None of the clouds seemed to be escaping vapor, hinting at an eruption, which she is liable to do at any time. She is one of the world's most active volcanoes, though It's been a dozen years since she last erupted. Previous to that she spewed forth four times in eight years, killing 77 in 1993, catching everyone by surprise as her monitoring equipment had been switched to another of the many volcanoes in the Philippines that had been erupting.
As I made my approach to Mayon I had a nice prelude with the 5,000 foot Mt Iriga volcano to gaze upon, radiating a magnificance of her own.
This volcano alley, with a host to come, along the final one hundred miles of Luzon made for a nice farewell before I commence two weeks of island hoping and then return to Luzon for my flight home. It's taken me over two weeks to make a near circuit of Luzon, the largest of the 7,107 islands that comprise the Philippines. There is only one other that is nearly as large, Mondanao, the Islamic island to the south that is not safe. I will take the ferry from Luzon to Samar, the third largest island, but just one-tenth the size of Luzon. I will make fast work of it and the five others on my itinerary, all among the ten largest, but not all that large.
My final night on Luzon was another example of the great accommodating spirit of the Filipinos. I was invited to set up my tent at the municipal building in the small town of Castillo by Daniel of the Department of Tourism, who happened to be in the area checking on hotels. Castillo surprisingly had two. One was a new semi-luxury hotel of nothing but air-conditioned rooms. The town's older budget hotel was under renovation. I had been directed to the better hotel and was about to head to the budget hotel, not knowing it wasn't open, when Daniel intervened. He was just completing his inspection and rather than being eager to be on his way he was happy to fulfill what seemed to be his calling and assist a "tourist."
He told me there was no point in trying the other hotel, as it wasn't open. Then he turned to the manager of the luxury hotel and asked if he might reduce his rates for me. I protested that I couldn't accept such an offer and wondered if there might be some sort of beach resort up the road where I could camp. Rather than that he suggested I camp at the local municipal building. "That would be all right, wouldn't it?" he asked the two local officials who were with him. They didn't hesitate in saying that would be no problem, that there was lots of grass and a night watchman. It was on the outskirts of the town. The entourage of officials led me there in their van. The ever-smiling Daniel was accompanied by an assistant with a camera who had been clicking away non-stop documenting Daniel's clinic in how to treat a visitor. He unfurled the welcome matt as if I were an honored guest wishing to meet my every need.
Though it was going on six he was in no hurry. He wanted to know where I had been and where I was going. He assured me that the two typhoon-ravaged islands that were on my agenda were back to normal and that I should have no concerns. He had loads of advice on things I ought to visit and roads to travel. He rapturously waved one finger and then another over my map pointing out places I ought to go with the passion and vigor of a maestro orchestra conductor. He was someone who clearly thrived on his job.
It was good to learn that the Chocolate Hills, my next prime objective three islands away, were in fine shape despite the earthquake that had hit them shortly before the typhoon and others had told me might have diminished their appeal. I couldn't have met a finer man, and his spirit and generosity were reflected in the town officials. Both of them, each on their own, came back to the municipal building after I had set up my tent and was eating my dinner in the evening cool with my headlamp to make sure everything was okay and I had enough to eat. One offered to bring me food and the other invited me to his home for dinner. They did everything except ask me if I'd like a girl as others have.
It was as fine and fortuitous a campsite as the one I had enjoyed two nights before at a barebones resort on the sea that I had all to myself other than the proprietors.
I had been directed to it by a kindly soul in a town with a couple of hotels that were beyond my budget. I wouldn't have discovered it on my own, as I knew nothing about it and its sign along the road was badly weathered and virtually indecipherable. It was half a mile from the main road down not much more than a dirt path. I paused at the sign to make sure it was what I was looking for. A woman at a small home at the intersection asked if she could help me. I told her I was looking for the resort and was hoping I could camp there. She said she had rooms for rent and also girls if I liked. She was the madame of the local brothel. I'd stayed at a brothel in Maputo, Mozambique a few years ago, one of my most read blog posts (mostly by those googling "prostitutes in Maputo"), so had no qualms about staying at such a place. I asked to check out the rooms in case I couldn't camp. One was in use. The others were all barebones, but acceptable. One room had a large mural of a naked big-breasted blond Americano.
I knew that the Philippines attract sex tourists, primarily to Angeles and Subic north of Manila, but this wasn't linked to that trade at all. I doubt a Westerner had ever patronized this place. The Philippines are a bit like Cuba, with some assuming an older white male has been drawn to their country for its women. It is no where as extreme or as pervasive as it was in Cuba. There it was a daily occurrence to be accosted, often multiple times. Here it has been minimal and non-aggressive, almost an act of politeness.
I didn't have to return to the bordello for the night as the couple who ran the resort had small bungalows for rent as cheap as its rooms. They couldn't understand why I wanted to camp. "For the fresh air," I explained. They'd never had a camper before, but were happy to oblige me for a nominal fee. Camping is not much in the Philippine way. Before my bucket shower I took a dip in the pleasantly warm Philippine Sea.
It wrapped up a fine day thanks in large part to my decision to take the lesser travelled and shorter road to Naga rather than sticking to the main highway that went through a series of large cities. When I came to the intersection I wasn't quite sure of which way to go. My map showed the less traveled road would save me thirty miles but all the traffic continued on the main road, implying there might be something wrong with the other way.
I'd had the same dilemma the day before and chose the shorter road, which I somewhat regretted, as it included a brutal twelve per cent grade for over a mile. It had several switch backs. It was so treacherous there were a handful of people spaced several hundred feet apart with flags to moderate the speed of vehicles making the descent, similar to Bolivia's Most Dangerous Road in the World at its blind spots. I saved time by taking the short route, but probably expended more energy.
So I feared that might be the case with this road as well. As I was debating what to do a motorcyclist who had just come down the road pulled into a restaurant at the intersection. He told me the road was fine, completely paved, and just gentle ups and downs as I had experienced the last couple of hundred miles. And best of all there was no road construction as there had been much of the past couple of days. Every few miles one side of the road was undergoing repaving for anywhere from a few hundred feet to half a mile. It was almost as if there were a version of speed bumps to reduce the speed of the traffic. There was a flag person at either end of each construction zone, providing work for quite a few people.
Bandanas were popular among the road crews.
Some used them to cover their faces so they wouldn't have to breathe in the dust and the fumes.
They are also a headgear of choice for women.
She was one of two people serving at a roadside eatery, as cafes are most commonly known.
The pulled up shirt is a common fashion statement amongst the male population, particularly with the big-bellied, who often fold their arms and prop them on their proud protuberance.
Eateries are also known as Food Houses, some with creative spelling.
And the more traditional with one of the ubiquitous grandiose Churches of Christ in the background.
The Churches of Christ are indistinguishable from one and another. They'd be a perfect place to camp, but I was turned away from the only one I tried.
In this region noodle dishes are almost as common as rice, though they are still served with rice. This is a typical meal complete with my own pitcher of cold water and a small cup of broth that accompanies most meals whether one asks for it or not. The extra fluid is always welcome.
I try to slow a bit when a pass the roadside eateries to see of there might be something delectable I haven't seen before or if they have a bowl of boiled eggs on display so I can stock up. These were the only dumplings I've come across so far. I wished I'd filled my bowl with them.
I try to keep food in my Tupperware bowl at all times, especially at the end of the day, so I can start eating immediately as I set up my tent or check in at a hotel. Since food is left out all day at the many roadside eateries, I have no concerns of food going bad in the heat.