Having already been to the Pinatubo and Taal volcanoes in Luzon, Philippines on previous road trips, the next target just had to be Mount Mayon - the most famous classic cone shaped volcano and one of three major volcanoes in Luzon. Technically it's a huge stratovolcano. Wikipedia has a nice list of stratovolcanoes where you can discover more about them.
The Route From Manila To Legazpi / Mount Mayon
Before I went on this trip I checked on Google Earth for the distances and general directions. It's easy (so I thought!) there is a highway all the way! The trans Luzon Expressway. Google even told me the road distance is 450KM and it should take 6.5 hours to drive to Legazpi. I promptly shared this info with friends and my team at work "Yey! I'm driving to see Mayon this weekend! It's just over six hours and highway all the way, it's going to be easy going" I said. I was doomed...
Above: Thanks Google! A map showing the approximate route from Manila to Legazpi (town next to Mayon volcano).
Google and I didn't know how bad the roads are in the Philippines and that the "highway" was actually one lane of potholed muddy sudo-road for most of the distance!
I actually spent 25 hours on the road to go there and back! Just over half of the 48 hours in the weekend... that's right, I was behind the wheel half of the whole damn weekend! Whoever names that nightmare a "highway" should seriously see a doctor! At some points it took hours just waiting for traffic to pass while the road was down to one lane for both oncoming and outgoing traffic! Literally you had to just park and wait for all the oncoming cars to pass... and there seemed to be millions of them.
Anyway all that waiting was still fun and just part of the road trip adventure... you can pass time watching huge Caribou in the fields and checking out the stunning scenery... mile after mile of tranquil paddy fields and dozens and dozens of volcanoes and mountains. Some of the scenery on this route is truly spectacular!
Photos From The Road Trip
Photo above: He looks like a bandit right? Paying a toll fee on the SLEX leg of the trip. SLEX (South Luzon Expressway) is the only real highway with proper roads that you get to drive on for this trip. Sadly the SLEX leg of the journey doesn't take you far at all - just somewhere around Batangas area only.
Photo above: A proper toll gate on the SLEX as you drive further South away from Manila.
Photo above: A blurry quick shot of the Philippines coconut economy. Plenty of scenic views of coconut groves along this part of the route around Lucena.
Photo above: I forgot the name of this place! But it was very surreal indeed. Not so long after getting of the SLEX and onto the smaller roads I stopped to find a restaurant and was directed to this place on a back street. At first it looked like a park with outdoor seating in open huts. On closer inspection the restaurant was actually a mini zoo! You sit down and eat 2 meters away from Tigers, Monkeys and more... Of the Tigers all but one were seriously overweight and in tiny cages. The monkeys were also going crazy as they were isolated in tiny cages and you can hear them scream to try and communicate with fellow jail mates located in different cells. The BBQ pork was very very tasty! But the smell of Tiger poo, lots and lots of mosquitoes and the way they mistreat the animals makes me say avoid this place (if you can even find it in the fist place!).
Photo Above: One of the restaurant seating areas. It's a shame the animals were not well kept and happy because this could have then actually been a nice place to enjoy a meal close to wildlife. Instead it's pretty sad, especially as the wildlife is mostly endangered and should be in the wild!
Photo Above: For a short section of the road you get to drive through mountains and jungle scenery. There is only jungle here because the steep gradients make it difficult to farm. All of the flat land is farmed. Hopefully the high ground can be protected because it's the last place you can find jungle.
I had an unexpected experience when driving up and down the winding roads! All of the cars were slowing down to throw coins out of the windows to poor peasants who were lining the road waving flags to guide cars along the route. At first I thought this is really degrading and insulting to throw money at people and then watch them try and find it in long grass and almost get run over. But I guess it enables them to put food on the table and survive.
Photo Above: Another shot showing the winding jungle road. I love driving and this section of road was the most fun even though the Toyota Avanza handles like a top heavy boat in rough seas! Only bonus point - at least it was a manual so it could handle the gradients :)
Passing by Naga city and getting closer to Legazpi there is some spectacular paddy field scenery. Plenty of Caribou and roadside stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables in some places too.
Photo Above: Finally a distant view of Mount Mayon volcano! Still far away, but this volcano is massive...
Photo Above: A solitary Caribou in rice paddy setting... moo!
Photo Above: A bridge on the way getting closer to Mount Mayon.
Photo Above: Mount Mayon looking spectacular. Spoiled by overhead power cables (the Filipinos don't bury them). Anyway the power cables remind you that you are not in an isolated spot and there is population here. Some people are even daring enough to build permanent structures even though any volcanic eruption would destroy everything.
Photo Above: With clever zooming I just about managed to get a photo without power cables! It was that or trespass on some farmers property and get shot by an AK47 :)
Photo Above: A long road trip but so worth it to see this massive feature of nature. It's hard to find a moment when the clouds clear so you cans see the crater because steam coming from the crater itself creates more clouds constantly above the volcano.
Photo Above: In geography classes at school I remember writing an essay on why people live near volcanoes. Now I can see why. It's beautiful nd the land must be so fertile... but still not worth dying for and losing all your property? It's one of those choices the locals have to make.
Mayon Volcano Warning!
Mayon is an active volcano and is constantly monitored by PHIVOLCS(Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology). As such keep in mind the dangers of visiting an active volcano!
Here's a sample report from the PHIVOLCS website about Mayon volcano...
Mayon Volcano’s (13.2500°N, 123.6833°E) seismic network did not detect any volcanic earthquake during the past 24-hour observation period. Steaming activity and crater glow could not be observed due thick clouds covering the summit. Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emission rate on 05 July 2012 was measured at an average of 92 tonnes per day. Ground deformation survey (precise levelling) conducted last 07-11 Aug. 2012 indicated a slight inflation of the edifice as compared with 01-04 May 2012 survey.
Mayon Volcano’s alert status remains at Alert Level 1. Although this means that no eruption is imminent, it is strongly advised that the public refrain from entering the 6-kilometer radius Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ) due to the threat of sudden steam-driven eruptions and rockfalls from the upper and middle slopes of the volcano. Active stream/river channels and those identified as perenially lahar prone areas on all sectors of the volcano should also be avoided especially during bad weather condition or when there is heavy and prolonged rainfall. DOST-PHIVOLCS is closely monitoring Mayon Volcano’s activity and any new development will be relayed to all concerned.