Monday, September 18, 2006

Mayon Majesty and Legaspi/Albay Tour

I am sooo late at writing and posting many of my sojourns in the Philippines that many times, world events and calamities catch-up or overtake me to the extent that I have to revise what I wrote. Well, it is because something always gets in the way at my being able to finish my logs – and that is this thing called, WORK!

This visit to Legaspi happened about 4 months before the area was struck with that calamity of overflowing volcanic mud that submerged many things into oblivion. Anyway…

How did I know about this place?
The news got me curious! First it was Mt. Bulusan. Every news source said it blew its top and was spewing lava and volcanic ash all over the place. Next came the news about Mt. Kanlaon also displaying some fiery activity. Then Mt. Mayon… slowly mildly erupting. Nothing violent but people were being evacuated.

Ah, I just needed to satisfy my curiosity to see a volcano spewing lava or ashes or smoke! With all the media hype, the more I itched to go see how Mayon was doing!

Chancing upon another “long weekend”, I asked my friends if anyone cared to join me. Seven of them initially got interested, and (as usual) a week before d-day, the “adventure” was finalized with only me and two other adventurous souls!

Getting there…
Discussions via email or txt msgs were lengthy on whether we should drive, take a bus, train or plane! It was a rainy month and the roads were always wet, so driving down to Legaspi was ruled out. The trains we hear take longest to about 13 or 14 hours and may not be as comfortable. So it was easily ruled out too! We were considering the fast luxury buses that can make the trip in 9 or 10 hours steered by expert drivers. But we also ruled this out when news of a TV crew van had accident with a bus where three news people perished. We quickly searched the airline rates and unanimously noted that Cebu Pacific Air’s was cheapest.

e-tickets ready, we three agreed to meet at the airport by 12NN of departure date as flight was scheduled to leave at 1350H. While lounging around, we suddenly saw behind us that another two of our friends were with us! They finally decided to join us last minute! So the group became “five adventurous souls”!

Delayed flight due to “late-arrival-of-turnaround-aircraft”, but for just a few minutes. Flight was uneventful. In less than an hour, we landed at Legaspi City’s airport – the 3rd official landing of the airliner in that city since they started operations two days prior!

It was a gloomy Saturday afternoon and right from the airstrip we noticed that more than the upper half of the volcano was covered with thick clouds. Oh well, we thought maybe tomorrow those clouds would have been gone. So we proceeded to wait for our luggage without much of the usual pictorials upon arrival.

Emerging from the airport, we saw our hotel representatives waiting for us. Representatives? Ah yes, we were booked in two different hotels. The three of us at Casablanca Hotel while our two last-minute companions at Hotel Venezia. Ours at Casablanca was a TWNB with extra bed from a Saturday afternoon to a very strict 12NN of Monday. Our two other companions got their SGLB for from a Saturday afternoon to a Sunday afternoon (at least not strictly 12NN)!

Then we were herded to our respective “limousines”. That of Hotel Venezia was a clean and well-maintained van (L300?) with the usual tasteful livery of the hotel’s name on the sides and front. There were about seven of them passengers bound for the hotel which we heard earlier was very full – reason why our two companions had to settle for a room with just a single bed. Our “limousine” was nothing but a Ford Fiera with big writings on both sides that proudly pronounced “Casablanca Catering”. I thought… how tasteless! At least it had air-conditioning but as anyone would know, the seats (at the back of the driver) are long benches no different from a jeepney. Oh there were only the three of us on the fiera so it was not much of an inconvenience. And we went off ahead.

While cruising to our hotel, a few hundred meters from the airport we noticed the grand arch and gate and the fine fences that led to the Venezia Hotel. Quite a lovely village I thought. And Venezia Hotel was inside that village? Whoa! Manicured loans… big garden… lovely indeed. We saw at least two other hotels nearby (both to the left of the road) and they looked fine. I just wonder why hotels should flourish in this area when it was like a silent suburban village. Not too many urban conveniences aside from the common sari-sari stores here and there.

In the city finally…
Then we noticed we were cruising along a busier part of the city. Buildings and business establishments, restaurants, bars, tricycles, jeeps, cars and everything city were in abundance. We were then in PeƱaranda Avenue. As we ogled at the sights, the fiera suddenly stopped in front of a tall building that hugged the main thoroughfare. Oh, we were already at Casablanca! And the crew helped us out of the vehicle and brought our things (as if there were a lot hehe) to the lobby.

