Monday, February 18, 2008

The Rain on Our Bicol Parade, Part One

Just as we planned, a few of my quirkyalone friends and I took a road trip south to see Bicolandia for the first time. But our visions of soaking in some much deserved sun, sea, and sky didn't quite come true as expected as we found ourselves being chased by unseasonable rain instead.

Despite the uncooperative weather, no killjoy storm clouds were going to keep us from having our fun.

We left Manila last Thursday afternoon, a few hours before the Valentine's Day gridlock made driving anywhere impossible. Leaving early, we were able to escape the usual crawl on the South Luzon Expressway. After loading ourselves with several days' supply of chips, we were happily zooming down Maharlika Highway, blithely ignoring the implications of the ominously dark clouds outside. However, four hours into the eight hour drive to Camarines Norte, the temper tantrum the weather was throwing could no longer be ignored as rain began to pour in earnest. The rain and the howling wind dogged us all the way to Daet, which was to be our base for this trip.

Of course, the inclement conditions welcoming us should have given us an idea of what would become of all our grand plans for the weekend. After all, a half hour boat trip on a tiny outrigger to a virgin white beach island in the middle of the Pacific is not exactly advisable when contender conditions for The Perfect Storm award is holding reign. However, in particularly quirkyalone fashion, hope sprang ever eternal.

You can read a blog about what you can do on a trip to Camarines Norte (and what would have been our original itinerary) over here. I lead you this direction because the events that follow chronicle what happens to your travel plans when God decides to laugh at them and teach you all about milking whatever you can out of what's left.

We woke up to the sound of rain falling on the tin roof and brisk wind rustling through mango trees. After a hearty breakfast care of our generous hostess, we drove another two hours south to Camarines Sur to try our hand at cable wakeboarding at the Camsur Watersports Complex.

A cold, brisk wind blew across the man-made lake, creating big ripples over the water and whipping our hair into a frenzy. It was apt accompaniment to the overcast sky overhead. Despite it being a weekday, we were accompanied by a group of high school girls on excursion, who made us wish we were still that young and reckless. They were blithely sliding off the pier one after the other, heedless of the high wipe-out rate, rapidly moving from knee boarding to boarding upright in the space of an hour.

Being reasonably good swimmers and in the mood to try anything at least once, my friend Haydee and I decided to have a go. After paying the hourly rate plus the cost of renting a board, vest, and helmet - a surprisingly low total of PhP 165 - we excitedly joined the teeny boppers and fell in line for a very short lesson.

This is me, waiting to be pulled off the dock, moments before my first wipe-out just meters away. Despite being told to keep my head down, I reared up and summarily got thrown off my board into the very cold water. (I would have put pictures of my wipe outs, but Vic-vic has yet to give me copies of them).

The lake is around seven to eight feet deep in the middle, pretty easy to handle for an experienced swimmer. You're supposed to push or carry your board back to dock if you get thrown off - so knowing how to swim is a requirement despite the universal use of life vests. Since Haydee and I went one after the other and wiped-out almost simultaneously, I mistakenly latched on to her board (because it had blown closest to me) and she ended up cramping up and being rescued by a lifeguard.

While Haydee and I were normally confident in the water, we hadn't counted on the deconditioning brought about by our idle residency lifestyles, and the swim plus the strong wind factored in was more difficult than expected. After my second crash, I could feel my own a cramp coming on, and I decided not to go for another try. But we are most definitely going to go back to conquer that course (on a beginner board!) some day soon.

After our wakeboarding stint at Camsur, we set off on another two hour drive towards Albay to see one of the most famous sights in the Philippines - the perfect cone of the Mayon Volcano. Unfortunately, the weather conditions continued to taunt us. Despite having a great vantage point from the highway during the drive, all but the foot of Mayon was shrouded in towering monster clouds.

We made a pit-stop at the Cagsawa Church Ruins, located in the town of Daraga, Albay, nestled at the foot of Mayon. Cagsawa is another favorite postcard feature and can be accessed from the highway via a makeshift rough road cleared of debris and boulders. The coarse black soil and towering boulders spewed by the furious volcano are a stark contrast to the powder-fine gray sand-like material I had grown used to seeing in the aftermath of Pinatubo. Old houses destroyed by the last eruption and half-buried in the debris stand as a sad testimony to the helplessness of man against the forces of nature.

All that is left of the old church is the stone belfry, and it is the focal point of a pretty little park, an oasis of green growing among the ruins. The volcano with its deceptively gentle slopes serves as the belfry's scenic backdrop. After taking our requisite tourist pictures with the belfry, expertly assisted by the enterprising young budding photographers of Daraga - children with ages ranging from eight to sixteen - we continued our southward drive to Legaspi City, where we had our lunch.

A full view of Mayon remained elusive the whole time we were driving, but we took a picture with the best view we could get (with 75% of the volcano showing). This picture was taken outside the Daraga Church, which stands on a hilltop overlooking the town. Can you see the little bit of Mayon showing in the background?

We spent the four hour drive back home to Daet traversing slick roads thanks to the afternoon rain that began to pour once more in torrents. It was becoming obvious that our planned trip to the white-sand virgin beaches of the Calaguas group of islands was not going to materialize. We fell asleep to the roar of the rain singing a depressing duet with the wind howling outside.

(You can read about what happens next over here.)


iris said...

aww that sucks. but at least you got to wakeboard! thats something i've always wanted to try out. actually, i've always wanted to go to camarines sur because that's where my dad was born. he never got to go back since he was 5. so if ever i plan that trip, i'll ask you for tips on the itinerary ha! :)

MegaMom said...

Hey, am packing to leave for Naga tom am. Business nga lang, so no time for wakeboarding and bumming on the beach (or fending of monsoon winds, whatever the case may be).
Still, sounds like you guys had fun! Make the most of it, at least until you walk into real life and find that you "have to" go to these places. :)

Ced said...

Hi, thanks for the link. Anyway, I also on a trip to Cebu too last week and the weather sucked big time. Wasted time and money going to Bantayan Island because of the bad weather.

- Ced