Exploring Eastern Bohol

IJsselstein, Thursday, 27 July 2006 03:14:34

For a long time, we wanted to explore the eastern part of Bohol. While flying over Bohol, I had seen apparently marvelous white beaches and an interesting landscape, and the stories we have been told by people who had been there were promising: ĎBetter than Alona Beach.í So we decided to go there.

Anda is a small town about 100 kilometers from Tagbilaran, on a peninsula of the same name, and a few direct busses go there every day. If you canít get a direct bus to Anda, you can catch any bus passing through the town of Guindulman, and take a connecting bus or jeepney from there.

The road to Anda is along the southeastern coast of Bohol, which is quite rocky and steep, and offers numerous fantastic sights. The trip takes about two hours, and to see the best of it, youíll have to sit on the right side of the bus. At times, the road is just between a nearly perpendicular rock wall and the sea -- and one can imagine that before this road was constructed, the only way to go from the east of Bohol to Tagbilaran was either a very difficult expedition through the inland, or a boat over the sea along the coast. The bus passes through a number of towns, including with Baclayon and itís historic church, Loay, where you cross a river, and can see some larger fishing boats, Jagna, where numerous vendors will enter to bus to sell you the local delicacy, calamay, basically two half coconut shells, taped together with red tape, and filled with a very sweet sticky substance. Then youíll pass through Garcia-Hernandez, where youíll pass a large industrial area, as here, lime is extracted from the hills, and loaded on to large sea-going vessels that can approach the coast-line very closely here. After that, youíll reach Guindulman, after which the bus leaves the main road and turns right on a rough road towards Anda.

Bituon Beach Resort
Contact Person: Markus Hohmann
Address: Basdio, 6310 Guindulman, Bohol, Philippines
Email: Bituon@wtal.de
Website: http://www.bituon.com/

Just before entering Anda, we decided to hop of the bus in the barrio of Basdio, still part of Guindulman, to stay at the Bituon Beach Resort. This German owned resort consists of a number of nice native style bungalows and is very picturesquely located on top of some 12 meters high cliffs. Considerably effort must have been used to make the area accessible, as a number of small bridges passing over cracks connect the cliffs on which the buildings are constructed. The view is marvelous, overlooking Guindulman bay, and, with clear weather the island of Camiguin and even Mindanao can be seen.

The resort is almost exclusively frequented by German speaking visitors, who arrive here on fully arranged scuba diving arrangements -- the diving here must be spectacular! -- The owners take care to maintain a relaxed and peaceful environment in the place, so no disco or karaoke. Although the restaurant is not a la carte, the food is excellent, and vegetarian and other dietary wishes can be accommodated if notice if given in advance. To local standards, the rate of about 30 euros (1500 pesos) per head per night is rather high, but all meals are included. However, diving, especially if you buy and all-inclusive package, is not expensive here.

Bituon Beach Resort does have its own small patch of beach at the feet of the cliffs, and it can be reached by concrete stair made along the cliffs. On this beach, you can see that the cliffs are actually overhanging the sea by several meters, as endless movements of the waves have washed the rock away. Because of the high cliffs and steep stairs, the place is not advisable for families with small children.

We decide to stay at this resort for a couple of days to explore the area.

The first day we venture out to discover the state of the cave-burial sites that can be found in Basdio. We have heard that before people used the numerous caves in the cliffs as burial places. Our local guide, Jun, tells us he knows a number of such places, but that most of them are very difficult to enter. He leads us along a small path, leading through cornfields and along steep cliffs to a place where some of such caves are supposed to be; but we end up standing on a cliff, with eight meters below us the sea relentlessly beating the rocks with waves, and some twenty meters removed from the entrance of a cave we cannot reach, unless we had brought with us several ladders, rope, and the some means to calm the sea...

