Not So Chocolate


This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, January 19, 2005 was originally posted on January 24, 2005.

DAY 459:  I had first heard about the island of Bohol not from my Philippine-born parents or any of my relatives living in the Philippines, but from the Globe Trekker travel show (formerly Lonely Planet).  Host Shilpa Mehta turned me on to seeing the famous Chocolate Hills, Bohol’s signature attraction, which unfortunately for me and my chocolate-loving sweet tooth were not made of chocolate.  Upon my own exploration of the island, I discovered that the not-so-Chocolate Hills were just one of many things that made Bohol unique, an island separate from the other islands in the archipelago.

With my Tita Josie graciously paying for mostly everything on my travels with her thus far, she hired us a private car with driver and guide to take us to the sites of Bohol.  Before nine in the morning, we were over the bridge from Panglao to our first Bohol site of the day.

IN 1565, SPANISH CONQUISTADOR MIGUEL LOPEZ DE LEGAZPI came to Bohol not for chocolate, but to start the inevitable colonization of the Philippines after Magellan’s failure some forty years before.  It was not as easy as it he originally thought because there were already people living there, local Tagbilaran tribespeople under the reign of their chief, Chief Sikatuna.  The two parties didn’t exactly see eye to eye — what with one group wanting to take over and one group wanting to be left alone — and so the famous “Blood Compact” agreement took place after negotiations of scheduling conflicts.  Legazpi and Sikatuna penciled each other into their busy schedules and eventually met up for a drink, the perfect icebreaker to bury the hatchet and let by-gones be by-gones. 

The “Blood Compact,” which goes down in history as the first friendship treaty between Spain and the indigenous people, was actually an event like American Thanksgiving; it was that one moment when foreigners and locals came together in peace, to be blood brothers — before the onslaught of colonization.  It wasn’t long before Legazpi broke oath and started bossing around the natives with his militia and big guns and starting claiming land in the name of King Philip of Spain, namesake of what was later dubbed the “Philippines.”  Nowadays, by-gones are by-gones — mostly because most of the original natives have been outbred through the intermarriages with the Spanish — and a life-sized monument was erected celebrating the one peaceful meeting of Legazpi and Sikatuna.  (Are those frosty chocolate milkshakes in their hands?)

IT WAS ABOUT AN HOUR by road to the town of Carmen, in roughly the geographic center of Bohol.  Carmen, which is also a very Spanish name, was the prime spot for viewing the Chocolate Hills, which unfortunately were not made of chocolate nor had any cocoa plants growing on them — they were named that simply because in the summer, the grass on them dies and turns a dark brown.  Starting around April the color change begins, making the 1,268 hills of roughly the same size and shape look like a bunch of gigantic Hershey’s kisses.  Mmmmm, Hershey’s kisses…  Each hill is a round mound like a camel hump, originally formed from coral deposits when the island was under the sea millions of years ago.  Eons later, the earth rose and seas swept away, leaving the mounds to be geologically “carved” through erosion and the motion of the surrounding water.

Our guide Leto led us to the observation deck at the top of one of the not-so-Chocolate Hills for a panoramic view (picture above) of the rest of them.  They were still a bit green (not ripe yet), but were impressive nonetheless and actually held my attention for a good twenty minutes.

TWENTY MINUTES LATER we were off to see another of Bohol’s signature attractions, the signature attraction if you ask me.  Tarsiers, little primates characterized by their big eyes (the better to see at night) and shy and nervous demeanor, are endemic to Bohol.  Several roadside sanctuaries were established for tourists to see them and Leto brought us to one such place.  It was where you could come face-to-face with the cute little animals, pet them, and take many pictures with your camera or cell phone (as most Filipino tourists did).  To me, tarsiers looked like a cross between Monchichis and Gremlins (before a post-midnight feeding).

“You want to see the falls?” Tita Josie asked me at the sanctuary after I saw a feeding of one of the tarsiers.  (It picked up a little cricket with its little hands, ate it like a Snickers bar and smiled.)

“Sure, okay.”

