Bicol Express

I like vacations. They’re always so fun and full of things different from what you would normally go through in Manila. They’re also a good way to get rid of any kind of stress (not that I suffer from much stress or even any stress anyway). So, you can imagine how much fun I had last weekend, when I went to Donsol, Sorsogon, in the Bicol region.

We (that is, my parents, my lola, my ninong and our driver) left Manila at 11 PM on Friday night (which obviously means we traveled to Bicol overnight, which is pretty much the best way to get there, since it leaves more time to enjoy the day). The trip was relatively uneventful, except for a few parts (like when we almost ran over a cat). Other than that, I spent my time trying to sleep, but the fact that most of my body was sore and the fact that I was stuck in the back row of our car didn’t help in the slightest. We had breakfast at Legazpi City (capital of Albay), specifically in a restaurant called Graceland (which is the closest you can get to Bikolano fast-food). We then went on until we reached our main destination: Donsol.

As you may (or may not) know, Donsol is a very sleepy town (which compromises my dad’s plans of retiring there). However, that is straying from the narrative, so let’s get back to the story. First thing we did when we got to Donsol was to go to Rabulan Homestay, which is a very old house which was renovated, so it’s a pretty decent place to stay in (even without creature comforts such as cable TV and Wi-Fi. Heck, they don’t even have a phone line). We met Jun Principe there, who would have two important roles to play that day. We then quickly unpacked and geared up for the main attraction: the butanding.

First thing you gotta do if you wanna go whale shark watching is head for the butanding interaction center, which is a few minutes’ drive from the town. There, you pay the bangka fee, which also includes the fee for the spotter (whose job is to look for whale sharks from the bangka) and the Butanding Interaction Officer, more commonly known as BIO (whose job is to help you out in the water, and brief you about the modus operandi when whale shark watching). Our BIO was the aforementioned Jun Principe (who still has another role left to play, may I remind you). We then waited for a free bangka (only 25 are allowed at a time, you see, and there were a lot of foreigners there at the time), and when one showed up, we immediately got in and started looking for butanding.

Picture this: You’re in the water, and you’re cold, even though you’re wearing shorts and a rashguard and it’s summer. The water’s very murky, so you can’t see anything around you and you have no idea how deep the water is. All of a sudden, you see this huge flat mouth (about five feet wide) appear out of nowhere, and you quickly get out of the way, to make sure you don’t touch it (or to get away from it; for all you know, it could suddenly aim for you). Then, you see the rest of the whale shark’s incredibly long (think 18-30 feet long) body, and its far-reaching tail. Now, imagine going through that four times, and you get a picture of what happened to me. I could have easily seen more, though–if I didn’t decide to take a nap in the bangka after the fourth butanding (my parents and my ninong saw at least six, and my lola saw two from the bangka).

After that episode of particular interest, we had lunch (read: spicy food, lots of it–in fact, practically every dish served was spicy). We then headed back to the homestay, where I had a nice, long, nap. After I woke up (which was around 6 PM), we left the homestay and headed for a river–but not just any river, for reasons which I will get to in a bit. As soon as we got there (no easy task, I tell you–what with the sorry state of the road and all), we got into another bangka on the river and began our river cruise (courtesy of Mr. Principe, who arranged the whole thing). Guessed what we did yet? If not, be patient, I’m getting there. We then proceeded to systematically scout the river, and we eventually found ’em: fireflies. Lots of them. Whole trees full of them. It was beautiful and magical, as said by a good friend of mine whom I described the general picture to. And that wasn’t all we saw there–remember that Donsol is not nearly as polluted as Manila, and what do you get in the night sky? Stars–lots of them, as there was nary a cloud in the sky that night.

After a refreshing night (the blackout didn’t help, but the evening walk did) with the AC trained on me (I had to wear my jacket to bed–it was that cold), we went to mass. Now, if you think it was your everyday mass in English or Tagalog, think again. It was vastly different, for two reasons: one, it was in Bikolano (which made that my first Bikolano mass), and I’m too embarrassed to state the second (you’ll have to ask me on YM for that ‘un). Then, we had breakfast, and packed up and left soon after.

The return trip was longer than the trip to Donsol, because we had too many stops on the way. I will do my best to enumerate them all, but I do apologize for not remembering the order in which they occurred (I’m not good with the geography). We stopped at Naga, for lunch at a restaurant named Bob Marlin (decent enough fare) and to check out the basilica there (which was pretty modern, and I’ve got the pictures to prove it); we stopped at Legazpi to go to the market there (my mom and my lola bought bags, and my dad any my ninong bought food mostly); we then continued on until Lucena, where we had dinner. After that, it was smooth sailing until Manila (read: I fell asleep, and woke up only when we were outside our house).

Now, I may have forgotten some things, but what I have remembered should (hopefully sound) intersting (at least in the slightest) to you–because it was definitely interesting for me, and I don’t regret any part of it, except one: the time I spent there was not enough, not nearly enough (hence the post title). I would definitely go there again, if I had the chance, and who knows–I might even see you there.


11 Responses to “Bicol Express”

  1. March 26, 2007 at 10:01 pm

    whoa, tiyaga. :))

    looks like you really enjoyed your visit. makes me wanna go there someday. maybe next year. no time this summer, e.

    wait, you said there were loads of stars? i’d die to be in your place. gawd. my weekend was boring, e. >.

  2. 2 Alvin
    March 26, 2007 at 11:02 pm

    I thought you can’t make a blog post this long.


    Si Marz talaga first comment…


  3. 3 ninang pat
    March 27, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    That’s a very excellent documentation of your vacation. I can feel the adrenalin rush when you came face to face with wide-mouthed creature.

    Makes me want to visit donsol 😛

  4. March 30, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Firefly expedition 😀

  5. 5 Joe
    March 30, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    sky-bound fireflies 😛

  6. 6 renchi
    March 30, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    “a wide-mouthed creature”

  7. 7 t. Nina
    April 1, 2007 at 10:35 am

    Great blog!

  8. 8 ayen
    April 1, 2007 at 4:39 pm

    I’d say that was an excellent travelogue!! Seriously, I’d like to share it with my friends to give them a pretty good idea of what to expect in their own Bicol Express sojourn. Here’s looking forward to your next travel account! 🙂

  9. 9 anony
    April 10, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    update, joe! 🙂

  10. 10 Stel
    October 15, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    Great travelogue. Glad you enjoyed your Donsol experience. Guess now you know why your Ninong can’t stop talking about Donsol… next aim to dive with Mantas just 2 hours beyond Donsol – Manta Bowl in Ticao Pass. But thats another story.

  11. October 16, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    thanks for the comment. yeah, it was really enjoyable, and i understand why he can’t stop.

    …mantas!? awesome.

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Presenting the thoughts and travails of a teenage writer who lives under a rock--albeit a rock with Internet access. Also, videos! Also, my Tumblr.


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