The cocka doodal oodal call and response of crowing roosters was a constant cocaphony, trilling throughout day and night, drowning any sweet birdsong. “Hey Joe” was called from Nipa huts, school playgrounds, palm groves and jungle; reminding us that we were never alone.
Getting Started: 23.81 km
We flew into Cebu, in the Philippines, two days before Christmas, and then needed to decide which of the 7107 islands (count differs if the tide is out) we would ride to reach Manila by early February. We had chosen Panglao, a small island south-west of Bohol, for a short break and to be our cycle touring starting point. First we needed to get there. We had three hours until the holiday office closure to get ferry tickets so after dumping our gear we rode to the shopping centre nearby, through sound waves of Christmas Carols broadcast from every small store, at a volume suitable for a night club. We secured the last seats on the 2GO ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaran. Because it was Holidays, all other ferry sailings for the next day were fully booked.
We intended to come back to Cebu Island, but this never eventuated, so our only time on Cebu was riding to the ferry 8 kilometres from our accommodation. For our travel we had to be at the port on Christmas Eve by 7 a.m. Cycling to the ferry at dawn was very pleasant, as the air was cool and the traffic was light. The port terminal was chocker with waiting passengers. We’d been told to arrive 2 hours before departure and duly complied, but with tickets already in hand the early arrival was hardly necessary. The bikes were booked as luggage and handed over to 2GO staff, for loading. We’d left the panniers on the bikes, so it was lovely to just settle ourselves.
Bohol Island: Briefly
Tagbilaran, Bohol Island, the port of arrival, was crazy with people and traffic but I was keen to get some Christmas treats. What a stupid idea! First surprise was going through security and being frisked before I could enter the supermarket, and this level of security was enforced throughout the country at other shopping centres. Finding familiar items was hopeless so I came away with little more than a packet of cracker biscuits and a locally made nut-paste sweet treat. I returned to Nev who had been waiting outside with the bikes and we set off. Fortunately the town streets that were clogged with motor tricycles and pedestrians thinned out, to only the occasional vehicle, as we rode across a bridge to Panglao Island, then into the countryside for a peaceful and flat few kilometres to our accommodation and a relaxing, no cycle touring, Christmas and Boxing Day.
Panglao Island: Just a taste: 17.81 km
Yesterday was Christmas Day that we spent relaxing beside the pool, with our only excursion being taken by courtesy van to Alona Beach for an evening meal at clothed tables set in the sand on the edge of the ocean, where we were served delicious seafood and entertained by a karaoke duo and fire twirling dancers. Today is Boxing Day and having sat around long enough, we stretch our legs on a short ride to nearby beaches on Panglao.
Cycle Touring: Bohol Island
Day 1: Panglao Island to Loboc 38.5km 178m Ascent
We left Panglao Island taking the same route as we rode in, but after crossing the bridge onto Bohol Island, turned right to follow the coast in an anticlockwise direction until Loay and then turned inland to Loboc. Loboc, a popular holiday destination for locals, is situated on the Loboc River where river cruises, floating restaurants, and evening viewings of fireflies along the river banks are promoted as ‘must do’ activities. We did none of these things. I was feeling very unwell and my focus was on getting out of the heat and to our accommodation for a rest. Late afternoon we walked into the small town, passing Christmas Decorations, most of which are made from recycled materials, and a group of people ‘caroling’ near the ruins of San Pedro Church, brought down by earthquake in 2013.
Day 2: Loboc to Batuan (bottom of Chocolate Hills Lookout) 32.7km, 606m Ascent
Attracted by the opportunity to fly on a Zip-Line, our first stop was at the Loboc Ecotourism Adventure Park. We were at the park the moment it opened, and committed to the ride as soon as we’d seen another couple cross and return safely.
The ride was high above, and across the Loboc River and for a very reasonable price we enjoyed the thrill of flying across the river with great views into the river valley. There is also a ‘Ride-a-bike’ zip line at another adventure park that seemed more conducive to our cycle touring lifestyle but it was a few kilometres out of our way. With bodies full of adrenaline we headed for the more sedate butterfly park, that included me having Macaw birds sitting on my head while Nev was being wrapped around the neck by a blonde Python. The things we do for photo opportunities!
Next stop was the Tarsier Sanctuary, where we spotted a few of the wide eyed marsupials staring back at us from behind a curtain of leaves. This is certainly a tourist route and there was a lot of traffic on a road that climbed and wound through a man-made Mahogany Forest to the Chocolate Hills.
