Sweet as Chocolate Hills

Carmen / Sevilla / Antequera, Bohol, the Philippines

April 2 – 3, 2011

My 78-year-old mother didn’t balk at the 214 steps before her. She was as gung-ho to climb one of the Chocolate Hills as my sister and I.

Mom and the Chocolate Hills

The Chocolate Hills are a collection of over a thousand conical hills of similar height and shape. During the hot and dry Philippine summers, their grass cover turns chocolaty brown. These geological Hershey’s Kisses are generously strewn all over Carmen and neighboring towns at the heart of Bohol Island. But this year’s monsoon season started too early; the hills were alive – lush and verdant.

Bohol Icons: Tarsier (design on Mom’s hat) and Chocolate Hills

This geological phenomenon is atypical of its kind. Like mom’s favorite place on earth, Guilin in China, this area in Bohol is characterized by karst topography, an area comprised primarily of limestone, a rock sculpted by water in avant-garde fashion for millions of years. But unlike other karst landscapes, such as the jagged peaks of Guilin, the Chocolate Hills are gracefully undulating and uniformly dome-shaped. The uncanny manner of erosion whereby these hills have been shaped still leaves geologists scratching their heads.

View from a Chocolate Hill
Flowers and Chocolate (Hills)

While rowdy tourists were jockeying for the best spot to strike special-effects poses with the hills as backdrop, Mom took time smelling the flowers, unencumbered by digital documentation.Β Having scaled the summit (the average height of the hills is over 50 meters), Mom rang the bell at the view deck’s wishing well to declare her chocolaty conquest. Her thoughts on the hills? She marveled at the mass-produced symmetry.

The Chocolate Hills are alive with the sound of bell ringing….
Bamboo Hanging Bridge in Sevilla, Bohol

Down from the hills, passing through the town of Sevilla, we stopped to see the Bamboo Hanging Bridge over the khaki murk of the Sipatan River. Although recently reinforced with steel cables, the bridge was still rickety. We were prepared to skip this one as we didn’t expect Mom to have any Indy Jones bone in her body. She gamely traversed the 20-meter length of the bridge, her girl Friday firmly clutching on to her, and proved us wrong. It was peanuts for her; she gingerly took each step with the surefootedness of a tightrope walker.

As it turned out, it was much ado about nothing. Only a small souvenir shop, established by AusAID (Australian Agency for International Development), awaited us on the other side. After the unnecessary shopping interlude, we crossed back through the other bridge. Mom proudly raised a victorious arm – she had been to a tourist trap and back!

Mom crossed the Hanging Bridge when she got there!
Mom and Mag-Aso Falls in Antequera, Bohol

Karst regions do not only have sculpted protuberances, they also exhibit deep gashes on the landscape, punctuating rivers with waterfalls. In the off-the-beaten-path town of Antequera liesΒ Mag-aso Falls, casting misty sprays over rocky rapids (aso means smoke). It took 197 steps down the ravine to reach it. Mom went for it without batting an eyelash. She became, unofficially, the second oldest person to descend to the falls (the oldest was 80 years old), according to the gatekeeper.

The falls is only about 25 feet tall, not exactly a majestic cascade. Its swirling eddies, however, could devour. But what it had going for it is its remoteness. This was probably the only place in Bohol that did not see a deluge of tourists; there were no visitors other than our group. The crashing roar of the falls enveloped the surrounding forest into an inconspicuous blip on the radar of the touristy throngs.

Mag-aso Falls and Me

After the inevitable photo-ops on slippery rocks, we started the climb up the winding concrete stairs. The steps were, of course, more challenging in the ascent, but the surrounding jungle atmosphere offered an array of distractions. Towering mahogany trees canopied the damp tropical ecosystem of giant ferns that conjured up the dinosaur era, toads that posed for paparazzi shots, and assorted plus-size insects. There were landings for stop-overs, which came in handy for Mom – although I thought I needed them more than she did.

