were more concerned with getting back to sleep than with enlightenment.
The jeep arrives at Libaong Beach. Park at the entrance to a large villa. Given its color, it could only be the final destination.
A man with the look and posture of Clark Gable Visayas come to meet us. He introduces himself, says goodbye to the driver and immediately puts us at ease with a refreshing and fun breakfast.
Then he directs us to a room and politely frees us for a long sleep. We woke up in the middle of the afternoon. We stroll along the coast, with refreshing dips every 100 meters.
Libaong's Tropical Coastline and the Unexpected Origin of Yellow Baptism
We moved a few kilometers away from the starting point and ended up in a bar where we devoured halo-halos, divine Filipino desserts of fruit, sweet potatoes, beans, condensed milk and more.
When we got back, the sun had gone down long ago. Only a tiny lantern saves us from more tripping over the countless fallen coconut leaves.
The owner dines with friends. Towards the end of the night, we rejoined. We exchange stories, adventures and preferences. Lucas explains to us that the South Koreans are his most undisciplined guests.
He confesses his passion for Porto and Mateus Rosé. In return, we tell him about the bad reputation of Israeli backpackers and confirm that Portuguese wine is much more than those unavoidable examples.
Lucas Nunag has been a lawyer in the offices of multinationals based in Manila most of his life. At 55, he got tired of life in the capital and retired.
He had accumulated savings and decided to build a seaside resort on his beloved home island. He found himself in trouble to choose the name for the new business. Until the daughter remembered the visit they had made to Lisbon, in 2004, and an especially sexy Portuguese word: yellow.
They decided to recover the past. And they baptized and painted the hotel according to that inspiration.
Around Bohol's History
The next morning wakes up gray. The panorama changes little as the hours go by.
We don't have big plans. Lucas seems to lack company. The host makes a point of showing us the island. We accept without resistance.
In Dauis, he introduces us to his brother, a priest who speaks Spanish and Portuguese and shows us the ceiling of the Baclayan church, all painted with scenes of local life and the historic monument “Blood Compact".
"Blood Compact" celebrates the first friendship treaty between Filipinos and Spaniards, a few miles from the place where Chief Lapu Lapu's men pierced Fernão Magalhães of death with bamboo spears, in what is now called the Battle of Mactan.
Still in Dauis, we found out that Lucas was part of a nucleus for the protection of the local culture. In the afternoon we join a group tour led by a Mr. Gardini who disagrees with our presence.
He fears that, as reporters, we would draw too much attention to a wooden mansion they were planning to acquire.
Lucas settles the matter with his usual courtesy. We spent a full day admiring Boholian buildingss secular, with emphasis on the Castilian colonial stilts with thick and long plank floors: “The older the richer were their lords” the former lawyer tells us.
We also enter ghostly wooden villas with shell windows lost in time.
And in unlikely tropical settings that, according to another indigenous member of the delegation, the nucleus manages to get their hands on for 30 pesos (500 euros). In this way, they prevent the conflicting heirs from destroying them just to share the materials.
Discovering the Eccentric Side of Bohol
At the end of the afternoon, we return to Amarela.
We arrived on Saturday. Lucas has to fly to Manila. We took the ride to the Tagbilaran bus terminal. There, we caught a jeepney eccentric and overcrowded. It was time to look for the famous Tarsians and the Chocolate Hills.
We come face to face with the first specimens of the primate in Loboc, in a garden by the river of the same name and on the way to the hills. The meeting is marked by admiration and indifference.
We were surprised by its diminutive size, not at all befitting the fearsome monster that filled so many posters. The specimens, in turn, confront us with an apparent pride.
The eyes of tarsiers are around 16 mm in diameter and may be larger than their brain. Well, those tarsiers just blinked at them, in slow motion, as if sleepy by our banal presence.
At times spread over a vast area of the world, the Tarsians subsist only on a few islands in Southeast Asia.
Despite the stuffed look of key chains, they are the only primate on Earth that is exclusively carnivorous. They jump from tree to tree, attacking insects and small vertebrates: snakes, lizards, bats and birds that they catch in mid-flight. It has nocturnal habits and the morphological combination between its thalamus and eyes is unique among primates. It has led some neuroscientists to suggest that the species comes from a distinct and older line of evolution.
We leave the tarsians in their lethargy. We proceed to the interior of the island and the Rajah Sikatuna National Park.
The Strange Hovered View of the Chocolate Hills
The bus ends its journey at the top of a long ramp. There, a well-placed viewpoint reveals the bizarre backdrop of the Chocolate Hills. Thousands of small conical hills covered with vegetation, with shades of green and yellow, repeat themselves until they are out of sight.
They extend over 50 km² and are between 35 and 120 meters high. They are made of limestone and are named after the appearance they gain when the grass that covers them turns brown during the dry season, when it makes them similar to Hershey's chocolate kisses (Kisses).
The Legendary Explanations of the Chocolate Hills
As might be expected, several legends explain the geological formation with a clear inclination towards greatness.
There is the romantic that speaks of Arogo, an immortal and powerful giant who fell in love with Aloya, a simple mortal who, when she died, left her suitor in pain and disgust. According to this version, the hills would have arisen when their endless tears dried up.
It is also said that two local giants got into a dispute for territory and threw rocks and sand at each other. The confrontation lasted several days. It so tired them that they forgot what had happened and became friends. The Chocolate Hills would be the damage they caused to the ground and never remembered to fix it.
And the Scientific Theories
Even if less fanciful, the scientific community is far from reaching an agreement. The most consensual theory of scientists is that the limestone of the hills contains abundant fossils of marine life.
It has suffered a long and intense erosion generated by rain, water flows and tectonic activity. Other theories add the hypothesis of the lifting of huge coral deposits.
Still others attribute its existence to strong underwater volcanic activity or massive water movements caused by extreme tides, somewhere in the early days of the Planet.
Our story in Bohol, this one, was drawing to a close.
We return to Libaong Beach and the Yellow House. We remake the backpacks. The next morning Lucas Nunag was back and driving us to the airport. We say goodbye to the kind host in gratitude. We got on a Cebu Airlines plane.
We head to the island of Panay and its Boracay for 3 or 4 days of bathing expiation on the grand dame of the Philippine beaches.