One would immediately notice that the hotel has seen better days. Probably even the most luxurious address in this city many years back. In short, it is obviously old but still clean and well-kept. The spacious lobby has a coffee-shop and at the other end from the front desk is a glass walled videoke bar. Most dominant in the entire lobby is darkness! Probably it was an attempt to make the place look more elegant. But there is no diffused lighting; there are actually not enough lights on. Probably also an attempt to conserve on electricity hehe! At least, the “darkness” actually gives the coffee-shop a tastier effect with just few yellow lights on. But at the front desk, I somehow felt I was checking into a seedy hotel hehe!

Casablanca front desk staffs who received us were helpful, cheerful and friendly. They engaged us in light conversations and stories about Mayon as one of our companions filled out the ceremonial check-in form. Everyone beamed that they’re the only hotel in the city with a very good vantage view of the volcano. We believed them. And we were told the viewing area is at the 3rd floor of the building. Our room was on the 4th floor.

No elevators here! So you have to walk the so many flights up to your room. There is even a 5th floor. But when I secretly walked up to it, the rooms are all under renovation and there were a scattering of construction gadgets and materials.

Reaching our room, panting hehe, we immediately noticed the “vintageness” of this place. The door has an olden doorbell I thought they should save at least one for the museums. It picked my curiosity and I pressed it. Everyone laughed. The thing gives out a muffed bell-like sound that is far from electronic. It is mechanical! Yes it is! An ancient gadget! But it still serves the purpose – which won’t be any louder than the good old “knock on the door”! My curiosity made me itch to dismantle and tinker about the insides of the doorbell but my saner companions prevented me.

Big enough room, standard sized bathroom, hot and cold showers with no exhaust fan. Old lampshade, high ceiling, small TV, wall-to-wall glass windows covered by thick curtains and an aged telephone – not rotary but a very complicated thing, probably the very first batch of digital telephones after the era of the rotary dials. Oh you can use the phone as an intercom and not just as a phone. Interestingly, when you pressed numbers to call, the sound you hear is the “takatakatak” of rotary phones in the ancient past!

Oh there was a closet just behind the door. Normal wall-width closet straddling the distance between the door and the bathroom but it was way too shallow you can’t hang clothes the way you would on your closet at home. The style or technique here is to hang clothes where the hangers, therefore also your clothes are facing you! Interesting! Hint: my backpack had to stand inside one of the shelves for it can’t be placed any other way!

But of course we had to rush out to the viewing deck for a glimpse of the majestic Mayon Volcano. The spacious “deck” is actually like a porch or ledge (roof of 2nd floor) where the air-conditioning exhaust boxes are laid out in a row. You will have guessed right if you thought this is part of the emergency exit route of the hotel! But yes, oh yes, and as if on cue, the last swabs of clouds drifted away from Mayon when we went to check the views. Fantastic… Magnificent! The cameras started clicking! As this was 3rd floor, an attendant told us we could actually climb up to our floor using the emergency exit stairs – which we did from thence on.

We called our other friends at Venezia if they had a good view of the volcano. The reply was a sober “no, there’s none cuz there is a hill that stands between our hotel and the volcano”! We told them they could come visit us if they wanted to view it from the hotel.

Albay Tourism!
Enough of the hotel! We had to quickly roam the city as far as the rest of daylight can offer. So we took a jeep to visit the Albay Tourism Office. By instruction of our hotel staff, we were to get off across the sports center as the tourism office was just beside it. Long ride but easily found! Bad news… the gym guard (in his undershirt and feet with slippers on top of his table) told us the tourism office was closed. But he did tell us to go see the building which is at the back of the spacious parking space of this sports center.

The tourism building was totally closed so we could not even enter the lobby to check out what might be good to see in this city or this province. We still peeped through the glass door. And if it was any consolation, since obviously we couldn’t get a map or two from there, we saw that the outside wall has a big framed map of Legaspi City. Pathetically, we spent a few minutes ogling at that map and checking references at where we were and where next we could go! On moving out of this place, we saw that this side of the sport center also houses some offices. There is the Investment Facilitation and Display Center. Yes, also closed! So we just went near the glass wall and viewed what we can about the products and other things this province considers they’re proud of! There are others in this row but we didn’t bother to check it out as surely everything was closed.

Going out the main gate of the sports complex, the guard at least had the nerve to courteously advise us “sa Tuesday nalang po kayo bumalik”! And it all the more hurt us! When does government think people would be touring around? On weekdays? Gosh, I would rather go to my office and get paid for it. Like millions of Filipinos, I can only afford to go around on weekends. And THAT is where I may need the services of the tourism offices. Oh government!

