Friday, October 10, 2014

Inside the danger zone of Mayon Volcano

That fiery red lava trickling down the slopes of Mayon Volcano is a paradox.
Like a fireworks display, it keeps Albay villagers awake in the middle of the night. Some would even take a break from their favorite evening teleserye just to watch the volcano simmer.
For us locals, it is such a delight to behold—enchanting and mysterious. Yet at the same time. we know that behind the peerless beauty of Mayon, there is wrath and potential destruction.
The 2,462-meter volcano is restive again. And soon enough, a throng of domestic and foreign tourists will surely start flying in.

The world renowned Mayon volcano shows its perfect cone shape on October 7, 2014 near the Phivolcs monitoring station in Albay. The tranquil view almost hides the fact that the volcano is likely to erupt any day now. Allan Gatus
It brings me back to December of 2009. Thousands of volcano-watchers flocked into the province. Hotels were fully-booked.
There were almost no vacant tables at Small Talk Café, a popular local restaurant that serves its signature Pasta Mayon. Taxi drivers and car rental services were on round-the-clock operations.
Business boomed while waiting for the big bang. But it never came.
Lessons from the past
It wasn’t always like a fiesta.
During my coverage of the 2006 eruption for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, I met farmer Gregorio Abellano of Barangay Mabinit in Legazpi City. And he recounted his fears.
On Feb. 2, 1993, he said he heard what seemed like the engine of an airplane roaring overhead.
The volcano spewed hot rocks over his farm in Sitio Balagbag Na Bulod, which was not far away from the crater.
Abellano ran for his life, away from the “tuga” (rain of fire) and “uson” (swirling hot clouds) that descended swiftly on Mayon’s slopes.
Some 50 meters away, he found shelter inside a shallow hole he dug for his copra produce. But he wasn’t able to escape the searing heat that licked his skin. It caused major burns on his face and body, leaving a big scar and a painful memory.
But not everyone was as lucky as Abellano. A total of 79 farmers died in the 1993 eruption.

Lava flows from the crater of Mayon volcano as seen from Legazpi City, Albay on Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Lava continued to cascade down the Philippines most active volcano as authorities rushed to evacuate thousands ahead of a possible deadly eruption. AFP/Charism Sayat

Incredibly close
In 2006, Mt. Mayon’s lava trail broke records to be the longest in 30 years. It was so long it encroached the six-kilometer-radius permanent danger zone, where the farmlands are.
I was then a neophyte countryside journalist when I had the chance to have a close encounter with Mayon in its restive state. It was a risk that I took out of curiosity.
The goal of our climb was to reach the lava front or the edge of the lava trail. We got there after a few hours’ trek.
The lava front looked like a humongous mound of blazing soil with rocks and boulders. It was so hot we couldn’t come so near.
During the climb, there were times we could hear the volcano’s loud rumblings and feel the momentary ground tremors—signs of magma rising inside the volcano’s pipe.
The lava, which was as high as a four-storey building, was moving and slowly inching toward us. It burned and trampled the coconut trees that blocked its way.
I got back to base alive.
Cagsawa Ruins
The year 1814 is engraved in every Albayano’s mind. What could be Mayon’s most lethal eruption in recorded history happened that year.
None of us have lived in that era, but the tragic tale has been passed on through generations like tales of the Second World War.
The volcano belched dark ash and spewed pyroclastic materials that engulfed the town of Cagsawa. More than 2,000 people were believed to have perished.
The town church was buried and only its belfry remains standing to this day.
The belfry at Cagsawa Ruins at Barangay Busay in Daraga, Albay is what you’d normally see on postcards and history books.
But more than that, for the Albayanos, it is a standing reminder of Mayon’s fury that hides beneath its slopes.
Quiet eruption
At times, the devastation brought by Mayon doesn’t happen in a bang.
What state volcanologists called a “mild and quiet” eruption in 2006 claimed more than 800 lives. But the tragedy happened only four months after the first ash explosion in July.
For months, the volcano constantly spewed lava that were deposited on the volcano’s slopes. Thousands of families were evacuated, though the villages remained unharmed—until November came, when super typhoon Reming hit the province.
Rainwater swept an avalanche of volcanic debris from the slopes and gullies down to the villages—wiping off vulnerable communities.
Hundreds of people were buried under lahar and many of them have never been found.
Disaster protocols
Albayanos are known to be masters of disasters.
When Alert Level 3 was hoisted over Mt. Mayon by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on the night of September 15, an evacuation plan was ready by dawn of Tuesday. 
Mandatory evacuation began in less than 24 hours and the evacuation target was hit within 48 hours.
Of course, temporary shelters have already been pre-designated while a disaster response protocol has been carefully designed to work even down to the village level.
The provincial government long ago formed the Albay Public Safety and Emergency Management Office (APSEMO). And through the years, it has refined its best practices disaster after disaster.
For a province often exposed to various calamities and hazards like Albay, preparedness has become a knee-jerk reaction.
Cruel irony
But Albayanos would easily forgive Mt. Mayon, even if the volcano has claimed thousands of lives.
When the lava cools down and the rumblings end, residents living near or within the danger zones would still go back to their villages, back to their normal lives.
They return to their farms on the fertile slopes of the volcano, because it’s their main source of living. It feeds them and their children.
So Albayanos are torn between hating a killer volcano and loving the same for its economic value and enthralling beauty—a bittersweet irony that sparks resilience.
Ephraim Aguilar grew up in Bicol. He was a regional correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He now works for GMA News as an executive producer for News TV LIVE.

