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Silvery Moon

Sabang Bridge Moon view, Bulusan 2013


Relishing Pigafetta’s travel ‘blog’ about the coconut

Pigafetta travel 'blog' on the coconut

Coconut grove as seen from the road in Dancalan, Bulusan. Photo taken while on a jeepney commute, 2013 October.


Thanks to the irresistible column of Ambeth Ocampo. My files still keep his PDI March 9, 2005 article in his column discussing the wonderful 1521 account of Pigafetta about the country’s most ubiquitous flora. It gave me an absolutely different perspective in seeing our most abundant* and common crop – the coconut.

“Coconuts and coconut oil have been with us a long time. The earliest detailed reference to them can be found in Antonio Pigafetta’s account of the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan.

In March 1521, after escaping the thieves in the place they christened Ladrones Island, they sailed toward Samar and anchored on an island south of Samar called Suluan. Magellan ordered tents set up by the beach. While they were resting there and fetching fresh water, a boat with nine men on board arrived. Magellan offered food and drink to the men who were ornately dressed and later presented some fabulous (to him) gifts to what they presumed were heathen primitive natives. The gifts consisted of red caps, mirrors, combs, bells and other trinkets. In return, the men gave Magellan fish, a jar (earthenware or perhaps even Oriental ceramic vessel) with palm wine they called “vraca,” and bananas which Pigafetta, who was seeing them for the first time, described as “figs more than a foot long.” They were also given smaller better-tasting bananas and two coconuts.

Due to the language barrier, the men spoke in sign language and made it understood that they would return in four days with rice, other types of food, and, again, coconuts. So Pigafetta describes the coconut and its uses in great detail:

“…Just as we have bread, wine, oil and vinegar in their several kinds, these people have the aforesaid things which come only from the palm [coconut] trees. Wine is obtained from these in the following manner. They make an aperture into the heart of the tree at its top which is called palmito, from which is distilled along the tree a liquor like white must, which is sweet with a touch of greenness. Then they take canes as thick as a man’s leg, by which they draw off this liquor, fastening them to the tree from the evening until next morning, and from morning to the evening so that the said liquor comes little by little.

“This tree bears a fruit named cocho [coconut], which is as large as the head, and its first husk is green and two fingers thick, in which are found certain fibers of which those people make the ropes by which they bind their boats. Under this husk is another, very hard and thicker than that of a nut. The second husk they burn and make of it a powder that is useful to them. And under said husk there is a white marrow of a finger’s thickness, which they eat fresh with meat and fish, as we do bread, and it has the flavor of an almond, and if it were dried it would make bread.

“From the center of this marrow there flows a water which is clear and sweet and very refreshing, and when it stands and settles it congeals and becomes like an apple. And when they wish to make oil, they take this fruit called cocho and put it in the sun and let said marrow putrefy and ferment in the water, then they boil it, and it becomes oil like butter.

“When they wish to make vinegar, they let the water of the said cocho ferment and put it in the sun, which turns it into vinegar like white wine. From the said fruit milk can also be made, as we proved by experience. For we scraped the marrow, then mixed it with its own water, [squeezed] and being passed through a cloth it became like goat’s milk. This kind of palm is like the palm tree that bears dates, but not so knotty. And two of these trees will sustain a family of ten persons.”

Reading Pigafetta’s 1521 narrative and knowing all the coconut products and by-products we have today, the coconut can really be called a “tree of life.”

*Total number of coconut trees in the Bicol Region approximates to around 70M  according to a PCA (Philippine Coconut Authority 5) informant.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

This is how we make the crispy pili at home

The key in cooking the best crispy pili is using less sugar and syrup -just enough to cover the pili kernels in a thin film glazed coat.

The key in cooking the best crispy pili is using less sugar and syrup -just enough to cover the pili kernels in a thin film glazed coat.

Plastic garapon (container) is  the most common storage for crispy pili.

Plastic garapon (container) is the most common storage ‘jar’ for crispy pili.

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The above gallery is composed of random shots I took while my sis-in-law (Oya Choleng assisting)  was cooking effortlessly the crispy pili, one of the most popular recipes of Pili in Bulusan. The other two are the ‘mulido’ and ‘buding’ both favorites at home. The crispy pili is the easiest to make among the three recipes as the photos will show. Though arranged in a random order, anybody who likes cooking can easily follow the process. There is a caption for every photo to answer the questions of those who want to try our crispy pili version.

Be in a good mood while cooking. This will make the fast-paced process of cooking the crispy pili seems like a breeze – a cooking lesson I learned by observation.

Related post  about Bulusan’s Pili :

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Saint of Happy Meetings and Endings

Saint of Happy Meetings and Endings

Villagers carry the image of their patron saint, San Rafael during this year’s town fiesta procession in the Poblacion.

Saint Raphael San Rafael

Tomorrow, Barangay San Rafael of Bulusan will celebrate the Feast of Saint Raphael. The saint according to several web references is the saint for happy meetings and  endings. For those who are still  single and  those who are not so lucky in meeting the ‘one’ are encouraged to pray and ask for the saint’s intercession.

I know this is quite late for me nevertheless I’ll give this a try – praying for the ‘happily ever after’ wish.  The pursuit of happiness in this area is in the heart of many including myself and Saint Raphael is the saint most identified with this specific petition/prayer.  Admittedly, the mere act of  posting this thought already makes me smile. Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it.

Here is a copy of the prayer to Saint Raphael for fellow singles out their still pining for that elusive happiness borrowed  from a site dedicated to St. Raphael:

Prayer to Saint Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings

O Raphael, lead us towards those we are waiting for, those who are
waiting for us! Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead us by the hand
towards those we are looking for! May all our movements, all their
movements, be guided by your Light and transfigured by your joy.

Angel guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet
of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze. Lonely and
tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of earth, we feel the need
of calling to you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so
that we may not be as strangers in the Province of Joy, all ignorant of
the concerns of our country.

Remember the weak, you who are strong–you whose home lies beyond the
region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene, and
bright with the resplendent glory of God.


It is also said that Saint Raphael is a bearer of good news. In Barangay San Rafael in Bulusan however the locals’ prayers  to  the saint  traditionally center on good health and healing of the sick.

This prayer is most likely the essence of the celebration of the Feast of Saint Raphael in Bulusan:

St. Raphael,

of the glorious seven

who stand before the throne of Him

who lives and reigns.

Angel of health,

the Lord has filled thy hand

with balm from heaven

to soothe or cure our pains.

Heal or cure the victim of disease.

And guide our steps when doubtful of our ways.

It is  with  these beautiful thoughts  that I greet my town mates from San Rafael with a big Happy Fiesta! Viva San Rafael!

Photos : Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon

Kasanggayahan and the Bulusan Geothermal Project according to the Good Bishop

Kasanggayahan 2013

Crowd fills a local mall long veranda during the opening of Kasanggayahan Festival, October 17, 2013 in Sorsogon City.

Strong words comprised the message of Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes spoken  during the Kasanggayahan festivities on  the planned  Geothermal Power Project in Bulusan. These words  were  the most forceful so far coming from the Bishop  in reiterating the anti-exploration/exploitation stand of the constituents of Bulusan and neighboring towns of Irosin and Casiguran delivered at an event where supporters of the pro geothermal exploration from the government and big business were present.

I lifted  part of the  statement of Bishop Arturo Bastes which was published in the  CBCP news site ( for the information  of my town mates who are supporting the environmental conservation stand. It is also particularly addressed to  the proponents of  the exploitation of Bulusan Volcano/Mt. Bulusan for geothermal power generation for them to shift their gears and focus their activities somewhere else in places where there are no communities that will be negatively impacted resulting from such ‘development’.

Here it is:

“The government and its geothermal project contractor Summa Kumagai Inc. (SKI) betray the spirit of Kasanggayahan Festival for pushing their geothermal prospect in the province despite strong opposition, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said.

In a statement on Saturday following a Mass in Magallanes town, Bastes said the government and SKI’s geothermal dream threatens to destroy the natural resources of the province.

The term Kasanggayahan means prosperity, he said. The gifts of nature like Bulusan Volcano, Bulusan Lake, cold and hot springs in the towns of Bulusan and Irosin, marine resources, and agricultural riches are in danger of being annihilated if the project pushes through.

“Since we have a good faith, we have the responsibility to carry on in protecting nature,” Bastes said. “With the geothermal plant, they will destroy Bulusan Lake. They will destroy Sorsogon.”

Bastes called on the people of Sorsogon to support the Catholic Church in its crusade to preserve the local environment and foil any attempt to bring it down to destruction. ”

We hope those in power both in government and business will heed the Bishop’s warning so that the next generations of Sorsoganons  especially us, Bulusanons will  experience more Kasanggayahan in perpetuity with the preservation of Mt Bulusan’s immeasurable  ecosystem services from drinking water to climate change shield of those living in its midst – us.

Photo by Alma P. Gamil

Earlier post about Bulusan Geothermal:

No to Bulusan Volcano Fragmentation

No to Bulusan Volcano Fragmentation

Bulusan Volcano as viewed from Bulusan town.

This is a wake-up call. Bulusan Volcano is being fragmented right in front and under the noses of anti Geothermal advocates of Bulusan. Complacency is as baneful as indifference  when it comes to issues such as the Bulusan Volcano Geothermal Question. Be very very cautious is in my opinion the best course of action  for some anti Bulusan Geothermal advocates in Bulusan for them not to be misled and be convinced that exploiting geothermal energy on one side (Juban town side to be specific) of the volcano is benign and will be safer than exploiting the Bulusan town side of it.  For me, it is akin to a head where the frontal part has complete anatomical features while the back side is full of pock marks. Totally illogical.

I am totally against this kind of fragmentation that will  inevitably surface albeit done stealthily by some quarters with their own agenda far from the agenda being espoused by the anti Bulusan Geothermal advocates. I am against it because in the final analysis converting one side of the volcano into an industrial complex for exploiting geothermal energy is tantamount to giving up the whole.  Bulusan Volcano after all is ONE volcano.

I have already argued endlessly on why Mt Bulusan/Bulusan Volcano is an unwise choice of location for  Geothermal exploration in several posts  to the point of repetition but I will not stop doing so.

For instance this note from my previous blog post:

Mt. Bulusan is an active volcano, one of the five intensely active volcanoes  in the Philippines (Taal, Mayon, Bulusan, Kanlaon and Hibok-hibok) whose location is close enough to large communities to be of major concern.The Philippines has a total of 405 volcanoes of which  23 are active,  27 potentially active and 355 inactive according to the released information from Phivolcs.

Given this fact, why pick on Bulusan when there are so many other volcanoes in the Philippines?

A refresher:

Photo by Alma P. Gamil

Pantomina and Bulusanons

“Once the pantomina music starts playing the urge to dance is so heightened  for those present in the barayle (public dance event) especially those of the older set. They could not contain themselves on their seat (diri mapa-udong sa ingkodan),” so said Amador, the gregarious and talkative carpenter currently working in our house. This must be true.  In fact I counted the pantomina music airing in the public sound system to be the most played number on any given occasion in Bulusan.

The music is a Bicol traditional folk music often played in merrymaking events from weddings  to fiestas to coronation of a local beauty queen  and even to welcome a newly elected mayor or just a simple village barayle. But it is only in Bulusan that I have observed closely the magic of this irresistible music to coax Bulusanon’s oldies and not so old to dance and sway with this Bicolandia’s iconic dance, the Pantomina. Its origin as a courtship dance is very much evident in the movements of the dancers where one is permitted to improvise. The effect is a pantomime where the male dancer pleases his partner in the  form of spontaneous body-language-dance/gestures  of courtship from kneeling to flirty hovering around his demure and coy yet flirtatious (preferred dance gestures for the female during the pantomina) dance partner.  Together the dancing pair appears to be imitating a pair of doves in a  ritual dance of courtship.

This video (above) taken during the Kasanggayahan festivities in Sorsogon was a choreographed Pantomina performed by public school teachers representing the Municipality of Bulusan. Although choreographed for the event, the performance nevertheless will give a hint on why the music/dance is such a twin hit i.e. music and dance in one in Bulusan. In my view,  no music captures perfectly the joyful rhythm of the locals other than the  Pantomina.

Video from YouTube (Kasanggayahan Festival, Sorsogon City, 2011)

Lapit-usâ: Testicle tree

Testicle tree

Odd looking fruits of Lapit-usa

Lapit-usa flower

Demure and virginal white flower of Lapit-usa

Matured Lapit-usa fruit

Matured Lapit-usa fruits

I don’t intend to be rude but this is exactly how the plant got its name: from the word– bayag (Tagalog) or lapit (Bikol) which roughly translate to testicles or balls (bayag) and penis (lapit). In short the name alludes to  the male reproductive anatomy. Hence the name, Lapit-usa.

And  for those who are looking for a unique looking plant to grace their garden, this is the species I will definitely recommend. Although it is wild, it can be spotted along the roads of several mountain villages of Bulusan (this one, above photo, is from Barangay San Jose Lower). With fruits shaped like that (photo) I am sure it will start a conversation rolling for your visitors and friends. A look into the fruits will tell you why. It is visually obvious. It explains itself.

The fruit closely resembles  a pair of mammalian testicles, alright. In Bulusan, the locals call it as Lapit-usa. In the tagalog speaking areas it is however called Bayag-usa.  As to why the deer’s specifically, I don’t know the reason. I haven’t seen one – the deer’s.

For sure it is a Voacanga species probably Voacanga globosa as counterchecked and matched from several references . It is endemic and still widely distributed in the Philippines.

Its flowers are dainty and virginal white. It look so pure and demure in contrast to the irreverently ‘exhibitionist’ fruits. Nevertheless, these make the tree more adorable and will surely make you smile. Honestly, I find it clever and with a sense of humor for a tree to evolve that way.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil in Barangay San Jose, Bulusan, Sorsogon  Philippines