Assemblage of Manta Rays in Ticao Pass

Apart from Donsol that has established itself as a gathering point for whale sharks chasing the plankton rich waters of the bay, Sorsogon has another asset to offer to travelers coming to the country for adventure trips. These are the manta rays that were recently discovered in the shallow reef of Ticao Pass- a body of water within the area of Burias Island, Sorsogon, and Ticao Island which has the thickest concentration of plankton in the Philippines. The strong currents of San Bernardino Strait push large groups of plankton and other organisms to gather in the area. Ticao Pass and the surrounding areas are not new to divers. It has underwater beauty comparable to the richness of other famous dive sites in the country. It is due to its remote location and outlying distance that have made it unpopular to weekend divers.

The discovery started when a group of scuba divers headed by Conz Paz gathered to survey the reefs of Ticao Pass. During their first dive, they witnessed a few manta rays on their regular feeding time. Based on their recorded encounter, the divers returned repeatedly and found out that the numbers increased through June of 2003. Biologists concluded that there is a distinct season in which these magnificent creatures flock in the area. Few more observations have been conducted, they arrived on definite idea that these fleeting giants reach the cold water of Bicol from March thru July.

More surprises came out just after a year of investigation. New places beneath Ticao Pass such as deep walls and caves have been discovered. The most appealing site is what they called Manta Bowl- a depression in the shallow part of Ticao Pass where manta rays gather to feed. At the time of survey, divers spotted 15 manta rays on every group where “manta inhabitants” were mostly mixed gigantic specimens with over 12′ wingspans and passing juveniles rushing across. Personally proven, they asserted Ticao Pass a true site of underwater wealth.

Since Manta Bowl can be easily reached at 15m/50ft, which by any standard practically shallow, divers will have the chance to enjoy watching the mantas at satisfying bottom time. They proposed nitrox dive to be more advantageous as bottom time is increased while making a dive safer. Due to this immediate need, Bulan dive operators organized a Nitrox blending station in April 2004 to give certified divers even longer interaction with these fleeting underwater creatures of Ticao Pass.

To get there by air, Philippine Airlines and Air Philippines have regular flights from Manila to Legazpi City. By land, Philtranco Bus Co. has regular trips to Bulan, Sorsogon. The trip takes about 12 hours. From Bulan, a thirty minute boat ride will take you to the park of these magnificent giants. Though not many, accomodation and diving facilities are present in the area. Prepare enough cash.

History of Sorsogon

As the result of an archeological excavation performed by Robert Fox at the Hacienda of Juan Escuetura in Bato, Sorsogon was assumed inhabited by prehistoric settlers. The project revealed relics of stone tools, burial jars and crowns. Some items indicated civilization from 91 B.C. to 79 A.D. Much of these evidences were also found in Bulan and Juban.

Sorsogon was discovered in 1569 by a group of Spanish missionaries named Father Alonzo Jimenez, Juan Orta and Captain Luis Entiquez de Guzman. They conducted their first mass in a small district of Bulan named Otavi and built the first chapel along the Ginangra River of Magallanes in 1571. The village, called Gibalong by its residents, became the first Christian settlement in Luzon. Later, the friars called the whole Bicol region “Tierra de Ibalong”.

When the Spaniards had settled in Gibalong, they set out to further explore the inner lands. Upon reaching a small river emptying into what is now Sorsogon Bay, they asked a native they met for the name of the place. The native, not understanding Spanish and thinking they were asking for directions, answered, “Solsogon” meaning “trace the river by going upstream”. Through constant use, Solsogon became Sorsogon.In the succeeding years they discovered more places and established their religious mission.

Due to its accessible location, Sorsogon was developed as a district for ship making and in 1669, the province became the center of cordage industry.
For many years, Sorsogon underwent many Muslim raids. To keep them away, Captain Pedro constructed The Fort of Sirangan and built more towers in the coastal districts of Bacon, Bulusan, Sta Magdalena and Gubat.

Sorsogon became an independent region on October 17, 1894 with Juan de la Guardia as the first governor. During the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution, Father Jorge Barlin and Vicar Forane assumed administration of the province. He subsequently turned it over to the revolutionary forces.

