Saturday, April 05, 2008

Bicol's Beauties

Spring Break 2008... March 26~29 was spent in Bicol, Philippines
Bicol has been in my places-to-go-to list for a long time because I've heard so many wonderful things about it... butandings, bulusan, bicol express... and finally, we were able to schedule the trip. Of course via cebu pacific, we got a budget flight. Scheduled this trip a couple of months back, thinking that we booked it for the holy week, ergo, no need to file for leaves. Unfortunately, with the early schedule of the holy week this year and the different schedule we have in school for this school year... we messed up and booked the week after holy week. As it turned out, this was actually a very good circumstance.

Our flight from Manila was on 26 March, 7am. Our flight was delayed of course as it seems that cebu pacific flights are no longer 99% on time but instead 99% delayed. We've gotten used to it... The flight was probably the shortest I've ever taken... no time to sleep! In no time, we were on the tarmac, looking at the beauty, breadth, and height of Mt. Mayon. Despite the cloud that was hovering over the volcano, we saw how perfect it was... and we couldn't wait to get a better view of it.

The driver was waiting for us at the arrival area and in just a few minutes, we were in the comfort of the van, on our way to see Mt. Mayon.

Baroque Daraga Church
First stop was the famous Daraga Church. It's an 18th c. baroque church that sits atop a hill... it has a great view of Mt. Mayon. Unfortunately, the cloud that was hovering Mt. Mayon kept a-hold of it's peak and it was obscuring our view.
So we focused on the church and stayed for a few minutes, listening to a baccalaureate mass being held inside for the graduates of one of Bicol's High Schools.

Brawny Cagsawa
Probably next to Mt. Mayon, the Cagsawa Ruins are the next most famous landmark of Bicol. Destroyed by the eruption of Mayon Volcano, all that is left of Cagsawa is its sturdy bell tower, rising from the devastation that the eruption left in the area. It still stands in its glory ready to face whatever havoc the volcano will bring.

Buying at Sattelite
We weren't sure if we had time on the 29th to do any more shopping so we opted to stop at Sattelite, a strip of stores that sell Bicol's goodies. Pilinuts: honey coated, sugar coated, salted, on dark chocolate, etc., Abaca: slippers, bags, rugs, etc. abound in these shops.

Brunch at Small Talk
Bicol is known for its spicy dishes and how much they make use of coconut milk in their food... Our first taste of Bicol's delicacies was in Small Talk. It's a cozy cafe in the city... more of a home, really, that was converted into a resto. The interiors are beautiful and the trinkets around, very interesting.

The food, unfortunately, was quite forgettable. Maybe we really should have tried the Laing Pizza but it was way too different for us!

crispy squidlets, laing pasta, garden salad, pinangat
We then headed to our home for Donsol... our home for 2 nights... Woodland Resort. It's a 2 hour drive from Legazpi to Donsol and it was a bumpy ride! I was already feeling under the weather, running a fever the night before at home that I lay down in the van and tried to sleep the whole way. Apparently, Reg, Lizeth, and Chie all got headaches and back pains from the ride! It was a very good choice to lie down and sleep it through.
We stayed in one cottage that had 2 queen-sized beds and a hot and cold shower. It even had a porch where you can chat away with friends at night. Mobile phone reception was not too great though :c It had its moods :P It's a good enough value for Php 1700 per room per night...

contact Woodland (Marichu) through +6392196995444

After a much needed rest, we headed down to the Tourism Center where we registered and booked for our boat the following morning.

Rates for swimming with the whalesharks:

Boat : Php 3500 for a max of 7 pax
Butanding Interaction Officer : Php 100 per pax

Snorkel and Mask Rental : Php 150

Fins Rental : Php 150

We watched the instructional video, reserved fins, masks, and snorkels and checked out what the souvenir shop offered...

One of Chie's student and her family were staying at Vitton Resort which was literally beside the Tourism Center so we popped by their family cottage to chat and see the rooms of the resort.

Much to our surprise, Vitton seemed to have a better location, a better beach front, a better restaurant service, and better rooms. We were advised by a lot of other people that have visited Donsol that Woodland was a better choice between the two but if and when we go back, we would probably opt to stay at Vitton. Don't get me wrong, Woodland was great... but for my preference, I'd stay in Vitton... (Nora~+639279126313)

Thanks to Mrs. Santos for the chat, the tips, and the yummy Mary Grace Fudge Brownies! They were yummy!
As we got ready to leave for Woodland, we saw a beautiful sunset... A bright, red-orange, sun, set to the sea and gave a beautiful silhouette in the skies...

