The other morning, I laced up my new sneakers and headed up a hill in the Philippines. The hill was near our rental on Bohol Island away from tourists.
So what’s that like?
Peaceful. Beautiful. Dare I say: magical.
Sure, you can go to nearby Panglao Island and its Alona beach near the main city of Taglibaran. Or you can go where the real treasures are found — on the south and east area of Bohol Island away from most tourists. If we see any Caucasians, it’s almost always Caucasian men with Filipina girlfriends, or backpackers riding scooters to get to a tourist destination somewhere on the island.
On my hill walk, I went 1.5 kilometers up to a Catholic shrine. On the way, I passed simple houses made of wood, sometimes sticks. I saw children bathing in front of their homes with buckets. Adults all greeted me with a smile and “hello” or “good morning.” The Filipino people are so friendly!
I heard birds and watched giant caterpillars cross the roadway, which is paved – and cracked here and there. I heard bamboo branches rubbing against each other, making it sound like someone walked on a creaky wooden floor.
The road to the shrine is in Garcia Hernandez (the town and province), in East Ulbujan (the barangay, the native Filipino term for village). The road is mostly shaded. Yet I was drenched in sweat, far from the sea breezes at the bottom of the hill.
Once I reached the statue of Mother Mary, I went up a few steps to a cross that gives a view back down to the sea. Peaceful. Not a single other person was there. Beautiful. The sun poked in and out of passing clouds that teased rain. Magical. The smells of the lush jungle, the sounds of animals and bugs, the view to the sea over and through treetops.
It’s the type of area where if you look down the road, you will see what you might assume is a dog. But approach closer and you discover it’s a goat, or two, foraging in the brush.
I have not been to Panglao Island or Alona beach yet, but my husband and his mom have been. “Tourist trap,” was how Mom Diane described Alona. I suppose I’d like to go at some point, just to see it. It’s a tourist mecca, after all, because of its gorgeous white sand beach.
At our monthly rental, there is a rock beach. It can be tricky to get in and out of the water without stepping on urchins or twisting your ankle. So my adaptable solution for that was to go to the nearest large market in Jagna, where I bought a pair of plastic shoes for $2.80 to use as water shoes. Problem solved.
The snorkeling around Garcia Hernadez is wonderful. Compared to tourist meccas, there isn’t too much underwater plastic trash here. Every time I go underwater, I see new fish I’ve never seen before. There aren’t any award-winning coral reefs, but if you are patient, and go slow, you will see splashes of vibrant color here and there.
This place is made for “going slow.” It can take several minutes to half an hour to flag down a trike, jeepney, or local bus. A ride into Jagna is 10 pesos, or 20 cents. Of course, there are some drivers who see our white skin and want to charge us more. I can’t really blame them.
In our village of West Ulbujan, there was a Catholic festival with masses and parties. Villagers celebrated for several days. Mom Diane walked with the local procession through the village in celebration of God.
I see God in the sea, in the fish, in the families with humble homes. I feel a universal joy at life when I hear those bamboo branches creaking, when I see more wild coconut trees than I’ve ever seen anywhere else.
There are more stars in the sky, clear of much light pollution. The starry skies rival the San Blas Islands in Panama, or Punta Allen in Mexico’s Riviera Maya, but don’t quite make it to the level of the Sahara Desert. Still, I get lost in the twinkling stars on every clear night we have here. Sometimes, they touch the horizon.
This is what life is like in our small corner of Bohol Island. We have had some adventures on the island so far: nearby Panglao Island as I mentioned, Taglibaran, Anda, the Chocolate Hills, waterfalls, and more.
Since we specialize in going slow, we eventually will write up information on those sites for our readers who may want to explore this region, and so we can always remember this magical place – Bohol Island away from tourists.