Ligao and Polangui, Bicol: Always a Something in Anywhere

After Vera falls, I took a jeepney bound for Ligao where I will be spending the night with my former roomie back in Manila. Instinct told me that top loading would be a great way to see and appreciate the view Bicol has to offer to first timers like me, so I climbed the jeep and rode on top. 20150111111909 I was even able to air dry my wet swim shorts. It was great view atop the jeep. I saw another view of Mt. Mayon to my left and while Mt. Masaraga and Mt. Malinao where to my right. After about an hour, I reached Ligao– the last of the “triangle of cities” around Mt. Mayon (I started with Legaspi, then Tabaco). First stop was this beautiful, old church of St. Stephen Protomartyr. I also checked the inner courtyard via the school beside it. There’s so much history when you walk in old town, specially in old structures waiting to be told. I particularly liked the white and gray contrast the church has.

SAMSUNG CSC
St. Stephen Protomartyr Church, Ligao

SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSC After the city tour, I rested for a bit in my friend’s room which I was excited to see since he has always told me he wakes up to the view of Mt. Mayon everyday. I wish I had his window view. According to him, at night molten lava from the volcano can sometimes be seen as if it were sliding down from nowhere. ,SAMSUNG CSC Next stop was the most prominent spot of Ligao, the Kawa Kawa hills. Made up of three hills, one is shaped like a kawa (cauldron) with its middle part shallow like a crater. At the highest part of the rim, the view is breathtaking. I took of a picture of these rice fields across Ligao. Pilgrims visit the hills as stations of the cross are spread out along the trail/steps to the hills. In summer, lots of sunflowers fill one side of the hill which according to my friend looks really gorgeous. SAMSUNG CSC Two food stops are worth trying in Ligao:

  • Kuyang’s. They serve typical Filipino food such as sisig and lechong kawali. You’ll dine al fresco in this place,
  • D’barcode. It’s a quaint bar in the heart of the city which offers reasonably priced pulutan and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Enjoy conversations while listening to live music or dance with people on the dance floor. D’barcode has yet to put up its signage as it is relatively new.
SAMSUNG CSC
Kuyang’s

SAMSUNG CSC D’barcode I was supposed to go straight to Naga after Ligao, but I learned you can easily cover most of Naga in half a day so I added Polangui to my itinerary. My friend’s best fiend, who is from Polagui, told me there’s nothing to see,  but since I’ve always believed that there is always something in anywhere, I looked at the map and found Lake Danao interesting. There actually is another lake named Danao in Leyte but this one in Bicol is in the middle of Mt. Malinao and Mt. Masaraga. It is home to the now World’s smallest fisch commercially produced named Tabios. Pandaka pygmea used to be the smallest before it went extinct. After consulting my map, I rode a jeep from Ligao to Polangui, got off at the market and walked for around 1.5 km to Sts. Peter and Paul Church which is near the junction to Lake Danao, thinking there would be jeepneys or motorcycles there. Unfortunately there were none. So after saying my morning prayers in the church, I decided to go back to the market where a lot of habal-habal are parked. As I was about to rent a habal habal for 200 to take me to Lake Danao, my friend’s best friend texted and told me her cousin, Aloy, was available to drive me to Lake Danao since he wanted to see it too. After arrangements were made, I met Aloy and started the drive up the mountains. SAMSUNG CSC Lake Danao was such a serene place. I walked around it while appreciating the view as the lake peacefully gleamed. It’s isn’t everyday you see a natural lake, you know. Right now, it is being developed to be a tourist attraction. Stairs are being constructed with viewing decks when I visited. Lucky for me, I was able to check the place without the buzz of so much people. Though I know tourism is important, sometimes it also becomes destructive to the spot itself.

SAMSUNG CSC
Lake Danao, Bicol
SAMSUNG CSC
A Hill in Polangui

I’m really amazed how locals can sometimes be clueless to what their home has to offer. Sometimes it takes a stranger to see the beauty a place has to offer (parang love haha!). At the same time, I’m also amazed how Aloy shared my excitement to go around their place. After Lake Danao, Aloy brought me to a hill that he and his cousin have always wanted to check after seeing a picture of the view online. I named it “The Hill in Polangui.” We climbed this steep hill (almost a 90-degree climb) and saw this view! It was one of the most breathtaking views I’ve ever seen. The hill is high enough to give you a great view of the city and a gentle breeze to blow you to sleep. If I had time, I would have slept there for siesta. After hanging out for a while, we headed downtown to have lunch at the Polangui Market as it is always wise to eat in markets where local food can usually be tried at a very low price. I tasted kulit ng kalabaw (carabao’s skin) with bittergourd leaves.It was yummy! I also bought kalamay (which is called panutsa in Manila) as pasalubong. Kalamay in Polangui is hardened sugar in coconut shell (which can be used in champorado and desserts according to Aloy) which is different from the kalamay of Batangas which is a dessert made of sticky rice.

