A month before the corona virus forced the Philippines to institute a nation-wide lockdown, a group of head-strong ‘young once’ flew to Bohol for a well-deserved respite. Unmindful of the threat of the deadly virus, our wild and wacky bunch boldly shrugged the risk aside, declaring to the world that party time was certainly so much better than pasture time.
We are a group of high school batchmates from Pisay, Class of 72. After fifty plus years of honorable service in different fields of endeavor all over the world, it is now time to relax, smell the flowers so to speak, and just have fun. Thus, our small band of gutsy senior citizens set forth like young teenagers off for a fun-filled summer vacation.
We arrived in Panglao Island’s spanking-new international airport on separate flights. I arrived in the morning, and proceeded to the plush Bellevue Hotel, located in a more secluded side of Panglao’s many beach wonders. Bellevue is among the best hotels in Bohol. The thing that makes it really unique is that it is far removed from the Boracay-like frenzy along the Alona Beach. Bellevue has its own private beach, plus a beautiful pool that is just perfect for seniors like us. The place was not noisy and was not crowded at all, which suited us just fine. Food was great, the rooms were clean and classy, and the hospitality was vintage Boholano.
Also among the early arrivals were the couples Beth and hubby, Willis; and Sarsi, with wife Winnie. Washington DC-based Beth had long been AWOL in our batch activities, and this was a perfect time to renew that long-lost bond with her. Sarsi, on the other hand, is based in Chicago. He has always made it a point to be present for batch reunions and other significant class milestones.
The rest of the gang arrived in the late afternoon. Chi and hubby, Raul from New York; Au coming all the way from Vancouver; and the Manila-based group composed of Elise and Bing, our crush-ng-bayan Winnie, our forever jolly jester Jojet, Gina and Mapaz, who brought along her daughter, Bianca, and cutest grand-daughter, Stella.
That night, dinner was at Gerarda’s, a home-cooking style munch-shop with a fast-growing reputation as the best – if not one of the best – restaurants in Bohol. The resto started out in an ancestral house in Tagbilaran more than a decade back. Now, it has three popular go-to branches in Tagbilaran and Panglao. You should try their seafood kare-kare. Or their crispy shrimps. Come to think of it, everything we tried seemed to have been cooked with so much passion and love for the gustatory senses. I kid you not!
But before we had our sumptuous dinner, we were treated to a unique Chocolate Tasting experience by my wife, Wit. Wit’s background with cacao products has allowed her to concoct creative ideas in producing different granola flavors, unique ‘chocolate pizza’ offerings and even the old local favorite coco drink called the ‘tableya’ – with a twist. You should try her tableyas. Already, there are many loyalists who have declared that her tableya is far superior to those served in the best hotels around.
Going back to Bellevue, we had more fun wining and dancing and reminiscing the good old days. With 50-plus years of unique memories, there was simply no break in the talk-and-dance-athon! Jojet was on a roll with his laugh-a-minute jabs. Chi and Raul provided us the sleek Latino dance steps. Bing and Elise brought the wine to keep us gassed up.
But much as we wanted to ‘morning’ the night away, the next day’s sked was something we all had been looking forward to. For the next day’s sked was the much-awaited trip to Bohol’s breathtaking wonderland. (And yeah, seniors do need to get some shut-eye too.)
After Bellevue’s great breakfast buffet the following day, it was time to board our coaster for the Bohol Tour. First stop was the Hinagdanan Cave.
The Hinagdanan was made famous by a movie in the early 70’s which featured the movie icon Fernando Poe Jr and sexy star, Alona Alegre. The cave entrance is quite narrow, but as you go down a now-paved trail, you just marvel at the enormity of the cave. There’s faint sunlight trickling in through a hole from the top. And there’s the clear, cool water – that’s part salty, part fresh – beckoning down below. It was truly a unique experience, made even more memorable by the funny repertoire of our local tour guide.
