How to hold a tarsier
Tell a corny joke that goes like this: May binebentang tarsier sampung piso lang, kaso may problema – singkit.
The sanctuary caretaker who happens to be easily amused laughed at that joke and asked me if I wanted to hold a tarsier. There was a sign that said “Do not touch the tarsier” so I hesitated but he said it’s fine since he’s there to make sure the animal isn’t harmed. He then gently placed the tiny creature in my hand. It meekly perched on my palm for about five seconds before jumping back to its branch.
My friends later told me that tarsiers are easily stressed especially when they’re touched and they would even kill themselves by banging their heads against a branch if they’re extremely agitated. The little guy seemed fine when we left, there was no head-banging going on, but I’m still mortified by the possibility that I might have tarsier blood on my hands.
Moral lesson: tarsier jokes are dangerous. Deliver with caution.
* * *
The long walk
I stayed in a resort in Anda, a town in eastern Bohol about two hours away from Tagbilaran. While Panglao Island on the southern end of the province was bustling with tourists, I had the white-sand beaches and breath-taking seaside cliffs of Anda to myself.
I heard the town has an old church that dates back to the Spanish period so I decided to check it out. The resort staff said the town proper is still about three kilometers away and can be reached by habal-habal (motorcycle). I enjoy walking so I ditched the ride and went on foot. The academic oval in UP was 2.2 kilometers and I could walk around it twice without my lungs collapsing so I figured a three-kilometer walk would be a breeze. It was not. Apparently I underestimated my capabilities as a wimp.
The town center was two barangays away from the resort and took me an hour to get there. It was scorching hot and the only available drinks in the sari-sari stores were warm Coke and C2. Either they don’t have a fridge or they weren’t too keen on using it.
When I finally got to the Poblacion looking like I barely survived a marathon, I saw a long stretch of beach with fine white sand and clear blue waters just a few meters from the main road. Exhaustion completely forgotten, I went straight to the beach, took off my shoes and buried my feet in the sand. I would’ve wanted to go for a swim but I didn’t have any extra clothes and the prospect of walking all the way back drenched from head to foot wasn’t very appealing.
After walking barefoot from one end of the beach to the other, I went back to the town center to see the church. The main door was closed but one of the side doors was open and a few people were inside cleaning and preparing for Sunday mass the next day.
When I went in, I looked up and was awed by the beautiful paintings that covered the entire ceiling. In the 1920s, the parish priest commissioned an artist named Rey Francia to paint the church ceiling.
I went up to the bell tower, the highest structure in the land. From there, I could see the stretch of beaches and cliffs and the blue ocean on one side, the hills and farmlands in the interior of the island, and the rows of houses surrounding the town center below. To complete the postcard scenery, it was a few minutes past 5pm and the sun was about to set.
This could be a perfect panoramic shot for a movie. And then I suddenly remembered that scene in the Hitchcock film Vertigo where Judy fell off the bell tower. Scenic moment ruined.
* * *
The usual way of touring Bohol is to hire a van but since I was traveling alone, that would be way too expensive. So I befriended a habal-habal driver who offered to show me around for less than half of what van operators usually charge. It also helped that I had the same surname as his mother’s side of the family and in typical Pinoy fashion, that already qualifies us as distant relatives.
Our destinations were the usual tourist spots: Sagbayan Peak, Danao Eco-adventure, Chocolate Hills and Loboc River. What made it awesome was the ride itself. Seeing everything in the open, feeling the wind in my face, breathing in the smog-free air, fearing that I could be thrown off the motorcycle, crack my head open and die right there on the road with my brains leaking out… this is the life.
I had a blast at Danao although everything was so damn expensive. I tried the zip-line which was the best 20 seconds ever. Imagine yourself cruising on a rope tied between two cliffs. About 200 meters below, you can see the river snaking through the ravine, the lush vegetation and some boulders which would not-so-gently catch your fall should the cables break. No need to worry though, it’s very safe. Nobody has died yet as far as I know. At P350, it was well worth it.
I also did rappelling which costs P600 and wasn’t as much fun. It was still pretty high at 60 meters but it was all over too soon. I tried to stop in the middle a few times so I could enjoy the view but I was constantly distracted by the belayer who kept on yelling at me to lean back. He does have a point; I was already a bit too close to the carabiner which gets blisteringly hot as you slide down. But I couldn’t really see anything interesting if I just leaned back and stared at the wall of rock in front of me.
