BOHOLANO CACAO FARMER OUT TO USE THE TARSIER FOR HIS OWN NEFARIOUS ENDS
(Bohol vacation, Conclusion)
Most visitors to Bohol go to the Chocolate Hills Complex, ooh and ahh over these unique formations (there are 1,268 of them, in case you're counting), crack a few jokes about their resemblance to female mammaries and take 'trick digicam shots showing them jumping over the hills, etc.
Most are unaware that there is another side to the Chocolate Hills. I found this out quite by accident myself. Having mentioned casually to our tour guide, whom we shall call Gulliver (for that is his name), about the extremely delicious cups of hot local chocolate i had been drinking at breakfast for the last couple of days, he quickly realized he was in the presence of a fellow chocoholic.
"Did you know that cacao trees are grown at the base of the Hills in the municipality of Sagbayan?" he queried. "That's where the cocoa beans that go into our local chocolate come from."
"Really? I didn't know that at all!" i replied enthusiastically. "So REAL chocolate comes from the Chocolate Hills? How cool is that!! Do you think we could visit the farmers' plantation?"
Thus, the day after saw me and Gulliver taking a 2-hour van ride to Sagbayan, where he had arranged for an interview with Mang Bokbok, one of the 80 or so farmers active in the cultivation of the cacao tree in Bohol.
Mang Bokbok turned out to be a wiry, quiet man in his late fifties, with a weather-beaten face from too much sun exposure. He gave us a brief overview of the cultivation of the cacao tree, and the harvest, processing and production into chocolate. At present, they were growing trees at some 200 out of the 1,200+ Chocolate Hills, all in the remote parts of the municipality, so as not to spoil tourists' camera shots.
According to Mang Bokbok, the rich, fertile soil, coupled with the shade provided by the Hills, were ideal conditions for the cacao tree to flourish and bear much fruit.
Rather skeptical, i asked him, "How come the government has not promoted Bohol chocolate at all? Or your plantations as tourist spots?"
Mang Bokbok frowned slightly, and he launched into a furious tirade. Gulliver took some time to translate his words. Turned out there was a dispute between two opposite factions of the cacao farmers. It went like this:
The Bohol International Industrial Klan (BIIK), being composed of farmers whose sons and daughters were disinclined to carry on with the business, was lobbying for their farmlands to be converted into housing subdivisions.
Meanwhile, the Bohol Underground Land Owners Klan (BULOK), of which Mang Bokbok was the president, believed it was only a matter of time before the world would discover the fantastic qualities of Boholano chocolate. So, they wanted the government to give tax incentives and subsidies to their production, to make it more competitive.
With the two groups warring with each other, the Department of Tourism (DOT) was wary of promoting their cacao plantations as 'eco-nature' destinations.
Besides, to get to their location would require at least 2 hours of driving through dusty, unpaved and winding roads, not necessarily any tourist's cup of hot choco (pun intended).
Mang Bokbok had no love lost for the local government. He described the mayor as "corrupt", who hadn't yet fulfilled his campaign promise to provide the farmers with a new, automated roasting machine for their beans.
The sun was setting, and Gulliver and i were preparing to get back to Panglao.
As we thanked Mang Bokbok for his time, he slyly smiled, and confided the "secret" project he was working on right now. He had heard of the "Alamid coffee", reputedly the most expensive coffee in the world.
This is what made it unique: It is made from the beans found in the droppings (yes, we also know it as 'feces', 'poop' or 'shit') of the Philippine Civet, a cat-like nocturnal mammal closely similar to the mongoose.
The civets eat coffee berries, but the beans inside are swallowed and passed out whole (undigested) by the animal. These beans are gathered from droppings found at the farm. Then, these are filtered, dried under the sun for several days and then roasted for 7 hours.
This inspired a brain wave in Mang Bokbok. He then set about obtaining (through dubious means, i must say) three dozen tarsiers from the sanctuary in Corella, and had been force feeding cacao beans on these poor creatures. Since the tarsiers' diet was composed of crickets and other insects, they were unable to process the beans properly, and said beans go through their digestive tracts undigested.
Further, to ramp up production quickly, Mang Bokbok had installed bright compact fluourescent lights inside his tarsiers' cages, thus depriving them of sleep and raising their stress levels. This had the effect of increasing their poop production threefold.
Quite ingenious, and devious, at the same time.
I asked, "Err....how does the chocolate from the tarsiers' shit taste like?"
Mang Bokbok closed his eyes, and started waxing rhapsodically about the intense, full-bodied aroma and creamy, vanilla-like flavour with a hint of lemony after-taste of the chocolate produced from the tarsiers' droppings. He even offered us a taste, which Gulliver and i quickly declined.
Apparently, he had no qualms about exploiting an endangered animal like the tarsier at all.
"The government is shit. The DOT is full of shit," he opined. With a bemused half-smile on his lined, weary face, he added, "So why not make money from the tarsiers' shit?"
[This story is a product of my imagination, and is pure nonsense]