When Mayon began another display of awesome fury, I thought it was a good time as any to reflect on my close to eight years of living in volcano country.
I lost my job in the Manila-based Graphic magazine with the imposition of martial law in 1972, and in 1973 I ended up in Albay where Malacañang’s Kit Tatad had set up a branch of his Department of Information.
In the mid-’70s Legazpi was an idyll. I lived in a house by the sea (rental: P200 a month!) with a breathtaking view of Mayon.
I remember that the closest I got to the tip of the volcano was in 1971 when a group of media persons including Ester Dipasupil and myself went beyond the Mayon Resthouse. Midway to the crater, the view was exhilarating. But I guess my physique was built for writing and proofreading, and not for mountain climbing. And so, just a thousand feet or so from the crater, I gave up and hastened back to the inn.
My Mayon fantasy went as far as getting married on the grounds of the ancient church in Cagsawa, which the erupting volcano buried in lahar and other debris in 1814. An Albay chronicler noted that wedding in his history book thus: “1974 (December 14). For the first time in 160 years, a Catholic wedding was solemnized in the Cagsawa Ruins at 4 p.m. Pablo A. Tariman of Baras, Catanduanes, and a bride (from Daraga, Albay) were joined in marriage by the Daraga assistant curate, Fr. Eliakim Suela, OFM.”
A year later, I met the pianist Cecile Licad at the Cagsawa Ruins, when she traveled to Bicol for the first time to perform at Legazpi City’s St. Agnes Academy.
Somebody beat me to celebrating a birthday right on Mayon’s crater: a Swiss mountaineer named Jan Trangott. “This is one birthday I will never forget,” Jan said as he clinked glasses with his four companions to mark his 46th.
My most memorable encounter with Mayon was during its eruption in 1978. I joined a group of Manila-based media persons who traveled to the nearest barrio where one could get a vantage (but dangerous) view of the lava flow.
At the time, the photographer Willie Vicoy (since deceased) was with United Press International, Sol Vanzi was with the American Broadcasting Corp., and Louie Perez was with the Manila Bulletin. I was then a correspondent for Times Journal, where my boss was Isagani Yambot, the late Inquirer publisher.
When we arrived, Mayon’s behavior was described by a volcanologist as “effusive,” with not much action. When darkness engulfed us, Mayon’s mood turned malevolent and that was when I thought we could get buried by lava flow in the dead of night. Only 3 kilometers from the towering inferno, I came face to face with real fear.
I discovered that more than rumble, Mayon could also hiss, and it sounded like something was being sucked violently from the bowels of the earth. Then we heard the volcano growl for real. The effect was eerie. I told someone in the group that I’d like to return to the town of Camalig and head back to my beach house in Legazpi. I said I didn’t want to perish covering a volcanic eruption and leave a then 2-year-old daughter behind. But Vicoy was unfazed by The Big Growl. He faced Mayon and shouted, “Go ahead. Erupt. Show your power!”
As if challenged, Mayon rumbled anew, and I felt my hair stand on end. Vicoy invited me to look through his powerful camera set on a tripod. For the first time, I saw that what had seemed from afar like pebbles coming from the crater were boulders the size of a house. I realized that the rumblings didn’t originate from the crater but from the impact of huge boulders on the slope.
Face to face with lava flow and hearing music from my tape recorder, I was reminded of the film “Soylent Green” where dying people were treated to a view of a patch of green and a profusion of flowers while a Beethoven symphony played in the background.
I told everyone that we had better leave the place or end up as petrified lava figures. Then we heard a death-like thud from the lava reservoir. I turned to our stash of Pedro Domecq and played Clementi at full volume.
Still want to go nearer? I asked Vicoy. But heavy fumes were coming our way, and no amount of brandy could make us advance.
Thus, we retreated to Camalig. I realized that I didn’t have the chance to play Buencamino’s “Mayon Fantasy.” The volcano’s rumblings on my tape recorder were far more real and exciting.
At 69, I consider Mayon a silent witness to some interesting transitions in my life.
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Pablo A. Tariman has been covering the performing arts for more than 40 years.
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