Monday Musings: 10 Life Reminders from Siargao

Oftentimes, the best memories happen when you do not plan. The Surfing Capital of the Philippines definitely took my heart away.

It started with a last-minute decision after the French Embassy denied my visa application, ruining my holiday plans and putting a huge shadow over my festive mood. Luckily, I found out that my former roommates and Couchsurfing bestbuds were celebrating New Year’s Eve in Siargao so I decided to join them.

I had my bag packed and got my gears ready but I forgot that it was the holidays. I confidently thought that there would be loads of tickets to go there. It turned out to be one of the biggest struggle I’ve had to reach one destination! It involved hours of riding on habal-habal, ferries, bangkas, jeepneys, and tricycles! I ended up arriving a day late from my hostel booking.

People asked me why I went through all those instead of just staying at home. At that moment it seemed like a great idea and I knew complicated journeys always turn into good stories (sometimes I lie to myself).

Anyways, after days of random overnights in unplanned stops, I realized that I have been reminded about a lot of things in less than a week of travel.

Chillin like a villain at Cloud 9

  1. Relax! I usually feel that I am Roger the Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh or the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and I am not alone for sure. Humans naturally want to control and predict basically everything. The thought of not knowing makes us all feel uneasy. When I took the fast craft to head to Southern Leyte, I had everything calculated and yet I still missed some of my schedule and my worry was unnecessary, because I still ended up where I used to be. Sometimes you just have to let things be, as what Timon and Pumba would say “Hakuna Matata!” I have not reached Timon levels yet but I started Headspace to help me be calm.

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    Sunset as I left San Ricardo Port
  2. Be open. I only had one thing in mind when I went to Siargao and it was to surf. This one thing I never got to do because I decided to open myself up to other possibilities. I did not regret missing out on the surfing because I had tons of fun memories with people. That is how it should be! We should set our path towards the door and remain open enough to let new things come our way. It helps us grow. If we just keep on doing the same things over and over, it is like you living in a program. We are not born robots and we should not live like one.

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    Team Blue Bloods vs. Team Diarrhea (Diarrhea won Paglaolympics)
  3. Make new friends. Most of the people I knew booked in another hostel and I felt quite uneasy the minute I arrive (my anti social side always kicks in). I did not know anyone and it was great because at the end of the trip, I made a lot of new friends. Sometimes, we have to leave our usual circle to get new perspectives on life.

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    Enjoying the waves as they kiss the shore.
  4. Live in the present. Everyday, you would normally seeing me posting a lot in FB about different things but while in Siargao, I was too engrossed in what was happening locally so I barely had time to post or read anything. This somewhat reminded me to really make it a point to disconnect regularly to connect with the real world. I’m a bit slow on this but I am making progress. Count moments not milestones.

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    Fail at the swing
  5. It is perfectly normal to make mistakes. When I started driving the scooter, I was so scared of making mistakes that in the end, someone still hit me at the back. I know motorbikes are not good examples but it does tell you that you can be extremely careful but there will be things beyond your control and it is completely fine to just make mistakes (as long as it is not deadly).

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    Channeling the inner monkey at Secret Spot
  6. Dare to do something you have never done before. The countdown was finished and everyone was already partying yet I was standing there still worrying about a lot of things. Should I do it? What will people say? Will I mess up? These are my normal mind prompts when faced with having to do something out of my usual and often I normally let them win. All my what if’s stopped me a lot of times from enjoying. I would rather do what others expect of me than what I would like to do. This has led me to a lot of regrets. This was also one reason why I ended up in Siargao, I never celebrated New Year outside of house or away from people I know and for the first time I did. It did not kill me, in fact, it was one of the good decisions I have made despite one huge mistake. I enjoyed the night of dancing with friends and saying hi to strangers.

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    Andrea checking out the waves
  7. Ride the waves. I haven’t done this in Siargao (Unfortunately!) However, I saw it a lot and noticed how it was so close to real life. We all have our struggles and sometimes we just want to give up but that should not be our primary reflex. If you just ride the waves, the whole process will give you joy. Waves are there to challenge your strenght and build your character. Each wave you ride adds up to your beautiful story.

