Virgin Island, Cebu

December 25, 2009
After spending the night at Bantayan Island, the next morning after having a quick breakfast I went walking along the long shore of the island passing through nearby fishing villages, other resorts surrounded by tall coconut trees. It was low tide then and many fishermen and even young children from the nearby villages have come to harvest oysters and clamps with their bare hands.

Around 7am, the boat that will take me to nearby Virgin Island arrived. Going there only takes 30 minutes from Bantayan Island (45 to an hour if you're coming from the furthest part of Bantayan). The boatman encountered a little difficulty of steering the small boat towards the deeper part of the sea because of the lowtide with the ocean rocks hitting the underneath part of the boat.

Once he managed to steer clear of the obstacles our trip to Virgin Island was both calm and silent with only the boat engine roar and a bit of splashing sound coming from the water. I saw a few birds hovering above us, larger than most birds I usually see in the big city.

Upon arriving I was greeted by a few dogs who were pets of the caretakers of the Island. I understand it is a private one and again owned by some lucky dude. (Which reminded me to put "buy an island" on top of my to-do list if ever I win the lottery). Virgin Island (or Silion Island) has a wide picnic area in front of the boat docking area, the white sands are said to be formed from coral remains and the island itself lies on top of a coral bed, thus explains the rocky area on the shallow part of the beach during low-tide.

I sat down for a few minutes then took my leisure walk around the shore. Every step I make the dogs would follow me as if they were the only inhabitants of the island and would just want to catch up a conversation with visitors who wander into their place.

I dipped into the shallow water and because of the low tide, swimming to the deeper part means going further into the sea. It would have been perfect if it were high tide. Afterward we had lunch with some of the caretakers there, we brought along fish to grill to be shared with them and they also shared some rice and an island cooked meal consisting of vegetables and fish.

My stay at Virgin Island, albeit short was a great one as I've explored Bantayan Island the previous afternoon by riding on the back of a motorcycle and what better way than to further explore a neighboring island as well.

Before leaving I took another round of walk along the shore taking a few more photographs and with a schedule to chase (the 12 PM ferry back to Hagnaya port), I left the island back to Bantayan Island, a few minutes after 10:00 AM.

Even if it was an abrupt visit, still it was a better way spending your morning than setting up your laptop or desktop computer at work. While riding the pump boat back to Bantayan, I conjured up a thought that someday I plan to do this kind of trip for a much longer time, lets say, a couple of weeks or better, a month compared to the usual 5 day break. Anyway, this trip was just the 1st and 2nd day of my 6 day journey to Cebu and Bohol.

-The island has an entrance fee of 300 pesos per pump boat. (good for 4-6 people)
-Pump boats can be rented at a fee of 600-800 pesos (4 persons)

Chocolate Hills

December 23, 2009
As a young 3rd grade version of Markyramone, I remember being shown pictures of different places in the Philippines. The Banaue rice terraces, Taal volcano, the near perfect cone of Mayon volcano, Rizal statue at Luneta Park, the white sand beaches of Mindoro and of course the Chocolate Hills of Bohol.

I've kept all these images in my mind and as I grew older and gotten fascinated with traveling, I made it a point to go and see these places before my eyes, not as still photographs, but in person with me behind a camera taking an actual photograph.

I've seen the rice terraces and it blows me away as I remember standing and looking around at the rice paddies forming up like stairways to heaven. I've seen Taal volcano up close and it makes a great background to every photograph even if it were taken by a man who is the worst at holding a camera.

I haven't seen Mayon up close, especially now that its turning up to erupt once again. Now would be the perfect time to go see it, but I'm writing this as a narrative of my experience in seeing the Chocolate hills up close and so Mayon volcano would probably wait up for the upcoming entries in this blog.

Chocolate Hills is always included in those yearly 7 natural wonders of the world online poll. Usually it makes the cut, because of the obvious reason that most Filipinos are online poll junkies and would vote for anything related to the Philippines.

It might be biased or not, I still preferred to include Chocolate Hills to my list of places to see at the start of 2009 not because of that, but due to my earlier memories of those photographs about the Philippines that my 3rd grade teacher showed us one day. With a month to go before 2009 would bid adios, I found myself on a ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaran, Bohol.

I was looking forward to a brief rest at the white sand beaches of Panglao island in Bohol, that thought excited me, but knowing also that I'll finally see the Chocolate shaped hills of Bohol makes the trip extra special.

