Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Asian Adventure 14 :: 12-16 Feb '10 :: Bohol

Twelve hours after rising from our beds, we were unpacking our bags in paradise. On the way, we enjoyed a few hours layover in the Krisflyer Lounge at Manila airport before boarding Philippine Airlines for a trip accompanied by 'greaseless peanuts' and a candid camera show, thankfully on 'silent'.

Touching down at Tagbilaran Airport we were astounded by the proximity of huts to the runway. People who are against the expansion of Heathrow need to visit The Philippines to get some perspective.

Another remarkable element of this trip was the prevalence of English and religion. Not only were all signs in English, but the standard of spoken English from the locals we met far surpassed what we have experienced in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. Added to that, on the back of each motor-tricycle is a religious sentiment: "God is good"; "Be honest"; or "Do your best and God will do the rest" to name a few examples. Thanks to the Spanish, a surprising 95% of inhabitants of The Philippines are Christian believers, with 80% of those belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.

We sped along the surprisingly well-surfaced roads past half-finished huts; a man taking his goat for a walk; school girls in bright pink uniform and the odd grazing cow. Finally, we took a sharp left passed the sign stating: "Gun Free Zone: Please deposit your firearms" and entered our oasis, at Alona Beach, Panglao.

One thing's for sure, we were quite shocked at the sheer number of beach bars and restaurants that were brimming with life all the way down the Alona strip. The smokey scent of charcoal hung in the air as fires were being stoked for the evening's tasty seafood BBQ dinners. A word of warning: avoid the beachside 'buffets' at all costs and stick with items selected for the BBQ. The buffet we tried turned out to be a couple of plastic tables sagging under the weight of a myriad of plates of tasteless vegetables, fatty meat and overcooked fish. The one amusing element of that evening was that we were surrounded by not one, not two, but three visible handguns. For some odd reason in The Philippines, security guards also double as restaurant waiters, a phenomenon that we would also observe back in Manila. Taking 'moonlighting' to the extreme.

Our two day's diving with SeaQuest was excellent for aficionados of wall diving. Three white-tipped sharks in a cave, schooling jack fish, and a giant hawksbill turtle were highlights of our trips. The fact that our room was a mere fifteen paces to the dive centre also made up for the early starts.

To ensure that we had ticked off all the tourist spots in Bohol, we opted for a day's tour around the mainland. Our driver was clearly a Filipino version of Colin McRae. We enjoyed speeding dangerously on every stretch of straight road and were only mildly perturbed by the technique of 'beep and immediately overtake'.

Chocolate Hills - they turn brown in 'winter'.

One of our tarsier friends.

We treated ourselves to a chocolate ice cream whilst viewing the Chocolate Hills; spotted four out of the ten tarsiers in the Sanctuary; clung on for dear life to the Hanging Bridge; held a butterfly by it's wings and endured another mildly disappointing meal on a cruise down the Loboc River. The highlight of the cruise was certainly the stop-off at the Ati tribe, a Disney-esque take on traditional tribal living. The only difference was that small children who should probably have been in school were also part of the 'act'. All in all, it was an enjoyable day out away from the beach, and worth doing if you're one of those people who gets bored stiff just roasting your skin in the sun.

The Ati tribe.

Overall, our experience made us want to explore other islands in The Philippines. There are 7,107 of them, so plenty to get on with! To secure the future of their tourism industry, they simply need to to send a Filipino envoy to Thailand to learn about beach lighting (billowing material lampshades hung from the trees vs. rope lighting wrapped around trees) and the art of cuisine (even the Valentine's Day meal at upmarket Alona Palm Beach was heavy on the salt). At the same time, the Filipinos can teach the Thais a little about service: with a smile, attentive, and how not to screw up your patrons' orders.

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