The Philippines is a land of over 7000 islands, and the twin attractions of Cebu and Bohol – both located a short boat ride away from each other – are arguably two of the most readily appealing ones.
Cebu is something of a sacred place, as it’s from here that the Spanish began spreading the doctrine of Catholicism to the natives: a legacy that remains to this day. The legendary explorer Ferdinand Magellan – he who is renowned for circumnavigating the globe – plonked a cross in Cebu in 1521. The cross remains, albeit encased in a modern day replica housed within a gazebo-shaped structure.
If this isn’t sacred enough, then there’s also the Basilica Santo Nino a stone’s throw away. The oldest church in the Philippines, it has a resilience within its opulent walls. It has withstood fires and the 2013 earthquake – which collapsed its bell tower – to remain an impressive monument, the highlight of which is the sacred image of the infant Jesus that is the object of veneration for a host of Catholic pilgrims, who queue for ages to pay their respects. Photographing, and indeed approaching, the artefact felt inappropriate, so I didn’t.
I didn’t have a clear preconceived idea in my mind on what the Whale Shark encounter at Oslob would be like. My diving/snorkelling experience was pretty much zero up to this point, and my early naivety when we were in the sea resulted in me trying to swim right up to a passing whale shark…and immediately get buffeted back by the choppy waves of the sea, plus a mouthful of salty water via the scuba mask we’d all been given (I’d clearly not used it right!).
Listening to the advice of the boat captain, I clung to the sizeable bamboo apparatus that framed the boats instead, opting to wait for the sharks to swim by. This led to an immediate improvement – they really do get very close to the boats, and it was easy to make out details such as their spotty white markings and anvil-shaped tails. Sadly at the time of writing I don’t have any photos of this…maybe they will find their way to me from the GoPro of others later.
Our driver seemed to think it appropriate to drive us quite far North to a tourist trap eatery for our lunch before we moved on to Moalboal’s Kawasan Falls. The sapping heat meant that most settled for climbing to the top of the first of the three waterfalls, which is the biggest of the three, before jumping in to the water for a cooling dip.
There are some picturesque forest views enroute to all three falls. Sun-dappled rainforest sleepily overhangs the twisty, transparent, opal-blue river that flows to and through the falls. Each waterfall is worth visiting, although the third has to be my favourite for its smaller crowds, tranquil swimming and daredevil water-diving opportunities.
The tenth biggest island in the Philippines, Bohol, draws the crowds for its diving opportunities, 1776 ‘Chocolate Hills’ that stretch out like a majestic rumpled quilt over a 50km area and the cute, bug-eyed tarsiers.
The tarsier is one of the smallest primates in the world, measuring six inches or less in height. With its huge eyes and tiny paws that cling to tree branches, it’s a curious mix of a koala bear and a gremlin: i.e. both cute and weird at the same time. They are very difficult to spot, and very shy/nervous too, so being near-silent in their habitat is a must. Getting a good shot of them is insanely tricky, but even if you don’t manage it they are still fascinating to look at even if they don’t play ball by obligingly staring at the tourists!
Bohol’s other iconic attraction is the Chocolate Hills, so-called because of the way they dilate to a milky brown colour in the summer. They are undoubtedly impressive to look at, but the mass increase in tourism has resulted in them needing to extend the viewing platform, and they were still working on this when we visited, which disrupted the view somewhat. All the same, this doesn’t detract from the overall sense of geological wonder inherent in these fluffy hills as they ripple out far in to the horizon; bolstered, of course, by the old legend that they are the tears of a heartbroken giant.
So that was two of Philippines 7000+ islands that I visited, and it’s fair to say that, whilst both had much to offer, I still have much exploring to do of this South East Asian country’s archipelago to uncover more of the treats it undoubtedly has to offer!