Revisiting Camarines Sur, my province
Have you been here?
Thirty-five towns and two cities; this is Camarines Sur, the province where I grew up. It is located in the southern part of Luzon, where typhoons frequently visit the Bicol peninsula, a diverse part of the seven thousand islands and more the Philippines is known for.
Both foreign and local tourists always look for a beautiful getaway, exotic sights, flora and fauna in many places they plan to visit. Many tourists are beach people, so they frequent local beaches. Almost all inhabited islands in the country have white beaches visitors can enjoy.
Since we are known for our hospitality, I can help you choose which place to visit in my province, if you plan to travel in the future.
Since the colonization of Spain in 15th century, our place was heavily influenced by the Spaniards, names, religions, norms and culture. Although, there are traces of our Malayan ancestors, our dialects are composed of broken Spanish words and Indonesian and Tagalog terms (collectively known as Bicol). Bicolanos can easily understand English, being the second language of the nation aside from the national Filipino language that is Tagalog.
The Spaniards called the place Ambos Camarines because of the native nipa huts they saw in the place. Now, Camarines Sur, is the center of commerce and industry in the peninsula. Its terrain lies in the center of the Bicol Plains surrounded by two mountains, Mt. Isarog and Mt. Iriga, both are extinct volcanoes.
Mt. Isarog is a favorite trekking place for groups of mountaineers, both foreign and local. The provincial government maintains its surroundings being a national park and preserve. You can enjoy going to Malabsay Falls through Naga City plus the Nabontolan Spring and the Concocep Resort and Falls at Hanawan, Ocampo. Local guides are organized to assist visiting tourists. Although, it is considered extinct, residents of the town of Goa in Partido area enjoyed the local hot spring that cures skin diseases, so they say.
Mt. Iriga is a site to behold. The city’s name can be seen at the front of the mountain, just like Hollywood in Los Angeles, California, USA. Alatco Terminal is the first ever bus terminal in the country since 1914 when Albert Amman built a passenger bus from two cylinder trucks. Barangay Perpetual Help in the city is also the location of Spanish Garrison camp called “kwinartelan”meaning ’place of incarceration.” Marker for the Bicolano defenders in Bataan and Corregidor can also be seen at the Rizal Park in the city. Meanwhile, wild ducks abound at the other side of this extinct volcano which attract hunters in the vicinity.
At the back of the mountain lies the town of Buhi, wherein the destroyed crater of the volcano can be visibly seen. At the bottom part lies the Lake Buhi where the sinarapan or tabyos (smallest fish in the world) is strictly preserved in the lake. La Roca Encantada is an islet located at the center of the lake. Many supernatural stories are being concocted with the so-called enchanted rock as the Hispanic name suggests. A twin waterfalls, Itbog Falls is another attraction of this Rinconada town located in barangay Santa Cruz.
The eastern part of the province lies in mountainous Caramoan peninsula, known for its secret hanging garden (preserved flora and fauna by the provincial government) and Gota white beach, which faces the island province of Catanduanes. Omang Cave is another attraction because of its architecturally designed interior located in Barrio Paniman. Survivor Philippines recorded its initial and second seasons here in 2008 through Channel 7.
Tourism at its best
The Camarines Sur Watersport Complex andthe Eco-Village at the Provincial Capitol in Cadlan, Pili (the capital town and local airport location) is the major destination in the province. Competitions on wakeboarding and mountain car racing are being held there aside from other attractions like the animal preserve in the area and the man-made lake. It provides jobs to many residents in the province, according to our present local leader, Governor Luis Raymond Villafuerte.
In Naga City, there are lots of good places of entertainment to choose from, like the Magsaysay Strip, that is alive at night, aside from the cultural attractions like the churches and shrines. You can visit malls in the city or relax in the three parks (Plaza Quezon, Plaza Quince Martires and Plaza Rizal) while enjoying native snacks like banana cue, fishball, dried squid or pusit, barbecue (kabobs like pork, chicken feet, blood cubes, et cetera) and the famous balut (duck egg with 17 day old unhatched chick). Public television is still a crowd drawer at Plaza Rizal (still a part of provincial government) in the city.
Religious festivities, like Penafrancia festival in September is still the number one tourist attraction , not only in the city but around the world.
Other interesting places to visit
Pasacao Beach is closest to Naga City and a popular destination during weekend the whole year round.
Culapnitan Cave derived its name from the cave’s occupants, the bats. It is being protected by the residents of Libmanan (largest town in the province) due to the smuggling of its stalactites and stalagmites formation.
Atulayan Island is often the back draft of many local classic movies because of its cinema-like surroundings. You can snorkel five meters away from the white shore and see the beauties of the deep. I was also told that it was the setting of the French-Italian movie “Mutiny in the South Seas”. It’s really a plus for this island located in Sangay town. I’ve been there twice and enjoyed playing beach volleyball together with some local residents there. I was also offered to drink tuba (fermented sap of coconut flowers harvested every other day).
Leaning Tower of Bombon, not of Piza, Italy is also as tourist attraction , just two towns (Canaman and Magarao) away from Naga City, north-bound.
Spa and Wellness Centers abound in Naga City. If you want to experience the massage of the “hilots”, you can visit the town of Magarao, famous for its local masseurs.
Festivals include Tinagba Festival in Iriga City (February 11)Feast of Our Lady of Saint Lourdes; Bowa-Bowaan Festival in Nabua (May 2) revival of pre-Hispanic festival by the natives offering chains of coconut embryos called “boa”to their deities; Kaogma Festival (usually celebrated during the first week of May in the entire province); Voyadores festival (alongside with Penafrancia festival in September)and Kamundagan festival in Naga City (a month-long festivities in December).
Foods for the Visitors
Filipinos , including us, Bicolanos, often offer foods to visitors, both foreigner or local. “Nagkakan ka na?”(Have you eaten?) It is often the initial expression of the host to his/her visitors. So what can we offer? Because of many influences, especially the Spaniards, we can easily cook food for you, but Bicolanos are known for our fiery or spicy dishes.
Have you eaten the famous Bikol Express? It is made of small shrimps (balaw), strips of pork meat with fats, and the “hot”pepper (siling labuyo) cooked in coconut milk.
How about the equally famous dried taro or gabi leaves (ginataang laing) cooked in coconut milk, again. You can add small shrimps or labuyo for another hot and spicy viand.
Sticky or malagkit rice can be cooked as suman with melted sangkaka (sweets from sugar cane) and coconut milk in the same manner as in cooking ordinary rice.
Don’t forget to eat and buy for souvenirs pili tart or sweets. Pili trees are endemic in the region and it serves as a livelihood to local residents. It is also being exported in other countries through chocolates , tarts and sweets.
Local fruits, include, mangoes, guavas, avocado, pineapple, young coconut and bananas.
Virtually, I hope you enjoy visiting my province. There are lots of attractions in the province that I didn‘t mentioned. It’s up to you to discover it.