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‘Revenge travel’ back to Bohol

From miraculous icons to ube, mushroom siomai, kalamay—go beyond Chocolate Hills

Crayfish Mousse Ravioli (Calape crayfish and ubay cheese, mousse-filled ube ravioli with quail egg, crayfish bisque, cilantro oil, baby basil) at Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort

Bohol ube sponge cake with halaya, coconut whipped cream and toasted coconut at Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort

Fox & The Firefly, named after the owner’s dog and the fireflies that inhabit the night, has vegetarian meals.

Beyond the majestic Chocolate Hills, the tiny tarsiers, and the azure-colored sea, the island of Bohol has lots of incredible things to offer. On my latest visit, we were able to experience the unique delicacies of the Boholanos and the province’s historical and cultural landmarks on a tour organized by the Department of Tourism Region 7.

We landed at Panglao International Airport on Cebu Pacific, which now flies seven times daily from Manila to Bohol, and thrice weekly from Davao to Bohol. Multi-layered protocols are still being implemented by the airline to ensure the health and safety of passengers.

Bluewater Panglao pool overlooking the beach

We were welcomed by Margie Munsayac, sales and marketing VP of Bluewater Resorts, and the friendly staff of Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort, with a full-course lunch meal prepared by the resort’s chef, Rex Firmalino. Under big trees, tables were set with flowers freshly picked in the resort.

The Boholano-theme lunch started with the Crayfish Mousse Ravioli (Calape crayfish and ubay cheese, mousse-filled ube ravioli with quail egg, crayfish bisque, cilantro oil, baby basil). We had Smoked Chicken Hinalang salad (smoked chicken breast, mixed greens, pickled beetroot, chili, candied ginger, coconut-chili dressing). We had Bol-anon style Gulguk (Bohol oyster broth, oyster and scallion dumpling, coconut water, radish, kelp), a Korean-style oyster soup with a Bohol twist. Main course was Sinanglay nga Yamang-Dagat (kingfish, saang or spider conch croquettes, prawn cake in coconut-kalamay sauce with ube mashed potato, roasted baby carrots, garlic bok choy, and crispy fried leeks) and Kare-Kare (oxtail and pork trotter patty, ox tripe, peanut sauce, market vegetables with house bagoong, puffed wild rice, and toasted nuts).

For my favorite part of the meal, dessert, we had Ube at Buko, Bohol ube sponge cake with halaya, coconut whipped cream, and toasted coconuts, and the Ube Taho ice cream, homemade ube taho ice cream with kalamay and sago.

We lost no time in starting our Sandugo trip with Marianito “Nito” Luspo as guide. According to Nito, Bohol was celebrating the month-long Sandugo Festival, a custom begun in 1989. It is a historical commemoration of the friendship treaty, sealed in a blood compact, between Datu Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565. The Sandugo Festival also celebrates this land of hospitable people.

First stop was the Boholano-owned Amarela resort representative of Bohol’s cultural heritage. It houses a museum of artifacts, mostly created by Boholanos, paintings by Boholano artists depicting their cultural practices such as fiestas. Rich spiritual beliefs are evident in the Baroque-style urnas, carved wooden shrines for religious icons, displayed all over the resort; in the museum, most of the displayed artifacts are urnas of varying sizes and styles. Home tools such as the duwang (wooden basin), palo-palo (laundry paddle), lusong (mortar), ganta (measuring implement for grain, sugar, salt), all made from molave wood, are displayed. But the resort doesn’t just showcase culture, it also offers accommodations with a panoramic view of the beautiful beach.

To learn more about the spiritual landmarks of Bohol, we went to Dauis Church (the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption), located in one of the oldest towns of the province, established even before the arrival of the Spaniards. Built in 1863, the structure was made with coral stones. In 1879, according to our tour guide, when the construction reached the central tower, it kept on collapsing for unknown reasons. It was finished in 1923. Dauis Church is the first church in the province with a painted ceiling that tells the story of the Virgin Mary. It is also known as the “church with a well,” as there is a well inside with fresh potable water. The church had to close the well in 2006, as some tourists threw coins in it, which led to contamination. We were also shown the grave of the Reyes family inside the church, believed to have been the richest clan in Bohol in the 1800s.

The main representation of the Sandugo Festival is the blood compact shrine in Hinawanan Bay in Loay, Bohol. A blood compact was a Visayan practice that involved making a cut on the chest or arm, usually while on board a ship. The blood was then mixed with liquor, and both parties had to drink it as a vow of brotherhood or friendship based on reciprocated trust and respect. It was during that time that Christianity was also introduced in the island.

We were treated to a cooking demo of ube biko, a native sticky rice cake made of glutinous rice, mashed ube, coconut milk, ube condensed milk, brown sugar, a pinch of their asin tibuok (local salt made through a labor-intensive traditional process), and cheese for toppings, at Cresencia, an ancestral house turned restaurant. We had the tasty ube biko with sikwate (a chocolate drink made of tablea).

Unknown to many, Bohol’s ube, which the locals call kinampay, has a sweeter aroma and more vivid purple color than the ube of Luzon

Unknown to many, Bohol’s ube, which the locals call kinampay, has a sweeter aroma and a more vivid purple color than the ube of Luzon, and is considered a sacred crop of the Boholanos. According to our guide, locals believe that when an ube falls on the ground, you must kiss it like a baby to show how much you value this crop.

Before sunset, we went to our last stop, the oldest church in Bohol, Baclayon Church, built in 1596, where Rajah Sikatuna is believed to be buried.

