Friday, June 13, 2008

Killing Time In BICOLANDIA


Far down south of the Luzon island lies the Bicol region composed of Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Catanduanes, Sorsogon and Masbate. Although frequently hit by storms and sporadic volcanic activity of the Mayon, the region remains to be vulnerable to these kinds of natural disasters. Evidence of the most recent volcanic eruption were present and an eerie atmosphere will be felt you as you drive around Legazpi City and nearby towns of Albay. Some roads were still being constructed as they were damaged by landslide of boulders and volcanic soil from Mayon. Despite the cold stormy weather and alarming volcanic activity of the Mayon, the Bicolanos remained to be warm and hospitable, continuously building and rebuilding the remnants of the turbulent natural world of the Bicolandia.

Read the rest of my journey and find out how to enjoy Bicolandia amidst the stormy weather conditions and sight of recent catastrophic events.


Maybe it wasn't the most appropriate time of the year when I decided to go on a trip to Bicol. But then, since I have to use my remaining leave for 2007, what else to do but to go on a trip - a road trip perhaps.

January 19, 9:00 pm when I left Manila via Philtranco Bus off to Legazpi City. Bought the ticket for P900.00 de-luxe bus (with toilet inside) which can take me as far as Tabaco City at the same cost. Lesser priced tickets are available (around P700 for an ordinary aircon bus) but since it will be a 10-hr drive I must take the more comfortable ride - so as to catch a nap along the way and energetic by the time I reach Legazpi.

It was raining as I left Manila hoping that the weather would be better as I get to Legaspi but it never happened. Still dizzy from a long trip, I realized I was the only passenger left as the bus approached the terminal. Although I had my map I can't seem to figure out where in the world am I! It was 5 am and still a little dark.

The bus conductor helped me out with directions and soon I was able to find Sampaguita Tourist Inn along Rizal St. I checked inn for P475/night for a single occupancy room (a/c, cable tv, hot/cold shower). Quite cheap, but the service - gosh! The only good thing about Sampaguita is the room rate - but the staff!!! They must be sent out to enroll in a customer service orientation program.

Weather is bad, service is bad, room and the rate is fair, - the oddest of them all - Mayon Volcano was hidden in the clouds!!! I wished myself good luck.

Notwithstanding the weather, I decided to check the whole of the city by taking a jeepney and walking. Since it's never stopped raining, I decided to check out the nearest mall, the LCC Legazpi to buy a cheap umbrella (for 50 pesos). Then after a little tour inside the mall, I walked up the road til I reached Bichara's mall. I remembered when I first visited Legazpi City, this is the only place I remembered where I had a nice chat with locals young people, had some bottles of beer and really had quite a hell of a time. But this time it looked very different as it was. Quite boring now, I guess.

The rain seemed getting harder and harder but it never halted me to go on walking. I ended up entering the nice Pacific Mall. Here I spent the rest of the morning trying some native delicacy like the pinangat (in tagalog - laing). But of course never to be missed nibbling the pili nuts which can only be found here in Bicol.

With my umbrella and map in hand, I took the jeepney the Capitol and City Hall of Legazpi City. In all my trips, I never missed visiting these landmarks. This is by way any town or city can be recognized and distinguished.

The City Hall and the Capitol Building are adjacent to one another, including other public buildings and schools. Opposite the Capitol is the Old Albay church, the Saint Gregory the Great cathedral - the oldest in the city.

In the middle of them all is the Penaranda Park, wherein you can have a good view of the Mayon. But since it never stopped raining - no sight of her majestic perfect cone is visible.

A lot of nice restaurants can be found in this side of the city. Before heading back to the hotel, I had dinner at Bigg's.


Even before I left for Bicol, I was in constant communication with my friend. Joey, who is based in Albay, as a Medical Representative. When he learned I was coming to Bicol he said he would take me on a tour as long as long as he not on a client call. Me met the next day after I arrived in Legazpi. Our first stop, Tabaco City.

It never stopped raining that day in Tabaco city. After taking some photos at the Tabaco church (San Juan Bautista Cathedral, the plaza and the City Hall, we visited some of Joey's doctor friends who treated us for lunch, then left for Daraga and Cagsawa Ruins.

Tabaco is about 20 minutes drive from Legazpi. On our way, the devastation from the most recent eruption of Mayon Volcano and the strong typhoon after that was evident as there were boulders along the road, houses buried in dark ashes and lahar, roads and bridges under construction - what a distressing sight.


