In his recent award-winning film Up in the Air, George Clooney attempts to accumulate 10 million frequent flyer miles for his many trips taken. He advocates, “To know me is to travel with me.” Personally, I am far from hitting the 10-million mileage mark but am passionately working at it.
I decided it was time to embark on a very exciting local sojourn. This time, to sensational Sorsogon, in the stunningly beautiful province of Bicol.
It dawned on me that there is no better way to kick off the summer than to go swimming with the gentle submarine-sized whale sharks that shyly feed on tiny krill fish; explore lovely world-class boutique hotels, experience a multitude of fireflies that illumine the ebony night like Tinkerbell fairies bathing in the moonlight; stroll in the charming courtyards of old churches and antique homes.
Here, every epicurean’s wish to savor mouth-savoring delicacies is satisfied and one is privileged to enjoy Mother Nature’s finest treasures — luscious lakes and rivers, glorious waterfalls, steaming hot springs, refreshing cold springs, medicinal salt springs, indigenous flora and faunas, fertile emerald fields where pili, coconuts, abaca and more produce grow abundantly.
From Manila, a brief and comfortable flight on Cebu Pacific took us to Legazpi City. We had a quick snack at Small Talk Café where my dear friends who hail from Bicol — DOT regional director Nini Ravanilla and TOYM awardee for agriculture Lyndon Tan — vowed that the pinangat pasta, a delightful combination of gabi leaves, coco cream and fiery chili, is a must-have.
My dear sister Michelle Dayrit-Soliven was invited by her Divine Healing Servants Foundation Group — headed by gracious Fr. Gerard Deveza, president Gerard Reonisto, treasurer Lucy Lee, assistant treasurer Joy Sy, Tonton and Tasha Sy, Benny Soliven, Edwin Tang, Ding Mercado, Nino and Arlene Mabanta — to be the inspirational speaker at the first-ever elementary graduation of the Divine Healer Learning Center in El Retiro Compound, Cabid-an, Sorsogon.
“Follow your dreams,” Michelle enthused in this very special ceremony that took our gregarious traveling group to a land blessed by providence, where life, love, laughter and prayer emanate from the heart and souls of its residents. The Divine Healer Learning Center is a school founded by Fr. Gerard Deveza and is a dream come true for this kindhearted healing priest who wanted to help the underprivileged children of Sorsogon by providing them a quality education.
After the graduation, we discovered more the sights and sounds of this lovely sanctuary. After an hour-and-a-half drive from Cabid-an, we entered the quaint town of Donsol, Sorsogon, the famous whale shark capital of the world. Disembarking from our van, we were given the standard briefing complete with a video — on the whale shark interaction.
Whale sharks (Rhicodon typus) are known locally as butanding or balilan, and grow up to 45 feet. The biggest fish of the world, the whale shark resembles a slow-moving underwater island because of its size. It is sometimes found near the surface while feeding. October to May is the official season of whale shark sightings but the peak season is in April.
It was Michelle’s very first encounter with the whale sharks and she was rather frightened at first. We were able to convince my beautiful alabaster-skinned sister to embark on the activity by making her realize how blessed she was to have the opportunity to see the whale sharks. She finally took the plunge and was ecstatic to have six encounters with the whale sharks in just 10-minute intervals of each other.
After our glorious encounter with the whale sharks, we proceeded to Sta. Clara Ridge Inn, our home away from home in Sorsogon City. It is owned by Tony Maligaso, an advocate of peace and serenity. His inn-timate lodging is creatively built on a hill slope where the cool shade of narra trees and serene view of rice fields and mountain range greet you every morning. The staff is most cordial and accommodating, while the bedrooms, decorated by Tony himself, feature Ethan Allen-country style furnishings.