Upon reaching the port of Tagbilaran, a pre-arranged van picked me up and drove me to the scenic countryside of Bohol., Our stops included a brief meeting with the Philippine Tarsier (which I noted in an earlier blog entry, about tourism promotion actually doing more bad than good), the Baclayon Church, the site of the blood compact, the hanging bamboo bridge and the so called "man made forest." (trees that were planted 30 years ago - a practice more people should start doing right now).

Then our last destination before Panglao Island was the Chocolate Hills., The van rolled up to one of the hills where a viewing deck was constructed for visitors to take pictures and stare at the rest of the Chocolate Hills. There were about 75 steps to get to the top of the viewing deck. When I went there (and I imagine it is like that on any given day) there were many tourists, both local and foreign.

I had to wait for my turn to pose for a photograph that will feature the rolling hills behind me, I opted not to do those silly poses of jumping, of pointing your finger at the tip of a hill and the super silly one, the "riding a broomstick" pose. Instead I had my own version of stupid poses.

After this picture was taken, I looked down on my feet and saw a Sony digital camera, I sheepishly asked for the owner of the camera in my low volume voice, but a few Koreans just stared back at me with clueless delight until a Caucasian dude saw me holding his camera. He thanked me to no end to the point of offering me a 500-peso reward. I thought of receiving the reward but decided against it as it really did not took me an effort to find his camera, it just rolled down to my feet. However I felt good afterward knowing I saved some man (and probably his family who were with him) the sorrow of losing his travel photographs, something that would also drive me mad if it happened to me.

Anyway, I stayed there for half an hour just looking ahead, familiarizing myself with the scene making sure the image of the Chocolate Hills would be etched in my mind not that of old photographs shown at school, but something I've seen recently and with my own eyes. I took a dozen photographs in various angles and shutter and aperture settings, black and white, vivid and more vivid to portraits.

Then I went down the steps in a slow manner, half bent on leaving, half on staying. When i left the place riding the van that would take me to Panglao Island, I realized that Chocolate Hills, although it might not be "hands down" as one of the 7 Natural Wonders of The World, was still an awesome sight, an unusual scene of rolling hills formed magically through millions of years of existence, a sight reminding you that, it didn't form itself naturally and that someone up there might have thought about this and created it. Whether it's God or not, absolutely someone conjured it to make it appear like that, rolling chocolate shaped hills and it does not melt in your hand nor your mouth, but it stays with your consciousness.

Does Tourism Speed up The Philippine Tarsiers' Extinction?

December 20, 2009
When one mentions Bohol, the first and second thing that comes to mind are Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers, the latter is considered an endangered species. In Bohol, a continually dwindling number of Philippine Tarsiers can be found. It is also found in a few places like Leyte, Samar and some parts of Mindanao.

It is by nature a small creature, measuring to about three inches to six inches in height and considered to belong in the primate group. On seeing the Philippine Tarsier, one cannot deny that its distinct feature are its wide eyes and the way it stares back at you.

According to Wikipedia:

"the Philippine Tarsier's eyes are fixed in its skull; they cannot turn in their sockets. Instead, a special adaptation in the neck allows its round head to be rotated 180 degrees."

With Bohol, attracting more tourists than ever before, the unlawful display of captured tarsiers have become somewhat widespread and with the kind of behavior these creatures typically led, those Tarsiers being held in semi captivity to be shown to tourists have been forced to live a life completely opposite to what they are meant to live.

For example, Tarsiers are known to be asleep during the day and are only awake during the night to hunt for food. How could they be sleeping when tourists are taking photographs of them during daytime.

Although this way of introducing Tarsiers to tourists and non-tourists alike might generate consciousness to how beautiful these creatures are and might force those who have no prior knowledge about the Tarsiers to do something to help in the preservation of their own specie.

Still, Government regulations are needed to be in place - and a strict one should be carried out to make sure, such proliferation of unlawful Tarsier trade be banned and those responsible in profiting in unjust Tarsier trade or exhibits be quickly put to justice.

I am feeling a bit of guilt right now, it is because I am one of those who took photographs of them beautiful creatures, to satisfy my "tourist" appetite of seeing something new at their expense. Now that I have read the threat to their existence may be the infrastructure development in the region. Soon, the forest that they live in are going to be transformed to rice fields, highways and other housing areas. Soon with the onslaught of tourism more and more Philippine tarsier will be put in semi captivity to be displayed and paraded like they were artifacts in a museum.

