Motorbike Crash, Bat Caves and Firefly Kayaking
The primary reason most people visit the Philippines is for the beaches, and we were no exception. That said, there is far more to this diverse country than white sand and aqua waters and it would be a shame not to venture past the tourist spots.
After doing quite a bit of research for destinations “off the beaten path”, we decided to make the journey to Loboc – a sleepy little village on the island of Bohol.
Our journey there from Boracay was no small feat.
Our modes of transportation tallied up quickly – shuttle, ferry, van, airplane, taxi, ferry… and that wasn’t all. Although we began our journey early in the morning, nightfall was quickly approaching as we started our last leg of the journey on tricycle - essentially a motorbike with an attached sidecar.
It’s not uncommon to see entire families of 5 or 6 stuffing themselves into one trike. I have no idea how though, because the three of us barely managed to squeeze inside with our daypacks. I sat on the motorbike behind the driver who had his small son in his lap, for the hour-long ride to Nuts Huts, a secluded guesthouse in the jungle we’d heard other travelers rave about online.
We abandoned the tricycle when the road became too muddy to navigate, and walked another 15 minutes by foot to the entrance, passing through a little village. We finally reached the entrance and descended on a steep stairway to the peaceful jungle hideaway.
After claiming three mosquito net-draped beds, in a little hut next to the river, we ordered dinner and played poker using Monopoly money until we were too exhausted to keep our eyes open any longer. Which happened to be about 9 p.m. Traveling all day will do that to you.
We awoke the next morning to find the warm ocean breezes of Boracay replaced with an unwavering humidity, but it didn’t faze me. I love the feeling of being “off the grid’, and it was nice to be away from the crowds at the beach. Plus, I was more ready than ever for the adventure we had planned for the day.
After a quick breakfast, we made the journey up the seemingly never-ending stairs and back to the small highway on which we had arrived. Waiting there for us were three local men and their motorbikes.
Yep, we literally handed them cash and they handed us keys in return.
We all did a test run down the highway, set a time to meet them later that evening, and we were off. The only problem? Instead of taking a long straight road, as we had done on our “practice run”, we had to start by immediately making a sharp turn and cross a steep bridge. Turns out, it was a lot harder than it sounds.
I pressed the gas as I made a sharp uphill turn onto the bridge and barely moved. I pressed the gas harder.
A little too hard, I think.
And that’s when I saw an oncoming driver – a 15-year-old kid. I knew I had to brake, but in my panic, revved the gas harder instead. It was one of those outer-body moments where you watch yourself, knowing full well you are doing the wrong thing. But try as you might, you just CAN’T. STOP.
Well, after being on the motorbike for approximately 20 seconds, I crashed. That’s right – full-on hit another motorbike.
And as you can imagine, it caused quite a scene. The young boy, who was unharmed, gave me a “what the hell?!” look and sped off.
The owner of the pink motorbike I was straddling, Dario, rushed over to see if I was alright. Seeing that I was unscathed other than a small scrape on my ankle, he looked at me with concerned eyes and said, “Okay, just be more careful next time.”
WHAT? I just crashed your bike, and you are still going to let me drive it?
I was a bit shaken up, and the prospect of riding behind Ben seemed more appealing at the moment. So I abandoned the pink bike, assuring Dario I would pay for any damages when we returned in the evening. (Turns out $40 USD is enough to replace a cracked fender in the Philippines.) Check out what else we paid for in our Philippines Budget.
Our first stop was to see tarsiers.
What is a tarsier, you ask? I didn’t know either until I started research things to do in the Philippines.
They are one of the world’s smallest primates. Though they used to be found around much of the world, tarsiers are currently nearing extinction and can only be found in Southeast Asia.
They have long, spindly fingers, furry bodies, and tails. Their distinguishing feature though, is their gigantic, bulging eyes.
I’ve heard them described as looking like a “teddy bear getting a colonoscopy”.
Just Google them. Cute, huh?
In captivity these furry little guys are said to commit suicide, yet sadly, many places still keep them in cages to attract paying tourists.
The sanctuary we visited is one of the only places you can view these nocturnal creatures in their natural habitat. They are also working to restore the population of this critically endangered animal.
After seeing a few tarsiers, we hopped back on our motorbikes and rode on to the famed Chocolate Hills. In the center of Bohol, stand more than one thousand huge, dome-shaped mounds.
No, they do not produce cacao here. I thought that too.
They received the tantalizing name due to the brown color of the grass during dry season. Not quite as sweet of a name anymore, is it?
The hills themselves, though beautiful, were not the highlight of my day. The ride there – the wind blowing through my hair – was definitely the best part.
The hour-long journey took us on winding roads, through small villages and past groups of waving school children who giggled and screamed as we waved back. We listened to music and took in the sights of rice fields, rivers, and lush rainforests whizzing by.
