The Chocolate Hills : No visit to Bohol would be complete without seeing this peculiar landscape that has been declared a National Geologic Monument. Our hike up a couple hundred steps to the viewing platform is rewarded with a view unlike any I've ever seen before. Some hills were pointy and conical and some were rounded but they all appeared to be of the same size. They looked like scoops of matcha or green tea ice cream garnished with sprigs of mint and parsley. Actually more like pistacchio. Two of my favorite flavors! I pictured it in the summer when the hills dried up and turned brown like chocolate (hence the name). B & I watched in amusement as on-site photographers directed tourists in funny poses over the hills, making them jump high on command while straddling a broom so it looked like they were witches flying over the hills. One could also choose to 'surf' over the hills, or shoot an arrow like cupid. Make sure you check out the photo samples on display, they're a riot!
The hills, over 1,200 of them spread over 50 sq km. across several towns, continue to puzzle geologists and there are a number of theories regarding it's formation (see under Origin here). But like a magician who never reveals his secrets, Mother Nature likes to keep us mystified.
Aww the tariers, such adorable little primates. Seeing them for the first time was actually a bittersweet experience for me. On our way back from the Chocolate Hills, our driver pulled up in front of a small shack at the side of the road, "to see the tarsiers", he said. We followed him inside past the souvenir shop to what looked like a tiny greenhouse. There was a small crowd milling about and peering into the trees and plants, snapping away with their cameras. It didn't take me long to realize that this was it, and I was already surrounded by the tiny creatures. So I searched the bushes until I found one, and there it was snuggled on a branch, eyes half-closed. It was the cutest thing ever! It couldn't have been much bigger than my hand. I saw about 10 more. All teeny-tiny, furry, big-eyed precious little things. They had frog-like fingers and heads that could freakishly swivel 180 deg! I took photos as B fed one a skewerd bug that was promptly snatched and stuffed into a tiny mouth - crunch, crunch.
But the cuteness stopped there. Nothing else about this scenario amused me much. In fact, I felt a flood of sadness for these sweet things held captive away from their natural habitat. As a carefree kid I kept all sorts of animals at home: parrots, fish, rabbits, mice, hamsters, hens, name it. But I have long since disposed of the fish tank and bird cage. But this wasn't just about animals in capitivity for our amusement (I can even tolerate this when it's for educational/ research purposes), but tarsiers are nocturnal animals. If they're 'working' like this during the day, when do they sleep? :( I really hope they're cared for well over there. Otherwise, tarsier viewing should be limited to the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella which is under the auspices of the Philippine Tarsier Foundation.
I know I said this particular trip to Bohol wasn't about it's islands or beaches but we couldn't resist. We couldn't have chosen a better place to have dinner after a long day on the road. Alona beach at twilight was like a salve to my senses. It is a beautiful stretch of beach lined with resorts and restaurants sans the maddening crowds that usually plague more popular beaches in the country. B & I wound down with a nice barefoot stroll before settling down at the Coco Vida restaurant for a lovely seafood dinner. We picked some fresh fish, prawns, corn and fruit which they prepared according to our preference while we waited, enjoying the live Americana folk music from a local trio. The food was more than we could normally consume, but it was great and we managed, washing it all down with a couple of beers. Ahh...I'm definitely coming back and staying here next time!
And speaking of food:
Bohol has it's share of culinary delights. One of my most memorable meals aside from the seafood dinner in Alona beach were the turo-turo (literally point-point) style lunch we had in a carinderia (eatery) outside the Loboc church. I can't remember what everything was called but it was all delicious. We sampled and took home local delicacies such as calamay hati- a sticky sweet concoction made with coconut milk, sugar, and ground sticky rice sold in smooth coconut shells; peanut kisses - very addicting cookies (shaped like Hershey's kisses hence the name) made with peanut and eggwhite; Bohol torta - a sweet cake; ube kinampay (purple yam) - which I found to be lumpier, and not as sweet or creamy as Baguio's Good Shepherd ube which I have a fierce love for but it was pretty good, the puto-maya is not unique to Bohol but it was special because it was sold to me by these adorable kids outside the Albuquerque church, puto-maya is sticky rice boiled with sugar and coconut.
Top row: native chicken & longganiza, kalamay, tsokolate tablea
Middle row: carinderia-style lunch in Loboc, Bohol torta, puto-maya
Bottom row: ube kinampay, fresh seafood on Alona beach, ube
And then there's Osang's broas. These are by far the best broas (ladyfingers) I've ever had. They are super crisp and light, almost feathery, melt-in-your-mouth heaven! I was thrilled to no end that you could watch them make the broas right there. There were only four women at work in the small bakery. I watched as the mixture was piped onto sheets of tin, baked by charcoal in a clay oven, and then scraped off the sheets and turned over on a grill to crisp and cool before being packed into brown paper bags. A very uncomplicated process using conventional baking equipment and methods. The entire place of course smelled of butter and sugar and all that bakey aroma I wanted to bottle up. I bought as much as I could manage to hand-carry in the plane (you don't want to crush these delicate things in your check-in luggage!). They were still warm from the oven when they were handed to me and I handled the bag like a first-time mother would a frail newborn baby.
I thought it would be charming to stay at the Bohol Bee Farm on Panglao Island. But that was before the unfortunate incident at the Great Wall of China. Bees don't like me. Considering how much honey I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Maybe that bee in China is some kind of vigilante bee like Barry (Seinfeld's character) from the Bee Movie, but I wasn't taking any chances and decided to just visit the place for a meal and to buy some of their products instead of sleeping there. Unfortunately, we didn't even have time for a quick visit.
Upon realizing that we had some time to kill before heading to the airport on our last day, we opted to spend it at the Island City Mall in Tagbilaran. B & I both saw it at the same time - the sign for The Buzz Cafe of the Bohol Bee Farm. Yay!! I was going to have my honey and my chance to sample their food after all. The cafe is a sunny and charming country farmhouse style affair where you can also buy the farm's products such as honey, of course, home-baked bread, spreads, pure honeybee pollen, bee propolis, and their famous muffins (loved the corn and pumpkin the best but the cheese and carrot were great too). For merienda (afternoon snack), I ordered the kamote (sweet potato) fries with latik (caramel-like coconut milk sauce). It was delicious! I paired this with their signature corn coffee specially-brewed from roasted corn.