Albay Discovered. 1, Tourists’ delight, visitors’ pleasure

magayon 2010LEGAZPI CITY - Here’s a lovely legend from Albay (from Wikipedia): Magayon was a beautiful maiden whom many an ancient young warrior in Albay wanted to marry. Pagtuga gave fabulous gifts to her to win her affection, but it was Panginorin who won her heart. Male ego hurt, Pagtuga challenged Panginorin to a duel, and Pagtuga lost his life. In joy, Magayon rushed to the arms of Panginorin only to be struck down by an arrow, while a spear plunged on the back of Panginorin, the revenge of the dead by the living. The lovers both died and from their graves Mayon Volcano rose, a most beautiful mountain. Legendary beauty & brawn lost and beauty gained.

In my first time as a tourist to catch a glimpse of Mayon Volcano in late 1980 or early 1981, 30 years ago, as a passionate young man I had an inspiration, an instant, original joke. We were on a journalistic journey in the name of the Forest Research Institute based at Los Baños for its quarterly color magazine Habitat that I founded and was editing, which was no joke. I asked my party how many years old did they think Mayon was, and nobody guessed her correct age. Historically, being a volcano, she was as old as her first eruption from the ground that created her. Erotic or not, that was not what I meant. Looking at her again and smiling, I told them Mayon was 16 years old. That was suggestive, but those boys didn’t catch my allusive drift, me the head of the party. So I told them to look sideways, and they smiled with understanding. If a mountain can make you smile, she must be beautiful.

Legend and levity aside, there are many tourist attractions and visitor lures in Albay. Consider the following:

Beauty & Beast. What is most associated with Albay is Mayon Volcano; rising 2,500 meters above sea level (Wikipedia); this now-shy-now-angry mountain sits at one end in Legazpi City, the capital of the province. Mayon is mythical in her beauty and physical in her ugliness - it is the most perfect cone of a volcano in the world, and it is one of the most destructive volcanoes still. The 1st recorded eruption was in 1616. In 1814, it erupted and buried the town of Cagsawa and 2,200 people died. Today it is showing signs of restlessness and may erupt any time. It has erupted about 49 times in the last 400 years (Wikipedia). The longest uninterrupted eruption occurred for 7 days from 23 June 1897, burying the village of Bacacay with 15 meters of lava. More than 400 people died. In 1993, 77 people died from the eruption. In the 2006 eruption, there were no casualties. It is monitored daily by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology.

Steam Power. In the town of Tiwi, you can see the first geothermal plant constructed in the Philippines. It was designed to generate more than 227 megawatts of electricity for the Luzon grid (wowbicol.com). It is now owned by Chevron. I saw its construction in the late 1960s or early 1970s while I was with a party gathering photos and slides for an exhibit of the National Science Development Board projects.

Bell & Whistles. At the Cagsawa Ruins in the town of Daraga, you can see a bell tower, which is all that remains of the church buried by the eruption of Mayon in 1814. It is romantic as it is rueful, good for a whistle and a tear, remembering the 2,200 people of Cagsawa who were buried by ash underneath your feet. (When I visited 2 weeks ago, I saw portions of the church walls jotting from the ground.) For a backdrop, you see and feel the huge presence of Mayon Volcano. You can buy souvenirs in the shops nearby, including wooden hands and whistles.

The Perfect Tree. The pili nut is “the most important of all the nuts in the world” and tastes better than almond (thenutfactory.com). The pili tree can withstand typhoons and resist most pests (bicol.da.go.ph). The pili is found only in the Philippines. Considering all that, here’s my discovery: The pili is the perfect tree for the Bicol Region. The Bicolanos can make it a major export crop if they put their heads together. There is an avenue at the campus of the University of the Philippines Los Baños called Pili Drive - pili trees line both sides of the road, but I don’t know of any research being done on those nuts. I hope UP Los Baños realizes ASAP that the pili is a national treasure.

The Perfect Fiber. At the Cagsawa Ruins in shops in Legazpi as well as in other towns in Albay, you can buy many souvenir items such as handbags, fans and cloths all made of abaca (Musa textilis Nee), a plant native to the Philippines that happens to be the strongest natural fiber in the world. The Bicol Region is the highest producer of abaca in the Philippines. Abaca is the region’s perfect fiber.

Black & White Sands & Red Sunsets. The Sogod Beach is the most popular in Bacacay (wowbicol.com). It is well known for its black sands and towering coconut palms and lush vegetation. Area almost unspoiled. The San Lorenzo Beach in Tabaco is another almost unspoiled site. You get a breathtaking view of Tabaco Bay and the island of San Miguel. The Kalayukai Beach in Santo Domingo is where the sunset is beautiful to watch. The Ilologan Beach in Manito is a long stretch of coral sand so white that it glistens under the sun; the place is excellent for bathing, skin-diving and pole fishing.

