There is no pain without gain – and there is no perfection without the filling of imperfections. Last week’s travel wasn’t without bumpy roads and sleepless nights, but the light brought about by the sunrise after hours of darkness made it clear that every imperfection will have perfection ahead.
Escaping the Not So Perfect Life
On the verge of blowing up our minds with all the anxieties each of our professional lives brought us everyday – a trip to somewhere faraway from the metro was a saviour to myself, my mother, and my stepfather. We needed to get away from the air that suffocates us everyday, and let our minds wander off from the thoughts that give us pain every night. So we decided to take the long weekend to our advantage – by visiting one of the most notable places in the Philippines, where the most perfect geographical wonder stood tall – Albay, Bicol Region.
Recalling the lessons I worked so hard to put in my head when I was still on the fourth year of my grade school, Bicol has always been a wonder to me. Known as the region that housed the perfection of Mt.Mayon, an active volcano dubbed as the ‘Most Perfect Cone-shaped Volcano in the World,’ Bicol is more than a 10-hour drive from Manila. However, knowing this fact did not stop us from packing our clothes and essentials on our backpacks – going as far as leaving in the late evening to set on our journey. The date of our departure was carefully considered; knowing countless people would be on the roads on the way to their provinces of rural pilgrim sites. we left at 10PM, on April 16th.
The Imperfect Road
The traffic in the metro held us for about 2-3 hours before even reaching the South Luzon Expressway. Figuring out that it was indeed going to be a long night, we stopped for coffee and tea as well had the fuel tank of our Ford Everest filled to the very last drop. We could have prepared better, if only we knew there were going to be less-friendly roads ahead of us.
Quezon Province was my mother’s homeland. On regular days, reaching Quezon would take 2-3 hours of drive from Quezon City. But reaching the end of Quezon Province, on to the gateway to Bicol Region wasn’t that easy. Unlike the urban areas where life beamed and dazzled at night, the farther reaches of Quezon slept without lights. Road constructions here and there, perhaps every kilometer starting from Pagbilao, Quezon, took generous amounts of hours from our trip. Sensing everyone needed rest, we stopped for an hour at around 3AM to catch some quick Zzzzs, and sips of again, caffeine. A dose of caffeine would have had helped, even quick, power naps – not unless the roads turn from bad to worse. And the worst thing was, the roads weren’t exactly unfriendly in the sense that they tortured the wheels of vehicle. they were unfriendly in the sense that they seemed to have had no ends, and that most of the time only half of their all can be accessed. Stoplights were non-existent, so only citizens waving green and red flags determined which vehicles passes through the narrow path first. And certainly, we were always on the red side.
We reached the arch of Bicol around 7AM the following day. Complying with another human need, we decided to stop somewhere on the side of the road to have breakfast. The perfect thing was, my mama prepared food we could take the night before. If she hadn’t, it would have been an imperfect end of the journey – to turn back where restaurants beamed with welcome.
Reaching Bicol, we found out eventually, didn’t necessarily equated to a perfect end to an imperfect road. Apparently, the towns were bigger, the roads were longer. We reached our destination, Legazpi City, Albay, at around 5PM. Counting the total number of hours – 19. Including 3 hours of stop. After finding a place to stay, at Villa Amada Hotel, we called it a day after a hearty dinner at the 1st Colonial Grill – where we had a taste of the authentic Bicol Express, Pinangat, and Pasta Bicolana.
The Tip of Perfection
Friday morning spelled the beginning of the true adventures. Grabbing a passport-like tourist guide from the reception of Villa Amada Hotel, the clutch was stepped on and we headed to our first destination: Lignon Hill. Here, visitors could either walk, or drag their vehicles atop to get a glimpse of Mt. Mayon – as well as to try out some extreme activities such as hanging bridge walking and zipline. However, the weather wasn’t that perfect enough to allow us to try either of the two – even to just get a glimpse of the perfect cone. After buying lovely hats that would shield us from whatever weather condition that is to come, we left with heavy hearts and just decided to head to the next destination – Cagsawa Ruins.