During the American occupation in 1900, General William Kobbe ruled Sorsogon under a military government; causing more resistance to arise. After the capture of Emeterio Funes, head of the rebel forces, a civil government was established in Sorsogon under the leadership of Bernardino Monreal.

Japanese forces succeeded at invading Sorsogon in 1942. Salvador Escudero and Major Licerio organized its guerilla units with the assistance of Americans. Sorsogon was liberated on April 29, 1945.

The Sights And Flavors Of Sorsogon

Often called the Switzerland of the East, this small town at the end tip of the southern coast of Bicol Peninsula has rolling hills and valleys that are carpeted with varying foliage of mostly untracked tropical soil. Seen as a humble town but with affluent myriad of natural sights and man-made places to explore. These are the unbounded strips of beaches along its coasts, lakes, falls, thickly forested mountains and hotspring resorts comprised together as an ultimate destination for both leisure and adventure tourism. municipal building of Sorsogon

The domineering view of Bulusan Volcano in the middle of a forest land is considered Sorsogon’s best touring adventure for either sightseeing and hard-hitting trips. Its emerald-green lake by the peripheral crater offers a refreshing sight of a well preserved natural park. The hike to the main crater, once experienced, undeniably turns out a real encounter with the wilds. Down by the mountains of Bulusan there is a town named Irosin that is catering hot spring resorts with man-made pools of curative effects. It is an ideal place to rest after a long day walk.

Bacon Beach although incomparably far from other beaches, has shores best for picking shells and corals. And despite of its remoteness, Sta. Magdalena has strips of white sand beaches overlooking the neighboring islands of Samar and Leyte. Bulusan Lake

Sorsogon is a town famous for coconut based Bicol cuisine. Laing or Gulay Na Gabi in its dialect, is a famous dish that have delighted Filipinos and foreigners to the extent of their Bicol dining experience. It is a kind of vegetable called Taro leaves cooked in coconut-cream and mixed with variety of chillies. Another popular dish immensely flavored with chilli and cooked in coconut milk is called Bicol express. It is present in most restaurants of Bicol but for Sorsogenos, it is just a daily energizing food. Other dishes are Langka or jackfruit, a local fruit called Santol, or even the banana blossoms are simple ingredients usually prepared in coconut cream but when cooked the Bicolano way, turns out an exciting tasteful cuisine. Such richness any visitor in Sorsogon should never miss to
experience. Paguriran lagoon, sawanga

To get there by land, all buses bound for Visayas pass by Sorsogon; the most known are Philtranco buses. They have routes straight to Sorsogon. By air, PAL and Air Philippines have flights from Manila to Legazpi City and 1 hour by bus from Legazpi to Sorsogon. Buses from Legazpi are located near the City Public Market.

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Sorsogon Map

Points Of Interest

Rizal Beach– One of nice beaches in Sorsogon. Located in Gubat Sorsogon, it has a wide cove of flat golden sand ideal for swimming. Locals sell cheap shell crafts along the beach or around the resorts fronting the shore area.

Bacon Beach– Bacon is an old town near the pacific with an array of rugged cottages along Tolong Gapo beach. Packed by locals mostly weekends, this beach has a welcoming ambiance but the unsightly presence of drying sea weeds on the shore and big waves on windy season may turn out disappointing if you come mainly for swimming. Best to visit the place is at summertime. Avoid weekends if you prefer to enjoy the whole place for yourself.

Paguriran Island Farther ahead of Bacon beach resorts, and past the remote districts of Bacon, your trip ends in a beautiful and extremely serene village of Sawanga- the home of the unknown Paguriran Island. It is a little island where its little lagoon in the middle gets filled with sea water flowing from the sea at high tide, while powdery white sand connects the little island to the shore during low tide.

Pagol Beach On the way to Sawanga, don’t miss the left turn to Pagol Beach. The place is almost invisible but as soon as you get there, a little piece of white beach covered with swept corals is a nice place for swimming and for a short rest.

Bulusan Lake– Inside the deep forest of the town of Bulusan lies a crater lake of a volcano with emerald green water reflecting the unexploited tropical vegetations lying along its rim. Some picnic shades are provided but the hike around the lake-edge, which takes about an hour, is a worthwhile experience.

