Untangling Bohol


The so called chocolate Hills in the Bohol province of the Philippines

The Chocolate Hills of Bohol — yes, named after Hershey’s Kisses because they look like someone had dropped 1,700 geological formations that look like chocolates when they turn brown in the summer. (Photo by P199/wikipedia.com)

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Doesn’t the little fella look like Yoda? The tarsiers, now found only in Southeast Asia, are the smallest primates in the world. Tourists have tried to smuggle tarsiers in bunt cakes and other knucklehead means. Seriously, it’s Yoda! (Photo by Ibarra Tomas Siapno/The Peacock Garden Resort)

Of all places to plan a trip, we did it in a funeral chapel.

It was toward the end of March in 2012. Some friends and I were at the wake for a friend and colleague’s father, and we got to asking each other’s plans for Easter. Holy Week in the Philippines is one of the longest holidays ever.

I work for a daily newspaper where public holidays don’t apply to reporters and editors (except for major ones like Christmas — and that’s only because I work in the lifestyle section and we print in advance. Editors at the news desk don’t get the day off even on Christmas Day or New Year).

But Easter Week is a different story. Good Friday and Black Saturday are the only two days in the year when there are no major newspapers printed. From Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday, Manila is traffic-free and people drive around aimlessly just because they can.

It is also the only time when 95 percent of restaurants and bars are closed on a Thursday and Friday. Why? Because Jesus is dead.

So these friends and I, we decided to go to Bohol (the Tagalog word buhol means “knot”), an hour’s flight from Manila, and famous for its Spanish churches and the Chocolate Hills. My friends were friends with the Schoof family, who owns the Peacock Garden Resort, and they could book us for the long weekend.

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The Loboc River cruise on a wooden boat passes through forested riverbanks. (Photo by Nucksfan604/flickr)

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The infinity pool at Peacock Garden Resort looks out onto the Bohol Sea (Photo by Peter Cons/Peacock Garden)

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The resort is located in Baclayon, Bohol, a few minutes from Tagbilaran Airport. (Photo by Peter Cons/Peacock Garden)

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Bohol has several churches dating back to the Spanish colonial period, many of them destroyed by a massive earthquake in 2013. (Photo from weesamexpress.net)

Unlike the party island that is Boracay, Bohol is quieter and is weird in its natural beauty— and by that I mean the Chocolate Hills and the tarsiers — but more on these later.

We fly into Tagbilaran airport and I meet the Schoofs at their resort — Hans Schoof, a German fella married to Lani, and their son Chris who later married the lovely Amanda.

Their resort sits on top of a hill with gorgeous views of the sea. It is a veritable secret garden that has peacocks (hence the name) and villas that face infinity pools.

The hotel’s main lobby features — in all mind-blowing improbability — our national hero Dr. Jose Rizal’s furniture when he lived in Heidelberg, Germany, where he wrote parts of his novels that led to the Philippine revolution against its colonial master Spain in the 1800s.

Why are these pieces of furniture here? Because Hans Schoof is a fan of this country’s greatest hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. Because who will not fall in love with Rizal? The man was a doctor, a linguist, a revolutionary, a writer who wrote two novels that laid bare the excesses and ridiculousness of the Spanish colonizers.

And he wrote the most moving poem, Mi Ultimo Adios, as his goodbye to his county and hid it in a cocinilla, a small stove, on the eve of his execution (he wrote it in Spanish, as he did his novels).

His novels, thinly veiled roman a clef, were the 1800s’ equivalent to “F*ck you, Spain!”

Bohol and Rizal — you don’t think of this unlikely pairing unless you meet Hans Schoof and are staying at Peacock Garden Resort. And even as you stand in the lobby with the desk where Rizal wrote his poem “To the Flowers of Heidelberg,” it feels surreal.

But decades ago, the young Hans came to the Philippines and fell in love, and after running a German restaurant in Manila, he and his wife decided to build a resort in her home province, standing on a hill and looking out at Bohol Sea.

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Bohol’s secret garden. Our friends Chris and Amanda Schoof marry in Peacock Garden Resort in December 2012.

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Fireworks after Chris and Amanda’s wedding ceremony.

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The crew’s all here at Peacock Garden for Easter 2012 with Hans and Chris Schoof (right and second from right) and our dear friend tito Donnie who has passed on (left).

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The balcony rooms at the 33-room boutique resort look out onto the pool and Bohol Sea. (Photo by Peter Cons/Peacock Garden)

* * *

Nothing quite prepares you for seeing the Chocolate Hills for the first time.

You climb one hill and see them from an elevated deck — they are beautiful and weird all at once. They are perfectly formed natural wonders named after Hershey’s Kisses because that’s exactly how they look — brown in the summer and green in the rainy season.

They are a freak of nature, all 1,700 geological formations that look like someone dropped chocolate kisses on 50 square kilometers of the island — five million years ago.

We visited the tarsiers at the conservation center, with their big protruding eyes and the attitude of sloths (they sleep all day). They are the smallest primates in the world and have been in existence for 45 million years. Today, you can only find them on some islands in Southeast Asia.

My mind can’t even wrap around how long ago 45 million years is. You might as well tell me they are a gazillion years old and my lack of understanding for this length of time would be the same.

* * *

Bohol is that place where attractions range from churches that date back to the Spanish colonial period (which would later collapse in a massive earthquake in October 2013) to a gorgeous short beach on Panglao island, a man-made mahogany forest stretching for two kilometers through Loboc and Bilar towns, which was planted by the Boy Scouts decades ago, dolphin watching on Pamilacan island, scuba diving, bee and butterfly farms, reticulated pythons, and the Liter Man, a guy who is supposed to be the size of a liter bottle of Coke (we didn’t see him or wanted to).