There is this attraction here in Albay that's very common to anyone aside from the Mayon Volcano. What else but the Cagsawa Ruins. On our way back to Legaspi City, we dropped by Cagsawa Ruins, the most famous tourist attraction in the provine. Here we found it difficult to reach the site and we have to leave the car somewhere safe. The road was still under construction and there were rocks and volcanic soil everywhere. We were guided by two kids whose names I forgot. The whole area was filled with black sand from the slopes of Mayon. The restaurants and other establishments used to stand there were now ripped off from their location by typhoon. Bad sight.

But all I felt outside was altered when I entered the Cagsawa tower. Everything was intact - fortunate enough not to be buried in mud and boulders from Mayon. It is still a place to sigh and behold.

After Cagsawa Ruins, take a small turn and up to the picturesque baroque church of Daraga. Here you will get a share of a great view of Mayon from top of the hill and a location suitable for a romantic wedding..he he.

Daraga church (Our Lady of the Gates Cathedral) stands on top of the hill and was constructed completely from volcanic rocks. From the church you will have good view of the Daraga town.

Joey had to do some errands that afternoon so I have to go back to the hotel. Later that night we had a nice dinner at the Chick-In Restaurant right across the Penaranda Park.


The following day, Joey told me he will be on a client call to Naga City and asked if I wanted to come with him. Of course I wouldn't say no!

So there we were, on the road again. And this time it will be a 3-hour ride from Legaspi City to Naga City in Camarines Sur. It was a great road trip and I was able to see other adjacent towns after Legazpi in Albay up to Bato, the gateway town of Camarines Sur.

One famous attraction in Camarines Sur is the Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC)- famous for wakeboarding enthusiasts. It is located in the civic center complex of Pili, the capital of Camarines Sur. We have managed to drop by the complex before going to Naga City.

Inside the complex are cabanas for guest accomodations which costs P1,200/night. Use of the facility is rather cheap. Wakeboard rental for the whole day costs P250.00, while the cable pass costs P600/day.

It was nice and windy at the complex - with a view of Mount Isarog in the background.


Next to Pili is Naga City - the center for commerce, industry and entertainment in the entire Bicol region. There are more hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and bars here than in Legazpi City. Plus, Naga is densely populated, slow traffic noticeable on the streets, and starting to get polluted.

Upon arrival, we went directly at the Golden Leaf Hotel (650/night for double-occupancy room) to manage our stuffs and get a little rest. Joey has to attend to this meeting which will begin in less than an hour so I have to be on my own in Naga.

For the rest of the day, I was on-foot around the city. In the center of the distric is the City Plaza with the Quince Martirez monument dedicated to the fifteen martyrs of Camarines Sur. Also, I went to the most signifant Basilica of Our Lady of the Penafrancia, the Naga Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Shrine of the Lady of the penafrancia (3 churches in the city but of different locations). Being a mall-rat, finding Nagaland E-mall was a bliss. Good restaurants and bars can be found along Penafrancia Avenue.

Of course, my Naga tour will never be complete without visiting the Naga City Hall.


The following morning Joey and I had to get up early for his appointment in Camalig, Albay. That practically means I had only one day to spend in Naga City - so be it.

After paying the hotel bills, we grabbed our bags and again on the road back to Legazpi City.

It was roughly 2 hours before we reached Camalig, one of the most picturesque towns in Albay. Camalig is also one of the oldest towns and this is where the pinangat (or laing in Tagalog) originated. You will also have a great view of the Mayon from this location.

Again, a must in every trip is visiting St. John the Baptist Cathedral which, just like almost all other centuries-old churches in Bicol, is made entirely from volcanic rocks.


One of the best places to view Mayon Volcano and Legazpi City is the Lignon Hill (also spelled as Ligñon Hill and pronounced as /li-NYON/). This 143-meter high cinder-cone hill located 11 kilometers southeast of the volcano’s summit is the highest location in the city’s downtown area and towers over the adjacent Legazpi Airport. A long and winding road crawls up the sides of Lignon Hill where there is an observation station constructed on top. This is where the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has a permanent station to observe Mayon.

I insisted to go up the hill with Joey to experience what they say is the most exciting place to go in Legazpi. Up the hill, the weather didn't permit me to see Mayon to her fullest. But I had a nice panoramic view of the whole Legazpi City downtown, airport, and nearby Tabaco City.

For the past 3 days I have been able to navigate almost half of the Bicolandia. I definitely had a great time inspite of the bad weather condition during my entire stay and not seeing the full view of Mayon volcano (sigh!).

It was already 12 noon when went down to the airport in time for my 2:00 pm flight back to Manila via Cebu Pacific. Joey drove me directly to the airport and immediately had a quick lunch plus some picture taking at the airport. Upon checking-in I asked the airline staff to seat me next to the window at the right side of the plane. Being such, I was able to have a full view of the peak of the Mayon. At least even for the last time I was able to achieve my goal.


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