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Away For A Day

Near Alona Beach are the islands of Pamilacan, Balicasag, Pungtod and Cabilao - all of them renowned for their special sea life - while on either side of Alona Beach are dozens of great dive sites waiting to be fully explored.  

Indeed, Panglao Island itself has just been noted as one of the 'hotspots’ of the Pacific region for gastropods and decapods and has just been thoroughly explored by more than 21 world marine scientists who believe that it contains hundreds of unknown species.

So far, they have identified nearly 6,000 species of mollusks and some 600 species of crustaceans...all within a few short minutes of Alona Beach, and claim it will take them at least two years to catalogue them.

Why wait? Isn't it time you found out what’s down there in the underwater world for yourself!

Thousands of people around the world now know that some of the best diving in the world is here at the tip of Panglao Island in the Philippines, and we can even show you Nautilus to prove it!

On top of that, we can also show you some of King Neptune's not so well-known subjects...even our House Reef is only a few meters away and teeming with life - well within snorkeling distance if you want to explore the nightlife underwater before you start on land!

Away for the Day

But nothing should surprise you when you do get underwater - we have almost everything you could want to see: from hammerhead sharks to giant whale sharks (at the right time of year, of course), a few reef sharks and white tip sharks, and millions of jackfish and barracudas, plus some of the best macro-life you have ever seen anywhere in the world.

We even have our own colony of pygmy seahorses just waiting for you to discover them in their secret garden, so don't forget to bring your underwater camera to show the folks back home what is lurking at the bottom of the ocean on Alona Beach.

The macro world around Panglao Island was first discovered by a pair of dive instructors working for a local dive shop - and now everyone knows!

Well, that's what diving is all about...sharing your experiences, which is what we would like to do for you as well while you are here: to share our experiences of the past 20 years or so.

In the meantime, of course, we would like you in turn to share your holiday diving experiences with your friends as well - so why not send us an e-mail with your favorite pictures from Alona Beach to our own website at www.alonabeach.com and let us share them with the rest of the world?

Away for the Day

The province of Bohol sits on one of the biggest fish highways in the world, which runs north and south from Getafe to Panglao Island, then across to Mindanao and down to Borneo and the Equator. It is best-known for four things: tarsiers, Chocolate Hills, white coral sand palm-fringed beaches…and its big collection of fish, of course.

Naturally, it’s the fish which attracts the divers, but it’s not the only reason: there is a life outside of diving, and divers like to live it.

This then is about the other side of life around Alona Beach and Panglao Island, wandering around some of the 47 towns and villages on Bohol, the tenth biggest island in the Philippines: it is not a complete guide to what is happening…simply because there is too much else going on every day – and even we do not know, or have not yet found, everything!

It is a rapid tour of the southern part of Bohol – not the northern part which contains most of the 73 smaller islands governed by Bohol…and don’t ask us: we haven’t been exploring in that area, although we do know it contains a large double barrier reef and the biggest mangrove plantation in the Philippines.

Could you become our Dr David Livingstone and discover it for us?

Away for the Day

Going out for the day is one of the things you can do, of course, and it makes a pleasant change from diving, especially if the sea is a bit uncooperative. Most people head out of town and off Panglao Island to Bohol itself, and there is a lot you can do.

Hiring a motorbike by the day or week is easy: there are several places to choose from on Alona Beach if you want the freedom of the road to explore for yourself. If not, it is also easy to hire a car or van.

 They are normally outside the Tourist Information Center or just up the beginning of the concrete road. They can, of course, also be arranged by any of the dive shops and resorts on Alana Beach.

First stop will normally be the Blood Compact site with bronze statues just the other side of the bridge at Dauis…if you turn right (If you turn left, that’s another story and another trip!). It was here that Rajah Sikatuna  - thought of locally as the Prince of Peace - signed a peace agreement in blood with the Spanish on March 16, 1565, which became the basis for the foundation of the United Nations.

Beware – you have just entered your first tourist trap! Don’t be shy: there will be plenty of other places you can buy your trinkets, so you can always say ‘No’ - and in the meantime you can hone your bargaining skills to perfection for the next encounter…and the next, and the next!

Sikatuna

 

Normally, this is only a five-minute stop before the real journey begins a few more minutes up the road towards Baclayon Church and the Chocolate Hills.

