Philippine Daily Inquirer
A ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME ROAD ADVENTURE TO VISIT ACTIVE MAYON
When the news about Mayon Volcano exploding broke out last Jan. 23, the adventurer in me pushed my curiosity to immediately drive the 400-plus kilometers from Pasay City, Metro Manila to Legazpi City in Albay, Bicol.
But an earlier obligation with a balikbayan sister visiting from Austria prevented this.
Before the weekend came, however, the opportunity arose. My trusty, always-game, codriver and travelling partner, Arabelle Jimenez of the online publication Beautiful Life, reminded me that Ford Philippines was waiting for us to review a Ford vehicle.
For this occasion, our friend, EJ Francisco of Ford Philippines, offered a 2018 Ford Ranger FX4 pickup. It was perfect for the kind of mission I wanted to use it for.
The brute of a truck was delivered Monday, and since it was assigned to us only for four days, we didn’t waste any more time, and off we went.
The road trip to Albay using the Ford Ranger was a welcome treat. The plan was to stay overnight at my sister’s house in Lucena City, and be on our way to an explosive rendezvous with Miss Mayon at the break of day.
We left Pasay City at about 3 p.m. and took the Skyway/Slex going south, exiting at Sto. Tomas.
We decided to traverse the old traditional route from Sto. Tomas to Alaminos, San Pablo, Tiaong, Candelaria, Sariaya, and finally, Lucena.
Passing through all those populated towns when most provincial schools dismissed their students at that time was a big mistake.
The best time would have been mid-day or evening, I guess, but we had to be in time for a sumptuous seafood dinner at my sister’s home.
We still made good time of around 3 hours and a half, and arrived in Lucena City at 6:30 p.m.
Lucena City to Bicol
Westarted on our journey to majestic Mayon at 5 a.m. the next day. It was raining hard when we left Lucena City, but according to the weather forecast, we would experience slightly cloudy with zero percent chance of rain at our final destination, Legazpi City. A nice situation for a picture-perfect volcano, I should say.
The roads from Manila to Lucena City were mostly paved with a few minor construction projects still being finished. This did not add to the stress of being in traffic as they were all properly managed by DPWH flagmen.
When you get to the Lucena By-pass Road, now part of the Maharlika Highway, you will notice that years of constructing has paid off.
A wide cemented six-lane highway unfolds before your eyes. It feels like you have been set free. Its quite a long stretch, 11 kilometers of bliss, until you reach another huge construction project.
The Maharlika Highway Underpass will speed up travel time through that busy intersection that connects Lucena City to Tayabas and Lucban when completed, but when we passed, the 500-meter single service lane held us back for up to 15 minutes.
Moving further south on the Maharlika Highway, we came to a fork on the road both leading to Gumaca, Quezon. We chose the road to the right where no trucks or buses are allowed.
We were now entering one end of the famous Bituka Ng Manok (translation: chicken intestines), formerly called the Old Zigzag Road.
It’s known to be overwhelmingly scenic, treacherous, and very intimidating to the novice driver. They even need the help of flagmen armed with colorcoded flags and flashlights to guide motorists through some of its tight and steep curves.
It always excites me to navigate through that stretch of highway. It’s also SOP for me to stop by the roadside stores at the entrance and have a fresh buko drink.
Once we got out the other end of the Bituka Ng Manok, we were greeted by the fresh sea air of Lopez Bay. Beautiful and captivating at sunrise, the coastal road between Atimonan and Gumaca made our morning a perfect waker-upper.
I was dreaming this whole trip would excite my senses with beautiful scenery and calm me with smoothness. It sadly ended after Gumaca.
Starting from Gumaca, Quezon up to Sipocot, Camarines Sur, the terribly maintained roads, uneven surfaces, peeled asphalt, road works, and a hundred slow-moving tricycles and scooters hugging the middle lane turned my dream into a nightmare.
Arabelle and I were fully shaken and stirred, literally. In fairness, it was not all bad. We’d have like 100 meters of decently paved road, then a kilometer of the moon’s surface to bounce on once again.
It was like going through the tumble cycles inside a clothes’ dryer—for three whole hours. I thought the anguish would never end.
I’m so glad the Ford Ranger was tough enough to handle the horrible beating. It handled every turn with ease, had lots of power, and the ride was pleasantly quiet on that hell of a rough road. I would give it 5 stars for off-road stability and comfort.
After that long hard stretch, the roads smoothened out all the way to our final destination.
Seeing the majestic Mayon Volcano appear in the horizon, we forget our earlier ordeal. She looked just beautiful with a few clouds in the sky. It was like she wanted to be photographed, so we did going around Mayon.
Our first stop was at the stretch of highway along Polan- gui, Albay. We were facing the northwest side of Mayon. This was the most picturesque location for the day due to the green rice fields, lush vegetation , and the way the afternoon sun lit the terrain.
Our second stop was supposed to be at Camalig, Albay, located at the southwest side of Mayon, but due to the ashfall in the area, we decided to move on to the Cagsawa Ruins.
This whole town was buried with lahar when Mayon erupted in Feb. 1, 1814. The only evidence that the town existed is the unburied bell tower of the Cagsawa Church.
We met a tour guide at the ruins who gave us an eruption update during the week. He even gave us a time schedule for the daily mini-eruptions.
On cue, the volcano spewed lava, and gave us a show at about 4 p.m. He then told us to head toward Sto. Domingo. Here, he said, we could get a better view of Mayon unobstructed by smoke .
For our third stop, we headed to Sto. Domingo, Albay, located at the west side of Mayon. The sun was setting, as it painted the clouds golden orange.
We saw the perfect cone, and sulfur gas and ash being released into the air at the dome. Witnessing the minor eruptions of Mayon Volcano, we felt lucky to see the tip unobstructed by the clouds.
The experience is memorable, and we took a lot of photos and videos for our respective blogs. We then headed back to Lucena, this time geared-up to face the 8-hour drive, and the same roads.
Overall, it was a great road adventure, and the sturdy Ford Ranger FX4 did not disappoint.