Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Travel Log: Balicasag Island

I traveled to Balicasag Island in Bohol, Philippines, during the first week of May 2007… on my own. ADVENTURE!!!

From the main city of Tagbilaran in Bohol, I took a Habal-Habal motorcycle to Bohol Museum; it will cost only 10 pesos.
There is a jeepney terminal right across the street from Bohol Museum. The jeepney will take you to the town of Panglao. The jeepney ride costs 18 pesos. It would be advisable to get down on Panglao church instead of the market center of Panglao town since it is nearer the boats/bancas. From the church, one can walk to the small dock where the boats to Balicasag Island are. The boat/banca ride to Balicasag Island costs 600 pesos one-way. It is possible to hitch with some of the boats going there for 150-200 but those boats are very infrequent.

While on Balicasag Island, I found a nice place to stay – Rosa’s Lodge… but I also like to call it Detrose Place… sounds cooler. They are renting out 1 room that costs 800 pesos per night whether you are alone or going as a group. It comfortably has room for 4 with its 2 queen-size beds. Electricity is only until 12 midnight, and it gets pretty warm without the electricity, but its not a problem since you can also opt to sleep in any of their 3 open-air huts along the beach (just bring your pillows and blanket, put on some Off Mosquito Lotion, and get comfy). Fresh water for taking a shower is limited, but understandably so, because they have to ship the freshwater from Panglao Island and that carries some costs… but it wasn’t a problem with me… I always supported water conservation and staying green and eco-friendly.

The meals cost 75-175 pesos, but the portions are usually good for 2. And they are delicious! I had squid for one meal; and fresh-grilled tuna for another… the tuna was so huge that I wasn’t able to finish it even without touching my rice. But my favorite would have to be the eggplant-vegetable dish that Ate Rosa cooked. I miss it so much… I wish every meal would be like the meals I had in Balicasag Island. And what’s a meal without conversation… Ate Rosa and Kuya Detrose are so pleasant to talk to; they kept me company the whole time that I was in Balicasag. And I even had a celebrity moment during one of my meals! After waking up in one of the open-air huts that I slept in during the night, I went back to my room to freshen-up. And when I went back out, all the open-air huts were filled with guests who rented them for the day (Php 200/day). I went out in my shorts and sunglasses (but shirtless) and carrying my sunblock… found some shade under one of the trees by the beach… and put on some sunblock. By the time I came back, Ate Rosa had prepared for me a BREAKFAST FOR A PRINCE!!! I had my own little table under the trees overlooking the beach and the sea and the 3 huts. Perfect! Soon, Kuya Detro approached me and informed me that one of their guests asked him who the celebrity is (referring to me). Hehehe!! No wonder I was getting strange stares. CooooL!!!

My primary goal in Balicasag was snorkeling… and boy did I snorkel… I snorkeled half the island. I’ve read of 5-star snorkeling and dive sites on the island and I was finally there, among them were Black Forest and its spectacular reef of black coral, Rudy’s Rock, Rico’s wall, and Turtle Point. I particularly enjoyed snorkeling along a huge length of the reef wall, it was hypnotic… you have a very nice feeling of being drawn to the blue ocean with the sparkling light that would get through from the surface. It was pretty much like the reaction of Dori in Finding Nemo. It was awesome, some parts of the reef wall were laddered; the first drop of the reef wall was followed by a much deeper drop further out. It was beautiful; I was finally able to see Gorgonian fans and large wrasses.

Balicasag Island is most likely a volcanic island. The island is surrounded by these huge rocks with embedded shells and corals that the rocks have been smoothened by centuries of waves crashing on them, they almost look like concrete slabs but I was told they were natural rock formations. Balicasag got its name from the root word casag which is local for crab. I saw numerous small crabs but only one big crab. Balicasag was also known for being a turtle nestling ground before, and that could be the reason why one of the dive sites was named Turtle Point, or perhaps it could be due to the shape of the rock formation. However, very few turtles lay their eggs on the island nowadays, due to tourist development. It is a good thing that ecological legislation is set in place in Balicasag though, a marine sanctuary has been established, it is approximately 700 meters long and boats are not allowed to drop anchor within its boundaries. National legislation protecting turtles is also strictly enforced in the little island; I was told that a Naval officer was removed from the Naval service after being caught eating turtle eggs. I also had the general sense that residents of the island are well aware of benefits of protecting the environment around them. I would still prefer though, that the whole island be made into a marine sanctuary, with only a 700-meter stretch of shore allocated for anchorage, instead of the other way around. And that corals are to be strictly banned from being taken from the sea… whether it’s inside or outside the sanctuary… because sometimes, some tourists get away with it.