We had not been able to find an ATM and were told there was one at the lookout. What a serious climb to get some money. The road wound around one of the Chocolate Hills, so named because the geology of limestone domes is covered in grass that browns in the summer heat, and the hills look like Chocolate Bon-Bons. From the car park there were extensive views across mounds of these hills. Later we had a great view of this view-point hill from our accommodation.
Day 3: Batuan to Jagna 62.6km, 897m Ascent 1185m descent
The road to Sierra Bullones undulated and even though the effort wasn’t too intense, the heat and humidity sucked out our energy and hydration levels. We stopped for a cool refreshing drink but were tempted by a shop selling slushy. A bright green Pandan Slushy for me and a deep purple Ube one for Nev, hit the spot. From the bakery, Bread rolls and banana cake that we would eat later, were purchased for lunch. We knew we should expect a significant climb after Sierra Bullones but had been riding for about five kilometres without coming across one. In fact we were having a lovely gentle descent. When we reached the Malinao Reservoir we realised we’d made a navigational error. I hate having to backtrack but that’s how it had to be! Now with a gentle climb before us, we returned and rode back through Sierra Bullones, to our route just on the outer edge of town, and yes, after turning left, we were straight into a significant climb. At a small village we stopped in the shade of a hedge that separated someone’s home from the road, and sat on a wooden bench to eat lunch. A couple of children sat beside us and asked ‘Give me money?’ We were a bit shocked when they repeated the request a number of times, so we gave them a slice of banana cake to share. Later, in contrast to this, a man walking by said that if we needed water, we could go to the filtered water station in the village. He had noticed us earlier and kindly told them to give us what water we needed. The local ‘mayor’ also stopped and spoke to us about our journey and the state of the roads on the island. Most roads, he said, were now concrete, making it easier for locals to travel in the wet season. With food in our bellies we continued to climb. I was able to be distracted from the riding task by admiring mass plantings of potted tropical plants that bordered the road on each side.
Soon the road twisted with gradients getting so steep, that my energy levels lagged and I didn’t have the strength in my legs to ride so had to walk and push up two of them. The Peak was at 756 metres and from there we had an awesome downhill to the coast.
Our accommodation was on the seaside edge of the Bohol Circumferential Road, our room was almost hanging over the ocean. We got a bit of a buzz when we chatted to some other guests at the restaurant who were in awe that we had ridden that road on bicycles. They said that their vehicles struggle on those climbs in first gear!
Day 4: Jagna to Anda 33.7km, 159m Ascent
Having been up all night with diarrhoea my body felt heavy and sluggish. Fortunately the medication I had been taking kicked in, and I finally dragged myself out of bed at 10:15 and was able to eat omelette and toast for breakfast. We set off around 11 am. After what had seemed to me to be an epic climb yesterday, my illness, and a 35C air temperature with humidity that we are not used to, at an average speed of 13 kph, this day was the slowest flat distance we’d ever ridden. The road followed the coast and the sea breeze was refreshing. We stopped briefly after 10km and purchased water and then stopped again at 20km for Nev to have some lunch. Our accommodation at Andanott Garden was one of two adjoining holiday rooms for rent and the second was vacant. At the far end of the garden there was a small thatched roof nipa hut, where the manager lived. We were disappointed to find the room had neither air conditioning nor wifi, two mandatory items we look for when booking accommodation. I napped all afternoon and then we took a walk to the white-sand beach, 400 metres away, arriving just in time for Nev to have a sunset swim. By the time we returned to our room I was needing to rest again so Nev went into Anda town to the food centre, for his dinner and to purchase fruit.
Day 5: Anda Rest day
With the fan oscillating at our feet, we did manage to have a restful night after the rather loud Karaoke singers over the road went to bed around 10pm. This was our second rest period in the Philippines when I had plenty of time, but couldn’t upload photos to blogs I’d completed. Although I had data on my phone, the Globe network signal was pitifully weak. I needed a new focus to quell my feelings of agitation, so applied the ‘be in the moment’ approach and reconsidered this interlude to be a luxury retreat. The garden was shaded by tall trees but enough dappled sunlight allowed plush grass to grow in patches making the perfect natural yoga mat. To one side there was a deep rocky sink hole with beautiful rockery planting showcasing the feature, and the peaceful tropical garden setting (so long as the karaoke over the road didn’t rev up), an ideal spot in which to read and write. A beautiful white-sand beach and calm turquoise ocean was a short walk away. We started the day with nutritious muesli, coconut milk and banana that we had brought along with us. Later we ate sweet, fresh Mango. Apart from wishing that the coffee powder with sugar and crema included, could adequately substitute for our preferred sugar-free flat-white, what more could we ask for?
