Art/Style/Travel Diaries

Swimming with the sardines—Bohol is my dream come true

I conquered my fear of heights after 30 minutes of standing and hesitating on the edge of the cliff

Sardine run in Napaling

Amorita’s infinity pool

Chef Robby Goco’s Psito Hoirino me giaourti (roast pork, lettuce wraps, pickles, harissa yogurt)

Traveling to Bohol to catch a glimpse of the azure-colored sea and experience coral gardens by scuba-diving had always been my dream. I never thought that dream would become a reality during the pandemic, as tourism in the country has been greatly affected and government agencies have implemented protocols and travel restrictions. Under these uncertain conditions, traveling nowadays, some would say, has become a privilege for those who can afford to fulfill the necessary requirements.

I was fortunate to receive the invitation of the One-of Collection to Bohol’s award-winning luxury Amorita Resort for to cover the September 25 Greek-inspired culinary affair, the newest installment of BEats (Bohol Eats), with Cyma’s Robby Goco as celebrity chef guest.

To ensure the safety of the travelers, we complied with several requirements of the Panglao local government. We created an S-PASS account to fill in the information sheet and uploaded documents for approval: a government-issued ID, an RT-PCR test result obtained within the last 72 hours, a hotel confirmation voucher, and an airline travel itinerary.

Before heading to the boarding gate, we presented our approved S-PASS to the airline staff to get our individual passes. We arrived at Panglao International Airport on AirAsia late afternoon of September 24. During the flight, all protocols were strictly observed—face mask and face shield had to be worn, as the flight crew checked all the time. For the biosecurity and disinfecting measures, we were required to step on a footbath before entering the airport’s waiting area. We presented our approved S-PASS and negative RT-PCR test result, and signed a log sheet in lieu of the Traze contact tracing QR code.

The hospitable crew of Amorita Resort welcomed us with their gigantic smiles on our way to the spacious service bus going to the resort. We were offered a cooling towel and a juice drink upon arrival. The staff was quite accommodating, with everyone smiling at us—it felt like we were the resort’s regular patrons; they even knew our names.

Leeds Trompeta, general manager of the resort, reiterated that to follow strict health protocols, they had to cut down the 80 percent occupancy rate to a maximum of 30 percent. To add another layer of safety, they implemented their 24-48-hour disinfection using UV light and organic chemicals for each room. Some staff were wearing PPE and checking if guests were wearing face masks properly. Service vehicles were also equipped with safety barriers to prevent possible contact between passengers and the drivers. With that, the resort has been given the “Safety Seal” by the Travel Tourism Council, allowing them to add 10 percent to the total prescribed occupancy rate.

On my way to my room, I was amazed at how the resort utilized nature to create such a wonderful destination. The area is surrounded by lush green gardens, with many trees contributing to the cooler feel, and a well-maintained pathway where you could not see a single piece of trash.

I stayed in a spacious 40-sqm airconditioned room. It has a king bed, a day bed, coffee-making facilities, a mini-refrigerator, a flat-screen TV, a vanity kit, and a hygiene kit. Flower petals were arranged into the word “welcome,” and a bag contained hand sanitizer and face masks. On the table was a personalized message and a piece of wood with my name engraved on it, plus fruits and cookies. There’s also a fish pet that I needed to feed during my three-day stay in the resort. The window provides a view of nature—trees, the garden, and the pathway.

On Saturday, I woke up to birds singing. I walked into the sunrise to explore the quiet and peaceful paradise. I strolled around and went to the resort’s private beach to see limestone formations and to walk barefoot on the white sand.

We rented sanitized snorkeling gear and swam with hundreds and thousands of sardines

After an English breakfast, we drove 15 minutes away to Napaling to experience the sardine run and cliff jumping. During the old normal, according to the guides, hundreds of tourists had to wait for hours for their turn, but this time, it was only us in the area. Health protocols were observed, as placards and banners are everywhere to remind us to wear our face masks and shields. We rented sanitized snorkeling gear to have a view, and swam with hundreds and thousands of sardines and other colored fishes. The fishes surrounded and almost covered me, after one of the guides pushed me down through them. It seemed scary at first, and I even asked the guide if they might bite me—but they swam away when I reached for them.