This article was first published on, a collective blog and a passion project of nine news professionals from GMA Network.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Remembering Melody

Inquirer Southern Luzon
By Ephraim Aguilar and Juan Escandor Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:27:00 08/25/2010

THERE WAS no hint at all that her “small talk” with old friends in Legazpi City on Thursday night at the family-owned German restaurant Wilkommen would be the last.

She happily showed them her bridal photos for Hair Asia Magazine, which has her as cover girl. She talked about her newfound passion for makeup artistry, and the things that kept her busy.

By Friday night, the photos of the reunion were uploaded on Facebook. Melody left a comment to her friends, “I missed you all, too. Till we meet again!”

The next day, Aug. 21, her friends were stunned that Binibining Pilipinas-International 2009 Melody Gersbach, 24, died in a car-bus collision along Maharlika Highway in Bula, Camarines Sur, at around noontime.

Melody was on her way to the screening of Miss Bicolandia, where she sat as chair of the organizing committee. Others who died in the accident were her makeup artist and couturier Alden Orense and car driver Dodong Ramos.

Home buddy

Melody’s life had all been about photo shoots, runways and glossy magazines from the time she became a beauty queen. But away from the limelight, she was just really a simple home buddy, a good sister and a loving daughter.

Her younger sister, Magnolia, 20, remembers how she and her sister would fight over clothes. They were exact opposites—Magnolia is outgoing and the life of the party, while Melody was quite introverted and meek.

“We would often fight, especially about clothes, but those were the times we bonded and felt the love and the care, especially hers to me,” Magnolia said during the wake at the family’s hilltop residence in Barangay Cullat in Daraga town in Albay.

The younger Gersbach said it was only when she became a public figure that Melody was able to enjoy going out. “She was a late bloomer. So it’s funny, parang nabaliktad kami.”

“I was like more of the Ate (older sister). She’d come to me and ask what to wear, and which bar drink is strong like a [curious] teenager,” Magnolia said.

“We were exact opposites, but it’s good because we would complement each other. She was very meek. On the contrary, I’m the type who’d escape without asking permission,” she added.

Very simple

Their mother, Marina, said she would sometimes forget that Melody was a beauty queen. I’d ask her to drive for me and to pay the bills and she would meekly obey.

They would spend most of their time managing the family’s restaurant business together. One time, Marina said Melody told her that she wasn’t so much happy managing a restaurant.

“What she really dreamt of was to have her own clothing line and to be a makeup artist. She was full of dreams and talent. It’s a waste she would no longer be able to achieve them because of some reckless driver,” Marina said.

She said she would temporarily forget about the pain she’s going through when there were people around. “But when the visitors are gone and I’m all alone, I would break down and cry,” she said in Filipino.

“I want all of us to think that Melody just went to Germany and will be back someday,” Marina said.

Gov’t requirement

Marina believes that the government should set stricter requirements for the issuance of driver’s licenses and franchises for public utility vehicles.

She said the bus operators visited her on Monday morning asking her family to forgo with the filing of charges. “I told them that they should not be stingy with the victims and prioritize helping the driver’s family and the couturier’s because they are breadwinners and Ronald Lita, the survivor, with the hospital expenses and for his full recovery in the government hospital.”

She explained to the bus operators to choose from among three options—shouldering the funeral expenses of her daughter, the cost of burial place—a mausoleum—or to compensate the family based on the one-year earning her daughter could have made if she were alive.

