This is what January feels like in the Philippines, I thought, as our boat motored across a perfect expanse of blue toward the little island of Cabilao. The January place we had just left with its grey and ice and bundled clothing literally melted away.
Blue sky, blue water, warm skin, a thousand dancing diamonds stretched out before me.
Cabilao, Cabilao, Cabilao…
Cabilao with its quiet paths through the palm trees. The children with their illuminating smiles who call out shyly from the safety of their doorways to wave hello.
The giant pig in the village resting in the shade.
Dogs, chickens, goats, cows
Laundry on a fence.
There are no tourists, there is only a feeling of saturated contentment- no thought, just being.
The vast world under the surface of its surrounding sea:
pristine corals, walls of reds and neon violet- all dots and squiggles plunging down into the darkness hundreds of feet below
We are practically alone in the deep blue. The sound of my breathing: zen bubbles.
The flavour of calamansia, of roasted chicken, and endless summer. Every night the sky drips with colour more decadent and ripe than the last.
We take the ferry to Bohol.
Motorbike sputtering, sun hot on our necks turning us into lobsters as we go: cruising through local markets for plates of pancit and sweet glazed pork, past moist green rice fields, and Spanish colonial churches that catch me off guard with their beauty before heading up and into the alien landscape of the Chocolate Hills. Strange soft domes of brown and green more otherworld than Earth.
But the best part? It is yet to come: the return to Cabilao at the end of the day. That hush settles over us once again as we traverse the island. The laughter of the children follows us. The woman with the haunting eyes nods and smiles as we make our way to the other shore back to our little slice of paradise.
What to do:
Scuba dive, scuba dive, scuba dive… The underwater life that surrounds the island is among the healthiest that I have ever had the pleasure to dive, and with every dive site just a few minutes from shore it means more time below the surface. An amazing array of hard and soft corals thrive in the waters around Cabilao, along with an abundance of macrolife (making it a stellar spot for underwater photography aficionados). Multiple species of pipe fish, frogfish, batfish, rockfish, Helmut Gurnard, turtles, and a shark to name a few… not to mention the fact that we logged in more varieties of nudibranch at this location than all of our other dive spots (to date) combined. The amazing sights underwater combined with the fact that my husband and I were 2 out of a total of 6 tourists on the island at the time of our visit literally made it feel like we were visiting a forgotten paradise. I would highly recommend Cabilao to anyone who is looking for an alternative to the super crowded dive sites of Thailand.
We stayed at the Polaris Beach and Dive Resort (one of only 3 spots to stay on the entire island)- the staff was kind and accommodating, and consisted of all local people from the island (another refreshing difference from all of the foreign-run spots in Thailand). They made arrangements for our transportation to and from the airport and helped secure a motorbike for a day of exploration on Bohol.
To get to Cabilao you can choose to fly into the Cebu International Airport/Mactan, or via Tagbilaran on Bohol.
Bohol is a short ferry ride from Cabilao, making it super easy to have a day or two of adventuring on motorbike in-between your days of diving. The best of both worlds, in my opinion!
Check out the Chocolate Hills, the Tarsier Sanctuary, the Mag-Aso Falls, the Busay Falls, take time to admire the abundance of beautiful churches that can be found in many of the small towns and villages across the island ( Baclayon is notable as Bohol’s most famous). Don’t forget to eat at the local markets on your way from place to place… If you are in the mood for a long ride with a pristine beach as your destination, try making your way to Anda!