around the world in 333 days

 

Philippines
Bohol - The Chocolate Hills


 

The Philippines offers many unique natural wonders and some of its most breathtaking and strange are to be found on the beautiful island of Bohol. The so-called Chocolate Hills are what visitors come to see, but few leave without a glimpse of the elusive tarsier. After the beaches of Boracay, it was time for us to go and find the real Philippines and in Bohol, which is still relatively untouched by tourism, we might just have found it.

The Chocolate Hills are some 1268 eerie hillocks, ranging from 20 to 50 metres in height, which dominate the landscape for miles around. In summer months, their grass covering dries out, turning them a 'Chocolate' brown, hence their name. We stayed in a hotel built on top of one of the hills and after only a few hours sleep, due to a huge uninvited guest of the six-legged variety, got up at 5.00am the next morning to watch the sunrise over the mysterious landscape. As it rose, it gradually illuminated the fields exposing the awe-inspiring surroundings of Bohol; surely one of the most stunning natural backdrops in the world.

A plaque written by the Geological society of the Philippines informatively told us the hills were formed 'ages ago'. It went on however to explain that their creation is thought to have occurred through deposition of coral limestone that has subsequently been shaped by millions of years of erosion, but no one knows for sure. Locals told us of the legends that surround the hillocks, the most popular being that two feuding giants created the landscape during a battle in which they pelted each other with boulders and sand.

Living somewhere within the giant's battlefield is the Chocolate Hill's most unique resident, the Tarsier. As part of a motorbike tour, we stopped to visit some of these strange creatures, which are hailed as being the world's smallest primate. Their rarity in the wild means that a few are now housed in captivity, supposedly for research purposes. Their appearance is that of a cross between an owl and a monkey, with massive oval eyes and a long thin tail. Amazingly, they can turn their heads nearly a full 360 degrees and impressed us with their staggering ability to leap over two metres, usually trying to escape noisy tourists.

Continuing our journey, we passed through a spooky mahogany forest and stopped off at a hanging bridge suspended over the Loboc River. The bridge, built to connect two villages, was very primitive; real Indiana Jones stuff. As we stepped apprehensively on it, it creaked and wobbled sufficiently for neither of us to proceed much further. Our guides invited us to take a dip with them and jump the 15 metres down to the murky waters, to which we politely declined!

Our motorbike drivers dropped us off in Loboc and from there we were to get a jeepney the further twenty-minute ride back to Tagbiliran, the main town. Jeepneys are the Philippines most unique mode of transport and a visit here would not be complete without at least one journey in one. They were originally transformed out of American army jeeps and now provide an inexpensive local bus service. Very hard to miss, they are decorated with brightly coloured paints, mirrors, flags and even statues of horses. They leave only when full, literally, and that means no more room to breathe! Jeepneys are a great way to experience Filipino life and a good opportunity to chat with friendly locals, but best experienced in small doses. It is not unusual to be squeezed in with a few boisterous chickens or a reeking basket or two of the days catch!

Jon & liz
 


Liz and a Tarsier


Jeepney

Don't laugh at us! - I'm telling you it was as big as a dog and had teeth! Anyway, it was a giant spider that Liz noticed while unpacking her rucksack. We jumped on the bed (total wimps) and then realised one of us was going to have to approach the beast. Jon was quickly nominated. We were both really scared of it but after about an hour of crap attempts and screams, it was finally over. Part and parcel of travelling in the tropics I suppose, but not something we have got used to yet! - L & J