March 23, 2010

Rolling the Hills in Bohol (Sagbayan Peak and Chocolate Hills)

Whenever Gin and I stumble upon blogs, magazines, or newspapers that feature the island of Bohol, we notice that they are always replete with superlatives as to how beautiful it is. It would not be surprising, then, if many are beguiled by those words and lure them to this part of the world where many consider as God’s little hideaway in the Pacific.

Although we are easy to please when it comes to nature’s sensory treats, we were quite apprehensive if Bohol is really like paradise as many are claiming to be. Indeed, our first step to the island did not impress us that much since the sea portal (Tubigon) of the province is not that grand compared to its neighboring islands, especially Cebu. But while the harbor may have curled our eyebrows a bit, the first locals that we encountered plucked the bend from our brows and placed a curve on our lips instead.

The People

We were told that Boholanos are generally friendly and very accommodating. We noticed this when we were still in the ferry as some of the passengers gladly answered our queries regarding their place. That blew our worries away as it was our first time in the province. We didn’t let our guards down when we conversed with some locals in the harbor, though. But our weariness proved to be baseless as we observed that their sincerity is genuine. One local dispelled our worries of being swindled or shortchanged by aptly saying that, “hindi po ito Manila.” Indeed, Bohol is anything but Manila.

As expected, our driver cum tour guide was easy to be with. He had difficulties conversing with us in Tagalog, though, but we didn’t mind as we were more concerned with the driver’s trustworthiness than his aptitude in speaking to us in our language/dialect. We felt very comfortable with him from the start even though his car’s aircon conked out.

Sagbayan Peak

Our first stop was Sagbayan Peak. It is here where you’ll first get a glimpse of the famous hills. This recreation area is a good alternative to the observation hill in Carmen as the latter can get very crowded, especially in the mid mornings and afternoons. Some tourists tend to skip this site as they think that they’ll get a better view of the hills in the Chocolate Hills Complex. However, this is not exactly an accurate assessment. One would still have a spectacular view of the Chocolate Hills in Sagbayan even if it’s quite from a distance. The resort has a platform or gazebo that gives a 360-degree perspective of the area where the hills are scattered.

As can be seen from above, Sagbayan Peak gives the best viewpoint as far as the hills and the coastline is concerned. You could even see the Cebu skyline via a large telescope that you could operate for only P10.00. The recreation center is a wonder in itself and can stand alone even without the hills. It is highly recommended for nature-trekkers and for people who want a serene place for rest, reflection, or relaxation. The resort also keeps a tarsier.

Chocolate Hills Complex

Of course, many consider the observation hill in Carmen as providing the best vantage point when it comes to communing with the Chocolate Hills. Before you could see the hills up close, you would have to climb a dizzying 214-step staircase that leads to the deck. For fitness buffs, the climb can be a treat in itself. But for those who already categorize walking from the parking lot to the office building as “strenuous,” going up the hill can be a daunting task. Being associated with the latter class, I was already taxing my lungs to its full capacity halfway through the task. After several minutes of complaining, I finally made it up the hill.

Perseverance, as they say, is greatly rewarded. Such is the case with the climb in the Chocolate Hills Complex. Upon reaching the top, you can indulge yourself to a spectacular panoramic view of the perfectly-shaped mounds. Sagbayan Peak provides a similar view, but not as close and as (nearly) perfect as this one in Carmen. Almost all photos of the hills that you usually see in postcards are taken from this place.

Nobody knows how the hills came about. If the local folklore is to be believed, these unusual geological wonders were the mud that two giants from long ago threw at each other during a fight. Geologists offer a less colorful theory, though, saying that they are the result of the mixture of marine limestone and clay. I didn’t bother to count each and every hill in the vicinity as I would be risking a premature visit to my ophthalmologist (or maybe a psychiatrist) if I do so. Besides, I’m not keen on refuting the claim that there are exactly 1,268 hills in the area.
If you’re taking the tour from Tagbilaran, the Chocolate Hills Complex will probably be your last stop. But if you’ll be starting from Tubigon, it might be your second stop after Sagbayan Peak. It’s best to climb up the observation hill early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

March 8, 2010

Bohol via the Cebu-Tubigon Route

When the obsessive-compulsive in me jacks out of its box, it usually nudges me to plan our out of town trips to the detail. Bohol was not supposed to be an exception. Of late, though, Gin and I had been experiencing a drought when it comes to having spare hours. Hence, we ended up planning our one-day, central Visayas trip only 3 days before our departure.

