Sunday, August 20, 2017

August 18 – Exploring the Bohol Countryside

What a day! This was one of those days where you do so much, and see so many new things, that it feels like an entire week must have gone by. We hired a private car to take us on a tour of the Bohol countryside, so after a leisurely breakfast at the restaurant, we met our driver Oliver and were off. The day was partially cloudy and the temperature was perfect. In fact, that has been one huge difference here in the Philippines compared to Vietnam – it has been around 30 degrees here every day, which is probably five degrees lower than what it was in Hanoi, so it is a joy to walk around during the day without completely melting.

Our first stop was at a sculpture honouring the Sandugo event, or blood compact, between the Spanish and the local chieftain of Bohol in 1565, which signified a treaty of friendship. Each of the leaders made a small cut in their arm and dripped blood into a cup of wine, which they then exchanged and drank it down. This was the first such treaty between the Spanish and the various tribes of the Philippines.

We made a quick stop at a church that was being reconstructed after a huge earthquake here in 2013 that killed over 220 in Bohol, injured thousands, and destroyed many hundreds of buildings on the island. Earthquakes and volcanoes seem to be a normal part of life here. They just patch up what they can, and get on with it.

Next up was a snake farm. Magnus was horrified, as he is deathly afraid of snakes, but he did agree to come in. Greeting us at the entrance was a he-she who was totally preoccupied with combing her hair and fixing up her eyebrows as she was talking to us. She showed us around the farm, made famous by a 300 kilogram python named Prony, but which we found out during the tour had died a few years ago, but they had saved the skin and done a bang-up taxidermy job to recreate the friendly giant. They did have another monster serpent, named Prony 2, the daughter of Prony, who was only 200 kilos but nonetheless long and chunky. We didn’t stay long as Magnus was getting heart palpitations at being so close to snakes, and it didn’t help when I shoved a baby python down his shirt for fun.

I was soon to learn what a tarsier was as our next stop was a tarsier sanctuary. Tarsiers are tiny primates that only grow to be six inches high but have gigantic eyes and are unbelievably cute. This particular species is endemic to the Philippines and still live in the wild on a few islands. We walked around the sanctuary and were able to see five or six of them clinging to trees, some with their huge eyes looking around, others appearing to be sound asleep. It was really cool, until I got stuck in the middle of what we call an “Asian tapon”. Now the word “tapon” (which is pronounced like “tapong”) is a Puerto Rican slang term for traffic jam. But an Asian tapon is when you are all by yourself at some sort of tourist place, enjoying the tranquility and peace while looking at something interesting like, let’s say, a beautiful little tarsier cuddled up in a bamboo tree, when all of a sudden you get swarmed by an Asian tour group. Instantly, your arms are pinned to your sides, your nose is touching somebody’s ear, there’s a large camera lens digging into your back, and somebody is standing on your foot. The only way to get out is to let your body go completely loose and you will be carried out with the pack, and eventually fall to the floor, and maybe get trampled on a little bit. It’s become routine for me on this trip.

In the gift shop I found yet another type of coffee scrounged from animal turds. This one came from some sort of creature called the civet, and after a quick Google search it seems the coffee from the poo of this one is called Kopi Luwak, which may be a familiar term to some. I made a quick mental note of all the types of animals I’ve heard of during this trip that eat coffee berries, shit out the beans, and entrepreneurial humans pick the beans out of the feces, clean them, roast them, and sell them to wealthy people looking for that special flavor. So far I have elephants, weasels, civets, and monkeys. But I just have to wonder, why hasn’t somebody tried this with humans yet? I know my digestive system could easily handle coffee berry skins, considering the variety and quantities of lethal foods I’ve thrown into it over the years with no lasting after effects. I’m thinking you could probably modify one of those fancy Japanese toilets to automatically extract coffee beans from the dump, roast it, grind it, and package it up into fancy gift bags that you can take over to friends’ dinner parties. How cool would that be?

When we got back to the car, our guide Oscar asked, “How did you like the tarsiers?”
“Loved them!” we all replied at once.

I then asked, “Could we get one for lunch, like maybe in a curry?”

Oliver looked at me, stunned. He stammered, “Uh, sir, they are not for eating.” Then he saw me smiling and burst out in laughter. Filipinos are so gullible.

Next on the countryside hit list was the butterfly garden. I don’t know what to say about it other than Stella really loved it, and we had a very entertaining guide. It was quite nice, but I’m not a big butterfly guy, unless that butterfly is Iron Butterfly playing “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”, in which case I’m in. We ate lunch at the onsite restaurant, braced for the worst, but actually got a very tasty meal for a ridiculously low price. Being from Canada, you are just mentally prepared to be financially assaulted any time you order food or drinks at a museum, gallery, tourist attraction, sports event, concert or any other public venue where they’ve got you by the short and curlies.

