Text and Images by Terence Repelente
Four years ago, Bohol was devastated by a devastating earthquake. A tragedy many would rather forget. The vicious earthquake, which was recorded at magnitude 7.2, inflicted its terror on the entire Central Visayas region, particularly Bohol and Cebu. Historic churches and structures were destroyed, businesses were affected, injuries were inflicted, and lives were lost.
But through the combined efforts of the local government and, of course, the workers and the locals, the island was quickly restored, like a phoenix rising from its own ashes. Some will even say that it’s now more beautiful than ever before. Because of the earthquake, roads were developed, heritage sites received attention for restoration, and new shorelines rose from the sea which birthed livelihood to many Boholanos.
Just recently, the island faced the chilling threat of terrorism under one of the most dangerous jihadist groups in the country—the Abu Sayyaf. This is a primary reason, why the Tourism Promotions Board has chosen to focus on Bohol for its latest project. TPB chief operating officer, Cesar Montano, aims to help Bohol from the recent tragedies it has experienced and propel its tourism while inviting Filipinos from different parts of the country to experience its own tourist destinations.
“We should know our country more. We have to make pasyal to our bayan. We have to see and experience ourselves the beauty of our country. Before we could even brag about our country, we should experience it first. Ako, I believe, bago mo mapagyabang ang isang bagay kailangan naranasan mo, nakita mo, napuntahan mo. (Personally, I believe that before you could boast about something, you need to experience and see it firsthand),” Montano said.
Bohol is, without doubt, a paradise. Whatever your heart seeks, you will find it there. Not only will you discover interesting places, you will also meet the island’s interesting locals and workers—the backbone of Bohol.
When talking about the wildlife of Bohol, nobody forgets the tarsier. This nocturnal animal is considered the mascot and iconic symbol of the island.
Tarsiers are very emotional and easily stressed. They are notorious for committing suicide during captivity due to trauma from touching and loud noise. Currently, there are multiple forest reserves and manmade habitats for the tarsier, one of which is the Tarsier Sanctuary by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation. The sanctuary is led and founded by the dedicated Carlito Pizarras, popularly known as Nong Lito, who is now immortalized in the annals of scientific literature after a new tarsier genus was named after him. Carlito found his love for the tarsiers when he was only seven years old and, at the age of 12, he started to take care and study the animal’s behavior. His undying enthusiasm and personal research of the tarsier’s behavior has led to many discoveries and contributions that greatly helped take care and preserve the endangered animal.
Probably Bohol’s most famous tourist attraction is the Chocolate Hills. A lot of people who first see images of the landscape can hardly believe that these hills are not man-made. The chocolate hills consist of 1,268 hills. They are very uniform in shape and mostly between 30 and 50 meters high. They are blanketed with green grass, which, at the end of the dry season, turns chocolate brown. From this color, the hills got its now famous name.
Legend has it that the hills were formed when two giants hurled sand and stones at each other in a battle that lasted for days. When they were finally exhausted, they made friends and left the island, but left behind the mess they made. Another story is the tale of Arogo, a strong giant who fell in love with a mortal girl named Aloya. After Aloya died, the giant Arogo was said to have cried viciously and bitterly. His tears were so big they turned into hills. This was the lasting proof of his grief and love for Aloya.
One of the best diving spots in the world is in Balicasag, Bohol. Only a chosen few belong in its league, and one of those is also in the Philippines, our very own Tubbataha reef located in Palawan. Everything else pales in comparison. The only thing that is as beautiful and stunning as the rich island of Balicasag is the journey going there. From the emerald shores of Bohol Beach Club, you are faced against the sharp white background of Central Visayas, sketched with the silhouettes of Siquijor and Cebu. Nearing the island, you are embraced by the scent of the calm Bohol Sea and the cozy warmth of the air. Every angle is a sight of pure perfection—the freckled azure sky, the profiles of the tourists aboard their ivory-colored motorboats, and the deep blue sea.
Under that deep blue sea is a whole new world. A cascade of fishes in various colors and species flocks at the palm of your hand, the abundance of corals and anemones signifies the vast biodiversity, and the right amount of sunlight gazing from above will give you an extraordinary feeling. The entirety of Bohol is awe-inspiring, an excessively rich body of nature bestowed upon men.
Bohol is home to different types of workers such as tour guides, weavers, handcarvers, fishermen, souvenir vendors, and masons. All of these livelihoods are dependent on the island’s tourism industry. But without these workers, there would be no industry. These people, the Boholanos, are the true spirit of the island. It is them who carved the wooden altar of the giant churches. It is them who built the bridges of the beautiful mangrove forests. It is them who are familiar to the entire island of Bohol like it’s the back of their hands.
A small group of locals has caught the attention of Montano, who was inspired to kick off ‘Turismo Para sa Bayan’ in Bohol. The group is called the Bajau Laut, more distinctively known as the Badjaos.
The Bajau Laut of Bohol are sea gypsies who live off the coast of Dauis, and life on the water is just a part of who they are. Historically, these boat-dwelling nomads are from the many islands of the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines but many have migrated to the neighboring area due to the conflict in Muslim Mindanao. According to some of the locals, these Badjaos have been living in their community at Purok 3, Barangay Totolan, Dauis for decades now. These people are very exceptional swimmers. It’s not surprising that their primary source of food and income is the sea.
Montano with the entire Tourism Promotions Board envisions an onsite development for the Badjao community. Through the help of local artists led by Joey Labrador of the Bohol Arts Guild, the locals will be invited to creative workshops instructed by known artists and the community will be transformed into an art hub. A small lot, owned by lawyer Armando H. Cavalida will be used as an exhibit where the locals can sell their artworks. This is a brilliant way to improve both Bohol’s market and the livelihood of a minority. And that, according to Montano, is the essence of tourism. “The TPB will strive to make tourism benefit the marginalized directly right where they are,” he said. “At the same time, they become conduits of progress in our society in general, and to the tourism industry in particular.”
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