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BOHOL:THE PERFECT ISLAND

by Andrew Renton

"Ohhhhh yes!" "Now up a little bit…no, no…to the left! That's it! Harder, harder! Wow, that sure feels good!"

I am lying, face down, on a pristine white sand beach. It is 7.00 am. Panglao Island is a mere pimple of land attached by a short "umbilical" causeway to the underside of Bohol Island in the Phillippines. Two dishy young ladies are kneading my body with oils produced from a wooden box, the size of a six-pack.

I have done nothing to earn this sort of treatment. I'm not a jogger, nor do I practise Kung Fu at dawn. I have simply returned from a leisurely snorkel to find my beach side cottage under attack by a bevy of cleaners. Our chef, judging from the sweet aroma of frying bacon on the gentle dawn breeze, is firing up breakfast. Meanwhile, on the beach, four waiters are raking the sand and two "masseuses" are looking for business. With a few moments to spare before breakfast, my resistance is low!

Even more so than usual. After frantic trip around the Philippines, I felt I'd earned a week on "The Perfect Island", and had narrowed the choice from 7000, ( No point sharing a shard of rock with a bunch of seagulls; this was not a Reality Show!), to eleven of serious size, character and population.

I am an explorer and bore easily. Important to an impecunious scribe, my perfect island must provide comfortable, palm fringed, beachfront accommodation at half the price of a "Motel 6" (for inspirational ideas-and to upset my friends back home!). Sounds impossible eh?

Not so! After a bumpy 45 minutes ride I'd unfolded myself from the sidecar built for a midget. My tricycle driver had brought me from the airport in Tagbilaran, the bustling capital of Bohol, to the gated entry of The Alona Tropical Beach resort on Panglao Island. At CA$21 for a beachfront pad, including full American breakfast, the search was over. A good reef for snorkelling and excellent diving, were bonuses.

Massage and breakfast over, I drain the last dregs of freshly squeezed OJ, revisit my list for the day, and head past the dive shop and pool, to the road. Half a dozen locals compete to rent their Kawasaki motorbikes. I settle for one with mirrors intact and a horn that works. We agree on 400 pesos-around 9 bucks. That's it. No papers to sign. Just: "I'm Andrew." "I'm Ali." A handshake. Then: "Here's the key…see you later." A brief lesson and I am wobbling unsteadily down the road.

The Sunday morning market in Antequera draws weavers from around the island. Buses, piled high with basket ware, rattan mats, bags of used clothing, sacks of tobacco and twinkling racks of multi coloured metallic Christmas decorations compete for space around the square.

Pealing bells are still summoning the faithful to an overflowing church. Late arrivals gather at the entrance, hoping for a glimpse of the proceedings.

I motor on through picturesque villages and tiny patchwork quilts of paddy fields. A farmer, young son at his side, urges the family buffalo along. Only the plough handles are visible above knee-deep water. Pots of orchids line the roadside.

The "Chocolate Hills," perfectly rounded "bumps" of land, covered in vegetation that fries to a chocolate brown in the dry season, are the island's pride and joy. A must see! Today they are covered in cloud.

My day is not quite over, though my haemorrhoids are definitely under attack! The road here, a semi-flattened rock pile, is punishing my little bike-and its driver. I must make the Panglao Cockpit by 4.30 pm.

Cockfighting is a national sport. I part with 20 pesos, (around 50 cents) at the gate. The noise level is deafening. Inside the roofed enclosure, odds makers are taking bets for the 5th fight. Hands clutching wads of pesos vie for attention.

Combatants are held high by their proud owners. Each has a razor, the shape of a miniature scythe, taped to one leg. They are pointed face to face for a second. Much ruffling of feathers and furious crowing brings further roars from the now frantic crowd. Soon, a victory roar merges with wails from the losers.

Ali is as pleased to see me, as I am to see him. I survived. Tomorrow I will take a jungle trip on The Loboc river, go caving at Bingag, join in The Baclayon Festival where the country's oldest church, built in 1595, still stands.

But now, it is time for a swim. Perhaps chicken-cordon bleu at sunset in the excellent restaurant. A short walk along the beach for a beer in the village should fill in time while the resort crew turns down my bed, drops the net, and lights a coil. I've yet to encounter a mosquito.

Eat your hearts out for I have found my perfect island.

IF YOU GO:

  • Bohol Island is part of The Central Visaya Islands. It is a two hour flight (C$64) south of Manila, the capital.
  • The dry season is theoretically from September to May.
  • Air Canada operates daily flights to Manila from Vancouver as does Philippine Airlines. Check with PAL for onward flights, cheap hotel packages and airport transfers in Manila.
  • I found The Lonely Planet guidebook invaluable.
  • More information go to:
    www.philippineairlines.com
    www.wowphilippines.com
    www.bohol.ph

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