In the duration of our stay in Sorsogon, we were pampered to no end by gracious Gov. Sally Lee and her charming husband Tito Raul Lee. They prepared our every meal showcasing the best local cuisine ever. Aside from pinangat, topping our list also included tinoktok (meat of freshwater shrimp and young, tender coconut au gratin, wrapped in gabi leaves and simmered in thick gata), tinagoktok (fresh water fish, preferably dalag or mudfish cooked on a bed of petchay, plus various other ingredients in a more diluted solution of gata), and bayway (pork marinated in vinegar and various spices and herbs for at least two days before being fried).
Local folklore has it that Sorsogon got its name when a group of Spaniards got lost somewhere around the bay. Fortunately, they chanced upon a local fisherman whom they asked for the name of the place. The fisherman, thinking that the strangers were asking for directions, simply said “Sorsogon,” (which meant “Follow or trace the path”) while pointing to the river upstream. The name stuck, evolving from Sosogon to Solsogon, to Sorsogon.
In Sorsogon, a must-see place is Lake Bulusan, dubbed the “Switzerland of the Orient.” It lies at the heart of the National Park, which covers a land area of 3,672 hectares. On our way to Lake Bulusan, we were escorted by gentle rain showers over the emerald green rice fields and the wildly growing lavender orchids blooming profusely on full-grown trees along the way.
Fr. Gerard described the moment as a scene straight out of the movie Lost Horizon. My brother-in-law Benny and my nephew Vincent kayaked while the rest of us did the trek around the lake, discovering Avatar-like scenes, ancient trees and insects and Tarzan-like vines and humongous rocks which we climbed. Those who didn’t engage in outdoor activities opted for a relaxing massage.
Another truly precious find in this haven is the Sirangan Beach Resort, one of the illustrious properties under the Fork & Pillow Group, which includes the Hotel Trias in Palamos, La Malcontenta Hotel in Palamos, Market Hotel in Barcelona, Spain. Sirangan Beach Resort in the Philippines, located in Bacon Beach, Sorsogon, has a long stretch of caramel and white sand cooled by clear-blue waters. It is owned and run by Vicky Duran, a passionate, well-traveled and proud-to-be Sorsoganon whose tasteful style is reflected in every corner of the resort. I remembered another wonderful lady who hails from Sorsogon, my dear friend Loida Nicholas Lewis who intimated that I ought to stay in Fernando’s Hotel, a cozy boutique hotel of old-world charm situated in the heart of Sorsogon City. I vow to check it out on my next visit.
It is also a must to see Matnog Islands where guests are instantaneously transported to a pristine paradise with white fine-sand beaches and gardens of reef corals. The Manta Bowl, a 60-minute drive from Sorsogon Beach Resort, is also a paradise for those who want a close encounter with dolphins and manta rays.
Trekking Mount Pulog at the end of the Sierra Madre Mountain range, which extends from the north of Luzon to the south and ends in Bacon, Sorsogon, also gives an exhilarating high. Here, you will find geothermal steam wells and other small steaming geysers that extend to the Pacific Ocean.
The sunset at Donsol Beach was made more unforgettable with a Mass celebrated by Fr. Gerard for our group. We all prayed with reverence to the Almighty for all the blessings experienced in Sorsogon.
On our last night, we cruised the river on a bamboo houseboat that had tables and benches. Trees by the bank of the river were aglow like Christmas trees as colonies of fireflies twinkled in the dark. Some friendly fireflies darted playfully around us and gently landed on our outstretched hands.
This memorable sojourn to Sorsogon further reinforced my personal belief that I really was a Bicolana in my past life. No matter how many times I visit here, I am always mesmerized by its beauty and grace. Besides, I believe there is always something peculiarly steaming in Bicol and it isn’t just from the smoldering lava of the active volcano. Here, I feel connected to the land, the cuisine, the culture, the people. There exists a deep sense of appreciation and belonging. To have a sensational summer, believe me, Sorsogon is the place to be.
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For more information on whale shark interaction, call Omar Nepomuceno at 0927-9989289 or e-mail him at email@example.com. Santa Clara Ridge Inn can be reached at telefax (056) 211- 5413 or 0910-7166535.) Cebu Pacific flies two times daily to Legazpi, for reservation please call 702-0888.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.