To The Foot of Mt. Mayon

Despite looking like a child’s toy, the All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) is in reality one badass vehicle. It can cross landscapes that would break the axle of an automobile or sink  its wheels. It can keep pace with any motorized two-wheeler. And it is easy to drive: consider yourself a competent ATV-driver if you know how to grip the throttle and the brake.

I enjoyed the long ATV drive to the foot of Mt. Mayon. My inner speed demon possessed me, and I momentarily forgot that I was a cinephile and a literati. Still – square person that I am – I  followed safety precautions by   maintaining distance between my ATV and the  guide’s ATV, and avoiding grasping the throttle whenever the vehicle moved downward on a slope.

It was a thrill to cross muddy terrain, rocky landscapes,  and streams of water.  We also passed by a sleepy village where all the children playing on the roadside waved at us. My ATV seemed unstoppable.

The trip lasted for an hour, and we arrived at a cluster of bamboo sheds. This was the spot where we abandon the ATVs and hike to the pile of lava rocks. I was wet and muddy, and my arms were sore from driving, but I was ready – raring even – to walk.

* * *

When the guides told me we were to hike to the mound of lava rocks, I did not expect the hike also involved clambering up a tall heap of slippery rocks.  My foot slipped a couple of times going up the mound, and I automatically clung to rocks for dear life. One of the guides advised me – for reasons I cannot comprehend – to avoid clinging to the rocks while walking up the pile. He held my hand so that  I wouldn’t fall in case I slipped again. Yes I reached the top, but my manliness rolled down the hill, battered and bruised as it hit the ground.

A surreal sight on top of the lava rocks: a helipad with a small wooden table in one corner. Stretches of lava rocks and large patches of treetops surrounded the helipad. These are bounded by Lignon Hill on one side and the mighty and magnificent Mayon on another side.

Before climbing down the heap of lava rocks, the guides asked if I wanted to zipline back to the ATVs (a zipline structure stood a few meters from the helipad). Noticing the absence of safety helmets and walkie-talkies in their persons, I declined. Again I slipped a couple of times but managed to walk back to the site in one piece.

We drove our ATVs back to the Barangay we came from.

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Lignon Hill

ZIPLINE

(Picture c/o Lignon Hill Zipline)

Swoosh!

The Lignon Hill zipline is not the longest, highest, or fastest zipline in the country, but any death slide that lets me soar over trees is good enough for me.

I had three zipline positions to choose from: the lame (but cheap) Basic, the somewhat daring (and more expensive) Superman, and the very daring but awkward (and most expensive) Spiderman. I was tempted to try the Spiderman position, but I realized it was as appealing as being hung upside down like the carcass of a pig on a meat hook. I chose the Superman position.  This costs P350, which includes ziplining in a facedown position, ziplining back in a sitting position, and a photograph of the ziplining with the Mayon Volcano as backdrop (electronic copies of pictures are also posted for free for a couple of days on the Lignon Hill Zipline Facebook page).

I was thrilled by the ride. Yes the Lignon Hill Zipline may be lame compared to the one in Danao or in Lake Sebu, but for an acrophobe like me, any elevated position is cause for excitement (or a heart attack). The hairy Blue Eagle comes swooping down…

(Picture c/o Lignon Hill Zipline)

(Picture c/o Lignon Hill Zipline)

(Picture c/o Lignon Hill Zipline)

HANGING BRIDGE

I wanted to take on the hanging bridge after trying out the zipline. I just flew over a hillside and I consider myself a veteran of the Maragondon Hanging Bridges, so I thought, how hard can crossing this rickety structure be? After I signed up and paid P150, the person manning the shack gave me a helmet and harness. I chuckled and said to myself, “Aren’t they going overboard with the safety precautions?”

And then I saw the bridge. It was a series of narrow planks with rails made up of a long cable and black netting; this was not what I expected.  If a person had the misfortune of falling off the bridge and going through the thick foliage, he would have a bone-breaking roll down the hill. Suddenly the harness and the overhead cable to which the harness is strapped made sense.

The guide asked, “Sir, gusto niyo ako o ikaw mauna?”  I chose the manlier option of taking the lead.

I found the perpetual swaying nerve-wracking. To manage my fear, I applied a technique used by a mountaineer in my favorite novel of adventure, Solo Faces.  Hanging high up in the mountains, this character imagined being in a school yard, hanging just a few feet above ground.  The self-deception worked for a few seconds until I got distracted by the discussion of two loud-mouthed onlookers:

“Uy tignan mo, natatakot yung mama.”

“Hindi, kumukuha lang siya ng picture.”

Had my camera been disposable, I would have lobbed it at them and shouted, “Ano ba? Kung hindi kayo tumahimik, ihuhulog ko kayo sa bangin!”

My anxiety increased as I reached the middle portion of the bridge. The guide probably noticed that I hesitated moving my legs, so he asked me, “Sir ok lang po kayo?”  I did not reply for I found the question ridiculous (“Kung hindi ako ok, may magagawa ka ba?”). I focused on controlling my breathing and steadying my gaze on the planks.

I reached the end of the bridge after several agonizing minutes. Kagawad Mars was waiting for me at the exit, and I muttered, “Walang hiya. Mas nakakatakot pa pala ito kaysa sa zipline.”

JAPANESE TUNNEL

Two tunnels: one guarded by a dummy of a Japanese soldier and impassable because of a padlocked gate; the other small and narrow with no guard or gate protecting it.

I had to crawl (not crouch) to enter the narrow tunnel, muddying my arms, jeans, and camera in the process; Japanese soldiers must have had narrow frames to be able to go through such a small opening. After crawling for a few seconds, I decided to use the flash of my camera to light my way. No luck – the miniscule and momentary light hardly dissipated the darkness. I suddenly had an idea what it was like to be a suppository.

I crawled backwards. I was afraid of getting stuck in the tunnel since at that time I was the only person in the area, and no one would be able to hear me shout for help. I managed to emerge into the daylight muddy but grateful, with a vow to fight for the rights of suppositories all over the world.

* * *

An old lady helped me clean up by pouring water on my muddy arms and hands. I told her about my experience, and she said that I should have asked for the guide of the tunnel. “Dapat doon ka sa may gate pumasok. Bubuksan ko ang ilaw, at tutulungan ka ng guide. Yung pinasok mo, exit yun. ” Entering through a back opening: damn it, I really did become a suppository!

Cagsawa Ruins

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.