Exploring the Visayas

With our freshly printed Advanced Open Water card on hand, we were heading to our next underwater destination, Alona Beach and the beautiful Balicassag. But our plans of diving non stop got somehow truncated when we got to Bohol. The discomfort I had felt in my ears after diving in Malapascua worsened, and the itchiness had become pain in the middle of the night. A visit to a local specialist Dr Yu, who as it happens is also a diver, confirmed it. I had otitis. I was told I wasn’t allowed to dive for 5 days and that I had to take antibiotics for 7 days. What a bummer!

After the news we had no choice but to re-arrange the plans. We decided to take the opportunity to explore the Visayas lifestyle, to do a bit of sightseeing and why not, to rest for a couple of days at the beach.

Tagbilaran became our home for the 1st few days of our diving blackout. The capital of Bohol is a very local town, with its hundreds of colourful tricycles, a few shopping malls, the mandatory church and with really not very much to see or do… most of tourist just pass by on their way to the beaches. The locals are very friendly, as soon as they realize you are Spanish they start asking for your family name and comment on how they have Spanish roots and how their grand grand mother had a Spanish family name like Perez or Lopez.

We knew Filipinos are very religious people, 90% of them are Christians and most of them Catholics, but we didn’t know how deeply religion was integrated in their day to day life until one of the evenings at the main shopping mall in Tagbilan. It was 3pm and all of a sudden everybody stopped what they were doing. Next they started praying along the sermon that could be heard through the PA system. Surprised as we were of what we had just seen, we went back to the hostel to try to find out. It was the 3pm prayer, at the very same time Jesus died on the cross. A few days later a taxi driver told us how the most devout Filipinos pray even 3 times every day, at 12pm, 3pm and 6pm.

Although the weather in the Visayas is good all year round, May to September is the typhoon season in the Philippines and we had a bit of rain most days. The instability of the weather made us forget the idea of renting a motorbike for a day to explore Bohol. Instead, we took the local bus to visit Chocolate Hills. Seriously I don’t know what was more dangerous, to ride a motorcycle with a bit of rain or to go on a bus with a crazy driver that doesn’t slow down at any turn. But we were happy of our decision once it started pouring rain as we were coming down from Chocolate hills. Hills that have nothing to do with mountains of chocolate as I had wished, they are just some strange geological formations. On the way back we visited the Tarsiers sanctuary at Loboc. Bohol tarsier is one the smallest primate in the world, this cute little mini monkeys with huge eyes are no bigger than my hand. Mostly they sleep by day and become active by night, when they go hunting for insects. This adorable animal is an endangered specie but we thought that in the sanctuary they are doing a good job trying to protect them and helping them to reproduce.

Suffocated by the intense heat and humidity, Isma got his hair cut for second time in this trip at the local barber in Tagbilaran. The place looked a bit dodgy and the scissors seemed to be about 50 years old, but the result was a perfect hair cut in just 5 minutes and for just 25 pesos (less than 50 cents of euro). I think this will be the cheapest haircut ever!

A highlight of our stay in Tagbilaran was meeting two “crazy” individuals who made the same insane decision we did, to leave everything behind and travel the world. Silvia and Oscar are doing a trip very similar to ours but the other way around! They started in South America and they are now conquering Asia. We are hoping we can meet again, maybe in Singapore or Malaysia and maybe share a couple of Tiger beers!

Seeking a couple of days of rest, good beaches and a diving trip to Apo island (after the 5 days recommended by the doctor had passed) we went to San Juan, in Siquijor. It was very low season when we arrived to this small island and it was all very quiet, we were the only guests at our hostel and most of the resorts around us looked empty. But we didn’t really care, I think that we even preferred the tranquility. Though, this meant that there weren’t enough people interested in going to Apo Island for the dive centres to organize a trip.

The stormy weather had made the sea being a bit rough, the water a bit cloudy and had brought lots of waste to the beaches, so as you can imagine they weren’t looking as appealing as the normally do. We still enjoyed them though. One of the things we didn’t like at all was that most beaches were private beaches belonging to posh resorts, and could only be visited by paying a fee or staying with them. The beaches belong to the world and everybody should be free to visit them!

In Siquijor we forgot about the rain and the storms and rented a bike to tour the island. We saw the more traditional aspects of country, drove through picturesque fishing villages, swam at a waterfall with crystal clear water and breathed in the left overs of the Spanish past of the Philippines. The many churches, the beautiful squares like the ones at many Spanish towns, the signs of the fiestas at all the villages. For a second we thought we were back in Spain. As a funny anecdote we bumped into a traffic police control and oops, our driving license was at the hostel. All we had with us was a copy of our passports. We explained the situation and as soon as they saw we were Spanish everything changed. The usual conversation about “cuchillo”, “tenedor”, “cuchara”, “misa” (all the Spanish words that are still part of their vocabulary)… probably saved us from getting into trouble.

Not that bad that I wasn’t allowed to dive!

Visit our flickr gallery for more pictures!

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Accommodation

Tagbilaran, Bohol, Nisa Travellers Inn – A clean hostel at the centre of Tagbilaran, just in front the main shopping mall. They do have different types of rooms, we stayed at one of the cheapest and simplest with fan and shared bathroom. Breakfast (toast, eggs, coffee, banana) is complimentary as well as the afternoon tea and wifi. We paid 600 pesos per night.

San Juan, Siquijor, Czars place – A funky and relaxed resort. We were the only two guests during the two days we stayed with them. They organized the pick up from the ferry Pier the day we arrived. We had a big room, with fan and attached bathroom. There was no wifi. Be aware that there are live concerts every Friday night, and that music doesn’t stop until very, very late… We rented the motorbike with them. We paid 500 per night for the room and 300 for the day rental of the motorbike.

Transport

Ferry from Cebu city to Tagbilaran (2h 30mins) – We got to Cebu the same way we got to Malapascua (boat & bus). In Cebu we took the Oceanjet ferry to Tagbilaran at Pier 1. We paid 520 pesos per person one way plus another 50 pesos for the bag portage charge. It is recommended to arrive to the Pier at least 1h before departure time because of the queues at the ticket office, checking stand…

Bus from Tagbilaran to Chocolate Hills (2h) – We took the bus to Carmen from the bus station in Tagbilaran. There are no bus stops, we just asked the driver to let us know when and where we had to get off the bus. Buses run every 30 mins. We paid 60 pesos per person one way. On the way back we took the same and only bus, and stopped at the Tarsier sanctuary.

Ferry from Tagbilaran to Siquijor (3h) – We took the Oceanjet ferry from Tagbilan to Siquijor. The ferry goes via Dumaguete, though we didn’t need to leave the boat when reaching Dumaguete. We paid 800 pesos per person one way and the portage fee this time was 40 pesos after negotiation.

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