A traveler’s realization: postcard Cagsawa is different from palpable Cagsawa. The former is a marvel of lighting and camera placement – a gray and towering belfry in the middle of nowhere, with the magnificent Mayon volcano looming in the background. The latter however is merely the remnants of an old church in a seedy park, surrounded by sundry market stalls and a swimming pool. Yes, Mayon Volcano is still the stupendous backdrop, but in nearby Legaspi City the Volcano looms everywhere, as omnipresent as one’s conscience.
I do not regret visiting the Cagsawa Ruins, though I found the place dreary. Of course I did not expect a place labelled ‘ruins’ to be a place of cheer, but the spot also had the atmosphere of a failed business. There were stalls selling delicacies, t-shirts, and knives but nobody seems to be buying the items (perhaps it was off tourist season).
Kids also hang around the ruins, trying to make a living (Kagawad Mars – my tour driver – explained that these kids would offer to take one’s picture, and it is expected that the tourist would give an amount from P10 to P20 in return for the service). While I was peeking inside the belfry, a boy approached me and said “Puwede pong pumasok diyan.” When I was inside the tower, he said “Kunan ko po kayo, ” and so I gave him my camera. My tour driver forgot to tell me about the peculiar photographic skill of these kids: I appeared in the photograph as the ghost of a villager who perished from the lava heat while seeking refuge in the Cagsawa church. I regretted not adjusting the setting before handing over my camera, though I still gave the boy P20 for his labor.
I was surprised by the swimming pool besides the church. This is excluded from the usual pictures of Cagsawa.
* * *
More fascinating for me than the famed tourist spot was a nearby abandoned house. Kagawad Mars pointed out a field full of lava rocks and remarked that the recent Mayon eruption wreaked havoc on nearby structures. After visiting the ruins, I crossed the field so that I can look closely at the house. I was fascinated – and horrified – by what I saw. Boulders seemed to have demolished the walls and the roof, perhaps from an avalanche and hail of lava; I pity the man who gets caught in a volcanic eruption.
I left the abandoned house and the church ruins, contemplating the futility of edifices against the rampage of nature.