Even as we viewed her from the ruins of Cagsawa, a town she devastated in the early 19th century, nothing reminded us more of Mt. Mayon’s destructive wrath than the story shared by a 12-year-old boy who lost his grandmother and two aunts during the volcano’s 48th eruption in 2006.
While she stands – ageless, tall, and unmoving, we are made aware that her serenity is sometimes broken by terrible and violent fits of temper.
The boy, selling bitter chocolate rounds made from local cacao beans, would have been four in 2006 and too young to remember the lahar from Mt. Mayon that killed many and devastated communities along its path.
His narration was in all probability learned from older relatives who survived that horrible tragedy of heavy rains turning pyroclastic materials into deadly mudflows.
We asked him: Why weren’t they able to leave? He told us that the lahar came on too fast because of the storm, they didn’t have time to flee.
Before the 2006 disaster, where a lot of people were reported to have died, one other deadly eruption that occurred in 1814 spewed out dark ash and volcanic materials that buried Cagsawa.
As many as 2,000 people were believed to have perished in that disaster, their final resting place now a park dedicated to their memory.
From this place called Cagsawa Ruins, one can still make out the upper portion of the church’s bell tower and fallen walls.
The Cagsawa Church in Barangay Busay was first built in 1587, but was burned down by marauding Dutch in 1636, wrote Abdon M. Balde Jr. in his “Guidebook for Albay Tourist Guides.” He added that it was rebuilt in 1724 by Fr. Francisco Blanco.
Usually unnoticed by tourists are the ruins of other structures that make up the Cagsawa town center: what remains of the ayutamiento or town hall that is accessible through a narrow pathway on the right side of the church and part of the Casa Real’s facade that can be found on the left and front part of the bell tower.
The place is littered with boulders that, according to Balde, fell or rolled from the volcano and destroyed structures along their path in 1814.
Viewed from Cagsawa Park, Mayon appears in her best from, rising from the ground and narrowing upwards in perfect symmetry. The volcano’s tip goes as high as the clouds and resembles an ice cream cone.
Within the park are kiosks selling souvenirs, from woodcraft to potteries to indigenous wear to local delicacies. Nearby, there are restaurants and eateries, ice cream and halo-halo parlors, and even a resort with a swimming pool.
For a small fee, locals can coach tourists on the best poses to take with the belfry and Mayon in the background.
Cagsawa Park, said Balde and I agree with him, serves as testament to the resiliency of the people of Albay.
I have since forgotten the boy’s name but not his story or the manner of the telling. For one so young, he spoke like one with a thousand burdens but all the more stronger because of it. In a quiet but clear voice, he shared the family’s tragedy and his dreams.
We met again while I was walking around the park. He stopped, looked at me, and said “thank you” before going on his way, and I understood all that he wanted to say.
Guide to Albay
Out soon will be a Guide to Albay mobile app, courtesy of our journalism startup InnoPub Media in partnership with Smart Communications, Inc. and the Albay Provincial Government. In the meantime, here’s how you get to Cagsawa Ruins:
1. Ride a jeepney heading to Daraga marked with any of the following: Malabog, Guinobatan, Camalig. Tell the driver to let you off at Cagsawa Ruins.
2. If you’re bringing your own transport, just drive west of Legazpi City and follow the road markings that will lead you to the park.