We cycled the short distance into Anda village and ate a healthy lunch at Coco Loco: coconut water and jellied flesh fresh from the green shell, entree of hummus with carrot and cucumber sticks, and for me a main of chicken and couscous (my eyes were bigger than my belly, so Nev ate half), and Nev also enjoyed a Coco burger of which the vegetarian pattie was made of grated coconut. We returned to our accommodation and relaxed, listening to the pleasant music amplified from the house at the rear, that was intermittently drowned by the cheers and commentary from the cock fighting at ‘The Cockers Association’ over the road.
It was New Years Eve and we expected to eat at a restaurant near the beach, but didn’t book and hadn’t considered they would be full. Oh dear! J&R Resort further along the road was recommended. Although J&R were having a private party for guests and staff they made us welcome to join their buffet meal and entertainment of a talented duo, who passed the mic to staff to sing their own karaoke favourite during the breaks. Fireworks at midnight closed the evening and moments later the heavens opened with torrential rain as if to draw the final curtain. Our hosts kindly offered us their van and driver to transport us back to Andanott Gardens.
Day 6: Poblacion region 25 km
As with New Years morning anywhere, most shop and restaurant owners were having a sleep in, but mid morning we found a restaurant serving breakfast to sustain our cycle ride eight kilometres along the coast to Lamanok Island. The island is small, separated from the peninsula by little more than a chasm in the rock, but being clad in dense bush, it is only accessible from the ocean, first by a long, rickety board-walk through mangroves to a restaurant, and then by paddle boat. We hired a paddle boat and the rower who was also our guide. We travelled across an area of marine sanctuary that was marked by poles in the water. There was also a hut perched on stilts that we were told is where the warden spends the night, keeping a watchful eye so that local fishermen do not enter the sanctuary. We then spent an interesting couple of hours being shown Red Hermatite Rock Paintings, an ancient wooden coffin in a prehistoric burial site, and a Shaman’s Cave. We also saw that some of the natural geographic formations had been destroyed. This had occurred after the war, as some treasure hunters thought that the natural layers of rock having the appearance of concrete slabs, were treasure stores where Japanese had hidden gold.
The Poblacion area is a popular tourist destination and there are many places to stay with resorts dotted along the coast and access to half a dozen beaches. The water is clear and snorkeling and diving are popular activities. We rode back to Anda town and went searching for cave springs. There are a few in the area, popular swimming pools for the locals but it was the end of the day and most people were leaving so we didn’t venture in for a swim ourselves. While it looked amazing to be swimming in these deep caverns, some looked difficult to access with locals either leaping in, or negotiating rope ladders.
Day 7: Anda to Beunos Aires (Chocolate Mountains) epic 65.84km, 1030m ascent
We had already planned a long route and discussed back-up options such as taking a vehicle if necessary but I’d been awake since 5 am and read a blog about Bohol highlights from another traveler’s (not cycling) perspective. There was a little diversion we could take that would go directly past three of the attractions mentioned. With me not wanting to ‘miss out’ Nev adjusted the course, and we reckoned the new length and additional gradient would be manageable.
We were on the bikes at 6:20, each with half a mango and small satchet of red bean porridge in our bellies. The road was mostly flat, through rice paddies, and there was little traffic. At 8:30 we rode through Candijay. Nev called back to me that he was looking for somewhere for breakfast. A man beside the road heard and called out “it’s here; park at the kerb so you can see your bikes.” There was an open shop front with three lidded stainless steel dishes on a bench; one with green beans, one with mung bean sprouts and another with egg and bitter melon. None of these appealed as breakfast foods so we asked for a fried egg and rice. We each received one fried egg atop a mountain of rice, on a dinner sized plate. Later from the bakery nearby we purchased buns for lunch.
A few kilometres from Candijay we turned off the flat Bohol Circumferential Road and straight into a climb. We should have taken the steep introduction to the hinterland as an omen of difficult riding to come, and it should have also been obvious to us that terraced rice paddies we were heading to, would be on hillsides. At this point we had just completed one steep climb up one hill; however that meant now we were committed to continue; no turning back allowed!