Frog Pose
Mom, Me, and Mahogany

I promised Dad on his deathbed that I would take care of Mom. I was about ready to congratulate myself for taking her to see all these sights in Bohol. She just smiled and said, “I did it all for you!” She climbed those steps and walked that bouncy bridge so that I could see all the sights.

After all these years of the karst landscape that is my life, through peaks and valleys, hills and gulleys – and, yes, hanging bridges – it has always been she who holds my hand.

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80 thoughts on “Sweet as Chocolate Hills

  1. am sure existence of Poliquit Family there , gives these hills more tasty of chocolate … love and greenness .
    amazing blog with adorable pictures !
    Tam

  2. Nature is usually dynamic, mysterious and beautiful, like the chocolate hills, and this mom and son story is the sweetest that I know of so far. I’m not sure it’s proper for me to say this, but I love to hear stories of scenic beauty with loving people (rather than historical things, sorry for that… :D), just makes me feel regret not having a son. πŸ™‚ Keep holding your hands tight!!

    1. Noted, Karry. From now on, I will be writing about geological phenomena instead of “historical things”. Wish granted. πŸ™‚

      Oh, and it’s not too late. You can still have a son. πŸ˜€

    1. Yikes di ko ma-imagine na 2-way yun. Ayoko yatang may makasalubong! It feels quite sturdy now. Bouncy and creaky pa rin pero di naman nakakatakot.

    1. Hahaha so true! Trooper is the word. She joked it felt like she was doing a triathlon – Chocolate Hills, Sevilla hanging bridge, and Mag-aso Falls. πŸ˜€

      I love your new handle, btw. Pinay Wanderwoman rocks! πŸ™‚

  3. AJ, what a wonderful and heartfelt story to read. Your Mom must be an incredible woman…climbing all those stairs. Please give her a big hug for me and you are honestly blessed to have had a mentor who taught you the joys of travelling πŸ™‚

    1. Mom is the original Transcendental Tourist in the family. She got it, in turn, from her father, whom I consider a real traveler. I’ll be writing about him soon.

  4. “sigh, wish i was able to take my parents to Bohol before I left for Oz. It was my promise to them and I want to be with them on their first trip out of Luzon. (Senti mode ako pag mga ganitong nanay na ang topic)

  5. Candidly, your post had driven me to wax nostalgic. I could have gone travelling with the first woman I love in my life… my mother. Nevertheless, my passion for travel blogging only came in this later days that my mother is already on her grave. Thanks for sharing this, really appreciate it much. . .

  6. dear age:

    i have not come across many who enjoy travelling with their moms. your post has given me many ideas to treat my mom. i admire her grit and exuberance and can see how the same is reflected in you. it somehow seems that i have read this post before and seen the pictures as well. a sense of dejavu. perhaps, i have seen the pictures alone. i wanted to write about the chocolate hills but your mom has overshadowed the place, this time. as i have already mentioned elsewhere, i just love your mom to bits. i wish her the best in the forthcoming years (and you as well).

    joy always,
    susan

    1. I wish I could pull off something like Graham Greene’s “Travels with my Aunt”. Mine, of course, will be “Travels with my Mum”. πŸ˜€

      But really, Mom enjoys traveling so it’s not a burden to have her as a travel companion. You don’t need to convince her to try something new. So long as she can still hack it, she’d go for it. She’s also a walking Wikipedia; she knows all sorts of trivia better than a tour guide.

      Oh, and yeah, she did steal the thunder from the Chocolate Hills! πŸ™‚ Thanks once again for the sweet feedback, Mrs. Sus!

  7. climimbin those steps and reaching that destination ?? ..wheww i hope the passion in your mom is great,its really nice to see you and your mother in this trip ..

