Mt. Bulusan Flora Tiled Mosaic

Mt. Bulusan Flora Mosaic

Photos: Alma P. Gamil 
Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, August 19-20, 2013, Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines


Reminiscing Elton John’s ‘Your Song’

Throwback late 80’s, my sister and a friend caught me watching rather listening intently to Elton John’s music video with the TV monitor covered. I did not offer any explanation on my actions since I was so carried away with the beautiful melody. The friend curiously uncovered the TV monitor by removing the bond paper  taped on it and lo and behold – Elton John was wearing a Donald Duck costume 🙂

Of course, I did not mind the outlandish attire. I just wanted to savor the music without distractions. The music was irresistibly beautiful. No wonder why Filipinos love his songs so much.

Your Song

It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside
I’m not one of those who can easily hide
I don’t have much money, but boy if I did
I’d buy a big house where we both could live

If I was a sculptor, but then again, no
Or a man who makes potions in a traveling show
I know it’s not much, but it’s the best I can do
My gift is my song, and this one’s for you

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

I sat on the roof and kicked off the moss
Well, a few of the verses, well, they’ve got me quite cross
But the sun’s been quite kind while I wrote this song
It’s for people like you that keep it turned on

So excuse me forgetting, but these things I do
You see I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue
Anyway the thing is what I really mean
Yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen

And you can tell everybody this is your song
It may be quite simple, but now that it’s done
I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world

I hope you don’t mind, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words
How wonderful life is while you’re in the world


Video from YouTube
Interesting read

Lake Aguingay – Even more Astonishing in Person

To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wildness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace.”

-Terry Tempest Williams

Two ecosystems in one mountain: Lake Aguingay - a crater lake formed by the volcano itself and the vast rainforest surrounding it.

Two ecosystems in one mountain: Lake Aguingay – a crater lake formed by the volcano itself and the vast rainforest surrounding it.

Wilderness. This is Lake Aguingay’s main draw I realized upon setting foot on her ground.

The force of nature is more elemental here.  Wind equals ‘sandstorm’. Howling winds that swirl endlessly. Fog that kiss the ground were just few that we witnessed. She did not even let the others pitch their tents that night. She was in a foul mood. The ‘habagat’ made her so.

These however did not dampen my curiosity that lasted the whole time that I was there. I mentally took notes (below) knowing  that time was of utmost importance considering that this place is not as easily accessible compared to Bulusan Lake.

View from the fringes of Lake Aguingay facing the rainforest.

View from the fringes of Lake Aguingay facing the rainforest.

There is something exciting and mysterious about the periphery of Lake Aguingay’s grassland savanna  merging with Mt. Bulusan’s rainforest. It is a   marriage of two ecosystems where the only law is nature’s law. It is one of nature’s most dynamic areas in the vicinity of BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park).

It is in this area of  the park where vegetations shift abruptly and  the most adventurous flora crawl to test each other’s world and persist to push to a territory so much unlike their own.

These were my initial observations during my August 19-20, 2013 personal visit to Lake Aguingay. How I managed to wade through the thick rainforest of Mt. Bulusan before reaching this beauty was a feat in itself. Hours and hours (it seemed to me) of  hike-stop-trek-stop-climb which I did not expect to be that physically straining made a beating to my not-physically trained body for such an arduous trek…rather climb. Nonetheless, the diverse view of the lush rainforest along the trail was enough to strengthen my resolve to keep on going. I was told that if I go slower the dusk will catch us up in the dense forest. The hike lasted half day. The thought however that I will be safe with two porters/guides with me made me more confident. These are the guys that are trained ready to assist trekkers/climbers like me along the way.

Before I proceed with my in-situ observations, let me first introduce again Lake Aguingay:

“There are two lakes in the volcano area namely Lake Bulusan and Lake Aguingay. Lake Bulusan is located at the southeastern side of the volcano at 335 m above sea level. It has a circumference of about 2000 m, depth of 33 m and an area of 165 hectares. Lake Aguingay is situated between the trough of Mt.
Bulusan and Sharp Peak at 940 m above sea level.” (source: Phivolc’s Bulusan Volcano Profile)

In other words, Aguingay Lake is nestled higher in the mountain than her famous sister lake, Bulusan Lake. It is here where mountaineers establish base camp before the final climb to the peak of  Bulusan Volcano. It is here where I stayed for a day and one night to commune with the flora of Mount Bulusan.

I previously thought that Lake Aguingay is purely grassland but up-close shows otherwise. Crawling bamboo, pandan and some interesting shrubs and bushes co-exist with the dominant grasses .

