The next week was a little up and down: a great little adventure, but one which I would have preferred to have had more time to enjoy. It was a classic case of not being able to do exactly what I wanted to do (i.e. go to Palawan), or to have the freedom to make mistakes, explore, and seek out the best locations to spent time in - the sort of freedom I was afforded when travelling around Latin America. So, for my last few days in the Philippines I had to throw all of my eggs in one basket, and that basket was Bohol.
Bohol is a smallish island somewhere in the middle of the Philippine islands, near to Cebu and Negros, and features one or two touristy attractions, such as Panglao Island and the Chocolate Hills. I stayed a night in the 'capital' Tagbilaran City (a poor imitation of Dumaguete City across the water in Negros) where I hired myself a brand new 150cc motorbike on which to explore the island. The first place I went to was the Tarsier Foundation, where they were rearing about six of these endangered primates in a small enclosure. Instantly recognisable from its huge staring eyes bulging out of its tiny little skull, I knew that I had seen this creature in photos or on TV before, but realised that I knew nothing about it. Hunted practically to extinction by the locals who traditionally believed them to be evil forest spirits, the Foundation is one of the last sanctuaries for this fist-sized, nocturnal, solitary, obligate carnivore. I watched a video and the Foundation that showed how these apparently cute little Gizmos turn into savage killers at night, leaping up to 5m from tree to tree to pounce on unsuspecting prey... now I realised why they needed those big eyes.
Next I went to Loboc, which had a gorgeous Spanish colonial town square and church, and a very pretty river which you could take a boat down, eat a buffet lunch, and witness some sickly-sweet recital of a local dance, performed by some very well-meaning but slightly exploited local schoolchildren. I was beginning to understand the nature of tourism on Bohol; I had been places like this before: well established - that is, tired and formulaic - tours intended for Philippine families, often underpinned by questionable health and safety practices, and bereft of any hint of occasion. This, combined with the generally appalling service that is rife in the Philippines, outside of posh resorts, meant that my experience of travelling around Bohol gradually became more and more wearisome. The Chocolate Hills, a region containing thousands of grassy mounds that turn a bit brown at the end of the dry season, was very beautiful, but the tourist lookout point was a hellish human turnstile, full of pushy tourists clambering over one another to reach the top. A similar experience awaited me at the adventure park I visited near Danao, which was set up more like a fairground than a theme park, where you would just pay for individual activities on demand. I was only really interested in doing a bit of ziplining, and I had imagined there would be a proper canopy tour; but it turned out that they just had one line across a ravine. I paid my $3 and was clipped on in a superman position, my sandals tucked into my belt to be able to wear on the other side. After counting to three they pushed me off and... well, I shat myself. After accelerating off through a patch of jungle, the ground suddenly dropped beneath me and I found myself flying 100s of feet up in the air across a gorge, at the bottom of which I could make out a river. This was not the kind of top-end canopy tour experience you might find in Costa Rica, but this was certainly the highest zipline I had ever been on, and worth the $3, and the apparent risk of loss of life. They had a bungi jump there too which they were very enthusiastic about, but that thing just had liability written all over it, so I jumped on my bike and left.
But this time I was bored of Bohol, and so after a night on Panglao Island I headed back to Dumaguete, where I bought a whole bunch of obscenely cheap stationery and clothing to use at the turtle project. I had gotten used to the layout of Dumaguete and had come to quite like the place. It has a friendly, colourful and hectic vibe, and there are some good shops, cafes and restaurants about. On the last night of the wedding we had gone out in Dumaguete to see a live metal band play at Bar Hayahai. Filipinos love their metal at the best of times, but the headliners that night were apparently the most successful metal band in the country, and had toured with Metalica. They were local boys from Negros too, and this was a small venue, so the place just rocked. It was really good fun to be involved in, as the only tourists in the bar.
On my last night in the Philippines I stayed in the capital Manila, at the same strange backpacker place called Our Melting Pot. I headed out with a couple of backpackers and we went for a few drinks at a rather convincing English-themed bar, where we played a bit of pool and chatted with some ex-pats. While we were there a huge bunch of European ex-pats about our age started chatting with us and we eventually went out for the night with them, which culminated in a massive house party in some posh hi-rise district in downtown Manila. The evening was pretty crazy for lots of reasons, and these were clearly people that I wouldn't normally hang out with, but we just went with it and it was a lot of fun; certainly a fitting way to say goodbye to the Philippines.
I left the Philippines not having really enjoyed it as much as Indonesia, but completely aware that I had barely scratched the surface. I resolved to come back again, but with much more time on my hands next time, and no itinerary, so that I might have a chance to uncover some of the secret hidden delights of this beautiful country.