Wednesday, April 19, 2017

TRAVEL | Bojo river cruise in Aloguinsan, Cebu

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Even with overcast skies, the Bojo River's beautiful hues shine through.

Ever since Kwittiegirl showed me photos of Aloguinsan from her trip there nearly three years ago, I've always wanted to visit this sleepy little town in Southern Cebu. Time may have passed but I'm glad that I was finally able to earlier this month.

We stayed at Lunhaw Farm Resort and planned on taking it easy while checking out what this town had to offer. The Bojo River Cruise, of course, was on top of our list.

Run by a local community of some 50+ members who take turns in reporting for duty, the river cruise is arguably Aloguinsan's crown jewel and has thus far been named one of the Top 100 Sustainable Destinations in the World on the occasion of World Tourism Day 2016 and Best Community-based Tourism at the ASEAN Toursim Awards 2017.

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The start of the short trek from the highway to the river.

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The trail features a combination of slabs of concrete steps, an elevated wooden plank pathway, and well, ground soil.

Two different experiences are offered: a straight up guided river cruise with nothing else (Php 300/person), and what they call a "full tour," which includes a welcome lei craftily made of random inedible fruits, seeds, stems, and flowers, a welcome party singing some traditional Cebuano folk song, a welcome drink of fresh coconut, a guided river cruise, lunch, snacks at The Farmhouse, and a handicraft demo (Php 650/person). The latter requires a minimum of five persons to book. Considering the necessary preparations, I think it's but fair.

We opted for the full tour to get the most out of the experience. Never mind that we had to pay for five even when there were just two of us.

There's a short trek from the highway going to the river, which takes you through a heavily shaded, winding and hilly trail punctuated by concrete slabs and an elevated footbridge. And when we got to the end of the trail, we were greeted by a small group singing in Cebuano.

It's funny how the song ends with "Si Dodong nagtan-aw kang Inday, nagtabisay ang laway," which translates to "Dodong is looking at Inday, drooling."

We were then led to one of the huts where five fresh coconuts were waiting, all daintily adorned with gumamela flowers (remember we paid for five). A brief orientation followed. The lady explained why the Bojo River is spelled as such and not Buho, which is Cebuano for hole. Bojo, on the other hand, is Spanish for sailing or coastal sailing (the Philippines was a Spanish colony for 400 years after all), and the river has always been where fishermen sail through to get to the open sea and back.

She also briefed us on a local tradition called palinâ, where smoke is gently whirled around fishermen and their boats before going out at sea for safe journeys and good luck. We were given a taste of this simple ritual as an old man carrying a palayok (clay pot) with smoking embers walked around us.

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One of our five fresh coconuts. Lovely, isn't it?

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These foil curtains recycled from food packaging hang from each table. Crafty!

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Manong and his palina.

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It was quite a steep descent to our boat because of the low tide.

We snaked through the 1.4-kilometer river aboard a small outrigger. As he paddled, our boatman oriented us on the different mangrove species we passed by and eagerly answered all our questions.

Sporting a beautiful bluish green hue, Bojo is one of the cleanest rivers I've ever seen. I mean, of course there are some dead leaves floating in the water but our boatman was quick to point out that they leave them as they are, as they're a natural food source for juvenile fish. With such lush mangroves around, the river is a healthy breeding ground for these gilled creatures.

We saw a still-unfinished walkway intended for birdwatching along the way, and some boats sitting atop dry land in some sections of the riverbank. The latter part of the river revealed some karst formations with a healthy foliage cover. They may not be as tall and glorious as the limestone cliffs of Coron, Palawan, for instance, but they're beautiful nonetheless. At this point the river's bluish green shade was even more pronounced despite the lack of sunlight that would have otherwise enhanced its color to postcard perfection.

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A section of the yet unfinished walkway for birdwatching activities. I reckon it would be a lovely walk here even if you don't intend to do go sightseeing for birds.

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A boat ferrying guests on their way back.

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They even put up labels on some of the mangrove species here. And aren't those gnarly roots gorgeous or what?

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Simply beautiful.

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Tourists just like us.

The river's mouth opened up to what I've been told is a prime snorkelling spot but unfortunately I wasn't in the mood. It also just wasn't the ideal time because of the waves. Well, they now have a glass bottom boat if you want to see what's under the sea without actually getting into the water. Some other time perhaps.

The entire river cruise runs anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, and an additional 30 minutes or so if you decide on swimming or snorkelling.

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At the mouth of the river. This would have been really magnificent view had the skies been blue that day.

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Making a U-turn and heading back.

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Amazing view but unfortunately conditions weren't ideal for snorkelling that day.

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What a sight to behold!

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Stopped by a shallow spot for some #ootd shots to satisfy my vainglory.

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Back to camp.

We still weren't hungry but it was time for lunch. Again, they prepared food that's good for five persons. The ampalaya (bitter gourd) salad was really delicious and oh, the grilled fish and the humba (a semi-sweet pork dish popular in the Visayas region)! There was also a native chicken tinola for soup and a pinkish cold drink made from camote tops, calamansi, and ginger that I really liked.

Tummies full and with nothing else to do but head off to another eating session at The Farmhouse, we were sleepy. Good thing a lady approached us for our local craft demo. While it was basic banig (mat) weaving the last time Kwittiegirl was here, this time around they taught us how to make puso pouches.

Puso (pronounced pu-SÔ, not PU-sô) is rice wrapped in a pouch of woven young coconut leaves. Popular in Cebu and in some parts of the Visayas, they're sometimes playfully called "hanging rice" as they are often hung together in a bunch when sold at food stalls. The leaves lend the rice a distinct flavor since they're cooked together, with the rice already inside the pouch. While I successfully made a single pouch (with assistance and coaching of course), I don't think I could replicate it. I need more practice obviously.

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Our native lunch spread.

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Struggling to make a single puso pouch.

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Sleepy from too much eating. Proudly wearing my puso pouch as a necklace, by the way.

Then we proceeded to The Farmhouse in Aloguinsan for more eating (more on that in another post). Although part of the "full tour," please note that it's quite far from the Bojo River and you have to make your own transportation arrangements, usually a motorcycle. A one-way fare will cost around Php 25.

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In hindsight
I sure enjoyed the full Bojo River eco-tour experience. Everything from the food to the people, the nice little touches, and the river itself made our time and money worthwhile. It's something I recommend everyone try at least once. And whatever it takes, go for the "full tour." I also suggest booking beforehand since weekends and holidays can be very busy, and they may not be able to accommodate all walk-ins.

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A playful sign that translates to "Never mind if there's no forever as long as Bojo River is there." Forever in this context refers to lasting romantic relationships.

For inquiries and booking:
☎ +63 32 469 9042 or +63 933 120 9480
https://www.facebook.com/Aloguinsan-River-Eco-Cultural-Tour-321967567122/

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