It’s hard to accurately describe what I smell scootering down the winding roads of Panglao Island. A blend of flower-infused, gasoline-burned pork barbecue comes to mind. Sophie and I are on our way to the Chocolate Hills of Bohol.
The odor changes with every turn. Smoke rising up from small burning piles of grass along the road mixes with the fragrance of papayas, overripe bananas and bougainvillea. Most road users have covered their nose and mouth with small scarfs. They are missing out, but to them it’s probably nothing special.
When the first rain gently starts coming down, my other senses jump to peak awareness. The honking game you play while overtaking others becomes a more serious affair. Before the rain you felt good about the one honk. Now a minimum of two is required to announce your road maneuvers. The protection our helmets provide is somewhat reassuring. The fact that we are literally the only ones wearing them is not.
A solid two hours later the hills appear on the horizon. I read there are over 1,200 of them. Right beside the visitor’s center, a group of young girls – I’d say about ten years old – dressed in colorful uniforms are performing simple dance routines to well-known pop songs. In between songs, tourists pose with some of them for pictures. A small donation is expected.
The view from the lookout point is quite spectacular. The rainy season has blessed the bumps with green covering, instead of the usual brown – hence the name. The omnipresence of flora is almost overwhelming.
It’s surprisingly chilly on the way back. We go around the downtown traffic of Tagbilaran City and take the Borja bridge to Panglao. On our left we see the Bohol Sea, on our right the Cebu Strait. The sun has yet to set, but already you can feel a change in the atmosphere. For some the day will soon end, for others it is just beginning.
With darkness comes an immediate sense of fatigue. It’s an affirmation of the fact that we are solar-powered beings. Closer to the equator one rises and falls with the sun. We coldblooded Europeans can try to resist, but resistance is futile. Down here Mother Nature and Father Time call the shots.
Our last hurdle is the short stretch of dirt road leading to our hotel. Rainfall has caused small mud pools to form. We navigate them skillfully. Satisfied we park and then get off our wannabe motorcycles and head straight for the hot shower.
Tomorrow there’ll be new smells to discover.