Falls Lovely & High. Another natural phenomenon in Tiwi is the Bugsucan Falls set on a lovely mountainside (wowbicol.com). The cascading water is an impressive sight. In Jovellar, the Mataginting Falls is a broad waterfall that cascades into a river. The Busay Falls in Malilipot is one of the highest waterfalls in the country.

Cave within a Cave. There is a cave within a cave in Camalig (wowbicol.com). The Caves of the Bats has a grotto-like formation inside that amazes trekkers. This cave is inside another cave, the Hoyop-Hoyopan.

Unexplored Cave. In Rapu-Rapu, the Minaroso Cave is close to the sea and a haven of seabirds and swallows (wowbicol.com). In Jovellar, this grotto-like cavern is naturally formed on a hillside.

Geysers from Afar. The Balubagon Boiling Cave has a steam pressure that is said to be stronger than that of the Tiwi geothermal (wowbicol.com). There is an outlet near the seashore where the sand and coral-like rocks emit steam in fountain-like formation and the geysers can be seen for miles.

Road to Heaven. There is a long stretch of a new concrete road in Daraga that connects the Pan Philippine Highway going to Sorsogon. This is the Kimantong Sky Drive (neda5.net). It zigzags on a scenic mountainside and provides a panoramic view of Daraga and Legazpi that is mesmerizing specially at night.

Huge, Rich, Highly Prized Church. The Daraga Catholic Church, built in 1773 by Franciscan missionaries, is known for its art, highly prized by enthusiasts for its rich baroque architecture; its hugeness is considered above standards. It was declared one of the historical treasures by the National Historical Institute in 2008 (gmanews.tv). The Camalig Catholic Church was built out of volcanic rocks by missionaries; today, it houses relics from the Hoyop-Hoyopan cave that reflect Malaysian influence in burial jars and Chinese influence in glazed ceramics (wowbicol.com).

Seagoing Lady of Salvation. Every 3rd Sunday of August in Tiwi, thousands of pilgrims pay homage to the Marian image of the Nuestra Señora de Salvacion (Our Lady of Salvation), the patroness of Albay. The pilgrimage is highlighted by a maritime procession and a concelebrated mass on Sogod Beach.

Magayon Festival Like No Other. I am told there are no festivities in the Philippines like the Magayon Festival, this year celebrated from 04 April, a Sunday, to 30 April, a Friday. It is a commemoration of the legend of Mayon Volcano (1stphilippines.com). It is really a month-long festivity that is, to the Albayanons “a celebration of life” (magayonfestival.albay.gov.ph), to the stranger a discovery of Albay’s rich history and cultural heritage, and to all a showcase of the Albayanon’s talents and skills.

Park Here If You Like. There is the Albay Park and Wildlife place in Legazpi City, which is both a zoo and a playground (vistapinas.com). The animals featured are the Philippine hawk eagle, bleeding-heart pigeons, brown boobies, ringneck pheasants, iguanas, reticulated pythons, crocodiles, Philippine warty pigs, Philippine deer, red squirrels, and an exotic tiger.

Discovered Undiscovered. Cagraray Island is touted to be “the undiscovered Paradise of Bicol” rivaling the famous Boracay Island in the Visayas, with its white sand beach and rich marine life (cagrarayisland.com).

Cultural History. There is the Philippine National Museum located at the Cagsawa Ruins that presents the cultural history of the Bicol Region. There is also the Legazpi City Museum that houses historical and archaeological relics.

Delicious Food. If you are in Albay, don’t forget to try the Bicol Express (pork in coconut cream with red hot pepper), laing (cooked taro leaves in coconut leaves), pinangat (sardines with coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves), cocido (fish soup, usually lapu-lapu) (kasal.ph).

Hill with a View. Lingñon Hill is a favorite of joggers. “The best time to go uphill is early in the morning when you can witness the sunrise and the naked beauty of Mount Mayon while the air is cool” (Arjay Millena, Bicol Hotspot). We journalists of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists visited the PHILVOLCS observatory up the hill 2 weeks ago (courtesy of Governor Joey Salceda), and I observed that the staff with all their beautiful PCs and wide-angle monitors have an enviable unimpeded wide-angle view of beautiful Mayon all day long. I’d like to visit there again soon.

Picture Perfect? When you visit Albay, you can’t resist Mayon. So, to end this piece, I’d like to go back to that beautiful volcano. As a tourist-working e-journalist 2 weeks ago, I waited 6 days for her to show her whole beautiful body, not hiding behind some thick white sheets. She didn’t satisfy my longing. I wanted to see her, and again and again. Mayon Volcano is picture perfect, an extra delight to behold - if you can behold. Much of the day every day, she’s a bashful maiden hiding behind a parade of clouds coming and going, and all the more you will want to wait to have that magical encounter with her beauty. How I waited in vain. I shall return!

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