Archive for the Legazpi Category

Legazpi – Mounting Mayon

Posted in Legazpi, Mayon, Philippines with tags , on March 5, 2013 by gannet39

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Legazpi is that there is a huge smoking volcano at the end of the street. Mount Mayon is one of four major active volcanoes in the Philippines and its cone is famous for being the most perfectly formed in the world. It’s a beautiful sight with it’s lush green slopes cut through by rivers and lava flows. You have to get up early in the morning for a clear view though. At this time of year the mist rising from the trees will hide it from view by late morning.

I stayed at the Legazpi Tourist Inn on Quezon Avenue in the centre of town. It was cheap (no breakfast or restaurant) and the rooms were basic but ok. On the second floor of the same building there’s a tour company that organises treks and activities around the local area, including the volcano. I hired a young guy called Raymond to take me up Mayon early one morning. After a brief rain shower it turned into a beautiful day and we caught a couple of rainbows on the drive to the bottom slopes. After cutting across the inevitable golf course (owned by the same guy who has the hotel and the tour company) we were soon surrounded by trees, the path populated only by a couple of water buffalo and the odd farmer carrying wood down the hill from clearing scrub  for his crops.

As we got further up the nature got more intense with wildflowers, jack fruit and a strange edible red fruit looking like a rosehip being some of the attractions. After a while we got to an empty river bed, the old course having been diverted by the last eruption. The old river bed was polished smooth by all the rocks that must have been brought down by the water in the rainy season.

After about 3 hours of hard climbing, we got to the edge of the most recent lava flow from a couple of years before. In the pictures it’s the black dribble on the left that contrasts with the green of the forested slopes. The flow is still too sterile for nature to have got a proper grip on it yet, but there was the odd sapling starting to get a foothold among the crumbing rocks. This was as far as we got, about one third of the way up.

It’s a two day trek to go to the summit  according to Raymond. You have to camp overnight to have enough energy for the last push to the top. You need proper climbing equipment (the last little bit is pretty much vertical) and also a gas mask to protect your lungs from the sulphurous gases seeping from the crater, which form the small white cloud you can see above the peak in the photos.

It was a good enough work out for me though, about 5 hours round trip, although I wasn’t too knackered by the time we got to the bottom. I would happily have walked back to town but instead we hung out on the golf course drinking sodas and chatting with the groundsman  who gave us a lift back. It was a great day. Salaam mapo, thank you, Raymond.

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Another nice thing to do during your stay is to get up at dawn and go for a walk along the seafront promenade. You won’t be alone, on the Sunday I went it seemed as if the whole town was out and about getting their morning exercise (jogging, walking and dancing to Zumba). It’s also a good time to catch fantastic views of Mayon which often clouds over later in the day. The wide promenade runs all the way from the port area to Sleeping Lion hill, about an hour’s walk. You can have a fresh coconut for breakfast and take a seat on the sea wall to watch the world go by.

Layover in Legazpi

Posted in Legazpi, Philippines with tags , , , on March 3, 2013 by gannet39

20120909_082116 Legazpi (or Legaspi) is the second city in the region of Bicol , in the south east of Luzon, the main island in the Philippine archipelago.

20120907_125437There are two ways to get here, a twelve hour bus journey or a fifty minute plane ride. I did both for the experience. The bus is far from comfortable but you do get to see some Filipino life along the way. However, the best time to leave Manila is in the evening to avoid the rush hour and so you only get to see things out of the window in the early morning. The plane is obviously much quicker and more comfortable but make sure you book a fair while ahead to make sure you get a seat.

20120907_120756It was while watching the TV news on the bus that I first heard Taglish, a mixture of Tagalog, the national lingua franca, and English. It’s a fascinating example of code switching if linguistics is your bag.  Many educated Filipinos will drop into it with ease when it’s easier to use shorter English words than the longer local equivalents.

20120907_120830I came to Legazpi for three reasons; the food, the weather and the hiking, although many other tourists come for adventure sports and to swim with the whale sharks who migrate here every year.

Weather wise I chose the wrong time of year to come as rain showers and thunderstorms are still pretty frequent in September.

The most stunning thing about the area is the huge perfectly formed live volcano, Mt Mayon, whose lower slopes I climbed one morning (see next post).

20120907_120853The Philippines seem to have a bit of a bad rep when it comes to food but Bicol is known for its spicy food so I thought I’d see what they had to offer.

