Three Jewels of Bohol: A Town, a Beach Resort, and a Miracle Church
If you are a born and bred city girl like me, you may be immediately enchanted by the town of Ubay, which has a population of 68,578. Your tendency is to soak in the unique quality of the town, where the market is a short walk away from the church, from the homes of relatives, and from what is considered by authors Erik Akpedonu and Czarina Saloma, in their book, Casa Boholana, as “the only true attraction of Ubay.”
They are referring here to the Gaviola House, just across the central market, which was built 250 years ago when the Philippines was still under the Spanish. History abounds in this old house, which the authors say is “the oldest house and (sic) the only house of that type in the whole of northern Bohol.
The authors cite the ground floors of coral stone, resembling old Spanish houses in Sitio Ubos, Tagbilaran. Only five houses are mentioned in Bohol that had this type of ground floor. The norm was wood, bamboo or they were “simply left open.”
A home with murals and frescos
A second historical point of the Gaviola House is the wooden floors on the second story. During the American period, Ubay was filled with beautiful trees. The Americans sold the best timber to the US, Australia, China, Japan and other countries. You had to be a wealthy Filipino to be able to procure such quality timber from your own land. The wooden planks of the floors in the Gaviola house are remarkably wide in diameter, indicating that they bought entire tree trunks to make the floors.
A third historical aspect of the Gaviola house are the frescoes that were painted on the ceiling and walls in the 1930s by famed Cebuano artist Rey Francia, who was a painter of the ceilings of many churches in Bohol including Dauis church in Panglao, the Anda church, the Balililan church in Baclayon, the Cortes church and the Tubigon church.
The Gaviola home is not open to tourists. Its current owners are the Gaviola-Besas side of the clan. Some 250 years has taken its toll on the home, but it is still standing.
An element in the Gaviola home by Rey Francia
The second sight which is considered worth seeing in Ubay is the Municipal Hall which was built during the American era. A new addition is the fountain at the front of the plaza which, we were told, cost a pretty penny.
While history is resplendent here, current life is pretty exciting, too. Walking through the public market you won’t be able to avoid getting straw hats and – surprisingly, they did a good job in protecting my sister Alice and I from the heat. They also have some tasty snacks in the market – cookies, crackers, little cakes with brands we didn’t recognize. They must have been made in the town. We are missing a lot of good snacks in Metro Manila. What we purchased in Ubay became our snacks all throughout our trip.
Our next stop was Tagbilaran, where we lodged at Vest Pension House. The place is not very expensive, but it is very nice and we noticed that a lot of foreigners stay there. The food in the restaurant was good enough, the rooms were spacious, and there was nothing to complain about. In other words, if you want to stay somewhere reasonably priced with good service and comfortable, spacious rooms, go to Vest.
Another thing I liked about Vest – I was eager to see the Tarsiers. I noticed that they were selling Tarsier t-shirts at Vest and my first instinct was to buy several as souvenirs for the family. However, we decided to wait a few days. Well, on the very last day we found out that the cheapest and best quality Tarsier t-shirts were at Vest, and so if you’re gonna buy, go there.
We did the usual Loboc River Tour where you get a true sense of Filipiniana including a nice Tinikling dance at one stop. We also went to the Chocolate Hills. They look rather splendid but oh, those steps. I am no athlete and let’s say it was not on my bucket list to climb so high. At the top there’s a bell you can ring for good luck and you throw coins in the well.
President Carlos P. Garcia
We also visited the Carlos P. Garcia museum. It was his old house which was well preserved with its original furniture and marvelous paintings. Garcia, who was vice president to President Ramon Magsaysay, succeeded him after Magsaysay died in a plane crash.
Garcia was president for three years. He outlawed the Communist Party of the Philippines, and is most famous for his “Filipino First” policy which favored Filipino businessmen over foreigners. Under his watch, the 99 year lease that the Americans had on the bases was pushed down to just 25 years.
Then we saw the Tarsiers of my dreams. I was delighted to see that the people at the Tarsier zoo were very eco conscious. Before the tour, they warned us that the Tarsiers are sensitive to loud noise and flash bulbs. As we walked through the zoo, there were many helpful workers who would point out to us where the tarsier was located. It was so near you could touch it, only we weren’t allowed to do so (which I am glad about). The workers there would help you take photos using your camera. They did a good job with mine and I was very pleased with the results.