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The boutique resort on sprawling grounds. (Photo by Peter Cons/Peacock Garden)

We spent an afternoon drinking mojitos and whiskey on Panglao island, watching swimmers, snorkelers, and dive groups boarding boats.

In the evening, Rhoda and I went for a chocolate massage at our resort, which was preceded by a wine bath. I told the girl at the spa, “Don’t you dare pour all that wine in the bathtub.”

Needless to say, I was tipsy and giggly even before dinner started.

The resort’s restaurant is called the Old Heidelberg and in the original wing of the hotel, the corridors display antique hand-drawn and handwritten menus from Europe.

You can easily imagine yourself being transported to those days when the men wore hats and the ladies wore beautiful gowns just to have dinner out. Hans, a true-blue collector (including Bentleys), has about 300 cookbooks from the 1700s to 1920.

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Bilar’s man-made forest was planted by the Boy Scouts decades ago. It is a two-kilometer stretch that leads to the Chocolate Hills. (Photo from everythingcebu.com)

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Pamilacan island (Photo by Ferdinand Decena/Peacock Garden)

Chris and Amanda Schoof did our itinerary and they hired tour guides from the local tourism office, who were fantastic!

One afternoon, we drove a convoy of dune buggies through the forests and mountains of Bohol and our guide was a forestry major who was so passionate about every single plant and tree we saw.

By sunset, we were back at the Schoofs’ nearby private estate on a hill where we went skeet shooting. I shot a clay pigeon (or clay plate or whatever you call it), the recoil from the rifle taking me by surprise.

What was most memorable for all of us was cruising through Loboc River with other tourists. The modest wooden boat held about 20 to 30 people and served modest provincial merienda.

The boat went winding slowly through the brackish waters, flanked by forested riverbanks. It made a stop at a balsa (floating wooden platform). We got on it, and children came out singing — the young girls wore pink skirts and the boys pink pajamas.

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Chasing dolphins at Pamilacan island (Photo from weesamexpress.net)

It put a smile on everybody’s faces.

If you take the river cruise or go kayaking at night, Loboc River is lit by thousands of fireflies. Unlike Manila, there is no smog here, there is no noise except for crickets, the skies are clear and the stars shine so bright.

It was a relaxing break that all of us needed from work, from our tangled lives. This was my last trip with three good friends who left the country to work as expats the following year. Rhoda headed a major department store in Jakarta (and recruited Ryan in sales later) and she is now an expat in Hong Kong, and Danelle went to Dubai as communications manager for a hotel. And then last year tito Donnie passed away — he with the raspy voice and society column was always kind to me even when I was just starting out as a reporter.

The hospitality of the Schoofs, the simple living in the towns that we visited, farm huts against the backdrop of the magnificent hills, the five-star resorts, the churches for visita iglesia on days that we were supposed to be for reflection but we just couldn’t shut up or stop giggling, and the views as we drank vodka and watched the sun set on the Bohol Sea. And then there was a lot of laughter with friends.

In that sense, Easter became the celebration that it was supposed to be.

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The Chocolate Hills during the Philippines’ summer months (March to June) look like Hershey’s Kisses, hence their name. (Photo from globeholidays.net)

Categories: ASIA/MIDDLE EASTTags: , , , , , ,

20 comments

  1. What magnificence–It is definitely a place I would love to go to just relax. Those photos are perfect and I love the chocolate hills!

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  2. The Peacock Garden Resort seems stunning! I’ve always wanted to swim in an infinity pool. I’d love to visit one day ❤

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  3. Thank you for such a wonderful article. I have thought about going there but now I know I must. Thank you for the insight to your country.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Well, I learned a lot…I had no idea so much shut down for Easter. Your vacation sounds amazing, fun and relaxing

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! Bohol looks absolutely stunning! And you are right! That little adorable fella by the tree does look like Yoda! LOL! I would love to visit this place some day. Thanks for sharing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a beautiful and magical experience! The chocolate hills really do look like chocolate kisses! I would absolutely love to visit!

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  7. I’ve been wanting to go to Bohol! My family and I visited Boracay back in 2000 before it got completely overrun by tourists ;), so we’ve already done that. Palawan was next on my list, but you’ve got me seriously considering Bohol instead.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Joy! Palawan and Bohol are both great. If Palawan, I’d recommend El Nido or Coron; Bohol has a shorter beach on Panglao island, which is a bit like Boracay in terms of bars and restaurants. El Nido islands, however, are unmatched with their limestone cliffs.

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  8. Even though I can not swim to save my life I would so dip into the infinite pool, the resort looks awesome, beautiful and calming.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. what a stunning place you live!! I would love to visit this place someday! Thanks for the post!

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  10. What an incredible place – I would absolutely love to go there! And the photos are stunning 🙂

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  11. Bohol is one of those places I’d love to visit. Hopefully, the whole family can this year or next year!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow – that water was beautiful. I love that river boat! I hope to visit one day!

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  13. Your pictures are absolutely stunning! What a fun trip to plan! I would love to visit someday. Thanks for sharing.

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  14. This makes me want to visit Loboc River, Looks like I’ve seen it on the movie. Such a beautiful place to visit.

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  15. Wow! Beautiful place! I would love to spend some time there. Thank you for sharing this magnificent place and its history!

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  16. I’ve never heard of Bohol, but it sounds and looks great! I think I’d love to see the Chocolate Hills the most.

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  17. I’ve been to Bohol in 2011 and it was only for 3 days and 2 nights. The trip was bitin so I would like to go back preferably for a longer period so I can explore more.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. How GORGEOUS!! You are making me want to get out and travel!!

    Liked by 1 person

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