HER MAJESTY, MAYON
MANILA, MAY 20, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Dina Sta. Maria - Like a petulant lover, she is wont to throw a fit, seemingly unprovoked, spewing steam and rocks and ash when you least expect it – on a calm summer evening or a chilly foggy dawn, after she had seemed to be in slumber for a time.
Mayon volcano is everything a grand dame should be – and then some. Stately, beautiful (her name comes from “magayon,” the local word for beautiful), near-perfect – past eruptions have not destroyed her perfect cone – she dominates the skyline of nearby Legazpi City and, in fact, the whole of Albay, as she can be seen from nearly every city and town in the province.
She is the center of attraction – unabashedly so – and to her thousands of tourists come every year to pay homage: To gaze at her from afar, to marvel at her symmetry and to awe at her sometimes flame-crested peak, on nights when she is restive and the fire inside her rises to the top and tinges her crater. Or, for those who dare – the sturdy of limb and strong of heart – to scale her height (2,462 meters), to know her like few have come to know her.
There is a six-kilometer radius permanent danger zone around her summit, testament to how temperamental and unpredictable she can be, and those who dare enter this no-man’s zone do so at their own peril. Many have tried, lured by her beauty and lulled by her apparent calm and quiet; alas, some of them have paid dearly, even with their lives.
Just the other week, 27 unsuspecting trekkers and their guides were caught in a fiery storm of rocks and ash that lasted for two minutes and 26 seconds, in what volcanologists call a phreatic explosion, triggered by steam trapped in the crater of the volcano. Five people were killed – four foreign climbers and a local guide – and over 20 injured.
That unfortunate incident has led to calls to regulate access to Mayon; to license guides, to have all climbers register and get a permit to climb, and to restrict not only settlement but even climbing in the six-kilometer permanent danger zone.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) has warned the public about “small phreatic eruptions,” including small steam and ash explosions that may occur suddenly with little or no warning. Despite the explosion, Phivolcs maintains that there is no imminent threat of an eruption.
There have been over 50 eruptions since the first documented volcanic activity in 1616. The most destructive eruption occurred on February 1, 1814 when the town of Cagsawa was buried in lava.
About 1,200 frightened residents sought shelter in Cagsawa church, but Mayon claimed that too, and all who were in it. Only the church tower remained standing above the lava, a stark reminder to this day of her power and fury that can not, should not, be underestimated.
Though the crown jewel is obviously Mayon, Albay is generally mountainous with scattered fertile plains. On the eastern side is a string of volcanic mountains, starting with Mount Malinao in the northern town of Tiwi, followed by Masaraga and then Mayon.
Further south across the Poliqui Bay is the Pocdol mountain in the town of Manito, home of the Nag-aso boiling lake. Tiwi and Manito are home to large reservoirs of geothermal steam and power plants that are among the largest in the world, supplying a substantial amount of electric power to the Luzon power grid.
Bounded on the east by the mighty Pacific Ocean, on the north by Lagonoy Gulf and on the southwest by the Burias Pass, Albay is basically an agricultural community, with coconut, abaca (hemp), rice, sugarcane, and vegetables as main crops.
The capital city of Legazpi is also the center of the Bicol region, which hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year, including the Magayon Festival Showdown, a rousing celebration of the region’s culture, the Higantes parade of colorful giants and the Mayon Trail Run, a 35-kilometer extreme run on its sixth edition this year which is quickly gaining popularity among ultrasports enthusiasts.