How do you turn a much-awaited vacation around when you didn’t catch your flight in the first place? Improvise, baby.
Yes, the trip that we planned for almost 3 months had a massive ignition failure: we missed our flight. It was supposed to be 6:00 AM and we woke up 5:47. With me praying for that slim chance that our flight might be delayed, we rushed to the airport. But of course we didn’t make it.
We tried looking for another plane to Legazpi but they’re all fully booked. Fully booked until March. Ugh. The only chance we could fly is to try as chance passenger for a plane that will be leaving the next day with one-way ticket cost almost thrice both of our round-trip ticket combined! Yup, it was Friday 13th indeed. And it was all over us. I am blindly taking the blame here (Yan bee ha. fingers crossed, hehe). I set up my phone alarm to 4’o clock but it didn’t kick in, I have no idea why.
So we were at the airport by 8 AM, instead of relaxing on the beach, we are frustrated, sleepy and hungry. Upon sleuthing on each airline’s counter, we learned that there’s an available flight to Virac, Catanduanes. Now to put this whole “craziness” thing in perspective, the only thing I know about Catanduanes is, like Legazpi, it also belongs under region V (Bicol region), so it still amazes me how the heck we end up thinking that we can make our way to Legazpi.
Maybe it was our eagerness to have this vacation. I mean, it’s been months since the last time we had a chance to getaway. Or maybe it was a sense of adventurism. I mean think about it, no map, just destination! How exciting! And the time was ticking so we have to decide, pronto!
So we bought 2 one-way ticket to a place we’re completely clueless about. We haven’t got the chance to Google it since NAIA doesn’t have wifi (yeah, what’s up with that?).
I’ll be honest, Virac was merely a stopover, so take my comments here with a grain of salt. Virac greeted us with a Chocolait Hills-like mountains and calm seashores. Despite being a separate island from Luzon, every sign will tell you that you are still in the Philippines: old Spansih-influenced cathedral right at the center of the town, tricycle being one of, if not, the most important means of transportation, a town plaza and that slow, quaint feeling you get all over the place.
We were starting to get acquainted with the place when another problem came. To get to Legazpi, we have to take a 3-hour ferry ride from San Andres, a 45-minute town north of Virac, to Tabaco, Albay. But we’ve just missed the 1 PM last trip of the ferry. Then slowly whispered to myself, “this trip is starting to turn into a nightmare”. But I was cool since I don’t want let Cyd know that I’m already freaking out. After all, this mess was “my” fault (hehe). So we decided to stay and leave early in the morning the next day. That’s when everything started to turn well. We stayed on a place called Midtown Inn. It’s a fairly decent place to stay with reasonable fees. Overnight stay is P1,500 breakfast included. It’s right in the middle of the town so everything is just a few hops away. There’s nothing much to see that is within the town proper so just walk around and took some pictures. During the night we had a very nice meal with local cuisine at the Seabreeze restaurant. It’s an incredibly cheap restaurant that’s just few hundred meters away from the Inn. It’s also in front of the beach so the ambience is really nice. Cyd was craving for seafoods so that’s what we had. After the dinner, we decided drop by at the bar right next to the Inn, Chef de Leoj (neat huh). They played some real nice acoustic songs. Our night in Virac was plain and therapeutic. It was what we exactly needed, a mood setter. Something to swing our mood back to vacation mode having lost it from our misfortune. The restaurant was all smooth and cozy which reminded me of this song.
The next day, the hotel fixed us a vehicle to bring us to San Andres. Then we had the ferry ride to Tabaco. From there, we took another 30-minute drive to Legazpi.
There are 2 things you need see here, one is Mayon Volcano, which you can’t miss because it’s just right out there, literally . The second one is the Cagsawa ruins. You can view these two at the same time by heading to Cagsawa Ruin Park in Daraga, Albay, just 10 minutes away from Legazpi. Daraga and Legazpi are two cities right next to each other so don’t be confused. The park is like a viewing deck of Mt. Mayon. It has a good angle to see the volcano and also, this is a good place to buy your pasalubongs and souvenirs and experience Bicol express and Laing. I’ve been here for a couple of times now and I can say that I’m impressed with this park’s consistency in over-all appearance.
