Snapshot Series: Chocolate Hills

Open the first photo album you can find — real or virtual, your call — and stop at the first picture of yourself you see there . Tell us the story of that photo.

Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines
Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines

I’m totally blowing this prompt by NOT featuring a picture of me*. Because there aren’t that many pictures of me these days if it’s me behind the camera most of the time. So I’m going with the first picture I see when I opened my pictures  folder.

And this is it.

This was taken a few years ago, when I went to the Philippines for the last time.  It’s of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, which is south of Manila.  There’s nothing ‘chocolate-y’ about these hills when you look at them but when the shrubs turn brown, I guess they resemble these Hershey’s chocolate kisses – hence their name.

At the tip of the foreground hill, you see these three tiny dots representing hikers that made their way up there – with a paid guide, of course – and that’s what I was trying to capture with my simple camera here.  I failed miserably but I also wanted to take a picture of the hills against the blue sky and the clouds.

The 1,100 plus conical hills were created by ancient limestone pushing up from the ocean floor, and the elements then formed them the way they look now.  It’s not unusual to find fossils of ancient marine life within their structures.  The latest natural element to form them was the earthquake late last year which crumbled many of these hills, so I don’t know if they still look the same.

Daily Prompt

*Maybe later I’ll find one with me in it, but for now, this will have to do.

E is for Earthquakes and Eruptions

The Philippine islands (all 7,100 of them, give or take) sit on the shelf of the Circum Pacific Seismic Belt – better known as the Ring of Fire, an area where earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur in the Pacific ocean.

In a 40,000 km (25,000 mi) horseshoe shape, it is associated with a nearly continuous series of oceanic trenches, volcanic arcs, and volcanic belts and/or plate movements. It has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes

– Via Ring of Fire, Wikipedia

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

Because of this, the country has endured many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, including the most recent quake that hit Bohol island with a magnitude of 7.2 in October 2013.

The seventeenth-century navigator, William Dampier, in his own quaint and amusing way, describes how the natives and the Spanish colonists of Manila strove to guard against the double danger of earthquakes and typhoons, and how they both failed ignominiously. The Spaniards built strong stone houses, but the earthquake made light of them, and shook them so violently that the terrified inmates would rush out of doors to save their lives; while the natives from their frail bamboo dwellings, which were perched on high poles, placidly contemplated their discomfiture. All that the earthquake meant to them was a gentle swaying from side to side. But the Spaniards had their turn when the fierce typhoon blew, against which their thick walls were proof. Then, from the security of their houses, could they view, with a certain grim satisfaction, the huts of the natives swaying every minute more violently in the wind, till, one by one, they toppled over—each an indescribable heap of poles, mats, household utensils, and human beings.

– Via Rev. Ambrose Coleman, O.P. The Friars in the Philippines, Project Gutenberg

In 1814, Mayon volcano, known for having a “perfect cone”, erupted and buried the neighboring villages and towns, including the Cagsawa Church that you see below.

Remains of Cagsawa church that was buried by the eruption of Mt Mayon Volcano in 1814, Albay province, Southeastern Luzon, Philippines, May 14, 1934
Remains of Cagsawa church that was buried by the eruption of Mt Mayon Volcano in 1814, Albay province, Southeastern Luzon, Philippines, Image taken in May 14, 1934

In 1880, an earthquake destroyed one of the belfries of the San Agustin Church in Intramuros (inside Manila) and to this day, it only has one belfry.

"San Augustin Curch earthquake damage, later half of 19th Century, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines" by John Tewell
“San Augustin Curch earthquake damage, later half of 19th Century, Intramuros, Manila, Philippines” by John Tewell

After having survived the quakes of 1645 and 1863, the belfry of the Manila Cathedral crumbled during the 1880 quake.

Manila Cathedral before 1880 quake
Manila Cathedral before 1880 quake
Manila Cathedral with the damaged belfry during the 1880 quake

While fortune may have shone on these Manila churches when it came to escaping major damage from earthquakes (although the Manila Cathedral – and most of Manila for that matter, was destroyed in WWII when Manila was declared an open city by the United States and most of its landmarks destroyed from bombings to rid the city of the Japanese), the same cannot be said for the San Pedro Apostol church in Loboc, Bohol which was built in 1601.  It crumbled during the Bohol quake of 2013.

Loboc Church before and after. Image from

The Bohol earthquake didn’t just destroy the old churches, remnants of colonial Spanish architecture.  It also destroyed the island’s natural wonders like the natural haycock formation of grass-covered limestone hills called Chocolate Hills (because when the grass turns brown, they look looked like Hershey’s Kisses).


Chocolate Hills Before and After

It’s a terrible price to pay for a country right on the shelf of the Ring of Fire, but one that Filipinos have learned to live with.

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