I’ve never seen the tallest building in the world, but I’ve seen the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia which used to be the tallest building in the world from 1998 – 2004. I was in Malaysia back in 2001 and had my chance but missed it. Still, it was astounding to see them in 2011 when they’d been exceeded by the Taipei 101 (I was in Taipei in 2001 too, damn, I got it backwards.) They are 451.9 meters tall and have 88 floors.
The Philippines offers one of the most incredible travel opportunities in the world because of its diversity in both landscape and culture, the warmth of its people, and of course the climate and food! One place you don’t want to miss in the Philippines is Bicol.
There is no way of escaping the presence of Mt. Mayon when in Albay province. It towers over the skyline and looms imposingly over Legazpi City. Hence, tourists who visit Bicol must pay homage to this temperamental lady. Folklore has it that Mayon got its name from a legendary heroine Daragang Magayon (“Beautiful Lady”). Breathtakingly scenic with its symmetrical conic contour, yet there is nothing beautiful in the deaths and destruction it has wrought since 1616.
Mayon’s deadliest eruption took place on February 1, 1814. It spewed black ash up in the air. Stones rained down on the ground. Hundreds of Cagsawa townsfolk hid in the church. Lava flowed down. Trees were burned. Cagsawa town was overran with flaming mud. Villages were buried under 9 meters of rocks and ash. Rivers were either wiped out or diverted. And some 2,200 locals perished. When Mayon ceased, only the ruined but empty Cagsawa church remained. In time, the façade, walls and posts crumbled leaving only the belfry standing today.
But it wasn’t all over yet. On June 23, 1897, Mayon erupted relentlessly for seven days. Again, its black smoke rained down flaming rocks. Burning lava flowed. The village of Bacacay was overran under 15 meters of lava. In Libon village, 100 people were crashed and burned to death by burning rocks. More than 400 locals died.
There is now a museum beside the Cagsawa ruins where tourists often pose for souvenir shots. For the outdoor type, there are mountain bike trails around the volcano’s foot. A climb up its 35o to 40o slope will reward the adventurer with a magnificent, refreshing, view of the Albay Gulf.
Volcanoes have shaped Bicol. Black-sanded beaches line Mayon’s eastern and northern fringes as in Bacacay and Sto. Domingo towns. In Tiwi town (Albay), the black-sanded Putsan beach and surrounding coastal villages used to be islets in the Pacific. But Mt. Malinao’s eruption, a local volcano, filled up the waters with sand and joined the islets to Luzon mainland. Vents of this now-dormant volcano leak to the scalding-hot Naglabong Lake, a boiling sulfuric pool. Public hot spring pools are available at Tiwi and Manito towns.
Black sand also covers Sagñay beach in Camarines Sur. But fine and white-sanded Caramoan beach, lapped by crystal blue waters, is just postcard perfect. A perfect tropical hideaway, it made its debut in the 2007 French “Survivor” reality TV show. Since then, swimmers and divers come increasingly to this up-and-coming destination.
If you’re into water sports, try the CamSur Watersports Complex at Pili town, a cable water sports park for wakeboarding, wakeskating and waterskiing. Located at the Provincial Capitol Complex in Cadlan village, it offers a 6-point cable ski system. A 3-day 2-night wakeboarding package costs Php 3,150 per person with accommodation, breakfasts, and airport transfers.
If you want to hit the real waves, cross Masqueda Channel into Catanduanes province and head to Purana Beach for board surfing. Dudes can check into the Japanese-built resort at Purana and beat the majestic waves rolling from the Pacific. Best time to do Purana is from October to January when the surf is up and right handed.
As you read this I am on my way to an odyssey that has me both nervous and excited. I wrote an article about this for Travel and Escape back in December and so I’m going to borrow heavily from it here. I’m on my way to get a dose of Gnawa Morocco Mind Medicine.
Gnawi chanting and the Atlas Mountain music known as Ahidous form the backdrop to a spiritual celebration that pilgrims flock to every year for a deeper understanding of life, faith healing, trance healing and, perhaps most importantly, to ask for favors from saints and djinn.
I’m one of those flocking to it! I’m part of an artists workshop and retreat that is heading to Sidi Ali. Tonight, I will meet with the other participants for a dinner and then we will head to where the madness errr…Mind Medicine…happens.
Key to these gatherings and pilgrimages are Sufi brotherhoods such as the Gnawa, the Aïssawa and the Hamadcha, with their trance-like music and bizarre (to us) ritual behaviour. One of the most famous but least witnessed (by outsiders) is the celebration connected with Sidi (Saint) Ali Ben Hamdouch, the founder and patron saint of the Hamadcha brotherhood. This particular brotherhood provided much of the basis for Gnawa’s music, which is much more widely known for its trance-inducing rhythms. Hamadcha trance music is known as ‘medicine for the mind’ by many Moroccans.
Sidi Ali is about 70 km from Fez where we meet for dinner tonight. From Fez we will trek to Sidi Ali Ben Hamdouch and absorb the energy and wonders of music, trance,possession ceremonies, prayers and sacrificial slaughters dedicated to the spirit world. We will be among the thousands of pilgrims filling every available bed, couch or tent space as Moroccans come to entangle themselves with the supernatural aura of a place where spirits and humans join together to honor God.
I’m terribly excited as I write this and very happy to be joining in on this. Much thanks to my friend Jessica who is the coordinator of this group of artists gathering and who has thoughtfully asked me to participate.
From ritual baths in the spring of Aisha Ben Hamcoucha to the music and sweet incense that continue without stop, this is a celebration of the mystical—and whether you are there as an observer, a performer or a pilgrim, chances are you will be brought into the ritual as the feeling of trance wraps its way around the crowds.
It’s not that my mind needs the medicine as I feel like my time in Morocco is coming to an end. February 2nd will mark four years since I arrived and I feel in my bones that like a Presidential term – my time is almost up – in Morocco (I’ll still live for another 60 years). This is a chance to really feel it, dig it, live it, breathe it, because it does not get any more Moroccan than what I am heading towards.