After this, we headed to Donsol (finally!) which is an hour and a half jeepney drive from Legazpi. Here’s a tip, it will take you 2 rides from the park to the terminal and that’s a little tiring so what you can do is ask the tricycle driver to take you directly to the terminal. The fare should be around P30, but expect that they’ll ask more, anything more than P60 would be too much.
In Donsol, there are 3 important things you need to concern about (Apple, are you taking notes?): a place to stay, firefly watching and, of course, whaleshark watching.
Finding a place to stay
Donsol coastline is like any other famous long beach, resorts are right next to each other. Finding them is not the challenge, picking one is. Woodland and Vitton resorts are easy pick: they’re right next to the Eco-Tourism office and they have have nice facilities. The only problem is they’re a little pricey. Rooms are P1,800 per night with no breakfast included and a typical meal for two would cost you P500-P700 (you even have to buy the water! ugh) so I’m suggesting to look around if you’re tight on budget.
Firefly watching will be one of the most unique experience you’ll ever have so be sure to sign-up. You’ll have to ride a boat from the shoreline to the Donsol river. By the way from this point forward, whenever I mention “boat” expect for the word “fee” but don’t worry you can also use the word “split” or “share”. The boat fee is P1250 and can accommodate up to 6 people depending on the size of the boat. Of course you can always split it with other tourists. The Eco-tourism office does the matching for you but in case all groups are filled, you have to do it on your own, that’s what we did anyway. Resorts also book their guests in Firefly watching so it’s a good place to start. Ask for the resort’s coordinator if you can join their guests. Worst case scenario is to look for groups that has less than six members. Talk to the boatmen, they will hook you up, hehe.
Once you’re in the river, be patient, they are worth the wait. Fireflies don’t come out unless the least streak of sunlight is out. And once they’re out, my oh my, it is a sight to die for. Imagine small electrical sparks that runs through every stem of a tree. Some glow in patterns, like Christmas lights on your window and some glow in random patterns like the Planetarium. The river, the night, they all add up to this enchanted moment. By the way, I find the best way to enjoy this moment is with silence so as much as possible avoid joining other boats. There are so many spots so pick one that’s not crowded. The most annoying part with watching fireflies with huge crowd is when people take pictures on the firefly with their camera flash on. It hurts your eyes like hell.
So this is the main course of our journey, hold on I’m just gonna take a moment and organize my thoughts, hehe.
Whaleshark watching is only in the morning so you need to make your schedule fit with it. The boat cost P3,500 and can accommodate up to 7 people, that’s P500 each plus P100 for registration on the Ecotourism office. Don’t ask me what the hell is that for. They will tell you to get a snorkeling gear, which is P150, and a flipper, also P150, which is not really required. If you’re a pro in swimming then you may pass and save a few bucks. We rented the flippers but end up not using it anyway because we’re both not used to it.
To really enjoy Whaleshark watching a certain level of swimming skill or a good BOI (Butanding Interaction Officer) that can guide you on the water is required. Remember, once a Butanding is spotted, you will have to swim your way to it. Having a life vest is a good but there’s a good chance that it will slow you down. Here’s another tip, join a group with the same swimming skills as yours. This way the BIO can easily handle the entire group. For example, if you’re a noob and joins the pro group, you’re gonna eat dust! That’s what happened to us. We joined a bunch of foreigners that are like swimming Olympians. Two of them are professional divers, the other two have gills and fins and the last one is the last descendant of Atlantis (ok those were all jokes, but you get the idea). It was a challenge catching up! But we were able to interact with the Butandings quite a few times and it was really awesome! My first encounter was quick and exciting. When I submerged my head on the water, it was under me! A 10-meter whale swimming right under you, man, that was something. We were laughing when we get back to the boat. The subsequent citing we’re all exciting. I even had the chance to accidentally touch it.
Right after that we rushed quickly to the hotel and rented a van to take us directly to Legazpi airport. Vans cost around P1,000-P1,500.
That’s it. It was one crazy vacation but I’d do it again in heartbeat! No maps, just destination, that’s where the fun starts.