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A River Runs Through It

Sometimes the most scenic route isn’t always by land. Sometimes it takes a river cruise to appreciate the nuances of life.

If you have been to Bohol’s most famous landmarks (Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Sanctuary, Loboc River Cruise, Baclayon Church and the famous beaches of Panglao), and was wondering if you have seen it all, then it’s time for you to hop on a boat and take a leisurely trip on the Abatan River which connects several municipalities of Bohol for that eco-cultural tour that may be just what you need to open your eyes to endless possibilities.

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First stop should be the town of Antequera, known as the capital of Bohol’s basket industry.

A family in Brgy. Bicahan started making bukag, the forerunner of today’s market baskets made from bamboo and rattan, which were primarily used by farmers to transport rice seedlings from the seedbeds to the rice paddies in 1911.

Fast forward to the 60s when basket weaving had become a full-blown cottage industry, and almost all barangays would showcase their wares during Sunday market. Excepting a few who lived on agriculture, most families were able to send their children to college through earnings gleaned from the sale of baskets.

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Today, the town of Antequera takes pride in being the major supplier of hand woven products to most of the major resorts and souvenir shops in Panglao and the rest of the province. The demand for these are such that the town’s Municipal Tourism Information Center assists in the marketing by putting up a Display Center where orders based on samples of all woven products may be fielded out to the weavers and delivery arranged inconspicuously.

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Aside from baskets, Antequera churns out bracelets and necklaces, food containers, mats, bags, accessories and other woven products approximating 500 designs. If it’s made by hand using organic materials, the basket weavers of Antequera can do it. No design is too eccentric.

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According to Mayor Jose Mario Pahang, they celebrate the livelihood that the basket industry has given to their townsfolk through the Basket Festival. Now on it’s third year and celebrated every second week of March, street dancing and rituals incorporating their town’s signature moves, as well as a showcase of all woven and agri-products may be enjoyed by visitors.

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The Hon. Mayor is proud to say that Antequera participates in trade fairs organized by the Department of Trade and Industry in Metro Manila to help push their town’s products to the export market. They already have existing accounts from foreign buyers who pass through the Mactan International Airport in Cebu.

Next stop on the Abatan River cruise could be the town of Balilihan, so named after the grass that carabaos love to munch on.

With several waterfalls in various levels of accessibility, this town could very well be Bohol’s water world.

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Kawasan Falls and river is easily accessible through a thirty minute motorbike ride from the town center. From a native hut which serves as its jump off point in Brgy. Candasig, it has a hiking trail which passes through a junction on the Abatan River that leads up to the falls surrounded by lush foliage. From around 20 meters height, the falls forms into a cool natural pool with emerald hues.

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Camugao Falls and river in Brgy, San Isidro offers more challenges as it is located further from the town center and the road is rough. Those who are content just to see the falls will be able to view it topside at 30 meters from a viewing area just a few meters from the access road and some rice fields. Those who want to swim in the pool at the bottom of the falls have to trek down a slippery, mossy and rocky trail which is highly recommended only for the agile and young at heart. There are no existing facilities here, just a few picnic sites made of nipa and bamboo huts, and the splendid creation offered by Mother Nature.

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According to the town’s Hon. Mayor Maria Puresa Chatto, Balilihan has just had a welcome addition to its roster of accommodations.

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MJS Camp is set to launch this summer offering backpackers and campers the opportunity to book affordable dorm type rooms, or the option to rent and pitch a tent on its massive grounds situated amidst a hilly and woody area. With an Olympic sized swimming pool in its vicinity, it enables the municipality of Balilihan to formally make its bid to become the host and venue for Bohol’s swimming competitions.

Afficionados of everything that is organically grown will enjoy the agri-town of Maribojoc.

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It has a Demo Farm Training Center which started off with funds provided by the municipality and is now privately run by a cooperative. An ideal display center encompassing several hectares for organic farming, they grow lettuce, eggplants, cherry tomatoes, an assortment of herbs, aloe vera, kamote tops, papayas and other crops which they cook and serve for lunch to guests.

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There is an area for raising hogs which are fed animal feeds mixed with juices extracted from the same crops and vegetables, making the hogs healthy and disease-free, as well as effectively eliminating the nasty smell that normally surrounds animal farms.

They are able to butcher an average of two hogs for the Sunday market every week. The price per kilo of organically grown pork is just a bit more expensive but well worth every cent knowing that what you have is lean meat that you can cook any way you want.

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End your day in Maribojoc with a sunset view of the bay at the Punta Cruz Watch Tower. Recently renovated and restored, it is the perfect backdrop for a romantic shoot provided that the weather is good.

A souvenir of the massive earthquake that devastated the province in October 2013, the Punta Cruz Watch Tower area has uplifted ridges showing where the shoreline has receded to reveal a rock floor which used to be at the bottom of the sea.

It is always good to finish off your Abatan River cruise with Firefly Watching at the Abatan Main Village Center in the municipality of Cortes.

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You hop on a boat which can accommodate anywhere from 10 to 20 guests and ride out into the dark mangrove forest with only the dimmed light of a bulb to guide the boatman to avoid scaring off the fireflies. Only certain areas of the mangroves and particular trees at that are frequented by fireflies all throughout the Abatan River. If your camera is not sensitive enough to capture images of fireflies without the use of a flash, then you should just relax and enjoy the experience rather than concern yourself with selfies.

The tour guide is quick to explain that glaring lights and noise should be avoided, and that utmost respect for the environment and these natural wonders should be practiced so that future generations can enjoy Firefly Watching.

Governor Edgar Chatto who is now on his last term of office bared plans of turning the Abatan River into a Living Museum during dinner with media guests in Tagbilaran City recently.

According to him, several foreign experts and consultants were amazed at the biodiversity of species of flora and fauna found on the Abatan River. They suggested to install labels along the way, so that guests will learn to appreciate nature and absorb information much like in a museum. Only this time, the museum is outdoors and alive, hence a Living Museum.

Gov. Chatto’s sound advice to the 48 mayors in his province: not to worry if their municipality’s tourism assets are in various levels of popularity and acceptance with the market.

“Each town has something unique to offer and their time will come,” he stressed.

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With “Behold…… Bohol” as the tagline for promoting eco tourism in his province, the Governor is confident that Bohol and Boholanos will continue to make their mark in tourism.

Just as watching fireflies dance on silhouettes of trees in the middle of a river at night is magical like watching thousands of tiny fairies lighting up a tree with fairy dust.

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Sincere gratitude to Ms. Josephine Remolador-Cabarrus, Ms. Gina Peluchi Kapirig and Mr. Neil Gerard P. Reyes of Bohol Tourism Office for the introduction to the Abatan River, and all the Municipal Tourism Officers of Antequera, Balilihan, Maribojoc and Cortes, and Abatan River Cruise tour guides for service beyond the call of duty. Cruise on!!!

Banner photo on Abatan River from www.bohol-sunside-resort.com