Every Bicolano oragon who spent his younger days commuting to and from Manila passed through the so-called South Road or the Maharlika Highway which cuts across Luzon from north to south.
The late Inquirer matriarch Eugenia Duran-Apostol must have done the taxing 13-hour journey through this highway en route to her hometown of Sorsogon, countless times in her lifetime.
Composed of 14 towns spread out in a 2,119 sq. km land area, Sorsogon is a peninsular province at Luzon’s southernmost tip and boasts of a 336-km coastline.
The good news is, this once-arduous 556-km road trip is made more bearable and pleasant because of the widened, well-paved, scenic and meandering highways, enticing travelers to explore what is largely a tourism frontier further beyond the famed Mayon Volcano.
Those who don’t have the luxury of time can fly to Legazpi City, and rent a UV express van there for a one-hour run to Sorsogon City, the capital and hub for commerce, education, transportation and services of the province of the same name.
Pitstop 1: Sorsogon City
Once an obscure urban center, this capital town was proclaimed a city in 2000 when the town of Bacon was merged with it.
Because of its strategic location and presence of establishments, it is the logical starting point in exploring the province.
Located in the heart of the city is Sorsogon Baywalk or Rompeolas, a scenic promenade and dining area with a view of the mountains and Pinaculan Island which is being developed by the Provincial Government to be a tourist zone.
For a glimpse of history, swing by the Sorsogon Museum and Heritage Center located at the postcard-pretty Provincial Capitol Complex.
Beach lovers can bask at the resort colony in Bacon District for Tolong Gapo and Pagol, and the crater-like Paguriran Rock Island which has a shallow lagoon enclosed by a craggy rock wall.
You can have lunch in style at the Buhatan River Cruise, a cozy sight-seeing raft tour along the city’s mangrove forest and estuaries.
A bit far off, but a must-see is the BacMan Ecopark forest reserve situated within a geothermal plant.
You can hit the sack at Siama Hotel, a garden-themed boutique resort known for its gourmet Bicol and international cuisine which can also arrange the tours around Sorsogon.
Pitstop 2: Prieto Diaz
A 20-minute drive from the city is this interior town which is home to the 3,215-hectare Abang Mangrove Reserve which has received awards as among the country’s best wetlands.
A habitat to some 30 bird species, the area is ideal for boating and kayaking because of its calm water and serene, soothing environs.
Worth exploring is the Nagsurok Caves which has an underground river that snakes through its 666-meter length, and is ideal even for newbies.
Pitstop 3: Gubat
This Pacific coastal town is frequented for Rizal Beach because of its gradually-sloping powdery beige sand and turquoise water.
On a nearby cove is Buenavista Beach, an emerging surfing mecca whose waves are ideal even for beginners.
Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp offers surfing 101 lessons at rock-bottom rates where you can get initiated to the sport and help local youths earn money for school.
After cavorting with the waves, sink your teeth on freshly home-cooked seafood and cap it with the timatim dessert.
Pitstop 4: Barcelona
Marvel at the circa-1875 St. Joseph Church, which has a baroque-style dome-like structure whose stone walls and bell tower are made of coral rocks.
Nearby is Fort Ruins which are remnants of the Spanish-era municipal hall, fortress and school house built from huge stones slabs from the sea, and used egg whites mixed with tuba (coconut wine) and lime as binder.
Pitstop 5: Bulusan
Home to the 3,673-hectare Bulusan Volcano Natural Park, it is a lush rainforest and wildlife sanctuary reserve.
Bulusan Lake, which was once Sorsogon’s tourism poster image, is a quiet retreat where you can go around its 16-hectare surface on board kayaks and pedal boats, get a massage on a raft, or commune in the stillness of nature.
A few minutes away is Balay Buhay sa Uma, an agritourism resort noted for its bee farm, freshwater ponds, cold spring pool, and indigenous greens. There are natural pools in the vicinity whose cool water emanates from the springs of Bulusan Volcano.
If you prefer hot springs, the neighboring Irosin municipality has a number of sulfuric pools which are believed to be therapeutic for common ailments.
Pitstop 6: Juban
Regarded as Sorsogon’s heritage town because of the well-preserved circa 1890s houses built in the traditional bahay na bato architecture which give a glimpse of a bygone era.
A noteworthy house is Casa Feliz, which has found an adaptive reuse as a pension house, and serves as a living museum because of its showcase of heirloom pieces.
At this point, we have completed a loop of the major destinations of the province’s main circuit, but there is still more to see.
Time permitting, and with better roads made by accessible by the provincial government, you can foray into the equally intriguing and diverse spots in Casiguran, Sta. Magdalena, Magallanes, Bulan, Matnog, Castilla, Pilar and Donsol, where you can swim with the butandings or whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea.
With these new roadside rediscoveries, motorists wouldn’t look at Sorsogon as just another uneventful drive.