Carmen and the Chocolate Hills

15/01/2016 10:04

Looks like a children’s tale name and practically it is. Once upon a time there was an island surrounded by more islands where two angry giants start to fight throwing stones each other. Such was their displeasure that the fight lasted for days and days until finally both realizing that will be no possible winner then became friends. Leaving the scene of their fight they left behind a huge mess of loose stones that in human eyes seem like hills.

Another version, more romantic, argues that another giant, named Arogo, madly feel in love with Aloya who was a mere mortal. Aloya's death caused him such pain and grief than he started an endless weep. Finally, when his countless tears dried shaped the landscape of the Chocolate Hills forever.

Chocolate Hills occupy almost an infinite area in the landscape of Bohol island centre, in the Visayas, Philippines. They say there are between 1200 and 1700 mounds of similar size and shape, of between 165 to 400 feet high, spread over an area of ​​about fifty square kilometres between the towns of Carmen, Sagbayan and Batuan. The name is meant when it's dry season since April and grass and ferns that cover the hills and land wither and die. The landscape turns brown in a tone close to that of recently made chocolate, nearly reddish at sunsets and islanders sunrises.

Reality, more prosaic than fables, wants the origin of the hills, geologically speaking, happened thousands and thousands of years ago, after the ocean withdrawal when limestone coral erosion originated these formations where once was the sea bottom.

Moving forward in time until 1563 we find Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, the Spanish conqueror, sealing a blood compact with Rajah Sikatuna, leader of the island. Going further, until today, we find exactly the same scene. Now transformed into a set of bronze bodies still recalling that treaty beachside Bool, a few kilometres from the largest city in Bohol: Tagbilaran. Here, motorized tricycles, here called motorelas, are used as public proximity transport and are decorated as if they were the ubiquitous jeepneys. Owners add to the multicoloured vehicles some biblical quotations.

Bohol has and retains good examples of colonial architectural legacy. Four miles east of the city, in Baclayon, the Jesuits built a fortified church, the Immaculate Conception, which expanded to a convent in 1872. There is a museum attached where religious relics are preserved beside church music Latin scripts.

Resuming along the same coastal road it leads to the mouth of the Loboc River, a stream navigable up to the Busay Falls. Some companies provide a scenic river cruise on large motorized bamboo rafts outfitted with palm leaf roofs and chairs and tables to provide a pleasant picnic lunch to travellers. The slow journey on the river reminds excerpts from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or in the movies version Apocalypse Now, with a pleasant difference. Along the way there aren’t the violent hordes of Colonel Kurtz ready to shoot foreigners but young islanders dancing to entertain tourists on the boat stops.

Before reach Carmen, in Corella, there is a tarsier protection zone. The tarsier, Carlito Syrichta in its scientific name, is a small primate that inhabits some Southeast Asia islands area. Tarsier just measure six inches, live in trees and has a tail that will double its length and serves to balance and jump between them. They have a disproportionate bulging eyes that attract attention and appear to be claiming that somebody explain a story, perhaps a variant of the legend of Carmen and the Chocolate Hills.

© J.L.Nicolas


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