At one end of the lake’s shoreline the grasses seemed to converge according to its kind – tall, taller, tallest. It is an ecosystem on its own. Lake Aguingay mesmerizes and enchants in both areas i.e. dry land and wet land. It is a place that is meant to be savored slowly – every nook and cranny examined because there is always a surprise for anyone who would take the time to know her.

The ground changes too from beach-like sand to pebbles to muddy clay to swamp and to a real lake with water. All of these with their own kind of vegetation. Interestingly, hoof markings of wild boars can be seen in the sand and the muddy soil  of the lake near the water side indicating that this lake provides ecosystem services to several wildlife in the area.

Admittedly,  I have only seen  a small facet of the world of Mt. Bulusan and its volcanic landscape that includes Aguingay Lake. It  needs more than one lifetime to discover its entire wonder and  beauty that include the rich biodiversity of flora and fauna living in a multifaceted habitat. I can only marvel in its awesomeness and sang a song of praise to its creator.

Palali Flower

Palali – the white beauty of Mount Bulusan. A Philippine endemic, this species is listed in PAWB’s National List of Threatened Plants of the Philippines. Palali and Katmon are two different species though both belong to Dilleniaceae family. Palali inhabits this protected area and the adjacent interior mountain barangays of Bulusan.

My serendipity moment during my Aguingay trek was the moment when I  caught sight of a white beauty,  the flower of  Palali – a katmon relative growing lushly at the fringes of Lake Aguingay. It was  in full bloom and the answer as to why there were  immaculate white petals strewn along the mountain trail. It was as if  a welcoming stage was set for my visit to the bosom of her home mountain – Mt. Bulusan.

Lake Aguingay  and Palali flower are reclusive beauties that surpassed my expectations  of what to see during my recent mountain trek.

Lake Aguingay

Lake Aguingay is in constant flux – from dry land to wet land to a real lake with water as shown here. The lowest portion will be filled first with rainwaters and runoffs from the higher grounds. There are in fact not two but three ecosystems in this landscape. This water body is the third.

Lake Aguingay

Sea of three layers of grasses – the dryer the ground, the taller the grass. The shorter grasses thrive in the damp swampy part of the lake. Fritz and Greg in the photo are excellent porters/guides trained by AGAP Bulusan, Inc. a local NGO that manages the activities at BVNP, shown here examining the wet land area of the lake before giving the go signal for me to proceed or not  into the wet grassland.

Mt. Bulusan

The most visible flora in Mt. Bulusan are these giant ferns that flourish in the cocktail mix of volcanic and moist rainforest soil.

Lake Aguingay as base camp near the top

Assaulting the thick fog up to the summit, mountaineers climb at almost zero visibility to reach the crater peak of Bulusan Volcano, August 20, 2013.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Note: The complete  flora photos during my Lake Aguingay trek (August 19-20, 2013) can be viewed at CDFP – Co’s Digital Flora of the Philippines’ face book page. Also, some selected Mt. Bulusan’s flora from this trek are available for viewing at PhytoImages . The Palali flower (photo) is the first specimen photo in the gallery exhibiting a pure white ‘katmon’ feature.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

August 19-20, 2013, BVNP, Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Added note: With special thanks to the world-class mountaineering crew of AGAP-Bulusan, Inc.  for the excellent service from food to assistance in the actual climb, base camp accommodations  and so much more during the trek. For the information of interested mountaineers, I availed of the mountaineering package of AGAP-Bulusan with  four other mountaineers, 1 Swiss, 1 half-Filipino/Swiss, 2 non-local Filipinos, (please see the picture below),  for me to be able to focus more on my photo trek. Definitely a second, third and more Mt. Bulusan photo treks will be on my agenda in the months to come. Big thanks to Greg, Fritz, Ariel, Nilo and the rest of the staff at AGAP-Bulusan!

Philip Bartilet, AGAP-Bulusan head orients trekkers/climbers before the climb that begins at the vicinity of Bulusan Lake, this site.  Photo courtesy of AGAP-Bulusan.

Philip Bartilet, AGAP-Bulusan head of operations of the park orients trekkers/climbers before the actual climb that begins at the vicinity of Bulusan Lake, this site. Photo: courtesy of Bulusan Volcano Mountaineering/AGAP-Bulusan.

Related post about Aguingay Lake:

Punta Diamante: Bulusan’s testament to a glorious past


In this Southernmost part of Luzon lies a forgotten cultural and historic jewel that is – Bulusan’s Punta Diamante.

Punta Diamante and its entire fort complex is the only remaining structure of its kind in the province of Sorsogon. Still intact today, it is a testament of Bulusan’s days of glory and prominence. It was constructed at a time when neighboring municipalities including  Barcelona town were still part of the Old Bulusan which covered almost all the entire second district of the Province of Sorsogon.

