Fiesta album 1: ruffles and boots

Members of the drum and lyre corps after the parade take time for selfie pics. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Members of the drum and lyre corps take time for selfie pics after the morning fiesta parade. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Fiesta is intended to be celebrated to the fullest. It is a collective celebration of a community and there are no excuses. No work. All fun. And of course honoring the patron saint is foremost.

Aside from the preparation of fiesta food in every household for the fiesta ‘handa’ (roughly translates to banquet because the food feast largely depends on the individual household capability), Bulusan fiesta has generally two major community events —  The religious processions and the fun-filled parades that peak on the bisperas (day before) and the fiesta day — Saint James the Greater’s Feast Day. The drum and lyre corps (DLC) from the different local high schools and elementary schools annually provide the colorful side. And the devotees see to it that the religious aspect of the fiesta is not forgotten. A balance act since fiesta is in fact the death anniversary of the town’s patron saint.

Pretty silver ruffles for high school DLC members make a pretty tutu-like skirt

Pretty silver ruffles for high school DLC members make a stunning tutu-like skirt

My fiesta photos of the July 24 and 25 Bulusan fiesta have both the fun side and the solemn elements. Fiestas in Bulusan have always been like that but surprisingly the excitement never wears off. This I think is the appeal of fiestas not only in Bulusan but in all towns and provinces in the country. I still have to meet a local who does not relish fiesta events.

Elementary grade school participants for the drum and lyre event (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Elementary grade school participants for the drum and lyre event. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

“I feel young just by looking at these photos” says a friend. Well, maybe that is why we love fiestas in the Philippines. It evokes youth and fun for both the young and the old. Fiestas transcend age. It is ageless.

Silver and blue DLC uniforms for this local high school blend beautifully with the sunny day fiesta celebrations. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Silver and blue DLC uniforms for this local high school blend beautifully with the sunny day fiesta celebrations. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

DLC participants from a local high school take their boots off to relax before their DLC number. (Bulusan, July 2015)

DLC participants from a local high school take their boots off to relax before their DLC number. (Bulusan, July 2015)

Red, yellow and silvery white are the dominant colors of the day. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Red, yellow and silvery white are the dominant colors of the day. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

A DLC majorette and her proud mom with the crowd before the presentation. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

A DLC majorette and her proud mom with the crowd at the municipal auditorium before the presentation. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Colorful and shiny boots are part of the festive uniforms of the drum and lyre corps. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Colorful and shiny boots are part of the festive uniforms of the drum and lyre corps. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Fiesta in the age of instagram -- to each her/his own photo. (Bulusan, July 24, 2014)

Fiesta in the age of instagram — to each her/his own photo. (Bulusan, July 24, 2015)

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon


Benign and Beautiful

Business as usual for this local rice farmer on his way to work in sitio Baluarte, Bulusan on June 17, 2015.

Business as usual for this local rice farmer on his way to work in sitio Baluarte, Bulusan on June 17, 2015.

Minutes after the steam-driven Bulusan Volcano eruption of June 19, 2015, I headed to Baluarte in the outskirt of the poblacion where the view of the volcano is unblocked by residential houses. I spotted several farmers attending to their rice paddies as if nothing unusual happened. It was the onset of the rice planting season and the field is flooded with irrigation waters as preparation for rice planting. One farmer told me that had I arrived earlier the volcanic ash-cloud was still beautifully formed compared to what I was looking at that moment I arrived in the area. The wind easily dissipated the volcanic plumes.

I stayed awhile just in case a sudden eruption will follow. I waited. The volcano was silent.

As I waited, I busied myself taking some photos of the surrounding rice fields where farmers were doing their regular morning field chores. No eruption followed. I was about to get back home, when suddenly the quiet farmer from the nearest rice paddy next to the roadside where I was standing turned to me and requested in a serious tone : “Retratoha man ako (please take a photo of me, too),” spontaneously posing with his hoe in hand and beaming with a toothless grin.

Of course, I obliged happily. This for me was unexpected. For a moment I have forgotten my original intent which was to photograph the volcano in action. I grinned back and quickly pressed the shutter. How could I possibly presumed that a busy farmer would not want his photo taken by a shutterbug? I went home smiling with this thought.