I conquered my fear of heights after 30 minutes of standing and hesitating on the edge of the cliff, approximately the height of a three-story building, before jumping into the clear water. I asked the guide to jump before I did to assure me that it was safe and wouldn’t cause any bone breakage. I ran, looked at the farthest point, shouted, and jumped. It was really terrifying at first, but I wanted to do it a second time, as it somehow allowed me to release any emotional grit within.

Before the downpour of heavy rain, we managed to finish all the activities.

The BEats (Bohol Eats) started with overflowing cocktails, at sunset, on the cliff overlooking the magnificent Alona Beach. According to Leeds, BEats started as a pop-up event; they came up with an idea to create synergy between Amorita and various restaurants. The main aim was to help other restaurants in Bohol that had been forced to close during this pandemic; they could use the resort’s kitchen to cook food and serve it to guests. “BEats evolved from a pop-up idea to help other restaurants, to invite chefs from Metro Manila, and we want to inspire the diners to try something different, something that they cannot find in Bohol,” Trompeta added.

On the longer term, the management’s ultimate dream is to bring international chefs to Bohol, like in Madrid Fusion. BEats already had authentic Filipino cuisine, then South American, and now Greek food.

With everybody in white, guests were seated or standing around elegantly set-up chairs and tables while drinking some of the signature cocktails. With warm colored bulbs surrounding the area and music playing, Greek Island vibes were achieved. As a first-time visitor, I wanted to try all the mixes, including the Pineapple Cracker and the Mojito.

We went to Saffron restaurant for the 10-course modern Greek meal prepared by Chef Robby Goco. According to him, most of the ingredients used were locally sourced to help the local market survive. As both Greece and the Philippines are archipelagos, there is some sort of culture and food flavor sharing, he explained.

We started off with the refreshing four-course mezze, then a five-course dinner, and ended with the feta cheesecake dessert with white wine in between. Each course was served in ideal portions so we could taste all the dishes. My favorite was the Psito Hoirino me giaourti, a combination of roast pork, lettuce wrap, pickles, and harissa yogurt. As a pork lover, I found it very tender, and it somehow melted in my mouth; the taste of the yogurt was sour and perfect. I didn’t realize that the pork had to be wrapped in lettuce, like in our usual samgyeopsal; chef Robby explained it after he noticed me using my fork. The feta cheesecake was another favorite, a combination of Graham crust, fromage blanc topping, and caramelized peaches. All ingredients were well balanced, and I finished it in just a minute—it was not too sweet. The event ended with the awarding of the best-dressed among the guests.

As usual on my trips, I searched for photo inspirations that I could duplicate. On my last day in Bohol, I was able to take hundreds of photos on the resort’s infinity pool at different angles, with the help of one of the resort staff.

The feta cheesecake was a combination of Graham crust, fromage blanc topping, and caramelized peaches

Without thinking about sunburn, I also went to the unpopulated, white sand Alona Beach. I tried paddleboarding and gave up after a few minutes of trying to balance on waves. I also enjoyed kayaking. I felt like we owned the beach, as we were the only ones who got to enjoy the view in the middle of the day. According to a friend, it was the only time she saw Alona Beach with such a small number of visitors. I hardly noticed that it was already lunch time and we needed to pack our things to head to the airport.

This trip to Bohol also taught me valuable lessons that every concerned citizen should be mindful of. The effects of the pandemic on each of our lives have been bad enough for us to take stock—there have been deaths, many have lost their jobs, businesses are closing, and the economy has been greatly impacted. I have seen the importance of wearing face masks, physical distancing, and sanitizing. In simple ways, we are not just protecting ourselves, but also other people, the country’s tourism industry, and most important, the economy. I certainly believe that working together will help us handle the pandemic better, and we can go back to the times when we are not afraid to go out and travel. We can all start in our own little ways.

About author


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 researcher in a publishing company.

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