When you ask people what they know about Bicol, they usually give two answers, depending on what type of person they are. People who have never ever been to Bicol and have just read about it in guide books (or, in some cases, their elementary books on the different regions of the Philippines) will start talking about Mayon Volcano and how perfect a cone it is. The more adventurous types, on the other hand, would talk about the Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC) and how awesome and rad the facility is.
The thing is, Bicol is a big place. Mayon Volcano and CWC are both great places, but you need to move a little further into Bicol in order to fully appreciate it. Camarines Norte and Sur form the gateway that allows people from Northern and Central Luzon to enter Bicol. But for me, the real jewels lie further on, in Sorsogon, at the southernmost tip of Luzon. Basically, get on the national road and drive south. When you hit water, you’re in Sorsogon.
I come from the town of Bulan, about 60kms south of Sorsogon City. If you squint at the lower right side of the map above, you might see it just across the blue strip of water from Masbate City. Bulan is about 630kms from Manila–roughly 12 hours by bus, provided that you don’t stop for anything along the way. It’s one of the Most beautiful towns in Bicol and you should definitely visit when you can, especially in late May when the annual Padaraw Festival is at full tilt.
Anyway, this isn’t some travel lifestyle article so whatever. But if you do find yourself in Bulan–or, at the very least, in Sorsogon province–there are two things you should do before you leave.
The most prized possession of the province of Sorsogon, aside from it’s really rather resilient people, is its bodies of water. And I am telling you, no matter what part of Sorsogon you go to, there will always be a body of water waiting for you. One of the most famous of these bodies of water is Bulusan Lake, located right in the heart of the state-owned Bulusan Volcano Natural Park.
In order to have a definite feel of Sorsogon, you need to visit this park. And don’t go there wearing jeans or whatever. Wear hiking boots and comfortable clothing, plus extra underwear, because you’re in for a great day. Bulusan Natural Park is almost 4000 hectares big and there are tons of activities waiting for you inside. My favorites would have to be hiking around the lake (which is back-breaking work, mind you, and you have no idea what’s waiting for you at the next turn because the area around Bulusan has never been efficiently studied) and kayaking over the lake itself.
And when I say that this place has never been studied well, I mean it. No one knows, for example, just how deep Bulusan Lake is, which is just one of the mysteries surrounding this body of water. People who live around the lake swear that it is funnel-shaped, which means it drops steadily towards the center until who knows how deep. There are also no visible rivers feeding into or flowing out of the lake, which leads people to assume that the water must be coming in and going out of the lake through the bottom. The bottom (or the sides of the lake, whatever) is also covered with gigantic kelp, so if you swim in the lake, you’d feel their tendrils snaking around your legs like the tentacles of some huge monster. Good luck sleeping tonight.
But still, kayaking over it is one hell of a ride. The lake is about 2.2 kilometers from one point to the other, which means that you can paddle to the center and shout insults to people on the shore and they won’t hear a thing. If they do, you can always paddle to the other side and live as a hermit along the slopes of Bulusan Volcano. I’m telling you, it’s a win-win.
Here’s a pro tip: don’t partner up with a free-loader. See my sister up there who’s not even trying to paddle? Dead weight. The next time we visited, I ditched her and rented a kayak on my own. It was much much better and more peaceful that way.
If you’re not keen on exerting your shoulder muscles by kayaking, maybe the more luxurious (albeit hard on the legs) water trike is much more suited to your taste. This three-wheeled rubber and steel monstrosity provides more than enough positive buoyancy to ensure that you don’t topple and get sucked down to some monster’s lair even when you’re in the middle of the lake.
Another pro-tip: use a lot of sunscreen. It might not seem like much when you’re in the middle of the lake enjoying yourself, but the sun reflecting off the water and onto your skin is going to cause a lot of damage in the long run. I was red for days after I forgot to put sunscreen on before kayaking.
What I like to do here is to paddle to the center or even the far end of the lake and just sit in my kayak, enjoying the sounds of silence. This is a great experience, especially for all you city slickers who are too used to the hustle and bustle of the urban lifestyle. Just don’t fall asleep though. Like I said, no one knows what’s at the bottom of this lake. There might be a merman community down there, a la Goblet of Fire.
Once you’ve paddled or kicked your problems away on the lake, you’re gonna be tired as hell. What better way to soothe your aching muscles than a nice long soak in one of the many hot springs that can be found all around Bulusan?
Like I said before, when in Sorsogon, look for the nearest body of water. In this case, that’d be the hot spring resorts popping up like mushrooms all over the province. The area is rich in geothermal energy, and when there’s heat, there are people willing to pay to soak in that heat.
The most famous resort here, as far as I know, is San Mateo Hot and Cold Spring Resort, more popularly known among the locals as San Benon after the barangay that it’s situated in.
And when I say hot, I mean hot. I do not recommend jumping into this pool unprepared. Those rocks are hot, the water is steaming, and your eggs are gonna be hard-boiled if you do anything drastic. The best way to enjoy this is to slowly ease into the water in order to let your body get accustomed to the heat.
However, this place can get pretty crowded especially during the holidays, which is why our family actively avoids it. It’s no big loss, since there are a lot of other small slices of paradise for those who are willing to look. One such slice of paradise is Masacrot Spring, located just a few minutes away from Bulusan.
It’s owned by a friend of the family and is still a bit underdeveloped, which means far less people. Basically, the entire place is a direct antithesis of San Benon. There are few to no people here on a good day, the bottom of the natural pool go from really shallow to really freaking deep in the space of a few paces, and the water is colder than your ex-girlfriend’s heart. Ah, paradise.
Also, the water here contains very high amounts of sulfur, among other minerals. Soaking in this kind of water helps the skin, since sulfur is one of the most important elements of some parts of your body such as the nails, skin, and hair. So people who suffer from eczema, acne, and muscle pain should definitely give this place a try. Here’s an article detailing the benefits of sulfur water on the body.
Of course, a veritable Filipino outing-slash-picnic can never be complete without an over-abundance of the three Fs: family, friends, and food. So drag your favorite people and drive down to the South. I’ll meet you there.