While gazing at the perfect bluish-brown symmetry interspersed with white specks over the blue horizon, you feel momentarily transported within view of the majestic pyramids in Egypt or that glass replica guarding the entrance to the Louvre museum in Paris… Then as you snap back to reality, you realize that this is the real thing – nature’s gift of perfection: The Mayon Volcano.
The name Mayon is derived from magayon, which means beautiful in the local dialect. This geological masterpiece, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, rises 2,462 meters above sea level and has a base circumference of 62.8km. It is located right at the centre of Albay province, 460 km south of Manila, Philippines.
During the summer month of April, the province is draped in a celebratory mood of life and lights to honour this majestic landmark. Dubbed as Magayon festival, this annual undertaking attempts to capture the volcano’s essence of mythical beauty and fiery impulsiveness. The street parades, which are participated in by all the major schools and youth groups from the province, recounts the colourful story of Daragang Magayon – the folktale which was passed on through generations to explain the birth of the volcano. Through the various festivities such as cultural shows, bazaars showcasing the region’s unique products and competitions culminating in a beauty contest aptly named as “Mutya ng Magayon”; the organizers of this festival, led by the indefatigable Governor Joey Salceda, aims to showcase the province’s culture and beauty. Imagine a talented bunch of people clad in colourful costumes, evenings draped in frenzied sounds and fireworks display, a feverish atmosphere of merry-making… these are the concoctions that make this festival worth visiting.
If your admiration for this perfect patch of earth evokes the spirit of adventure in you, go ahead and plunge into the adrenaline rush of ascending its crest. The seething summer days would be ideal and ripe to grant you passage into this adventure, but be wary… the exhilarating experience of traversing the terrains leading up to the summit can only be had by the bold and risk-averse travellers who are willing to conquer their fears and scale the heights of the Philippines third highest peak. Typically a four-day rendezvous for thrill-seekers, the safest approach to the top is from the northwestern slope, which starts at 2700 ft above sea level on a ledge where the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHILVOCS) research station and the Mayon resthouse is located. From there, be sure to register with the authorities who will ensure that safety is your utmost concern, don your mountaineer’s gear and begin your ascend to one of the most exhilarating adventures of your life. After having conquered its dangerous slopes and dodging sulfuric fumes which intermittently traverse down its slopes, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view unfolding before your very eyes – which can only be described as… perfect.
However, if you’re one of those travellers who are contented at to beholding this beauty from a distance, hike off instead to the famous landmarks that this province and its environs have to offer. Begin your trip to the Cagsawa Ruins in the town of Daraga, and inspect the remains of the moss-covered church bell tower protruding from the ground. The experience of being in this landmark is surreal as you imagine the whole church and all[space]of the town-folks submerged in hot flowing lava during the most destructive volcanic eruption of 1814. Then, plunge into the hot springs and idle across the rare black sand beaches of this province.
Located mostly on the eastern and northern part of the volcano, the black sand beaches similar to that of Hawaii islands and the natural hot springs can be found along the coasts of Bacacay, Sto. Domingo and Tiwi towns. If your fancy is ecotourism, you can swim within four meters amongst the humongous yet gentle whale sharks (Rhincodon typhus), locally known as Butanding, by heading off to the neighboring town of Donsol, Sorsogon. The whale sharks are usually spotted around this area in huge numbers from November to May. The Philippine Department of Tourism is promoting eco-tourism to protect these creatures of the sea, and present conservation measures allow tourist to interact with the whale sharks with the help of trained tour guides known as Butanding Interaction Officers or BIO. Imagine prowling in the deep blue sea with these gentle mammals, and intermittently surfacing to witness the enveloping beauty of the ocean waves across the horizon.
While frolicking in the frenzy of fun-filled adventures, you shouldn’t miss the hot and tasty cuisines that suited for your palate. Satisfy your gustatory cravings with the deliciously unique dishes such as the pinangat and bicol express; the first refers to cubed pork wrapped in gabi (taro) leaves simmered in liberal amounts of coconut milk while the second is sautéed siling labuyo (green and red pepper) with bagoong (shrimp paste) laden with lean pork strips. And before you leave, have your pick amongst the different pilinut candy varieties to bring home to your friends and relatives.
Gazing into a panoramic view of the green foliage with the towering volcano at the horizon, frolicking into an exotic water adventure or mingling with the locals amidst the colourful lights and sounds… these and more would undoubtedly make your unforgettable summer getaway.