UPDATE May 7, 2013
We are back in the Philippines on Malapascua Island, where we met a guy on the beach who said he just received a text that the Mt. Mayon had erupted again, killing four tourists. There was nothing on it at CNN, but later in the day the news broke that four German tourists died, and their Philippino guide, hit by rocks that erupted out of the top. They were part of a large group that was climbing the volcano. Why they were on the Volcano in the first place I have no idea, the government had been evacuating the farmers living on the volcano for some weeks. This volcano is under constant scrutiny by the volcanologist living at the station, and has sensors all over it. I can’t know for sure, but this seems to me that profit was put over safety. If you have to evacuate your homes on the volcano, than you should not be climbing it for fun. When ever I step foot on an active Volcano, I know I am putting my life at risk. If you are interested in learning more about Mt. Mayon, Legazpi, and the area around it, below is a reprinting of my blog from that time and a link to CNN’s report on it.
Mt. Mayon Eruption
Nothing like a night bus to jump start a journey. We decided the best way to make some good distance from Manila was to sleep while we traveled. Ha! Sleep, what a funny word. You end up contorting your body into all kinds of weird yoga positions trying to gain some comfort. Legs up, legs down, curl this way, slouch down, throw your legs over Yvonne, then back to slouching. Hell, at one point I curled up in fetal position, whatever I could think of to try to sleep. What we ended up doing was being bounced around as our mad man bus driver whipped hairpin curves and slammed his breaks at all kinds of random moments. There was no guessing what that man was up to, but shit was he a crazy driver. We had two stops the whole night, so doing my normal trick of getting a good buzz on and crashing does not work without a toilet on board. So twelve uncomfortable hours later you look out the window and see the sun rising over a huge volcano. It’s moments like this that you realise you are not in Kansas anymore. The discomfort of the journey is already a faded memory though the sore neck lasted three days.
We mentioned to our bus driver that we were staying in Casablanca, at a certain point he slams to a screeching halt. We are quickly ushered off the bus, of course leaving a bag in the over head, and told a tricycle will take us. Our heads are both enveloped with the fog of sleep, or lack of. We did not even get a chance to get our bearings when the bus zipps off leaving us in a cloud of diesel exhaust and road dust. We heave our bags on a small rack on the back, tied with some sort of plant fiber, and squeeze our way into the cab. The poor tricycle did not even have the strength to haul two massive backpacks, two day packs, and us. We were so smooshed in that it was a team effort just to breath. This was our first trycycle ride, what a blast! Of course we ended up at the wrong hotel. And now we were awake at 6.30 in the morning, exhausted but edgy. So a walk for food was in order.
Well wandering through a port town in a haze is pretty exciting. People are busy about their day loading ships, setting off to go fishing, heading to work, school, and life. All this bustle, and no clear breakfast spots. We walk around sleeping lion hill, and find a nice little hut under it. So I try to order a coke but get a whole cocunut instead. Welcome to lovely Legazpi.
Legazpi is a port town at the south eastern part of Luzon island. It’s a large city but still has a very small feel to it. It’s definitely more low key then Manila, but has an energy all it’s own. The majority of vehicles are tricycles here, with perhaps a quarter percent jeepneys and trucks, and maybe one percent cars. Everything has a gritty feel, stray cats and dogs everywhere, and poor families working in shacks as well as living in them. Parents wash their kids on the street as their kids dodge in and out of traffic.
I would not have thought there was very much money in the city at all, except for the two malls. And as we were to discover, everything revolves around the malls here. They are such a extreme contrast to the outside. All modern and air-conditioned, with everything you would get in western malls; Coach bags, Luis Vuitton cases, and chain restaurants. But in front of the mall you have shack towns made out of scraps where people live and work. The contrast really never ceases to amaze me. We later discovered huge houses behind large walls wih security guards, but under those very walls were shacks and hovels and looming above all this madness was Mt. Mayon.