Bashful Butandings
Whalesharks are perceived to be beasts because of their immense size... But on the contrary, they are gentle giants... Feeding alone on planktons:

The collection of small or microscopic organisms, including algae and protozoans, that float or drift in great numbers in fresh or salt water, especially at or near the surface, and serve as food for fish and other larger organisms.

They have mouths as huge as can be yet have throats that are only 2 inches wide! They are usually gray and have spots on them that could be used to identify each one as their patterns are particular to each butanding.

Of course, we were ready for anything. We were ready to see as many butandings as possible and at the same time, we were ready to see zero (0). A few weeks before our trip, some ISM teachers went and barely saw any... with 40 boats at sea at one time with very limited butandings as they only swim on Philippine shores from late February to May... and during Holy Week, the sea was just as crowded!
We were on our boat with our BIO and 3 college boys that shared the ride with us by 7:30am... and in no time, we were ready for our first encounter. We put our fins, masks and snorkels on and sat at the edge of the boat, ready to take the plunge. Soon as our BIO signaled, we all held our breaths and swam our way to the open sea. We were pointed to the right direction and to our surprise, we saw the gray and the dots! The first butanding! woot! and back up the boat we went to rave about the experience and to give the boys a chance.

During the boys' first encounter, another whaleshark was spotted and our boatmen led us there... It was a huge one! and it was right beside our boat! Chie, who couldn't go swim with us then had the opportunity to be close to the butanding... It was an amazing sight!

after our first dive!
with the college boyz
After 5 more dives for us and 4 more for the boys, we were ready to head back to shore... It took us a little more than 3 hours to see the 9 or so butandings and we were delighted. We wanted more but we were tired and with the sun so high up since it's noontime, it was difficult for the spotter to find any more...
We went home to rest and relax before we go look for some fireflies...

Brilliantly Blinking Bugs
By 5:30pm, we were back in Vitton for some lunner... had breakfast food for our lunner -- pancakes, longanisa, bistek :) yum! and by 6:30pm, we were out at sea once again, going towards the big river in search for the fireflies.
Firefly watching: Php 1,250 per boat which could be booked at the tourism center
We had a beautiful view of the sunset once again, saw the remnants of the typhoon that badly hit bicol a month or so ago... and sooner than later, saw the blinking lights of the fireflies. They hover over trees that were full of insects and twinkled in the moonlight... and as you gaze up the trees and the black sky side by side, you see both of them sparkling with the stars and the fireflies respectively. We caught some alitaptap and watched them blink in our hands... they were so pretty!
No pictures, of course, as it was pitch-black... the fireflies' twinkling can't be captured on cam :c

So we ended the day, exhausted but exhilarated as well!

Beautiful Bulusan
Early morning of the 28th, we were picked up by our great driver, Ner (+639198870976) and we headed off for the 2 hour drive to Irosin, friend Abel's hometown. Our first stop was Likas... our home for the night... so we can leave our bags and freshen up a little bit. Then we left to view Mt. Bulusan and Bulusan Lake which was a good 1 and a half hour drive away, but passed by El Amigo Resto for lunch first.
Tagged as the Switzerland of the Philippines, the reflecting waters of the lake mirror the image of Mt. Bulusan in its blue and green colors... picture perfect!
then to Palogtoc Falls where the locals spend relaxing afternoons to swim on the cold waters of the falls...
Basking at Bigo Beach
and finally, we drove to Bigo Beach in Sta. Magdalena which was again a good 1 and a half hour drive away... found Abel's little nipa huts and we immersed in the beauty of an untouched beach... frequented by locals, the beach is yet to be discovered by the common tourists :)
waited for the sun to tame down a bit before swimming...
and by 3:00pm, reg and i were swimming on the beach! the water was waist-deep until we don't know where! but it was good! nice sand... not rocky at all although at that time, there were a lot of sea plants to work around with! haha! no fishies to play with :c hehe!
since the sun was almost setting, we decided to head back home... passed shortly at irosin's main town to buy our dindin at 7 j's resto :)

Bulkang Mayon
On the 29th, we left Irosin at around 8am and headed back to Legazpi... another 2 hour ride... crossed our fingers that the skies would clear up to give us a better view of the mystic volcano.

Ner brought us to Lignon Hill as it had the best view of Mt. Mayon... and it was amazing!
One side of the hill showed us the immensity of Mt. Mayon while the other side gave us a full view of Legazpi City... I shall let the pictures speak for itself...
Last stop for us was the Albay Pilinut Candy store for some last minute shopping!
Blessings Abound Overall, it was a great experience... of course, the highlight of our trip was being able to swim with the whalesharks - butandings.
At one point, on our way to see the fireflies, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude overcame me... beyond words... I couldn't be thankful enough for having the chance to see, to smell, to taste, to feel and experience God's glorious work.

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