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Bohol: diving and chocolate

loboc jeepney

5th Island out of 7000!

The only option for our busy schedule was to take the fast, and unfortunately expensive, 2GO ferry from Siquijor to Tagbilaran via Dumaguete. They even demanded we pay extra for our luggage which was to be stored elsewhere on the boat. Looking back we should have stuck to our guns and continued to say no, but the sun was beating down and we were getting suitably irritated by parting unnecessarily with our money – Especially when we asked how much it would cost for our bags which were smaller than the elderly couple in front of us who paid less. It was as if the woman was plucking a number out of thin air! I decided to make a point and physically put our bags next to theirs to show them they were the same size so should be the same price. She agreed without an apology and we paid much less! We heard later on that if your bag weighs less than 15kg, which ours did, you don’t need to pay and can keep your bag with you. We learnt our lesson – Next time ……………..

jm and soph

I think we look happy in Bohol?!

First successful hitchhike of the travels!

As usual our boat arrived late in Tagbilaran. By the time our bags were finally unloaded to our irritation, it was late and dark, and we had no idea where we wanted to head. Stay in Tagbilaran or go to Alona beach? We walked towards the city, away from the expensive tricycles and taxis and tried to find a bus, direction Alona. If we couldn’t get one at the station we planned to stay in the city. After 15 minutes of walking, a car stopped and asked if we wanted a lift to Alona Beach, they were heading that way anyway. The lovely family entertained us for the half an hour drive. The driver was an offshore seaman like us and he was enjoying his time off with his family. He dropped us outside his recommended hotel before leaving us his number incase we had any problems or wanted any further info about Bohol. Such a lovely guy and free transportation! Unfortunately his hotel was fully booked. We tried a few others, all full. We knew however if worse came to worse we could head back to Tagbilaran City where there were plenty of places. Whilst searching for accommodation we decided to check out diving prices at the same time. We wanted to dive off Balicasag Island. The first dive centre we visited told us all the permits had be booked up and reserved until the end of January. No permit, no Balicasag diving. What!!!!!!! Gutted and deflating rapidly, we thought we’d just ask if by any chance they knew of any accommodation nearby. He showed us to an old German man’s house tucked round the back of some big hotels. The house was huge with a security guard, two enormous Alsatian dogs and a swimming pool. We were greeted by the very friendly German owner who showed us his cheapest room available.

Alona swimming pool

Random German guesthouse

Let’s try the diving again……..fingers crossed

Small and rather cramped, but a good price for Alona, clean and hot water! We took it. With the accommodation sorted we just needed to organise the diving. As we walked along the busy streets of the beach resort we came across a lot of dive centres!! Stupidly, and tiredly we booked up diving for the next day with the first dive centre we came across. They proposed us a good price, they had plenty of places available for Balicasag and they were very friendly. It wasn’t until we turned the corner of the street that we found another 10 dive centres all proposing ‘special’ prices for Balicasag the next day. We enquired the price and were quoted cheaper than what we had booked and paid a deposit for. We returned later to our dive centre and explained the situation and how we wanted to dive with them but weren’t impressed how everywhere else was so much cheaper. The guy agreed to check with his boss and would tell us tomorrow if he could reduce the price. We couldn’t do any more than that and just hoped the next day his boss would agree.

Although most things in Alona were expensive, food was one thing that wasn’t. Lot of places sold delicious meat with rice, a few vegetables and an iced tea for less than 3 euros. We were recommended the local German restaurant selling delicious bbq food. A great find and we ate there on both nights.

tanks boar

Bath tub taxi service

We arrived at the dive centre the following morning to be told the boss said ‘OK’ for the discount. A good start to the day! We met our Divemaster Tingting who kitted us up and off we went. The beach was carnage with 40-50 odd diving boats getting ready to go to Balicasag. No wonder they needed to implement the supposed permits! 300 a day apparently, yeh right!!! We took a bath tub little boat out to the bigger Bangka just off the shore. We only had 9 divers on our boat and 7 crew. They were all locals and all had a great sense of humour. We arrived at our first dive site at Balicasag, Black forest. With almost 10 boats already mooring in one area all on top of each other, our crew decided to shift the start of the dive away from them. The dive was really really good! Within the first 5 minutes we saw 3 turtles. When we reached the coral forest there were so many beautiful fish and the colours were beautiful. There were also a number of cute, brightly colour nudibranchs which are one of my favourites!  PLUS…….JM wasn’t cold Hallelujah! When we surfaced it was like another world. Boats everywhere and because they were not allowed to anchor it was carnage. We couldn’t find our boat at first it was that busy! It then pushed its way between them to get to us before we left asap and got out of there.

boat balicasag

300 divers? Yeh right!

boat smile

Great first dive!