The ride took us through many little villages. We were surprised by the number of small schools we passed, signs outside schools indicated that they had four teachers. There were a number of people about who called to Nev, as he was ahead, so there was an almost continuous cry of ‘Hey Joe!’ After a number of hills we came across a roadside tourist ticket office with three people working to collect the small fee of P20, required to visit the Can-Umantad waterfall, at 18 metres it’s the highest in Bohol. Nev joked that after that hilly road they should be paying us to be here! It was explained to us that before the falls we could turn off to Cadapdapan farm and pay another P20 to see the rice terraces.
We did this, and the view of the terraces was very pretty. As we left the farm we noticed a sign to the falls and steps down from the parking area. This was confusing as we’d recently paid to access the Can-Umantad Falls and believed they were further along the road. As you can see from the photo below, we continued our ride for quite a distance from the falls before turning into a side road that would lead to the falls. We rode downhill and at the point where we had just descended a -23% hill, and knew we were going to have to bike back out this way, we decided to pull to the side of the road and lock the bikes together, proceeding on foot. In retrospect it may have been easier to take the steps from the farm. A couple who had arrived at the farm by car at the same time as us, were emerging from the bush near the falls at the same time as we arrived, having walked down the steps, and probably didn’t need to pay a fee to see the falls. We however had continued to walk downhill from where we’d left the bikes, and subsequently arrived at a parking area where we were met by a group of locals who wanted to be guides. We followed a young lad down steps slick with mud, then took photos of the waterfall and watched people enjoy a swim in the natural pool.
We then climbed back out, walked up to the bikes and made our way back to the top road. Nev heroically rode a section that short 23% incline, while I followed, slowly pushing my bike.
Our third stop was at Canawan Cold Spring. The water source is a mystery and no-one has reached the bottom. There was another small fee of P20 to swim there, but a crazy P200 to hire a table. When this was pointed out to us we quickly removed our clothing and towels from the table top. No tables were in use! The spring water certainly was cold. Refreshed from our swim we hit the road again. We had a problem in that the road we were on was not on our map and we became worried when it deteriorated into a rocky track.
We double-backed a short distance to where we had last seen a person, and were pointed in the correct direction. Finally we got to Alicia and hoped to pay for a ride to Sierra Bullones but there didn’t seem to be any vehicles available. We continued to Pilar, getting more concerned about riding into the evening.
Fortunately a motorcycle-van driver was happy for us to hire him to take us 26 kilometres to Carmen. It was a squeeze but Nev and the driver managed to get one bike tied on the roof, and Nev and I squashed around the second bike inside. We were dropped at Carmen just on dark and rode the final few kilometres to our accommodation at Beunos Aires.
Day 8: Beunos Aires to Tagbilaran 64.5km, 394m ascent
It would have been helpful to have a good topographical map of the Philippines but we had not looked for one and had to ‘make do’ with Maps.me, sometimes Google Maps, or the Komoot App, that incidentally I thought unhelpful as it didn’t have points of interest on it, that we would want to include when creating a course. Nev had set the day’s course to take us left at Bilar and head for Dimiao on the coast, via a couple of waterfalls. We weren’t sure how far off the course the Dam-agan or Ingkumhan waterfalls were, or how steep the access would be to each of them. After yesterday’s effort we decided that we would make a decision when we got to the turnoffs. If we had to go down to a waterfall, only to climb back up, we would likely give them a miss.
“Where are you going? Oh you’ll have a good surface,” was laughed heartily at me as we rode by a local man. I relayed this to Nev but he was pretty confident we would have a straight forward ride because he had based the course on a route he figured (after reading Internet notes) a cycle tour used, and he reckoned they would be on road bikes. Sure enough, the concrete road we had been riding on that went passed the local high school was a pleasure to ride, but oh dear it soon deteriorated into a rough surface, hill-climb track. At least the views were spectacular!
What goes up, must come down. The long steep descent dropped onto the main coastal road. We found that we had ridden parallel to the road where the waterfalls were, and certainly missed them, but through navigational error rather than being hampered by the terrain. Food and hydration was our priority so we purchased water, Sprite, and buns that we ate in the shade of an unfinished building. Fortunately there are many bakeries throughout the Philippines. If nothing else at least we can find bread and buns. While they look like they are all different flavours we found that they all taste exactly the same.
The concrete road took us the final 29km on Bohol Circumferential Road back to the port town of Tagbilaran, where we celebrated the completion of our ride on Bohol Island, with two Lattes each at Bohol Bees Cafe.
Next stop is Siquijor Island