Natural Wonders. Rich History. Great People.
It’s about time to visit the famous Central Visayas wonder of Bohol Province. After meeting so many travelers who raved about the island, we decided that this year is the “We See Bohol Year.”
As early as mid-January, barely recovering from the Christmas holiday fever, I begun my hunt on-line for cheap airfares and accommodation for Holy Week, the Peak(est) Season in the Philippines. I tried to book at one of the popular budget resort in Alona Beach and they told me 10 of their cottages were already fully booked. My jaw dropped. It’s January 10, I was being exaggerated!
Foregoing my backpacker image, I stirred away from budget-budget accommodation and booked us at Alona Kew White Beach Resort, one of the nicest place in Alona Beach, Panglao. After all, it’s a family holiday. Also because my mother almost disowned me on our last holiday together. Here is why :)
We flew in Tagbilaran via Cebu Pacific and were met by Gary, our driver cum tour guide. What we immediately noticed was the speckless cleanliness of the city. Gary began proudly the introduction of his beloved province.
Panglao is one of the 74 islets that surrounds Bohol and is connected by a bridge, 30minutes scenic drive away. It is also the biggest and most popular one, because of the pristine white beach of Alona. In fact, it will have it’s very own (although questionable) Panglao Internation Airport to be finished by April 6, 2010.
We arrived in Alona Kew at little before 8am and understood that check-in time is at 2pm. But since one of the room is already available, they let us have the room immediately. I’ve to clarify while it’s a nice hotel with aircon rooms, own swimming pool, and has a big chunk of beach front, it’s not a 5-star hotel. We paid Php_4800(US$100)per room with 3 beds with breakfasts and ensuite bathroom (remember, peakest season).
But I have to mention that their customer service is excellent. Everyone was polite, friendly, helpful, and efficient. From the trainees to the supervisors, the waiters to the guards, the lifeguard to the bartender, every single one of them is absolutely perfect! I vouch for Alona Kew.
The only enthusiastic scuba diver of the family, I insistently squeezed in a dive day for myself. Afterall, Bohol/Panglao has some of the most prolific reef in the Philippines. After making sure my parents are all settled, I lugged my gears to Bay Watch Dive shop to meet with my friends Zara, Bodie & Sab who were on a week long dive holiday. We did 2 “electric” dives in Balicasag mesmerized by the wall of jacks. I had my fix and it was good, even if I wish I can join the Cabilao Island the following day. Girlie came along but unfortunately due to some technical problem, she wasn’t able to dive.
We spent the rest of the day swimming in the pool, catching the sunset at the beach, and eat at one of the nearby restaurant on the beach. Life’s a beach.
Dolphin watching is also a popular attraction in the island, apparently. Not a micro-planning traveler, I didn’t know this. I read a bit to have general idea of a place I’m visiting, land myself there, and ask the local for recommendations. The pool bartender arranged a boat for us for the next day.
At 5:45am, we were at the beach waiting for the boat, and it was not there yet. The tensed Manilenyos that we were, were tapping our feet, drumming our fingers, and checking our watch every 2.5 sec. We have yet to acclimatized to the laid back nature of island people.
Because I was told that we have to be at the dolphin watching site before 7am to catch them. I thought this was a chance-expedition, that maybe you’ll see dolphins, maybe you wont. A little after 6, the resort supervisor decided to assign to us another banca that was already there but the passenger weren’t there yet.
It was a fairly long ride/cruise of 40 minutes. We knew we arrived because we saw a lot of tourist bancas waiting. As if our arrival marked the start of the show, a dolphin jumped in front of our banca and we shrieked excitedly. And then another one on the left and right and sometimes in 3’s, so wonderful! Soon all the bancas start their motor to chase after the dolphins. I was madly clicking the camera but pitifully just able to catch their tails or splashes. So finally I switched it to video mode to capture a wider range. Lol.
So we were told that this used to be hunting ground/water for dolphins and whale sharks. Until 10 years or so ago, a movement by the local government and some conservation agencies was made to preserve this area. Cathing and killing of these sea life were strictly prohibited. They marketed this as a tourism and the provided alternatative livelihood for the locals. The hunters are now spotters.
It was an amazing almost an hour dolphin show!
The boat brought us to Balicasag where we hang around the picnic area and took our breakfast. We explored the charming island a little. There was a chapel and a lighthouse which I madly took pictures of. It’s the only appropriate adverb when I am with camera. Madly.
I also love the locals here. They are not yet tainted by commercialism. The picnic tables and clean toilet were free to use. They were content just to have tourists come in and rent a small boat to snorkel at the sanctuary and buy their fish, which they cook for you. We brought our own food from the resort so we only ordered a liter of coca-cola and use their picnic table for free.
It was almost noon and it was getting too hot for my parents. So we decided to head back to Panglao.
We spent the rest of the day lying on the beach, adoring the sun, and are getting into the groove of this island life.