Sta. Magdalena– lies few kilometers from the main south-bound highway has far-off but very pretty white beaches ideal for swimming and picnicking.

Tiklin Island– a banca ride from the pier of Matnog lies a secluded island with a private resort that sometimes allow campers to stay.

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Bulusan Volcano Mt. Bulusan may not appear as majectic as Mt. Mayon but mountaineers will experience a more challenging climb than struggling with the rocky terrains of Mayon. It has abundant rain forest that is maintaining the presence of some of the wildest animals in the country. Wildlife is rich in the area where nights can be filled with roaring sounds of owls and presence of deers and boars at daytime. At night, darkness is brightened by the sprinkling lights of fireflies. Thus climbing Mt. Bulusan does not only invigorates a mountaineer’s obsession for heights, it also promises surprising encounters with wild animals and peculiar vegetation.

Mt Bulusan is located in the inner district of Sorsogon where a jeepney takes you to its town and a trycicle to its entry site, Bulusan Lake- a lake oftenly mistaken as the volcano’s main crater. It is in fact a body of emerald green water by the peripheral crater surrounded by a densed gathering of trees and lush tropical plants. If not planning to hike farther to the volcano’s summit, a refreshing one hour walk around this lake is a worth-trying activity. And consider it as the beginning of a more interesting adventure if moving farther ahead. Expect challenging sights of thicker dense forest on the way that surprisingly emmerge to an open field of towering grass carpeting the surroundings towards the old crater valley called Agingay. This hike promises an extreme jungle experience but without the threat of distressing incidents.

Trekkers can camp overnight or leave the same day but caution should be maintained, this volcano is still active. Be sure to wear thick hiking boots, long pants and jackets to protect from unexpected presence of leeches and stingy insects. Taking at least one guide is highly advised.

On the way back, you will pass by tiny roads heading to some falls and hot springs with varying temperatures for a short healing bath.

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Donsol, home of Whale sharks

Whaleshark, Photo courtesy of Sophie RodriguesThis place at the southern tip of luzon recently made a huge break on the country’s falling tourism when hundreds of whale sharks were spotted congregating in the muddy but plankton-rich waters of Donsol. Whale shark spotting in sorsogon became a word of mouth passed on to every tourist exploring the Philippines. As thousands of visitors arrive each season to swim and witness their friendly behavior, the unknown town of Donsol, in which its economy was initially reliant to fishing and cottage industry alone, now benefits from higher revenue brought by the presence of these giant fish locally called “Butanding”.

These gentle giants arrive from as early as November but the official season starts from February and runs until end of May, where the sea of Donsol is at its clearest and calmest. Local tourism officials and professional divers have established guidelines on proper whale shark watching intended to maintain safety and to defend the creatures from over exploitation.

whaleshark2.1.jpgThe town of Donsol is 1 hr drive from Sorsogon and slightly similar if you would be coming from Legazpi City. These two cities are jumping-off points to Donsol: both have decent accomodations, and transporting facilities. Lodging in Donsol can be fussy and rental shops for snorkeling equipments are still scarse. It is recommended to bring your own gears and packed lunch if staying there for the day.

Upon reaching the area, directly proceed to the Tourism Office for registration, orientation and arrangement of boats, guides and whale shark spotters. Prepare some cash (as credit card is yet not facilitated) for registration, boat fee and assistance. At this time, a boat accomodating 5-7 persons costs 2,500 Php which can be shared individually and registration is 300php each person. Be sure to be there before eight in the morning to avoid delays of procedures, and be aware that during this time sea water is smoother and calm. Thus, the calmer the water, the more whale sharks get close to the surface and there are more chances of interaction.A whaleshark close encounter.

Best time to go is in March or April when these creatures are most present. It is guaranteed to witness minimum of 8 to 10 whale sharks in two hours. So take your time, swim with them and enjoy more of their sociable behaviour. Only cameras without flashes are allowed to use.

Because of their mysterious congregation, the once “never heard” town of Donsol became a common word of mouth relayed to every tourist arriving in the country.

To get there, PAL has regular flights from Manila to Legazpi City and Philtranco Bus Co. has routes bounded for Sorsogon.

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Sorsogon Map