Aside from having their lifespan cut from the 24 years they were supposed to live in the wilds, in captivity it becomes a mere 12 years and for what? For hanging on tiny branches for others to take photograph at.

I found one such organization dedicated to work for the preservation of this wonderful specie. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation is organized by some concern sectors in Bohol and runs a forest reservation that serves as sanctuary for some remaining Philippine Tarsiers.

For donations and other needed help, please visit their website at:

The role that the Philippine Tarsier plays in the development of tourism in Bohol plays a role in its economy, somewhat it also generates awareness and spread information about their own species. Hopefully, for most of us who have seen them up close will be driven to do something in our own way to help the aim of some organization in preserving them and make sure that in the coming years, the wild that they have known to call as their home will be spared from being destroyed in the name of regional development.

And I must say, shame to those who have bought, sold, or have hurt a Philippine Tarsier or have profited from any means of capitalizing their endangered extinction.

And a bit of shame for me too...

Deep inside me, I feel guilty that for a moment there, I just looked at them as an object for my camera and something to show to people that I've come up close and personal with a Philippine Tarsier, not knowing that just by being there, they have cut their lifespan in half already. So some tourists like me will be amused by their cuteness.

Magellan's Cross

December 19, 2009
One of the more popular landmarks in Cebu City is the Magellan's Cross. A simple monument situated beside the Basilica del Sto Niño. Many of us have seen the photographs of the cross in various angles, whether its online, on postcards or other travel books-it is still different when you're staring at it in person.

The shrine was built in a simple manner, with the cross housed in a small chapel where one can take photographs, light a candle and say a short prayer. The ceiling of the chapel is covered with murals that depicts Magellan and his exploration party making a landing on the shore of Cebu and meeting with some of the natives, the cross planting and the first mass held in the Philippines.

The original cross, according to the sign located beneath it says "This cross of Tindalo wood encases the original cross planted by Ferdinand Magellan on this very site April 21, 1521." Just a few days before the fateful crossing of the path with Lapu-Lapu on Mactan Island.

History tells us that the cross was planted when Ferdinand Magellan made the first successful conversion to Roman Catholicism, of the first batch of Filipinos who will embrace the faith up to this day. They were Rajah Humabon and his wife Queen Hara Amihan and along with a few hundred of their followers.

The shrine wasn't that grandiose but the importance of it cannot be neglected, as I remember in grade school when my teacher taught us about our early history, Magellan, Lapu-Lapu, Magellan's cross and so on, I only hear and read about it at that time. However this time, I was right there, at the site of where the actual event took place and as a big follower of history, It was just right being there and seeing with my own eyes, the very cross (even though it only encloses the original) that my history teacher have taught me early in my elementary days.

My First Travel Article Published in a Magazine

December 17, 2009
If you have time to grab a copy of the December - January 2010 Anniversary issue of the "7107 Island Travel Magazine" you'll read the article I contributed about Capones Island.

Haven't seen the copy myself, just the preview page on the website of the magazine. But I'm happy with the layout of the lighthouse (which was taken from my Holga) and the cross tattoed Lot (my friend) overlooking the sea from the lighthouse tower.

The Sto. Niño of Cebu

December 14, 2009
I bet most of us grew up in a household that has an altar with the little red Sto. Niño statue. I remember how fondly my mom would look after our Sto Niño, taking care of it, as if it was the most prized religious artifact there is and it lasted from my childhood until my early adulthood. We transferred houses a couple of times, my mom went abroad and our family was forced to live apart for a while and sadly, we've forgotten about our little Sto. Niño statue.

Baclayon Church, Bohol

December 13, 2009
Actually, the name of the church is The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and is located at Baclayon, a fifth class municipality in Bohol. Many people now refers to it as Baclayon Church and is considered as one of the oldest churches in the Philippines.

Fort San Pedro, Cebu City

December 13, 2009
The Fort San Pedro was first erected with logs in 1565 upon orders by Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. While the time when the actual construction of the stone fort remains in question, there are claims that suggests it began in 1630. Regardless, the Fort San Pedro currently claims the title of being the oldest and smallest fort structure in the Philippines. The Spanish built the fort as a mean of defending the city from bastion of hostile Muslim raiders who are against the rule of the Spanish colonizers, with the over all construction getting done by 1738, a little less than 200 years after it was first conceived.