Polangui Market
Polangui Market

SAMSUNG CSC SAMSUNG CSCI had a great time in Ligao and Polangui! Sometimes, I really feel envious of friends who grew up outside Manila. Imagine mountains, lakes, and fields at arm’s length. I can imagine my self bringing my calculus assignment in high school to that hill and answering it there. Imaginations. I would have to settle for short, sweet, memories. I am super happy I trusted my instincts and found new places off the beaten path. Last stop: Naga!

My First Solo Travel: How to get to Vera Falls Solo

I woke up at around 6 am ready to start earlier for I plan to get to Vera falls on my own. There are no clear instructions from bloggers on how to get there alone since most of them travelled in groups. After reading a map, asking locals, and doing it myself, this is how you can get to Vera falls from Legazpi.

1. Get to the main road (Rizal Road) and ride a jeepney to the “grand terminal” where vans wait for passengers to different places in Bicol (8 Pesos)SAMSUNG CSC

2. Ride a Van bound for Tabaco (50 Pesos) and get off at the Tabaco terminal.

3. From there, you can either

  • hire a tricycle to take you to Comun Elementary School in Barangay Comun (150 pesos)
  • or take a Jeep bound for Polangui.

I was told that I could have asked for a lower price in the tricycle, around 100. It is also of course cheaper if you split it with friends. I didn’t try the jeep to Polangui because I only learned about it when I was already in Comun.

4. When you get off at Comun Elementary school, there will be lots of habal-habal (motorcycles) waiting to be hired. I was able to get one for 200 pesos. The kind driver took me to Vera falls, waited for me , and then took me back to the main road.

5. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Malinao, the way to the falls is breathtaking specially if you’re riding a motorcycle. You’ll see mountains, valleys, and rivers as the cool wind blows your face unending kisses. You’ll also have a better view of Mt. Mayon specially on the way back from the falls.

When you get to this bridge, you are near the entrance to the falls.

SAMSUNG CSC

6. You will know that you’ve reached the entrance to Vera falls when you see a paved parking area out of nowhere. You will have to get off the motorcycle and use the short flight of stairs down to the falls (around 170 steps). While walking, you’ll here the inviting sound of the falls which might excite you even more. Once you get to the waterfalls, Mang Boy (who you can also ask to take pictures of you) who takes care of the area will ask you to write your name in a log book with any amount of donation. Right now, donations are being gathered for the continuous construction of the stairs and the road to the falls. Most give 20 to 50 pesos, but I decided to give a hundred bucks to support the cause–the country needs our help in maintaining natural spots anyway.

SAMSUNG CSC

Plus, when you see the falls, the donation will be worth it.

SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

Lucky for me, I got the falls all to myself which allowed me to appreciate it even more. Solitude usually gives you better perspective, you know. I was really happy for a lot of reasons. First, I’m happy I found a way to get to the falls. Second, there’s that genuine happiness and contentment I felt when I took a dip and admired the beauty of the falls. It made me sing and almost tear up. I guess it’s because there was that fear of how to get to it since it was the first “unknown” in my itinerary, and when I saw the falls, the fear vanished in an instant. Lastly, but most importantly, the beauty of our country, of this world, is one of the reasons I believe in a Greater Being. I believe in coincidence, but I also believe in purpose, in order, in beauty.

Ironically, upon checking the meaning of Vera after my visit to the pristine falls, my experience held some truth to the word’s meaning–Vera is of Slavic origin meaning Faith.

So there. This is how I got to Vera falls on my own. It cost me around 508 pesos but was worth each centavo.

My First Solo Trip: Bicolandia (Legazpi)

I can’t believe I pulled it off. I know it isn’t much of a feat, but for someone who panics a lot, feels helpless in a lot of situations, overthinks every bit of life, this solo adventure used to just be a scary thought. Now I don’t even remember why I’m scared.

I decided to backpack across Bicol, mainly because I wanted to travel and it was the cheapest flight I could find. I wanted to know what solo traveling meant. I have read a lot of posts on it and met people who have done it saying it is a great experience–something you must do at least once in your life. And so I did.

For weeks, I did my research. I read blogs, itineraries, websites of what to see, do, and eat in the Bicol Region or Bicolandia. I originally planned to go to Sorsogon, Legaspi, Caramoan, and Naga but realized five days isn’t  enough to  appreciate what each place has to offer. I decided to settle for Legaspi and Naga and find places in between. Thanks to these awesome bloggers, I was able to map out where I wanted to go.

Instead of making a comprehensive itinerary, I decided to list the places I want to visit with an estimate of how much time I can spend in each of them. I also took mental notes of how to get to each of them, keeping in mind that adjustments are to be expected.

And so my adventure begins.

