Counting Chocolate Hills | Bohol

As a 3rd grader 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.

Kara Hizon

I've seen the rice terraces and it blew 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.

Mishi Magno

I haven't seen Mayon up close, especially now that its readying 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 prefer 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 only a month to go before 2009 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 sold to me, but knowing also that I'll finally see the Chocolate shaped hills of Bohol made me anticipate my trip with fervor.

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 harm 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 locals and foreigners.

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. Besides, I had my own set of stupid poses.

After my picture was taken, I looked down on my feet and saw a Sony digital camera. I asked for the owner of the camera in my trademark low volume voice, but a few Koreans just stared back at me until a Caucasian dude saw me holding his camera. He thanked me and even offered a 500-peso reward. I thought about accepting 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 and replace those old photographs shown at school. 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, the other 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, is still an awesome sight. It features an unusual formation of rolling hills shaped magically through millions of years. Some might even call it as a clear evidence of a higher being creating the world as we know it. Whether it's God or just the natural progression of Mother Nature that created it, it doesn't matter. One thing for sure though, these chocolate hills does not melt in your hand nor your mouth, but instead, remains long in your consciousness.