Anyway…

The Plaza
After the grand opportunity of looking at the “enshrined map” at the closed tourism office, we walked towards an elevated park. As we did this, noticed that the other side of the sports complex is lined with restaurants and bars. But it was not what we came for, as of yet anyway. To our right was some kind of a huge police headquarters. Crossed the street and climbed up to the elevated “concrete everywhere” park. Oh we noticed this park or plaza was middle of everything! To the left was the capitol building, to the right was the cathedral and in front of us was the city hall. But when we turned back in the middle of this cemented plaza, woah, Mayon was there watching us. Majestic!

Tried our luck at the city hall as we have known from some internet pages that there is also a tourism office there. Closed! So we walked across the street to see the cathedral, its archway in big bold lettering announcing the “Cathedral of San Gregorio Magno”. Main entrance door was closed. We walked around to the side. Also closed! We asked a man walking by and he said it was really closed and would open only on Sunday! Gosh! Everything really has a first time. And this was the first time we chanced upon a “Cathedral” that is closed on a Saturday afternoon! Maybe the priest there also works for the government!

So we walked the street going towards the busier part and away from these edifices that were all closed. I had the nerve to still check-out the capitol building, lest we be allowed to see even just the lobby. Closed also, of course! Walking on we saw that there was a university in the area. At lest it was not closed hehehe and students were busy going in and out of the building. At one corner, we chanced upon a branch of the famed Biggs Diner. What else do you do in a frustrating situation? Binge! So we entered the place and ordered everything Bicolano that we could stomach. For a snack we had things like “laing”, etc.!

Trying a DIY tour!
Remembering that one internet page said the port had a very good view of Mayon, I went out of Biggs and asked some students and two traffic officers on how we could go to the pier. The directions were rather complex. So I got back to my companions and said we better just get to a mall and later call a travel agent or tour guide from our hotel so we can have an organized roaming around tomorrow! This place is not very easy for the D-I-Y traveler! And malling we did at the Gaisano. One of us was already having a hoard of little native things like bags and miniature toys made of abaca etc. Dusk view of the volcano from just outside this mall was equally great.

After the mall, we walked around the city for more views and wanted to get a tricycle to bring us to the Lignon Hill. That’s pronounced “lin-yon”. The jeep thing was complicated. Am not sure anymore if it was really complex or people there just don’t know how to give directions. Anyone you ask would answer you with a lot of “but”, “if”, “or” and many such hesitant pronouncements. Our two companions from Hotel Venezia were already calling us from the hill as they were already there having walked all the way up with a lot of people. We tried a policeman and asked how much it would cost us to hire a tricycle to that hill. His “very helpful” answer was “depende yan sa usapan nyo”. Then he pointed us to an area where a lot of tricycles were waiting. I had the urge to shout at him and say “…. ina mo”! But I did not hehe, lest I end up in a prison cell! On reaching the tricycle station, almost all the drivers hovered and crowded around us as if somebody just died. Others won’t take us in, others said P100, others said P80 each and so on. It was chaos I could never bear. So I urged my companions that we walk farther to take a jeep back to our hotel and just forget all about the damned Lignon idea! Ahh!

At the hotel, we noticed a group of 8 people were also trying to get a ride to the same hill. I asked the front desk clerk what the issue would be. She said they can’t anymore call car-hires and/or travel agencies as it was already 630PM. Gosh! But on going up to our room, I left word with this clerk that if ever they got a van, we three would be interested to join the 8 souls waiting at the lobby and share the cost.

We washed up, called our two other companions that we couldn’t anymore join them at the hill. They told us the views were grand and there were a lot of barbeques and beer up there. So we went to the view deck and indeed the views were good. Skies were clear and the fiery mouth of the mountain was burping with flaming lava that cascaded down its slopes. Great view and we didn’t notice we were marveling at this sight until about 8PM. So we rushed to grab some food.

Nightlife?!
Dinner (as suggested by my ‘Lonely Planet’ book) was decidedly to be had at Waway’s, a restaurant famous since yesteryears for the clean and delectable Bicolano food they serve. We arrived at Waway’s with only two tables occupied. In one table was a family of 6 while in the other table, there were probably 10 or 12 of them. We were surprised to realize that some of the famed dishes like “kinunot” were not anymore available. When we asked why, the answer was a simple “ubos na”! Golly how early diners in this city must be! So we settled with Bicol Express, Kare-kare, Crispy Shrimps and Crab Omelette. Ahh, still good!

