I fell in love with Bohol the first time I went there three years ago to attend the wedding of a friend's brother. I've been going there every chance I get since then, to what my Boholano friend Raoul Tidalgo and I call "our paradise on earth."
When my big-city-trapped friends ask me why I'm always in Bohol (it just seems like that because I keep on mentioning the place and the people in this corner every once too often), I want to tell them, "Let me count the ways," rattling off the following "10 Things to Love About Bohol" (not necessarily in this order):
1. The Tarsier - I saw it perched on a tree along the Loboc River made even more famous by Cesar Montano, one of Bohol's pride, in his movie Panaghoy sa Suba. I looked at it eyeball-to-eyeball and that's how I noticed lonely its eyes were, so huge that, for a while, I felt that those eyes would kill me with gentleness.
2. The Chocolate Hills -One of Da King FPJ's favorite settings of his blockbusters, the hills are alive with the whatever sound you can imagine, all those 1,268 mounds (count 'em!). If you have the stamina, try climbing the 200-plus steps up one of them and, from the peak, be mesmerized by a panoramic view of the province. Breath-taking! How did the hills got the name? Give the credit to the Americans who, many years ago, stood transfixed by the natural wonder that reminded them of Chocolate Kisses. Thus, Chocolate Hills.
3. The Amarela (in Panglao) - Touted on its flyer as "...not just a beautiful beach resort but also a showcase of Bohol's rich cultural and artistic heritage...", Amarela is Spanish for yellow. Said its owner-manager Doy Nunag, "We called it Amarela by accident. Three years ago when we were on a family vacation in Portugal, we noticed that the subway lines were identified by color, one of them the Amarela Line. We were looking for a name for the resort and we thought that Amarela was perfect for it." Most of the rooms face the sea. Watch the sun rise and set from your window, and you will sing the famous Sunrise, Sunset song from Fiddler on the Roof with new lyrics coming spontaneously from your heart. I heard that Bea Zobel stays at Amarela when she's in Bohol, which is often. (Note: For inquiries, call 038-5029497 to 98 or cell phone 0906-5884145.)
4. The old churches - Raoul and I visited 14 churches the first time I was in Bohol, completing the Visita Iglesia even if it was the Lenten Season. We lingered a bit in the vicinity of Baclayon Church in Baclayon town, several meters away from it stands the lighthouse where Cesar Montano proposed to Sunshine Cruz at sunset, to the enchanting music of the Loboc Children's Choir. Romantic!
5. The Bohol Bee Farm - Owned and managed by Vicky Wallace, the Farm serves all-organic food, including - would you believe! - Bougainvilla Salad ("Anything that the bees eat is edible," assured Vicky, a retired nurse who worked in the States, now the widow of an American husband) and Camote Bread. To digest an "organic" meal, you can stroll around place and have a close look at the bees of various species, coming from different parts of the country (and Australia).
6. The Peanut Kisses, Ube Jam and Torta - Don't just bring home beautiful memories from Bohol, complete with album-fuls of pictures. Remember to drop by any of the groceries in department stores (BQ Mall - BQ for Bohol Quality - one of them, owned and managed by Raymond Ong who also owns and manages Metro Center which has a cozy hotel at the heart of Tagbilaran City) and stuff your back-pack with as many packs of Peanut Kisses and Torta and Ube Jam as you can. Family and friends back home will love those pasalubongs. Yummy!
7. Payag Restaurant - Your weekend in Tagbilaran will not be complete if you don't take lunch or dinner at Payag (#18 CPG East Avenue). My favorite item on the menu is the Chicken Barbecue, served with fresh achara and cold buko juice (or any juice of your choice). When Floy Quintos brought balikbayan international model Anna Bayle to Bohol, they went to Payag for dinner. "They occupied that table in the corner," Raoul pointed out. "Anna looked as delicious as the chicken inasal, holding a bottle of ice-cold Beer Light." Burp before you leave the place. (Note: For reservations, call 038-4112527 or 038-5019447.)
8. The Loboc River Night Cruise - For a touch of romance, take this tour with a loved one (lover or friend) - or even alone (you can "romance" yourself, can't you? By day, the cruise comes with buffet lunch. At night, you first take dinner at a floating restaurant and then you transfer to a boat that sails oh-so-slowly along the river between tall trees on both banks, adorned with lights that turn from red to orange to pink to violet to green to blue and then to light blue-green. Those lights were donated by Carlos Chan (Benchan's brother) to the tune of... P12 million!?!... including the Children's Palace where the Loboc Youth Band caps the cruise with an hour of soothing music. But first, enjoy a homegrown group composed of children and adults, waiting on a raft at the far end of the Loboc River to serenade the "cruisers" during the brief stopover. (Don't forget to donate a few bucks to the singing group; they need it.) Cruise prices are very affordable. (Note: For inquiries, call the Loboc Tourism Port Office at 038-5379292 or mobile phones 0928-5077627 and 0920-9623550.)
9. The Panglao Island Nature Resort - Owned and managed by Raymond Ong, this resort is another haven for weary souls from the big city. If you're looking for a place so quiet and so serene that you can feel your heart gently beating and yourself thinking, with only the sound of the wind rustling among the trees, this is the place for you. Your muscles grown tired? Walk to The Spa nearby. Or take a swim or do a lap or two at the Olympic-size pool. Or run to the beach just beyond your cottage. The resort's new feature is the just-opened Verdant Pavilion which is a perfect venue for concerts (Sitti was the first to hold one there; and, if negotiations push through, Martin Nievera just might do a Valentine concert there in February next year, keep your fingers crossed!). For inquiries, call (63-38) 411-5875 or 502-2451.
10. The Beautiful Boholanos - Bohol has produced a lot of stars, including Cesar Montano (of course, who is rumored to be running for governor or congressman), Luke Mejares, retired actress and now US-based Rebecca del Rio, Giselle Sanchez, the late Yoyoy Villame, StarStruck finalist Rich Asuncion, Star in a Million Champion Jerome Sala (now managing the family's hollow blocks business and, on the side, driving the family-owned passenger jeepney), Rebecca Lusterio, Hot Babe Sheree, Lutgardo Labad, 2006 Bb. Pilipinas-World Mariz Igpit and "adopted son" Maryo J. delos Reyes (who has a house in Tagbilaran. And, last but definitely not the least, my friends (aside from Raoul Tidalgo, Raymond Ong, Vicky Wallace and Doy Nunag), Betty Veloso-Garcia (and the Veloso Family), Boy Echavez and Liklik Schroeder (now based in Sacramento, California).
(E-mail reactions at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com) - Ricardo F. Lo (Philstar News Service, www.philstar.com)