Remembering Melody

Melody’s soft-spoken German father, Wolfgang, said he wanted other people to remember his daughter as someone who shared to them a happy life.

He said his daughter knew very well that life was not only about earning money, “For her what was more important was to make more friendships and to share with other people things that make her happy.”

“I want everyone to remember her the same way as how she remembered people whom she cared for, stayed for and worked with,” Wolfgang said.

He added that there was something about Melody that found good in people and effortlessly understood them.

Acceptance about Melody’s early demise will be a painstaking process for her bereaved family. Wolfgang copes by choosing to accept her fate and believing in God’s higher purpose.

“The things in life that we cannot change, we must accept. My daughter Melody died and I cannot get her back. That means I have to accept it and live with it. This is the Lord’s will, which we cannot change,” Wolfgang said.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Bb. Pilipinas Int’l dies in car-bus collision

by Rey M. Nasol and Ephraim Aguilar
First posted 23:22:45 (Mla time) August 21, 2010

LEGAZPI CITY--Binibining Pilipinas International 2009 Melody Gersbach was dead on the spot Saturday morning after the van she was riding in figured in a head-on collision with a public bus, an Army officer here said.

Two other persons, the driver and couturier of the beauty titlist, also died in the accident which occurred at 11:45 a.m., according to Maj. Harold Cabunoc, public information officer of the 9th Infantry Division based in Pili, Camarines Sur, quoting an initial police report.

“The accident occurred in Barangay Pawili in Bula,” said Cabunoc in a text message.

Gersbach and her companions were in a Toyota Innova on their way to Naga City when their vehicle collided with a Guevarra Bus Line driven by Wilson Pontillas.

The bus driver surrendered to police, said Cabunoc.

The two others confirmed dead were Dodong Ramos, the driver, and Alden Orense, couturier of the beauty titlist.

A fourth victim, identified as Ronald Lita, survived and was rushed to the Bicol Medical Center.

Police said the bus was trying to avoid a tricycle when it hit the Innova.

A resident of Barangay Culliat in Daraga, Albay, Gersbach, 24, who was also Ms Bicolandia 2009, left her house at 9 a.m. to attend a pre-pageant event in connection with the coming celebration of the Peñafrancia Festival in Naga City next month.

Ricky Gonzales, brother of the owner of the Innova, said the van was a total wreck.

“The scene was really morbid. The red Innova Melody was aboard was totally wrecked that almost only the wheels were left,” added Ariel Guban, president of the Rotaract Club of Legazpi Central.

Gersbach was a member of Rotaract, a Rotary-sponsored service club for young men and women aged 18 to 30.

On Nov. 28 last year, Gersbach competed against more than 60 other contestants in the Miss International contest held in Beijing, China.

Gersbach had said then that “her bubbly character, positive attitude and passion for helping others” would help her clinch the title.

Gersbach placed in the top 15 but lost out to Miss Mexico Ana Gabriela Espinosa.

Beauty queen blogger Joyce Titular-Burton, in an online interview, had fond memories of Gersbach, who was born of a German father and Filipino mother.

“I remember last Christmas when Melody texted me that she had some special German Christmas cakes for sale at their German restaurant on Makati Avenue. I bought a few for my Christmas dinner and loved how they tasted. I even blogged about it,” said Titular-Burton, author of the “Adventures of a Beauty Queen” blog.

“Now, German Christmas cakes will be a bittersweet reminder to me of how we lost Melody. Let this be a call to our President Aquino to really crack down on our terrible bus system. Do we have to lose another beautiful person because of greedy companies and wayward bus drivers?”

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Spicy ice cream, anyone?

By Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon
First Posted 19:30:00 07/10/2010

LEGAZPI CITY – Consistent with Bicol’s spicy food culture, a restaurant in the city serves spicy ice cream. How cool or hot is that?

Flavored with “siling labuyo” (chili), every scoop of the ice cream has tamed spiciness that blends well with cold creamy sweetness. And that can only be found at the 1st Colonial Grill, a homegrown restaurant that has built a name of its own.

But sili ice cream is just their dessert along with other innovative flavors like pili, coffee, “tinutong na bagas” (toasted rice), malunggay, kalamansi, and melon.

The 1st Colonial Grill also serves native dishes that remind one of his grandmother’s cooking, say restaurant owners Elmer Boy and Rowena Aspe.

The thriving restaurant, which now has a branch in a mall in this city, a newly opened one in Daraga, Albay, and a food court outlet in a mall in Naga City, was built on April 25, 2004.

