Boljoon, Cebu, the Philippines

March 5, 2011

On the Banks of Boljoon

Who needs plans when you can have surprises?

With no agenda for the afternoon in Cebu City, road trip buddy Ki and I decide to hop on a southbound Ceres bus. As is my wont, I get a shuteye as the bus cruises out of the city. I open my eyes momentarily, barely catching a glimpse of the famous Carcar rotunda. Hours later, I fully awaken to the enchanting blue of Bohol Strait glistening in the sunlight. The bus is now tracing the coastline of Cebu Island. But we can see the end of the sunny afternoon further south. A compact column of clouds blurs the horizon. It is dumping rain on Bohol, the island next door.

The highway gradually zigzags. One side shows the expanse of water lapping the shore, the other the jagged wall of limestone cliffs. Hard to believe that the gentle kisses of the sea have sculpted the rocky mountainside into a looming fortress. As the bus negotiates the last hairpin turn, the graceful outline of a cove emerges dramatically. It is a crescent-shaped cove embraced by the panorama of the postcard pretty town of Boljoon.

Ceres to Boljoon
Boljoon in the Rain
Brooding in Boljoon (Photography by Ki)

The bus deposits us in front of the church. Within minutes, the distant rain, the blur over Bohol we saw moments ago, suddenly closes in. A volley of raindrops envelops the town with a delicate mantle of haze. The column of clouds is now upon us. We scamper to the rectory beside the church for shelter.

We only have this afternoon to see Boljoon and we are presently shanghaied by the rain. But in this generally arid island, rain is a blessing, not an unnecessary inconvenience. True enough, the rain brings in the true son of Boljoon through the door. Lindzey Romero in his yellow t-shirt rushes in like a burst of sunshine through the clouds.

Lindzey A. Romero, President of Boljoon Heritage Foundation, Inc.
Ki and Lindzey

Lindzey talks about his hometown passionately. I’m curious how Boljoon (pronounced bol-ho-on) got its cute name. He says the name is derived from the Cebuano word bulho, which he says has two meanings. The dual definition corresponds to two natural features of the town.

First, it may mean a “rocky bluff,” a steep cliff jutting out to sea. This promontory called Ili Rock conceals the cove from the open sea like a natural fortress. Curiously, other sources give an opposite meaning of the word: the depression around the headland. It is said that during pre-colonial times, a tribal community sought refuge in this rugged terrain from marauding Moros from the south.

Lindzey animatedly demonstrates the wide-eyed, mouth-agape expression of surprise after one wheels around Ili Rock and unexpectedly discovers this hidden cove. Bulho, he says, may even describe this sudden turn. It’s an I-know-right moment; it happened exactly that way on the Ceres bus.

Ili Rock in Boljoon
Ili and Me

Second,  it could mean “springs of water.” This narrow concave strip between steep mountains and the crystal sea is blessed with numerous water spouts. Life-giving fresh water has been gushing out of the ground for centuries here. No wonder a pre-historic community, its remains still in the process of archaeological excavation, and a colonial-era Spanish settlement thrived in this cove.

As we explore the town after the rain, Ki and I bump into one such spring, called Baño sa Poblacion. It is a source of potable water, but nowadays townspeople use it mainly as a kind of laundrette. It is now paved and marked with a sign. The water from underground is refreshingly cold, probably because Cebu is not a volcanic island. A woman washing her laundry graciously allows us to take photos of what is probably her mundane daily routine.

Baño sa Poblacion
Sunny Boljoon after the Rain
Boljoon Boat (Photography by Ki)

It is this series of surprises that makes our fortuitous trip to Boljoon a happy accident. The view from the bend in Ili Rock, the rain that sets an impromptu parley with Lindzey, the stroll that leads us to a spring – all these surprising turns of events (bulho, if you will) make for a wonderful afternoon in Boljoon.