A Memorable Lunch Cruise on the Loboc River in Bohol

As soon as our driver/guide Landel picked us up from Tagbilaran airport, my friend Nick extolled to me the virtues of the popular Loboc lunch cruise on the town's eponymous river. Essentially the Loboc lunch cruise is an hour and a half long eat-all-you-can buffet of native Filipino delicacies on huge river boats, aka floating restaurants, with some entertainment and sightseeing along the way. Nick had taken the Loboc lunch cruise a year ago on his first visit to Bohol, and now with me in tow, and a hot, humid day to boot, what else could be more appealing than a nice day floating on the Loboc river while feasting on grilled seafood, cholesterol-raising pork dishes, and ripe, mouth-watering fruit?

A long line greeted us at the makeshift tents where the vouchers for the Loboc lunch cruise are purchased for the sum of Php280 (US$7), a reasonable price considering the numerous dishes offered. Patrons are given a voucher with assigned seats on a specific floating restaurant, of which there seemed to be quite many. The queue was exacerbated by the seeming inability of Filipinos to form a single queue to keep things orderly; nor did any official staff try to impose any sort of discipline on queue-jumpers. Trust me, queueing is not the greatest strength of Filipinos (Karaoke probably is). So Landel got stuck in line for about thirty minutes, while I contented myself standing under the shade and whetting my appetite by looking at enticing photos of various native dishes prominently displayed by the tents. "This is gonna be some buffet", I even muttered to myself.

Vouchers in hand and growing hungrier by the second, the three of us excitedly rushed to the dock for…more waiting. Our floting restaurant was still ferrying the previous batch of tourists, and there was no definitive timeframe on when our turn would come to feast on the lunch cruise. In the meantime, we watched other people stuffing their faces on meat and seafood dishes inside the boats docked nearby. I counted at least fifteen different floating restaurants, each one varying in capacity from 30 to 60. Just when I was becoming delirious from hunger, our names were called and before you knew it, we were sharing a long table with a family of four, who looked equally impatient at getting their hands on some grub.

At long last, the dishes were set up on the buffet table (a disappointment in terms of both quantity and quality), and everyone proceeded to line up, plate in hand. I use the term "line up" loosely, as in the best Filipino tradition, all hell broke loose. On one side people furiously scooped as much meat onto their plates while ignoring the stares and mumbling of other diners unfortunately situated behind them, some were pushing their way forward to get the last remnants of baby shrimp which the first five people had apparently claimed the majority of, and most alarming, some folks decided that they couldn't be bothered to stand in line and thus created their own queue at the other end of the buffet table (where the desserts are located), and their counter-flow of traffic now collided with ours with the force of a ten-wheeler truck.

Somehow I managed to get out alive, albeit missing out on the chicken and getting mostly glistening fatty pieces of pork, and made my way back to our seats. Surprised at the sight of diners at the adjoining table feasting on pork barbeque on stick, I rushed back to the buffet but couldn't find traces of the dish. Totally bummed, I sat down and decided to make do with whatever I had, at the same time wondering where the hell Nick had gone to. My question was answered two seconds later, as I turned my head and saw him coming towards us clutching ten (ten!!!) sticks of pork barbeque, the look on his face indicating his intent to impale anyone who tried to grab them away. To this day, I haven't bothered to find out how or where he hijacked them from, but those sweet BBQ truly saved the day.

Thankfully, the rest of the Loboc lunch cruise went by pleasantly. As the boat slowly wound its way up the Loboc river, we admired the trees and abundant greenery lining the riverbanks which provided pleasant, easy-on-the eyes scenery. From time to time, kids swimming in the river came into sight, and without exception they would wave enthusiastically to us. Eventually we reached a series of mini-waterfalls (emphasis on "mini", as these are the puniest I've ever seen). An ideal photo op for camera-crazy Filipinos, to say the least. At this point, the boat turned around and on the way back, we also stopped by a nipa hut atop a wooden raft where forty or so guitar-playing singers entertained us with several native songs, accompanied by some enthusiastic dancing from small kids. The singers did have an English song as part of their repertoire, "Oh Carol". I actually liked the choreography, and wondered if they're being groomed to join those dance contests on TV programs. All part of the Loboc river cruise experience. An interesting, enjoyable, and mildly chaotic start to our visit to Bohol.