No competition

Since then, for a homegrown restaurant, it has been competing well with national industry players and fast food giants.

Or it has not actually been competing at all. The 1st Colonial Grill stands securely in line with fast foods and big-named restaurants.

Elmer Boy says they never intended to compete with what had been there.

He says the 1st Colonial Grill has its own niche – people who want healthy comfort food with a twist served in a homey ambiance.

“Whenever our family had visitors from other places, we realized there were few choice restaurants we could bring them to. So we decided to put up the 1st Colonial Grill,” recalls Elmer Boy.

The 1st Colonial Grill is an offshoot of the Aspe family’s 60-branch pawnshop business in the Bicol region.

It is named such because its first branch was located in an old building built in the 1930s during the American Colonial Period.

Elmer Boy says they found it wiser not to compete but to offer something new, “If you compete with the fast food chains, the quality and the price will be sacrificed.”


With their three children as their critics, the Aspe couple know that the food they serve is of supreme quality and delectable taste.

“Before adding a new dish in the menu, we first have our children taste it. If they like it, then we offer it to our customers,” says Rowena.

The restaurant uses local ingredients from local sources, she says. They have once been offered cheaper and processed imported meat but they refused. While it could have saved them money, it would be very unhealthy.

Rowena says they also use vegetable oil to significantly reduce cholesterol levels in their dishes.

“We put health on top priority, because we and our children eat the food ourselves,” she adds.

Good food

The 1st Colonial Grill caters to all A, B, and C markets. “Everyone wants good food,” Elmer says.

The 1st Colonial Grill’s best sellers are Bicol Express (chilies cooked in gata); the Colonial Fried Chicken served in whole or half, which is an original family recipe; and the five-spice grilled chicken, which is marinated in five special spices.

Another best seller is vegetable kare-kare. The vegetables are supplied locally while the sauce and shrimp paste (bagoong) are homemade.

One can also have a taste of deep-fried vegetarian spring rolls, which are stuffed with mushroom, cabbage, carrots, vermicelli, bean sprouts, peanuts, and coriander served with a special sauce.

The restaurant also offers chop suey with a twist, that is, chop suey cooked in coconut milk with buko meat.

If there is Bikol Express, there can never be without “Tin-nu-to” (laing). This is dried gabi (taro) leaves cooked in coconut cream.

One cannot just say no to the restaurant’s Baby Back Ribs, a primal cut of pork meat cooked to be relatively tender, rubbed with spices and grilled.

All these main course dishes perfectly match with the unique “tinapa” (smoked fish) fried rice served in a “kawali.”

Service with love

Rowena says the entire family knows the ins and outs of the business, “We know how to do everything, from washing the dishes to cleaning the restroom.”

This is important if they want to pass on a culture of quality service on to their staff, she adds.
“We train the staff members ourselves. All we look for as qualifications are dedication and trainability,” says Elmer.

He claims most of their employees have been with them for a long time and they have seen how the business has grown over the years. This loyalty has bred in them a sense of ownership.

And the secret to a thriving business?

“To give real service, you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity,” Elmer says.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Page one image 6/7/2010

Retiree sponsors PDI learning center

By Ephraim Aguilar, Inquirer Southern Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:35:00 06/07/2010

SORSOGON CITY—In a village named after its natural springs, her generosity gushes forth for poor children thirsty for learning.

Browsing through the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rosalia Laganzo-Enerio, a recently retired government worker, found a way to help some 300 pupils of cash-strapped Bucalbucalan Elementary School.

She set aside part of her retirement money to sponsor a daily supply of newspapers and to put up an Inquirer Learning Corner (ILC) on the campus west of this city.

Having grown up in the same coastal village, the 66-year-old donor said it had long pained her to see the school still lacking books and updated resource materials, particularly those which could improve the students’ communication skills in English.

“By putting up a learning corner here in Bucalbucalan, the students will be provided with updated news and information. It will develop in them the good habit of reading,” Enerio said during Wednesday’s signing of a memorandum of agreement among her, the school and the Inquirer on Wednesday.

She said the majority of students here grew up without enjoying reading materials at home, items considered a luxury for their parents who eked out a living mostly as fishermen.

Education is close to Enerio’s heart. Before working for the National Manpower and Youth Council in 1975 and the National Housing Authority main office in 1981, she taught at Bucalbucalan Elementary School from 1968 to 1975.

Sensing the deterioration of the country’s education system, Enerio left teaching and found employment elsewhere in the bureaucracy.