Unfortunately if the diving is going to be amazing then there’s always going to be a lot of people, especially in the Philippines! When the 3 of us (JM, myself and the DM) were under the water we had no issues. One group passed us and obviously it looked like we were having so much fun and finding loads of cool things to see that one guy kept following us and believe it of not getting in the way! It was actually very funny because it felt like we had the whole ocean to ourselves and then this one guy was always on top of us and bumping into us from another group 10m away. Eventually Tingting had had enough and ‘shouted’ if that’s possible underwater?… it was a very aggressive action anyway, to get back to his group now! Crazy weirdo diver!

Diving in the Philippines is amazing!

The next dive was at the Balicasag Marine Sanctuary. The crew decided even though the wind and waves were pretty strong at site, there were no other boats and it’s the best site around the island. We spent over 1 hour surface time between the two dives rocking and rolling but we got chatting to a lovely Chinese family and the father was the first manager of the first Decathlon store in China. Claim to fame!!! All his clothes, bags and equipment were from decathlon, very cool guy.

Our second dive was incredible. Well worth the rocking and rolling beforehand.

It was one of the best dives we have ever done. The number of fish was phenomenal. A huge coral wall followed by a coral garden. We saw turtles again, frogfish (plural!), shoals of Yellow sweetlips, crocodile fish, and an enormous tornado of schooling Jack fish. One of the most incredible things we have seen since diving and they were less than a metre away. Plus more nudibranchs, scorpion and lion fish, just lots of what seemed like everything! What a dive!

boat alona

Local fisherman near Alona Beach

The whole day/morning was incredible. We would recommend the dive centre – Mr Diver, for those wanting to dive Balicasag. They were friendly; there were less people on the boat compared to others, and all the team were locals.

After an exciting morning we returned to our German guesthouse, where I took a siesta and JM went for a swim in the pool. On our last evening we went to check out the nightlife of the famous Alona beach. Well it mainly consisted of a lot rich elderly men flashing their cash and attracting the local Filipino ‘girls’, something we’ve become quite used to since being in the country. There were also a lot of divers thinking they know it all, something JM will tell you I find particularly difficult to handle! We returned to our favourite German restaurant and had a few beers to finish off the day.

On our final morning we went exploring the beaches the other side of Alona, ones we had seen on the boat when motoring passed and which looked beautiful. The walk was lovely.

selfie alona 2

Squint! Just for our families.

selfie alona 1

That’s better!

One hour walking through local villages, an hour walking on the beautiful beaches and an hour walk back. The beaches were lovely but there was a lot of rubbish. Not from tourists but from the boats used to ship us around –  cables ties and plastic wraps used to keep the boats together in the modern age were everywhere. Paint pots and cans and of course the standard plastic bags and bottles. The beaches weren’t ones to swim from either. It was low tide and you would need to walk over 150m across rocks and sea urchins to even touch the water. It was definitely worth the walk but if you were expecting swimming, clean, white sandy beaches like they looked from afar – It’s not for you.

beach alona

Next stop Loboc

We returned to the guesthouse, gathered our bags and went to catch a jeepney to Tagbilaran. From here we needed to take a bus direction Loboc. The small town of Loboc is where we wanted to base ourselves and to explore the famous Chocolate hills and visit the Tarsier sanctuary.

soph nuts huts

Nuts Huts in the middle of nowhere

We had looked up places to stay in the town but there wasn’t exactly a huge choice. Most people do day trips from Alona beach, Panglao or Tagbilaran. We decided to head to Nuts Huts, famous for its backpacking vibe.

soph nuts huts steps

Hidden at the bottom of a lot of steps!

loboc river

Loboc River

We took the bus right up until the Nuts Huts road. We then walked what felt like miles along a dirt track before being faced by 300 odd steps.

rice worker loboc

The locals

We finally arrived and guess what?…… Full! Typical.! Sweating like pigs, the owner rang a guesthouse she knew who agreed to come pick us up and take us there. Phew! and really kind of them. We decided to walk back to the main road and meet them there since they were picking us up for free. We arrived to a very basic place, run by the deputy mayor of the town, Louis Digla (or something like that) He rents out rooms which whole families were living out of. They had a room especially for backpackers like us.  It was fine for 2 nights and we got a discount on scooter rental too. Bonus.  Arriving late we headed straight out for dinner. In the main square, 100m from our guesthouse we found a pizzeria making the most delicious pizzas at a great price. We ended up eating there on both nights!

nuts huts river loboc

Loboc River again – beautiful

Chocolate Hills
choco hills scooter

Early morning riders

The first morning in Loboc we got up at 5:30am and headed straight to see the sunset over the famous Chocolate Hills. The scenery was absolutely beautiful along the way. We wanted to get to the viewpoint on time so we agreed to come back and take photos later. We finally arrived to the viewpoint. We were expecting to be stopped and pay for the scooter parking and then an additional fee just to climb the stairs to the top for the view as written everywhere in all guides and blogs but, to our luck, there was no one except a few rich locals exercising up and down the steps. The view itself was lovely.

