Anytime is always a good time to come to Bohol. But for sheer excitement and unending doses of fun, pleasure and remembrance, nothing beats going there during TBTK. That triennial event in July when Bohol spreads the red carpet for homecoming overseas Boholanos for 2 glorious weeks of sun, sea, sights and other pleasures of one’s design and inclination.
Of the past three TBTKs, the most memorable for me – and doubtless to many attendees – was the one in 2006. We – my entire family, plus a few friends – had barely landed in Manila after a long and boring flight when the merriment started, setting the pace and tone of the pleasures that awaited us in Tagbilaran.
Hon. Lito Atienza,then Mayor of Manila, gave us a warm welcome at the City Hall and presented us the symbolic key to his City. Mr.Atienza, a true friend of Bohol, lauded the visiting Boholanos for their solidarity thru the TBTK and went out of his way entertaining us. He and his lady, Beng, treated us to a unique cultural show and even brought us to the best bargain centers in Manila.
Even Malacanang Palace opened its doors to us although we didn’t get to meet the President who was away on a State Visit at the time.
Day 1 in Tagbilaran, we of the TBTK Youth met up with our local counterpart – the SK’s- led by John Torralba who organized the whole week activities. A bunch of the coolest kids in that side of the Chocolate Hills, who was to host us in the delicate process of re-acquainting us to our roots and culture. So also to familiarize us with the scenic wonders of our parents’ birthplace. Our hosts had a theme for the program: Extreme Bohol, and boy, did they mean it!
The first order of the day was, wouldn’t you know? Lunch. At the Governor’s Mansion no less. But the lunch was anything but… For it turned out to be a full blown feast partaken to the pulsating beat of a live band!
After the feast, we were herded off to Maribojoc town for kayaking and repelling at the Abatan River. But first, this being Bohol, the heartland of Filipino hospitality, we had to have another meal, local officials insisted. So off we cruised along idyllic Abatan River on a floating restaurant with tables groaning with every Boholano delicacy imaginable – from the fattest crabs in God’s creation to the gooey, gravity defying kalamay.
Amazingly, we survived the pig out and we finally got around to making our first adventure of the day.
I am telling you, there is nothing more exhilarating and adrenalin inducing than kayaking and repelling under an unspoiled setting and natural conditions. It’s a more intense high than one gets doing them at some commercialized theme park under a controlled environment. The experience sharpens your natural survival instincts. As well as instills focus and concentration on an otherwise stagnant mind and body.
Repelling off Abatan Bridge to the cheers by peers and newfound friends did wonders for me. Whose intense fear of heights was once thought to be incurable. Under orders to bring flashlights (largely unheeded, to our great regret later), we set out early the next day for Bilar. For cave exploration, or spelunking, as the sport is properly called. Regardless, we TBTK youths caved in to its more popular local name: “caving” -an extreme sport that’s not for the faint hearted or for the claustrophobic.
Split into groups, we were tasked to map out an assigned cave and come out all in one piece. To enter the cave’s narrow mouth, one has to be either a contortionist or made out of elastic material. It was an almost impossible feat that me and my team miraculously pulled off only largely through our wits and prayer. Also because of our teams adventurous nature, I guess.
As we wiggled deeper into the recesses of the caves, each chamber got more intricate and tangled. We realized a very real fear of losing our way out and be forever consigned to spend the rest of our lives as a cave dweller! It was eerie and dark inside but what really spooked us was the sudden presence of a swarm of bats hovering just inches above our heads!! Only after screaming ourselves silly did the bats scamper away.
So extreme was our cave adventure that some of the teams balked at it. We found them huddled at the mouth of a mother cave when we emerged triumphant later.
The day ended with another adventure that was literally a walk in the woods. We went on a treasure hunt through a protected forest. With instructions to bring back a “treasure” in the form of any living inhabitant of the woods. It was unbelievable what most of us brought back. It was childish fun as we indulged in all kinds of competitions involving our “treasures.”
We continued discovering interesting places in the following days. One of them was the Bohol Bee Farm, a healthy haven of all things organic – from brick oven baked camote bread to hilot, a traditional form of body massage common in the Visayas region. An organic massage? Yes, only in Bohol kids!
If we weren’t exploring the countryside, we frolicked in the sparkling white sand beaches or else treated ourselves to massages by itinerant masseuses plying their trade right on the shore. If that wasn’t living, I don’t know what is.
We also dutifully attended clan reunions and reconnected with long unseen relatives and met new ones. For some of us fortunate enough to have spent a brief part of our childhood in Tagbilaran before migrating in other lands (like my brother Bryan and me) we revisited familiar places and re-tasted the many local delicacies of our childhood. For some reason, they tasted better than I can remember.
Contrary to one of our worst fears before coming over, Tagbilaran does have an interesting nightlife. The clubs overflow with a hip crowd gyrating nightly to the sounds of one of the baaaadddest rock bands I’ve ever heard. Tagbilaran rocks in the real sense of the word.
Reading this far, you’d think all the TBTK youths did was indulge the senses. To some extent that’s true. But our sojourn also brought us a new level of awareness of life around us. We realized the fragility of our ecosystem and how we must do our bit in helping preserve the environment and conserve our threatened natural resources. Bohol is unbelievably blessed in natural beauty. It is attendant upon all Boholanos to help keep it whole and un-violated.
Our TBTK experience also enabled us in so many ways. It awoke us to our inner Bolanon-ness and gave us a fresh perspective and a deeper understanding of the Filipino culture, however alienated we may have become to it. It also taught us, from the many clan reunions we attended, the importance of family ties and how we must try to nurture and preserve them.
No less important, the TBTK youth also realized our responsibility towards our less fortunate brothers and how we must give back in any way we can to the community that helped nurture our dreams of migrating to other lands.
On one of our last days at the TBTK, we thought we would treat some100 kids to a Jolibee lunch and gave away much needed school supplies. It was all we could do in our own small way to express our thanks for an unforgettable two weeks of our young lives.
Now , lots of us are coming home this July. SK’s with Pres. Jane Cajes and our coordinator John Torralba and the rest of the vibrant members have a lot in store for us again. Me and my brother Brian never missed this event since 1999. I’m telling you, it’s worth coming home . Come join us ! July 16-26, 2009. (Maribeth V. Garcia)