You might think we’d have a full day by this point, but we were really only just getting started. Next up were the Chocolate Hills – a series of perfectly rounded, identical hills clustered around a larger hill, on top of which you can climb to take photos of the landscape. We climbed to the top of the view point and had about three minutes to take pictures of the hills before we were pummeled by a huge rainstorm which instantly brought the visibility down to about the end of one’s nose. Fortunately, Oscar had loaned us his three umbrellas so we used those to get back down the hill without getting completely soaked. When Oscar picked us up, Magnus handed him the three umbrellas and said, “Sorry for getting your umbrellas wet.” It took him a few seconds, and then he got the joke. For some strange reason I think Oscar thought we were serious people.

We drove for about ten minutes and all of a sudden the skies cleared and we were back to full sunshine. Oscar said that was very common and that it always rains on the Chocolate Hills. We soon arrived at the next stop, which was a pair of hanging, bamboo bridges spanning a medium sized, muddy river. It was built mainly out of bamboo, but also had some steel reinforcements that were added recently to make it safer. It was shaky, wobbly, bendy, and a little scary, and if it weren’t for the steel cabling I would have taken out my machete and chopped it in half just like Indiana Jones did in the Temple of Doom. I’ve always wanted to do that, and especially today when I noticed the horde of souvenir vendors on the other side of the river that Ana and the kids had their eyes on.

Just a short ways down the road was an adventure park that featured a huge zip line over a 150 metre deep canyon and river. Stella had never tried a zip line before, so I offered to join her as Magnus and his mom were feeling a little queasy after looking at the height of the line. Stella and I walked up the hill to the launch pad and they hooked us into two slings where we could fly superman style. They let us go and we sped off and over the canyon. Stella was a bit unsure at first, and said, “Daddy, can I hold your hand?” but once we got going she started laughing and screaming and having a great time, especially as we were passing over the deepest point of the canyon. The ride back was just as fun and we tried convincing Ana and Magnus to give it a try, but they were content keeping their feet on the ground. As my little girl grows up I am sadly aware that one day she will no longer want to hold my hand, and I have to say, that makes me feel very sad indeed. So I enjoy it now while I can.

Along the way we had asked Oliver about the sport of cockfighting, as we’d seen roosters in many, many yards, chained up to these little houses, and we suspected they were fighters. Indeed they were, Oscar told us, and gave us the approximate direction to the closest cockfighting stadium that we would be able to go to on Sunday, as that was the regular day for cockfighting. But on our way back to Panglao Island, we saw dozens of cars parked on the road and Oscar said excitedly, “There’s a cockfighting stadium, there must be a special match on today!” He pulled over and we went in to have a look. The entrance fee was 50 pesos for the adults so we paid up and found a place in the stands.

This was not my first time in a cockfighting stadium. When we lived in the Dominican Republic I went to the “Club Gallistico” cockfighting stadium one afternoon with my buddy Martin Olsen from Denmark. To make a long story short, we did some betting, drank a whole bunch of beer, got drunk, had a great time, and then drove home and got in massive trouble from the womenfolk. So I think I was sort of banned from cockfighting for 15 years or so. Today, it was time to introduce the children to the sport. A cockfighting stadium is a wild place. It’s 99% men, all of whom are loud, crazy and really, really into roosters. There is a steel mesh fence surrounding the actual fighting area, which is a dirt floor and not much else. There is a big scoreboard and rings of bleachers surrounding the inner part, providing for pretty good viewing. The owners of the roosters bring their birds in and then go through some strange rituals, giving the people in the audience time to place bets on the birds, with each other or with the house, but I didn’t understand how it worked as all I could see were a bunch of people screaming stuff at each other, holding up fingers, pointing and barking orders, but somehow the bets got made.

The owners would finally drop the birds and let them go at it. Each of the combatant roosters has a metal band on one of their legs with a two inch long, curved, razor-sharp spur blade that has been tipped with poison. The roosters are trained to get close to the other bird and then jump up and swing their leg at their opponent’s neck, trying to slice it. And sure enough, some of the matches only last a few seconds when one of them scores a direct hit and the blood starts to spray. Sometimes one bird wins, but it doesn’t deliver a fatal wound, and there’s a little man outside the main fighting area who is the poultry doctor and he stitches the roosters’ wounds back together so they can live to fight another match.

Since we didn’t know how the betting worked, I made bets with Magnus on two matches, and of course I lost both. Never bet with Magnus on anything because he always wins. Trust me on this one. We didn’t stay long – just long enough to get a good idea of how the whole thing works, as Oscar was filling us in on the details as the matches progressed. Is it bad parenting to take your kids to a cockfight? Maybe, but the kids found it very interesting, and I did too as this was a small slice of authentic, everyday Filipino culture that we were lucky to experience.

With that, we drove the remaining miles back to the resort and that was the end of the countryside adventure.

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