Exploring the hidden side of Bohol

Posted on August 05, 2011

For the first-time visitor to Bohol in the Visayas, there are several must-see tourist spots including the Chocolate Hills, the tarsiers and the century-old churches.

From the infinity pool at Amorita, guests have a view of Alona Beach.

Succeeding visits can include the Loboc river cruise with lunch on board while visitors who stay at a resort can spend entire days lounging by the pool or at Alona White Beach on Panglao.

Beyond that, however, what else is there for leisure travelers? Apparently, so much more.

That’s what Anna Katrina Cauton and her husband Lucas Niccolo Cauton III want people planning their vacations to know. The couple that runs and manages Amorita said that since they reopened the resort several years ago, they have hosted many returning guests, both local and foreign.

The fact that the resort is perched on a low cliff overlooking picturesque White Beach distinguishes it from its neighbors. The well-maintained villas and guest rooms, manicured lawns and lush gardens likewise help.

“We wanted to offer return clients something other than the usual tour of Bohol,” Ms. Cauton said.

To this end, the couple with the help of professor and local historian Marianito Luspo are firming up a series of half-day tours of the “hidden” Bohol.

On a recent overcast Saturday morning, we visited the home of an elderly chocolate tablea maker who does everything herself, chatted with a lady who oversees the reproduction of antique furniture, and checked out the tiny jewelry workshop in the town of Dauis.

Once a week, Magina Enriquez or Inang Maheng, as she is more popularly known, prepares and roasts cacao to make chocolate tablea. She sources and does everything herself from buying and segregating the cocoa beans to gathering firewood and roasting the beans. The only step she delegates is the grinding of the beans.

This 69-year-old powerhouse has been selling tablea since 1986 when she used to roast 45 kilos of cocoa beans a week. She has since cut back to 15 kilos weekly because, she admits, it is backbreaking work.

Sennen Redulla and Irma Bunachita are also artisans in their fields of antique reproduction and jewelry making, respectively. Ms. Redulla uses aged wood collected from old houses that are sold by their owners or have fallen in disrepair. Her team of furniture makers then pieces them together or uses parts to repair an existing piece of furniture.

Ms. Bunachita, meanwhile, oversees a small workshop that creates beautiful pieces of gold plated and silver jewelry handcrafted in the traditional “stamping” method.

“I learned from my grandmother when I was 14. It was difficult at first because she was very strict but I managed to hone my craft through constant practice,” she said in the vernacular.

She has since made it her mission to carry on the tradition but she’s not limiting the knowledge to her family.

“I’m willing to teach anyone who wants to learn. This is once again our town’s livelihood,” Ms. Bunachita said.

The pieces displayed and sold at the workshop range from the intricate like the filigreed rosaries and tamburin (pendants) to the basic like the hollow, teardrop or ball-shaped earrings.

Back at the resort, we were in for a treat since Chef Raphael Ongchiong had come up with a feast of Boholano dishes including Balbacua and Halang-halang.

The chef, a graduate of the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management, previously worked with Chef Humphrey Navarro at P45. He also counts stints at Aubergine and in Macau.

Instead of using cow skin for the Balbacua, Mr. Ongchiong came up with a combination of oxtail and trotters.

“The gelatinous texture one expects from the dish is still there but now it has a much cleaner taste,” he said.

The chicken dish Halang-halang was tinted with turmeric and flavored with lemongrass and ginger, two ingredients commonly found in Boholano cooking. The chef said he didn’t have to change much in this recipe, only making sure that the chicken was cleanly chopped into manageable portions.

Everyone from Mr. Luspo, the professor and historian, to the lifestyle press gave Mr. Ongchiong high marks for his efforts.

A half-day tour of hidden Bohol capped with a lunch of traditional Boholano dishes. Looks like the people behind Amorita have a winning combination in their hands.