Shining the spotlight anew on the PH’s beautiful peaks
Summer getaways usually mean the sun, sand and sea for most.
Many Filipinos save up to visit the luxury spot that is El Nido, Palawan. The young ones dream of joining the endless parties at “Laboracay” or the Labor Day weekend festivities at the world-famous Boracay Island in Aklan. The adventurous choose to ride the waves of Sabang Beach in Baler, Aurora and give the cool watersport of surfing a try.
These are just a few of the many Philippine beaches listed as among the perfect summer destinations year in and year out, so much so that so many other beautiful sights and exciting activities across the nation are often overlooked in the months of March, April and May.
Today, while there are still several weeks of the scorching weather left, The Sunday Times Magazine seeks to convince readers that summer is not just about the beach but actually a very ideal time to explore the Philippines’ peaks, as it revisits the perfect cone that is the Mayon Volcano and the historic Mt. Pinatubo.
Albay’s treasure: The majestic Mayon
In his three terms as governor of Albay, Joey Sarte Salceda has tirelessly worked to push the province to the frontier of Philippine tourism.
In April, Salceda invited a media contingent from Metro Manila to cover the 2015 edition of the annual Daragang Magayon Festival with the help of the Department of Tourism.
In a group interview, he proudly related that since assuming office in 2007, Albay’s previous foreign tourist arrivals of some 8,000 grew to a highly impressive total of 339,000 in 2013.
Combined with the influx of local tourists, the province posted tourist arrivals in the 874,458 mark, which has been pegged at an overall increase of 67 percent. And almost halfway into 2015, Salceda is confident these numbers will hit the one-million mark by the end of the year.
Asked how his government achieved such progress, the governor proudly credited his
fellow Albayanons. He expressed, “I always tell my people, ‘No tourist no food, no arts no life.’ Na-inculcate na sa values ng mga Bikolano.
“That is why everybody participates [in this effort]. Tourism is the most horizontal industry because for every tourist, five jobs are already created—the moment they arrive at the airport, upon entry to hotel, and whenever they tour or eat,” Salceda added.
The center of tourism
Besides Salceda’s effective administration and the people’s active participation in the province’s tourism goals, there remains a more impressive reason why visitors from here and abroad continue to flock to Albay. It is called the Mayon Volcano
Considered one of the world’s most beautiful volcanoes, the magnificent peak sits at the center of Albay’s three cities and 15 municipalities. It is measured to be approximately 8,000 feet above sea level and covers over 5,000 hectares of land.
Fittingly, Salceda nominated the Mayon Volcano Natural Park to be part of the World Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) on April 20. The perfect cone and its surrounding area easily made it to Unesco’s tentative list, having been declared an important protected area through the Presidential Proclamation 413 in June 2000.
The website whc.unesco.org further cited two particular reasons why Mayon should be considered a World Herigate Site: First, because the volcano “contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”; and second, because it “contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.”
Upon understanding the significance of Mayon Volcano to the environment, one is left with the desire to be more intimate with the natural treasure. Fortunately in Albay, local and foreign visitors can choose from different tours to experience the beautiful Mt. Mayon.
At the top of the list is via the Mayon Adventure ATV ride to the volcano itself. Starting off in the town of Daraga, the tour operator takes adventure-seekers on the longest and highest possible trail of Mayon.
Called the Green Lava Trail, the bumpy and dusty ATV ride goes all the way up to 3,000 feet, and passes by all kinds of terrains from rocky streams to bushy lands, which are all sceneries to behold.
Take note that it is also best to leave the base camp at 5 p.m. for a 360-degree view of the sunset, the Albay Gulf, Daraga and nearby towns, the Bulusan Volcano in Sorsogon, and of course, the majestic Mayon in full glory.
For those the not-so-adventurous, there are easier but nevertheless satisfying ways to experience Mt. Mayon. Also in Daraga is the famous Cagsawa Ruins, one of the few visible reminders of the old town that Mt. Mayon buried during its most destructive 18th century eruption.
