Thursday, March 19, 2009

(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, " 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]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

(BOHOL vacation, Part Four)

We had a very early call time today, 6:00 AM. Normally, i would revolt at waking up so early (we were on vacation, after all), but i was actually sorta pumped, even though it was all dark so early in the morning, and we had to eat a hurried breakfast.

Why? Because we were going on our dolphin-watching tour at Pamilacan Island,
approximately one hour's banca ride away from Panglao.

Our guide/head boatman, Teddy, led us to our banca, called "ARCA". Fortunately, it seemed to be a sturdy boat, with adequate life jackets on board.

Before we sailed off, i asked Teddy about the numerous touts we had been encountering the past day while walking on the beach, all of them offering dolphin-watching tours at low prices. So, what was the difference between the tours offered by these touts and those offered by the tour company employing him?

He replied that these touts have not undergone the Department of Tourism (DOT) seminar/accreditation for the tours. Thus, they had no license to operate said tour. Moreover, they (and their passengers) have no insurance in the event of some misfortune at high seas. Rather reassuring, eh?

We were also introduced to our 'spotter', Arnel (above pic), who was 18 years old but didn't look a day over 12! [No wonder S. had an immediate crush on him, haha :-D]

Teddy proved to be quite a gregarious guide. We had asked if there were also whales to be seen at this time of year, but no such luck. Apparently, while dolphins can be found year-round, whales can be spotted only in the months of April, May and sometimes June.

Teddy commented that he and his co-residents at Pamilacan Island used to be whale hunters. They used to catch the dolphins, whales, sharks, manta rays, etc., and butcher them for food. But they have all seen the light, so to speak; and this practice has been banned for at least ten years.

Upon my egging, though, he described in graphic detail how they used to harpoon a dolphin, and how it easily got disoriented and dizzy from the smell of its own blood. From then on, it was easy pickings to reel it in.

Then viola! Dolphin sashimi for lunch. He described its taste "like beef".

We had expected a hot sunny morning, and had slathered on as much sunblock as we could, only to be thwarted by the overcast sky. Worse, a fairly hard drizzle came and stayed, making the boat ride towards Pamilacan Island one wet, chilly experience. Good thing, though, that the waves were fairly calm.

Fortunately, the sky cleared up during the mid-way portion of our boat ride, and the sun came out.

"The dolphins are there," Teddy pointed. Then he started clapping and whistling. This seems the standard way to catch the dolphins' attention.

"Where?" I couldn't see any, despite squinting and peering like crazy.

Oh, there they were. Initially, it was hard to pick out these creatures' dark gray fins peeking out from the dark blue waters of the sea; but after some effort, they became readily apparent.

Teddy estimated there were around 200 dolphins swimming around, behind, in front, and even underneath our banca. Yes, these creatures are aware they are being watched.

Taking good pictures of them proved quite difficult, though. The banca was rocking to and fro, the dolphins were swimming fast, and one didn't really want to stretch out too far at our vessel's bow, lest one fall off. We did see a dolphin doing a triple somersault some 30 feet in front of us.

A friend (who had previously seen the dolphins) quipped to me that this tour should be called "dolphin-chasing" instead. She did have a point. After all, unlike your typical experience at Sea World or other marine amusement parks, the dolphins are NOT going to do somersaults, or wave at you, or kiss you, on demand.

Nevertheless, seeing these lovely creatures at their natural habitat was made me real happy. Yep, i didn't even grumble at waking up at such an odd hour.

(For more info, check out the website of Pamilacan Island Dolphin and Whale Watching Tours at

(Thanks yet again to Sheila Tan for the pics, taken with her new 10.0 megapixel camera)

Saturday, March 14, 2009


(BOHOL vacation, Part Three)

I had heard about Bohol Bee Farm a few years back from my close friend Sh., but didn't really pay too much attention. I had thought it was something like the Ilog Maria Bee Farm in Cavite, which wasn't anything much to see.

Until Sh. mentioned in passing that the food at the Bohol Bee Farm was pretty good. Faster than you can say "honeybee", i was Googling them and was surprised to learn it was a bee farm-resort-restaurant rolled in one. Oh, you can get a massage here, too.

So i had our countryside itinerary tweaked a bit, and our group visited the Bohol Bee Farm as our last stop before going back to Alona Beach (where we were staying). We were so charmed by the place that we ended up staying for dinner!

Amongst other things, they have a small store selling assorted farm products, such as breads, spreads, honey, teas, a small selection of soaps, and the like. I was particularly taken by their Honeyed Salabat (ginger tea).

We toured around the place a bit, peeking into the various nipa huts and hoping to see people being massaged in various stages of dishabille, haha :D

Below is a pic of the area where they do traditional Hilot massage:

We proceeded to their alfresco restaurant overlooking the sea. It looked pretty inviting, and the view was lovely, too.

Below is a pic of their Organic Garden Salad (Fresh picked assorted romaine lettuce, radish, turnips, mustard greens and indigenous flowers served with honeyed mustard salad dressing), which is supposed to be a must-try.

When it was served to our table, we all looked at it for a few seconds, then at each other, wondering "Are those flowers edible?" The whole thing looks too pretty to eat!

Other dishes we ordered were the: Yoga Salad with Cheese (Assorted organic veggies topped with fresh herbs without onions and garlic) - very good, too! ; Tomato Soup
(Home-made tomato soup with tidbits of organic carrots, radish, okra and celery) - quite filling, good for two or three people ; Spareribs - the portions were really large.

Their home-made ice cream (we ordered buko, vanilla and chocolate flavors) were particularly good, too.

