Monday, October 18, 2010

Backpacking Bicol - Details on Distance Traveled

Donsol, Sorsogon. Part 1


Rewind, 3 year 6 months ago, there was a trio who planned on backpacking on the wild places and provinces in the Philippines. This includes coordinated and overlapping sick, emergency and vacation leaves. I don't have any problems with this because I used to have a very understanding boss (back then at cargo)--- who actually throws me out the office whenever possible. The case is different with my travel buddies; Butiking Pasay No More (BPNM) is an events coordinator whose boss thinks that taking a holiday on Christmas eve and holy week is a punishable crime; and Church-mate an auditor at the number 1 auditing firm in the Philippines who haven't had a vacation for 2 years from her work. We were all thinking of going somewhere a cell phone signal can't reach us --- and in the Philippines, there are many such places.

Fast forward a year later (same time April). After filing our vacations 5months in advance , I was given 2 weeks leave ( I think I've offset 1 year-worth of holiday duty) Butiking Pasay No More 5days and Church-mate 3 days. Talk about quality time. But Church-mate, having foreseen her unforgiving boss' decision thinks she can scheme a way to extend her vacation for another 3 more days.
We've decided to go to my province at Bicol, Sorsogon. Swim with the whale sharks, see some sights and beach comb. The month of May was fast approaching and the season for whale shark sighting is quickly passing us by. (our plans has been moved again and again from march to April )
At 4 pm, I met CM at the bus station at Pasay. Up until the day we were supposed to leave, we still haven't decided yet on which time and route do we take ( no tickets, no reservations). The plan is, get on the 5pm bus going to our province in Sta.Magdalena, Sorsogon, and plan from there on how to go to Donsol and beyond!!! But.. we have to scratch that plan because Butiking Pasay No More is nowhere to be seen until 5.30pm. We inquired at the ticketing office and found out that there is a 6.30pm bus that will stop directly at Donsol. So wrapping our things up, we took this one and only escape to Manila.


So off we go to the south! I was separated with my two companions, they were seated near the back of the bus, while I was at a seat behind the driver. However, before the bus departed, I was able to haggle the seats beside me that was occupied by a lone passenger, so I quickly went to BPNM and CM and happily announce that we got the front row seat with an ample leg room. We also had a good view of the road ahead... and the various horrors we are about to see and experience. It seemed that the bus driver was as excited as us to get to our destination. The moment we reached the farther parts of SLEX, our manic driver NEVER slowed down below 90KPH!. Well, we might have slowed down to around 60 whenever there's a hard turn, but I was busy holding on to my dear life (to notice the speedometer). You might think that for a 50 seater bus weighting around 1-1.5ton, will not go higher than that, but to my disappointment and the delight of driver it did! We broke the law - the Law of physics! We are now running 120KPH on an obscure highway, somewhere in an obscure province, overtaking EVERY-effing-vehicles! It's a 10hour ride, and i can't sleep. I glanced at BPNM every now and then but she's sleeping... or so it seemed, her knuckles were white because of holding the armchair too hard. Honestly, I never ever saw a vehicle (trike,van,cars,other buses) in front of us that we didn't overtake! Imagine overtaking in a blind curve in a zigzag road. I may sound overreacting but you have to experience it to believe it. (ride AMIHAN!) I also learned that the average time of travel from MNL to DONSOL should be 12hours, not 10hours like we did.


After an adrenaline filled 10 hours or so, we approached Albay, with the Mayon Volcano in the Horizon. I have to admit this is the first time I was able to see Mayon at daytime (we always passed it when it's too dark whenever we go to Sorsogon) Newayz, it just exploded a few weeks before we arrived and we can still see the destruction. There were houses swept off by lahar an occasional bridge that collapse and a group of tents somewhere downtown. In the past, whenever we go Albay and its outskirts, we can only see the tip of Mayon because it's covered by the tall houses and apartments. But that is not the case this time, Mayon looms at the Horizon, unchallenged except for a jagged outline of rambles (even the trees were gone) Nevertheless Mayon is still overwhelmingly amazing.

So we reached Donsol (there were only 4 of us left in the bus, all passengers got off at Pilar). There were trike drivers cajoling us that they'll take us to the Tourism center, but what we need is breakfast, or at least a decent coffee. We asked around, and of course the drivers said that they could drive us. Good thing we were city trained to refuse pesky drivers and barkers, because the market and a carinderia was just 5 mins walk away. At the eatery we interviewed the proprietor, who happens to be a vacationer herself and really lives at Las Pinas and occasionally go to Quiapo and Divisoria to buy cellphone accessories and Dvds. Her carinderia was one of a kind. There were towers of Betamax tapes. Yes, Betamax tapes stacked up and looking like the Tolkien's Two Towers. She was kind enough to call a tricycle driver (maybe a relative) He took us to the tourism center and the whale shark sighting embarkation site. We were only asked to pay 15pesos, for a journey of 20mins or so. In pasay Flores to Buendia cost 20 and that's just a 5min trike ride. We gave him 30pesos.