During dinner, we had the chance to talk to Raymund, the son of the owners. He was surprised to realize that we came to know about their restaurant from the Lonely Planet book which I showed to him. Only that his place was spelled by the book as “wayway’s” instead of “waway’s”. But we still found it by asking around since no one knew of a place named “wayway’s”. He asked us where one can buy the book. I said from National Bookstore and even volunteered to get one for him. Until now, I haven’t done so yet hehehe!

A few more (probably 3 or 4 sets) of eager diners (generally tourists) came in but many of them were surprised to realize that food was just about depleted. When we asked why they’re not cooking anymore, the reply was “we close at 9PM”. Oh golly this is not really a city of the metropolis standards! People here are probably firm believers of the “early-to-bed-early-to-rise” thing. I even joked with Raymund that 9PM is just my regular “going-home” time from the office every night. He said “grabe”!

Oh I asked Raymund to sign over the misspelled name of their restaurant in my Lonely Planet book just for souvenir purposes. And now I have started ticking every point or destination in the book that I have been to or done so!

After that hefty meal, we hailed a tricycle and went back to our hotel. Target this time was the Videoke Bar of Casablanca. And we sang the frustrations of the day away until we felt like our pillows were calling upon us! Before we hit the beds though, we remembered to remind the front-desk to ensure our tour for the following day is in place. Then we got one more glimpse of the volcano still steadily spewing red hot mud!

The real tour!
We woke up early at 7am since our van and driver were expected at 8am. All immediately went out to the emergency exit to see how Mayon was doing. It was brewing fine.. if I can call it that! Not too strong explosions but continuous lava flow. And the cloud cover was very thin and sparse so virtually everything was visible. While we were preparing, front desk called that the driver was already downstairs. So we went downstairs. A few small talk with the front desk and we boarded the van – a spanking new dark-green Starex – that costs P2800 for a whole day tour, driver and gas included. Not bad!

First destination was breakfast/coffee at La Mia Taza Cafe. There's a main entrance to this place but to the left you enter the restaurant (fastfood), while to the right you enter the coffee shop a la Starbucks. A fine enough place for a city that does not seem receptive to tourist needs! Hmm, I had bacon-and-egg sandwich from the fastfood and tried pili capuccino from the coffee shop. Interesting coffee flavor!

While having breakfast, we called our two companions billeted at Venzia just to check where they were. Golly, they were already at the "satellite" – a native handicrafts shopping complex for “pasalubongs”. We said we'll fetch them after breakfast so they can join us for the tour. And when we went to fetch them, they were already at the stairs of Gaisano metro mall facing the big gazebo with a lot of native things in tow! Envy envy envy… but our time for that is still tomorrow!

Cagsawa Ruins
Our first itinerary (as if there were many hehe) was of course to see the Cagsawa Ruins far from (but with a good view of) Mayon that caused the church to be buried with only its towering belfry as remnant. Well, what else to do there other than pictorials pictorials pictorials! Not that this was my first time, but I had a great discovery in this place. The kids that sell pictures of the volcano are very knowledgeable about the history of this place including the stories of how it was before the volcano covered it with boulders and mud. They’ll even regale you with dates and names of the friars who manned or managed the church. Facing the belfry and the volcano behind it, there will be some ruins to your right – of course am not sure if by now it is still there. Anyway, from the stories of these children, I learned the orientation of the church and at least an estimate of how wide it was. The ruins are actually the remnants of what must have been the upper portions of the church. Oh, look further and you even see some kind of a resort with a swimming pool just beside this place. Not sure if that place is still part of this tourist attraction (meaning maintained by the government) or if it is a private entity trying to make a living from many a tourist PPP or $$$!

Let me clarify again that this is such a late late late entry about my travel to the place before the two strong typhoons hit the place. So I could be talking now about history or things that cannot be seen or experienced nowadays. I dearly hope this is not the case. Oh my!

During my visit, the kids even have a story or fact to tell about those big boulders scattered around the belfry. We even asked one of them to take a picture of the group of us local giggling “tourists”! The girl who took that pic was probably just about 9 or 10 years old… and she was very good at taking the exact framing we wanted!

Okay now, I cannot spend anymore time recounting that Cagsawa visit other than we even played hide and seek at the ruins using our digicams to tag everyone “it”! How and why? Well, the belfry has holes (or were these windows?) on the wall that we can go out or inside of it and hide from everyone else only to emerge at another hole. Aliw!

Where was our driver/tourguide at all these? Well, he was sitting beside one of those kiosks selling water and souvenirs, busy “txting” whoever and just occasionally glancing up to see if we were ready to move outa that place! Ganun! For some reason I was so sure he had something to tell us about the place. But, probably he thought we were like the other tourists who were just there for “photo-op” and nothing else. Well, buti nalang the kids kept following us and telling us stories about how this place was and how it came to be!

