On the last day of April I checked out of the hotel and headed for the bus station. I had a couple of places in mind... Cabanatuan, Lingayen Gulf, Legazpi... the latter of the three had caught my eye when I read that the most perfectly-formed conical volcano in the world sat several miles north of the small harbor town. The first bus portal I came upon had a big sign that read "Legazpi City." Volcanotime it would be. I paid a 350-Pisos fare, surprised at the low price, and clambered onto the bus.
The driver explained that it'd be about a seven-hour ride into town, southeast along the snaking end of the island of Luzon. Seven hours... no biggie. I relaxed contentedly in the wide seat that I had to myself, updated my travel journal, even pulled out my guitar and whipped up a few casual tunes. It was a nice day outside, the window next to me was wide open, and I was pretty excited to be headed for the largest active volcano in the entirety of the Philippine Islands.
Then came the extra people. An hour into the ride the bus was packed full. I was jammed into a little corner, my legs wedged into the seat in front of me... the bus was obviously not built for tall people. Then came the rain, forcing me to shut my window, which was the only thing keeping fresh air in the bus.
I would later learn that a violent tropical storm had blasted straight through the region during the trip south, killed several people, upending buses, stranding ferries, and, thus, clogging the roads completely. I was unaware of this during the time, and as the trip stretched from seven hours to eight and ten and twelve, the bus jammed to sudden stops, lurched sickeningly into potholes, out of them, and into another one just as quickly. It became nauseating very quickly... I'm not entirely sure how I managed to keep the contents of my stomach down, but I did it.
At around three in the morning a rooster started crowing. On the bus. Somebody had brought a freakin chicken on board. It wouldn't shut up, either. If I'd been a few seats closer I'd have opened the first international Chick-fil-A branch. No such luck; instead I turned my greenish face to the window and concentrated on not heaving.
Thirteen hours into the trip, the driver called out the Legazpi City stop, mercifully ending my punishment. It was after five in the morning. I found a hotel closeby, walked in drenched from the rain, paid for a room and crashed for the next five hours.
Legazpi City was extremely small by most standards. The main section of town was clustered around the innermost portion of the bay, and the national highway ran west, away from it, into the western end of town, much smaller, and back up towards Manila. To the north of the two sections of town was the Legazpi airport, and, perhaps three miles beyond it, the base of the Mayon Volcano. The sight of it startled me when I first noticed it. It was massive, rising up, as volcanos do, imposingly behind everything else. The tip was shrouded in clouds (and smoke) the entire time I was there, which was slightly frustrating, but the enormity of the thing was still awe-inspiring.
Several days into my stay, which would turn out to be nine days total, I headed out for the volcano. I wasn't aware of a way to actually get ON to the thing (and I wasn't entirely sure I wanted to) so I settled for the popular obersvation point north of the airport. I walked for miles, passing village after village... I found the people in Legazpi to be much more friendly than the ones in Manila. I was gawked at everywhere I went, but the stares were quickly followed by huge smiles and calls of "Hey Joe!" (The name, I presume, is a relic of the World War Two days when American troops fought the Japanese in the region and were known, synonymously, as "Joes." The kids all demanded high-fives when I walked by, usually following it up with "wassup man!" Western slang, it seemed, was not without influence in southeast Asia.
After climbing an absurdly-steep switchback trail up a protruding bluff several miles south of the volcano, I downed a bottle of water to rehydrate and then took some pictures. Some of them turned out pretty well, and the panorama feature of my camera delighted me once again. I was bummed that the clouds never seemed to disappear from the tip of the volcano to allow me a full shot, but there was nothing I could do about that.
On the way back down I discovered a tunnel in the bluff, converted by the Japanese into an ammunition dump during the Second World War. It'd been turned into a makeshift museum. The history nerd in me came alive and I took the short tour. Most of it had been bombed to Hades before U.S. forces landed in Legazpi and took over, but two tunnels still existed, and exploring them was fascinating. The styrofoam Japanese soldiers were a bit much, but there were several preserved relics, including a typewriter, some ammunition cans, and cartridges (probably still live.)
The rest of the week passed rather quickly. I did my share of walking around, exploring the area, but my financial situation didn't allow me to do much more. Instead I found a bookstore and re-immersed myself in the world of Jack London, awed by it as much as I had been as an eight-year-old kid. Some things never changed.
The week passed quickly, I got sick, and then, mostly unsick, then boarded a plane for Manila, and here I am now, even less sick, and ready to come home. Today is my one hundredth day of traveling, which is an astonishing number... the time has absolutely flown by (and, paradoxically, it also feels like I left a full century ago.)
Tomorrow I will get on a plane, fly to Taipei, then to Los Angeles, then to Philadelphia, then to Raleigh, and then, finally, Greensboro. And home.
See ya there.