We duly rocked up to Bicol Adventure ATV by 7am, shuffling past the touts because shuffling is the only forward movement possible when you’ve been up since some god awful hour again, easily fending them off this time with a grumpy, “yeah we’ve already done it.” Rowel was ready and waiting for us with two bikes; a dirt bike for him and a scooter I think he borrowed off his mate for us, the latter I would be riding with Tarrant as pillion. On the right hand side of the road. Oh fuck. I’ve never driven on the right before, it’s as unnatural to me as Donald Trump’s hair. I told one of the guys this and he just shrugged, pointed at Rowel and said, “Just do what he does.” I repeat; oh fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. Okay, but how hard could it be? Bikes work the same on the right as they do on the left. It’s not like a car where the steering wheel is on the wrong side and you have to do gears with a completely different hand and you might as well have never learned to drive in the first place for all the good your fifteen years of road driving experience will do you.
I decided just to focus on the back of Rowel’s head, stick to his back wheel and just go for it whilst trying not to close my eyes and scream. So we were heading to a place called Solong Eco Adventure Park and Tours, Cave & Mountain which, whilst incredibly fucking descriptive, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Apparently the cave had only been open a few months and we were told there were hills similar to the Chocolate Hills in Bohol. We rocked up and paid our entrance and guide fee, waited until a guide could be located, and off we went. I can’t remember her name but she was lovely, if not a tiny bit eccentric. Her English wasn’t great but it was good enough. We were kitted out with hard hats and torches and off we went.
We were led through a forest where she pointed out plants and trees including a guava tree. She picked a few and handed them to us, keeping one for herself as she wandered off ahead of us, happily munching on it. I’ve never had a guava before, I wouldn’t have a clue what they were meant to taste like. I took a bite. I looked at Tarrant. Okay, how could I get this out of my mouth quickly without offending our guide? I swear it sucked all of the moisture from my face, it was bloody awful, I couldn’t apologise to my tongue enough. I managed to spit it out whilst her back was turned and mentally added it to the list of things I would never put in my mouth ever again. We headed up steps made from tyres, still trying to remove the damn guava completely from my mouth, until we got to the top for some stunning views across some utterly breathtaking scenery. Guys, this was awesome. There are these lumpy hills called the Quitinday Hills which apparently look a lot like the famous Chocolate Hills in Bohol.
We haven’t seen them yet so I can’t comment on that but they’re striking enough, and what Bohol definitely doesn’t have is Mt Mayon looming over them. It was a bit cloudy today so our view of the volcano wasn’t perfect but it didn’t matter, it was very definitely there. We stared at it for a while until it was time to visit the cave. There was very little infrastructre apart from a few railings here and there to stop you from slipping into an abyss but we expected this after Sagada and to be honest, I think this is the kind of tourist cave exploration I prefer. It’s a dry cave, the torrents of water gushing from your face notwithstanding, so you don’t need river shoes or anything.
We followed her around, scrambling over rocks, marvelling at shiny, sparkling rocks and the beginnings of stalagmites, as she pointed things out and occasionally muttered the word, “spelunking” for literally no discernible reason. She kept picking pretty rocks up and giving them to us as souvenirs. It was like she was trying to offload the whole cave. I’m not a fan of souvenirs like that, can you imagine if every visitor took something? There’d be nothing left for anyone to look at. We accepted them and thanked her and subtly dropped them on the floor as she walked ahead of us, still periodically muttering, “spleunking.” I’ll admit it, there were a few hairy moments in the cave where I thought I was going to lose my footing, hit my head and spray my brains out over the stalactites, but we made it out in one piece, sweating like blind lesbians in a fish shop. The sweat was pouring from us, it was so fucking humid in there, I must have lost enough fluid to end African drought.
We bid our farewells to the lovely humans at Solong Eco Park and followed Rowel to our next stop, Jovellar. I was getting this driving on the right thing down, I even sort of knew which way to look for traffic. Admittedly I did very little of that, instead choosing to continue staring very hard at the back of Rowel’s head. Rowel has nice hair. He must condition. Okay so Jovellar Underground River and Eco Tourism Park. We were here at entirely the wrong time of year for this but it was still worth it I reckon. The water was brown instead of blue and there was way too much of it. We parted with our entrance fee plus the fee for a bamboo raft hire which would take us through the cave and off we shuffled with our new guide who was literally a child. I mean, she was cool, it just offended our Western ideas about child labour, but a guide was compulsory and she was our guide so off we went.
We changed into wet clothes, crossed a bridge which didn’t look like it had “carrying the weight of tourists” on its list of things to do today, scrambled down some treacherous things which passed as steps and gingerly stepped onto the raft. I silently congratulated myself on not currently being in the water. We were taken through the cave to the other end where we’d normally get out, clamber over some rocks and go for a swim on the other side, but on account of the river being too high and too fast we weren’t allowed to do this. To be honest I was happy with that decision, the river definitely looked like it’d beat me in a fight.