To sum it all up, there's good food, shopping for pasalubong, massage area and nice views to be had at Bohol Bee Farm. I was surprised this place isn't as well-known as it ought to be.

Perhaps the only real drawback is that it seems logistically difficult to go here if you are staying on the beachfront areas of Panglao Island. I think it involves renting a van or tricycle to take you back and forth.

(Bohol Bee Farm is located at Dao, Dauis, Panglao Island.
For more info on their menu, rates, location, etc., please check out their website)

(Thanks to Sheila Tan again for the pics, taken with her new 9.0 megapixel camera)


(BOHOL vacation, Part Two)

Continuing our tradition of road-testing sunscreen lotions for the greater good of mankind, we pooled together all the sunblocks we brought along to Bohol, as you will see from the pic below:

We had a remarkably good batch this beach outing, since all the 5 sunblocks were easy to disperse into the skin and didn't have any 'oily' feeling.

1. Hawaiian Tropic Sun Junk SPF 45 (Tropical Fusion)

The packaging was unique, to say the least. It reminded me of the odor repellant i used in my car, which sadly, did not repel any odor. Haha. I thought this sunblock was spray-on (i.e. you just point the nozzle to the body part, and start firing away); turns out this wasn't the case.

We really liked this one, though, mainly due to its fruity, appealing smell.

2. Murad Waterproof Sunblock SPF 30

It smelled quite nice as well, with its Pomegranate extract touted to have anti-aging properties. As everyone very well knows, i'm a huge sucker for these natural fruit/herb/plant extract-type of things.

A tad too pricey, though, at around PHP1,300.00 (roughly US$26.00).

3. Soltan Extreme Sport Suncare Lotion SPF 25

The bottle says it provides "extra resistancy against water, wind, sand, cold, sweat and snow." Naks!

Compared to the others, you have to make more effort to rub this sunblock into your skin, but it does stay on. The smell is a bit weird, although not really off-putting.

4. Hawaiian Tropic Ozone Sunblock SPF 70

S. was the one who brought this sunblock. She admitted that its smell was faintly reminiscent of rust and rotten leaves, but claimed that due to its being 'thick' (i.e. viscous in texture), it was therefore effective and served its purpose well.

Hmm. . .i didn't find her logic Einstein-esque, but couldn't marshal any logical arguments to the contrary. I suppose it is more of a mental thing, since its ultra-high SPF (which is really overkill, by the way) can make one more secure and protected against the sun.

5. The Face Shop Oil-Free Sun Milk SPF 38

Being in liquid form, i had thought this would be difficult to apply, but surprisingly it wasn't. It felt a bit oilier on the skin than the others, though.

So, which one won our "Annual Beach Outing Sun Block Road Test" contest?

It was none other than the Hawaiian Tropic Sun Junk!! Not only did we like its smell and performance, at the price of PHP499.00 (around US$10), it provided fantastic value for money.

Friday, March 13, 2009


(BOHOL vacation, Part One)

We spent a day touring around the popular sites in Bohol, and one of them was viewing the Philippine tarsier (Tarsius syrichta), the smallest known specie of monkey and indigenous to Bohol.

It has gray fur and a nearly naked tail. Tarsiers are named as such because of their special elongated tarsial bones, which form their ankles and enable them to leap to almost 10 feet from tree to tree. They weigh only 4 - 5 ounces, and are quite small (around 11 cm, or 4 inches only). Their diet is composed mainly of crickets.

Another interesting factoid is that tarsiers can rotate their head almost 180 degrees in each direction. Whoa!

Being classified as an endangered species, the government had stepped in and established an 'official' Tarsier sanctuary in Corella, where an approximately 134-hectare piece of land has been set aside as the Phil. Tarsier Sanctuary. Here, there are supposedly more than a hundred tarsiers living in the wild.

However, since it was not very accessible and the tarsiers were probably not keen on being disturbed, what the DENR did was to put up 4 accredited viewing sites, such as the one that we went to in Loboc.

It is essentially a small roadside shack with a few trees, each having its resident tarsier; and some souvenir stands selling all sorts of knick knacks, Peanut Kisses (it mystifies me why Hershey's has not yet sued these people in Bohol for blatant trademark infringement?!? :D), and cold drinks.

Oh, there are some strict guidelines in viewing these creatures, namely:

a) NO flash photography, as this will either scare them or damage their eyes, or both.

b) NO touching! Once stressed, they become suicidal.

c) NO, you can't buy them, and make them into household pets!

Most people i know have described these creatures as 'cute', which quite honestly, was the last word i would use to describe them!

Our guide also mentioned that these tarsiers were nocturnal creatures, which begs the obvious question: What do they do at night? After all, all tourists visit them during daytime hours, and all they ever do is hang on tree branches for dear life, with this worried, bug-eyed look.

Some questions burned in my mind:

Can the tarsiers really leap from tree to tree? I have yet to see any National Geographic or Discovery Channel documentary showing this.

What could they be doing during the 'witching' hours when they are awake? Play hopscotch? Wipe their snot on each other's eyes for fun? What?!?

Our guide, and anyone else we asked, didn't know. Hmph.

After taking pics and looking at them closely, my friend R.T. jokingly commented,
"E.T. phone home."

I don't know, man, but i think they're deadringers for Gollum from LOTR! Like this one:

Fortunately, though, we also saw the lesser-known, much cuter cousin of the tarsier, as you can see below:

I'm sure you'll all agree with me that they're much more endearing, eh?

(Thanks to Sheila Tan for the pics, taken with her new 8.0 megapixel camera)