Way Way (Intermediate C-), Penaranda St (closed Sunday).

Recommended as the best place in town to taste Bicol food by Lonely Planet, the hotel receptionist and my taxi driver, it sadly fell very short of my admittedly high expectations. It’s one big room that could potentially seat 130 on orange chairs at tables covered by dirty pale green tablecloths with the radio as the only entertainment.

There’s a counter with about ten cauldrons of precooked dishes that are served up buffet style but paid for individually. There was also some meat and seafood that looked like it had been grilled several hours ago. Two old ladies, a family and three very young waitresses were the only people in the place for the ninety minutes I was there (Friday night).

20120907_190437Things got off to a bad start when they told me there was only one single bottle of decent beer in the whole restaurant, and that was unchilled and had to be put in a glass with ice. After that was gone I had to settle for San Miguel Light, which was 5% but low calorie and tasteless (C).

20120907_185737The best of the dishes I had her was Bicol Express, pork cooked with green pepper and red chillies (C+).

20120907_185723The Pinangat, (known as Laing in Manila) which mainly consists of steamed taro. pork and coconut milk in parcels made of Taro leaves, topped with grated coconut and  bound together with strips of coconut palm leaf was ok but nothing special (C).

20120907_185809Kare Kareng, (Ox tail stew) which managed to combine being tasteless and gruesome looking at the same time with huge lumps of cartilage and vertebrae and hardly any meat (D) floating in a brown sauce made with peanut butter. The prescribed addition of Bagu-o shrimp paste just made it worse in my opinion (D). I actually preferred the veggie version I had in Manila.

The clear Clam Soup was a new experience and wasn’t too bad (C) and the miniscule but very sugary Leche Flan (B-) calmed my raging sweet tooth (B) but all-in-all this was a pretty disappointing culinary experience. I’m sure these dishes would be much better home cooked but the jury is out on Bicol food for me. Gracelands below does the same dishes and seems much more popular with the locals albeit in a fast food kind of way.

20120909_131803 Gracelands (Low Intermediate B) Lost the address but just ask around.

This is a combined bakery and fast lunch outlet recommended by the hotel receptionist after I turned Way Way down as a suggestion. You order your meal combo (rice, pickled veg, soda or Nestea), take a number and wait till it’s brought to your table. The first time I had a dish (forgot the name sorry) which involved a pork chop and steamed taro leaves with coconut (B-).

20120907_122827On a separate occasion I had the Pinangat/Liang where the pork had been removed and grilled separately on a skewer and coated with a sweet sauce while the rest of the curry was served in a (very) small patty. I think they thought I couldn’t handle the heat and gave me one tiny sliver of chilli which was very powerful, but it would have been nice to have more. It all tasted good but the portions were tiny (B-).

20120909_191737First Colonial Grill (Intermediate B), Ground Floor, Pacific Mall

One of two branches, this is the one in the centre of  town while the other is in the outskirts. I went back a couple of times as they had a few dishes I wanted to try.

I quite liked the heat of Sisig (B), a sizzling dish made from pig’s liver and parts of the head, which are fried with chillies and flavoured with calamansi, a local sour tasting citrus fruit.

20120909_191354Also kind of interesting for it’s history, though less so for it’s taste (C+), was the Garlicky Pork Adobo. Originally in Spain it was a way of preserving various meat in a vinegar and paprika marinade. When the Spanish invaded the Philippines they saw the local habit of stewing meat with vinegar, soya sauce and garlic and also called it Adobo, although the process is very different.

20120908_190006My favourite thing here though was the Sili ice-cream. ‘Sili’ means chilli in tagalog and this came garnished with a hot pepper. It was a great combination of spicy heat and soft creamy coldness (A), perhaps my favourite food discovery in the Philippines

Another interesting flavour was the Tinutong ice-cream (B). Tinutong is a sweet porridge made with coconut cream, glutinous rice and toasted mung beans, but here they have found some way to make it into ice-cream.

20120910_201029Legazpi is also known for Pili nuts, the seeds of a tropical tree, which are grown commercially here. You can get them in various forms so I spent my last few pesos on a few snacks to take home.

Well, other than the sweets, I wasn’t too big on the food here, although I’m sure someones mum can prove me wrong. With that in mind I’d like to thank Wesley who suggested I visit his family’s hometown. The hike up Mayon alone definitely made the trip worthwhile. More of that next…

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