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    Drinks and fire at Guyam Island
  8. Trust people. There were instances where I let people I barely knew drive the motorbike because of the unpaved roads and normally I would never do that. I have trust issues. I always think that people will fail me and in the end it will hurt me but in Siargao, I learned to not think about this and just believe in the goodness of people. Another instance was when I was pissed and decided to walk home to the hostel, there was one habal-habal driver who asked me if I needed help. I turned him down and 500 meters later. I was nowhere near the hostel and my phone was dead. I had no way to know where I was since it was my first night there and I greatly relied on my map app. I luckily chanced upon two nice street sweepers who showed me the way and finally trusted a driver to take me there. Nothing bad happened to me and I arrived safely. With the crazy world we now live in, trusting people has become more difficult than ever but it does not make the world better to be part of the cynics either. When you trust people, they also feel good about themselves. So instead of being negative, just be positive.

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    The annoyed kid :))
  9. Do not judge. We tend to have our own prejudice on different people. I had a terrible judgement of one of the habal-habal (motorbike) drivers. It was the first night at Siargao and I realised everyone already left. I did not have a ride and had a number of drinks. I was pissed and decided to just walk back to the hostel (not a good idea if you are new to the place). As I walk through the pitch dark road, I heard a man calling out, ‘Do you need a ride?’. I replied with a loud, ‘No’. He did not leave right away and he wanted to check if I was sure. Stubborn as I am, I told him to leave me alone and he did. After 30 minutes of walking and following the gps, my phone died and I ended up in town with two guys sweeping the street. I tried to ask them the way back to the hostel but I was not sober enough to remember. Finally, I gave up and just decided to get a motorbike driver. I arrived in the hostel safe and sound. The next day, I needed to go around so I decided to rent a motorbike (did not shower yet) so I walked back to town and then a driver called me. He was the guy who offered me a ride. All the while I thought he was just being nice to get more money but he went out of his way to find me a scooter. Being in the big city, people tend to use you a lot and then you become cynical. You start to categorise people without second thoughts. The incident reminded me that some people may look devious but they can be good natured.15822598_10154777794348329_6934201963544954634_n.jpg
  10. Enjoy the simple things. Siargao is still an under developed area. Although, there are several resorts most of the areas remain provincial and some roads still do not have streetlights or pavement. I enjoyed the rawness of the area. It is this simplicity that truly made my motorbike trips around the island pleasurable. The thought of adventure, the smell of fresh air and the unending lush greens, these made me happy and it was for free! As a city girl, I have moments where I just unwind by purchasing things that I probably would not ever need and this is what capitalism thought us. Money can buy happiness! I do not agree completely (although it can make me a bit happier if I get my dive master license and funding to educate more Filipinos) because this kind of happiness does not last long specially if it is just to buy objects. There are a lot of good things in this world that is free. Like the love of your family and friends and the beauty of nature, you do not need to break your bank to be happy.
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Finally getting the hang of it!

Getting to, being in and leaving Siargao were all equally memorable. I thought that spending four days in the island is enough. I was wrong, very wrong! I am grateful for having met different people through the trip they were good reminders and inspiration. I cannot wait to be back in Paglaom Hostel this May (to finally catch my first wave)!

24 Hours in Camiguin

Sunny noon, the bus stopped right in front of Jagna Public Market. We were beaming with smiles from Loboc, thinking that we calculated our time well to make it to the 1:00 P.M. trip. My mind filled with thoughts of white sand and turquoise waters of the volcanic island. We had high hopes that we will see Camiguin before the sun sets. Much to our surprise, they have changed the schedule. On their website it said that the time of departure was 1:00 P.M but they have not updated their websites for months (I generally have trust issues with most bus and ferry websites in the Philippines because they rarely update). When we decided to go to Bohol, it was because we found out that there was an alternative route to go to Camiguin. I researched on places to visit and double checked everything except for the schedule to Camiguin. That time I was only worried if the ferry trip even existed so when they confirmed it did, I assumed it never changed (Insert Don Miguel Ruiz’s Second Agreement , Do Not Assume). First lesson learned was to always confirm with the shipping lines (Shuttle Ferry / phone: 088 387 40 34).

The unfortunate incident led us to do the Sierra Bullones trail, losing a day for Camiguin. Next morning, we woke up by 7 a.m. Like de ja vu we walked to the port area, but this time we finally make it to the ship bound for Camiguin.  The cost to cross from Jagna to Balbagon was  PHP 425 for the ferry and PHP 5 terminal fee.