“Please take a photo of me, too.” (Bulusan, June 19, 2015)

As of today, August 15, alert level 1 remains in effect for Bulusan Volcano.

Alert level 1 for Bulusan Volcano is described by Phivolcs (Philippine Institute of Volcanology) as a kind of low-level volcanic unrest. Entry to the 4 kilometer permanent danger zone is strictly prohibited.

Luckily for Bulusan town, the volcano’s continuing low-level activity is mostly confined to the western side of the volcano that faces the towns of Irosin, Juban and Casiguran. Bulusan town is located in the eastern hemisphere of the volcano’s lower slopes. This is no reason though to be complacent especially for my townmates residing in mountain villages near the PDZ (permanent danger zone) where the smell of azupre (sulfur) pervades the surrounding mountain air in times like this — a reminder that we, Bulusanons live in the embrace of a living and beautiful volcano.

Bulusan Volcano at dusk viewed from the roadside of Baluarte still showing slight steam/ash emission on June 18, 2015.

Bulusan Volcano at dusk viewed from the roadside of Baluarte still showing slight steam/ash emission on June 18, 2015.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon

My Bulusan Lake list

Bulusan Lake,  2015

Bulusan Lake, 2015

Bulusan Lake is undoubtedly the most photographed spot in Bulusan for obvious reason. The beauty commands awe. This however makes visitors to the nature park spend more time taking selfies with the lake rather than exploring the vicinity.

As a local the following activities are my suggestions to would be visitors of the lake :

1. Remember that the place is a nature park and it’s teeming with biodiversity. Make use of your camera whatever is at hand and snap away photos of the flora within your reach. For all you know there are species still waiting to be discovered – by you.

2. Hike the perimeter of the lake in a pace of your own liking. The greenery will make you stop once in a while so it is advisable to make the trek earlier preferably in the morning.

3. Watch the fog kiss the lake.

4. Observe the mesmerizing reflection of the water from the lake above the canopies of giant trees with the sun at high noon.

5. Ride a rustic boat instead of the colorful ones for a change and learn to row the one-sided outrigger banca (photo).

6. Cook your meals inside the lake vicinity. I suggest grilled tilapia from the lake, hot rice and kinilaw na pako (fern salad) from edible ferns picked along the forest trail.

7. Camp overnight and listen to the nature acoustic. Record the sound of the unseen rainforest’s creatures nearby.

8. Firefly gaze at night.

9. Butterfly watch in the morning

10. Bird watch. Early morning is best.

11. Snooze during siesta time with the sound of the forest as your lullaby.

Photo: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon

Bulusan Christmas 2014 Gallery

Officially Christmas celebrations are not yet over. The peak however was during the midnight mass of December 24-25. It was only during this solemn mass that the Nativity scene was unveiled at the altar in Bulusan. Prior to this was the series of Simbang Gabi (Misa de Aguinaldo) masses held at dawn that begins at 4 a.m.

The belief that a wish will come true if one completes the 9-day Simbang Gabi is already popular with the new generation of church goers in Bulusan. But this is only an incentive since waking up at 4 a.m. to attend the dawn mass is a tough act in itself. The main reason I think why the tradition clicks with the young locals as well as the older parishioners is because Simbang Gabi is an opportunity to socialize with friends and family and a way to meet new friends especially for the younger set of locals. In a town like Bulusan, the church is a major converging site where town residents mingle and be updated with what is happening in the community.

Noticeable was the emphasis of religious activities rather than the material aspect of the holidays. The atmosphere of Christmas in Bulusan is more solemn compared to the more urbanized cities and towns. The fun however is encouraged and the tradition of caroling for the kids, ‘kagharong’ and ‘pastora’ were very much visible the whole season.

The above gallery depicts the events that transpired from the first day of Simbang Gabi to the midnight mass of December 24, culminating in the unveiling of the Belen (Christmas nativity scene) and the days that followed that will continue until the celebration of the Epiphany (Three Kings).

