My Bicolandia Sojourn: As hot as it can gets

It’s always been one of those adventures that I have long wanted to take but once it was decided, some unforeseen things would come out and the plan will be shelved once again. The last time I went to Bicol was almost 40 years ago and I only stayed in Naga City.

So, last month, I saw an opportunity and a reason to finally take on this adventure and go on a long drive to Bicolandia and see for myself the beauty and majesty of Mt. Mayon, which is currently performing some ‘internal cleansing’ and spewing lava. I thought that this is the best time and the best opportunity.

I left Angeles City around midnight of Wednesday. I passed by the Skyway, then through SLEX and at around 3am, I was already entering the Province of Quezon. It would still be a long time because Quezon Province is a very large Province. By sunrise, I was already in Atimonan, after passing through the ‘dreaded’ Bitukang Manok or the Atimonan Zigzag Road. It took me another 2 hours of driving before I reached the Provincial Arch marking the entrance to Bicolandia, as I entered the Province of Camarines Norte. I took a very short stop over for CR break, had a breakfast of lugaw at the roadside carindiria and requested a soldier manning the checkpoint to take my photo.

I would have wanted to drive straight to Legazpi City in Albay, but when I checked on my Google map, I realized that it would only be a short distance off the road if I pass by Naga City and make a pilgrimage to the Minor Basilica of Our Lady of Penafrancia, the Marian Patronnes of the Bicol Region. It was a very inspiring moment. Although I was very tired and sleepy, that moment of prayer provided me with additional strength and inspiration to proceed.

On my way to Legazpi City, I was already excited to see Mayon Volcano. Hoping that along the way, after some curves and turns, it will just pop out in my vision with all its calm and majesty. But unfortunately, the weather has not been very cooperative as there were intermittent rain and cloudy skies. Before reaching Camalig, Albay, I caught a glimpse of the base of Mayon Volcano but its top is covered with heavy clouds.

Disappointed but not discouraged, I drove along, and search Google for the best place to eat Bicol Express, Pinangat and Laing. So at almost 2 o’clock, I had my lunch at Lets Pinangat to have my first taste of authentic Bicol Express and Pinangat. I am not really a fan of eating food with coconut milk but since I’m here, it’s worth giving it a try. And I was surprised that I liked it. I also enjoyed the pinangat, which is tilapia cooked in coconut milk also. But I did not try the laing.

At 3pm, I was able to check-in at Your Brother’s House Tribal Village (YBHTV), a popular place for backpackers and adventurists. I slept for about an hour to rest before I drive around the city for the perfect spot to see the volcano.

Later in the afternoon, I went to the Cagsawa Church Ruins where I was hoping to finally see the full-glory of Mayon Volcano. But then again, thick clouds covered the whole mountain. I ended up trying the famous chili ice-cream but I chose the avocado flavored one. The first scoop is not really hot or spicy.

Probably because it was ice-cold. But after the second scoop, the hot ness of the ice cream just hit your palate and then, you just wish you are carrying water with you to wash away the ‘heat.’ Later on I proceeded to Quitinan Hill, a recommended spot to see the volcano. Unfortunately, at the time that I was there, Mayon was still shy to show its top, with most of it still covered with heavy clouds. I then proceeded to another recommended site, the Legazpi City Boulevard. And there, lo and behold, Mayon finally revealed its majesty and beauty. But amidst the seeming calm, there is violent eruption happening.

As the evening progresses, the glowing lava flowing from the crater reveals the danger that these volcanic activities pose for the residents of the areas surrounding the volcano.

When I went back to YBHTV, I had a quick dinner and a shower and just went to sleep.

The following morning, I woke up to the sight of Mayon spewing smoke and still showing signs of restlessness. At this point, weather is still cloudy. I decided to take a drive to Donsol, 90-minute drive from Legazpi City going towards the province of Sorsogon. Since I have slept well and comfortably during the night, the drive towards Sorsogon is relaxing and the view is breathtaking. I was hoping to see some Butanding in Donsol, but I was not lucky enough nor was I really interested enough to look harder or check the resorts which offer whale-shark sighting services. I decided to proceed to Sorsogon City and check the place. It was June 30 and back home in Apalit, the 3rd day of the Fiesta celebration of Sts. Peter and Paul is still on-going. Although I was not able to go home and pay my homage to our patron saints, I felt blessed to realize that the Cathedral of Sorsogon City is dedicated to Sts. Peter and Paul.

The rest of the day was basically spent driving around Sorsogon City, Sorsogon Province, Camarines Sur, Albay, Iriga, Itogon, Camalig and more.

Before sunset, I went to Sumlang Lake and there, I was not disappointed because I finally saw what I came to Bicol, Mayon Volcano with all its grandeur and calm beauty. And when the evening comes, the glowing lava was again visible. That was the perfect view to end my Bicolandia Sojourn, while sipping hot coffee and enjoying the scenery.

At 9pm, I took a ride with my very reliable, fuel-efficient and comfortable driving partner, my Khaki-brown Suzuki XL7 vehicle for my 12-14 hours long drive home. I reached Quezon Province at around 5 in the morning and passed by Tayabas, Mauban, Sampaloc, Lukban and Lucena City. When I reached Laguna, I noticed that UP Los Banos is along the way, so I took a detour trip to the Makiling Botanical Gardens. From there, it was homeward-bound back to Angeles City.

The 1,600 kilometer trip was back breaking, sleepless and uncomfortable but it was well-worth it- for the mind, for the body and for the soul. For me, for my country and for God. To experience the fullness of life; to see the beauty of our country and feel the presence of God through His creation.

Until the next trip.

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