Bicol is one of those places that I really never got to explore much. Our drives usually entails just a quick pass through the region on several fuel economy runs to and from Sorsogon.

So when Isuzu called us to join them for a drive in the 2012 edition of the venerable Alterra, we jumped at the chance to see what driving Bicol has to offer.

Urban Cruiser X

We landed at the Naga Airport (relatively) early, and were greeted by a fleet of Isuzu Alterras. Admittedly, there is nothing mechanically new about the 2012 Alterra. It really needs no introduction anymore, especially as it’s been on sale since 2005. She may be getting a bit old compared to newer competition, but Isuzu have worked to refresh their flagship SUV cosmetically and with more features, and dubbed it the Urban Cruiser X.

The exterior of the new Alterra looks better than before, and that’s admitting that the design wasn’t exactly striking at the time. Personally, I like that they addressed the only two real things that didn’t have me convinced with it: the front end and the faux wood panels inside.

The front bumper has been remodeled for a sportier, edgier look. Same goes for the other exterior parts like the rear bumper and other bits. Frankly, a nice set of large rims (20 inchers, perhaps) complement the Alterra very nicely.

The most noticeable change is the interior, as the brown faux wood bits have been removed and replaced with rather classier-looking faux ash wood. It does make a difference inside, as the Alterra’s cabin has always struck me as something my grand dad would drive, not me. Of course, Isuzu also installed a better Kenwood DVD entertainment system, though it does have quite a learning curve to use easily.

Naga and Legazpi

After getting familiarized with the Alterra again, on the road we went. The roads around Naga are better than you would think, and far cleaner than expected. There are quite a few sights around the city, and it’s surprising how close it is to a dormant volcano.

We had our first stop at the Cena Una for a break and some lunch. If you’re a fan of hot, spicy food, then the Bicol region is a must visit for you. People here eat chilis the way some would snack on a bag of chips, and believe me when I say, it shows in their food. Everything has coconut milk (gata), chilis (siling labuyo, or other variants), as well as taro leaves (laing). You should have a pitcher of water handy should you dare to test your endurance on true Bicolano dishes, and get ready to eat a lot of rice especially if you like Bicol Express.

With the scorching hot servings of Bicol food done, we continued on our route to our destination for the next two nights: Misibis Bay. Along the way, we passed by several towns and sights, including the Our Lady of the Gate church in Daraga, Albay and Legazpi. But really, nothing man-made can compare to the awe inspiring sight that Mayon Volcano presents even from a fair distance.

Some of our group will get close to her tomorrow.

On to Misibis

After passing through Legazpi and other towns, we continued our cruise in the new Alterra towards Misibis Bay. At this point, the roads have opened up a bit, as we were already out of the more traffic laden streets. We arrive at Cagraray Island via the newly constructed steel bridge, and passed through the roads at night, lit up by solar powered street lamps.

Once we got to the resort, we realized just how big of a development Misibis is. The sheer scale of the area is quite astounding and the rooms were really quite nice. Nevertheless, we weren’t really here for the rooms and the resort, as after a little R&R, we then took our rest for the next day.

The itinerary is quite heavy for day 2, and we all got ready for it… especially the ones who chose to head on up the volcano.

Mayon’s marvels

There were really two options for day 2. One group chose to hike on the lava trails to the foot of Mayon Volcano, while another chose a less intensive route with a drive around the volcano and seeing what awaits.

Contributing Editor Inigo Roces chose to take the hike, while I was on the drive. Later on, we’ll see who looks a little less tired from the day that would transpire. After we dropped off the trekkers, we headed on our drive.

From the base camp and jump-off point, we drove to the surrounding towns of the volcano in the comfort of the Alterra, visiting many of the churches along the way. The handicraft industry is quite lively in the areas around Mayon, with towns like Tabaco, Bacacay, Guinobatan and Legazpi.

The pottery business is quite big here too, as some of us got muddied to try and make our own pots and other artifacts.  At the end of this day, we would have driven completely around the volcano. But really, the history of the area is what strikes us, especially when it comes to the volcano.

We visited several of the memorials like the Padang Cross, but the most striking is the Cagsawa Ruins. Today, the ruins and surrounding grounds are maintained as a park with shops, perfect views of the volcano, as well as a tourist destination, but in reality, it stands as a reminder of the power of a volcanic eruption.

The belfry is all that remains of the town, after the 1814 eruption completely wiped out the village. It is said that the residents of the town of Cagsawa sought refuge in the church, but were all buried when the pyroclastic flow came in with full force. No one stood a chance back then, you have to wonder if we stand a chance now.

After the trek

As we were just admiring the view of Mayon at Cagraray and enjoying a little break, the trekkers arrived.

Needless to say, they had a challenging time up on the fields of lava rocks, as the treacherous terrain pushed their feet to the limits. The loose rocks made trekking very difficult, but nevertheless, even though they all looked exhausted and completely spent, all of them accomplished something not everyone can do.

Spent yes, but they were definitely smiling.

The return journey

At this point, we all returned to the resort for some well deserved R&R. No one really had the energy left for a prolonged night of socials, so it was a party that finished relatively early.

The next morning, we were again split into two groups. One group would be heading back to Manila by air, a flight that would take just under 1 hour. The other group would drive back the fleet composed of the Isuzu Alterra Urban Cruiser X. Total travel time for the latte should take anywhere between 10-12 hours, depending on the road conditions and traffic.

Which one do you think I opted for?

Yes, you guessed it… and we did it in just 14 hours.

Vince Pornelos

Associate Editor

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