On my way to Legazpi aboard a plane, I knew of two things I have to see from up the sky–Mt. Mayon and the chocolate hills of Albay–Pili hills. Fortunately, the guy next to me, Patrick, to whom I introduced my self, helped me spot these things. Unfortunately, my camera was in the stow away cabin so I wasn’t able to take photos. I ended up asking Patrick about food in Bicol and how to get to my first stop–Ligñon Hill.

I have three stops in mind for my half day in Legazpi– Lignon Hill, Cagsawa Ruins, and Embarcadero de Legazpi.

From the airport, I walked past the cabbies and vans offering rides for I read they are quite expensive. As Patrick advised, a tricycle would be the better option to Ligñon Hill. The short tricycle ride cost 50 pesos. The hill is actually close to the airport but is on the other side of the runway so anyone who wants to get there has to go around the runway to the foot of the hill.

The climb to the top of the hill is quite steep–a reason why a lot ride cars. In fact, even with cars, signs are posted advising motorists to drive only in the lower gears of primera and segunda. The entire climb is around 800 meters and depending on your pace (and fitness level) it can take you around ten to thirty minutes. As I entered the path to the hill, I paid an entrance fee of 20 pesos (25 for foreigners) and bought two bottles of water from a mobile store a little bit past the entrance.

The walk to the hill is entertaining–you’ll see a good sneak peak of the city view plus a lot of couples either sitting by the sides of the road enjoying the view or pushing each other to finish the walk.

After two stops and several couples, I reached the hill and had to pause and revel in the view.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

There are several things you can do on the hill– zipline, shop, have a picnic, or simply enjoy the view. The heat can really be scorching so bring your umbrella, hats, or shades.

From the foot of Lignon Hill you can ride a jeepney and ask to be dropped off at the Shell staion at the “Junction.” From there, walk to the market and ride another jeep to Daraga and ask to be dropped off at the Cagsawa Ruins. From the main road, take a short walk to the ruins or you can opt for an ATV (4×4) adventure. There are at least three companies in Legazpi offering this unique way of experiencing Mayon and one of them is the Bicol Adventure ATV which you can find near the ruins. There are several packages you can choose from but since I only have a few hours to spare I decided to take the Php 699 package which is an hour long ride to bring you a bit nearer to the volcano and then to the Cagsawa Ruins. There are other options such as riding to the lava wall or to Mayon itself.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

After around and hour of ATV and visiting the ruins of the Cagsawa church (which contrary to what a lot of teachers told us didn’t really get buried in lava), I headed back to Legazpi to see the lighthouse in Embarcadero de Legazpi. From where you got off the jeepney to the ruins, you can cross the street and ride a jeep to Legazpi. This will bring you directly to the plaza.

Embarcadero de Legazpi is a port with mall and a lighthouse. Since I got there past dusk, the port isn’t that alive as you might expect of any port and though it was still quite early (around 7:30 pm), stores were already closing. Nevertheless, I did appreciate the night view of the lighthouse but would suggest you visit it when the sun is still up.

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

For dinner, I decided to check out Small Talk Cafe. It is a jeep away from the LCC mall nearest to the Embarcadero. Located at Dona Aurora St., it is a quaint restaurant that offers an array of authentic and infused Bicolano food. I had a mouth watering Adobong Manok sa Gata which I paired with garlic rice ( most restos in Bicol usually serve rice shaped like Mt. Mayon).

SAMSUNG CSC

SAMSUNG CSC

If I wasn’t craving for rice from all the non-stop walking to explore Legazpi, I would have tried their Pinangat pasta which has great reviews from locals and tourists alike. Price ranges from 200 up, specially if you’re on your own. Most dishes are good for two or more, but since I was doing it solo, I ended up finishing the entire Adobo dish.

From there, I decided to walk to the Mayon Backpackers Inn where I spent the night. I got a bunk bed in a dorm room of six for 350 bucks. They have free Wi-fi in the lobby and a desktop computer you can use. They also have free coffee or tea for breakfast. You can also pick a book from their shelf and trade in yours. If you’re on a budget, this is a great place to stay. The downside, if you get a top bunk, the bed tends to be creaky so each move you make might disturb the one underneath. Also, if you have allergic rhinitis, you might want to pop an antihistamine as the pillows triggered my allergies.

The best part of the inn however is how you’ll enjoy the conversations with the people you’ll meet there. I met a Filipino from Baguio, a Westerner, and Robin and Tom from the United Kingdom. Robin told me about how he and Tom were backpacking across Asia, how they were traveling from Legazpi to Sorsogon, then to Masbate, and then to Aklan to catch the Ati-Atihan nefore they head back to Manila. We exchanged notes in traveling and talked more about the Philippines. They did mention Filipinos seem to be “extra” nice. I really wish I took a selfie with them as the first backpackers I met as a solo traveler (Here’s a shout out to Robin and Tom!). From then on, I took selfies with people I met across Bicol.

After checking the net for the next day’s route, I slept with so much excitement. So this is what it feels like to travel solo. Four days left!