I was also able to see the dolphins coming from Balicasag Island, no need to go to Pamilacan Island to be able to see the dolphins. One could hire a banca from Balicasag Island, Pamilacan Island, or Panglao Island to see the dolphins. The dolphins could be seen at around 6am in a location approximately in the middle of the 3 islands. So it was an early wake-up, some coffee and bread and off we went. The sunrise that greeted me was spectacular, and I was blessed with a perfectly calm sea to provide perfect weather for dolphin watching. And I was totally delighted when we arrived at the site after 30-45 minutes. There were hundreds of dolphins. I even saw 2 or 3 playful dolphins that would totally burst out of the water, and do 3 or 4 twists, before plunging into the water again. I screamed ‘whooohooo!!!’ at the top of my lungs when I saw those playful dolphins, and I didn’t care that there were 2 other boats with other people watching dolphins in them. After I while, I took out my mask, snorkel, and fins… ready to go in the water… but it’s not allowed… I was told by Kuya Detro that the dolphins are not accustomed to humans swimming with them so they would hit humans with their snouts. I took his word; they know more than I do. Most likely, there was an incident in the past and they learned from it. All in all, I was just delighted to see them so close. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!!! I did what I came to do in Bohol. 

Dolphin watching will cost 1200 pesos (alone or as a group). Dolphin watching plus a ride back to Panglao town will cost 1600 pesos. I took this option.

The other option to get back to Panglao town from Balicasag Island is to hitch with one of the boats/bancas. For some reason, it’s easier to hitch going to Panglao town from Balicasag Island than the other way around. The boats are anchored in front of the Naval Center of the Philippine Armed Forces. The hitch will cost the person 2 litres of petrol (approx P90). This is amount the locals pay but perhaps it could cost around 150-200 for tourists.

After arriving in Panglao town, I took a walk around to see the old watchtower and church. After that, I took a habal-habal (Php 10) to Alona beach just to see it. I didn’t really like Alona beach… it’s only a short strip of beach, unlike Boracay, or Bantayan. The other beach that we went to, Dumaloan beach, is even better than Alona beach. It is longer and does not have much development. Plus, Dumaloan beach has a nice coral reef in the deeper parts and a nice reef wall that is good for snorkeling and/or diving. The coral reef and the reef wall are probably little known to most people since I did not see a single person snorkeling or diving in the area. I found Alona beach to be too developed (lots of resorts… and too much concrete for my preference), and the beach is crowded by bancas, you could hardly swim in them. I just took a walk around the beach and decided to go back to Panglao town. Another thing I didn’t like about Alona beach was the opportunistic and dishonest people. A tricycle driver and a habal-habal driver tried to cheat me by overcharging me Php 50 for a ride back to Panglao town. Hehehe! No thanx! Little did they know that I just came from Panglao town.

Traveling back to Tagbilaran, Bohol; I took a Habal-Habal motorcycle to the Panglao town market for 10 pesos, and then I took a jeepney from the Panglao market to Tagbilaran for 18 pesos.

From Tagbilaran, there are ferries (via Oceanjet) to the cities of Cebu, Dumaguete, and Dapitan if you plan to travel further. Tagbilaran-Dumaguete one-way costs 500 pesos. Tagbilaran-Cebu one-way costs just less than 600 pesos.

The ticket area in the Tagbilaran terminal is chaotic but the pre-departure area is ok. It is wise to ask around while in the ticket area, and also be prepared to assert yourself because there will be a lot of people who will try to cut in line. I yelled “Hey! Hey! Hey!” to this guy who cut in line just in front of me, and when he justified himself… he received a piece of my mind when I told him that he didn’t have the basic courtesy of waiting his turn.

In Dumaguete, I took an air-conditioned bus back to Bacolod. Always, always, always, take the air-conditioned bus because the non-airconditioned buses can get VERY overcrowded. In one bad experience, the non-airconditioned bus was overcrowded to the extent that a stranger’s ass was resting on the shoulder of one of my friends, while one of my friends had half of her body out of the window… the whole time, the 3 of us couldn’t move an inch. Another caveat, the guy in the information desk at the Ceres terminal in Dumaguete is not known for being helpful at all. He will not volunteer to give you additional information, so be prepared to pry it from him. It is most important to ask the Bus Number of the bus going to Bacolod because they could sometimes arrive early and park at the back. Local people know this so they would often get on the bus while it is still parked at the back, so it gets filled very quickly. The bus that was scheduled to leave after 12noon got filled within 5minutes upon arriving in the terminal.

I also sent parts of this as a contribution to Lonely Planet (Philippines). I hope it helps in further editions of the book.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Siquijor Island vacation reaches Top of the list.

Bumped into one of my high school teachers today and our Siquijor Island vacation came up when she told me that she was pretty sure that she saw a video of Julius on YouTube when she searched for Siquijor.

I had to confirm it… and WOW!!! When I searched for Siquijor on YouTube, our video was the most-viewed video at 5575 views. Top of the list man!!!


To add to that, our blogsites also feature highly when you search for Siquijor Blog on Google.

Are we becoming local experts on Siquijor? Oh Yeah!! So CooooooL.