Away for the Day

The oldest stone church on Bohol is at Baclayon – so expect to be shown it by your proud Filipino guide.

Religion is an important part of life to most local people, even if there is an underlying animistic belief system at work as well: somehow they manage to combine the two belief systems without too much trouble.

For strategic reasons, Baclayon became the first real town on Bohol and work started on the church in 1596 at the request of Dona de Bolanas, mother of the encomender of the island, Pedro de Gamboa.

Legend has it that the coral stone blocks which form the building were cemented together by enforced labour which used millions of egg-whites to make the bonding material.

Beside the church and part of it is a museum containing sacred music and you may hear several other miraculous stories from the curator and his assistants from the Second World War era when the Americans were involved in heavy fighting in the area.

The small fee for entry is supposed to be for the church renovation and the preservation of the artefacts which are degrading rapidly. You are asked not to touch the exhibits because of their fragility, and photographs are not allowed to be taken inside the museum. Instead, postcards are for sale!

Away for the Day

At Baclayon you can also investigate the local market, which is right next to the church and the associated school, and stock up on fruit for the journey into the interior – and make sure that you have enough soft drinks to last you the day.

The Wednesday market seems to be the busiest with plenty of goods to chose from…try and see if you can find the locally-produced giant banana called ‘Gloria,’ which some people say is the sweetest banana, or ‘saging’ in local language,  ever grown.

Bananas actually have no special fruiting season, but are most plentiful during July when people from Baclayon take their fruit to the annual agricultural show in Tagbilaran as part of the Sandugo Festival.

The biggest problem with bananas is that they do not grow in the wild and have no seeds: they only grow where they have been planted by human beings, so where the first banana plant came from, nobody really knows! Mind you, there is a legend…

Baclayon is also famous as a basket-weaving center and products made locally are exported all over the world.

Don’t worry…just look in the market area – you can probably buy one for yourself!

Away for the Day

If you are looking for the ghoulish side of life, why not pay a visit to the cemetery at Baclayon, or at Panglao on another occasion? Instead of burying their dead, the Filipinos create concrete coffins which are piled one on top of another, or bury their loved ones in fancy family mausoleums because the ground is too hard for digging.

Unfortunately, not all the grave sites are well looked after and some have been broken into, leaving the remains to be bleached by the sun.

Filipinos have a special ‘Night of the Dead’ on All Hallows Eve (November 1) when they visit the graves of family and friends and the living hold parties among or on the tombstones to show their forebears that they have not been forgotten by those who are left behind.

Parties are sometimes a little bit boisterous and the cemetery takes on a festive atmosphere as celebrations go on far into the night, sometimes the next day as well.

Because it is believed that this is night when spirits return to earth to enjoy fun and games, many local people even set up barbecue stands with stalls selling beers, and leave flowers and sacrificial offerings of food on the graves to keep their forebears happy and contented.

Go any time after dark on November 1 and see it for yourself if you do not believe it.

Away for the Day

Stocked up with goodies for the day, it’s time to head into the nipa groves which grow beside the road on the way to the Loboc River at Loay.

Most people head for the Chocolate Hills near Carmen with a variety of action on the way there and on the way back, like the Hanging Bamboo Bridge strung precariously across the Loboc River, where you can practice your skills at not falling into the river below while trying to dance rock ‘n’ roll in the middle!

Beware – some people haven’t made it without taking an unforeseen dip! We are told that there might be a few valuable goodies in the murky brown water below the bridge as well, including a camera or two lost by intrepid explorers wanting some dramatic action pictures.

Local rumour is that the Loboc River also contains some crocodiles hiding in the mud below the bridge, but no one has been able to produce any evidence, and all customers have safely arrived back at the beach!

Away for the Day

Further along the same river your driver for the day will normally stop at the boat station just before entering Loboc itself.

The temptation here is to get you to see captured tarsiers which are on display: Bohol’s Governor is trying to stop local people from abusing the wildlife in the area and recommends that instead you visit the Philippine Tarsier Foundation at Corella on another day.

The reason is simple: tarsiers are one of the world’s endangered species and die when they are they are taken out of their natural environment and made to pose for photographs during daylight. Being naturally nocturnal – that’s why they have such big eyes - they are subject to stress when they are deliberately kept awake during the day.

