If the Phillipines was Joel’s birthday trip, then Bohol was the birthday island. We were only staying for 3 nights, so we jumped right into packing our days full of incredible things to do – after we found some mouthwatering Filipino fusion food at Pilya near Alona Beach.
After our amazing-turned-terrible snorkelling session at Apo Island, we were eager to get some dives in before we departed this beautiful island nation, so we signed ourselves up for a day of diving with Bohol Dive Club right away. And the dives were incredible. Giant turtles half the size of us, sea snakes, and fields of eels popping out of the sand bed simultaneously, floating around like long little ghosts before taking cover in unison again. And then there was that giant shoal of Jackfish. Hundreds of half-meter fish slowly forming tornados and clouds and walls. Joel and the dive master drifted through as they parted like the red sea, but before I could follow the wall of jackfish closed up just inches from my face as I waved to Joel and he completely disappeared on the other side behind them. You just hang there and it feels like you are just engulfed inside of this giant shoal of fish.
We hailed in thirty-five on the rooftop of our 5-storey, artist-designed tower Airbnb with a couple of beers as we watched the sunset on one side, and a thunderstorm roll in on the other.
THE CHOCOLATE HILLS
So on Joel’s birthday there was only one more thing to do on Bohol island: see the famous chocolate hills.
It was a tight schedule. The chocolate hills were at least 1h30min drive from our Airbnb – in a car. We were going on a cute little yellow scooter. So that’s 3-4 hours of driving right there. But we had to be back by 4.30pm to be picked up for a kayaking with fireflies excursion that we got really excited about and booked the day before. And we also really wanted to check out a snorkelling spot that was recommended by our host. And in-between all this we had to check out of the tower and check in somewhere else.
We packed up and set off early, deciding to ignore our hunger and just stop at a place on the way. The chocolate hills are a well-known tourist attraction, so there will be something along the way right?
A house here and there where people are leaving cooked dished in pans on the window sills, for sale. At-home convenient stores where chips and cookies and water are sold from behind metal griddles.
The islands that we visited in the Philippines made Bali look like an all-inclusive resort.
Finally we spotted a bakery and quickly devoured some muffins and ice cream for breakfast. I mean, did you even have a birthday if you didn’t have ice cream for breakfast?
The Tarsier sanctuary was our first stop, after cruising through the wonderfully cool and eerily quiet man-made forest. Tarsiers are teeny tiny tiny little primates that will fit snuggly in the palm of your hand. They are furry little alien babies. Top level cute.
And then the we noticed dark and angry-looking clouds moving across our way, dwarfing the hills where they came from. The light drizzle turned to pelting rain, and we happen to pass by the only building in sight when torrential rains swept through. A local lady ushered us in – ‘quickly, take cover – it’s gonna rain!’ And we pulled in our bike under the porch of a room in the middle of nowhere with a sign that said ‘40php entrance fee’ just as it started dumping (we learnt later they are charging a 40 pesos entrance fee to look at the python and ostrich they keep in the back). It wasn’t long before the little porch was cramped with 10 locals all taking shelter, getting out and putting on their ponchos. And there we were, drinking beer and tea, staring at a paper-mâché ostrich head and spitting python, watching it come down in a restaurant-cum-zoo with the loud shrieks of what is apparently a horn bill kept somewhere in the back piercing through the storm every now and then.
We arrived to the expanding views of the chocolate hills eventually, which, surprisingly, actually has nothing to do with chocolate besides inducing cravings from having to say and read and hear chocolate so many times. We had just enough time to climb the 200-something steps and take in the view of thousands of hills stretching out as far as the eye can see, before thick white clouds moved through, erasing the view like it was never there and bringing with it that heavy monsoon rain. And whilst we were taking cover on top of a chocolate hill with a bunch of Chinese tourists, we finally canceled that kayaking that we were never gonna make anyways.
And just as well, because our supposedly two-hour ride back turned out equally adventurous and a thousand times longer as we pushed to get out from under the mountain and its clouds, having to stop every 20 or 30 minutes and take cover from beating rain, later accompanied by flashing and blaring thunder.
We finally made it to the main city at 5.30pm. The billowing rain clouds were behind us, and – shining bright like a beacon of hope – a towering glowing ‘M’ in front of us. We were starving, having had ice cream for breakfast and not much else. We didn’t even have to check with each other – it was a definitive, telepathic YES, and we parked at McDonalds without hesitation. And then we both scarfed down a meal and a mcflurry and it was one of the best most satisfying meals ever.
Rain, McDonalds, tiny alien animals, thunderstorms, infinity pools and wine, more rain, and a whole lot of adventure. This birthday was one for the books.