We paid 100bucks to for registration and was asked to watch the orientation video. the boat ride cost 3500 for 7 person and there were only 3 of us! Good thing there were other 2 travellers who wanted to see some whale sharks as well. So the five of us were directed to the boat, which is manned by a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO). A heavy-weight looking weight lifter with the aura of a hardened military man. 30 mins off shore, in deep ocean, we circled for about an hour before we spotted our first whale shark. It was just a baby by the looks of it - just as long as our 10 meter Banka - said the watcher. It swam beside us for just a few seconds and it was gone. By this time we were so excited and rearing to dive, I didn't dare took off my flippers. I believed I was a strong and good swimmer, so I confidently refused the life jacket ( I wanted to dive with the shark) and only donned the flippers ( for propelling power) and goggles ( I can't dive with snorkel ). Dear, I was wrong, the moment the BIO spotted the beast, he shouted DIVE! NOW! (like our ROTC officer) and I jumped, surprised, against my will. The moment I jumped I began to sink, It was my first time with a flippers and I'm not used in pedal kicking my way, I'm a frog style kicker! Needless to say, I only catch a glimpse of the tail and lost face in front of everyone hehehe. On the next dive I swallowed my pride and put on the life jacket but still without snorkel. It went well, and the whale shark passed under me! Butiking Pasay No More, lost her enthusiasm on swimming because the the BIO officer was a Marcos Incarnate. If he said dive, you dive, regardless if you're ready or not. He doesn't like looking back and swimming towards you if you seem to be drowning, but he easily gets disappointed if you can't keep up. Churchmate on the other hand, was just a plain wimp. The premise is, if you want to go near the beast, you should know how to swim. And even if you don't know how to swim, that's what life jackets are for. Floating Jackass solved! Now the only problem is, how to propel yourself fast enough to swim with the beast, and how to manoeuvre to avoid the beast (I'm 5'11 and I'm sure I will fit into their mouth with plenty of spaces to spare... If they decided that humans are tastier than plankton) I was so engrossed and amazed by the experience that when I surfaced, I realized that I am alone ( the BIO was a few meters far from me) In open waters! It took the Banka around 3 minutes to get to me (that's a long time if you're threading in deep dark sea)


*** Tip : if you are afraid of open waters this activity is not for you. After jumping out, the boat will goooo faaarr awaaay from you. To leave you and the whale shark at peace, you see, they hate motorized bankas. The boat will circle you in a radius in which they just look like a stick in the horizon. (50 meter lap swimming training is no use in open water with waves)

After 4 dives and 6 whalesharks seen, we decided to call it a day. So we returned to the quaint betamax walled carinderia, and ordered our lunch. BPNM and CM wanted to experience the true bicol express but I strongly suggested againt it. So I ordered something like pork or beef (im not sure) with tomato sauce (menudo, mechado, pochero, I forgot) and they ordered Laing Bicol Express each. One spoonful of ulam, equals to 1 plate of rice and 3 glasses of water. In the end, they shared with my ulam, and bought another viand.

We thanked (and payed) Manang Proprietor and asked how to commute to Sorsogon. We learned that there's no direct jeep or bus from there, and the travel to Sorsogon city is another 2 hours. It's 1pm and the sun is being overly generous with its sunshine and warmth. We rode another 30min jeep to an intersection and waited for an FX that will bring us to Sorsogon, unfortunately we wasted 30 mins in waiting only to be advised that all FX or VAN passing there were all full. We have no choice but to take a non air con regular bus. The trip could be scenic if not only for the dust and heat.

Sorsogon is a developing city. Proof of this a Jollibee outlet there ( a recent addition some 5 years ago ) From sorgoson, is another 2 hours journey to Sta.Magdalena, my town in the middle of nowhere.


  1. good to know na you are from Sorsogon, taga magallanes kasi ako. last January 2009 madalas ako diyan sa sorsogon. Buti ka pa na punta ka na ng Donsol. sa Paguwi this year sana maka whale shark experience din ako. exchange link tayo.

  2. Tita ko din taga Magallanes, napadpad na ata ako dun. Maganda beach dun!

    re: exchange link, done deal :)


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