The tarsiers are nocturnal creatures. Each one has a different face and each face projects a unique personality. They are territorial and like to live alone. At night they will travel from tree to tree. With one jump they can leap at a length of 40 times their size (which would be about the palm of your hand). When they’re done eating their share of insects, they go back to their homes which they have marked with their scent. Funny thing about tarsiers – though they like living alone, if one is attacked by, say, a snake or other predator, the other tarsiers will band together and defend its fellow primate.
Did I say tarsiers are primates? That is their category but to me, it is a part of many things. Its head moves 180 degrees because it can’t turn its eyes left to right. So in a way, it’s part owl. Its hind legs are pretty strong and the tail is used for balance, which makes it (for me) part kangaroo. But the people who know this sort of stuff say it’s a primate. I can live with that.
At Panglao we stayed in Amarela Beach Resort, a lovely place where every corner you turn, you see something beautiful. Hello, new world. From the architecture to the richness of the artworks around you, the interior design, the lovely restaurant, the beautiful rooms (with real cool stuff like your own fridge, two bath robes, slippers, fabulous shampoo and soap, a TV, a balcony and a writing table) you are awestruck. And there is art everywhere. Naturally there is wifi, but why spoil my vacay? All my work is online and that’s the last thing I was looking for. There was an amazing Resort Library where you could borrow books and board games. It was here that my sister discovered the book Casa Boholana (mentioned at the start of this story). It was a product of the Ateneo Press and happily, I was able to order a copy for myself. But there are other books, including novels, history, biographies and fiction of all types imaginable. Plus, there are DVDS.
Amarela has its own private beach and swimming pool. It’s a great white sand beach with lots of chaise lounges and hammocks. You can ride a kayak for free, or you can borrow snorkeling gear. There was a fabulous boutique. I was afraid things would be expensive, but they were actually reasonably priced.
Once we parked our stuff at Amarela we went to the Honey Bee Farm Resort and Restaurant in Bohol. It far exceeded my expectations, as the only Honey Bee Farm I ever knew before this one is the one in Tagaytay, which mainly sells items made of bee products.
We had a delicious organic lunch. This is the first time I ever ate a salad with edible flowers in it. We had a lauriat and it was amazing how flavors complimented other flavors. Furthermore, we had a lovely and refreshing view of the sea. Nothing beats ambiance and the challenge of every place you visit, I came to realize, is the way you can create a world different from any other and make others believe in it. Afterwards we did some shopping at the restaurant’s store. We also saw some artwork outside, where we waited for the van to arrive to bring us back to Amarela.
Another beautiful place you should visit in Panglao is the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption in Dauis. Founded by the Jesuits, the church has a blend of Romanesque and Byzantine architecture. Particularly outstanding is that in 1916, artist Ray Francia painted some frescoes on the church’s ceiling. He is the same artist who painted the murals on the walls and ceilings of the Gaviola house in Ubay.
I love old doors, and I was particularly swept by the old doors of Dauis church. There is also a lovely garden at the side and a sitting area like a little park. We were amused to see a sign that said that no dating is allowed.
Another church we visited is Baclayon church, one of the oldest churches in the country. My sisters kept looking at one of the supporting pillars of the church and my younger sister Sami explained to me that the image of Padre Pio is there. I didn’t see anything, but she clearly did. It turns out, she knew what to look at. I thought it would be a small image, but it was actually occupying the entire pillar.
If you are a lover of history, architecture, different life settings, museums and a taste of life in a very lovely town, then you may want to give the three jewels of Bohol a try. If you like snorkeling, swimming, scuba diving and other water sports, all that can be done, too, although in Ubay you should bring your own gear as there isn’t any place where you can rent it. But then, when you are in one of any of these three jewels, that should be nothing to complain about.
Padre Pio image
The image of Padre Pio appeared in this church in 2008. There is also a legend of the church having a well with healing water. Below is a film of how Padre Pio's image showed up.