As 2010 drew to a close, I found myself infatuated with a coworker, cut off from a friend, and looking to get away from all the troubles in Manila. I had a friend in Bohol who’d invited me out to see her and her fiancé, so of course I jumped at the chance. What started off as an opportunity to find comfort with friends turned into a foray into another cultural awakening.
Upon landing, we exited the airplane directly out onto the tarmac. Regional aiports in the Philippines don’t have gates. They have a “just get off the plane, we’re heading back to Manila” policy. And forget about baggage carousels. Just pick up your bag in the lobby of the airport.
“So everyone has a rooster?” I asked my friend, noticing a chicken at nearly every house we passed on the way from the airport.
“Yeah, you’re not in Manila anymore!” She laughed.
Bohol is a unique town that I immediately fell in love with. Perhaps because I was desperate to find love back then, or perhaps it reminded me of my own hometown at a time I was eager to get back stateside. It was equally big enough to support a thriving night scene, touristy enough to provide ample beach relaxation time, and rural enough to remind me of my country upbringing.
Our first stop was a spot to get sinigang na hipon, my friend and I’s favorite Filipino food. Even the restaurant reminded me of an old country bar you might see in Tennessee, with just enough tropical flare to feel…different.
We bonded over the delicious sour soup and shrimp. Me sharing my frustrations of the struggles back in Manila, her counseling me as an ate generally does. We moved the conversation into a karaoke bar.
“Oh, they have Taylor Swift,” I noticed. “Well, I guess I know what I’m singing.”
After a horable falsetto rendition of Love Story, we moved on to a night club. Taylor seemed to follow me even here, with various techno remixes of her songs blasting over the speakers. I was content not to dance, though, preferring the conversation and learning more about life in Bohol.
“I like it here! It’s not so crowded like in Manila,” my friend told me. “And I can go to the beach anytime I want!”
The next day that’s exactly what we did. Panglao Island, a tropical resort that, at the time, was little known to outsiders. We walked along pristine white sand beaches, waded in the warm waters, with the cares of the world disolving into the salty sea. My formidable ping-pong skills that I developed in high school got put to the test as well. I’d like to think I won, but who knows the truth anymore.
We explored caves, ate more delicious seafood. We laughed, I cried. And with every passing moment the weight of Manila’s stresses disipated. The combination of caring friends and the familiar rural vibe seemed to make me feel at home.
The chickens helped set the scene as well.
To this day I still think of Bohol as my home away from home, despite only having been there once.