We spent Christmas in Bohol, specifically at Alona Vida Beach Resort on Panglao Island
. We had never been there and didn't do any research in advance. We just relied on the opinion of others who had been to Bohol and knew the dive operator and diving were good. The rest we would figure out when we got there. Bohol is known for the Chocolate Hills which are land formations that appear as brown mounds in the dry season. It's also known for the world's smallest primate, the Tarsier which is only about 5 inches tall with really big eyes. They're endangered and hard to spot in the wild but there is a Tarsier sanctuary on Bohol that is trying to save them. We didn't see any of that. We went diving. Sea Explorers offers a 20% discount on diving and accomodations to M.A.D. (Manila Aqua Divers) members and we were able to reserve the last available room. We arrived at the airport in Tagilaran on mainland Bohol and a car drove us to Alona Beach on Panglao Island. As soon as we got there we could tell this was going to be a relaxing, low-key experience. The road drops you at the beach and you walk the sand path past the small resorts, dive shops and beachside restaurants to get to Alona Vida. This is the kind of place where you can take off your shoes upon arrival and not put them back on until the day you leave. No hurries, no worries.
After checking in and getting our dive gear settled we regrouped for a quick lunch before our first dive at Eel Garden.
Eel Garden was nothing to get excited about. Its close to shore and the reef is not in good shape - and there were no eels. But tomorrow would be an all day dive trip to Balicasag Island and we guessed that would be much better. For now, it was Christmas Eve. For dinner options, there were numerous restaurants along the beach with displays of fresh seafood including varieties of fish, squid and prawns. Just pick what you want and they throw it on the grill for you. We choose red snapper at a laid back, beachside place with plastic tables and chairs.
Christmas Day we went to Balicasag Island for our all day diving excursion. We kept having to remind ourselves it was Christmas because it felt just like any other day of diving except for a group we saw who had been diving with their Santa hats on. Sea Explorers has a nicely outfitted extra large banca with lots of room to sit comfortably out of the sun and even a bathroom on board. Our dives were at 3 different sites off the island where the reef wall drops off into the sea. The names of the sites are Cathedral, Black Forest and Sanctuary. The reefs were all very healthy and full of sea life. We saw a number of large turtles, an enormous school of large Jacks, as also a variety of reef fish, tiny crabs, shrimp and nudibranchs. In the end, we agreed that the diving at Anilao was just as good and with a greater concentration of sea critters on each dive
. One thing we noted that we hadn't seen before is that many of the anemones looked like they had been stuffed into green or blue bags but it appeared it was actually the membrane under the anemone itself that encased them.
Our second day of diving was at Snake Island and Pamilacan Island. Unfortunately it rained on and off all day which affected the visibility and our ability to warm up between dives. Good thing there was hot water for coffee, tea and for Russ to pour into his dive boots. We are becoming diving weinies since moving to the tropics and recalled our cerification dives in a Pennsylvania quarry where it snowed. Brrr. Snake Island isn't really an island in the sense that there's a land surface above sea level. It's an under water island and, yes, there are lots of black and white banded snakes known at Sea Kraits. They aren't really aggressive unless provoked. Mostly they slither around the water, poking in holes in search of something to eat. At Snake Island we also saw a rather large octopus. He saw us too but instead of quickly retreating into his hole he mostly watched us curiously as he flashed his changing colors. Our diving at Pamilacan Island was at the dive sites named Soft Coral Garden and Spanish Tower which is named for the ruins of an old Spanish lookout tower on the beach. Both were very pretty and pleasant dives.
On the third day we thought about taking a land tour of Bohol's sights and then decided to take a day to relax and unwind instead
. We needed that more than an action-packed all day trip. Instead we took advantage of a sunny day to relax on lounge chairs, walk around the streets beyond the beach and eat our daily ration of tuna Kinilaw. Kinilaw is an Asian Ceviche. The fish is uncooked but cured in vinegar and calamansi juice with diced ginger, onion and hot peppers. Yummy. There are a lot of food choices along Alona Beach that cater to local tastes as well as foreign visitors. There are many resorts owned and visited by Europeans or travelers from other Asian countries. But everywhere we go we wonder why the presence of American owned establishments is so low in these places. The US is well represented as far as population and influence but we don't see many resorts and restaurants owned and run by them. Things to ponder as we sit with a beer and plate of Kinilaw.
It felt like we skidded into Christmas this year. We barely got any gifts or greetings sent and we were lucky to have any decorations identifying the holiday in our condo. And just when it looked like we would have a breather in the days leading up to Christmas, news that typhoon Sendong left a huge disaster south of us in Mindanao became cause for a company-wide effort to collect and deliver relief goods and cash for the victims. The Corporate Social Responsibility committee was able to deliver 200 boxes of goods and PHP 424K to the ABS-CBN foundation site in Quezon City and it was heartwarming to see the generosity of our employees. The whole effort left no time for the last minute shopping or packing for our Christmas vacation. But compared to those who lost everything including their loved ones, this was a very minor issue.