This didn’t prevent us from successfully booking our Cebu-Tagbilaran ferry tickets in advance, though. We were also able to find a good driver/guide that would meet us at the Tagbilaran port. However, disaster struck just a day before our trip when SuperCat sent a notice that it was cancelling its March 6 trip due to technical problems. The news shook me for a while as our itinerary depended on our ferry trip.

I immediately called the other two fast craft companies that are plying the Cebu-Tagbilaran route. Unfortunately, both Weesam and Oceanjet informed me that their morning trips to Bohol were already fully booked on the date that we’re supposed to go there. Because of this, I informed our driver/guide that we would be cancelling our reservations for his van/service. He tried to save our trip by suggesting that we take a ferry instead to Tubigon. I entertained the idea, but still cancelled his services as I was still apprehensive in taking an alternative route.

Upon arriving at Cebu, we immediately rushed to Pier 1 to book a ferry trip to Tubigon. There are two ferries that service the Cebu-Tubigon route in Pier 1. We chose the 7:00 a.m. trip of Lite Shipping since we weren’t able to find the new ticket booth of MV Starcraft.

Despite the fact that the ship we took sailed painfully slow, we were happy to know that the trip would only take around two hours as Tubigon is the closest port of the island from Cebu. A fast craft trip to Tagbilaran is 1 hour and 40 minutes long. Most people, especially tourists, know only about the latter route. However, the locals prefer going to Bohol via Tubigon as it is the fastest and cheapest way to the island. A regular ferry ride to Tubigon costs around P120-P170, while going there via a 45-minute fast craft ride would only cause you to shell out around P200-P270 pesos. This beats the P400-P500 ticket price of Oceanjet, SuperCat, and Weesam for the Cebu-Tagbilaran journey.

The trip was very relaxing. As it was March, the summer weather tamed the waves. It was smooth sailing all the way. By 9:00 a.m., the municipality of Tubigon was already in sight. The port is not that grand, but it was clean and did not litter with people trying to jostle up for passengers that may want to rent a van or look for a tour guide. The only drawback in going to Bohol via Tubigon is that it is still an hour away from the provincial capital. Renting a van (with driver) also costs more in Tubigon than in Tagbilaran. One reason for this is that there’s only one association that regulates the car/van rental services in the area, thereby making the rates fixed and uniform.

Gin, with all her haggling prowess, failed to bring down the digits to the P2,500 car rental rate that the association was charging. Rates in Tagbilaran are usually P500 cheaper since car rental/tour services abound in the city. Faced with the prospect of having to take a one-hour bus ride to Tagbilaran just to get a car that’s P500 cheaper, we decided to take the offer. We didn’t regret it, though, as our driver was very kind and accommodating. He also drove like Michael Schumacher which helped us visit more sites than one could usually do in a 7-hour sojourn.
Our 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. tour led us to all the sites that we wanted to see: Sagbayon Peak, Chocolate Hills, the long hanging bridge, the man-made forest, the Tarsiers, Loboc River, Baclayon Church, and the blood compact site. Our driver also gladly acquiesced to my request that we drive around Tagbilaran before we head back to Tubigon for our 5:45 p.m. trip back to Cebu via MV Starcraft. Our business class tickets cost only P270. It was a bargain considering that a catamaran ride from Tagbilaran costs twice.
Dealing directly with the driver may save you a few hundred bucks. Our driver, Sancho Ranesis, drives a 1990 Mitsubishi Lancer. It’s still in good condition. He had a hard time speaking to us in Tagalog, though, but we didn’t mind as he was very friendly. If you’re interested in hiring his services, you may contact him at 09398140994.

MV Starcraft Schedule (Cebu-Bohol via Tubigon and vice versa)
Pier 1

Cebu to Tubigon, Bohol

5:45 a.m. - 6:30 a.m.
8:00 a.m. - 8:45 a.m.
12:30 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.
3:30 p.m. - 4:15 p.m.

Tubigon to Cebu

7:00 a.m. - 7:45 p.m.
11:00 a.m. - 11:45 p.m.
2:00 p.m. - 2:45 p.m.
5:45 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Rates (Plus P10 Terminal Fee):

Economy: P200
Tourist: P220
Business: P280


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