By Regina Posadas
I didn’t see the famed Chocolate Hills, and the tarsier that sidled up to me was not small and furry but a mascot that was taller than me, with slippers on its feet and long, claw-like hands. Even so, my recent trip to Bohol was enjoyable and memorable. I caught the tailend of the month-long Sandugo Festival, the 30th of the province, where I witnessed firsthand the Boholanos’ joie de vivre and dancing prowess. In addition, I got to walk on white sand populated by countless scurrying crabs, sample some of the lip-smacking local cuisine, and visit an ancestral home that has built something new on its grounds.
The highlight of my trip was definitely the Kuradang Street Dancing, one of several exciting events of this year’s Sandugo Festival, and clearly the most popular and most participated. It was thrilling to be on the streets, right smack in the middle of the dancefest, and to be part of the captivated audience, as groups of colorfully costumed townsfolk eagerly swayed and sashayed one after the other to the same familiar tune. Eliciting the loudest cheers were the seniors in each contingent, who flirted with each other, flounced, and flaunted their moves in keeping with the dance’s theme of courtship. A reenactment of the Sandugo or blood compact between early Bohol chieftain Datu Sikatuna and Spanish conqueror Miguel Lopez de Legazpi that took place in 1565 followed the lively street dancing to wrap up the festivities.
The 2018 Sandugo Festival was extra special not only because it was being celebrated for the 30th time but also for having AirAsia as its official airline partner. Signed and made official last February by Bohol Governor Edgar Chatto and AirAsia Philippines CEO Captain Dexter Comendador, the tourism-boosting partnership, with its travel-friendly promotions and activities, is expected to run for the rest of the year, not just for the duration of the festival. True to its tagline “Now everyone can fly,” Air Asia awarded this year’s Miss Bohol Pageant winner, Raclaire Stephan Trigo with free flights and the title of Miss AirAsia 2018, besides offering discounted fares to the public to attract more visitors to Bohol.
An offshoot of the 2013 earthquake that rocked Bohol, this fragile ecosystem with surprising underwater coral gardens spans five barangays and likewise boasts of a mangrove forest, a lagoon, sand dunes and sand bars, beautiful beaches, and stunning sunsets.
That’s definitely wonderful and welcome news for adventure seekers and the travel-loving set as Bohol has scores of historic and scenic spots, plus parks, trails, and land and water tours to be experienced and enjoyed. I plan to return to this fascinating province in the Visayas to see, know, and explore more, and because its flavors and food choices easily delight and satisfy as well.
I can still taste the seafood kare-kare and the delectably delicious shaved ice dessert combination of fresh fruits and ice cream (I recommend the Mango Trio) from local favorite Gerardas’ family restaurant, which I feasted on together with my group on my first day in Tagbilaran. We dropped by the International Fusion Night too, also part of the Sandugo Festival, where I savored Kew Hotel’s tasty and tender lechon belly and baked fish fillet with malunggay pesto for dinner on the event’s penultimate night, but not before being tempted by an array of yummy eats, which included tempura, sushi, sisig nachos and sisig tacos, bibingka de leche, fried churros, moist chocolate cake, and ube ensaymada.
Similarly, I appreciated the quick stops to unique nearby attractions as they enriched my trip, provided variety, and kept me interested. I felt like I was part of a National Geographic documentary while walking around The Loon Coral Gardens with its stretches of white sand that seemed to go on forever, extraordinary reddish vegetation, restful views, and colonies of crabs and other creatures—some colorful, others almost invisible—that darted and dove, scampered and slid, but at times, would also stop and stay put like statues on the hole-riddled ground. An offshoot of the 2013 earthquake that rocked Bohol, this fragile ecosystem with surprising underwater coral gardens spans five barangays and likewise boasts of a mangrove forest, a lagoon, sand dunes and sand bars, beautiful beaches, and stunning sunsets.
At the Carlos P. Garcia Heritage House, it felt like a trip to the past as I moved from room to room, stood close to things that the former president actually used, and read and listened to trivia about him. But at the same time, it felt like a step into the future, when I saw the new café beside the house, Café Caloy, and the young patrons inside, sipping their drinks and typing away on their mobile devices. Still on a soft opening, the café is a project of the provincial government and currently sells souvenirs and local products along with snacks like turon, bibingka, and puto maya, and drinks like sikwate, coffee, and iced tea. When my group arrived, Governor Chatto and Senator Loren Legarda had just finished touring the place and the nearby, recently-opened National Museum.
AirAsia, the world’s best low-cost airline for 10 straight years running, flies thrice daily from Manila to Tagbilaran City in Bohol.