Daraga Church
Done with the pictorials and “hide-and-seek”, our driver/guide drove us up to the Daraga Church approaching it from behind. Mighty majestic this church is! It is perched on top of a hill, the olden materials that it is made of are still quite intact and the ornate colored-glass mosaics are still grand.

We tried flicking and poking the materials that the outer walls are made of. Its like some soft stone. But it cannot be that soft to have stood time for the past so many years. No one there to tell us, and our driver/guide was useless just sitting in the van. But from many an old church or structure I have visited, I thought those were limestone bricks or coral stone. In many parts the bricks seem to be chipping off (eroding? Hehehe) and yet in some other portions of the church entirety, this material has been replaced by concrete.

The meticulous carvings on the stone walls are interesting too - quite ornate and tastefully done as if by modern-day artists. Only some “strategic” parts of the walls have carvings. Designs are generally floral but the side entrances do have carvings that seem to depict murals of people from the olden days – am not sure if those were of saints.

From the church grounds, the views of Mayon, the sea and the city are spectacular! There are three or four open-type shacks or stalls (manned by little children) that sell water, sodas, juices and snacks!

Lunch
As food is one of the best that Bicol can offer, we already expected that our driver would bring us to something interesting for lunch. And indeed it was!

Oh, before going to lunch, we passed by Venezia Hotel so our two friends could check-out, join us at lunch and speed off to the airport in time for their departure. While our two friends were busy packing everything, we roamed the vicinity of the hotel. Interesting place, clean, quiet and tastefully made with a spectacular garden. Then the front desk girl heard that we were still to have lunch! So she called to our companions and suggested to them that it would probably be better if they go out to lunch with us first then come back to get their things for a late check-out to catch their 3PM flight. We all agreed and I thought that was mighty thoughtful of this girl!

Passing some streets, turning left and right, our driver finally brought us to an interesting resort-like restaurant called Tago-Tago. WOW! Tago in so many Philippine dialects means either keep or hide. But we learned that the restaurant was named “tago-tago” as its location is hidden away from the city center. Its like located in a farm. And when I briefly scanned the vicinity, the place is actually near some kind of marshy mangrove area which I thought was probably the bank of a river or the edge of the sea.

The Tago-tago frontage has ample space for parking at least 8 to 10 cars, though I thought anyone could also park vehicles along the dirt-road and grassy areas where only a few houses stand. Before you enter though, there are big cages housing birds and animals that make the place like a mini-zoo! You guessed it right, it took about 30 minutes of all of us ogling and coaxing and taking pictures of all those creatures before we could actually enter the restaurant. Good that one of us (and the driver) had enough presence-of-mind by going ahead to the reception area and ordering food!

This is no ordinary eatery! Eating places are scattered in a wide expanse of gardens and fishing pools. The “cottages” or little huts come in different sizes and forms. Some are good for just four people, others are bigger and there is even one that can serve a mini-banquet! Most of the huts are built over water where fish are being grown. Oh yes, if you have the time and skill, they do have fishing lines that you can use to catch a fish or two! Still some other huts were interestingly floating on a raft. They also come in different sizes like there is a cozy one for just four people and there are bigger rafts for families!

We chose a round hut (concrete flooring) at the corner of the facility. The round table was probably good for 10 or 12, there were only 6 of us including the driver, so we had ample space. All of these little cottages are open-air to allow the gentle wind for a more relaxing feast. But some of the huts (like ours) have been covered with nets on all sides to keep flies and other insects from buzzing into our food. But we could still see everything outside, the wind still blows and there were electric fans whirring just above us!

Now this is a wide place and the set-up is such that there is no central location where waiters can see all the diners from whatever angle. So they installed buzzers in each and every hut where anyone can just press to call a waiter for assistance. I checked all the huts I could and every single one of them had those buzzer switches mounted on the posts or even just hanging from the ceiling. That includes the little raft-huts floating on the water. Very clever!

Need we talk about the food? This is Bicol and they pride themselves foremost at how great they can ham up things in the kitchen. I particularly like the way they cook things w/ coconut milk, like the laing. I learned that the best way to prepare the gabi leaves is to first dry them out in the sun before being cooked in coconut milk! The lapu-lapu in sweet and sour sauce was something never to forget! Ahhh! I had a hardtime getting up from my seat after that hefty meal!

As if on cue, some of the caged-birds started making sounds when we were all just sitting there as if in a siesta. So we had no choice but to rush there with out cameras. And our lunch hut was actually just beside one of the cages. We had fun following and trying to shoot those bleeding-heart pigeons!

