Bojo River‘s international acclaim is the culmination of Aloguinsan‘s relentless advocacy on sustainable living and eco-tourism. Bojo River secures a place for Aloguinsan in every tourist and adventurer’s (wannabe’s included) list of must-go-to’s. Then Mayor Cynthia Moreno was awarded with the “Inang Kalikasan for Eco-Tourism” in 2013 by the DENR for her outstanding leadership in protecting the environment while promoting tourism at the same time. BAETAS (Bojo Aloguinsan Eco-Tourism Association), on the other hand, grabbed the Tourism InSPIRE Award for Best Community-based Tourism Initiative in Asia Pacific in 2015. The organization was cited for their serious commitment to sustainability principles as manifested in their wholehearted work in keeping Bojo River the natural wonder that it is.
Tourism in Aloguinsan is well-run. The town has installed a tourism office they dub as The Farmhouse. This is a bamboo house-cum-office built in the middle of a garden reminiscent of a bahay kubo — I am referring to both the house and that song we used to sing in school. This is where reservations for a cruise in Bojo River or a visit to Hermit’s Cove are booked. Please keep your receipts. These are your pass.
One reason why Aloguinsan stands out as a favorite tourist destination in Cebu is the townspeople’s eagerness to lend a hand in promoting true Aloguinsanon hospitality. From the smiling fish vendors, to the habal-habal drivers, and to the boatmen we had the opportunity to exchange bits and pieces of who we are and what we do with — I could feel their sincere joy in seeing people spending time (and moolah) just to experience life in the Land of Kinsan (Aloguinsan is named after the fish Kinsan). While it is true that it was not all rainbows and unicorns here, the people seemed to cherish the idea of being able to help and share in the burden that eco-tourism really is. Eco-tourism is not a one-man show. It needs lots of money and manpower to run. While it promises sustainable living to both the people and the environment, the first stretch of road toward it is rough and narrow. After all, making a world a better place is easier sung than done. “Eco-Tourism gyud ‘ning amoa, Sir. Nakatabang na mi’s kinaiyahan. Aduna pa gyud mi panginabuhi”, one boatman added.
Approximately two kilometers from The Farmhouse stood the wooden sign of Bojo River. A wooden bridge led to where the cruise would start. We were welcomed by men and women garbed in the traditional Filipiniana clothes singing a song of lost love and longing for a warmer night — whatever that entailed. There was a shack nearby where lunch was prepared. Bojo River offers tour packages complete with snacks and lunch for guests. (Details on their tour packages are posted below.) We waited for the orientation to be conducted by one of the guides. We strapped on life vests, and were told about what to do and what not to do during the cruise.
The baroto that we would be using for the cruise came. It was a small wooden boat with outriggers to ensure stability in the water — which was a relief since none of us knew how to swim.
Jessie Cañete was the friendly boatman/guide we had for our cruise. He eked a living fishing and moonlighting as on-call guide for the cruise. He mentioned that he never finished school as he had to work earlier than many of us did, but it did not stop him from excellently doing his job as a tour guide. We learned from him that the river is 1.4 kilometers long and 8 meters is the highest recorded level of water at the boarding deck. He pointed to us where fishermen docked their boats after a day at sea fishing. He showed us the various species of mangroves we passed by as he slowly rowed in the water. He explained the difference between bakhaw’ng lalaki and bakhaw’ng babaye. He warned us about bakhaw’ng buta-buta that could blind unsuspecting tourists. Most importantly, he echoed one of the most important tenets of environmental preservation: “Respeto lang gyud ta, Sir. Dili ra man ‘ni ato ang kalikupan”.
The water of Bojo River is brackish, meaning it is a mixture of fresh and salt water. Seawater from Tañon Strait enters the mouth of the river and meets the water from the many small springs in the riverbed. The shallow part of the river formed by sediments coming from upstream trapped by the flow of seawater entering the river mouth is called the Bojo River Delta. Jessie was kind enough to show us where it is.
We came near to an imposing cliff hanging above the river. The cliff had on it traces of probably once a big gaping hole. Instead of a hole, however, one could now see a big rock snugly plugged into the crevice as if somebody had forced it inside the dark cave. Jessie told us that the cave was called Hulamanan (from the word hulam meaning “borrow”). Jessie elaborated that this cave was once where people asked favors (from plates, to silverwares and to wedding gowns) from the diwata (spirit) known as Mariang Tang-an. Jessie added that the spirit was very generous until greed got the better of some people which infuriated Mariang Tang-an. The spirit closed the portal-cave shut and thus ended the kind relationship between the mortals and the elemental. I heard several versions of the story but, somehow, cruising on a small baroto (wooden boat) with the shut cave looming above made the story more believable than I dared admit myself.
As we got nearer to the mouth of the river, we chanced upon several kids taking turns in diving into the water from the cliff. The mouth of the river was wide enough to accommodate three fishing boats at the same time. Jessie then told us that in World War II, Japanese ships used to make port here and hide their treasures somewhere in the rocky cliff. Natives, he added, would then hide among the mangroves every time the Japanese would venture into the river fearing for their lives and their daughters’ honor.
We went deeper out of Bojo River and into the open waters of Tañon Strait. Jessie pointed to a cluster of corals just meters below our baroto. He named a few of the corals but we were too scared to even move on the boat, let alone take a peek at what was underneath the piece of carved wood we were sitting on. We could also see the mighty Mount Kanlaon with its peak covered in clouds. Jessie explained that Tañon Strait is the biggest marine sanctuary in the country rich with many species of fish, corals, among others.
The cruise lasted for more than thirty minutes under the blistering sun above but it was worth it. BAETAS definitely did a great job in running the place. The tour was well conducted; the guides, helpful and well-trained.
Bojo also offers birdwatching from an open cottage atop a hill but it is currently suspended due to renovations. They are replacing their bamboo boardwalk with one made of concrete and PVC. We are hoping to take another visit to the town soon. Perhaps, we will be brave enough to get off the banca and go for a dip in the water by then. Soon.
For now, we head for Hermit’s Cove. See you.