Balbagon Port
After 4 hours on the boat, we finally docked at Balbagon Port and said hello to the Island Born of Fire.

After getting off the boat, we then headed to hire a motorela ( a customized single motorcycle that could fit 10 people. ) to got to our resort. Of course, we tried to haggle and since they do not have a set price, most of the drivers tried to charge PHP250. We found one who agreed to P180 but in the end he did not have change so it was still PHP 200.

Camiguin Action Geckos
The view of the resort from the beach.

When we reached Camiguin Action Geckos Dive and Adventure Resort, we checked-in (the staff was happy to finally see us). We booked their traveler room with fan and shared CR and bathroom (cold water) for PHP 900 which was  value for money.

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The area was not touristy though there were nearby resort.
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Fine black sand

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If I can only live like this forever!

After going around the resort and settling down, we chatted with the manager and he gave us a map and tips on where to go. It was already lunch time so we decided to save time by grabbing lunch there. Their meals ranged from PHP 100-300 and they have a separate menu for vegetarians!

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Pasta for the hungry me.

Another plus with the resort is they have scooters for rent which cost PHP 500 for a day, so we grabbed our helmets and headed to Paras Beach Resort where we can get a boat for White Island. The local government of Camiguin has set a standard fee for hiring the bangkas or the outrigger boats for roundtrip costs PHP 450.00/good for 6 persons and Environmental Fee for PHP 20.00/ per person.

Our quiet boatman who patiently waited for us in the White Island.
Our quiet boatman who patiently waited for us in the White Island.
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The outrigger boat from Paras takes roughly 10 minutes to reach White Island.
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Lunch time is probably the best time to visit since most Filipinos do not want to get a tan.

 

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For 20 minutes, we had the entire sandbar for ourselves.
underwater selfie
Underwater selfies are difficult.

Little marine life in the shallow parts of the island.

Camiguin in one shot
Camiguin in one shot

We spent an hour basking in the sun, taking photos and swimming in the clear waters (we brought our own swimming masks which saved us P150).  We left the island around 2:00 P.M. just when others started arriving. Our next stop would be in Catarman to view the Sunken Cemetery.

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If you want to snorkel or dive, you have to register in the baranggay hall.

It took us about 30 minutes to reach Catarman, some of the roads were under construction (elections is coming) and we were amateurs in driving scooters. The idea of snorkelling over graves did not really excite us so we just took photos and left.

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You can see the cross from the viewing deck.

Couple of minutes from the Sunken Cemetery, you will see the Way of the Cross and the Old Church Ruins, both of which did not interest us so we did not bother to stop and went straight for the Bura Soda Water Spring.

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Trying to sneak a selfie with the scooter’s side mirror.

The soda spring had a distinct smell and I never found out where it came from. Anyways the entrance to the water park was Php60.00. It was a good refreshing dip to cool down after not having rinsed the salt water from White Island.

Soda Water
Bura Soda Water Park

We started getting cold and decided to go to the next destination, Katibawasan Falls by 4:00P.M. We were very motivated to add couple more stops to the half day tour. To get into Katibawasan Falls, you will need to pay PHP 60 per person. Before heading to the falls, we decided to have a quick snack. You can find several kiosks and souvenir shops right outside the entrace.

Kiping a local delicacy made by frying a mixture of water and ground sweet potato that is then served with latik or thick caramelized coconut cream syrup.
Kiping a local delicacy made by frying a mixture of water and ground sweet potato that is then served with latik or thick caramelized coconut cream syrup.

Non athletic and adventurous people need not worry about walking far to the waterfalls. They have build concrete walkway which makes it convenient (the only problem would be if you have knee issues since it is quite steep).

Katibawasan Falls
As how Lonely Planet describes it : A beautiful clear stream of water dropping more than 70m to a plunge pool where you can swim and picnic.
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Had the brilliant idea of taking this photo!

When we reached the waterfall, there were only 4 people with us. We had a tranquil moment as we enjoyed the chilly waters. If you plan to swim right to where the water drops, you will be disappointed as it is not allowed due to several accidents in the past.

