Fear factor holidays

Strapped upside down in a parachute harness, plunging 45 meters down a gorge, Chip Childers sees Bohol in a whole new light

Photos by Ferdz Decena

Model Mariana Fernandez of Ideal People, strapped and ready for an adventure ride at Danao's Adventure Park. Photo by Jeffrey Sonora

Day 1: A wild day trying out the Plunge, "Suislide," Skyride, and Rappel

I woke up from a deep sleep in the back of a van speeding like a comet towards Bohol's dark and unappreciated inland center. Sunlight filtered through the window onto my face. It's been a few hours since we left Peacock Garden Resort in Upper Laya, Baclayon at an ungodly 3:30am. As I sat up on my seat, first thing I caught sight of was Bohol's famous Chocolate Hills, perfect Hershey-colored domes.

Our van weaved its way between these hills somewhere by Carmen, located in the center of Bohol, on the way to Danao Adventure Park. We are giving the touristy Chocolate Hills a miss this time in favor of wilder pursuits. The small town of Danao, about two hours northeast of Tagbilaran, has been creating a buzz among the more active types. Perched on a lip of a canyon, the park has two zip line cables hanging over the canyon floor, river kayaking/ treking and tubing on Class 2 rapids below, rock climbing and rappelling on the side walls, a cable car gondola for the mellow at heart, hiking trails, canopy walks and tours to historical sites, organic farms, and local villages.

Danao’s tourism concept, promoted as the impossible to forget tag ‘E.A.T. Danao’ (‘E’ for ecological, educational and extreme; ‘A’ for adventure; and ‘T’ for tour) is creative. If you don’t get the acronym, eat is, well, an invitation to savor Bohol’s local produce and attractions, with adventure ranking high on the list. My first adventure stop at the park is The Plunge, a type of ‘Canyon Swing’ nestled 200 meters above the ground in a 300 meter wide gorge. I had read about it in a few magazines but still couldn’t wrap my head around it. To increase the surprise factor, I asked the staff at the park not to explain anything to me.

The plunge involves inverting the jumper upside down, legs roped in, in a freefall of 45 meters, followed by a pendulum arc of 100 meters. It seemed a bit more dynamic than even the bungee jump, which I had tried years before in other countries.

The lead in to the plunge was dramatic enough. There’s the ritual of strapping me into a parachute body harness, marching me out to a ‘walk the plank’-style metal platform, and asking me to lay with my back to the canyon. The drawbridge device was slowly tilted down, drum trucking my inversed legs-up, my feet roped in securely, and then there was the clarion call of “bombs away”, and I lurched into the abyss head first, squealing like a little girl in a horror house while swinging like a pendulum, seeing only the canyon bottom zipping by me at mach speed. After five to 10 swings, I came to a slow standstill, and was reeled back in.

The rest of the morning was spent sampling a few of the other on-site attractions, such as the ‘Suislide’, a 500 meter long zip line, the Sky Ride, a cable ride suspended over the river gorge, for those just wanting to leisurely appreciate the surroundings in a low-fear manner. The Rappel, right next to the starting areas for the suislide and the plunge, was a great way for a height-sensitive novice to practice giving their trust to the professionals at the park.

Childers goes full speed ahead on the Suislide

I tried the rappel, dropping 60 meters down the rocky cliff. I was surprised when I was offered a carabiner and a cable to hook up to my harness and told I would be lifted back up to my starting point. The operator stopped the motor if I had to negotiate some rocks, and fired it up if I was just hanging. That’s ascending in style – none of the long hikes or difficult climbs that are usually the payback of a fun and easy rappel down.

A nice climb at the park is the ‘root climb’ up a cliffside wall where a tree and its roots have made the entire wall one big hand hold. This involves hiking down to the river to where the root system of some riparian trees has extended almost down to the river level on smooth granite cliffsides. The roots, several inches in diameter, offer ample hand and foot holds. With helmets and proper belay setups, climbers are able to climb up several hundred feet of roots. I’ve yet to see anything like this offered anywhere else.

A contrast to all the adrenaline-fueled (well the sky ride is mellow, as is the tour to the organic garden) activities is the hiking tour to the caves where Francisco Dagohoy, who led the strongest rebellion in the 1800s against the Spaniards that lasted some 85 years, hid from his enemies. Local tales have it that Dagohoy used amulets in his battles. The tour also takes you to the neighboring villages, to get a glimpse of local life outside the park.

Kicking up dust in a dune buggy

Day 2: Crazy dune buggy ride and dolphin watching at Pamilacan Island

Day two in Bohol involved touring the boardwalk on the Baclayon waterfront, where getting a barbecue and a puso or two of rice (tiny heart-shaped serving of rice wrapped in leaves) in the shadow of one of the oldest churches in the country ain’t such a bad thing. The area is especially nice around sunset, but we were headed up up the hills, in dune buggies, which put a big evil grin on the face of a grown up little boy like myself. I tried out the beast; and all was good. I took Ferdz as my nervous passenger.

I was focused on hooning down the trail like a madman. They knew I was crazy — they had seen my stunt the previous day when I had dedicated myself to wearing a Peacock Garden robe (they really are the most comfortable robes of any hotel I’ve ever tried on) for the whole assignment. That stunt met opposition and defeat from a restaurant doorman.