The search for better pay also drove her to switch jobs. Public school teachers at the time were paid a measly P212 a month, she recalled.

But even after quitting teaching, Enerio continued to support various projects on education. She volunteered, for example, for the Alitaptap Storytellers Philippines, a group that promotes literacy through the art of storytelling.

Every graduation season, Enerio would also donate medals to different schools in Sorsogon City.

But soon she realized that she had to give something that would leave a lasting impact on the students.

Enerio came across the Inquirer’s Learning section and read about the ILC program, wherein public schools can get free subscriptions to the Inquirer courtesy of reader-sponsors. The newspapers are to be kept in a school corner called “Inqspot” for easy access.

First non-politician donor

The ILC program is aimed at creating a place in public schools where teachers and students can read the paper and discuss the day’s news or issues.

Enerio said she had been an avid reader of the Inquirer since its founding during the martial law years, when the Marcos regime dismissed the fledgling but stinging newspaper as part of the so-called “mosquito press.”

Inquirer senior product manager Roselle Fortes-Leung said Enerio had the distinction of being the first ILC donor who is not a politician.

The ILC in Bucalbucalan is also the first to open in southern Luzon, Leung added.

Three ILCs have been set up earlier in Quezon City and Zambales province, all sponsored by politicians.

In honor of parents

“This is my way of giving back to the community and to this school in honor of my parents,” said Enerio, daughter of Feliza Aquende and Restituto Laganzo.

She said her parents, who were not able to finish their studies because of poverty, always reminded her and her siblings about the value of education, saying it’s the only priceless legacy they could give them.

School principal Antonio Jintalan gratefully acknowledged Enerio’s contribution: “We’re amazed that someone from this village is able to help this school.”

Jintalan said the ILC would go a long way in helping develop the children’s love for reading and their awareness of current events.

Mere P5,500 budget

Jintalan noted that the school, which operates on a measly budget of P5,500 for maintenance and other operational expenses, could only afford to set up a small library with books that were rarely updated.

A pity, Jintalan said, since “80 percent of our learning still comes from reading.”

With about 350 enrollees, the school has been relying heavily on private sponsors for its improvements, he said.

Enerio may no longer be able to go back to her first love—teaching—but she nevertheless vowed to continue her advocacy and community work for education.

The retiree called on other private citizens to do their share for the benefit of today’s youth and future generations.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

4 Side Trips from Mayon

(Sunday Inquirer Magazine)
by Ephraim Aguilar
Inquirer Southern Luzon

SUNLIGHT hits Leizel Peñaverde’s face as she awakens after a 10-hour bus ride from Manila. She immediately grabs the camera from her bag and captures the magnificent view of Mayon Volcano from her bus window.

She is seeing the world-famous volcano for the first time. Natives believe that when a visitor like Peñaverde sees it naked or free of clouds, it is a welcoming sign of blessing.

Peñaverde, 27, of Malate, Manila has joined her husband’s company outing. The tourists aboard chartered buses drop by the famous Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga, Albay for a closer view of Mt. Mayon.

Peñaverde says she is amazed by the volcano’s beauty, which she only used to see in textbooks. But tourists like her might ask, is there more to an Albay trip than viewing the 2,462-meter volcano?

Legazpi City, the capital city and regional center of Bicol, is strategically located in the province’s second district, from which tourists can easily jump off to other destinations in Albay and adjacent provinces.

Considered as the gateway to Bicolandia, Legazpi City can be reached via a 45-minute plane ride or a 10-hour land trip from Manila.

If you’re staying in any of the hotels in the city, there are many interesting places you can visit and new experiences to enjoy. Here’s a shortlist:

1. Ligñon Hill

Just a five-minute drive from any point in Legazpi City is Ligñon Hill, which offers a panoramic view of Mt. Mayon and a 360-degree view of the city and the neighboring Daraga town. It also has a 40-meter-long and 7-foot-deep tunnel which the Japanese forces used as an arsenal during World War II.

On top of the hill is a 320-meter zipline from which tourists can soar through the chilly air, with the scenic Mt. Mayon in the background. There are photographers to capture the picture-perfect moment.

Dianne Recomono, 16, of Pasig City tried the zipline and could not hide the excitement in her face as she plummeted through the hill’s lush green contour.

“This is a unique and worthwhile experience. It’s definitely something I would recommend to my friends,” says Recomono, who was with her family for a four-day summer vacation.