One of our companions settled the bill while we were already teasing two monkeys and marveling at some owls! Oh lunch! This was one great find.

On with the tour!

Don’t ever miss the Pier!
After lunch, we whisked our two Venezia companions to fetch their things and to the airport. Then we had a leisurely ride amidst the city streets and found our way to the Legaspi City Pier. What for? Well, if you don’t know yet, the pier area is one of the greatest vantage points to watch Mt. Mayon. The element of water from the sea merging in with your view of the majestic mountain, plus the element of development from the houses by the edge of the city makes this one a fantastic sight. And this was a hazy afternoon. Cloudy above the city but the volcano was in full sight. Wonderful!

The pier is in some kind of a cove so that the structure protruding to the sea is actually across to the edge of a little hill (behind you if facing the volcano). And although our driver told us we can’t go there (no reason mentioned), he did tell us that the view of Mayon at that hill is even grander. Ok, FINE!

Hey, this is Legaspi City Pier but don’t think of the waters by the pier to compare with your Manila Bay. The waters are (still, so far) clear with a lot of marine life under it even just below where we stood. Proof? There was a barkada of about 7 gentlemen who were diving for fish. They wore just goggles and each had a spear called “pana”. As they swam in every direction, two of them were toting plastic bags that contained the fish they were able to catch. When some of them came nearer (actually just below me on the pier) I asked them what the fish was for. One answered that it was to become their “pulutan” later in the evening. And I continued the interview with “do you do this often?” The interesting reply was “yes, when we are able to visit Legaspi”. I learned from that brief water-to-air and air-to-water interview that they were also from Metro Manila and were just in the area for the long weekend To each his own! They tour by diving, we tour by driving hehehe!

About three days later from this encounter, we would hear news I Manila that there was Butanding (whale shark) sightings in this very area. Oh luck, whereforth were thou when I was at that pier! The Butandings were 3 days late for me hehe!

Albay Park & Wildlife
Never did we know that after the pier we would be heading back to the airport, this time to visit the Albay Park & Wildlife. This is one accidental advantage of having just a driver and not a professional tourist guide. He whisked us to places as to what time it was good for us to be there. A tour guide would have had us hop into this zoo after we dropped our companions at the airport – then we would have missed the grand views of the mountain from the pier! See? Maybe this was our “karmic fate” not have been able to talk to anyone at the closed Albay Tourism Office! Gee thanks!

So what about the zoo? Well, for starters this is neither an ordinary Avilon nor Manila Zoo. This is more and less. It’s a zoo and a park like Manila Zoo but I liked it here. First, its not too wide and/or rugged to tire you. The terrain is actually almost plain, except that it climbs a few degrees to the zebra and lion areas.

This is a place in the country (so far) where I have seen the most number of bird species lumped in one place. The animals are equally interesting. There is a playground for kids and adults alike. You can rent bikes to go around the place. There is a lagoon and an interesting bridge obviously built not for convenience but just to adorn the place and there are eating places. But the higher portions also have little huts amidst flowery blooms generally good for the lovers who want peace and quiet.

There is also some kind of a laboratory where dead or “preserved” animals are on display. Some are in jars with liquid, others are just dead and dry. The walls have historicals and diagrams and photographs all to educate us. There are noisy red birds that sounded like parrots. There are fowls and owls. Two ostritches were pecking and picking at each other’s feathers and running majestically inside their stable – where other birds and animals were also sharing quarters with them. There was a fat-looking chicken perched atop a wild goat. Three different kinds of peacocks were busy skimming the ground. The sheep were playing with the goats. Zebras running along with awkward looking little horses (are they ponies?), children monkeying around with a real monkey who was obviously irritated at the coaxing, a yaya learning how to ride a bicycle courtesy of her alaga and some lolas trying out the slides! A great zoo, right?!

By the way, this Albay Park and Wildlife is actually right at the foot of Lignon Hill on the side of the airport therefore way from the view of Mayon Volcano! An until now, I can’t seem to place it right, but the name of this zoo seem to be missing something… “Albay Park and Wildlife Sanctuary”? Whatever!

