One of those “oh you simply must!” places near Legazpi are the Cagsawa Ruins. Cagsawa was a town from 1587 but Mayon gave no fucks about that and on the 1st February 1814 she erupted and rained rocks and sand down on the town. The township was moved to Daraga, and Cagsawa deteriorated until the site was cleared up to be used as a tourist attraction. All that remains is the church bell tower and a bit of rubble next to it that used to be the rest of the church. It’s very striking and it’s basically the rules to come here and get a photo of the belltower with Mt Mayon in the background.
We wanted to get down early so we could see it before it was too full of tourists. It was 5.30am when we dragged ourselves out of bed which was made that little bit more painful given that we’d discovered Emperador brandy the previous night. God that stuff is good. Breakfast was a lot less starey this morning, some manner of sausage silog thing, though even I who generally wakes up ravenous enough to start chewing the heads off scabby dogs finds eating difficult at that hour, even if parts of my food aren’t watching me eat.
As with everywhere around here it’s a piece of piss to get here, just jump on a jeepney bound for Polangui and tell the driver you want to go to Cagsawa. If you’re as white as we are he’ll probably take one look at your sweaty face and guess where you want to get off anyway. Another great thing about the jeepneys here is the fact you’ll never get ripped off, fares are set and you’ll never pay more than the locals do. The driver let us off at the junction for Cagsawa and we walked the rest of the way, it’s not far, but you have to run a gauntlet of blokes trying to get you to go on an ATV tour.
I’m not even shitting you, they congregate around the junction, they accost you as you walk past the many ATV outfits, they’re even loitering around the ruins clutching laminated sheets detailing routes and prices. It’s like a really shit zombie movie, except they’re not zombies. they’re humans, and they lumber after you from all angles wailing, “Ayyyy teeeee veeeeee” and you do everything you can to avoid them. Short of decapitating them with a chainsaw of course. Thing is, was wanted to go on an ATV tour, it was another reason we got down here early, but we didn’t want to be hounded into it.
We messed around the ruins for a bit taking photos any hardened tourist would be proud of before going in search of the least annoying ATV operator which turned out to be Bicol Adventure ATV who proudly displayed a sign saying that they would not entertain “fixers”, which is basically a tout. These guys were adamant they didn’t use them. We were more than a little bit flustered and ready to start biting the heads off the next person to thrust a laminated price list in front of us. Figuratively. For now.
We wandered into Bicol Adventure ATV, were calmly greeted by lovely, non-pushy humans and options with prices were explained to us. At this point we didn’t know if was wanted the green lava tour or the slightly more expensive black lava tour, but as much as I really really wanted to see the black lava they told us that the majority of that route was on roads through the barangays whereas the green lava tour was more off-road. Go on then, let’s do that.
Green lava just means it’s covered in grass, it’s indistinguishable from a field, we’d be doing this for the joy of playing on an ATV at the foot of an active volcano. Or at least I would be anyway, Tarrant hated every fucking minute of it, bless her. I had a great time. After a few laps on the tiny practice track which pretty much readies you for two tenths of fuck all we were off, the guide then Tarrant then me. There were muddy trails and river crossings and our man knew how to take a photo. I noticed Tarrant kept veering to the left though, I wondered if her machine was faulty.
When we eventually got to where we were going I offered to swap with her and after we’d chilled for a bit with perfect, breathtaking views of Mt Mayon we headed back down. Nope, it wasn’t her machine, she proved this as she plowed her new ATV into the bushes. Twice. I managed to stop laughing for long enough to take photos. But what her original machine was lacking was a front brake. Our guide swapped with me so we both at least had fully functioning ATVs. Shame about the riders.
This was silly amounts of fun and I do recommend you do it but it might be an idea to properly check your brakes are working before heading out and if you’re not feeling confident after your brief jaunt around the practice track, just tell them. As we cleaned up with wet wipes one of the staff members, Rowel, sat with us and showed us photos of a few local attractions and said he’d take us to see them the next day. ₱1400 for both of us including guide, fuel and scooter hire. Do you know how difficult it is to hire a fucking scooter in Legazpi? It’d be easier to build your own from elastic bands and fairy liquid bottles. We’d asked everywhere; at the hostel, at the cafe at Mt Ligñon, even here at the ATV centre. It either wasn’t possible or it was stupidly expensive, possibly because it’d just be some dude lending you his bike rather than it being an actual scooter rental place.
So there was no way we could rent a bike and go off on our own brandishing Maps.ME, even if we could find these places. Plus it’d be nice to have a guide. We told him we’d think about it, Tarrant was still traumatised and needed brandy therapy. We took his number and headed back home via Daraga church where the lapsed Catholic in Tarrant probably prayed for her soul. Fuck it though. Why not eh? We’re on holiday. I sent Rowel a text and he agreed to meet us at 7am at Bicol Adventure ATV.
Legazpi, Albay, Philippines
Stayed at: Mayon Backpackers
Activity: ATV tour with Bicol Adventure ATV. Prices are listed on their website.