The fort is triangular in shape, according to a 1739 report that was addressed to then Spanish King Philip II and was made of mortar and stones. The three bastions were called Ignacio de Loyola, San Miguel and Concepcion.

During the course of History the fort became under the Americans after the Spanish-American War and was used as a barracks by the Americans before it became a school for a lot of Cebuanos in the few years leading to World War II.

During World War II, the fort was used as living quarters of Japanese living in Cebu city until it became a hospital for the wounded during the war. It became a short lived military camp after WWII until Cebu Garden Club took over its operations.

Present day, the local government of Cebu takes care of the fort by naming it as a historical park with a museum that houses well preserved Spanish documents and artifacts as well as a garden that exhibits different kinds of plants.

Fort San Pedro is found in San Roque, Cebu City. A mere walking distance from Pier 1 of the Cebu City port and another landmark, the Plaza Independencia.

I was able to visit the fort after my trip from Bantayan Island. Upon disembarking from Pier 1 of the city port I decided to take a short walk before I get a cab - a walk which in turn took me to the Fort itself.

I had a wonderful time walking around the small fortress, looking at its old structures, the solid rock walls, visiting the museum and just imagining the scenes that used to happen in the courtyard, behind the walls when those skirmishes are happening during the old times. In a way it took me further back in time.

It's a wonderful opportunity as well, to learn from history while visiting landmarks such as the Fort of San Perdro. I'm glad that such place was preserved rightfully to serve as a reminder of our rich and colorful past.

Blood Compact Site, Bohol

December 12, 2009
The island of Bohol is the site of another historic event, known as "Sandugo" or the blood compact between then ruler and chieftain of the island, Datu Sikatuna and Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi held on March 16, 1565. History have told us that the coming of the Spanish to the Philippines was anything but smooth sailing, we all know how Ferdinand Magellan fell to the warrior stance of Lapu Lapu at Mactan Island. Since then succeeding expeditions sent by the kingdom of Spain to the Far East and eventually The Philippines met hostile resistance and was unable to convince local rulers that they had come in peace.

Part of the hostility towards the foreign visitors may have sprung from an earlier Portuguese expedition that happened in 1563 which enslaved and killed many Filipinos in the islands of Cebu and Bohol. The turning point happened when Miguel Lopez de Legaspi was able to convince Bohol chieftain, Datu Sikatuna that they are Spanish and unlike the Portuguese, has in fact come in peace with the intent of establishing trade routes-particularly to expand the spice trade between Spain and new territories like the Philippines.

Thus, the blood compact, a traditional sealing of new found friendship and this historical event has since been celebrated every year in Bohol in what is known as the "Sandugo Festival" with the word "Sandugo" meaning in Visaya as "one blood".

The event was described in an inscription near the monument which reads...

"About the middle of March 1565, the fleet of Captain General Miguel López de Legazpi anchored along these shores. In the course of this visit, López de Legazpi entered into a blood compact with Datu Sikatuna for the purpose of insuring friendly relations between the Spaniards and Filipinos."
The process involves cutting the left arm with a knife or any pointed weapon and letting the blood to drip in a cup half filled with wine, after which the involved parties will drink as a seal of their new found friendship.

The monument is found on the side of the highway, along lines of nearby houses it is almost non telling at first glance, the monument stood on the edge of a cliff that offers a view of the sea, which one can imagine the sight of many Spanish and Portuguese ships trying for years to land on the white sandy beaches of Bohol, only to be repelled by Filipino natives. Until Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna ended the conflict by virtue of their blood compact ceremony.

Thus starting the rich history of Bohol as we know it and the arrival of the Spanish missions who converted major part of the Visayas region into Christianity which in a hundred years was able to spread itself throughout the Philippine archipelago.

To sum it up, the blood compact monument is nothing grand, its almost like an after thought driving through the hi-way of Tagbilaran, with the only reminder of its importance are the parked vans on the side of the road and tourists taking pictures. Without it, you might miss it.

But nonetheless, it was indeed a historic monument no to be missed by those wanting to learn about our history. As for that simple act between two people from different race and nations separated by oceans apart sealed the fate of our two countries that will remain entwined for the next hundreds of years and even lasting to the present day.

I was really glad to just visit this monument and at the same time wonder what if, Datu Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi instead of drinking a cup of wine mixed with their blood, just ventured out and tried to kill each other.