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

A walk in the forest

Fallen wild flowers dot the the trail near Bulusan Lake in BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, Deceem 2, 2014)

Fallen wild flowers dot the the trail near Bulusan Lake in BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, December 2, 2014)

Dense forest along the road to Bulusan Lake

Dense forest along the road to Bulusan Lake

Whenever I hit the road for some purpose in mind like finding some trees to photograph, something unexpected happens along the way. Take for example my forest trek last Tuesday (December 2, 2014). I never imagined that I will be hiking the 1.7 km road of BVNP (Bulusan Volcano Natural Park) to reach the road junction  where tricycles and jeepneys pass by with a Frenchman who was on that day a tourist of the park.

The walk was a breeze. The canopy of the tall tropical forest trees protected us against the bright sunny rays of the sun. The view was like a forest scene straight from the movie Avatar minus the action. The greenery in both sides of the road is great for botanical photo shoots.

For sure I will be back to cover some not-yet-photographed specimens along this stretch. At the road junction Jean was lucky to catch a tricycle bound for Irosin, this means no need of waiting for the Bulusan jeepney that take hours in between trips. From Irosin, he will be on his way to one of the hotels in Sorsogon City where he is currently staying while I rode a passenger tricycle to  Bulusan’s poblacion. Nice meeting you, Jean. Welcome to the Philippines!

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Bulusan’s First Sunday of Advent 2014


Candle lit for the First Sunday of Advent celebration. (Bulusan, 30 November 2014)

The iconic Advent wreath with the lighted candle symbolizing the first Sunday of Advent. (Saint James the Greater Parish, Bulusan, 30 November 2014)

For me, the First Sunday of Advent signals the beginning of Christmas. It is a countdown to the merriest days of the year. In Bulusan, the altar adornment this Sunday is highlighted by the  iconic advent wreath that will last until December 25.  The elegant flower adornments at the altar were arranged exquisitely for the occasion.

It is also a time of deep reflection and anticipation that gives the long celebration of Christmas its true meaning.  It is a beautiful reminder in the beginning of the season that Christmas is in essence a spiritual occasion.

Lifted from, the following is a concise definition of Advent and its celebration.

“The word Advent is from the Latin adventus for “coming” and is associated with the four weeks of preparation for Christmas. Advent always contains four Sundays, beginning on the Sunday nearest the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, (November 30) and continuing until December 24. It blends together a penitential spirit, very similar to Lent, a liturgical theme of preparation for the Second and Final Coming of the Lord, called the Parousia, and a joyful theme of getting ready for the Bethlehem event.

Since the 900s Advent has been considered the beginning of the Church year. This does not mean that Advent is the most important time of the year. Easter has always had this honor.

The traditional color of Advent is purple or violet which symbolizes the penitential spirit. Religious traditions associated with Advent express all these themes.

Advent Wreath

“Customarily the Advent Wreath is constructed of a circle of evergreen branches into which are inserted four candles (advent candles). According to tradition, three of the candles are violet and the fourth is rose. However, four violet or white candles (advent candles) may also be used” (Book of Blessings 1510).

The rose candle is lit the third Sunday of Advent, for this color anticipates and symbolizes the Christmas joy announced in the first word of the Entrance Antiphon: “Rejoice” (Latin, Gaudete). For this reason the Third Sunday is also called Gaudete Sunday, and rose color vestments are permitted.

The Advent Wreath represents the long time when people lived in spiritual darkness, waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the Light of the world. Each year in Advent people wait once again in darkness for the coming of the Lord, His historical coming in the mystery of Bethlehem, His final coming at the end of time, and His special coming in every moment of grace.

During Advent, family and friends can gather around the Advent Wreath lighting the appropriate candle(s), read from the daily Advent meditation and sing songs. The Church’s official Book of Blessings also provides a blessing ceremony for the advent wreath which can be used in the absence of a priest.

Advent Calendar

A personal calendar can be made for the four weeks before Christmas. On the calendar, a person can mark theAdvent Calendar with personal goals of preparation or acts of service to be done for others.” Source:


Elegant floral arrangement accented the altar dais.


