Eco-Friendly Kayaking at Lake Bulusan (Sorsogon)

From Bayugin Falls, we continued on our way until we finally reached Lake Bulusan, in Brgy. San Roque, Bulusan, by mid afternoon. At this time, the broad daylight provided a mystical shadow effect of the greenery to the emerald green water. This small, round crater lake, known as the “Switzerland of the Orient” (minus the pine trees, alpine forests or ice caps) due to its lovely, spectacular scenery, is located at an elevation of 635 m. on the southeast flank of Mt. Bulusan volcano.       

Tranquil Lake Bulusan

The Department of Tourism has declared Bulusan as a Tourist Zone due to the fact that it has the biggest share of Bulusan Volcano National Park (BVNP) in terms of land area, 43% or 1,580.20 out of 3,673.30 hectares.  Six of the town’s barangays are located within the national park and all are ingress and egress points to this protected area.  The lake, currently manged by volunteers of AGAP-Bulusan, is surrounded by lush, awesome and breathtaking forests containing endemic species of plants such as Forestia philippensis, Pinanga insignis and the newly discovered Schefflina bulusanicum and Pronephrium bulusanicum; jade vine (Stronglylodon macrobothrys); ground orchids (Phojus tankervillea); tall, centuries-old tindalo (Afzeliarrhomboidea) trees and mountain agoho (Casuarina rumphiana).

The newly-acquired aqua cycles
A carefully designed concrete pathway rims the lake, affording the visitor a pleasant, serene and leisurely nature walk.  However, Bernard and I weren’t here for the walk.  We were here to do some kayaking, a refreshing, non-polluting outdoor activity in the lake.  Aside from tandem kayaks (rented for PhP100 for 30 mins.), canoes and rowboats, there are also 6 colorful aqua cycles (or water trikes) just recently turned over, early this year, by the provincial government to the municipality.
 
Bernard and I kayaking Lake Bulusan
Bernard and I donned life jackets and were each assigned our paddle and tandem kayak.  Once on our kayaks, we started paddling along the lake’s 2,006 m. long perimeter, admiring the lake’s calm, emerald green waters and the park’s impressive and lush old growth forest of dipterocarp trees and endemic species of plants.  Overhead, a soaring eagle kept us company.  Truly a postcard-pretty sight.  It was already dusk when we returned to shore and, after a merienda of maruya, brewed coffee and soft drinks at the BVNP Visitor’s Center, said goodbye to our gracious hosts, returned to our vehicle and continued on our way to Sorsogon City.
The BVNP Visitor’s Center

AGAP-Bulusan, Inc.: Bulusan Social Development Center (BSDC) Bldg., 262 Sesbreno St., Brgy. Dapdap, Sorsogon City, Sorsogon.  Mobile numbers: (0918) 457-8767 and (0908) 896-8826 (Mr. Philip Bartilet).  Email: agapbulusan@yahoo.com.ph.

Trek to Bayugin Falls (Bulusan, Sorsogon)

Along our way to Lake Bulusan, Bernard, Philip and I decided to visit Bayugin Falls in Brgy. San Francisco, one of Bulusan‘s eco-tourism attractions.  We parked the SUV at the barangay chapel where we made a courtesy call on the barangay captain.  That done, we proceeded on our hike.  According to the barangay captain, the falls is just a 500-m. hike.  Initially the trail, along slippery but hard-packed mud, was relatively flat.  Halfway through the hike, we crossed a wooden footbridge over a very narrow, steep-sided creek which, according to Philip, is a possible fault line.

Philip at the wooden footbridge

Past the bridge, the trail eventually became steeper as we neared the falls, we having to go down steps carved along the hillside. This descent really made my knees shake.  After 20 mins., the sound of onrushing waters heralded our arrival at the falls.  What a magnificent falls it was! The falls, surrounded by a thick, mossy forest, is the source of the Bayugin River which eventually joins the Paghasaan River as it flows into the Bulusan River.  Now a popular swimming and picnic site, concrete picnic tables, a bamboo viewing deck and narrow plank bridges have been installed.

Bayugin Falls

Though we didn’t bring any swimming attire, Bernard couldn’t resist dipping his legs at the cold, onrushing waters.  We lingered at the falls for a cool 20 mins., savoring the sights and sounds and recording it all via camera.  The ascent, on our return, though short, was just as tiring.  Thus refreshed, we returned to our vehicle and continued on our way to Lake Bulusan.

The bamboo view deck

Bayugin Falls: Brgy. San Francisco, Bulusan, Sorsogon.

How to Get There: Brgy. San Francisco is a 20-min. tricycle ride from the town proper. 

Bulusan: Eco-Tourism Haven (Sorsogon)

After our interview of AGAP-Bulusan, Inc. president Philip G. Bartilet at Lake Bulusan, Philip accompanied Bernard and I to the Bulusan municipal hall where we made a courtesy call on, and had lunch, with Mayor Michael G. Guysayko.  Like Philip, first term Mayor Guysayko is supportive of the environment conservation projects of AGAP-Bulusan, the rehabilitation of denuded forests and sustainable eco-tourism in the BVNP.

L-R: the author, Mayor Guysayko and Bernard

After lunch, Philip again accompanied us as we toured Bulusan town’s tourist attractions.  Our first stop was the town’s Church of St. James the Greater in Brgy. Central.  Located on a site called Punta Diamante (named after its diamond-shaped wall formation), it is dubbed the “Intramuros of Bulusan.”  Its walls were made of stacked up volcanic stones.

Punta Diamante

The church wasn’t old (erected around 1760, its Baroque facade was totally renovated in 1970) but the parish compound is enclosed by ramparts of the triangular, Spanish-era muralla (“stone fort”). Around the walls are burial niches and niches for santos (“saints“) while at one end is the equestrian statue of St. James the Greater and a wooden cross, above which is the statue of a standing Jesus Christ, with arms outstretched, on a pedestal.

A baluarte de piedra at Punta Diamante beside burial niches

Four baluartes de piedra (stone watchtowers”) can still be traced from the remaining walls near the shores of Brgys. Central, Dapdap and Mabuhay.  The church’s 4-storey bell tower (locally called kampanaryo), the largest of the 4 watchtowers, was believed to have been built in 1631 after the town was made an independent from Casiguran in 1630.  With 8 sides, the tower’s walls taper upwards in alternating piers. The ill-conceived 4th storey, housing the bells, is a totally inappropriate modern addition.

The church bell tower

From the town proper, we motored, 1 km. out of the town, along the Bulusan-Barcelona Rd., to the white sand Dancalan Beach in Brgy. Dancalan.  A popular swimming spot, the relatively shallow Dancalan Beach is lined with beach resorts and kiosks beneath the coconut trees that provide shade for picnickers.

The white sand Dancalan Beach

We also passed by the Dr. Jose Reyes Ancestral House and, from the vantage point of a bridge, the Bulusan River.  The 12 km. river, formed by the merging of the Dulipay and Malinang Rivers, and the Malugoy-lugoy Rivers, is a potential nature trekking area.  From here, we proceeded on our way to Lake Bulusan where Bernard and I were to do some leisurely kayaking.

The Bulusan River

Irosin Town Proper (Sorsogon)

After breakfast at Nature Spring Resort, Bernard and I, accompanied by Ms. Jerelle J. Marquez, Irosin’s Municipal Tourism Officer, were driven to Irosin town proper.   Here, we  made a courtesy call on town mayor Eduardo Ong, Jr. at the yellow, white and blue, 2-storey municipal hall, the town’s former presidencia.  In olden times, the presidencia was the office of the gobernadorcillo (translated as “little governor”). 

The Irosin presidencia
Bernard and I with Mayor Ong

After our courtesy call, Jerelle and I climbed the 100 or so steps of a grand stairway, beside the presidencia, leading up to the hilltop Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel.  A number of landings, provided along the wide stairway, allowed me some moments to rest.  The cathedral, whose roof was blown away during a typhoon on August 11, 1987, was renovated in 1996. I was surprised with the finished product.

The grand stairway
The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel

Possibly, in an effort to enlarge the cathedral, a 1-storey, box-like extension, with a white-tiled facade and semicircular openings with steel doors, was added during its renovation.  This not-so-carefully thought of  extension blocked the original church facade, its upper storeys seen only from afar or below the stairs.  Besides, this modern extension doesn’t at all match the old facade it replaced in front. The old convent was destroyed during a typhoon on December 25, 1981 and a new one was built at the right side entrance of the sacristy of the present church.