Majestic view of the Katibawasan falls
Majestic view of the Katibawasan falls

The water was too cold for us and we were already shivering so we decided to catch the sunset at PHIVOLCS Observatory. It was sort of a Fast and Furious chase scene as we desperately tried to head to the main town of Mambajao (thank God for good concrete roads).

The view while we were trying to reach the observatory for a better view of the sunset.
As we were making our way to the observatory, the sun was teasing us.

After 30 minutes of driving like crazy (not the unsafe kind), we made it to the observatory.

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We managed to catch a glimpse of the sunset.

 

The full view
The full view
The sun waited for us before leaving for the day.
The sun waited for us before leaving for the day.

Normally, sunsets mark the end of the day, but for us it was not the last stop before calling it a day. We got back on our scooter and headed to Ardent Hot Springs. The entrance costs PHP 30 per person. The springs are still surrounded by trees and foliage and commercial shops. It gets very busy on weekends specially at night. The day we visited was no exception. This was our last stop for the day and we rewarded ourselves with a generous serving of pork sinigang and chopsuey from Ardent’s restaurant.

Ardent Hot Spring
Ardent Hot Spring

After devouring the food we went to take a dip. The water temperature did not meet my expectation. It was not warm like that from a hot shower.It was only lukewarm that night. We tried to find a hot area. We moved back and forth and in the end, we gave up and decided to head back to our room. As we made our way back into the main road, I needed to find mobile credits (disadvantages of prepaid) so we went around the town proper. It seemed like destiny that I would chance upon a Vjandep shop.  They were the most known bakers of pastel (Spanish word for cake) which was bread filled with custard or yema. The sweet tooth in me was celebrating. This bread was reminiscent of the time when I used to love dip sliced white bread into condensed milk.  I bought several boxes for me and as pasalubong for my sister. They had a box of 6 for PHP 70 and a box of 12 for PHP120.

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Pastel should be a sin!

I went back to the resort happy with my box of pastel. We ordered brewed coffee to pair with the pastel and enjoyed our dessert as we sat outside looking out to the shore and listening to the waves crashing. It was a hectic yet fun day and I felt that we were part of Amazing Race (I’m sure we can be good competitors if given the opportunity).

The next day, we woke up around  7:00 A.M refreshed and hyped to do a dive. We grabbed a heavy breakfast and checked our dive gears. It was the last for our day itinerary in Camiguin, a fun dive at White Island.

My favorite part of this breakfast meal was the homemade bread!
My favorite part of this breakfast meal was the homemade bread!

We finished diving around 11:00 P.M., we had enough time to shower, pack and check out. We then waited for a motorela to pass by the main road. We waited for a while before we managed to get one who charged us PHP 250 (we we desperate this time to not miss the boat so we just said yes in a heartbeat).

As we boarded the ferry, we wished we could’ve spent more time in Camiguin. We missed diving in Mantigue Island  and climbing Mt. Hibok-Hibok but as what one driver said to us, “This is why there is such a thing as second time”. 
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We will definitely be back.

Reaching Jagna Port
Reaching Jagna Port

From Jagna Port, you can get a direct van to Tagbilaran City for PHP 100. We arrived on time to make it to Ocean Jet’s last trip for Cebu.

Sunset over Tagbilaran Port
Sunset over Tagbilaran Port

Offbeat Bohol : Loboc – Jagna – Sierra Bullones Trail

Think you have seen all of Bohol? This might change your mind.

My dad is from Bohol, from an early age, I have already seen most of the touristic places in this beautiful island. Everytime we visited we always followed the usual route. Swimming at Alona Beach in Panglao then a day trip to Chocolate Hills in Carmen and stops in Loboc to for the river cruise and at Carmen to see the tarsiers. For a moment I thought I already explored Bohol well enough. When I found out that there was a long weekend, I decided to challenge conventions and carve out a different path.

The original plan was just to stay for one night in Bohol since we wanted to go from Jagna to Camiguin to spend more time there. We left Cebu City around 4:00 P.M. OceanJet offers P600 roundtrip Cebu-Tagbilaran. It was a 3 hour boat ride and sunset  greeted as we docked in Tagbilaran port.

Sunset in Bohol
The sun sets as the fastcraft docks in the Port of Bohol.