choco hills post

choco hills 2

choco hills from road

choco hills 4

The Chocolate Hills really were very different to anything we’ve seen before, but in our case, they were more like ‘The Pea Hills’, they were definitely green. We knew we were visiting the wrong time of year for the brown colour, but with the light at sunrise they had a slight brown tinge unlike the bright green the rest of the day. Or so we were told…..

choco hills 3

The viewpoint which you would normally have to pay for was a bit of a joke. The big 2013 Bohol earthquake destroyed a lot of the infrastructure at the top and nothing has been done since to repair it. It feels very rundown and rather small in size. We imagined later on in the day it’s pretty chaotic with all the tourists. After our free Chocolate Hills adventure we continued to do a loop around to the second view point in Sagbayan. Here we had to pay unfortunately but it was worth the money in terms of the facilities provided. There was a nice view across to the neighbouring island of Cebu but not much of the chocolate hills. It was still a nice viewpoint to visit and if you have kids even better because there was a small playground and zipline.

tarsier fun soph

Fun in Sagbayan

tarsier jm fun

Suits Jean-Max Well!

Cutest things in the world!

As soon as we left the heavens opened and we got completely drenched. Luckily we were slightly prepared and donned every bit of waterproofing we owned. It didn’t last long and we continued on our loop, next stop the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. We decided to leave the main road route and chose some cross-country ‘roads’ instead. The villages and countryside were really pretty and we felt like we were the only tourists on the island. We arrived at the Sanctuary just after it opened, something we had been recommended before the crowds rolled in.

There are two places to see the Tarsiers in Bohol. The Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella and the Tarsier Conservation Area near Loboc. We had been told the set up at the Tarsier Conservation (although they are trying to do good and are rescuing Tarsiers) was less friendly towards the tiniest primates on this Earth, with Flash photography still allowed and silence not really encouraged. Don’t quote us on that though because we didn’t go! But we chose the Sanctuary instead!

The Tarsier Sanctuary is situated in a forest where the tarsiers are naturally found. The area within the sanctuary where tourist can see the tiniest primates is home to approximately 8 Tarsiers. The morning we went we saw 4. So cute! These 8 however are free to come and go but they tend to stay within the sanctuary grounds. There are approximately 100 more tarsiers in the surrounding forest. Flash photography, handling, stroking and scaring of the tarsier were strictly prohibited and silence is encouraged.

tarsier 4

tarsier 3

As we arrived at the sanctuary we paid our entrance fee and were immediately given a guide who pointed out the 4 tarsiers to us. The guides do a reckie in the morning spotting them before the sanctuary opens to the public. The tarsiers they spot tend to stay in the same place all day no matter how many tourists come through the door. They are nocturnal creatures so they’re not very active during the day

tarsier 2

tarsier 1

How cute are they!

They are honestly one of the cutest things we have ever seen!

The huge eyes just make you go arhhhhhhhhh. They are ridiculously tiny and definitely worth visiting even if it is for only 20 minutes.

We completed our entire circuit and were back in Loboc by 10:30am for coffee. It was a fantastic morning. We’d definitely recommend to anyone visiting Bohol, get out on your scooter as early as possible and see both before the tourists and before it gets too hot!

church loboc

2013 earthquake – Loboc church heavily damaged

earthquake loboc

What’s left of Loboc Church

Scooter trip continues….
Soph scooter

Back on the road again

It might sound silly but after a quick break we headed back along the same road to the main Chocolate hills viewpoint. The same as the one we’d done a few hours before. The scenery was too nice not to take photos.

rice paddies 1rice workers selfie choco hillsrice paddies

scooter bridge

loboc river bridge

We decided to do another loop heading to Carmen, clockwise round this time, towards Sierra Burones and then down to Jagna on the south coast before heading back to Loboc.

road loboc

view point jagna 1 view point jagna 2This was probably the best scooter ride of our entire round the world tour so far.  After Carmen the countryside opened up, there was no one except us and the locals and the beautiful countryside and rolling hills.

scooter friends

Locals!

view point jagna 3
choco hills 5

For the rest of the day we had smiles fixed on our faces. The coastal road from Jagna back to the crossroads for Loboc at sunset was another huge highlight. What an island!

rice fields jagna

sunset scooter

2 thoughts on “Bohol: diving and chocolate

  1. AvatarLeon

    Love the stories & pics! Especially your battles and victories for the cheapest deal.. 🙂
    Btw, can hardly see the difference between a real tarsier & the JM version of it.. 😉

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