You may not be aware (I certainly wasn’t!) but December is in fact typhoon season in South East Asia, and of all the countries the Philippines is often the worst and most frequently hit. Our trip has so far coincided with not one but two typhoons, both skirting around the places we are visiting but leaving us with…let’s say refreshing weather!
We arrived in Legazpi at around 7am, after a swift and beautiful flight from Manila. The sky turned from inky blue to pinks and purples over the jungle filled landscape below, and we were awarded an amazing birds eye view of Mt Mayon as we circled Legazpi airport waiting permission to land. Mr Mayon is viewed as the most active and dangerous volcano in the area, but more primarily known as the most beautiful as its conical shape is thought to be almost perfectly symmetrical. Viewing it from the plane with the top shrouded in pink tinged cloud was a real treat.
The rest of the landscape consisted of palm jungle, shining rice paddies and black sandy beaches. Another world indeed!! After one false landing (a first for me!) and a few more circles we arrived in the airfield where time has stood still. Passengers disembark from the only plane on the tarmac and walk the few feet to the terminal, a building only a few metres square. Surrounded by tall jungle and in the shadow of the mountain with only locals around us this was the closest I’ve ever felt to real backpacking…or even explorers of decades past. However, their planes probably didn’t land playing Peter Kay’s Geraldine.
Keen to get the lay of the land Sven and I decided to walk 40 minutes to our hotel in the port area of this provincial capital, enjoying the cool morning air which we were sure would not last long. There were few cars on the road, and even fewer people, but those we did see all waved a cherry good morning, and more than a few wished us a Merry Christmas as we past. I was so happy to be surrounded once again by many sights, sounds and smells I associate with Asia, whilst Sven was doing his best owl impression trying to take it all in. Our walk took us through the heart of the city past soy dogs, cracked pavements, make shift homes and extremely unsafe looking electric hubs, through the beeps of tuk tuks, scooters and the local transport known as jeepneys all with wide eyes and even wider smiles. I have so much love for Asia.
After a stroll through the port past a mixture of small local boats and far larger shipping containers we reached our nautical themed home for the next two nights, the Embarcedero Hotel; the entrance to which is found through a partially open air shopping mall. With abandoned fairground rides, stationary escalators and a complete lack of shops it reminded me of something from I am Legend…but the hotel itself is modern and clean, with a cheery Christmas tree in the centre of the lobby. It is also just a short walk away from Legazpi boulevard which again offers a beautiful view of the mountain and bay area, as well as a number of bars and restaurants which come alive at night.
However the rest of the time everything was rather quiet! A great opportunity to find a coffee shop overlooking the mountain (seeing any themes?) and while away some hours watching people, dogs and general Legazpi life. We seemed to be the only tourists, and were amazed by the hospitality and friendliness of everyone we met.
Over the next day and a half we spent our time dodging biblical downpours which represented the tail end of the tropical depression which had past through the Philippines a few days previously. I’m used to travelling in Asia in the rainy season, however then you can usually set your watch by the weather and expect only an hour or two of showers each day. The rain here was more like a game, dashing about trying to time activities before the heavens opened once more. We became expert rain dodgers during our time here, and saw almost all there is to see of the city, travelling about on jeepneys which cost around 7pesos per 4km…that’s about 10p. You simply flag down the driver and hop in, and in our case mostly hope that it was going in the right general direction as we could make head nor tail of the system. There were no numbers or routes to be seen, though there were some very eye catching paint jobs and unique naming systems going on! From Geraldine to Billy Bob…maybe that was how you determined the route!
Our first Jeepney adventure took us to Caswaga Ruins, which is also apparently the ATV capital of the Philippines. From here the brave of heart can travel to lava trails from the previous few eruptions, and had we not been keeping one eye out for a passing arc I’m sure it would have been up for consideration. However as it was we spent time enjoying coffees and shakes inbetween showers, though I’m sorry to tell you neither of us were brave enough to try the famous Sili shake famous in these parts. You and I would spell it chilli…not for the faint hearted!!
From there we trekked through winding streets to Daraga Church, an impressive structure sitting high on a hill overlooking…you guessed it…the mountain! The church appeared more like a building left to the jungle than one in the middle of a city which is used multiple times per day. The sky darkened again so we began our descent uncertain of what to do next, but before reaching the bottom of the steps back to the main road the clouds opened, so we popped into the nearest bar, and made friends with Joey who worked there.
For me Joey personifies the word ‘plucky’, with a generous and sunny spirit, he was happy to sit and chat with us for hours telling stories of his life in Manila and recent move here to be closer to his 8 brothers and sisters. Before long we were joined by another couple who proceeded to enjoy one of Legazpis main leisure persuits…karaoke! It would seem there isn’t a spare room in town which has not been transformed into a room to rent by the hour to sing away the afternoon with friends. We enjoyed lunch, dinner, a good few beers, 5 games of darts and an afternoon of song in the Legazpi sports bar. What a way to spend a day!!
Before we knew it it was the final morning in Legazpi, and with an unexpected flight change we only had a few rainy hours to kill. After a very fishy breakfast by the bay, we dodged a shower into a jeepney in search of adventure, but hopped out after 10 disconcerting minutes where no one else joined our party and we seemed to be heading to the middle of nowhere! There was (of course) no need to have panicked, as the hustle and bustle was just around the corner, including a large local shopping mall filled with people cramming in some last minute Christmas shopping. There seemed to be nothing you couldn’t buy from this place, from rice cookers to bright blue leather sofas with yellow piping, clothes, accessories and the largest teddies known to man…
There was one Asian experience we had yet to try…the local tuk tuks! I am used to the Thai-Esque ones where you sit in a roomy two seater car behind a moped, but in Legazpi you sit beside the driver and conditions are far more cramped…especially when you’re 6ft 2!!
We took another of these back to the airport…because after being squashed in with just the two of us adding bags seemed like a great idea!!
My final first for Legazpi was at the airport, where smiling porters in yellow t shirts hand out bright yellow umbrellas to arriving and departing passengers in the rain!
It’s been so much fun visiting this little town, especially enjoying what I hope is a more authentic Philippines experience than the touristy island life we’re sure to see over the next few days. Our next stop is Cebu, and then onto Bohol for some white sandy beach time. Hopefully in the sun!!