Instead, why not use the opportunity to take a lazy ride up and down the Loboc River? Going up means a visit to the Tontonan Falls, and you can easily do it on a riverboat restaurant with lunch served as you ply the route. Beware – lunchtimes are always pretty crowded on the river, so you may have to wait a while for a ride to the falls: try going the other way!

Going down the river means seeing the Hanging Bridge from a different point of view without the risk of falling in!

Away for the Day

At Loboc itself is the second oldest church on Bohol, plus another museum which has recently been opened, but the oddest thing about the area is the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ – a modern construction which stops just short of the church itself.

The bridge is a Marcos-time folly and cost millions of pesos to build before local and national protest stopped construction…because the pile driving was threatening to turn the church and the nearby bell tower into a crumbling ruin before its time.

No one seems to remember why the bridge was built across the river, or where it was going to or from: if you climb up the remains, it looks as if it was intended to go straight across the church roof!

Travelling onwards through the twisting road towards Batuan and eventually the Chocolate Hills you will pass through one of the shadiest spots on the island: the man-made forest. It was planted just after the Second World War and covers several thousand hectares before you drop down onto the flood-plains and the rice fields and the real work area of the Boholanon country dwellers.

Away for the Day

As Negros has gained the reputation of being the ‘Sugarbowl’ of the Philippines, Bohol has worked towards becoming the ‘Ricebowl’ of the Philippines, and you will see why on the journey – rice grows on more than 50,000 hectares on the island, although only some 20,000 hectares are irrigated like you will see. There are plans, however, to add another 10,000 hectares of wetlands in and around the villages of Sikatuna and Sevilla in the foothills of the Chocolate Hills themselves, which stretch for several miles.

Rice grown on Bohol has a much higher yield than on other islands and has proved three times more productive because of the irrigated areas.

It is in this area that you will find the ‘four-legged tractors’ of the island and their muddy domain to remind you that wheeled transport was not invented in the Philippines - because there were no roads until the Spanish arrived in 1521, and the fastest forms of land transport were the carabaos (even if they are a bit slower than walking pace!) which were also the local 'workhorse’ in the rice fields of the island…and still are.

Away for the Day

At last! You’ve arrived at the Chocolate Hills, or at least the main one with the resort and viewing platform on top – but it’s another tourist trap!

Okay: it’s one you wanted to be in anyway, so you can ignore the imported monkeys in the trees and the plethora of Chocolate Hills t-shirts and the imitation tarsiers climbing up sticks…remember, you only came for the views and the photographs to prove that you got there and were fit enough to climb the 215 steps to the top!

Pity they’re only chocolate coloured at the really dry part of the year…but you can’t have everything!

The top of the hill has a restaurant (not all that good, according to some accounts by tourists) and a few shops, plus a swimming pool and some only just finished accommodation.

You can stay in some cottages to see dusk and dawn over the hills, but a lot of tourists have complained of disturbed sleep caused by ghosts which haunt the rooms and rip off bedclothes. You tell us if it’s true!

Some people say that the resort on top is only worth a half-hour visit, although the views are splendid: the legend is better than reality.

Reality is that the hills are composed of minute sea creatures which died millions of years ago when Bohol was beneath the sea, but legend says they were either formed by a giant crying over a woman, or by two giants throwing rocks at each other…over the same woman. By all accounts, they must have had a darned good fight!

Away for the Day

By now it is usually mid-afternoon and you are beginning to think of the homeward trip, unless you want to stay to see sunset: unfortunately, sunrise is said to be the best time for highly colourful photographs of the Chocolate Hills and that means getting up really early.

Unless you are in a hurry to get back to the beach, you will probably be offered one or two more stops when you get to Panglao itself: Hinagdanan Cave at Totolan near Dauis is one of them.

Entry is supposed to be free, but in reality a small charge is made to see the stalactites and stalagmites which hang over the cool clear waters of the underground swimming pool, and you are allowed to take a dip or paddle around the edges if you have forgotten to bring your swimming costume with you and don’t actually slip in at the deep end!

The cavern is lit by two great natural skylights in the roof and the sun pours in during the late afternoon.

On the way down the steps leading in, take a good look at the wall on the right-hand side.

It is usually not well lit, but you can see several modernistic cave paintings representing serpents which were supposed to have lurked in the cavern a few centuries before…probably before man was created to create the legend, actually!