I wasn’t able to try the Plunge, Danao’s signature activity. It’s sort of like bungee jumping but instead of jumping off a platform, you’re going to be thrown off the cliff and you’ll swing to the other end of the canyon before dangling in the middle. Just watching other people do it is already terrifying enough. And it costs P700 which was way over my budget especially after already spending so much on the zip-line and rappelling.
I didn’t bother with the Loboc River cruise. I heard that it’s way too touristy and the buffet wasn’t even that good. We just went to the hanging bridge and photobombed other people’s picture-taking moments.
The last stop was at Nuts Nuts, a backpacker hideout in the Loboc River. This is where I originally wanted to stay but my beach addiction won out so I ended up in Anda instead. The place was very quiet and peaceful. The catch is you need to have a strong set of lungs and sturdy legs in order to survive the climb of more than a hundred steps that lead up from the cabins to the dining area and the even longer hike on unpaved road from the lodge to the highway.
It was already dark when we left Loboc and we still had a three-hour drive ahead of us. It was very cold and I was shivering. The nice wind in my face earlier that day was now a sharp sheet of chilly air hitting me full blast. The roads were not lighted, my fingers were numb and by then, I really could imagine being thrown off the motorcycle, head cracking open and brains leaking out.
Fortunately, we arrived in Anda with skulls intact. Exhausted and freezing but otherwise still in one piece.
* * *
Motorcycle diaries: Maalaala Mo Kaya edition
Turns out the friendly habal-habal driver is the emotional type who wears his bleeding heart on his sleeve. Mistaking me for a sensitive listener who can dish out love advice, he proceeded to tell me about his tragic story.
He had a girlfriend; they were very much in love and already had plans to get married. She had a relentless suitor though who raped her and got her pregnant. He offered to still marry her and adopt the baby as his own but the girl refused, saying she didn’t want to bring him shame. She ended up marrying the rapist instead.
He was left alone, wallowing in depression, when he met another girl who would become his wife. They now have three children and a miserable marriage. His wife really wanted to marry a foreigner, he said, and she constantly nags and blames him for not being to provide a comfortable life for her.
“Kung kami nagdayon sa akong unang uyab, lahi unta akong kinabuhi ‘ron [If my previous girlfriend and I had ended up together, life would’ve been different now],” he said wistfully.
I’m a clueless idiot when it comes to romance and relationships (among other things) and I have no idea what to say in these situations so I just gave him what I hoped was a sympathetic look and a pat on the shoulder.
And then I delivered my brilliant piece of advice: you should’ve beaten that asshole to a pulp and sent him straight to hell with his balls cut off.
* * *
Snorkeling muro-ami style
As luck would have it, Anda happened to be my grandfather’s hometown. I knew that my lolo was from Bohol but I didn’t know where exactly. I also didn’t know that nearly everyone in the village is my distant relative including the resort owner, thus scoring me a hefty discount. Upon learning of my family name, complete strangers suddenly became my aunts, uncles and cousins.
One newly adopted uncle was a former municipal councilor and barangay captain (who knew our clan was into politics!). He offered to take me to the nearby snorkeling and diving sites. I didn’t have a snorkeling gear though and neither did the resort. He said he has an extra “antipara” which I knew was a Visayan word for eyeglasses. How on earth was I supposed to go snorkeling wearing glasses?
It turns out antipara is a pair of makeshift goggles used by fishermen. There was no snorkel so I just had to hold my breath. There was no life vest as well and we were in the middle of the ocean. To increase my chances of survival in this suicidal snorkeling-without-a-snorkel trip, I was tied to the boat with a nylon rope.
Then I saw the coral reefs and schools of fish and I didn’t care anymore about the crude goggles or about being tied to a boat. It was literally breath-taking. It was so beautiful and mesmerizing underwater that I’d often forget to come up for air.
I couldn’t go near the corals though since I didn’t know how to dive. My uncle tried to teach me but I was hopeless; my fat ass stayed afloat. Just so I could still see some underwater stuff up close, he would dive to the bottom and bring up something cool like a blue starfish or a huge sea cucumber.
Although I failed miserably at the diving lessons, I was more successful in learning how to row. I paddled all the way back to the beach which was about two kilometers away. Sure, the boat was constantly veering off course and it took twice as long for us to get back but the important thing is I managed to row back to shore. When I finally got off the boat, it felt like my arms were about to fall off.
* * *
A great prelude to all this awesomeness was my first meal in Bohol. While waiting for the van to leave for Anda, I went to the Island City Mall and chanced upon Buzz Café which is owned by the Bohol Bee Farm. I had a filling meal of pasta with seafood and vegetables in coconut milk and the best durian ice cream I’ve ever tasted. Must go back to Bohol if only for that ice cream.