The Kampanaryo (belfry) is the  most prominent structure of the muralla enclosing the vast expanse of the churchyard.  The entire defense complex including  the forgotten watch towers dotting along the Pacific Ocean shores of Bulusan are truly marvels of cultural and historic significance not only for Bulusan but for the entire Bicol region and the country.

Wikipedia’s Bulusan article reads:

“In 1799, as a defense and warning measure against the Moro pirates, the principalias [leaders] of the different coastal towns of Albay – convened in their respective town halls and drew up plans for the building of baluartes (watchtowers) in strategic locations along the shore. On April 20, 1799, Bulusan’s leaders decided to build two lanchas cañoneras [armed ships] to be commanded by actual gobernadorcillo Don Juan Macsimiano and ex-gobernadorcillo Don Juan Tomas. The town of Bulusan built the most number of baluartes de piedra [stone watchtowers]. The town erected watchtowers, one each in Macabare, Tawog and Layog (now a part of Barcelona).

Near the community of Dapdap, a bigger triangular muralla [fortification] called Punta Diamante which encloses the church and rectory of the Parish of St. James the Greater was erected. Punta Diamante has around five watchtowers with high and thick walls, making it an ideal place for refuge during Moro attacks. Unlike the other watchtowers which are cylindrical & of circular bases, the one facing the sea has a base shaped as a diamond (with 8 sides) and tapers upwards in alternating tiers, hence the name Punta Diamante. This watchtower now serves as the church’s bell tower, with the old bells still intact.”

My photos are just small sections of this historic complex.



To rectify this historical remissness, Bulusanons are currently lobbying for Punta Diamante’s  inclusion as a historical landmark with the official marker from the National Historical Institute (NHI) now NHCP or the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to  be installed on the walls of this historic gem.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Pili in the City

Pili in the city

In the menu display at  Bigg’s Sorsogon is the current main feature for its dessert, Pili pie with ice cream.

The fast-food correctly labeled the item by  simply using the word Pili instead of pili nut (locals do not call Pili as pili nut). Dubbed as Hometown Desserts, the presentation is subtle (with a single pili with shell cut in half showing its kernel in the ad)  and done with the fast food generation in mind.  Labeling and packaging is at par with the multi-national fast-food look. I can’t help but be proud that I am from Bulusan –  the major Pili producing town in the Bicol region. Bulusan  produces  more than  714 MT of pili nuts annually.

Up-scaling the pili look makes Pili more irresistible especially for non-Bicolanos judging from its performance at Bigg’s.  For Bicolanos however Pili will always be the premium ‘nut’ whether it is prepared by a local ‘paradulsi’ (confectionery maker) or presented in more innovative  and novel ways such as this one (photo).

Introducing pili this way is really innovative even for locals who are more familiar with the standard menu of pili desserts such as Crispy Pili, Mulido and Pili tart.

Bigg’s is doing a great service to Bicol for coming up with this Pili menu. To see Pili in such a wonderful presentation evokes pride of place and home.

Bigg’s Diner is a Bicol homegrown fast-food. You could catch me here whenever I am in the city.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil
Sorsogon City, Philippines

Watershed 101

Mount Bulusan

Bulusan Volcano, a composite mountain provides ecosystem services to the communities surrounding it from drinking water to farm irrigation. The effects of climate change are barely felt here due to its ‘micro climate’ shield. While other areas may suffer drought, this area remains protected from dry spell.


Fresh water spring in nearby Palogtoc offers mountain fresh drinking water that I call ‘the champagne of drinking waters’ in the entire region.


Brook as clear as your tap water is a common sight in Bulusan.

I came across with the best definition of watershed lately in my quest for answers to questions related to the Geothermal issue in my hometown Bulusan.  The definition was the simplest yet the most enlightening in the course of my search for answers.

It reads:

What is a Watershed?

A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. John Wesley Powell, scientist geographer, put it best when he said that a watershed is:

“that area of land, a bounded hydrologic system, within which all living things are inextricably linked by their common water course and where, as humans settled, simple logic demanded that they become part of a community.” (Source:

This definition makes sense in this paragraph detailing the effects of Geothermal energy extraction in a rainforest that says:

Water Cycles

“Geothermal wells disrupt the natural water cycles of rain forest ecosystems, which can be quite fragile. The deforestation that occurs in the immediate vicinity of the wells leads to erosion and disruption of streams and rivers. The wells affect underground aquifers and can change the direction of underground water flows. The continuous usage of deep water sources can change the temperature and composition of aquifers, leading to disruption of water distribution on the surface where trees, other plants and animals are dependent on it.”

