January 2022 was supposed to be when I would resume international travel. Unfortunately, I had to postpone the trip because, well, pandemic. My plan B was then to go to Siargao, but since the province is still reeling from last month’s Typhoon Odette, I switch to Plan C. Unfazed with the heightened restriction alert due to the surge of new COVID cases (I’ve been fully vaccinated, and I’ve got my first booster shot last month), I set out one weekday morning to push through with an overnight ride to Albay, one place in the Philippines where I’ve been to before but never really got the chance to properly explore. The last time I was here, in 2013, heavy clouds constantly covered the volcano and I never got a proper shot.
After an 11-hour butt-numbing trip, I arrive at 2 in the morning in Legazpi, the provincial capital, and sleep for a couple of hours in my hotel. I wake up at 7 am and hurriedly hightail it to Cagsawa in the neighboring town of Daraga. According to my weather app, the afternoon will be cloudy, so I’m rushing to maximize the clear morning.
And true enough, it’s a beautiful morning when I arrive in Cagsawa with Mayon showing her full glory. The volcano dominates the skyline, constantly watching as locals go about their daily lives. It’s a serene environment, muted by the pandemic, plus the fact that it’s a weekday morning, so I have the grounds to myself.
It’s in the solitude that one can also feel the history of this place. Cagsawa was the site of Cagsawa Church, a structure that was destroyed when Mayon erupted in 1814. Thousands of people, including those who ran into the church for shelter, were killed — a reminder of how the volcano’s beauty belies her deadly nature. Mayon is also the most active volcano in the Philippines, with the most eruptions in recorded history.
About an hour later, I ride a jeepney to the town center, where off a main road and on top of a hill, stands the Daraga Church. The church is made from volcanic rocks and was built with a Baroque style. This design, along with the church’s historical significance, has made certain parts of it a national cultural treasure as designated by the National Museum of the Philippines. On my visit, a wedding is taking place in the sanctuary.
Back in the town center, I take a bit of time exploring the area around the municipal hall. A line forms inside the covered basketball court as residents have their vaccines. I explore the surrounding buildings before having brunch in a Bigg’s Diner, a popular Bicolano fast food chain. I then start my walk back to Legazpi.