When we reached Tagbiliran port, we immediately followed the directions that most of the travel blogs wrote on how to get to Loboc ( located 26km. east of Bohol). People do not usually stay in Loboc, most of the crowd would flock to Panglao. Loboc is just one of the popular stops when doing a tour around Bohol. It is famous for the river cruises and the nearby Tarsier Conservatory. We chose to stay at Loboc because it was nearer to Jagna and to avoid tourists.

Getting a tricycle is not a big problem but finding a reasonable driver to give you a local price is, so we walked for a bit to the main road. We managed to get a cheaper one eventually. We headed to Dao Central Terminal which was right across Island City Mall. One thing a traveller should remember when going around the Philippines or any place for that matter is to always have a plan B. I did not expect that the jeepney bound for Loboc had specific schedules so we ended up going back to the plaza where the other jeepneys were. Luckily, we managed to get inside the last jeepney.

Filipinos in the jeepney.
How many heads can you count? This is what I call “Filipino capacity”.

It was a tight squeeze as they had people sitting in the aisle with wooden stools. If they cared about making the passengers comfortably sitted, one side would fit 10 max but since it is Filipino capacity there were 12 people on each sides and 6 sitting in the middle. We had huge luggage with us and for a while we worried about it. The good thing is the fact that most jeepneys have space on top. It took us 40 minutes to reach Loboc ( probably 20 minutes if there were less stops). When we reached the landmark of the place we booked, it was pitch dark and we had to use our flashlights. We barely noticed Loboc River on our right side as we walked through the dirt road. It was very tranquil and you can hear all sorts of sounds echoing from different critters. Relieved not to have a lot of people walking about asking you to buy stuff or have a massage, something that you would normally experience when staying around Panglao.

Pitch black
Darkness greeted us on our arrival.

We finally reached Fox and the Firefly Cottages but then realised that we booked the wrong night. Luckily there was no one occupying the room so the receptionist just let us stay. We woke up with a beautiful site. The place was serene and surrounded by lush greens.

Fox and Firefly Resort
The Fox and Firefly Resort offers a cozy and unique option for those tired of the beach.
Morning View
Good morning Loboc!
Fox
The local fox looking all pensive.
Shell Chandelier
The details matter.
Dragonfly
My spectator during shower time.
Outdoor Shower
My favorite part in Fox and the Firefly. I wish I had my own outdoor shower.

After having our hot shower and grabbing breakfast, we had 4 hours to kill so we went for a 1 hour paddle tour. I have never tried paddle boarding but I have been on top of a long board and a kayak so I did not worry much about the idea of falling over.

Paddle boards galore
The others went for the full day tour.

The tour guide first taught us the basics of finding the proper length for the paddle and the proper way to stand on the board. It was really not that difficult. You will only have trouble if you cannot balance well.

Loboc River
The magnificent Loboc river.

After the tutorial, we started the tour. The guide just went with us to make sure we were safe. I did expect him to tell a thing or two about the river but he didn’t. He was nice enough to take photos of us paddling across the river.

Sky's reflection
The weather was perfect.
Me Paddling
I always wanted to try paddleboarding.
Effortless along Loboc
An hour of paddling was not much of a challenge.

The paddle tour ended near the Loboc River Resort, we thought we needed to paddle back to the cottages but we got picked up by their multicab. It was a relaxing tour and the hour spent was really worth it. It would have been better if we did the full day since the 1 hour tour was P800 for each person.

Buko
Refreshing buko after the paddle tour.

It was already 10:00 a.m. and I initially planned to leave by then, we had to rush to the main road to catch the jeepney.

Path
The paved road to Fox and Firefly

We waited for at least 30 minutes before we got on a jeepney. There were more jeepneys heading to Loboc than heading out. At one moment, I considered hitching a ride with a bunch of locals but did not take the risk.

Loay bound
Jeepney heading to Loay Market

It did not take long to reach Loay Public Market and in less than 10 minutes we found a bus heading for Jagna.

Loay Public Market
Loay Public Market, where most of the buses heading to Jagna stops.

The only problem with the bus is that it was full. We had to stand near the doors and had to move back each time the conductor would shout, “Naay manaog!”, which in Visayan means someone is getting off. It took longer than expected with all the stops.