The sanctuary was conveniently on the banks of the Loboc River, a jade green river and popular waterway for river cruises in a motorboat or a floating restaurant with cheesy lounge singer acts.  We hired the former and ventured not too far away upstream, beyond the village kids swimming and the slanted palm trees (which I call “boner trees”) to Busay Falls, a local waterfall where all the boats anchor for a while before heading back the way they came.  We went further downstream to a riverside restaurant, an all-you-can-eat buffet, where I made fancy gourmet-looking dishes instead of just piling food on my plate.  (This is a custom my brother and I do at Chinese buffets in the States — “Iron Chef Buffet” as we call it.  We have presentation contests with categories:  chicken, soup, dessert, etc.)  There was no chocolate there either, but my sweet tooth was pleased with Peanut Kisses, a candy available from the touts and shops in all the touristy areas.  Peanut Kisses, Chocolate Hill-shaped morsels made of crushed peanuts and egg whites, satisfied my sweet tooth with the lack of actual chocolate on the island.

WITH THE SPANISH CAME CHRISTIANITY, and many churches were built on Bohol, in the old sixteenth century style.  We visited a three of these churches, the Church of San Piedro the Apostle, the Baclayon Church of the Immaculate Conception, and St. Augustine’s with its famous bayside watchtower.  In between churches, we managed to buy more Peanut Kisses and to track down Tita Josie’s cell phone after she had left it in a CR — a woman took it and brought it to her suite at a fancy exclusive resort.  We also paid a visit to another one of Bohol’s signature attractions, the Hinagdanan Cave, an underground freshwater lagoon discovered in the 16th century by a local farmer.  Today, it is where bats fly above tourists swimming below.

FOR MY LAST NIGHT IN VISAYAS, my last night with Tita Josie, we went out with our guide Leto, who picked us up in his little motor scooter.  The three of us piled on and rode across Panglao to Bistro Andrei, a quaint little eatery that seemed out of place amidst the village houses.  It was there we finished Bohol off with one more specialty of the island, unod saang, a type of shellfish similar to conch but with a spiky shape, that wasn’t really eaten on the other islands.  We special-ordered a whole plate of it and ate it with our final beers and conversation.  Unfortunately for my sweet tooth, the meat was very salty, but that was all sorted out when I had some more Peanut Kisses.  It’s the only thing I had for the lack of actual Chocolate Hills.  Where’s Willy Wonka when you need him?


Next entry: Return To Normalcy

Previous entry: Foreign Local

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Comments for “Not So Chocolate”

  • loves me some shilpa mehta…

    you’re presentation is nice…but not enough color

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  02:13 AM

  • Erik, I couldn’t help wondering whether that was some sort of cheeky double entendre re Shilpa and her powers of travel seduction ... but I can only assume in light of markyt’s comments that it in fact was!

    Posted by Tiffany  on  01/24  at  02:00 PM

  • I want a pet Tarsier!

    your tita Josie sounds really nice.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  02:12 PM

  • Choclate hill island and not a single Snickers bar in sight? How ironic! Where’s the Mars bar tout when you need him?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  02:15 PM

  • SARA - you can get one as a pet….just go find yourself gizmo from the gremlins…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  02:18 PM

  • Those Tarsiers TOTALLY look like Maguais! Not sure if that is spelled right…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  05:56 PM

  • TIFFANY:  Double entendre totally intentional… Grrraaorr…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  09:16 PM

  • MICHELLE:  Where are the Maguais?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  09:18 PM

  • SARA:  re tarsiers… Keep them away from bright lights.  Don’t get them wet.  And above all, do NOT feed them after midnight!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/24  at  09:20 PM

  • Those big Tarsier eyeballs might freak me out though.  I do have a pet bunny, Maybe he’ll have to suffice for now…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/25  at  01:28 PM

  • ARGGHHH, the image of Homer dreaming of dancing through the land of chocolate while talking to the new German owners is driving me batty!!
    And yes, the tarsiers look like what Gollum’s ancestors probably looked like..
    Wow, E, just a few months left..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/27  at  08:18 AM

  • I’m with you SARA, those little tarsiers freak me out.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/27  at  06:14 PM

  • tarsiers are ridiculous cute.

    Posted by Alyson  on  01/29  at  08:43 PM

  • Maguais are the cute little furry things before they get water and turn into Gremlins…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/05  at  06:34 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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