At the wheel of the buggy, I felt my passenger’s nervousness as we headed from the pier up to the hills above the town, revving up the engine and attempting sliding donuts when I had the space. At one point, my passenger alighted and prodded us to hoon, two degrees from being out of control, around corners and down roads. “Kick up more dust, go faster,” they shouted. Yeehaw, this is work? Bring it on. Little boy grown men - find your way to the dune buggies, and have our man tour you on the roads above Baclayon – your trip won’t be in vain or forgotten, even if the rest of the trip was in vain. Book through the Peacock Garden Resort, or stop by the tourism center at the Baclayon Pier from where all Pamilacan trips leave to get more details.

The tourism center has one-and-a-half-hour buggy rides to the upland barangays, and shorter or longer trips by arrangement. I suggest you go with the longer trip. The tourism center also has a plethora of toys to spice up your vacation, from kayaks, to pedal boats. On our third day in Bohol it was time to stop looking wistfully at Pamilacan Island’s reflection in the Peacock Garden’s infinity pool, and arrange for a banca with guides to show us around the waters off of Baclayon Town.

PAMILACAN ISLAND. Pointing the bow towards Pamilacan, the early morning calm was perfect for a little bi-species interaction.

It wasn’t long at all until our boat was surrounded by one of the biggest pods of dolphins I’ve ever seen, including some Frasier’s and bottlenose dolphins, gracefully churning the calm seas. I made my way to the tip of the bow, wrapped my knees around it to keep myself from falling out of the boat, and peered into the deep clear waters.

With its position locked in a prime cetacean channel, generations of Pamilacan inhabitants have hunted whales in these waters, supplying the island with meat, oil and the manifold byproducts of the world’s largest mammals, creating an intimate bond between man and animal.

With the changing times, whaling decreased and legislation was passed to protect marine mammals. When ecotourism began to blossom, Pamilacan was an obvious prime destination, as there’s hardly a destination with such a massive number of cetaceans, as well as variety (over 15 types of whales and dolphins have been spotted in the waters around Bohol, including, killer and sperm whales, and such as around the time of our stay, the occasional blue whale).

An avid dolphin or whale watcher couldn’t ask for better guides for locating and interacting with these denizens of the deep. While some times of the year are better than others for spotting whales and dolphins (the calm months of April and May have high sighting rates), several species can be seen almost all year round in the waters off of Southern Bohol.

Essentials

Admission to the Danao Adventure Park is P40, with different prices for each attraction. The Suislide is P350 (US$7.50), while the Sky Ride is P250.

Due to ongoing renovation, the Plunge is currently unavailable, with its reopening as yet undetermined. In the meantime, people can still take part in the park's other attractions.

Contact Danao Adventure Park, Buenavista-Carmen-Danao-Jetafe Road, 6344 Danao, Bohol; Tel: +6347 252 9978

For buggy inland, upland tours, contact the Center for Tourism of Baclayon at +6338 540 9474 

For dolphin and whale watching tours in Pamilacan, try Bohol Life Tours. Rates are from P3,950 per person. and get lower the bigger the group. 

Other Adventures

See Bohol the way it was meant to be seen, and pick up the paddle and head out on kayaks. Try Kayakasia Philippines for a romantic night-time firefly-lit paddle along the Abatan River. Rates are from P1,950 per person.

Kayakasia Philippines, Tel: +63932 855 2928; Email: kayakbohol@gmail.com

Attractions

Panglao is the focal point for many Bohol travelers, and for good reason — it’s got a high concentration of quality resorts and lodgings, as well as restaurants, and its mix of beach coves that run the gamut from ‘all-night night life’ sections to hidden coves. Its inland area has spas and gems such as the Bohol Bee Farm, a must visit.

Bohol Bee Farm, Dao, Dauis Panglao Island, Bohol; Tel: +6338 502 2288 or +63917 304 1491; Email: vickywallace@boholbeefarm.com.

Sierra Bullones’ attraction is river trekking. Starting at the trailhead, about 20km from the Town Hall, the trek is a leisurely 3km hike that follows the Wahig River through canyons, and agricultural areas. Trekkers get picked up at the mouth of the canyon. Ask the tourism officials at Sierra Bullones about other offerings, such as the amazing caves that gave Bohol its name (‘boho’ means ‘hole’ in Visayan) and international attention. Visit the official website of the Sierra Bullones local government for more information, or call the Mayor's office at +63 917 701 6320.

Corella is where you should go if you are truly interested in tarsiers, which are fascinating creatures to watch, especially in their native habitat. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation and Sanctuary in Corella is about a half hour drive from Tagbilaran.

How to get there

AirAsia, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines fly daily from Manila to Tagbilaran, Bohol's capital city.

Getting Around

Bohol is an easy island to explore, with a well-maintained 161km coastal road circumnavigating the island; you can usually arrange a comfortable van for you. It’s also easy to flag down a jeep or bus. Best to arrange boats through your resort or at the tourism center. There are regular boat trips to such islands as Pamilacan.

Where to Stay

Bohol offers a wide variety of lodgings, from luxurious to basic. Most are in Panglao, but there are plenty of other places that may show you a different side of Bohol that you aren’t expecting. Peacock Garden Luxury Resort & Spa is in a good location and offers luxurious rooms and a spa.

Peacock Garden Luxury Resort & Spa, Upper Laya, Baclayon, Bohol; Tel:  +6338 539 9231, or +63917 326 9000; Email: relax@thepeacockgarden.com

Originally published in InFlight Traveller  August-September 2010. Updated September 2015