By Ariel Allosada Allera
My favorite movie Kailangan Kita (I Need You) was shown on PBO recently. Claudine Barreto and Aga Muhlach were right on the money. Not only did they justify their lead roles, they likewise made perfect partners in promoting tourism in Bicol, where the film was entirely shot. Most scenes visited me, reminding me of the wonderful memories I have of my Sorsogon-Albay sojourn a few summers back—courtesy of Cebu Holiday Tours and Travel’s Ricky Tio.
The journey from Cebu to Masbate to Sorsogon seemed eternal. But all the stress paid off when I arrived in Donsol town, province of Sorsogon, excited to have the first leg of my tour which was the Butanding interaction.
I hadn’t any idea what a Butanding was, until I was sent out to the middle of the deep blue see where—too late for me to back out—I was to dive and, worse, swim alongside a school of whale sharks which before me looked as huge and grayish as an aircraft sinking since time immemorial. Said to be the world’s largest fish, they are found collectively in the waters of Donsol where every Bicol-bound tourist ought to get by and experience the Butanding interaction.
Still consumed by a sense of fulfillment for having conquered my fear of sharks, I wasn’t the least bit ready for my next stop, San Benon’s Mateo Hot and Cold Springs in Irosin town. But the sight of rock-tree pools sitting in different sizes/shapes beckoned another Bicol experience to behold. Having been in Donsol’s cold waters, I had to dip in the warmth not really of the pool’s but also of the hospitality of Bicolanos.
They gave me a red-carpet treatment, washing away my previous perception of Sorsogon. Laidback, yes; but backward, no. The downtown is cleanly and orderly, whilst their suburbs clean and green. They have dandy restaurants like Casa Dominga and posh hotels like Fernando’s, where I was billeted in during my first night.
For having underestimated their province below the belt, I said sorry to Mrs. Cecilia Duran who was the hotel’s general manager, chairperson of Sorsogon Provincial Tourism and vice-chairperson of the National Tourism Council. In between a square meal of Bicol express and snatches of Pili nuts, Director Maria “Nini” Ravanilla of the Department of Tourism-Region V discussed Sorsogon tourism. The information that there was more we could see, such as the Rizal Beach, the Bulusan Lake, Mt. Bulusan, the Barcelona Church, the Irosin Church and others, made me more than unwilling to call it a day.
Like it or not, the early morning’s wake-up call had me head for the province of Albay. But knowing that I was en route to the very place where Carl (Aga) insinuated to Lena (Claudine) of her impeccable beauty by looking over the comparatively beautiful Mayon Volcano gave me too good a reason to yield to my call of departure. Wouldn’t I be excited enough to see it for myself, to kiss the foot of Mayon in Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga town, and leave a mark of prayer for the thousand and one souls who were buried under what is now a blackened church tower? (Note: The Volcano erupted February 1, 1814 and sent lava flows which cascaded down its side. The worst of all its 40 eruptions since 1616.)
Today, the Ruins provides a magnifecent view of Mount Mayon which then grinned seductively, impatient to be explored by this hopeless romantic. A European visitor whom I asked a favor to take my picture said, “The erased place of Cagsawa and its weathered ruins are part of a park and a highlight for tourists like me and our cameras.” Visibly abroad around the park are souvenir shops as well as Pili nut sweets and orchid stalls, so are a children’s playground, a swimming pool, and the Ayuntamiento Art Gallery that is open to the public every day.
The silhouette of Mount Mayon’s triangular shape dominates the panorama of the eastern landscape of Albay. From the Mayon Skyline nestling almost at the tip of its near perfect cone, I was afforded the spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean, the different towns, lakes, villages, fields, and other mountains. The hanging clouds plus the cool, invigorating air have makes it an ideal summer resort with just about similar temperature as Baguio at 28 degree Celsius. It erects majestically at 2,700 feet, 2,462 meters from a broad base, about 10 kilometers in radius. It has a notched rim where a high and mighty mountaineer can find a pool of hot lava boils and rich coal deposits.
The name Mayon is derived from the Bicol word magayon, meaning “beautiful.” An American writer described the Volcano as an overly perfect backdrop painting of a Hollywood jungle movie, while a couple of Japanese visitors likened it to Mount Fuji in Japan and said, “Maybe, even more beautiful.”
Feeling uncontainably happy for that equally beautiful opportunity of being in Bicol, I went back downtown, jauntily, and displayed an almost maudlin expression of gratitude to the Lord inside Our Lady of the Gate. This church was built on top of Daraga hill in 1773 by Franciscan missionaries and is one of the oldest in the country. Its rich baroque architectural designs, with archaeological remains of saints and rare religious seals ingeniously carved throughout the entire facade, make it a priceless relic for art afficionados.
At once I wondered there was something I hadn’t noticed in all the church’s awe and splendor. On the way to my hotel in Albay’s capital city of Legazpi, my mother wit told me to stop by Albay Freedom Park fronting the City Hall and Provincial Capitol Building, as though the answer to my question was there. I racked my brain, wished to the Liberty Bell Monument, and before it could liberate me from my perplexed conscience I caught myself awed by the splendid sight of the Albay Cathedral Parish which seemed there had been a wedding ceremony a while ago.
At the garden outside more guests were frolicking, some wiping their tears, mostly tossing their wine glasses. Then I saw a kalesa (horse taxi) coming out of nowhere, carrying a lovely couple, and running past this passionate writer.
Ariel Allera – firstname.lastname@example.org