One major destination in our 3-province romp across the Bicol Region (the others are Albay and Camarines Norte) is the province of Sorsogon, known for its whale shark (butanding) sightseeing tours. Event organizer Bernard Supetran and I just had a taste of some of Camarines Norte beautiful white sand islands but, in Sorsogon, we were in for other kinds of water fun – dipping in a therapeutic hot spring, hiking to a waterfall and kayaking a placid lake.
From Bacacay (Albay), we were driven to Sorsogon town of Irosin which sits at the foot of the still active Mt. Bulusan. The town has a number of cold and hot springs and, fittingly, after a tiring but fulfilling day, we were to savor the curative hot waters in Brgy. Monbon. At Irosin, we stayed at the Nature Spring Resort & Inn, owned and managed by Mr. Reojun Y. Gabito and opened last May 20, 2007. Here, Ms. Jerelle J. Marquez, the town’s Municipal Information Officer, was already waiting for us.
After dinner, we were checked in at one of the resort’s airconditioned cottages with cable TV plus a skylighted bathroom with a unique, private mini-pool. The mini-pool in the bathroom can wait (we tried it the next day) as outside were 3 steaming, free-form swimming pools of different sizes and depths (one exclusively for children). In the beginning, it was quite hot when I immersed myself but I eventually got used to it. The clear, naturally-heated waters here, said to have sulfuric healing properties, were relaxing and soothing to the nerves, working wonders on our aching muscles and tired body.
The next day, after our courtesy call on Irosin Mayor Eduardo E. Ong, Jr., Bernard and I were driven, along the Maharlika Highway, to the junction to Bulusan Volcano Natural Park (BVNP) where a 2-km. long partially paved side road brought us to Lake Bulusan in Brgy. San Roque. Lake Bulusan, a small, round crater lake known as the “Switzerland of the Orient” due to its lovely scenery, is located at an elevation of 635 m. (2,084 ft.) on the southeast flank of Bulusan volcano and is believed to have been formed by tectonic damming.
Here, we met up and interviewed, over a cup of local brewed coffee and pili snacks, environment activist Philip G. Bartilet, the president of Aggrupation for Advocates for Environmental Protection (AGAP)-Bulusan, Inc. and the Municipal Tourism Officer of Bulusan town. AGAP-Bulusan works hand-in-hand with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to protect and conserve biodiversity of the BVNP through Project PRESERVE (Participate Reforestation with Ecological Support, Education and Research to Validate the Ecosystems) which was launched in Lake Bulusan last October 31, 2011. The DOT has declared the town of Bulusan as a Tourist Zone due to the fact that it has the biggest share of the BVNP in terms of land area, 43% or 1,580.20 out of 3,673.30 hectares. Six of the town’s barangays are located within the national park and all are ingress and egress points to this protected area.
After the interview, Philip accompanied us to the municipal hall where we had lunch with Mayor Michael G. Guysayco. After lunch, Philip then joined us as we toured Punta Diamante, the Spanish-era muralla (stone fort) that encloses the church complex of St. James the Greater. Facing the sea, it has a base shaped as like diamond (with 8 sides). The church’s belfry is the largest of the 5 watchtowers dotting the historical complex.
We also dropped by the town’s beige sand Dancalan Beach. Too bad we had no time for a swim. From the town proper, we proceeded on our way back to Lake Bulusan for some kayaking. Along the way, we decided to drop by Bayugin Falls in Brgy. San Francisco, a popular swimming and picnic site. The falls is just a 500-m. hike from the road.
The trail, along hard-packed mud, was relatively flat half of the way. Along the way, we crossed a wooden footbridge over a very narrow, steep-sided creek which, according to Philip, is a possible quake fault line. Past the bridge, the trail eventually became steeper as we went down steps carved along the hillside.
After 20 mins., the sound of onrushing waters heralded our arrival at the falls. The falls, surrounded by a thick, mossy forest, is the source of the Bayugin River which eventually joins the Paghasaan River as it flows into the Bulusan River. The ascent, on our return, though short, was just as tiring. Back in our vehicle, we continued on our way to Lake Bulusan.
Upon arrival at Lake Bulusan, we all donned life jackets and were each assigned a tandem kayak. Once on our kayaks, we started paddling along the lake’s 2,006 m. long perimeter, admiring the lake’s calm, emerald green waters and the park’s impressive and lush old growth forest of dipterocarp trees and endemic species of plants. Overhead, a soaring eagle kept us company. Truly a postcard-pretty sight. It was already dusk when we returned to shore and, after a merienda of maruya, brewed coffee and soft drinks, said goodbye to our gracious hosts, returned to our vehicle and continued on our way to Sorsogon City where we stayed overnight at a suite room at the Class “A” Villa Isabel Hotel & Resort (www.villaisabelhotel.com).