Recommended reading:

Related post:

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Mt. Kanlaon shares her lessons


Mt. Bulusan rainforest is a key biodiversity area (KBA) with a very high rate of endemism.

This is the full statement of Save Mount Kanlaon Coalition (SMKC). It  offers much insight to the Geothermal Question still hanging like an ominous cloud in Bulusan and neighboring towns for more than a year now since the historic  Bulusan Anti Geo Rally of 2011.

May these collective voices enlighten  the remaining few Pro Geo Bulusanons  who are still dazzled of that Geo dream.

The SMKC stand on the Geothermal issue continues to reverberate to communities like Bulusan after this was published, July 2011.

“We at the Save Mt. Kanlaon Coalition and the Negros Environment Watch continue to relentlessly resist the EDC encroachment within the MKNP today, and we are strongly urging the government to put a stop to EDC’s operations. The EDC project violated certain provisions of our Constitution, which is the subject of the case we filed in court against the EDC, the local government units and the national government agencies concerned.

The Mt. Kanlaon Law which allows EDC to conduct its operations inside the MKNP was passed without properly observing the prescribed requirements of holding consultations with the affected sectors and stake holders during its preparation, thereby railroading the sanctity of the democratic process. This is in direct violation of the right of the people and their organizations to participate in governance; and other rights guaranteed by our constitution.

The EDC project has only succeeded to degrade a wide swath of Mt. Kanlaon, alter its boundaries, cut down thousands of old forest trees, destroy critical wildlife habitat, defy environmental laws, and eventually, wasted billions of pesos worth of public funds. Worse, EDC’s encroachment into the 169 hectare “buffer zone” of Mt. Kanlaon is patently illegal as the project’s 1995 ECC (Environmental Compliance Certificate) is not for the 169 hectares of primary forest but for areas described in the 1995 Environmental Impact Statement as 50% grassland and open areas, 32% cropland, and 18% secondary forest. (Note: Under Presidential Decree (PD) No. 1586 establishing the Environmental Impact Statement System and Presidential Proclamation No. 2146 defining the scope of the system, Environmentally critical projects (ECPs) located in environmentally critical areas (ECAs) like a primary forest require an Environmental Impact Assessment to give said areas the highest protection especially from resource extractive activities.)

EDC has made a name for itself and for the Lopezes, both nationally and internationally, for its Green Energy projects and its partnership with the World Wildlife Fund and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, but contrary to this repution, EDC ‘s maintaining of its geothermal wells inside a “buffer zone” that is actually 169 hectares of primary forest with high biodiversity only perpetuates the continued rape of Mt. Kanlaon and of democracy itself.

In view of all these, we demand that EDC remove all of its civil works from the “buffer zone,” rehabilitate the area, and account or pay for the destruction perpetrated in Mt. Kanlaon and its environs. EDC should also turn-over the 169 hectare “buffer zone” to the MKNP PAMB, in compliance with Section 5, RA 9154, which states: “…areas within the buffer zone which shall not be used directly for the development and utilization of geothermal energy shall remain under the control and jurisdiction of the PAMB.”

We further call on our governor and the members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to terminate the 2008 Memorandum of Agreement with EDC and to require EDC to immediately discontinue its operations in the “buffer zone.” We also call on our Congressmen with the strong support of our governor and Provincial Sanggunian, to amend RA 9154 so that the 169 hectare “buffer zone” is re-established as part of the protected area of the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park, a correct buffer zone established outside of its perimeter, and the EDC is removed as a permanent member of the MKNP PAMB and PAMB Executive Committee.”

Signed in behalf of NEW and SMKC:

Fr. Aniceto Buenafe (SAC)
Fr. Ernie Larida (NEW)
Atty. Andrea Si (SMKC)
Delia Locsin (PsPN/Neg. Caucus)
Edwin Balajadia (PRRM-Negros)
Priscilla Goco (FDC-Negros)
Donato FlordeLiza (GreenWatch Phils.)


Saint Francis of Assisi’s Sermon to the Birds


Sermon to the Birds, Francis of Assisi, about 1220

“My little sisters, the birds, you are bound much to God, your Creator, and always in every place you ought to praise Him, for that He has given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and has also given you double and triple amount of rain; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, so that your race might not perish out of the world; still more you are beholden to Him for the element of the air which He has appointed for you; beyond all this, you do not sow, neither do you reap; and God feeds you, and gives you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees on which to make your nests; and because you do not know how to spin or sow, God clothes you, you and your children; therefore your Creator loves you much, seeing that He has bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and learn always to give praises to God.”

Image via Parabola Magazine : Fritz Eichenberg, Quaker Artist (1901 – 1990), “St. Francis, Sermon to the Birds,” Wood engraving, 1952.