Hey, I’m a tourist!
By Rica S. Facundo
The Tagbilaran airport was overcrowded: foreigners; city-dwellers; children; employees; bags; noise; sand. It’s a familiar scene, not only in Bohol, but in every other airport in the Philippines.
Even though I had to take a test upon arriving back in Manila, I put down my reviewer for awhile to listen and look at my surroundings. There were the little in-house stores selling tarsier key chains among the packets of Happy peanuts and Juicy Fruit gum; and the group of locals, who despite being blind, were serenading us with covers of local and modern songs.
Strangely, I was moved.
Somehow, I wasn’t feeling heavy with humidity and irritation at the conditions of Tagbilaran airport. It isn’t unusual given that the Philippines is infamous for having one of the worst airports in the world. Rather, while sitting underneath those dim fluorescent lights, I felt like crying.
Admittedly, the airport didn’t necessarily offer the best souvenirs nor music. But it was recognizing the small attempts to promote Bohol culture that struck me. These were the seemingly insignificant details that didn’t mean much to me before when I traveled around the Philippines.
But this time I encountered Bohol with a sense of awe and curiosity, like a tourist experiencing the Philippines and noticing the details for the very first time.
Songs and signs
According to tour guide Dennis Du, Bohol is distinct because it has the complete package. Unlike other tourist spots in the Philippines, which are hallmarked for one or two features, Bohol’s diversity caters to a wide variety of interests. Adventure seekers can zip line in Danao; dolphin watchers, divers and beach bums can enjoy the sun in Panglao island and Alona beach; and enjoy the countryside in Loboc.
But while Bohol is more famously known for the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers, the Loboc River tour was one-of-a-kind because the locals went the extra step to ensure tourists taste, see, hear and feel the Filipino experience. Even while guests wait for the cruise to begin, the mood is set to the playful Boholano songs and rondalla music by local bands.
For P400 per head, tourists can take a breezy cruise down the river while feasting on a Filipino buffet lunch of delicious pancit, barbeque and jumbo shrimp topped with classic pinoy condiments—a generous helping of toyo, suka, patis and a chilled bottle of coke best enjoyed with a straw.
Before it ends, the ride takes a whistle stop at a nearby floating cottage. A group of elderly men, women and children are singing and dancing to native numbers for “Balsa for Livelihood.” On the side, an elderly woman adds a nice informative touch – a sign explaining the song and dance number “Tinikling: Folkdance imitating the movement of a native bird called Tikling.”
Another well-known tourist attraction in Bohol is Baclayon Church, which is the second oldest church in the Philppines, dating back as early as 1717. Kuya Topper, our driver for the day provided an endearing phonetic tip to remember the name – Bakla/ yon which means “he’s gay” in tagalog.
From the moss growing alongthe inner stone walls of the church to the gilded golden grand altar, checkered tiled floors and stained windows, Baclayon has obviously been weathered down with culture and history throughout the decades.
However, it was only after talking to Kuya Topper that we almost missed one other unique, yet eerie detail: the face of Padre Pio imprinted on the side of the Church. It was discovered by a devotee years ago when looking through pictures of tourists taking pictures by the church’s facade.
Simple moments matter
With the recent Department of Tourism’s “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign, it appears that there’s a renewed focus on Philippine tourism to boost the economy and empower the people. Additionally, the growing power and accessiblity of the internet makes it easier to promote worldwide. Promo fares from air lines such as Cebu Pacific make it more affordable to hop on the local bandwagon.
Finally, we’re reaping some of the effects. Compared to before, there’s an increasing number of tourists flocking to the Philippines and spots like Puerto Princessa have recently been acknowledged as one of the 7 Wonders of the World.
Indeed the numbers and recognition are important. In order to stay globally competitive with other ASEAN nations, it’s what tourism needs to demand for more attention from the government and private sector.
However, it’s the story behind the place that we must first capture, embed and shamelessly promote in every part of the experience. But it first starts with taking the initiative to see.
While the tarsier keychains might have been cheap and the music not entirely on key these small details are part of what can enrich my experience as a tourist. The rondalla music from Loboc or the face of Padre Pio in Baclayan are like the bossa nova and plush couches of a Starbucks coffee shop. It’s by recognizing these details in our provinces that can make Philippine tourism more memorable.
In a trip that was entirely sponsored by my sisters, it was the music of those blind musicians that moved me out of my seat to the donation box where I spent the only expense out of my own pocket.
Other parts of my Bohol experience
Note: This entry is what I submitted as a final requirement for my News Writing Class. I’ll be posting more about Bohol soon after finals week is done :)
All pictures c/o Pia Facundo