Beyond Chocolate Hills was the theme of our second-day tour. We headed first to the 3-ha Green Thumb Farm in Corella, Bohol. The owner, Rona Denque, was blessed with the ability to grow a variety of plants, hence the farm’s name. We got to sample organically grown mushroom,  the farm’s main product, along with medicinal and herbal plants. We also got to see how their famous mushroom sisig is done. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference from pork sisig. We were served mushroom burger, mushroom siomai, mushroom pizza, and mushroom chicharon. For drinks, we had Corella Ube Smoothie, Ganoderma tea, and Kalinga coffee with Ganoderma.

If you’re into nature, the Fox & The Firefly is your best choice

We next headed to Loboc, the “Music Town” and home of the nationally renowned Loboc Children’s Choir. We visited the famous Loboc Church, the second oldest church in Bohol that was severely damaged in the 2013 earthquake. It was only last year that the church was reopened, after its restoration. In 1876, the miraculous Virgin of Guadalupe of Loboc was believed to have stopped the flood waters from rising beyond the base of her image—a scene depicted in a painting on the ceiling. According to our guide Cecile, another miracle was believed to have happened during Typhoon Odette last year, when destructive floodwaters, like centuries ago, didn’t rise above the base of the image, now evident in floodwater marks inside the church.

For lunch, we headed to Fox & The Firefly cottages, named after the owner’s Pomeranian-Japanese Spitz named Fox and the fireflies that twinkle in the trees at night along the banks of Loboc River. We had the fizzy sweet-and-sour Kombucha, a fermented black tea, as our welcome drink. According to owner Joan Christine Soupart, some people believe the cottages are Bali-inspired, but it was, in fact, a resort in Boracay that prompted her to build Fox & The Firefly. If you’re really into nature, this is the best choice. We had lunch in their Food and Fables Café, named after another dog, Fables. The restaurant, a destination for healthy meals, serves vegetarian and vegan food options. We had hinalang manok (a Visayan version of tinola soup with coconut and moringa leaves), monggo soup, avocado salad, somtom (Thai papaya salad), talong salad, G-chili shrimps, vegan kare-kare, and my favorite maranding manok (dry coconut chicken curry). As a nature lover’s place, it has no single-use plastics.

In Alburquerque, we visited the asin tibuok-making site. Coconut husks are soaked in saltwater for about three months. The husks are then chopped up and dried under the sun. The dried husks are burnt to ashes for days, while sea water is sprayed on them to control the fire. After burning, the ashes are placed in a funnel-shaped filter. Seawater is then poured into the funnel. The resulting liquid leaches out the salt from the ashes, which is then poured out and roasted in clay pots until the salt forms into a solid dome. Only 120 pots are made in the entire process.

The dough was then twisted like a rope, fried until light brown, and coated with sugar. I loved how soft it was

Last stop was Julio’s Bed and Breakfast in Loay, Bohol, where there were several food cooking demonstrations. We first had the siakoy made with flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. The dough was then twisted like a rope, fried until light brown, and coated with sugar. I loved how soft it was, reminding me of donuts being sold on the streets during my childhood. We paired it with sikwate, in a traditional Filipino merienda. Owner Pio Araneta showed us how to catch kagang (land crab) to cook with coconut milk into nilubihang or ginataang kagang. Pasgong, traditional handmade bamboo traps, are used to catch the crabs; they are put in the holes where the kagang hide. We checked two pasgong, and luckily, there were kagang in each one.

Kalamay cooking was also demonstrated by Albur Calamay Makers Association president Lily Busano. This famous Bohol delicacy is made with grated coconut, coconut milk, brown sugar, muscovado sugar, peanuts, and pilit (ground glutinous rice). According to Lily, the kalamay mixture must be stirred for more than three hours to achieve its desired stickiness. Cooled kalamay is then packed in a coconut shell, locally known as bagul. I tried weaving the pouch for puso (hanging rice), which is traditionally partnered with nilubihang kagang, and received a kalamay as prize.

Over dinner at Baroto Bar in Panglao Bluewater Beach Resort, we had the chance to talk to Bohol’s newly-elected governor, Erico Aristotle Aumentado, who said that the provincial government is doing its best to recover from the negative impact of the pandemic and the damage brought by Typhoon Odette, and the tourism industry is indeed a big contributor to the local economy. He added that the provincial government also imposes strict environment rules to avoid pollution that may affect tourism. The governor is expecting a higher number of tourist arrivals as travel protocols are eased.

Bluewater Panglao pathway lined with bamboo

I learned how Bohol tourism relies on both its natural resources and rich heritage. The food, the churches, the way of living—each aspect is part of the story of Boholano culture, and helps you understand who they really are. The Sandugo is a great depiction of the genuine, hospitable, and friendly Boholanos.

I will certainly return to Bohol to visit the famous Chocolate Hills and try the Rush Bike Zip, to see the tarsiers, and to try diving to see the marine life.

On my previous Bohol trip, we were required to follow strict health protocols, such as taking an RT-PCR test and submitting necessary documents. This time, we only needed to keep our face masks on. From our almost full Cebu Pacific flight to the higher occupancy of the resorts, it’s evident that tourism in the country is getting back to pre-pandemic times. Revenge travel is not a theory—it’s real.

Read more:

Why I go house-to-house (H2H) in the ‘solid north’

Swimming with the sardines—Bohol is my dream come true

Why I keep coming back to Elyu

I was inked by a legend

Boracay of the North: It’s back to the sea for my new year

About author

Articles

He is a 26-year-old Speech Communication and Broadcasting graduate of the University of the Philippines. A former creative writing instructor, he is working as research lead in a publishing company.

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