Payág (Bulusan, 2015)

Payág (Bulusan, 2015)

still strong at 96 to go to the poblacion.

still strong at 96 to go to the poblacion.

The farmer's sons stay with their lola (grandmother).

The farmer’s sons stay with their lola (grandmother).

Payag is the classic native hut in Bulusan. It is a simple yet brilliant vernacular organic architecture by marrying form and function with the local materials available on site.

I was lucky to chance upon an almost finished payag along the road of Kabugawan in the village of San Bernardo. The pantaw, sirong and dapog can be seen from the road and the natural colors of the anahaw roofing and bamboo walls blend well with the surrounding greens of mostly coconut and pili trees.

The tukod of the window was being prepared by the time we passed by the area. The lone window is an awning type with the tukod as the device for opening and closing the single panel window.

“This is for my mother-in-law,” said the farmer cum hut builder pointing to the direction of an elderly woman sitting near a tree in the front yard. “She is 96 years old but still goes to the market in the poblacion” he added.  I stayed for a while sitting near the yard with two kids looking at me with innocent smiles.

When I told the local farmer how neat and cool is the workmanship of the hut… he replied that some passing tourists also said the same thing about the hut several days ago.  He said this with a smile and obviously amused that his hut was being noticed by visitors to their village. Although I stay in the poblacion, I am familiar with the village rural ways. I understood that for this farmer/carpenter, the form was just a consequence of the function.

Photographs by  Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines


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

Visiting a tree after Yolanda

My flora visits after Yolanda


Tree growing near the cliff along Porog road in Bulusan. (Photo taken a day after the super storm Yolanda struck the nearby provinces of Leyte and Samar).

The first thing I did a day after that super storm that hit the neighboring provinces of Samar and Leyte was to check the tree, which I mentally noted some  months ago, for a photo shoot. As always these photo trips were always relegated for some mundane household tasks at hand. But after the super storm (Yolanda) I felt an urgency to visit the site and I did not postpone the trip this time. I immediately hired a tricycle and we proceeded to the marked spot of the tree with sitaw (string beans)-like fruits growing  in the village of Porog. I was a little apprehensive though during the 30 minute ride to the village on whether the tree still has its intact leaves or fruits to help the identification.

Luckily, the tree still stands magnificently near the roadside cliff with its leaves and fruits still attractive for a photo shoot that day. Typhoon Yolanda spared us this time, I mumbled to myself.

The sitaw-like fruits were still hanging from the branches like dried up elongated brown strips of brown cardboard swaying stiffly with the wind. Only the pericarp remained with no seeds in sight. I could only wonder where the seeds went.

A lesson learned again in plant photography – not to postpone shoots whenever there is a blooming or fruiting tree around. Well, I guess I have to wait for another fruiting season… this hoping no Yolanda-like monster will come around.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil
Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines, 2013

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:

Inside the rural jeepney

Inside the rural jeepney

Sleeping while seated on a Bulusan bound jeepney is a common occurrence. The trip is almost an hour from Gubat town.

After viewing Elmer’s excellent black and white  photo of a commuter scene inside a jeepney in Manila, I was inspired enough to post my rural version. My amateurish compositions though  only aim  to  show the contrast of a jeepney ride experience in the rural  areas as compared to Manila’s jeepney commuter’s ride.

Both are no doubt interesting studies of the Philippine jeepney as a public transport system in separate locations.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil
in Bulusan and Barcelona, Sorsogon, Philippines

Front seat view

A pause from the hard toil for this farmer was an unintended pose with Mt. Bulusan as backdrop for a passing jeepney with a shutterbug passenger – me.

Taking the jeepney ride is one of the rural experiences I cherish lately. The tropical colors of green and blue flashes like shifting giant panoramic TV screen scenes as my  jeepney commute rolls from my hometown Bulusan to Gubat with the town of Barcelona sandwiched in between.

Every trip is a kind of adventure in itself. In fact I look forward to the bimonthly jeepney commute and wish it could be more.  I really enjoyed every jeepney ‘journey’ literally. For these trips the destination is not the most enjoyable part – it is  what lies along the road. . . or it is just my uncanny ability to find happiness from the most ordinary. Call it as ‘mababaw ang kaligayahan’ because admittedly I belong to that group.

The photos show what I’m talking about – snapped along the road from the Poblacion to the countryside of Bulusan, Barcelona and Gubat town center. All of these photos were taken while I’m comfortably seated at the  front seat of the jeepney beside the driver’s seat.

Jeepney public commute from Bulusan to Gubat town is daily and runs from early morning up to around 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  Jeepney fare is 38 pesos one way- Bulusan to Gubat town.

Photos: Alma P. Gamil

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

Bulusan Fiesta 2013: Colors and smiles from the DLC event

Bulusan Fiesta

The Drum and Lyre Competition participated by the schools in the elementary and high school levels was the most colorful and most watched event in the recently concluded Bulusan Fiesta (July 24-25, 2013) celebrations. I purposely did not cover the main action of the competition but instead focused my attention in the periphery of the event venue where the participants were more relax and in the mood of being photographed. The audience too was an interesting bunch mostly coming from the different villages of the municipality who flocked to the Poblacion to witness the various events of the fiesta.

Extra side attractions  to the event were the motley assortment of vendors in the vicinity with merchandise that includes colorful balloons,  faux jewelry to neon colored ‘sisiw’ (chicks). The latter can be had via a ‘kitkitan’ – a sort of lottery sticker indicating a win or lose anyone can bet for one peso each.

Photographs by Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines

Ms. Bulusan Tourism 2013

Ms. Bulusan Tourism 2013

Ms. Bulusan Tourism 2013

The images no doubt are convincing enough. This Bulusan native is a beauty. She hails from San Vicente, Bulusan and presently pursuing her college studies at the Divine Word College, Legazpi City.

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Photos: Alma P. Gamil

Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines