Edgar, the couchsurfer we stayed with in Manila, told us that Bohol was a good introductory island to visit when he heard we were going there next. He explained that it was like a grab-bag of the sorts of sights and activities that you’d encounter all throughout the vast Philippine archipelago. With the amount of time I had left, I couldn’t do even that single island justice, although I saw plenty.
The first place we stopped by after getting off the plane was the Tarsier Research and Development Center near Tagbilaran. The bug-eyed little primates served as inspiration for E.T. (the fingers) and Yoda (all of him) among other things, and have long been a popular attraction of the islands. Their bones are extremely delicate and the scare easily, so the center was created as an alternative to the sketchy roadside cages most tourists encounter them in.
After that, we headed up the coast for another couchsurfing contract. Abby’s a current Peace Corps Volunteer on the island, and it was interesting to compare notes of our Peace Corps experiences in Peru with her current lifestyle. When she or her former host family next door weren’t plying us with more treats than we had room for, we learned that some things (like head-scratching bureaucracy) never change while others (140 person training classes!) couldn’t be more different.
We decided to skip the tourist trap-y Chocolate Hills after having several less than impressed opinions about it and headed straight to the beach next. Panglao’s Alona Beach is no less the tourist trap, and it was annoying to deal with the non-stop shilling and (slightly) higher priced and a bit off-putting to see the crowds of sixty year old Brits hand-in-hand with young Filipinas.
Still, the sand was white and the water was clear and blue. It didn’t hurt that the rum (a buck a pint) and the San Miguel (50 cents a bottle) were the right price and of passable quality. We ate well and were as lazy as we pleased, which was pretty much the point. Still, we couldn’t resist taking advantage of one trip, hiring a boat for a half-day for the equivalent of $30U.S.
We started off before six and got to see several dolphins before heading off to a small island to snorkel. I’d never done that before, and while it wasn’t anything special for those who’re used to it. I was amazed by the variety of small fish and coral I encountered, as well as floored by the simple experience of walking off the shelf of the island and hovering over untold depths of inscrutable, turquoise blue water. I had only considered getting my diving license in the abstract before, but now I’m determined to do it.
The last stop was Virgin Island, which finally fulfilled an expectation of mine that Alona couldn’t- a paradise beach. It’s a small crescent of white sand with a small copse of greenery at one end, complete with shallows boasting starfish and sea urchins (which you could by fresh and slurp down right there- salty with a back end of something not unlike apple). Yeah, this is what a tropical island is supposed to feel like.