    1. Hi Mari! You truly truly made me blush! Someone like you asking me to be a guest photographer…I’m like, are you serious? Haha! Thanks so much, but I’m really insecure about my photos. I should take your photography tips to heart first before I could do that. πŸ™‚

  8. wow saya ni mommy! nag lara croft effect pa sa Hanging Bridge! I remember we kept on jumping around sa bridge, probably something you don’t like as it caused a lot of shaking…

    “While rowdy tourists were jockeying for the best spot to strike special-effects poses with the hills as backdrop, Mom was smelling the flowers, unencumbered by digital documentation.” — hahaha! walang pakialam, ang iba nagkakagulo na sa papapicture, walang epek sa kanya! lol.

    BTW, Haven’t been to Mag-aso falls but I read about a flash flood that happened there. teka, I researched it and here it is. http://blog.venganza.org/17.php – scary account!

    1. OMG Ed! That gave me the chills! Scrolled up to the photos of those guys again. They were so relaxed and yet they were just minutes before their deaths! 😦 Somebody did say flashfloods could happen there (one of the men who accompanied us from the gate), but of course he never mentioned that there had been casualties. Such a deceptively peaceful place. Looked rather unremarkable, but it can be a killer. It actually rained on the day we visited. *still shivering*

      And yes, if you jumped on that bridge with me, I would’ve tackled and strangled you…of course, when we got to the other side. πŸ˜€

  9. Good on you Agnes, great to see that you can keep up with your kids – or maybe its the other way around!! Many Blessings from New Zealand. I trust we can catch up with you when I arrive in the Philippines! That’s if your not off on another trip!!

    1. Hi Sis. Frankie! Mom said thanks. But I asked her if that was all she had to say. She added: “Come and see if you can catch up with me.” πŸ˜€ Ain’t she a riot?! Anyway, she’ll be in the US in September. I think she’ll be back next spring.

  10. It’s really nice for a guy to take her mom on a trip without feeling embarrassed. With that, you deserve to be ulirang anak awardee. Hihihih! Kidding. Your mom is so cool. I wish my mom will reach that age & still healthy. First time here.

  11. I never heard about The Chocolate Hills..that only makes me realise that there is so much to explore, more than one can even think of exploring in one lifetime!

    Parents are the best gift of God! πŸ™‚

    Lovely pictures, as always πŸ™‚

    1. Hi Nehha! That just gave my blog some promotional value. The Chocolate Hills are so cute. Everyone in the world should know about them!

  12. Glad to know you’re taking great care of your mom. What’s even better is that she loves going on trips as much as you do. πŸ™‚ I hope you can have more happy travels with her!

  13. Hi,

    Really great Post! I’ve enjoyed reading through your blog because of the great style and energy. I have a blog on travel theme. If you’re interested, we would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Please send me an e-mail and I can give you more information. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Thanks

    1. Great idea, Jim! Thanks for the chance to share and read our favorite entries. Love this post because it’s about my favorite place in the country and my favorite travel buddy. πŸ™‚

  14. You are one lovely son to one lovely mom. It is so nice to see photos like yours. Touch my heart so much. You’re making me miss my mom a lot. Ohhh…

    I so love your mom’s free spirit and her hat! That’s so cute!

    Happy mom’s day to your mom, my mom and all the mom’s in the world!

    1. Plus 1 to lovely mom; I don’t know about the lovely son though. πŸ˜€ Mom has been both a working mom and housewife for so long. She deserves to do some traveling. Happy Mothers Day to you too, Maxi!!!

    1. They could be – just let them set their pace. My mother stopped and smelled the flowers many times on her way up the Chocolate Hills. It also got me to really see and appreciate the foliage. I wouldn’t have paid it any attention if I hurried up in my own pace.

  15. Your 78-year-old mom is very strong as a cow. She’s very happy. I know she enjoys her life. You’re lucky to have a mom. She’s indeed the best of all in your life. Relay my Mother’s Day greeting to her. Thanks!

    1. She loves cows (and finds them cute!) so she’d be delighted to know she’s as strong as them. πŸ™‚ Thanks Gil! I’ll extend your greetings to her.

