The Countryside Tour

This morning we set out an adventure of the highly touristy variety — not our usual style, but when you’re in Southeast Asia and don’t know the territory (and haven’t clue how to drive a motorbike), you’re a bit of a captive audience.  So we put our itinerary in the hands of Andy, our van driver, and set off into the hills.

 

The countryside of Bohol has a nascent tourist industry; most visitors here stay down at the beach, and only in the past few years has an influx of Korean and Chinese tourists spurred development of a few key locations.  So most of the tourist attractions feel somewhat small and slap-dash in how they’ve been put together.  But there are definitely things worth seeing.

Our first stop was the Chocolate Hills, a set of 1,276 geologic formations that dot the landscape as far as the eye can see in central Bohol.

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These hills used to be coral reefs, thousands of years ago, and eventually they were pushed up and became these wonderful bumps.  They’re called “chocolate” because all of the greenery dies in the dry season and they all turn brown (but we’re just at the tail end of the wet season now, so they’re still largely green).  You can’t hike in them, sadly — people live and farm all around them — but there’s a single lookout at the top of the highest hill, and they’re wonderful to see.

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I appreciated the planting of cosmos around the visitors’s steps:

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We spent quite a while at the lookout.

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We next stopped for a snack. Filipinos love bread and sweets, and every village has at least one bakery.  Here are some of the pastries on offer in Poblacion Norte:

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We also pulled over on the side of the road to take a picture of the ShipHaus, largely because I have rarely seen anything so strange.

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This remarkable thing was built over an hour’s drive from the sea by an ex-captain who apparently had a boyhood dream of someday living in a house that looked like a ship.  So he built this as a residence, though it now appears to function also as a museum.  We didn’t go inside, a choice I’m regretting, if only a tiny bit.

The next stop on our journey was a butterfly farm.  A nice guide told us a little about the butterfly life cycle and then brought us into an enclosure to view butterflies…

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… and very cool caterpillars …

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… and one giant moth that had just emerged from its cocoon:

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We then drove to the Tarsier Conservation Center.  Tarsiers are tiny little monkeys (or, more accurately, proto-primates) no bigger than the palm of your hand.  They have huge heads and beady eyes (fun fact: each of a tarsier’s eyes weighs more than its brain).  It’s each to give credit to the rumor that these little guys were the inspiration for Yoda.

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They’re also hard to spot and — because they spend their days sleeping in the shade — hard to photograph.

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A highlight of this visit was seeing a tarsier yawn — so cute!  On the whole, though, tarsiers are so odd-looking that they give rise to all sorts of interpretations:

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The conservation center is up in a protected mahogany forest, which means it plays home to a number of different critters.  One of the more remarkable things we saw were these little sticks moving up the trunk of a tree — they were being carried by an insect that we have not been able to identify.

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The tarsiers also offered us our funniest sign of the day — I’ve seen signs for children crossing and deer crossing and moose crossing, but never this:

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The Hanging Bridge attraction is the kind of thing that was probably amazing when local people were walking their livestock across its bamboo slats in the 1920s.  But now it’s been reinforced with steel cables and, with stalls selling snacks and souvenirs on both ends, has become just a mildly interesting spot for tourists.

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Far more exciting was our impromptu stop at this incredible circular waterfall.  No tourists here — just three fishermen sitting out with their bamboo poles.

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The final element of our outing was lunch on a “river cruise.”  At first, this looked like it would be tourism the way I like it least, with a buffet luncheon and lots of people all packed into a small space.  But I ended up having a great time, because I just about always enjoy being out on the water and looking around. IMG_1455

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This is what our boat looked like (the river has about eight of these boats going up and down at any given lunchtime):

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