Filipino Capacity
Nothing like a full bus to keep you up!
The hot road.
The hot road.

Two hours later, we reached Jagna, only to find out that the ferry to Camiguin left at 8 a.m that the schedule I knew was not updated. So we had no choice but to stay in Jagna for the night. Jagna, a historical port town on the southern coast of Bohol is also known only as a stopover before heading to Camiguin and its delicacy called Calamay (sweet sticky rice packaged inside a coconut shell). The good thing of me being obssessive compulsive was I did my research on the town and had a list of places where we could eat and stay.

Idea Pension house is not like your ordinary bed and breakfast. It is a project of a 25 year-old organisation IDEA, where they provided employment, training and housing to the deaf around Visayas.  When the driver dropped us of we were wondering where the pension house since we only saw a cafe. We walked in and found out that it is within the same building. We booked a room for the night. Their accommodation came with free breakfast and WiFi. It was a good deal and we felt good that we were supporting a good cause.

IDEA Cafe Menu
You also learn some sign languages in their menu.
Pancakes and Bacon
Pancakes and bacon! You can never go wrong (if you are a carnivore that is).

It was still 3p.m., we were looking for things to do around Jagna, they have a nearby waterfall and a spring reservoir. Later, we reached a conclusion and decided to go to Chocolate Hills since it was his first time in Bohol. I did not want him to miss Bohol’s iconic geological wonder. In Tagbilaran City, it would be easy to find motorbikes for rent  but it was the contrary in Jagna, since people barely stay there, there was little market for it. The pension house was just walking distance from the public market so we went there to try to find a way to head to Chocolate Hills.

We had to bargain ( being with a foreign guy did not help). We asked around and most of the habal-habal drivers (extended motorcycle that could fit up to 6 people) wanted to charge us P2,000 which was ridiculous. Going back on the bus to Loboc was also not an option because it would take us another two hours. We ended up with an old guy who finally agreed to take us to and from Chocolate Hills for P1,000.

Roads of Sierra Bullones
Long and winding roads of Sierra Bullones offers a pleasant drive to the hills.

It was a pleasant ride through the hills of Sierra Bullones. Located at the interior part of the province, the municipality of Sierra Bullones was a place of refuge for insurgents during the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War. After the road construction, more people started settling in and started farming. The roads were surprisingly smooth and well paved. Apparently, it was as a national highway but people rarely pass there.

Magnificent view above Bohol
I have never seen this view of Bohol.

As we went through the road, we saw several rice terraces. I have never known this about Bohol so it was cool to know it. After an hour on the motorbike ( my butt hurt), we finally reached Chocolate Hills. It was funny while paying the entrance fee, one woman was saying that we really needed to buy water because it was 250 steps to reach the top of the viewing deck ( maybe a lot of people find it already tiring but since I love walking, it was easy).

Bohol Chocolate Hills
My 2015 version of the cliche photo of Chocolate Hills

Since it was a top tourist stop, you would normally have to wait for your turn to take a photo of the hills. Somehow Chocolate Hills always gives me this alien vibe. The view is just out of this world.

Less Photographed View
Another perspective from the viewing deck. The less photographed side.

Last 2013, the viewing deck was destroyed by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake including the old churches around Bohol. Until now, you can still see remnants of the disaster. You will see the site landmark on the ground. You can still help in the rebuilding here.

Origin of Chocolate Hills
A scientific explanation to how Chocolate Hills were formed.

We grabbed some ice cream and water to cool down, we stayed for an hour on the viewing deck to rest our butts. The driver took us through the Sierra Bullones again as the sun sets. He was very happy to get paid that much (he was even showing us where he lived), he said that it was good that travellers like us decided to stay in the less popular places as it helps the local earn more.When we reached Jagna, we had a light dinner and headed back to the pension house to prepare for the morning trip to Camiguin.

Sunset over Sierra Bullones
Sun was slowly fading as we head back to Jagna

It was a nice cap off as we saw the starts shining over us and the cool breeze slowly calling us to sleep. As part Boholana, I saw my father’s province ( with an area of 4,821 km²) in a different perspective far from the popular beaches and more into the historical and geological ones.

Indeed, you can never be too familiar with one place. There will always be a different facade waiting for you to discover.

Browse over the gallery more photos of the adventure.

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