  16. AJ! I got so teary-eyed by the end of your story.. I grew up without a mom, my father has passed away for almost 2 decades now.. but I do have a lot of mother figures, especially my father’s sister who is now in her 70’s as well. I suddenly missed her (she lives in the US)… You and your mom are both blessed to have each other! It’s really loving of you to take her places. I am happy for you! πŸ™‚

    1. Awwwww hugs Mai. I imagine your mom and dad smiling down at you, seeing how your life has turned out despite their physical absence. You’re also blessed to have the love of your aunt.

  17. Awww, you got me engaged from start to finish. You got me hooked with your words. You made me see these places in a whole new light especially the chocolate hills. Happy Mother’s Day to your mom! She’s lucky she has you as her daughter..:)

    1. Hahahaha I don’t wanna take my sister’s place. She’s the daughter! But ok, I can take her place too, teehee. πŸ˜€

  18. your mother is so cool ,sassy and still beautiful .I like her outfit,sassy mom. I always like to look at her photos.She is really sweet as chocolates. Happy Mothers Day!

    1. The coolest mom in the world! Also thought it was pretty sassy of her to choose that girly (though still age-appropriate) spiral sundress. πŸ™‚

  19. Aww so sweet. Your mom is doing it all just for you. I have not traveled with my mom I hope to do so too, that would be a great experience. Happy mother’s day to your mom!

    1. I do encourage you to have a mommy bonding trip. They usually don’t say it, but I think they’d appreciate it when we take them out to see places. After all, they did that too when we were young. Time for us to return the favor, really. πŸ™‚

  20. I brought my Mom to Bohol last January and she wasn’t able to reach the top of that 100++ steps to see the view. She detoured halfway through it instead. But she loved the buffet by the river. So nice to see your mom enjoying the physical activities in Bohol~ Happy Mother’s day to your fit and sassy Momma!

    1. Halfway is ok; at least she still got to see the Chocolate Hills. We also did the Loboc River Cruise. Mom enjoyed the performances of local musicians and dancers by the riverbanks.

  21. You are such a lucky son to have a mother like her who is so loving and dedicated. I feel the overwhelming joy in your heart having her as you most beloved mother, friend, buddy, companion and all at the same time. I see the closeness and high respect for each other. I’m sure she means the world to you and to your siblings.

    HAPPY MOTHER”S DAY to her and all the mothers in your family.

    I do appreciate your important message in my post. You’re a kin reader to notice the acronym. GOD bless!!!

    1. Spot on, Marri. The older we get, mom has become more a friend now (though not less of a mother). She’s even my travel buddy. She’s in almost half the posts in this blog cuz she usually tags along in my trips. I dub her as The Transcendental Mom. πŸ˜€

      Happy Mothers Day to you too! :*

  22. you are very lucky to have such a cool mom! wow, climbing steps at 78 years old – and so touching to know she did it (not for her but) for you! i guess, like our Heavenly Father, we will always be heavily indebted to our moms – she gave us life so we owe her, and we gives her a gift like traveling, but when we do she gives us back another gift of sacrifice.

    1. So true. Most moms support their children in their hobbies and interests, but I think few would indulge them by joining and sharing in the experience. πŸ™‚

    1. It’s such a blessing that she was able to do this while she could. My sister and I also feel blessed that we were able to do this with her. πŸ™‚

  23. your Mom is awesome AJ. My mom is 78 too and she is no longer physically able (she is using a walker) but that does not stop her from doing what she can. I am glad that when she was able to travel and see places when she was still able. Although I try to do things for her, at the end of the day, she still supports me and carry me on her back…just like your mom.

    1. Mom is pretty resilient. She has survived breast cancer, a stroke, and having a son like me. Hiking the Chocolate Hills was a walk in the park in comparison.

      Glad that your mom carries on too, despite the walker. We only live a certain number of years so we should live as productively and proactively as possible.

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