The hill also hosts other summer adventures and extreme sports, such as hiking, biking, rappelling, paintball, and airsoft – all managed by Globe Quest Adventure. Zipping and rappelling are at P200 per person while paintball costs P300 for 50 bullets, mask, vest, and a paintball gun.

Another adventure sport is biking on dried up gullies at the foot of Mayon. The gullies serve as pathways of loose sand and volcanic rocks swept away by heavy rains from the volcano’s slopes. Four-wheel All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are available for rent at P1,500.

2. Forest adventure

The Mayon Volcano Natural Park is a favorite destination for nature lovers. Its main entry point is in Barangay (village) Lidong in Sto. Domingo town.

The 5,486-hectare park surrounding Mt. Mayon is a protected area that covers eight Albay towns. Aside from its rich flora and fauna, the park has 18 rivers and creeks. The scattered fertile plains, rough and narrow ridges and deep ravines add up to a great adventure.

Local mountain guides are ready to assist neophyte hikers and campers. Camp 1 is 1,650 meters above sea level, says Aldwin Orendain, 18, the park’s gatekeeper.

An alternative entrance to the forest nearer the city is in Barangay Buyuan in Legazpi City, where the Mayon Outdoor Group Association assists hikers and campers.

Other ecotourism destinations in Albay within a two-hour drive from the city are the boiling lake in Manito town, the 91-meter Busay Falls in Malilipot town, the ice-cold Vera Falls in Malinao town, and the black sand beaches of Sto. Domingo town.

There is also a butterfly garden and fruit bat sanctuary at the Bacman Geothermal Fields at the border of Manito, Albay and Bacon, Sorsogon.

Sorsogon province is home to the whale sharks of Donsol and the placid Bulusan Lake ideal for kayaking.

3. Native souvenirs

There are many souvenir shops at the Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga town which offer Bicol’s native products like cutlery, refined clay jars, pili nut candy varieties, abaca bags and crafts. There are also P300 shirts hand-painted with Mt. Mayon.

At Alne’s Crafts and Souvenirs, prices of abaca bags range from P100 to P650 depending on materials and design. Abaca slippers, P25 to P65 each, are also available.

The Mayon Artstone shop in Cagsawa sells sculptures made of hardened Mayon rocks. Its 50-year-old artist-owner Vicente Ajero, also known as “Enteng Bato,” uses only a hammer and a large nail as chisel to form different images. He also fashions bracelets and necklaces from volcanic stones.

Other souvenir shops can be found at the Legazpi City Grand Terminal. Bargain hunters are assured that the native bags here are half the price of those displayed at the Metro Manila malls.

For even greater bargains on local crafts, plus a learning experience, tourists can go directly to the abaca-weaving villages in Malilipot town, just a 30-minute drive from Legazpi.

For food pasalubong, the 74-year-old Albay Pilinut Candy in the Old Albay District is just a few minutes away from the Legazpi City Domestic Airport. Some of its bestsellers are the crispy pili, toffee rolls, yemas de pili, pili butternuts, and salted pili.

Pili is one of Bicol’s distinct produce. Pili nut is known as the Philippine almond, which is at par with the macadamia nut. A classic favorite delicacy is the sweet bar-shaped mazapan (pili nuts mixed with milk, egg, and sugar).

4. Bicol food

For a unique food experience, there are local restaurants that offer fusion cuisines.

The Small Talk Café offers Pasta Mayon, which is made from triangular ravioli pasta garnished to resemble Mayon’s nearly perfect cone. It is topped with sizzling red sauce, reminiscent of flowing lava.

Other Small Talk favorites are the laing (taro leaves in coconut milk) pasta and pizza, and the Bicol Express pasta.

Have you ever eaten spicy ice cream? It can be weird but truly delectable. You can try it at the First Colonial Grill, which has two branches in the city. It offers “native Bicol food with a twist.”

They have the homemade Bikol’s Pride Ice Cream with various local flavors such as sili (chili pepper), pili, tinutong (toasted rice), malunggay and lemon.

Other Colonial Grill favorites are tinapa fried rice, buko chopsuey, vegetable kare-kare, five-spice chicken, tinuto (a local variety of laing), kilawing tuna, and Bikol Express.

To visit all these sites, tourists can avail themselves of 24-hour taxi and car rental services. Local transport service provider Early Riser offers car rental services for as low as P250 per hour.

With a three-day stay in Legazpi, a tourist can already have an adventure-packed summer vacation. Indeed, in Bicol, there are places and experiences that can never be captured by photographs on crisp four-sided postcards.