Lignon Hill, finally!
This is a short drive away from the zoo. At corner where there are tennis courts and a lot of tricycles waiting, you head right and start the steep ascent to the top of this hill. Well, yes, like yesterday (as told by our companions) a lot of people are walking the road going up or coming down. But once our van was already parked at the top, I mustered that it must have been an arduous walk for them coming up. Gosh! Anyway…

When we arrived at the top of the hill, there were already a lot of people but never more than a hundred. Cars were starting to fill the parking spaces and the make-shift food stalls were starting to crowd. What is there to see here? Well, upon being on the hill, look to your right. It’s a grand view of the airport, the runway and some parts of the city. Look straight ahead and there is some kind of a meteorological something building and beyond it are more views of the city. But look to your left and voila! A very clear vantage of the Majestic Volcano spurting out some red-hot materials that you’d not want to touch! Its still actually far, but you see it with your naked eye!

Why is everyone crowding here at sundown? Well, what else… to catch a good view of the lava flow and rocks rolling down from the volcano’s mouth. During the day, you only generally see the smoke but you can already trace if it was lava flowing or boulders rolling down the mountain. At night, these things can be seen as a fiery glow. But at just sundown, you can still see the volcano clearly with all its grass and growth but you can already also see the fiery glow of lava and rocks! Interesting? Well yes, but you actually recoil and take that word back when you think that this very same spectacular you are witnessing is actually killing people and their livelihoods.

When we were there, all the TV Networks in the country were represented c/o their OB Vans strategically parked in various areas of this cramped hilltop. The broadsheets were also all represented as we can see the big IDs dangling from their necks and some of their cameras bore their logos. Of course foreign news correspondents and photographers were also there. As darkness fell, this hill began to fill. The news crews were competing with us for the views and the barbeques!

A news Pinoy photographer erected his big and long gadgets right beside me so we chatted with him. His photographs are to be sent to his news desk in Europe immediately after the take. So we gave him ample space by the very edge of the hilltop with only a rope preventing us from cascading down to the bottom of this hill! As evening enshrouded the area with darkness, it was not anymore conducive for our mere point-and-shoot cameras. But let me call that karmic fate again, the photographer who is actually talkative and was now our friend invited us to view the mountain’s “activities” via his camera with interchangeable long lenses – when he was not shooting. Actually we could still watch from his camera’s LCD even if he was shooting as he did the clicking via a remote control gadget.

The learnings: lava flows out of the mouth in various speeds, sometimes slow, sometimes fast like water would. The flows had been burning whatever plant growth there is in its path and the damage is growing by the minute. Those “little” fiery rocks that fly out and hurtle down the mountain were actually never “little”. This photographer showed me an example by trailing his camera onto a rolling ball of fire until it stopped near what obviously was a coconut tree. From his zoomed lenses I realized that the rock was almost as tall as the coconut tree. Therefore it was not just an ordinary stone but probably a boulder bigger than my house! Goose bumps goose bumps.

And the conversations went on. And some of the newsmen joined in our animated discussions. And even our driver filled-in with some stories. When next I checked my consciousness about where I was, I realized we were already like doing a symposium on top of and at the edge of Lignon Hill. There was already a big crowd of people from everywhere who were listening in or contributing to the discussions. Oh mighty volcano. At one time I half-jokingly asked, what if that volcano erupts now that we are out here in the open, what can we do? The realistic answer came from the lady selling barbeques when she said “wala na, mabilis yan, Segundo lang patay tayong lahat”! And everyone fell silent. I knew terror was in the air. Until a lady news crew said “but Phivolcs would have warned us and not even allow us to come up here if something that big is to happen”. Yet our new photographer friend added “gobyerno yan”! and everyone including the foreign news people had a hearty laugh!

By about 9PM when we got a bit bored watching the same thing over and over again, we decided to move out to catch dinner and whatever nightlife there remains in the city that sleeps early! Our driver was himself enjoying the spectacle that he seemed not interested in going home yet. He even asked “okay lang sa inyo? Di na tayo makakabalik ditto!” We said let’s call it a day! And going out and down the hill was a bit tricky due to a lot of vehicles and people slowly moving in both directions.

Last Day
We decidedly woke up late (9AM) due to the sing-along action previous night and due to lack of anything else to do in Legaspi as departure for Manila was still past 3PM.

While my companions were back at the emergency exit for a last glimpse of Mayon and just as I went out of the shower, caught the phone ringing and it was the front desk. The gay clerk called just to remind us that 12NN was check-out time and an hour of extension would cost us P200. I begged if we can have a late check-out time like 1:30PM or even 1PM since our departure. The fag of a clerk was never giving saying “it is against company policy and management is strict.” Of course he added that if we really wanted to check-out late, we should follow the P200 per hour extension and any fraction thereof was considered an hour.