Away for the Day

If you make a second day out and turn left at Dauis Bridge, you head for Bohol’s only city: Tagbilaran. It is not really a tourist destination for most people, although it does have several large stores and the recently-opened Island City Mall beside the main outdoor market where you can pick up some choice fruit for the journey.

Don’t be tempted by the fish or fruit unless you have a cold box full of ice – the fish can get a bit smelly by the end of the day!

But the city does have one or two interesting places, and one of them is the Botanical Gardens which incorporates several caves, like Mesias Cave and Lahos-lahos Cave, which is described as like an upside-down cathedral with a river running through it.

There is also what is called the ‘Bat’ Cave and the ‘Turtle’ Cave in the gardens which you can investigate before you head out of town to search for greener pastures.

Rumours abound about caves that were supposedly filled with Japanese treasure during the Second

World War: one is believed to be behind St. Joseph’s Cathedral, while another was found when digging out the basement of Bohol Quality recently and had to be filled in and shored up as it ran under the road to the sea: no gold was found…as far as we know!

The likelihood of finding old gold in the city is almost non-existent, but the probability of finding ecological treasures outside of the city is definitely there.

Away for the Day

Because Bohol is generally a very green and fertile place, it stands to reason that the island gets a lot of rain…hopefully during the night or when you are not here! But that does have some benefits, even for visitors…it means there is a lot of water in the hills, and water means rivers and waterfalls.

You could make a day out just by visiting waterfalls on the island, although you will not find any falls or rivers on Panglao.

The two most popular are the ones at Kawasinan with its’ 60ft drop and Mag-aso with its treble drop, both pouring thousands of gallons an hour into inviting pools.

Kawasinan is a long trip for most people, but can be visited on the way to Anda. Mag-aso, on the other hand, can be combined with trips to several other places, including other nearby waterfalls which are equally as spectacular around Corella and Antequera. It’s almost impossible to miss Inambacan Falls near Antequera because it has an output of some 8,000 gallons a minute, which eventually enters Maribojoc Bay.

It is this water which Cebu has its eye on and would like to have piped across to solve its own water shortage problems.

Away for the Day

Combining things once you get towards Antequera is easy, especially if you set out for a Sunday trip…but start early in the morning and make sure you prepare the night before for a good day out.  You will probably need some stout walking boots: not everything is exactly just off the road.

On a Sunday, this is the day when the hill-folk who have been making baskets descend on the town with

their wares made during the week.

There, 180 weavers have got together to form the Antequera Producers Association co-operative with their own display and trade house in the town market square.

Just outside of town are the waterfalls, while at nearby Corella is the Philippine Tarsier Foundation which has been set up to secure the future of the smallest living primate on earth.

Call 235-5583 when you are in the area to make an appointment with Lito Pizarrus, the foundation field manager, who can show and tell you more about these creatures which emerged some 45 million years ago….or simply just drop in for a chat with staff and a look around.

Away for the Day

Travel across to Loon and down the coast to Maribojoc on the return journey to Panglao and you will be able to visit one of the non-church Spanish remains on Bohol – the best preserved watchtower which was used to look out for Moro pirates, who raided Bohol with regularity in centuries past.

Although Bohol is known as the Friendly Isle, not all previous would-be visitors were!

Baclayon Church also incorporates a watchtower which doubles as a bell tower, but Punta Cruz was built for one purpose only: to warn the pesky Moslem pirates to go back home!

Panglao, followed by the rest of Bohol, was the first place the pirates visited when they sailed from Borneo and Mindanao to raid Cebu, Leyte, Samar and eventually Manila.

Although you can visit the watchtower beside the church at Panglao, it is in a bad state of repair and entry is not allowed.

Pamilacan Island also had a fort and most fortifications around Bohol were constructed in the first 50 years of Spanish occupation, mainly of quarried limestone, under the instruction of Jesuit and Augustinian friars, who were known as El Padre Capitans.

Away for the Day

Travelling back to Alona Beach you could also re-visit Hinagdanan Cave or the larger one next to it inside Panglao Island Nature Resort – but you have to pay more to get inside the resort in the first place, and you may have to eat a lot to get your money back…because the entry fee is ‘consumable’ at the resort.

