On a recent family road trip from Cebu City, I finally experienced the Bojo River Cruise in Aloguinsan, a small town along the southwestern coast of Cebu island with a big heart for environmental and heritage conservation through sustainable community-led tourism. Their flagship eco-tourism venture is a scenic cruise down the Bojo River, where visitors paddle through a well-preserved river-to-reef ecosystem with the guidance of a knowledgable local guide.
For initiating the Bojo River Cruise and other eco-tourism attractions in Aloguinsan, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) awarded Mayor Cynthia Moreno the “Inang Kalikasan for Eco-Tourism” award in July 2013.
From River to Reef
Flowing from inland springs to the Tañon Strait for 1.3 kilometers, the turquoised-colored Bojo River is a vital refuge to 61 bird species and 96 plant species, including 22 species of mangrove alone! Departing from a simple makeshift wooden jetty, the three-passenger paddleboat follows a narrow stream line by dense thickets of mangrove trees, which our guide was quick to identify with both local and scientific names.
Birdwatching is also another activity visitors can experience at Bojo River, especially at dawn or dusk. A bamboo boardwalk was built along the riverbank leading to a hilltop view deck for this purpose, but was being upgraded with more durable materials during our visit. As our boat approached the mouth of the river, limestone cliffs rose in view, draped in greenery, like gateways to the sea. Besides a diversity of birds, long-tailed macaques once thrived along these precipices, but were sadly driven away by treasure hunters who dug into the rock faces looking for legendary Japanese gold left behind from World War-II, according to our guide. He hopes that the monkeys will soon return now that the river is a protected area.
The real surprise of the Bojo River lies underneath the waves at the mouth of the river, where the turquoise water suddenly shifts to the deep blue of the Tañon Strait. Donning a mask, snorkel and fins, my sister and I plunged into the water from the bangka, above a beautifully preserved coral reef teeming with a rainbow of fish. According to our guide, this pristine coral reef stretches for kilometers along the town’s coastline with a significant portion gazetted as a marine sanctuary.
The Legend of Maria Tang-an
The Bojo River cruise does not only enlighten visitors on natural wonders, but also introduces them to traditional customs and folklore of the locality. As our boat rounded a gentle bend approaching the sea where the water became even clearer and brighter, our guide gestured to a small opening in the cliff face that locals believed led to the realm of Maria Tang-an, a benevolent engkantada or diwata (forest nymph) who, like Maria Cacao of Argao and Maria Makiling of Laguna, lent valuable items to villagers for special occasions. In times of yore, the residents of Aloguinsan would visit this opening to request for dinnerware for fiestas, wedding dresses for betrothals and other such valuables. They would also return the items at the same spot.
Unfortunately, as the story goes, a woman once returned a wedding dress badly damaged, thereby upsetting the enchantress who fled away from her river home. However, locals believe that the engkantada still visits the Bojo River now and then; and that visitors must show respect for her abode by keeping their voices low and avoiding horseplay, lest you suffer the smite of an angry forest spirit.
A Taste of Local Culture
Besides local legends, other aspects of traditional culture are revealed throughout the tour. Before boarding the boats for the river cruise, an old man circled our group, wafting smoke from burnt-out coconut husks in a clay pot. This traditional practice is called palinâ, a ritual with pre-Hispanic roots that’s still performed to this day to ward off evil spirits and ensure a safe journey. Besides ensuring safe boat trips, this traditional practice is still being observed by some people who depart cemeteries in Cebu, especially during funerals and All Souls’ Day.
Upon our arrival at the jumping off point of the river cruise, a group of ladies wearing billowy dresses and red hibiscus flowers in their ears serenaded us with traditional Cebuano songs like Rosas Pandan – a humorous folksong about a young man drooling in admiration for a beautiful maiden – to the accompaniment of a solo guitarist.
We were then led to a thatch-roofed waiting area where a lunch buffet of local dishes were offered such as humbâ (Visayan-style pork stew), grilled bariles (tuna), ampalaya (bitter gourd) salad and chicken soup made with manok bisayâ (native chicken). Our tour also included native snacks, which were served at The Farm in Aloguinsan, a demo organic farm at the town proper. Among the local snacks offered were bananas with ginamos (fermented anchovies), pan bisayâ (native bread buns) and Aloguinsan’s bread-like version of salvaro, made with flour, grated coconut, kamay (sugar variety of a red color) and tubâ (fermented coconut wine) as leavening agent.
After lunch, a woman offered to demonstrate the pandan weaving, a native handicraft of the area, before we finished the tour. We were taught how to weave dried pandan leaves into coasters, which we took home as self-made souvenirs.
From start to finish, the Bojo River Cruise was a wonderful eco-cultural experience. While the natural scenery may not be as grand as those found in other river cruises, what this charming community-led tour lacks in scale, it makes up for with its fascinating insights into nature and culture. As an emerging destination where tourists can experience authentic rural life just a few hours’ drive outside a metropolis, the Bojo River Cruise is one of Cebu’s hidden gems.
How to Get There
While there are infrequent buses that directly link Aloguinsan with Cebu City in two to three hours, the more convenient way to get there is via Toledo City. From the South Bus Terminal, several buses travel to Toledo City (1 hour), where one could transfer to Aloguinsan by jeepney (1 hour). Alternatively, one can bus to Carcar City, then head for Aloguinsan by habal-habal motorbike.
The Bojo River Cruise costs PHP 650 per person for a group of at least six, inclusive of river cruise, lunch buffet, native snacks and tour guide. Book your tours at least two days in advance. Walk-in visitors can enjoy the river cruise at PHP 400 per head, but I’d recommend going for the tour package as it provides the complete experience and better value for money.
If you plan to snorkel at the mouth of the Bojo River, it’s best to bring your own snorkeling equipment. Wear rash guards as jellyfish are common in the area.
For inquiries and reservations, contact Rudney Carcuevas, President of the Bojo Aloguinsan Eco-Tourism Association (BAETAS), at +63 9059133055.