Fire And Rain: The Weekend I Flew To Bohol
Bohol had since developed into the major tourist destination that it is now. The Chocolate Hills had always been a draw, but after the Bohol Beach Club opened, its popularity was bolstered, consequently reintroducing the island as a beach destination rivaling Boracay and Cebu. Soon after, it also started gaining reputation as a premiere dive spot.
I finally got my wish to revisit Bohol last month, when I accompanied my friend Jean on her birthday vacation. We went with her friends Cris and Poch who, like her, have recently taken up diving as a sport and were raring to see the bounty of Bohol’s marine life. Before going there, I checked out Laida’s pictures and took note of the places she went to. Particularly, the Bohol Bee Farm. Skeeter also told me to make sure I ate at the place.
Jean, Poch and I arrived in Tagbilaran on July 14, a little before lunch. This was after our flight was delayed for three hours. Normally, I wouldn’t have any problem sleeping on the uncomfortable seats of the old domestic airport’s waiting area. I am, after all, particularly talented in sleeping anywhere. Seeing, however, that the airport was heaving with vacationers that Saturday, I decided to read instead.
Since I didn’t sleep the night before, as common to most of my travels, I was just about ready to expire when we arrived at the Dumaluan Beach Resort a little before noon. We blew off the couple of hours of waiting by playing cards and having lunch (overpriced and remarkably insipid). When we were finally allowed into our rooms, I settled in by catching up on sleep.
The sun was gone when Jean woke me up. I joined them at Dumaluan’s in-house restaurant where Poch and Cris, who arrived from Cebu in the afternoon, were waiting. After dining on grilled food, Cris and Poch had a few rounds of beer while Jean and I had coffee at the Bohol Beach Club. When we got back to the resort, Cris and Poch had gone to bed. Jean, too, was tired so she left me alone with my book at the resort’s reception area and hit the sack.
It was close to midnight when I finished reading. I was still bubbling with energy, so I decided to check out the party at the rooftop. It seemed exclusive so I turned to go back when this group of friendly manongs called out to me and asked me to take a shot of the alcohol they were drinking. I gladly obliged. Soon, I was part of their circle, drinking more of the bahalina, which, mixed with Coke, comes off as a dark-colored version of lambanog (coconut wine) more akin to red wine or vinegar, as lambanog is to vodka. I was drawn into a spirited exchange. I with anecdotes on writing movies, they with their politics, the Sandugo Festival, and the famous Boholanos in show business.
Suddenly, a group of Koreans staying at the Bohol Beach Club started screaming. We looked toward the direction they were pointing and saw the nipa roof of the Bohol Beach Club Clubhouse in flames. My newfound friends scrambled to rouse the resort’s guards from sleep. I ran toward the clubhouse to see how I could help.
Some of the resort’s employees had started hand-shoveling sand to the burning roof. I told them to look for fire extinguishers, realizing that none of them thought of that first. When they found them, they were all reluctant to use it, as if taking it from its encasement was sacrilegious enough. One of the manongs I was drinking with (forgive me, I forget their names) climbed on to the wall and made use of the extinguisher.
The fire was growing bigger. While the fire extinguisher helped quell some of it, the gust of wind that came with the discharge also spread the fire all over the highly flammable nipa roof. I was looking for more extinguishers when I saw the fire hose at the back. I opened it and asked one of the employees to take the hose all the way to the side nearest to the burning roof. When I turned the valve, it had no supply of water. I noticed that the pool was just a few meters away, so I told them to fetch pails and draw water from the pool. Someone took heed and got a chafing dish from the clubhouse’s buffet table. The others followed suit and started fetching water from the pool, using all sorts of improvised containers, and splashing water on the nipa roof.
It still wasn’t helping. I asked if they’ve contacted the fire department. They said that the one in Panglao has been dispatched. I used my mobile to call 117. I was afraid the operator would hang up on me considering our emergency wasn’t in Manila, but he accommodated the call and asked for details. After I hung up, he even called me again to confirm that they’ve contacted other fire departments, including the one from Tagbilaran. I also texted Adrian Ayalin and Anna Puod, my friends from ABS-CBN News. Puod responded and vehemently asked me to stay at the beach where I’d be near the water. She said she’s covered so many stories involving fires and people who tried to go back in and got trapped inside.
Then a truck with a water tank mounted on its back came rushing in from the beach club’s side entrance. We were relieved. Curiously, though, it continued toward the beach in an apparent road rage. I thought, perhaps they needed to siphon water from the beach. A few meters before plunging to the ocean, it got stuck on the dry edge of the sandy shore. When we asked the driver that was all about, we found out that the truck’s brakes failed. Stuck, we left the truck full of water by the beach, too far from the clubhouse to render any kind of help.
