Summer vacation. Perfect time to go on a road trip, whether down to the beach or up to Baguio. Sure, taking the plane is more comfortable, but taking the car could be fun. Those who prefer the beach may go to Boracay, Palawan, Bohol, Subic, Batangas, Pagudpud or other great Philippine beaches. How about going to the beach, seeing Mayon Volcano, and swimming with butanding (whale sharks) in one trip? That, my dear bakasyonista, would lead you to a 550-kilometer journey from Manila to Bicol (550 kilometers, more or less).
We have an itinerary of our trip to Ilocos, discussing directions, routes and places of interest. We also started a planned itinerary of a Bicol trip (go here). We initially thought of dividing the journey into 100-kilometer legs or stretch to make it bearable. The plan, however, is far from what we’ve experienced. The nice roads and easy drive totally blurred the legs of the journey that we’ve planned. For instance, we planned to have crispy pata lunch in Candelaria, Quezon — we were there by 5:20 a.m.
They say a plan is good only until you start implementing it. Here’s what we found out.
Day 1 of Bicol Trip (Manila to Legaspi, Albay)
The Bicol trip is around 550+ kilometers. We were told that it’s 10-12 hours of travel time, so we set out early, 3:00 a.m., and packed sandwiches for breakfast to save time (besides, we didn’t hear any good suggestion for breakfast in the Bicol route).
We’ve traveled around 104 kms. by the time we reached San Pablo City (1st leg in the plan) at 5 a.m. We reached Pagbilao by 5:50 a.m., stopping at the Pagbilao Church for the first breather. By that time, we’ve already traveled 162 kilometers and have passed Tiaong, Lucena City, Candelaria and Sariaya. We got a glimpse of the golden sun as we left Pagbilao.
- Tip: The Bitukang Manok or Old Zigzag road is not as scary as others say. Absolutely not a problem if you’re an experienced driver, but a problem if your car is not primed for steep climbs. However, I wouldn’t pass here at night. And I’d be extremely careful when its raining. Roads are slippery because of the asphalt overlay (same is true in most of the roads).
We reached Atimonan (leg 2 of the plan) at 6:40 a.m. (that’s a total 192 kilometers), then through Gumaca (7:00 a.m.) and Calauag (7:30 a.m.). The drive was hassle-free we totally forgot to note the 3rd (Tagkawayan) and 4th legs (Sipocot) of our plan. The next thing we knew we were already at the Sipocot junction (end of Andaya Sr. Highway) by 9:10 a.m.
We were supposed to visit the Basilica Minore in Naga City, but we were advised to take the diversion route because of traffic. We didn’t go inside Naga City, but straight to the neighboring town of Pili, where we stopped to check the CamSur Watersports Complex, wakeboarding capital of the Philippines.
Brief stop at the beautiful Nabua Church and by lunch time, we were already at the Cagsawa Ruins, taking a few photos of the beautiful Mayon Volcano, before heading to Daraga for lunch at Bigg’s Diner. The old Daraga Church is only a few blocks up the restaurant. We still had lots of time to spare when we arrived in Legaspi City after lunch.
- Tip: The locals recommend that you visit the Cagsawa Ruins early in the morning, preferably between 6 – 8, as clouds would usually cover the upper portion of the cone. So we dropped by again on the way back to Manila.
The good thing about arriving early is the time to catch some sleep. The bad thing about the early arrival in Legaspi, on the other hand, is the disappointing Lignon Hill Nature Park. We sincerely believe that they should revise the policy (if there’s really such a policy) of making visitors walk up the steep hill. Yes, it’s a nature park, we understand, but if that’s the case, ahem, bring the zipline lower level for the benefit of us weight-challenged guests. Science says light and heavy objects fall to the earth at the rate, removing friction, but we went back down the hill first, making it only 3/4 of the way. And those joggers, dang those joggers, rubbing salt to the injury by lightly going up, then down, then back up again.
We spent the rest of the afternoon looking for a great place to taste authentic Bicolano cuisine. Nothing at the Embarcadero, a mall beside Legazpi’s harbor. It has your usual fastfood chains, but no one there could point us to a good laing and Bicol express tandem (there’s a Bigg’s Diner, but we already had that for lunch). We found ourselves at Waway’s Restaurant for dinner. We were bewildered if this is how laing and Bicol express should taste like.
Day 2: Trip to Donsol, Sorsogon
To see the butanding of Donsol is the primary reason of the trip. We left at 6:00 a.m. on the second day, buying drive-through breakfast in the adjacent Daraga (closed roads in Legaspi due to the Magayon Festival), which is along the way. Winding roads to Donsol, Sorsogon. We didn’t mind if we have absolutely no clue where Donsol is, just the general direction. There are billboards and signposts along the way so no sweat. We discovered:
- We should have registered the day before, because by the time we reached the Tourism Office by 7:30 a.m., we were already in boat 25 of the second batch. Only a maximum of 30 boats are allowed at any one time. Better view of the butanding in the early morning.
- Not good to drive here late in the evening. Roads are winding and you’d probably miss the turns. It’s difficult to ask for directions when there’s no people on the road. Not to worry about the two cemeteries along those winding roads . . . just don’t look back at the rear view mirror, there might be one more passenger in the car.
Jump-off point of all boats for the butanding adventure is in barangay Dancalan, where the Tourism Office is found. After the spectacular time with the butanding, lunch at the Kawnkita Restaurant of Amor Farm Beach Resort is recommended. It’s just a few minutes drive from the butanding center and along the drive back to Legaspi anyway. We would have opted for the firefly show, also in Donsol, but our hotel is in Legaspi and we didn’t want to drive at night.
- Tip: Book at least one month in advance if you want to stay in Donsol resorts, as these are usually fully booked, especially at this time of the year. Peak season.
That means we have the afternoon off, perfect time to visit the Sto. Domingo Church, 30 minutes from Legaspi. The welcome bonus is the memorial mausoleum of the composer of Sarung Banggi. Also along the way is the Typhoon Reming Memorial Shrine. We went straight to dinner at a recommended place, Colonial Grill (must try the chili ice cream).
Day 3: Return trip from Bicol to Manila
We didn’t leave early (6:00 a.m.) because we’re already familiar with the route and it’s ok even if we reach Manila at any time of the night. Got a full tank in Legaspi — with spare gas when we reached Manila (7:30 p.m.). That’s one full tank one-way, though there’s no reason to worry because there’s a lot of gas stations along the way.
We dropped by the Cagsawa Ruins for a clearer view of Mayon Volcano on the one-hour trip to Naga City, where we had breakfast at the Red Platter (delicious food) and had our first cup of Starbucks after one day . . . an eternity for coffee junkies like me (this is the only Starbucks in the entire region, so better come warned). The restaurant staff suggested Caramoan if we decide to come back. We visited the Our Lady of Peñafrancia Basilica Minore on our way out of the city.
We passed by St. Anne Shrine, the Leaning Tower of Milaor, reaching the Gumaca Church by lunch time, but we didn’t eat because we’re saving our hungry stomach for the crispy pata of JIJF Lutong Bahay ni Inay (Candelaria, Quezon).
We’ve estimated a total of 4 hours spent for lunch and visits in Cagsawa and various churches in the return trip. That boils down to 11 hours for the return trip, as compared to 9 hours during the Manila to Legaspi trip. On the other hand, we logged 490 kilometers for the return trip, as compared to the 550+ during the Manila-Legaspi trip. Well, doesn’t matter. What’s important is that we saw the beautiful Mayon and the awesome butanding. And we arrived home safe.