Small local restaurant we stopped at along the way for lunch.
We woke early the next morning to do a Cave Trek, which was advertised as “magnificent”. We were really given no other information by the woman at the front desk, so we set off, unsure of what to expect (something that we are getting used to after living in Korea, by the way).
Our guide was a local man who’d grown up on the river, and now resides in a small hut high up in the hills with his wife and baby.
There had been a flood just a month prior to our visit, so instead of taking the usual trail, we climbed up the side of the steep hill on a makeshift path. This past year, we’ve hiked a lot. From the Inca Trail and Colca Canyon, to some smaller hikes in Korea, we’ve done our fair share of treks.
Comparatively, this hike was not all that difficult, aside from the stifling humidity. For some reason, we had all thought the caves would be located just down the river, so I thought my knockoff Vans (with no grip whatsoever) would suffice. Add that to the fact that we hadn’t brought nearly enough water, and you’ll get an idea of how we were feeling on this unexpectedly strenuous trek.
As unprepared as we were, we are not quitters, so we climbed on. Our guide showed us his humble, yet picturesque home, perched on a cliff overlooking the river. And we climbed further.
I remember thinking, these caves better be worth it, on multiple occasions.
Well, they were.
I actually wasn’t expecting much, but when we reached the cave I was floored. It was of Indiana Jones proportions.
We visited two caves – both of which were enormous and swarming with bats. Thousands upon thousands of them. They swooped in all directions and the eerie, high-pitched screeches I’ve only heard from one or two bats at a time was magnified to a level I can’t quite describe.
We navigated the poo-covered floor carefully. Our guide told us stories his grandfather told him about Philippine soldiers hiding in these caves when the country was invaded by Japan. It was surreal being in a place with so much history that few have ever seen.
Unlike the cave we visited in Korea, where we were given jumpsuits and rubber boots before being corralled into a long line of other tourists, this was completely different. There were no ropes guiding you to where you must step and we were the only people in sight. Our guide said the only people who see these caves are curious people, who like ourselves, sign up for the mysterious tour from Nuts Huts – not knowing quite what we will find.
You can only sign up for this tour at Nuts Huts. 250 PHP per person
Honestly, we weren’t all that impressed with Alona Beach. Maybe it was due to the fact that it was raining while we were there, or that the sand wasn’t white… or perhaps it was because we had just spent a few days in Boracay – one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. In our opinion, it was just, well, average.
We were really only there one full day and spent most of our time playing cards, sipping fruity cocktails, and just relaxing.
Although most of our time there wasn’t anything special, there was one experience that made it totally worth it.
Over the past year, we’ve been lucky enough to experience some incredible natural wonders. The salt flats in Bolivia, the lava tunnels in the Galapagos, and the wax palms in the Cocora Valley, to name a few.
Now we can add another phenomenon to our list: seeing a "firefly tree".
It's a rare occurrence, but when conditions are just right, fireflies will gather on one tree and illuminate it in an undulating glow.
We booked our trip through Kayakasia, an eco-friendly company that organizes all sorts of kayaking adventures around Bohol. It was the Most Magical Night in the Philippines.
Where to stay
Loboc, Bohol Island: Nuts Huts
Nuts Huts is a unique guesthouse located in a secluded portion of the Loboc River. It is quite the adventure to get there, but totally worth it (in our opinions).
Be prepared to live without some modern luxuries during your stay at Nuts Huts like wifi and air conditioning. While this guesthouse may not be ideal for the more high-maintenance traveler, it is an unforgettable jungle hideaway that is perfect for someone who doesn’t mind “roughing it” a bit.
There is an onsite restaurant that serves delicious (though a bit pricey) food. Our favorites were the Farmer's Omelet and the Muesli with fruit and homemade yogurt (both pictured below). The common area has a warm vibe and is usually occupied with travelers from around the world.
Our dorm room was basic but comfortable and cost just 300 PHP per person each night (under $7 USD).
Helpful Information: Their reservation system is rather complex. You must first send an email inquiring about your dates. Once your reservation has been confirmed, you must still call them on the day of your arrival. Since our phones didn’t work in the Philippines, we were unable to do so, and were informed upon arrival that they almost gave up our beds. It would have been quite a shame to have made the crazy journey there for nothing.
Alona Beach, Panglao Island: Reggae Guesthouse
Reggae Guesthouse is a grouping of cozy little bungalows in a tropical garden. There is a bar area that serves a large breakfast at a decent price (180 PHP). Our stay there was comfortable and relaxing, but it seemed the only other guests were middle-aged French travelers who all knew each other.
Our three-person bungalow cost just 420 PHP per person each night (less than $10 USD).