Finally, the fire trucks arrived. They hosed the burning roof down but the fire was already out of control. The ceiling beams started glowing red, threatening to give out. Two resort employees decided to break into the kitchen where the fire seemed to have started. He started dragging out the huge gas tanks inside. I told them to let the firemen take care of it, that the kitchen might cave in and trap them inside, but they were stubborn. Either that or they didn’t understand my Tagalog. Since they wouldn’t listen to reason, I told them to at least cover their mouths and noses with damp cloth lest they pass out inside the burning kitchen. They continued collecting the huge gas tanks. I knew it was stupid to go in with them, so I decided to wait by the kitchen door and dragged the tanks they’ve collected further away to a safer area, hoping to hasten the process as they proceeded to saving the other tanks.
What I found most curious is that the firemen let those employees risk their lives by going into the kitchen when they should be taking charge of the whole situation. One of them even approached me and asked if all the tanks had been saved (to which I answered yes, since at that time, the two valiant employees had hauled off all the gas tanks from the kitchen). Thankfully, there weren’t any casualties. And good thing Jean and I had the chance to lounge around the clubhouse before it was rendered unusable by the inferno.
Having had enough adventure to last me a week, I decided to skip the scheduled trip to Balicasag, an island off Panglao. Jean, Cris and Poch went scuba diving morning ’til afternoon. When I woke up, they were preparing to go Tagbilaran to grant my request to go to Mass. We went to the Cathedral in front of the Bohol Capitol. Though I didn’t understand a word of the ceremony, I thought it was a refreshing experience. I always enjoy hearing mass in local dialects (I’ve also heard it in Bicol and Cuyunon).
We had dinner at a grill restaurant and a night cap at Bo’s Coffee, still near the capitol. We then rented a small jeep that took us back to the resort.
It was Jean’s birthday the next day, Monday, July 16. We woke up really early so we could finish our sweep of the customary tourist sights in Bohol.
After a quick breakfast at Jollibee in Tagbilaran, we headed to Carmen to see the Chocolate Hills. It hasn’t changed since the last time I saw it, so it wasn’t that cool for me as it was for my travel buddies. I was, however, amused by the recent innovation at the viewing deck. There were photographers stationed there, hawking their services and printing photos for the exorbitant amount of PhP50 per 4R photo. We had our own cameras of course, but what amused me was that they were so adept in taking a particular kind of photo. Try hard as we might, we just couldn’t get it right. We ended up asking the photographer to take our pictures. This is how mine came out:
Soon as we got out of the viewing compound in Carmen, it started raining hard. We passed by the beautiful man-made forest shared by the towns Carmen and Bilar. We pulled over to take a quick picture with the beautiful mahoganies, then went on our way. We stopped by Carmen to see a hanging bridge suspended over the Loboc River, but decided to keep dry in our rented SUV and go straight to Loboc for lunch.
It was still raining when we hopped on the floating restaurant at the Loboc River. But instead of ruining our cruise upstream, the rain actually enhanced our experience at the beautiful, historic river. The view seemed more raw, more virginal. It was, to me, the best thing about Bohol.
There was an old man playing folk songs on the boat. The food was nothing to rave about, but then the food was really just an excuse to ride the boat. On our way upstream, we would pass by some kids playing by the riverbanks. Some of them would even jump from coconut trees or swing from a vine and free fall into the river, much like the WOW Philippines commercial that featured Regine Velasquez and those animated postcards. Some of these kids would even swim toward, our under our boat. Some went on board at the side. Without being asked, the tourists handed out food to the kids.
Our upstream cruise ends at the base of the rapids, where a rondalla-like band composed of adolescent Boholanos welcomed us by playing novelty songs, complete with dance numbers pa! The tourists took turns taking pictures with them and donating different amounts of money to their can. It was such an uplifting experience that on our way back, the tourists on our boat were all in a genial mood, waving to other tourists on board the oncoming floating restaurants.
After the Loboc River cruise, we bought a few souvenirs and stopped by a shop that had tarsiers in its backyard. We had our photos taken. We were particularly careful not to scare the tarsier with our cameras’ flashes. I voiced out my desire to have a photo with the tarsier on my shoulder. To my surprise, the shop’s owner took the tarsier and asked me to walk a little further away from the plant it was previously perched on. She put the little guy on my shoulder. I realized she asked me to walk away so I that it wouldn’t jump back to its home. I asked if I could have another picture with the tarsier, and she generously granted my request. And I thought they were protective of their primate ambassadors. Here’s that last photo:
After that, we made a few quick stops to two churches, the Loboc Church and the Baclayon Church in Tagbilaran, the second oldest church in the Philippines and the oldest one made of coral. We passed by one last souvenir shop and had our photos taken at the monument at Tagbilaran commemorating the blood compact between Datu Sikatuna and Miguel López de Legazpi.
We intended to have dinner at the Bohol Bee Farm that evening, but I was exhausted by our lightning tour of Bohol. My quick nap lasted till midnight, while Jean, Cris and Poch spent the rest of the day playing cards. We left early Tuesday morning, July 17. It was a really fun trip, with just the right amount contrast, an ample mix of fun, culture, and surprise.
But I’ll have to go back again. I’ve yet to go dine at the Bee Farm. And as proven by my last trip there, Bohol will always be worth another visit 🙂