We were taken back, crawled to our belongings and our guide led us further downstream where we had a view of a waterfall. Sooo yeah, that was nice, but were we allowed in this river? She looked at us like we’d told her we planned to summon the Loch Ness Monster to take us on a watery adventure to Aqualand. “But the water is like chocolate!” she told us. Yeah but it’s only mud, it’s not human excrement or anything, right? I mean… right? She agreed anyway, I did feel kind of bad making her go in the river until it became apparent that she was having as much fun as we were. She told us she comes here with her friends a lot anyway and as we fought the river to she knew exactly where to grab on to pull ourselves forwards, and where all the ledges were so we could rest. This was fucking brilliant. We got to the falls and played in them for ages before letting the river drag us back to where we’d climbed in, hitting a few rocks as we were swept along. I’ve probably left quite a bit of knee skin in the river and I regret nothing.
So we dried, changed and paid our guide, and found Rowel again. That was the end of the tour as far as we were aware but he asked us what we were planning on doing now. It wasn’t even midday yet. We shrugged and said we’d probably just head back to the hostel and chill. “So, do you want to see the black lava?” he asked. Seriously? Does the Pope shit in the woods? I’d so wanted to see it yesterday but the green lava tour just seemed like more fun. Now this would involve me manouvering a scooter along terrain they usually bring an ATV along, on the wrong side of the road, with my mrs on the back, and all without depositing us both in a ditch, please. But as we found out yesterday, most of this ride is on proper roads through barangays. I was really glad we’d done the green lava yesterday.
Off we went, enjoying the ride, until we got to a part where you think, yep, this is why it’s an ATV tour. A massive river crossing. Rowel got Tarrant to ride pillion on his dirt bike leaving me to try and muscle this normal road scooter along the river bed without drowing it. Or myself for that matter. It wasn’t actually too awful, I rode with my feet down and just clung on really tightly whilst sorting through deities in my head to try and locate the one that’d be most forgiving of my stupidity. With Tarrant back on my bike we road through plantations and villages until finally we rocked up, significantly more tense than when we left, to the black lava wall.
Once you’re there it’s a sight. Mayon had been swallowed by cloud so, sadly, she wasn’t visible, but the black lava was pretty stunning. As with the last two places, a guide is compulsory so we followed our bloke who seemed utterly disinterested up the black rocks to a helipad. It’s from the 2006 eruption apparently, a huge, striking field of black rocks stretching from where we stood all the way to the foot of the volcano which was just visible underneath the cloud. I felt tiny. The sheer quantity of molten lava needed to create this landscape. I was genuinely awed. We took as many photos as you can warrant taking of killer black rocks before scrambling back down. You can zip wire back down if you want to, Legazpi does seem to love a good zip wire.
So when I woke up this morning I was in two minds about doing this tour. I don’t know why, I think I thought it was a lot of money for what it was, I guess I was’t really in the mood for it, I had one of those overwhelming feelings of doom I sometimes get without rhyme or reason. But it was really good, I really enjoyed it. It’s probably possible to see Solong and Jovellar independently, I think you can get two jeepneys to Jovellar and during high season there’ll probably be tricycles you can rent, but without Rowel approaching us we wouldn’t have even known these places existed. If you’re at Cagsawa and a bloke called Rowel asks you if you want to go on a tour, just say yes. You won’t regret it.
Legazpi, Albay, Philippines
Stayed at: Mayon Backpackers
Activity: Scooter tour with Rowel: +63 (0) 956 691 9074
Useful Shit To Know
– Rowel charged us ₱1400 for both us to include scooter rental and fuel. The trip to the black lava was a free add-on but we tipped him on top of that because he’s a sound guy.
– Solong entrance fee is ₱300 for a group of less than six humans, or ₱50 per human for groups of six or more.
– You pay your guide what you want. I hate that. It least give me some idea so I don’t insult them.
– Jovellar environmental fee was ₱100 for us foreign types and ₱20 for domestic tourists, with other concessions applying to those eligable.
– The bamboo raft hire was ₱200 both ways and that price is good for up to five humans.
– It’s ₱10 to use the toilet (they call them comfort rooms here) and the changing rooms.
– Again, the guide fee isn’t fixed, you pay what you want. We gave her ₱200. I literally have no idea if that was appropriate or insulting, Filipino people are far too polite to tell you either way.
– Sooo yeah, I can’t remember what the entrance fee for the black lava was, it must have been around ₱50 I think.
– Same again, guide fee isn’t fixed, pay what you feel whilst having a very British nervous breakdown because you’re terrified you’re offending them with your lousy tipping.
– The zip line was, like, ₱250 per person I think.