I grew up with an image of Mount Mayon lifted from a postcard – a canvass of clear blue skies behind the volcano’s faultless symmetry while green fields and a surviving bell tower of a ruined church sprawl at the foreground.
When asked by my teacher to illustrate the volcano in arts or civics and culture classes, I rendered Mayon with a bright, golden sun while a quaint nipa hut replaced the belfry. Before my first touchdown in the Bicol region last April and my exploration of the locality in the last weekend of August, my understanding of Mayon’s magnitude was inadequate. Mayon stretches beyond the boundaries of my knowledge.
A brief history and myth of Mayon
Mayon is among the world’s most active volcanoes. It is said to have erupted 49 times in the last 400 years equivalent to a seismic disturbance in every eight-year period. Its most destructive eruption was in 1814, killing more than 1,000 residents. The iconic belfry of the Cagsawa church is a remnant of that catastrophe two centuries ago.
In 1938, Mayon was declared a national park becoming the Philippines’ first protected landscape. As the main landmark of Albay province, Mayon’s geographic scope extends to eight cities and municipalities – Camalig, Daraga, Guinobatan, Legazpi City, Ligao City, Malilipot, Sto. Domingo, and Tabaco City.
In local folklore, Mayon was inspired by the tale of Daragang Magayon, a beautiful maiden who died at the crossfire of the men who sought her. On days when the peak of the volcano is covered with clouds, it is said that Magayon’s lover, Panginoron, is kissing her while the cascades of rain on the gentle slopes signify Panginoron’s anguish over the love he lost.
A direct flight to Legazpi City from other points in the country is a traveler’s primary circuit for a view of Mayon. Travelers can already behold Mayon upon disembarking at the Legazpi airport. That is if she is not draped in clouds.
There is a belief that good tidings await first time travelers to Albay should they be able to view the scale and perfection of a clear Mayon. Though I am not too superstitious, a part of me was anxious as Mayon was half-shrouded on a sunny day that I arrived in Albay for the first time. The morning after, though, when I woke up at dawn and stepped out of our accommodation in Tabaco City, there was Mayon in the horizon, gloriously clear and bathed by the soft light of the morning. Only then did I fully realize why Mayon is hailed as the world’s most perfectly coned volcano.
Though Tabaco is 45 minutes from Legazpi, Mayon’s shape viewed from the vicinity is uncannily similar to her postcard images. Traversing the towns of Malilipot and Sto. Domingo from Tabaco back to Legazpi showcases the same breathtaking splendor. This realization challenged me to launch a 360-degree adventure to capture Mayon from many standpoints in Albay with the goal of conveying to the world the different facets of life anchored on her majesty. The pursuit has begun.
Ligñon Hill Nature Park
The summit of Ligñon Hill provides one of the best, unobstructed views of Mayon. Farmlands stretch between the hill and Mayon while other features of civilization like power lines and farm houses minutely dot the landscape. Entry to Ligñon is via Legazpi City’s Binitayan Road. Reaching the summit would entail a 30-minute occasionally steep hike hence it is best to trek Ligñon early in the morning when the sun is not yet scorching. The hill also displays panoramas of Legazpi City like its coast and urban pockets while features such as nature trails and zip lines will draw adventure-inclined visitors.
Legazpi City seaport and urban sprawl
Take a stroll around the city and for sure Mayon gazes from a distance unless it is one of those days when she shies away from the maddening crowd. This sight should delight urbanites more accustomed to skyscrapers fracturing the skylines. One of the newest destinations in Legazpi is the Embarcadero, a lifestyle zone situated along Albay Gulf. From Embardero, a picturesque Mayon overlooks a boulevard and seaport. Embarcadero is a barely ten-minute jeepney ride from the city’s busy commercial center.
Formerly Cagsawa, Daraga’s history is very much intertwined with the brunt of Mayon. When Mayon’s 1814 eruption destroyed the Cagsawa church, the focal point of the town’s religious life shifted to Daraga’s two century-old Baroque parish church dedicated to Nuestra Senora de la Porteria or Our Lady of the Gate. Today, Daraga Church is recognized by the government as a National Cultural Treasure and restoration is ongoing. The calm and antiquity evoked by this church built on a hilltop are perhaps the causes why this is my most favorite spot for a vista of Mayon. In the course of my weekend in Legazpi, I visited Daraga Church thrice – on a drizzling Saturday afternoon, at dusk when the clouds had lifted, and the following morning for the Sunday service. From Legazpi city proper, Daraga Church is reached by jeepney in approximately 15 minutes.
Cagsawa Ruins Park
The iconic ruins of Cagsawa also in Daraga town need no introduction. Just two cautions for travelers in pursuit of a perfect image of Mayon. First, avoid visiting on Sunday as the park tends to get crowded. And second, it may be best to catch Mayon from the ruins during sunrise. Mayon is always best witnessed early in the morning otherwise you may have to linger and patiently wait for the hovering clouds to dissipate. From Legazpi proper, take a Loop 1 jeepney and get off at Binitayan. From this barangay, any jeepney heading to the towns of Camalig, Guinobatan or Polangui passes by Cagsawa. From the municipal road, the park is reached after taking a 500-meter flatland walk. These rides collectively take less than 30 minutes. Souvenir shops thrive at the park thus you may want to do your pasalubong shopping here.
View from the sky
Say your goodbye to Mayon by choosing a window seat in your aircraft bound for Manila. On board Cebu Pacific, these are F seats of the aircraft. If it is a clear day and you are lucky, you will be entreated to a full-scale view of Mayon within the first ten minutes after takeoff. Be sure that you have your camera or phone ready for that perfect shot!
Looking forward to my next Mayon 360 adventure!