Loboc, Bohol, the Philippines
May 30, 2004 and April 2, 2011
The lead star of the Visayan-language film Panaghoy sa Suba (The Call of the River) got me at the opening credits. With apologies to actor-director Cesar Montano, the languid Loboc River stole every scene it was in. But before the film’s release at the end of 2004, I had already seen its titular star up close and personal during a trip to Bohol.
Unlike Mr. Montano who was paddling gently through the sleepy meandering river, I was on a motorized banca. Whatever romance there was in a river cutting through the wilderness had been shattered by the motor’s mind-drilling noise, drowning out bird calls and whispers of the wind. My date and I had to shout our sweet nothings to each other.
The romantic scenery was there to behold: tropical vegetation that increasingly encroached on the banks, their roots half-submerged in water, as we sailed upstream. We were touched by the intimate welcome of leafy branches drooping onto the river, but also embarrassed for our disruptively noisy visit.
The banca made a U-turn right at the foot of Busay Falls, a series of miniature waterfalls, only about a meter tall each. The boatman turned the motor off so we could gingerly approach the falls close enough to be kissed by its cool spray. A waterfall, no matter how small, was a roaring force of elemental passion, a romantic highlight to this river ride.
This DIY cruise delivered the charm of the river within reach: trees, water, and – cheesy alert – love. Even the tarsiers by the bamboo wharf were hanging around alfresco within a perimeter fence, not inside compact cages.
On my second trip to Bohol seven years later, this time on a family date, we opted for the production number – the Loboc River Cruise. The wharf, by then, was paved and well-appointed with a lounge and a band of rondalla musicians playing folk songs. Both made waiting in line a tad more bearable. There were long lines despite the 50-pax capacity of each Loboc River Floating Restaurant.
The rather unremarkable lunch buffet and the jockeying for photos of the scenic riverbanks registered low on the charm meter. Nevertheless, my mother and sister lapped up the musical stop-over that involved folk dancing with local children on a bamboo raft. My sister tried her feet at tinikling, a Philippine dance that required rapid footwork in stepping between two bamboo poles struck against each other. One uncoordinated move could get your feet caught between the poles. Ouch! I expected the worst, but my sister came out of it unscathed.
Alas, the one-with-nature scenes of Panaghoy sa Suba, set to kundiman music, had long been forgotten. While drifting through the scenic river, our fellow tourists found it to be an occasion for a sing-along with the local band on board. The attention span of people nowadays could not accommodate a few minutes of peace and quiet to take in nature’s bounty. Perhaps they barely noticed the Busay Falls, which looked anticlimactic from a distance. Our boat was too big for a close approach to the falls.
Loboc stories were not all about crazy stupid love, as in the period love story Panaghoy sa Suba. One was about what locals would call the Stupid Bridge. The unfinished infrastructure, abruptly ending right after it crossed the Loboc River, had become a tourist attraction. Had the construction continued, it would’ve directly hit Loboc Church, a centuries-old national treasure, and required its demolition. Local people opposed the government project and the bridge construction was halted a few meters from the church. Word of mouth had it that someone in power wanted the church torn down for its legendary treasures buried under the structure.
Methought it was plain and simple stupidity – another ill-advised government project implemented for kickback rather than public service. I gave props to the people of Loboc for putting their foot down. They may have lost the romance and tranquility of their river, but at least they had saved their church and heritage.