Saturday, December 31, 2011

Bicol: Circa 2007 and 2011

I've always wanted to travel and tour around our entire country.  Of course, it's a privilege to see other nations in the future, but I'd like to explore our own first whenever I have the opportunity to do so.  After all, I haven't seen the rest that has made the Philippines a popular destination for foreigners once again.  Seeing the countryside and significant landmarks, mingling with the locals, sampling famous food from a particular region, and getting to know a province's history and culture never fails to refresh, recharge and re-energize me.  But aside from the benefits I get out of traveling, I feel that I need to do this every now and then as a citizen of this country to keep my passion for PHL burning.  How can I be passionate about something I do not know that much, right?

For today's blog post, allow me to talk about a province I had the chance to visit three times :  Bicol.  The first time I set foot in this province was in 2007.  It was a short stay -- only two nights -- and it was because I gave a short talk on technology and how to use a book which I co-wrote with some friends.  It broke my heart to see school children not having enough materials to learn.  It's really a heart-tugging scene seeing all the dilapidated classrooms, thatched roofs, nearly empty libraries, and teachers desperate and wanting for more training and professional enrichment.  I think that experience forever changed the way I looked at education, learning and teaching.  In Manila, we hem and complain to no end.  In Bicol, they were thankful for anything they were given and offered.  Their land was beautiful and the soil was rich --- yet people were impoverished and under-educated.  Here in the city, nothing is ever good enough in our eyes.    

My first trip to Bicol was so short that I only got to tour Legazpi and Naga.  Half the time we spent sleeping in the bus.  The trip took 12 hours before we reached our destination via Peñafrancia Bus Line.  When our team got there, I immediately buckled down to business.  I talked for the entire day, thankful to have an audience that deeply appreciated our coming.  After the day-long seminar-workshop, we retreated to the Gaisano mall for a quick dinner, and laid down to rest, tired and spent from the many hours we were on the road.  The following day we spent it touring the place, scrambling to buy all the pili nuts I could lay my hands on, grabbing all the native bags I could afford, and capturing some photos of the Mayon volcano.  Before I could even learn a few Bicolano greetings, we were already packing our bags for Manila.  As shadows of Mayon volcano slowly faded from my side of the window, I silently prayed for a chance to visit this wonderful province again.  God answered my prayer; six months later, I got to visit the province second time around, albeit shorter --- a mere overnight stay, again for a business-related reason.    

I took this picture of my first time to catch a glimpse of Mayon volcano.
The ever-elusive volcano wasn't in the mood to be photographed, apparently.

Glorious background in mid-day.  After many unsuccessful attempts, I finally had my first souvenir photo of Mayon in all its perfect cone behind me.  This was the grounds of that school we visited in 2007.

The team and the school directress

Care for small talk?
This is the famous cafe that serves the best that this land has to offer: pasta cooked the Bicolano way.  Take your pick from their sauces (not your usual Pinoy or Italian style):  Bicol express or laing!

Yes, it's so affordable. I wish they would set up a branch here in Manila!

Parting shot before I boarded our bus 

Last December 8, I went to Bicol for the third time.  This trip meant much more because this time, I was a participant in an outreach program to the schools in that region.  I'm so thankful to my supervisor who offered me the chance to take part in this outreach cum leisure trip.  We spent a total of four days and three nights, and for this trip, I was able to see not only Legazpi and Naga, but also Camsur and Sorsogon, where we spent the nights.  We distributed shoes and books to about three different schools from all over the region as representatives of our beloved city, Pasig.  The trip was long and tiring; but seeing the smiles of the people and the happiness they felt made it all so worth it.

Every day that we were there, we always had an agenda and a schedule to follow.  I didn't mind as structure can be good many times.  Otherwise, I would have missed out on a lot of good things if I went to this trip DIY style.  In the mornings we'd go visit a particular school.  Have lunch back in Sorsogon, then tour in the early evenings.  I visited the Cagsawa ruins, the Peñafrancia Church, Naga, Legazpi, Buluran hot springs and lake, and took a lot of pictures for posterity.  My only regret is not seeing the famed butanding.  December supposedly is the best time to go and see the whale sharks in Donsol; however, it was raining like crazy when we got there, so we had to cancel our whale shark-sight-seeing trip.  Di bale.  On our next trip to that island, I'd definitely not pass up the chance to say high to those amazing sea creatures. 

Bicol may be rich in terms of natural resources, but the region is also almost in tatters from all the typhoons, floods and other natural disasters from recent months. There's so much to rebuild and rework, but I believe with its charming beauty, resilient people, high-quality products and vast potential, Bicol can turn into a very promising, and soon, more developed region.

This is us on Day 2.  Day 1 was practically spent on the road driving from Manila to Sorsogon.

On our second day, we donated books and shoes to Palanas National High School in Sorsogon.

This is the 4th year high school class from that school.

After the day's outreach, we spent some time dipping in the Buluran hot springs. 

Bagong ligo!  Hahahaha!

This is Day 3 of the outreach. See those plastic bags on the right side of the pic?  Those were the shoes we gave the people from this school.

This is another resettlement school we visited on Day 3.

Yes, I heart Pasig. :-)

We went crazy over the pili nut products and woven bags!

Hoarders!  Hahaha :-)

Fun shot at Cagsawa ruins.
Mayon volcano was supposed to be behind us but it was foggy. Boo.

Another fun shot

It started to drizzle, hence, the rain drops on our photo. 
Mayon, however, started to become more visible.

Beautiful and breath-taking.

Yay for this photo

...and another one :-)

at CamSur

Agenda #1 on my next return to Bicol

Definitely, this won't be the last time I'll see Bicol.  I have reported back to work, and in fact, the new year is almost here, but I still miss the cool, misty air in Sorsogon, and the truly delectable dishes we feasted on --- laing, pinangat, santol sa gata, and so on.  The other day I told Mr. M about all the wonderful things we experienced while being there, and I told him of my desire to go back.  I'm so lucky blessed to be engaged to a guy who shares my wanderlust!  Haha!

This coming 2012, I'd make time to sit down, read my Philippine history books again, and make a list of all the amazing provinces I'd like to visit someday, and by God's grace, with Mr. M as travel companion.  That's what Bicol did to me.  This trip has got me all fired up with nationalism and patriotism.  I won't even attempt to criticize those who are in the government agencies now, and who are responsible for caring for their own spheres of authority and jurisdiction --- that's not up for me to do.  But I do hope and pray they do a good job taking good care of our lands and developing our people.  These are our national treasures.  

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