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Published: March 1st 2008
Mt Mayon Volcano
The volcano was "shy" when we were there, but I manged this shot...if you look closely you can see the tip with smoke coming out.
After the breathtaking, but chilly, experience in the rice terraces of Northern Luzon, we headed south of Manila to South Luzon (Bicol) to spend some time back on the beach in the sun for our last week in the Philippines. Well, the beach was there, but sun was elusive and the rain was enthusiastic! It's supposed to be the end of the rainy season here, but the presence of “La Nina” has flooded the region. (Isn't La Nina only supposed to happen once in a while, not in alternating years with El Nino? Could someone check with Al Gore on that one?) While the rains dampened our “holiday” it's nowhere near as bad as what it is doing to the local population. We traveled from Daet, to Naga, to Lagaspi, to Donsol, and back to Lagaspi and drove past flooded fields and houses as far as the eye could see. The Lagaspi area is actually quite the hot spot because they have typhoons for 4 months out of the year (plus this year is La Nina), as well as earthquakes (one which Kels experienced first hand in an internet cafe on the third story of a building...loud rumbles,
Kels and the Volcano
This is a much better picture of the volcano!
swinging lights, people dropping to their knees and crossing themselves, reciting prayers...pretty freaky, but Kels is ok...I was on the other side of town and didn't feel anything.) and there is also a very active volcano 15km from the town center, Mt Mayon (in 2006 it blew and claimed 300 lives). Needless to say the people here are accustomed to living with adversity.
The rain hasn't totally washed out our plans for South Luzon. Although the surf in Daet didn't happen, we did make it to Donsol and I went snorkeling with Whale Sharks, locally known as “Butanding!” Unfortunately Kels wasn't feeling very good that morning and it wasn't exactly “a nice day on the water” so I went by myself and was paired up on a boat with another Canadian, a Pomi, two Fins, a Norwegian and a Pilipino. The sky was pretty grey and it rained on an off but our fearless crew was able to spot a whale shark only a meter below the surface and in a big chaotic shout our guide had us scrambling to dawn our fins and masks and enter the water ASAP...Panic on the Titanic! Breathing spastically through my snorkel I
Cagsawa Bell Tower
We are actually standing on what used to be the level of the roof of the church, which was covered in 1814 by the volcano eruption.
hit the water, ducked under the outriggers of the bangka boat and started swimming. I'm thinking to myself “I must be insane; these things are between 15-60 feet long!” The first thing I felt in the water was the sting of hundreds of microscopic sea-lice nipping at my skin. They are part of the plankton that the whale sharks eat, so where the sharks are the sea-lice are too! Putting my mind past the stinging I kicked toward the people who where near the shark, feeling like the maniac who runs into the burning building…I am swimming TOWARDS a huge-ass shark! Now before I go further, I should mention that this was not the “organic” experience I had thought it would be...the “orientation video” states one boat (7 people) per shark...apparently that only applies when there is multiple shark sightings. Today there were about 6 boats out in the water and probably 30 people at a time kicking and swimming around the shark...freakin’ gong show! If you just pulled up to the scene, you would have thought that a boat had just sunk and these were the survivors scrambling to stay a float. Anyway… I made my way towards the
This was the "top window" of the church before the eruption 1814.
masses and below the kicking flippers I saw it…the white spots, the massive open oval mouth filtering the plankton, the fins and slow moving tail of a 25 foot long whale shark! Being in the water with something way bigger then you is a very eerie feeling… all of a sudden you are no longer the king of jungle. I was just happy that I’m a bit bigger then his usual diet of microscopic sea organisms. After about 10 minutes of kicking alongside the giant (most people a petered-out after a few minutes, so it got “less crazy”), I looked up and saw our boat collecting people so I figured it was time to get out of the water, and honestly I don’t think I could have handled much more of the sea-lice’s constant biting. When I got back on the boat I thought, “Shit that was scary” but for some reason I insisted on swimming with the thing for 10 minutes, so along with scary it was also exhilarating and humbling at the same time. For the remainder of the trip I chatted with the people on my boat about where they have been and where they are traveling
next (SE Asia, Siberian Express, Australia, South America; we’re not the only ones with the travel bug), while our crew looked for the next Butanding. We did spring back into the water on two more occasions, however they both lasted less then a minute as the whale sharks dove deeper then the visibility was…another two biggies though! Despite the less then favourable weather and the insanity of all those people flappin in the water, the experience of seeing those massive fish was pretty spectacular. (Sorry no pictures.)
The following day in Donsol we were hustled out of our room because of the continuous rain; the hotel could no longer guarantee safe road conditions, so we packed our bags “tout-suite”, found a tricycle to the terminal and on got on the first van we could find out of Donsol to Lagaspi. Some of the road was washed out and other parts weren’t going to hold for long, so we were lucky to get out of there, but our heart went out to the hotel who basically had to get rid of all their guests and advise arriving guests of the hazards…not great for business!
While in Lagaspi we had
a short break in the rain and visited the Cagsawa Ruins. Cagsawa was a church built in 1724. Ninety years later in 1814, 1,200 people died in the church as they tried to seek refuge from the erupting volcano Mt. Mayon. Now all that’s left is the bell tower, stories and on a clear day the view of the smoke still billowing from the volcano. The most recent eruption was in 2006.
Well, this blog entry marks the end of our amazing Philippines adventure. From coral reefs to rice terraces, caves to volcanoes, sun and sand to rain and mountains, English signs everywhere to tribal cultures, it’s been an incredible experience, one we will never forget. If you ever get the chance to visit any of these amazing 7,000 islands, DO IT! You won’t be disappointed.
So now we are off to Bangkok…Pad Thai here I come! We’ll be spending the next 2 weeks with Kelsey’s parents, exploring the northern area of Chiang Mai as well as the Gulf of Thailand on Koh Tao. Keep the news from home coming, we love hearing what’s all going on with you!
Salamat Po (Thank You) Philippines!!!
Until next time…
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