On our way to the historical site, our attentions were caught by an exciting, and enticing offer: All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Tour. Crossing rivers, over rocky surfaces, along the lava front – were adventures I never imagined when we set on this trip to the home of the Mayon Volcano. But travels are more memorable when not planned. Strapping our seat belts, putting on our helmets, diving the group in two, and baring ourselves for a one-of-a-kind experience – we hopped on our respective ATVs. My mama went on a separate engine with my stepfather, leaving myself, our family driver, my stepfather’s mother, and her sister-in-law aboard on a rancher ATV (which can accommodate up to four people). The tour we availed took us on a round of the iconic geographical wonder – braving metamorphic, igneous, sedimentary rocks of generous sizes, natives bathing on the waters, lush and of course, breathtaking sights of the main attraction.
Near the lava front situated the Cagsawa Ruins. My friend, who originally hailed from Bicol once told me, that you cannot not visit Bicol without dropping by the Cagsawa Ruins. This historical site once had a Franciscan Church – destroyed when the Mt. Mayon erupted in 1814. The church’s bell tower is what remains intact after the lava that oozed from the unforgiving mouth of Mayon buried and deformed the architecture to what it is now. The site stands as a symbol of what it was like to be on close proximity with one of the most active volcanoes in the country – and a testament to the activities of nature. Visitors can relish the beauty of this survivor with only 10 Pesos per head – inclusive of a good view of the Mayon Volcano, and a close look on the former religious sanctuary. Souvenir shops selling all sorts of Bicol specialties such as Pili nuts, woven essentials, and even chili can be found near the gates of the site.
Nearing afternoon, we decided to grab lunch. Following the passport’s advice, we set our on Embarcadero de Legazpi. This commercial place once stood witness to the galleon trades from Spain – during the colonial days. The embarcadero oversees the Legazpi Port, and was named after Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Legazpi was a Governor General to the Spanish East Indies – which of course, included the Philippines. This notable figure was the man responsible for making Manila a Capital city in 1571. Unfortunately, since the trip fell on the lent season, the Embarcadero welcomed us with closed doors. Fortunately though, the dining areas were more than happy to accommodate our grumbling stomachs with very affordable buffet meals at 149 pesos per head. We dined by the port, satisfying our gastronomy, and feasting our eyes with a magnificent view of the waters which brings economic life to the city.
The Sides of Perfection
I’ve never seen a hot spring, not even once in my life. Which was why I fought to see Tiwi. Still referring to my grade school lessons, I told everyone of Tiwi’s famous hot springs. Lucky for me though, Tiwi did not only house hot springs, but also the town of ceramics, Putsan. My mama adored ceramics more than flowers.
Tiwi lies on the northernmost tip of Albay – nearer Camarines Sur. Tiwi was once known best for its hot springs – which was popular for its health benefits. Take note of the past tense. A sad news, which crushed my childhood dreams welcomed us upon our arrival to its former sanctuary. Tiwi Hot Springs had changed to Tiwi Springs Resort.
Apparently, since a geothermal plant was built on this town, the hot springs ceased to exist.
With heavy hearts, particularly mine, we left for the town of Putsan. Putsan is home to the one of the most veteran ceramics makers in the Philippines. Here, visitors will find the PhilCeramics. On normal days, PhilCermics is open for viewing, where enthusiast get can a first-hand look on how beautiful ceramics are made. Outside the establishment, residents set up shops where fans can purchase made pieces in affordable prices you can never find in the Metro. I personally believe that I have never seen pieces as beautiful as those found in Putsan – never, and nowhere else. The residents were also very welcoming – and one can see the gleams on their eyes when showing their masterpieces around. Ceramics is the blood that pumps the heart of Putsan – and the artists love their craft. With bright smiles and jolly heart, my mama bought multiple sets. I personally think that if not given the limited space in our SUV (and house), my mama would have taken home more.