Next, we proceeded to Loboc for the River Cruise. But along the way, we saw the Blood Compact site, the damaged heritage church in Baclayon, the cool man-made forest in Bilar, plus many other fantastic sights. At the River Cruise, they served an enjoyable lunch, complete with unique song-and-dance stops along the way. Our group was game for singing and dancing. And might I add that our energy was so infectious, it had many other tour groups in the boat singing and dancing with us as well. Everyone had a grand time.
After this, it was time to move to the the Bohol Tarsier Sanctuary for a look at our tiny primates. Tarsiers are said to be the smallest monkeys in the world. Small enough to fit your palm, they have the cutest big eyes that are very useful for their nocturnal forays. This endangered species is now a big attraction for tourists in Bohol.
Next stop was, of course, the renowned Chocolate Hills. When I was young, I had always thought that this was where those sweet chocolates came from. Not so, I learned later; but it was really still a marvel to see almost identical hills – resembling chocolate kisses – as far as the eyes could see. This has been Bohol’s most identifiable landmark ever since. You cannot go to Bohol and not have a photo taken at the Chocolate Hills! That would be treason to the nth degree! After that, it was time to go back to Bellevue to rest those tired bones.
But before going back to Bellevue, it was time for another great supper. This time, we were feted to a quiet, restful evening meal at the Astoria Hotel in the town of Baclayon. We called it a night after that. That was enough excitement for us for the day. After all, the next day was going to be another hectic one in the sked with a swimming excursion to the enchanting Balicasag Island.
Or so we thought.
Early the next day, heavy rains with strong gusty winds greeted us as we got off our beds. It was Jojet’s birthday, and we were supposed to celebrate it in Balicasag Island. Alas, the uncooperative weather forced us to make some changes in our sked. First, we had a simple bday bash at Bellevue’s breakfast buffet for Jojet. Next, refusing to be hostaged by the rains, we proceeded to the Island City Mall in Tagbilaran to do some souvenir shopping. Then it was back to the hotel for late lunch and more bday bashing for the unbashful Jojet. Then we had some time to wade in the pool and laze on the beach under the unfriendly rain clouds. Guess the rain clouds were nature’s way of telling us we could certainly enjoy the beach, but in a less strenous environment at Bellevue.
Thankfully, the weather eased up on us in the late afternoon. So off we went to take a brief touch-and-go at the Alona Beach. Alona is much like Boracay, with its beautiful beach, and its shores teeming with tourists. With the COVID scare already gaining ground, we decided to just take a short stroll and take some pics of the spectacular beach scenery. Then it was time for us to make a quick exit.
And proceed to the Bohol Bee Farm instead. The Bohol Bee Farm is a unique resort hotel made famous by its organic farm and its healthy dining experience. The resort has a unique homey feel about it, and their ‘pasalubong’ corner is packed with so many unique native delicacies and souvenirs. We picked up more pasalubong, plus more of their great ice cream!
On our last day in Bohol, with the rain clouds still hovering over us, we decided to simply relax and enjoy the amenities provided by the hotel. It was eat, swim and be merry. The girls took on a short ‘puso’-weaving course, while the boys wanted to try their hand with archery.
The ‘puso’ is a traditional way of wrapping steam rice using coconut leaves. Popularly known as ‘hanging rice’, it is common in the southern islands of the country. Over at the archery range, we had a big kick watching Elise duel hubby Bing with the bow. Both had apparently taken archery together during their college days. And that’s where Cupid’s arrow hit them both.
Finally, it was time to go. It had been a short, yet sweet stay. We all had a great time, laughing and learning about each other’s journeys in life, while enjoying the sights and sounds of breathtaking Bohol. Bohol had gifted us with the perfect venue to renew the bonds that had taken shape early in our lives. Bohol will be memorable to us, for the sights, the food and most especially, the wonderful company.
Bring your friends to Bohol, and be ready to enjoy the time of your lives!!!
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Pics are courtesy of Sarsi and Bing, our super-snappy photogs.