By: Gytha Kate A. Torres
The Forty-five minute plane from Manila to Bicol was my first flying experience in the Philippines. I thought I would only see clouds and the real life Philippine map, but flying above the Philippine islands was more breathtaking than what I have expected. My first “wow”-experience was seeing Mayon Volcano’s top view and the Earth’s beautiful land formations. I thought it was just a visit, but I knew it was a journey I have to be excited for.
Upon our arrival at Legazpi airport, the “feel” of Bicol caught my attention: green mountains, vast of coconut trees, fresh air, sunny weather, dark soil emanated from Mayon Volcano and most especially the happy faces of those waiting for us—my extended family from Sorsogon. What I admire most with the Filipino culture is the importance of strong family ties. With the support given by the family until they get old, Filipinos still are able to live with joy amidst all the trials in life. After the meet and greet, we had a 145-peso-eat-all-you-can breakfast treat from my maternal grandmother. With most Filipinos, food gives a “sense of comfort” to the soul. It can also be a source of strength, a gift or even a symbol of a gathering. The great taste of fried rice, tocino, sotanghon, bangus, fresh coconut, pineapples and the ‘so-good’ cocoa drink really satisfied my hungry stomach.
After breakfast, we went to my grandmother’s ancestral home. In the Philippines, ancestral/old houses were patterned from the architecture of Spain—wooden floors and walls, large windows with square Capiz details, high floors from the ground, stairs before a grand main entrance and most especially a wide balcony. It was not so common in Bicol to have those ancestral houses, but I feel lucky for having our ancestral home’s history beautifully maintained. The “ancestral-feel” made it more relaxing for me; I feel more distant from the bright lights and fast-paced life in the city.
No one could ever resist the assets of the Philippine islands. Our next destinations were the beautiful beaches of Sorsogon: Dancalan in Bulusan, Tolonggapo and Buena Vista in Bacon, Rizal in Gubat and in Sta. Magdalena. My personal choice is Dancalan Beach Resort which is very unique from all of the beaches I’ve been in the Philippines. Before sunrise, the water in Dancalan is warm and the level of water reaches my shoulders. Nearing midday, the level of the water gets colder and is only up until the half of my lower leg. The most amazing part is that this level reaches up to approximately 300-500 meters away from the shoreline. The journey towards reaching the end part of beach’s low-tide was very exciting. Because of the low tide, we were able to have a close encounter with “Nemo” and all the other kinds of fish in the sea.
We were also able to do snorkeling—the beautiful coral reefs, beautifully-formed sea shells, sea urchins, eels and many other sea creatures were spectacular! When I reached the end of the long low-tide beach, I saw the thin line of whitish blue and the deep blue sea with growing waves going our way. Oops, this means I have to stop walking! I was lucky the fishermen were there to help me discover what’s beyond and what’s underneath the “mysterious low tide”. I put my goggles on and they let me hold the coral reef and had my body upside down. How would someone imagine that underneath the coral reef I was standing was a pitch black cave with schools of fish coming out? Those were really great bargains for the fishermen! Before sunrise, we went back to the shoreline before high-tide comes our way and we ate our merienda (snack) to restore our energies from the long walk we had.
Other than beaches, the Earth also has a lot of unexpected potentials. Because the Philippines belongs to the Ring of Fire, this potential is seen in volcanoes which are so common in this country. I am so privileged to see two of those in Bicol—Mayon and Bulusan volcanoes. Before, I used to travel by land with my extended families. And from this perspective, the perfectly cone shaped Mayon Volcano can be seen upon reaching Cagsawa Church in Albay, Bicol. Long time ago, Cagsawa Church was a place where people gathered to pray when Mayon Volcano’s Earthquake started to cause alarm to the town. Unfortunately, the church, together with the people praying inside, was buried in the ground with thick lahar flowing from Mayon. In the present times, the ruins of Cagsawa Church is a tourist destination where people celebrate and remember the faith of the people who died with courage in the tragic event. The twist?—beautiful souvenir items, such as miniature Mayon, handmade hats and bags, colorful duyan and so many native items, are sold in the area.
Another asset of Bicol is the Bulusan Volcano. When we first entered the resort, the tranquility of its lake impressed us. Kayaks, boats, and pedaled water vehicle were for rent, so we were able to travel by water in the circumference of the lake. Though tiring as expected, I enjoyed pedaling while taking pictures of the dramatic scenery. The place is definitely a haven for landscape photographers, soul searchers and travelers! After the lake-experience, we faced the hiking challenge of going around the perimeter of the lake. A pathway was built for visitors to be able to have an encounter with the flora and fauna around Bulusan Lake. A day before our visit in Bulusan, mountaineers and first-time climbers challenged to climb Bulusan Volcano. We were not able to join and register with the climb, but I was able to interview one of the first-time climbers. According to the climber, the climb was thrilling and before sunset, they stopped over and built their campsites. The next morning, at dawn, they climbed to reach the highest part of the Volcano: the crater. The experience was very fulfilling and the sceneries on top were something she would never forget, she claimed.
It was not only the lake and the history that were very interesting with volcanoes, but also the cold and hot water springs that directly coming from it. Two of the most beautiful cold springs in Bicol are: Palugtok and Masakrot. The freezing water of these cold springs makes it perfect destinations during summer! How about in the cold season? When I first soaked my body in a hot spring, I thought that there’s no need for Jacuzzis and hot water bath because Irosin’s hot springs made it possible for me to enjoy the warm swim in the middle of the beautiful green sceneries of Mt. Bulusan. Depending on the high temperature a person can tolerate, the resort has several pools to choose from. Amazing! Though it was such a lazy day on a hot spring, it was the best way to rest my body, mind and soul, after a 4-year stressful battle to finish college.
The next morning, a mix of spicy, milky and flavorful dishes came out from the kitchen. Bukawi (seashell), kasag and alimango (crabs), seaweed, laing, Bicol Express and Pili conserva (dessert) — too good to resist! In the Philippines, seafood is very common because we are surrounded by different bodies of water. Other than good swimming and relaxing spots, beaches, serve also as a good source of living for many Filipinos in the coastal towns. Fishermen get into the sea at their best time and sell their catch for the day in the palengke (market). Although some Filipinos live with the saying: “Isang kahig, isang tuka” (live from hand to mouth), modernized Filipinos now learn the value of honing oneself to be able to face the world with global competence. Fortunately, the products of the sea in the country are now available worldwide. It once started to bloom when a Filipino Entrepreneur, Amor Nino, sold Filipino products in Hawaii and it became a sensation there and other parts of the world.
My last day in Bicol was spent for buying pasalubong (a present given to friends when someone arrives from a trip). Because Pili nut is famous in Bicol, I visited Tia Berning’s Pili and Handicrafts Shop, where one can find all kinds of pili products there. Examples of these are conserva, roasted pili, Mazapan de PiIi, cinammon-flavored pili nuts, crispy pili, pili yema, and the like.
It was time to go home the following morning. As the plane ascended, I saw again the vast and rich lands of Bicol, particularly those surrounding the Mayon Volcano, as if saying, I will see you soon! Certainly, I will see Bicol again soon!
Yes, even a single place in the Philippine Archipelago has its own wonders, its own story and its own dream—that is what makes the Philippines and all of its islands truly wonderful!