Mt. Mayon is considered to be the most perfectly shaped volcano in all the Philippines, and more than likely you have seen it on advertisements. Little did we know for the four or five days we were there, the best views we were to get were the ones we got getting off the bus. The rest of the time it was hidden under clouds, and of course it was billowing out its’ own noxious gases too. You see the whole city of Legazpi is built right under a very active volcano. Just a decade ago it erupted killing many people and sending lava down its’ sides.We stopped by the remains of a single church tower, all that was left of a town that disappeared off the face of the map in the 1800’s when lava flowed over it, killing just about everyone there. If it really goes then the city will be wiped off.
On our second day in town we hired a guide, Edwin, and went exploring around the base of the volcano. We did all kinds of fun things like taking quads off roading up to the lava flows. I was a bit disappointed because I really wanted to see live lava flows, like in Hawaii, not old ones. The language difference always causes problems, because I felt I was really clear that we wanted to see oozing magna, but he clearly did not understand. Well I got over pretty soon the fact that I was not going to be toasting marshmellows over the lava flow, so instead I took the short way back down by zip-lining down.
Then we went to some waterfalls in the area and hung out with some local teens who thought we were hilarious. Not sure if it was the bottle of cheap brandy they were drinking, but they all wanted to show off their muscles for the camera. And they seemed to think we knew Barack Obama. Next on the to do list was a black sand beach. The sand is black in these parts because it’s all from the volcano. There are companies shipping the black sand to other parts of the world because it’s so popular. Well on an over cast day the beach was perfect, but on a sunny day I can only imagine how insanely hot the sand would be.
My favorite part of our day trip was stopping at the volcano research station and Meeting Alex, the volcanologist studying the volcano. Edwin and Alex were classmates from university. Clearly most people probably do not stop here, but being the science lover that I am, I did. I was thrilled to look at their work. Alex pulled up the stenographs from the major eruption in the 90’s, and showed comparisons today. The old machines we see in all the movies no longer get used with the reams of paper. Like everything else computers can record it better and quicker. They still have the large machines, but mainly just for show. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayon_Volcano
Ahhhhh well, as everyone knows, I love food. And the one thing I really enjoy is street food. And I am sure I will be talking about it in more detail later on, but here in Legazpi we did one of our first experimentations with street food. It takes a bit of building up nerve, cause the places don’t look that hygienic, and I still have the travel specialist nagging voice in my head about the dangers of bacteria, and disease, and eternal damnation if you experiment, but ohhhh, does it smell good.
So nothing crazy the first night; some chicken grilled out. We dined on plastic chairs with plastic bags filled with coke. Very romantic I know, only the best for my girl. The next night we went wild and sat on some more fancy plastic chairs, and this time there was like forty different dishes to try from. Most unrecognizable, hmm, is it fish in that peppery sauce, or squid? Is it dog or pig in that lovely smelling broth? Some things we were able to determine, but most were a mystery. In the end I got chicken gizzards, which I believe is the dangly thing under their beaks, and some part of a pig’s heart. Both were delicious, and paired really well with a bottle of coke and a cup of chicken broth. Like I said, we were stepping up our game. Now Yvonne got a plate of what we though was vegetables in a creamy sauce. I think I can speak for both of us that it was the most bitter, nasty tasting thing we had tried in ages. There was a fishy taste to it, and a crisp firm texture to it, and at the end of the day we did not know if we were actually eating sea cucumbers or cucumbers.
In the end, there was a lot to like in Legazpi. The people there were so nice and friendly, and though a very chaotic city, the more we got to know, the more we loved it. My favorite thing to do every morning was to go down the street from the hotel to a ply wood store. It’s the size of a 10 ft by 10 foot room with a metal roof awning. I did not realize this at the time as I ducked under the awning to where I though you go to buy things, but the store was also the house too. The family there asked me to sit with them and in broken english chatted away with me while I sipped my coke and looked at Mt. Mayon.
Tours around Legazpi, Philippines, Mt. Mayon