"Be Cool Man"

A Bicol journey

source: Johannes L. Chua |
April 3, 2009, 2:48pm

As you read this, you only have four days to plan a vacation. The Lenten retreat weekend arrives next week – the time of the year when a mass of urbanites escape the metropolis and the summer heat that leave EDSA and the malls surprisingly empty. And if you’ve entirely forgotten about planning any activity, you can drive to the usual pools in Laguna or Batangas or you can drive farther to Subic or the perennial favorite destination – Baguio. But I’m warning you – those destinations are sure to be packed with people that there’s a big possibility that you may see a colleague at a restaurant or be booked in the same hotel as your boss!  How’s that for a vacation?

This year, I challenge you to awaken the “adventurous kid” inside you. No, this doesn’t mean that you have to try out an extreme sport or eat some exotic food. This is just a long drive that requires you to just have a reliable vehicle, a few thousand pesos, an updated road map, and of course, a great company – whether they are your family, relatives, officemates or friends.

Where to? One of the most scenic and easy long drives to take is a trip to Bicolandia. For those who will take this trip for the first time, Mayon Volcano is not the only attraction in the Bicol Region. There are beautiful churches, exotic resorts, refreshing nature sites – and more! Pasalubong shopping ain’t bad either. Most of all, it’s easy on the pocket and can be done from Thursday to Easter Sunday.

In this region, there are boundless adventures waiting to be explored. And if you don’t have any vehicle with you, Bicol is highly accessible via public transport.

For this trip, I recommend the region’s most popular destinations: Daet in Camarines Norte, Naga City, and Legazpi City in Albay.  For this four-day journey, it’s easy to come up with a “functioning” itinerary to see and experience the most of the region. \

An early departure from Manila is advisable for motorists, since the first stop, Daet, is around eight hours away by land.  For those taking the bus, take the night trip, which will bring you to Daet by sunrise the following morning.  For those bringing a vehicle, leave early morning, and make sure to assign at least two drivers who can alternate during the eight-hour drive.

Various bus companies offer transport to the region, among them Cagsawa Tours, Penafrancia, and Superlines. There is a terminal at the back of Ali Mall Cubao which offers bus trips to various locations including spots around Bicol.  It is always advisable to reserve for your seats in advance – especially next week when the trips almost always get fully booked.

A day in Daet

Daet is a charming small town. Once there, you can take a tricycle along Bagasbas Road and get a breath of fresh air. If you have your vehicle, park somewhere along the Bagasbas shoreline.  The seemingly endless beach stretch is popular among townsfolk and even visitors because of the powder-fine silvery sands and the strong waves that encourage watersports like surfing.

You and your companions can spend the rest of the day on the beach or you can do a rolling tour of Daet and the neighboring towns. Explore the town’s old churches, parks, and other interesting spots.  Daet’s next-door neighbor, the town of Vinzons, is home to the ancestral house of Wenceslao Q. Vinzons – a brave hero who led the resistance against the Japanese during World War II.

For the history buff, Daet is the location of the first Rizal monument – an irregularly-shaped obelisk painted in white, with the name of Rizal highlighted in black.  The monument was built in Dec. 1898, fashioned from mortars and boulders collected from the old Spanish jail in Daet which was later demolished.  The monument, located at the foot of a bridge, can be found across the old Daet municipal hall.

Around Naga

About three hours away from Daet is Naga City.  If you’re done with the tour of Daet, drive on and you will be guided by road signs to reach Naga. Or take the next bus with the “Naga” signboard and ride off to this city which is bustling with activity.

There are various hotels and resorts to choose from.  Check the Internet now for your hotel of choice and book in advance.  If you arrive in Naga by nightfall, you can check in to your hotel then go out again for dinner.  There are a lot of restaurants to choose from.  Also try the local delicacies in native-themed restaurants and be surprised by the legendary spicy Bicolano cuisine.

The following morning can be set for a rolling tour of the city’s famous churches, and there are many of them.  Take time to reflect at the Metropolitan Church (the largest in Bicol), Penafrancia Basilica Minore, and the Our Lady of Penafrancia Church which is popular stop for pilgrims.

Naga City is also known as the gateway to CamSur’s Caramoan – the latest tourist hub in the Bicol Region. Be more adventuros and have some photo ops at the Camarines Sur Watersports Complex (CWC) in the town of Pili which offers wakeboarding facilities.

Caramoan has gained fame among Europeans as the site of the French version of Survivor called “Kohlanta” which was filmed in the islands.  There are at least two boat trips to take before you can reach Caramoan, but upon arrival, you will be amazed to discover a world-class resort called Gota Village which is the jump-off point to an island hopping tour in this part of Bicol.

Legazpi leg

On your third day, drive to Legazpi City in Albay. This is the place where the famous Mayon Volcano and Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga are located.

Don’t forget your cameras. This is a perfect place to take lots of photos since the Mayon Volcano offers a perfect backdrop.  It is also a convenient jump-off point to other tourist destinations in the region such as the Cagsawa Ruins, the upscale resort of Misibis, Donsol – the site of one of the world’s largest annual migration of whale sharks and the white sand beaches of Sorsogon and Catanduanes (if you have more time).

There are a lot of places to visit around Legazpi. You can drop by the Albay Park and Wildlife, the Liberty Bell, the Magayon Art Gallery – found at the lobby of the Albay Provincial Capitol; Legazpi City Museum and the Albay Park and Wildlife, one of the best places to view Mayon Volcano and Legazpi City.

Since this itinerary is very flexible, you also have the option of switching the spots per day.  You can first proceed to Legazpi and from there work your way through Naga and Daet as the days pass.  Just make sure to check the bus schedules and book your hotels in advance.  If you’re driving back to Manila, expect a back-breaking trip. But with great company, the long drive will feel short since you have lots of things – and new memories – to talk about!

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