Advent wreath is festive in its simplicity. It solemnly announces that Christmas season is here.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Beautiful Dao

Dau tree beside the entrance gate of San Vicente National High School. (Bulusan, 2014)

Dao tree beside the entrance gate of San Vicente (Buhang) National High School. (Bulusan, 2014)

I was looking for some local trees to document the list of which I carry with me but stumbled on this beautiful Dao tree instead located near the entrance of San Vicente National High School in Bulusan. Dao (Dracontomelon dao) is also native but it is not the subject that I need at this time. Nonetheless,  the tree is so irresistible it deserves its own post.

The tree is the perfect picture of grace and strength in one frame. There was no need for me to exert much effort. This Dao tree literally photographs itself.

“Be careful being near the tree, ” the canteen owner warned. “Recently one of the teachers consulted a parabolong (folkhealer) for an unknown skin ailment. They say that the teacher often walks near the tree to find some signal for her phone. Maybe she did not acknowledge the tree territory. She has forgotten to ask permission to the Dao tree.”

“Oh, I did. But thanks for the reminder,” I replied with a knowing smile.

Before I left, I thanked the Dao tree. Acknowledging the presence of an unseen dweller in trees and some nature spots and giving due respect to them is an aged-old custom in Bulusan. A simple ‘makitabi,’ when asking permission to enter a certain spot and ‘salamat’ (thank you)  will suffice.  I do this routinely in all of my photo treks involving trees and nature scenes. It helps.

So far, I have never experience any ire from unseen spirits which the local generally refer to as ‘may tawo’ alluding to the unseen person/dweller of a tree or a spot. Being respectful to all — unseen or not is for me a very sensible way of going around the villages. Following this custom in fact gives a welcoming feel for every place I visit.  And to my delight the photos almost always turned out great!

Photo: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

The charm of Taisan

Texture in earth colors characterize the sea view of Taisan in Bulusan.

Textures in earth colors characterize the sea view of Taisan in San Vicente, Bulusan.

I consider the seascapes of sitio Taisan as one of the most mesmerizing views in the village of San Vicente a.k.a Buhang. I have no idea on the reason why the place is called Taisan. ‘Taisan’ roughly translates to  a place with many unattached old singles. The local vernacular for ‘old maid’ is ‘tais’ (pronounced  ta-is).

For the record: I have not seen an old maid in the area during my short visit.

It is however only by mere coincidence that the name of the sitio shared my  fate — of being an old maid 🙂  But this is another story.

The day was just marvelous for a photo shoot and the thought that  Taisan is not yet listed as one of Bulusan’s tourism destinations makes it more exciting. It was like discovering a new tourism spot.

The shoreline of Taisan is just a walk away from the road where jeepneys from the Poblacion pass by daily. It is here where my sights were drawn that sunny Friday morning after visiting San Vicente church for my sister’s prayer petition. After the ‘pailaw’ (light offering) I had so much time left to walk around the shore area of Taisan — a 3 minute walk from the village church.

It was as if the seascape was inviting me to a photo challenge. How can I resist? Sea with hints of indigo and turquoise. Powdery blue skies. Sea bed textures in earthy tones. The panorama was so inviting.  My imagination was running wild like a painter with a brush in situ.

I was in a trance-like state gazing at the horizons. The rays of the mid-morning sun surprisingly did not diminish the raw beauty of Taisan shores. I had to give in to the urge of the shutter.

The resulting images imparted not just a visual feast for me. It was more. Taisan taught me a lesson that being an ‘old maid’ is just a state of mind.

Maybe true.

Taisan is after all full of charm and edgy beauty.

Rock couple in Taisan's low tide, Bulusan 2014

Rock couple in Taisan’s low tide, Bulusan 2014

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

The extraordinary ordinary Malubago tree

The beach as playground for these coastal community children in Dancalan, Bulusan

Children in Dancalan, Bulusan playing under the shade of Malubago trees lining the beach area of their coastal village.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge.

Seascape viewed from a Malubago hedge. Notice the exposed roots of the Malubago trees that serve as a natural barrier from the tidal flow.

Malubago trees as viewed from the ocean’s edge of a coastal village in Dancalan, Bulusan.

One does not have to be an expert in shoreline conservation and preservation to see the effect of growing Malubago trees along the sea shores. I did see it myself in my recent beach walk along the shore of a coastal community half kilometer away from the frequently visited Dancalan Beach Resort.

