(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.