I was already getting a bit irritated at the sound of this pompous faggot on the phone who probably thought I can’t afford a mere two-hundred-pesos. I continued to plead and even told him we were about to go out of the room, it’s just that when we come back to fetch out things, we might need to do some last minute use of the comfort room. His proud answer was, we have a comfort room at the lobby! In my mind I was already cursing.

At 10AM, we went down with all our things to already check-out as we have arranged to leave our things with the front desk and come back at 12NN (the check-out time) in time for the free ride to the airport (which is inclusive in the hotel rates). Guess what the faggot exclaimed, “sir, the van to the airport is at 1:30PM so pwede pa kayo mamasyal until that time”. Here was my reply to the faggot of a front-desk clerk “alam mo ang tanga ng policy nyo and that also means ang tanga mo for not realizing this… ipagpupumilit mo mag-check-out kami ng 12NN tapos ang shuttle to the airport is at 1:30PM… kung alas-dose na ngayon at nandito kami, ano gagawin mo sa amin patutungangahin for one and a half hour in this lobby because you can’t allow us to have a late check-out?” And I continued with this… “here is the deal at hindi ako nakiki-usap but I am ordering you… we will go out to the city for some shopping and to have lunch, pag bumalik kami dito ng 12NN you better find a van to bring us to the airport at that very time or else magdedemanda ako sa Manila that your hotel is not giving what your guests have paid for”!

I was already half-shouting and my companions were already pulling me out into the street as I said that when the other front-desk clerk, the lady who received us on arrival, blurted in saying “oo nga naman, pero sige sir we will do everything pag bumalik na kayo”! Now all the more that I wanted to kill that fag but I didn’t say anything more. How I wished he’d just drop dead at that very moment! Not because he is an ugly faggot but because he is a human being without a brain!

So out we went to Waway’s for an early lunch. Next we hailed a tricycle to the “satellite” for some pasalubongs. The place teems with a lot of fine handicrafts made in the Albay province. Baskets are good and cheap. And the famous pili (raw or in candy bars) and other delicacies are aplenty. Hey I bought a white T-Shirt handpainted with the Mayon Volcano scenery as viewed from the pier – just like in my pictures! And I got it for only P240 from the original P250! With all the goodies and things that me and my companions bought, the tricycle driver we hailed going back to the hotel had a hard time loading everything. It was already 1:30PM.

When we arrived back at Casablanca Hotel (1:36PM) the driver and the hotel crew were already waiting for us in front of the lobby. They were worried and seemed to be in a hurry. I knew the reason… they needed to be fast at the airport in time for the arrival of the flight where they need to fetch incoming guests. And as early as 1PM, I knew my companions really planned that we arrive at the hotel by 1:30PM and not 12NN to avoid anymore heated confrontations. And during all these, the fag was nowhere to be found. I actually got his name but kept using fag or faggot to call him as I can’t think of any dirtier word to separate him from the rest of the hotel crews. So dear readers, its up to you if you still want to use Hotel Casablanca in Legaspi!

At the airport, I had to check-in my toiletry kit 'as is' because there were liquids in there and I didn’t want to check my backpack in! That was the smallest check-in “luggage” I ever had so far hehehe! As usual, Cebu Pacific flight was delayed. They’re the new PAL now (Plane Always Late)!

Oh well!

4 comments :

  1. U should have stayed at Mayon International Hotel! Daym!

    U missed Mayon Resthouse? Daym!

    U didn't visit Bacacay Beach? Daym!
    I used to snorkel there every weekend. Its a nice place, lots of colorful parot fish plus Baracudas..

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  2. gaga! how could he/she have stayed in that Mayon International Hotel e sarado and dilapidating na yun!

    come to Legaspi more often so you'll know how we are :)

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  3. hey you bastard barbarian if you do not have bright idea on how to write positive comments about the beautiful places in the Philippines you better kill your self or better go to mars you're very unfair if your problem is the old gadgets maybe you're after to the internal decoration not on the tourist spot which you're looking for moron

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  4. may the fairies of 'reading comprehension' and 'grammar' visit the last anonymous poster. and bastard too! ano ba pinagsasabi mo? mag-tagalog ka na lang kasi, or mag-bikol nalang! hindi kasalanan yan hehe!

    basahin mo uli ang article na iyan mula taas hanggang baba, then tanungin mo uli sarili mo bakit yan ang comment mo, ungas, gunggong - ikaw ang bastardo at moron! BOBO! kung kaya ng mahinang utak mo, basahin mo nga lahat ng article sa mga blogs nya nang mahimasmasan ka. i just hope hindi ka bicolano dahil isa kang kahihiyan. tanga!

    basta ako, I still like the topics and the way PinoyTraveler writes them. keep on PT!

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