This coastal area however is not frequented by visitors since easy access here entails passing by some coastal rural homes lining the major road. Although the beach sand is still in the range of a light-colored sand, this beach area is not a ‘resort’ area. It is a rural coastal community populated by mostly fisher folks. Women were busy weaving karagumoy hats when I passed by and they kindly showed me the way to reach the beach just a few meters from their residence.

Children were playing under the Malubago trees, running around with crescendos of shrieks and cries oblivious of my presence as I walk and take photos in a leisurely pace along the shore. The sea view from a new location was just the thing I needed to compose some new images in departure from my usual beach photographs. But what really caught my attention are the Malubago trees along the shoreline of the coastal village.

The Malubago trees although unassuming and modest in appearance  did not escape my observation because these trees dominate the landscape in this long stretch of almost white beach. The beach vegetation as far as my eyes can see are mostly coconut and Malubago trees. The Malubago stands where other vegetation failed to grow. Some of its roots are exposed to the sand but still very much standing exhibiting its resiliency to the elements. It does not encroach the sea but only occupies the demarcation of the shoreline and the residential houses. Obviously the trees serve as the first line of defense in times of typhoons and sea storm surges yet it flourish with its shy flowers peeking out of the almost heart-shaped leaves.

The flowers are described as bell-shaped by some botanists. For me, the Malubago flower appears as a half-open yellow hibiscus — shy and seems to decide not to fully open to evade attention from flower pickers. Maybe this strategy pays off because there are fruits in almost all of the branches securing the next generation of Malubago trees.

I learned however from googling that Malubago can also be propagated by means of stem and branch cuttings. Making a fence out of the branch cuttings is an easy way to propagate the Malubago. With a firm grip on the ground, the cut branch will grow to a brand new Malubago tree even if left to its own devices.

The Species Profile for Pacific Island Agroforestry ( states that Hibiscus tiliaceus (Malubago’s botanical name) main agroforestry uses are soil stabilization and coastal protection. It can grow in extreme environment and is also drought tolerant. Fast to grow and forms walls of thicket if not pruned which makes it ideal as windbreakers along the shores. And this is the reason why it is used for coastal protection : “The long spreading branches root where they touch the ground enhancing the tree’s ability to stabilize soil on slopes, along river banks, swampy areas and shores exposed to moderate  coastal tides.”

But just like anything that is familiar and common, we tend to take the Malubago tree for granted.

Malubago Flower

Malubago flower is cousin to the showy ornamental hibiscus.

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

Sea view from under the Malubago canopy in Dancalan, Bulusan

More of Malubago tree here:

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Dita Tree


Dita tree along the mountain trail in the village of Santa Barbara, Bulusan

Oya Choleng, a local villager from Santa Barbara is always enthusiastic in touring me around her village. Almost 78 years old this year but she still has the stamina of a 48 year-old woman. I always smile whenever she would introduce me to her village mates as the ‘pararetrato’ or photographer of  assorted wild plants with this additional quip : “she is sending these photographs abroad.” This is easier for her to understand than telling her that my photos are intended for my blogs.

With this in mind,  she would point at a tree. flowering plants and other flora growing in the vicinity of her mountain village automatically reciting the local name with accompanying anecdotes and indigenous knowledge about the plant or tree.

In one of our village treks, we passed by a beautifully patterned tree and before I could asked the name, she identified it as ‘Dita’ with this eerie information: The Dita tree is the wood of choice for making coffins when somebody dies in her village. When I asked her why, she answered that she does not know why  but it is a traditional local practice  even in the neighboring villages — all outlying mountain villages.

I ventured a guess: maybe the dita wood is easier to work with, softer than the other woods and still abundant. The thought that the Dita tree is sometimes associated with spirits makes sense too. Nonetheless, I was transfixed looking up the canopy of the Dita tree with my eyes following the sun’s rays that seemed to dance as it meet my eyes in the mesmerizing pattern of the branches and leaves.


Dita tree showing its impressive pattern of lateral branches

Photos: Alma P. Gamil Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines