The Many Faces of Bicol

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.

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Perfect shot of Mt. Mayon, Bicol, Philippines
Mt Mayon’s Postcard Shot cc Image courtesy of Storm Crypt on Flickr

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.

Bicol beachesVolcanoes 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.

wakeboarding in the Philippines
Bye Bye Board cc Image courtesy of liza022 on Flickr

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.

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Damitio  (@vagodamitio) is the Editor-in-Chief for Vagobond. Life is good. You can also find him on Google+ and at Facebook