Restive Mayon still attracting more tourists to Albay
LEGAZPI CITY, Albay, Philippines — While thousands of residents of Albay province were fleeing or being taken to shelters away from the danger zone of the restive Mt. Mayon, this city is seeing a rise of tourists drawn here by the volcano’s lava flow and rockfall events.
The tourists filled the city’s hotels that have a view of Mayon Volcano and brought business to the operators of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) that rent out rides for those daring to get as close to the volcano as possible without entering its 6-kilometer-radius permanent danger zone (PDZ).
But realizing the danger ATV activities could pose to tourists, the city government here suspended their operation on Friday due to threats of a hazardous eruption from Mt. Mayon, to the dismay of ATV operators.
Ronald Diego, co-owner of Bicolandia Outdoor Adventures, said the number of tourists rose as Mayon’s lava flow and rockfall events became frequent.
The lava flow, which glows a bright orange and red at night as it emerged out of the volcano’s summit crater, has become an awaited nightly event for tourists and residents alike.
From having barely any income, ATV operators started earning between P5,000 and P10,000 daily since the volcano became increasingly restive on June 8.
“The activity of the Mayon Volcano gave way to an influx of tourists. The usual days gave us zero to no income, but this eruption led us up to 10 times spike [in our income],” Diego said in a phone interview on Saturday.
Their ATV rides, ranging from P300 to P800 per vehicle, are in the villages of Pawa, Bonga, and Mabinit in this city, all outside of the PDZ.
Operators were now asking the city government to lift the suspension since they would only operate within “safe zones.”
“When we checked the map, we identified [routes] that are safe and can offer opportunities for new ATV trails. I hope they could also consider that, but we understand their goal to ensure safety,” Diego added.
On Friday, however, Legazpi City Mayor Carmen Geraldine Rosal said all the ATV operators were directed to strictly comply with the suspension as “public health, safety, and interest are at stake.”
This was enforced despite an estimate by the city tourism office that the 5,886 tourists who were here last month were expected to double this June.
However, in nearby Daraga town, which adjoins Legazpi City, ATV operations were still allowed in the newly identified trail away from the danger zone of the volcano.
Mayor Carlwyn Baldo said ATV rides would need to follow trails from the villages of Cullat, Busay, and Malobago, areas that are about 8 km to 9 km from the volcano.
“[We allowed them] because what will happen to their livelihood if we stop it?” Baldo said in a separate phone interview.
But the Inquirer learned that from the Cagsawa Ruins in Daraga’s Barangay Busay, ATV rides would usually follow the terrains in the villages of Alcala, Matnog, Bañadero and Budiao, which are all within the danger zone.
Trail in danger zone
Cristina Agapita Pacres, Legazpi City’s tourism officer, said they got a report that some of the ATV riders were still entering the Black Lava trail inside the 6-km PDZ despite the order to restrict all human activities in the area.
“Because of that, the government decided to just suspend it for safety purposes. We don’t know what will happen, the volcano might erupt anytime,” Pacres said in an interview on Saturday.
The trail in Barangay Mabinit is one of the most popular ATV ride routes, where about 25 metric tons of debris from the previous eruptions were deposited, forming a wall-like layer of rocks.
Pacres said tourist arrivals have increased this month, especially during the long weekend on June 9 to June 12 with 8,857 domestic and foreign tourists.
It was on June 8 when alert level 3 was raised over Mayon by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, indicating the volcano was experiencing a “relatively high level of unrest as magma is at the crater and hazardous eruption is possible within weeks or even days.”
On the same day, Albay Gov. Edcel Greco Lagman ordered the prohibition of activities inside the 6-km danger zone, including orchid picking and ATV operations; and the evacuation of residents within the PDZ by June 9.