On another spot, we have more luck, and we are able to climb to the entrance of a burial cave, and enter it; but our disappointment is big to see that most of the contents of this cave have been disturbed. The coffins are opened, and all the human remains are piled up in disorder. The skulls and the lids of the coffins have gone. Our guide tells us that this is the common fate of many of the graves; He told us how he had seen some of such old wooden coffins offered for sale by an antique dealer in Tagbilaran for about 10.000 pesos -- more than a good month worth of income for most families in this area -- and similar coffins, with skulls, are on display in the Bohol Museum in Tagbilaran. But it still requires some courage to retrieve the coffins from here. First of all there are the difficult rocks to cope with, and secondly, the local superstition that tells that the spirits of the deceased will haunt you if you disturb the dead. This has, more than once, made grave robbers return the stolen items to the site in return for their peace of mind. Probably the best way to protect these graves in the future is to cultivate this superstition.

It is difficult to assert the age of the graves. Some claim they are pre-Hispanic, that is, that they date from before the Spanish conquest of the Philippines, but to me, the condition of the wood seems too good for that, and it is very likely that they are not more than a hundred years old, in a time when it was still very difficult to go to the nearest cemetery. The real answer can only be given with a little research.

Curiously, one of the spots of the graves is less than 100 meters in a straight line from our resort, and still few visitors to the resort have ever heard about the place...

The next day, we decide to walk along Anda beach. At Basdio, the rocks form a massive wall rising from the sea, and it is impossible to walk along the shore, or even get close to it in many cases. But a few kilometers further in the direction of Anda, the rocks get lower, and the beach becomes wider and more accessible. We follow a few local roads to reach the beach, and what we find exceeds our expectations. A marvelous unspoiled white beach going on for kilometers, only frequented by local fishermen and their boats. Tourists must not come here very often, because we didnít see a trace of them. Some parts of it must be much like Alona beach some twenty years ago, before overzealous resort builders turned parts of it into concrete, and destroyed many of the coconut trees, and, if we may have one hope, it is that over here the locals will have the foresight to develop it wisely, and not to pollute the landscape with ugly concrete walls and other unsightly constructions.

Actually, some parts of the beach, or better, the land bordering the beach, as the first 30 meters from the high-water line are government property, are for sale. Our guide tells us how several years ago some investors have bought much of the land bordering this beach for ridiculous low prices (a few pesos a square meter) are now trying to sell it at a much higher price.

We start our stroll along the beach. At places it is wide and bordered with coconut trees on one side. Unlike Alona beach, this place is never cleaned, but most of the things washed ashore are of natural origin. Numerous coconuts, kelp, pieces of wood, and lots of shells, most broken, and if not, occupied by hermit crabs. Every once and a while, the beach narrows, and odd formations of cliffs appear. These cliffs are not high, but do hang over the beach for several meters, and make you wonder why they do not break off. Like most of Boholís coast, they have numerous small holes and sharp edges, and are near impossible to climb -- but they do make good spots for plants to grow on. They would also make a good place to shelter from the sun, if it werenít for the constantly dripping water under it.

After each stretch of narrow beach and overhanging rocks, the coastline makes a bend again, and we arrive on another stretch of wide beach. On some places, we can see huge baskets made from bamboo; and used for fishing, and at others we see fishing nets in various shapes, and fishermen repairing their nets.

On sea, we can see numerous small fishing bankas of the local people; but also some larger vessels. According to our guide, these vessels come from Loay or even from Cebu, and are illegally fishing within the 15 kilometers of municipal waters that is reserved for the local fishermen -- but the locals can do little against it, as the local government has no patrol boat, and even if they had, it would probably easy to bribe some people to look the other way.

After a nice walk of several hours, we reach the town of Anda. Here the beach continues right up to the large green central square of the town. We wade ashore, put on our shoes, and explore the place for a while. Anda is a truly peaceful town, without much traffic. We visit the local church, which has a number of nice murals on its ceiling, and search for a small carenderia to have a drink. Not much later, a car we have arranged for arrives to pick us up and bring us back to our resort.

Jeroen Hellingman