Merry X-Mas from Loboc river

Loboc, Bohol, 19-21 November

For our second stop in Philippines we’re headed to Loboc by the Loboc River, in the southern part of Bohol Island. On the bus ride over we’re watching Jesus vs Santa: Two men handing out envelopes for donations. The first, dressed as a Jehovah’s witness, with raised voice reads from a big bible and in response gets largely ignored by the other passengers when he comes round to collect his dues. The second, a young guy, has simply written Merry Christmas on his envelopes and walks away with a fist-full of cash. And the winner is… Santa.

It’s only the 19th of November, but already it would be fair to say that Filipinos adore Christmas. In retrospect, the first signs were there when we left the hotel in Hong Kong Kowloon and our Filipino hostess passed on her Season’s Greetings to us. When we arrive at our hotel in Loboc, the first thing we see is a giant, decorated Christmas tree and a stack of perfectly gift-wrapped boxes inside the lobby. Furthermore, the balcony overlooking Loboc river is covered in tinsel and the floating restaurants passing by play all the hits from Mariah Carey to Silent Night. Let’s just say the river is best enjoyed from a distance.

Watersports aside we have a whole island to explore. Bohol is very laidback with a lot of small villages connected by wide, largely quiet roads. It’s ideal for getting around by (bright pink) scooter, and there is loads to see.

One of the most famous Bohol attractions is The Chocolate Hills, a geological formation of over 1200 hills made of grass-covered limestone spread out over more 50 square kilometres. The name comes from the brown colour they have during the dry season, and equally, perhaps, from their bonbon-like shapes.

From the viewpoint we take the bike to a dirtpath past the little village of Buenos Aires for a closer look. When the path becomes too small we continue on foot through grassland. The heat from the sun is scorching, but the surroundings make more than up for it and the few people we meet along the way are very friendly (and also slightly amused to see two very sweaty tourists wandering around in their backyard).

On our way back we stop off for lunch at a nearby oyster mushroom farm in the middle of rice fields and cool off from the midday heat by diving into the cool water at Pangas Falls. Bohol is a pretty amazing place.

At night at the hotel we finally find out the purpose of the staff member who looks like a Filipino John Lennon, who is usually found during the day watching tv in the lobby: At night he brings out his guitar and plays Beatles songs for all the guests to enjoy (or rue, whichever works), so it all makes sense now. He knows the lyrics to every song yet doesn’t speak any English!

Bohol is one of the few places in the world where you can see tarsiers in the wild, so no visit would be complete without trying to spot some of these little furbies. Tarsiers are tiny primates (but not monkeys), which are sadly critically endangered. They don’t cope well in captivity (to the point of committing suicide due to stress), but the sanctuary we visit near the town of Corella is having some success in restoring tarsier populations. Founded by Carlito Pizarras a.k.a. Tarsier Man, this sanctuary allows visitors to ethically observe these nocturnal creatures in the wild. And they are damn cute.

Simply driving through beautiful Bohol is a pleasure in its own right, there’s always something to discover, from picturesque little villages and bamboo bridges across the river to waterfalls and forests. We could easily spend another week or two here driving around the island, but the next part of our journey beckons.

We’re returning to Cebu Island and making our way down south to Oslob, so in the inspirational words of John Lennon, goodnight goodnight, everybody everywhere, goodnight!

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