Saturday, May 30, 2015

TRAVEL | Mayon overload in Legazpi City and Daraga, Albay

01 mayon daraga
A streak of gold illuminates the base of the Mayon Volcano, adding further drama to the already dramatic scenery.

It's a sight I probably would never grow tired of. From the moment I first saw her from our bus's window more than a decade ago, and through the years up to now, the Mayon Volcano has always fascinated me. Yes, she's often referred to as a lady, as she is Daragang Magayon of legend.

A few weeks ago I had another chance at beholding her sheer beauty. After two nights in Sorsogon City, we spent a third one in Legazpi City. There we hired a van to take us on a slightly freewheeling trip around town. And of course, seemingly everywhere we looked Mayon was there, standing mighty and proud with its near-perfect cone.

The Oriental Legazpi
This was where we stayed, and my, did the hotel offer a fantastic and unimpeded view of the volcano! Be it from the spacious hotel lobby or from the comfort of our room, it was like having the best seats in the house. (You can also check out my review of The Oriental Legazpi for more of this hotel.)

02 mayon legazpi
The view of the lady from our hotel room's balcony.

Embarcadero (Legazpi Boulevard)
Despite a couple of trips to the city already, it was my first time at the Legazpi Boulevard, or more commonly referred to as Embarcadero. It's a long and winding coastal road that extends from the port area all the way to the city's southern barangays.

While it's mostly just a road -- but with a good view of the sea, of course -- there are portions where stalls, restaurants, and bars have begun to pop up. There's even a mall right next to the port. There's also a spot from which short boat cruises are offered. But whatever is out there, one never loses sight of Mt Mayon.

03 embarcadero legazpi
It's nice that there are people who come here to bike, jog, or simply take a stroll. Tourists like me, of course, took turns having photos taken with that Legazpi sign by the boulevard.

04 embarcadero legazpi
Some of the humbler stalls along the road. Elsewhere you'll find bigger and more "commercial" establishments.

05 embarcadero legazpi
Beautiful, isn't she? But let's not forget that she can also be quite the bitch every now and then.

06 embarcadero legazpi
Boat cruises are also offered here but we didn't have time for it anymore.

On the road
We were trying to beat the sunset and after less than half an hour at the Embarcadero, we sped off to Cagsawa. Even on the road, the volcano was very visible.

07 mayon legazpi on the road
This was taken on our way to the ruins, from inside our van.

Cagsawa Ruins
It may be a cliché already for hardcore travelers but I understand how first-timers in Albay just feel the need to visit the Cagsawa Ruins. It has, of course, become very touristy but there's no denying it's still a great view out here. And though often forgotten as such, it is a stark reminder of the imminent danger of living near the most active volcano in the country.

I haven't been here for more than 10 years now and since we had the convenience of a rented van, we thought, hey, why not. The place outside the gate saw some tremendous change through all those years. For one, the number of establishments -- restaurants and souvenir shops alike -- has multiplied. The roads have changed, too. And pardon me for my ignorance but I didn't know that those ATV trips to the base of Mayon, which are popular with tourists, call this their base. I just might try it out next time.

08 mayon cagsawa ruins
The Cagsawa Ruins: very popular with tourists indeed.

09 mayon cagsawa ruins
Despite zooming in, I still can't eliminate the people in the frame.

10 mayon cagsawa ruins
Zoomed in some more. There, no more people. But no church belfry either.

No surprise that there were a lot of people when we got there, especially since it was late in the afternoon. That indelible picture of Mt Mayon with the Cagsawa church belfry in the foreground, etched into memory by many a textbook and postcard, was very different from what I saw that afternoon.

Getting the same shot was next to impossible with all the tourists around. But I don't bemoan them because tourism brings jobs to people here. It was, in fact, quite amusing to observe them as they were doing almost the exact same set of poses as everyone else; you know, pointing their finger downward on the tip of the volcano or kicking the belfry, achieved by simple camera angling.

Daraga Church
From a church that was buried by Mayon's 1814 eruption, we went next to another Spanish colonial-era one that's still standing to this day. The Nuestra Señora de la Porteria (Our Lady of the Gate) parish church in the town of Daraga, or more commonly known as Daraga Church, is an 18th century Catholic church that sits on top of a hill and offers yet another marvelous view of Mayon.

11 mayon daraga
That streak of light from the late afternoon sun was simply magical.

12 mayon daraga church
Stunning facade, stunning backdrop.

Declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum in 2007 (much like the San Isidro Labrador Church in Lazi, Siquijor), the Daraga Church is a stunning piece of religious architecture. Built by the Franciscans in 1773, the church exterior is awash in glorious detail. Those volcanic rock carvings, however, have seen better days, which are no longer as sharp as they probably once were, what with more than 200 years of exposure to the elements.

In an effort to avert its deterioration, the church underwent a massive restoration in 2009-2010 where the exterior was coated in lime, much like how it was done back in the day. The church turned white as a result, although only temporarily, because it was back to its old-world charm when we visited earlier this month. Aside from its supposed protective properties, the lime, gradually washed away over time and partially exposing the original volcanic rock material, afforded the church a unique look. The belfry, however, is still mostly white, suggesting that the coating of this section was only done much later.

13 daraga church
The church sports a unique, partially washed-out look, thanks to all that lime.

14 daraga church
Like I said, the church is awash in detail. Such painstaking labor all these carvings must have entailed.

15 daraga church
Hopefully that belfry will catch up with the rest of the church's look soon.

16 daraga church
I was lucky to catch a rainbow.

17 mayon daraga church
Although I had hoped for clear skies to catch Mayon in all its glory, all those clouds weren't so bad after all.

18 daraga albay
Time to leave as it was getting dark already.

We didn't have the chance to go inside the church anymore because a Mass was still ongoing. It was time to leave and attend to our tummies this time.

1st Colonial Grill
I have heard a lot of this place from Kwittiegirl from her work-related travels to the city, so I was excited to finally try it out. I thought it was some really fancy place but to my surprise, 1st Colonial Grill was a simple and unassuming restaurant but which offered some really good food at fairly reasonable prices.

19 colonial grill
Buko chopsuey: interesting take on the veggie dish by introducing coconut to it.

20 colonial grill
Tinapa rice.

They also pioneered the sili (local chili) ice cream. It's no secret that the Bicol region is known for its love of sili, so it was only a matter of time before the popular ingredient made it into desserts. I'm no fan of sili but I felt I just had to give it a try. Thankfully 1st Colonial offered it in three variants according to heat level. I ordered the Level 1, purported to be the weakest, and I was pretty much fine with it. It was creamy and not too sweet, and with just a slight kick to it.

The restaurant didn't stop at sili and also had other flavors on their menu. The pili (a popular local nut in the region) variant was also a delight but it was the toasted bigas (rice) that I found most interesting and that I really loved.

21 colonial grill sili ice cream
I learned that you can order 3 different flavors in one dish. The pink one is the famous sili ice cream.

We were back at the hotel shortly after dinner. However brief our little trip was, I sure had a good time.

22 mayon daraga
Till next time, Daragang Magayon!

Legazpi City is serviced by multiple daily flights from Manila, Cebu, and other select domestic locations. It also is accessible by land travel. Bus trips are available at Cubao, Pasay, and other terminals in Metro Manila. Travel time is approximately 12 hours.

Daraga and other municipalities of Albay are easily accessible by public transport (mostly jeepneys) from Legazpi. However, for convenience and because of our limited time, we simply rented a van to take us around.


  1. I love how you can see the volcano from almost everywhere. The shots are really beautiful.


  2. Awesome shorts !!!!!!!



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