Most prominent among the ruins is a submerged bell, and with the volcano for a backdrop, this image has long been the icon in representing the entire Bicol region.
Besides the Cagsawa Ruin, tourists can also visit the town of Camalig where the Sumlang Lake quietly lies. There, they can take a relaxing balsa (bamboo raft) ride while enjoying the view of the volcano.
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Tarlac’s pride: The once dormant Pinatubo
For 500 years it stood dormant, sleeping under such thick vegetation that hardly anyone knew it was a volcano.
But came that fateful day in June 1991, when the people of Tarlac and nearby provinces in Central Luzon experienced Mt. Pinatubo as an active—and even deadly—volcano.
Thankfully, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) predicted the eruption early enough to allow evacuations that saved thousands upon thousands of Filipinos living in the region.
Nevertheless, that very first eruption was recorded in history as one of the most destructive volcanic activities in modern 20th century, which spewed huge amounts of lahar—combination of lave and volcanic ash—coupled with a horrendous typhoon. The eruption further emitted millions of tons of sulfur dioxide, thus contributing to the depletion of ozone layer.
Two decades later, the communities surrounding Mt. Pinatubo have fully recovered and more importantly, they continue to benefit from the only positive outcome of the natural disaster—a bustling eco-tourism.
Go on 4×4
With many beautiful peaks scattered all over the Philippines, Mt. Pinatubo is considered as one of the most accessible destinations for local and foreign tourists alike.
Located at the Cabulisan Mountain Range that snakes the provinces of Tarlac, Zambales, and Pampanga, Mt. Pinatubo is only a three-hour drive from Metro Manila.
Start off points to see the famed volcano are found in four towns in Tarlac, namely Capas, San Jose, Bamban and Mayantoc. Among these, Barangay Sta. Juiliana in Capas is the most popular because it is where the Satellite Municipal Tourism Office is located, and where all tourists are required to register to go to Mt. Pinatubo.
After registration, visitors will then embark on a 20-kilometer 4×4 vehicle ride to Mt. Pinatubo’s lake. Lasting for about an hour, the sceneries along this drive include expansive landscapes of lahar, which now serve as an industrial quarry for construction materials.
Despite this, herds of cows are scattered in the surrounding areas of what has further been named the “Crow Valley Canyon,” basically a combination of green valleys and grey canyons.
With all this, plus more rocky rivers and terrains, the ride going up to Mt. Pinatubo is indeed one exciting adventure.
Climb to the top
Following the ride is another five-kilometer trek by foot to finally reach the crater. Although quite long, the trail is considered friendly because it doesn’t require climbing high steeps. For the most part, the trek is made up by even dried soil and rubble, as well solid lahar.
Along the way, be sure to greet the children of the Aetas—an indigenous tribe that still thrive within Pinatubo, while appreciating just how powerful the 1991 eruption was with former mountain peaks transformed into walls upon walls of dried lava.
The sign that the crater is closer is when the trail becomes smaller and more vegetated. A man-made staircase takes visitors all the way up there, in what is truly a breathtaking view.
At the peak of Mt. Pinatubo is a caldera lake that is 2.7 kilometers wide. It was formed during the infamous eruption when the volcano collapsed forming a cauldron shape in the middle.
As the submerged piece of land started to collect water, it eventually turned into a lake. Swimming here, however, is prohibited because of the mineral deposits of the volcano no matter how clear or cool the water is.
Besides the Mt. Pinatubo Lake, do take note that the province of Tarlac is promoting other tourist destinations that make up an eco-tourism hub.
Also in Brgy. Sta. Juiliana is Mt. Telakawa, an alternative mountain destination for visitors who are up for a more extreme hiking challenge.
Meanwhile, scenic bodies of water like the Duglo Falls in San Jose, the Siwako River in Bamban, and the Nambalan River in Mayantoc are also waiting to be enjoyed.