For the next destination, we went atop the Mayon Skyline in the city of Tabaco. According to the city police, the climb to the skyline is recorded at 9KM – but I think it was more than that. The place offers cool winds which can rival that of Tagaytay’s – and a heart-pounding, close encounter with the perfect cone. The place is dramatically close enough to Mayon to allow visitors to even get glimpses of the traces of lava that once oozed from its peak – as well as rocks that came from the innermost crusts of the Earth. Cottages are available for those who want to take quick, snack bites, or even heavy meals by the presence of Mayon’s magnificence. A cup of coffee or tea by the clouds is also highly recommended, based on what my skin felt as I stood by the cottages. Here, nature lovers can also take home a piece of the wild through residents who sell bonsai pieces near where the cottages are situated. Here, the Mayon Planetarium and Science Park also stands. The Mayon Skyline stands at least 2,500 feet above sea-level.
The last destination was set to Ligao City. Ligao is a famous pilgrim site – and as it was the lent season, the family had to visit the place. Ligao is notable for the Kawa-Kawa Hill, also known as the ‘Hill without a Hilltop.’ Kawa-Kawa’s wonders came from its unique, cauldron-shaped feature – which can be perceived as just like any other hill from a distance. However, upon entrance to the site, visitors will find the hill hollow on the middle, surrounded by a six-hectare crater that acts as its barricades.
Kawa-Kawa Hill became a famous pilgrim site for its larger-than life Stations of the Cross. Much like the ‘Kamay ni Hesus’ found in Quezon Province, the hill also features a pathway with praying stations and sculptures depicting the events on Jesus Christ’s life before his Crucifixion. The first five of the 14 stations can be accessed through the 500-meter pathway to the crater, while the remaining stations can be accessed by walking though the 836-meter of the crater. Inside the crater, ATV tours are also offered.
But what made our eyes gleaming with joy the most, is the spectacular Sunflower Farm inside the crater. As funny as it may sound, I have never seen a Sunflower up close before prior to my arrival in Ligao City. The loyal, sunny-colored flowers that always adore the sun made us adore its beauty more here inside Kawa-Kawa Hill. The Sunflowers are protected and grown naturally, which very much contributed to its unparalleled beauty. To us, the Sunflowers acted as a beautiful necklace that adorned the hill without a hilltop with a natural beauty – and combining it with the larger than life Stations of the Cross, Kawa-Kawa is surely a heavenly grandeur anyone who plans to go to Bicol should definitely not miss. For those who also want to take home a piece of the site, Sunflowers can also be ordered and taken home. However, I would advice not to buy, lest there is proper knowledge about gardening. The flowers are precious children of nature, and it would be a shame to have them wilt and die after being an ornament.
As the sun set and the lights escape, the journey to Bicol ends as we make our way back to our hotel in Legazpi City. The following morning, we packed our bags once again – but we left not without seeing the beautiful Mayon baring its everything to us once more. What my friend said came into my mind as my hands held tight on the windowpane of our hotel room. The Mayon Volcano is usually shy, but when it does open up and let your eyes see its beauty, it means a ‘good luck’ throughout the year for you, and your family.
And certainly, even just seeing its beauty and perfection is luck enough for someone who lived far from Albay like me.
Taking Home Memories of Perfection
What could be more perfect that lying down on your bed back in Manila, while all those beautiful memories in your head playback like a film? Moreover, finding your thoughts sorted out finally after witnessing a beauty beyond words? Nothing. While walking through Cagsawa Ruins, my mother told me, she would have never once imagined in her whole life seeing these wonderful, fairy tale-like places she once only sees on televisions. My mama rarely travels, unlike me who has found it fascinating and inspiring to write about. But when she does, it means something.
Mayon isn’t only perfect for its shape. The simple lives of the residents who treat Mayon as their source of life, even as its unforgiving flames once devoured most of their lands and lives – is a perfect example of a one-of-a-kind love. The volcano once, and will perhaps do so again, reclaim the lands with its anger – but at the same time, it give presents and gifts of life to its people with healthy soils. Moreover, Mayon stands like a guard, a protector of Albay’s beauty. And ir majestic presence leads people from faraway places to see a glimpse of perfection on Earth.
There is such thing as perfection. Even when the road is imperfect.
Photo Credits: my instagram (@inkedangelwings) & Stepdaddy