Instead, cut across to the central roadway for a visit to a miniature private zoo where you can see the sort of wildlife that inhabits parts of Panglao and Bohol: turn down the sign-posted track to Daks and Gams just outside of Lourdes and keep going: entry is only a few pesos. Unfortunately, some of the exhibits are classified as endangered.

It may not be the greatest zoo in the world, but it is the only one on Panglao, and its’ collection of indigenous animals is constantly growing.  

There are usually some large monitor lizards which are locally called ‘Hows’ and they are usually collected by local boys who keep them as pets and even take them for ‘walkies’ with the dog along the beach: sad to say, a lot of them end up in the cooking pot because they are said to taste like wild chicken, their main diet.

They look a bit like a miniature crocodile and have some vicious-looking teeth: you may even find one ambling across the road in front of you, but don’t worry – they can run fairly fast if you approach!

The zoo also has a collection of snakes – some of them very poisonous – which live on Bohol…and on Panglao, of course.

Watch out – we’ve seen some wandering around on Alona Beach as well…mostly non-poisonous pythons and some pretty colourful green and red tree snakes, but watch out if you see a black one with a yellowish belly…and King Cobra have been seen as well!

Away for the Day

If you return to Panglao town on a Thursday or Sunday afternoon, you cannot help but notice the favourite sport of the Filipino – you will pass several cockpits: the one at Panglao is just up the road from the Municipal Offices on the opposite side of the road. The one at Totolan, Dauis, is just after you cross the old bridge onto Panglao Island. Turn right at the junction and only a blind man will miss it! It’s almost opposite the castle which is being built there!

Crowds gather at about 4pm for the first fight and visitors are welcome for a small entrance fee. If you had brought the right sort of bird with you, entry would have been free!

Thousands of pesos will change hands in just a few hours as punters gamble on the outcome, but you had better watch what you do with your hands: their position in front of you indicates how much you want to bet on the fight. Don’t wave to anyone!

Claws and steel spurs get an extra sharpen just prior to going in the ring, but the fight can be over in seconds.

Some birds live to fight another day after attention from the on-site surgeon…and some are due for the cooking pot!

If you go to enjoy the cockpit, it is best if you take a Filipino friend with you to explain the rules….but there seem to be thousands!

Away for the Day

Fiestas are an every day affair on Bohol: they have to be because there are 1,109 barangays in total, and every barangay (or village) has its special day. Some areas have more than one – Panglao has one on May 3 and the other on August 28 every year.

Panglao celebrates its feast and fiesta days in a hard way – in August the Hudyaka sa Panglao goes on for nine days, culminating in street dancing and a contest of dancers in front of the church which begins at about 2pm.

Special pride is taken in Panglao because it is the ‘dance capital’ of Bohol, having won the main island’s Sandugo Dancing Festival four times running - the only town to do so.

In fact, they are so good they have been requested not to take part again so some other town has a chance to win the top prize every July, so now they take part in the Sinulog Street Dancing in Cebu instead to act like local tourism ambassadors.

Panglao town itself takes on a festive atmosphere and the final day of the fiesta is something no one living locally dares miss: family and friends pour in from all over the world for the occasion, and quite a few businesses take a holiday for several days.

Needless to say, hundreds of pigs and chickens living locally do not think it is the best time of year to be at home!

Away for the Day

Back at the beach, life is quiet for everyone, so it’s a time to get a nice massage and soak up the sun, or catch up on your diving. You can get a decent and relaxing massage anywhere on the beach from the municipally-approved and trained girls who wear the appropriate t-shirts. They are easy to spot: they double up selling shells and trinkets all along the beach.

The massage itself takes about an hour and costs in the region of P250, and if you have not been approached within the first one or two days of being here, ask at any of our dive shops or your resort.

The girls were licensed and trained by the local authority after a rash of complaints about ‘non-professional’ workers from other areas trying to operate on the beach without knowing what they were doing; so if in doubt about ability, look for the girls in the newly-acquired light blue uniform.

Although you can find shells free on the beach, their quality and size is not as good as those the girls can show you, but remember that some shells and most corals are not for export: they can be confiscated by Customs officials both here and abroad and fines and imprisonment imposed.

The best collection of shells is held by the Shell Museum in the centre of Panglao town (opposite the filling station) which also sells thousands to collectors all over the world.