NEAR THE PASAY ROTONDA were air-conditioned buses going direct to distant Buhi, Camarines Sur, and to Naga City. But they were leaving in the evening ? inconvenient and unacceptable to this traveler. So there I was, sweating it out one late morning in a regular bus, in an unprepossessing bus station.
The lookout, who gets a commission per passenger had lured me in, saying the bus would be leaving soon (?aalis na?). That was a lie, of course, because more passengers were still being awaited. The fare to Naga was P400, just right for this peso-pinching budget tourist spending his own money.
Passengers argued with the jovial conductor and vendors shuffled back and forth, thrusting upon your face everything imaginable under the sun: fruits, towels, shawls, sunglasses, peanuts, comics and obscene CDs, watches, crackers, hamboorjers, etc.
And, for the kids, slithering and screeching toy frogs! I settled for two camouflage shorts, a steal at P50 each.
I had gone on the Naga route in 2005, bound for the entrancing Caramoan Peninsula, also in Cam-Sur: Ahem, yes, I have ?discovered? Caramoan for ecotourism purposes; also Pag-Asa Island and Kalayaan, in the disputed Spratlys (in a plane piloted by be-medalled navy Lt. Cmdr. Abet Carlos).
Stops and all, the trip took 10 hours. It rained intermittently that day, and the Quezon National Park was awash in greenery. The sight of Lamon Bay in Atimonan, coming after the mountain zigzag, aroused the passengers. A few more Quezon towns then came an endless ride through the now darkened landscape, with the Bicol National Park straddling the provinces of Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur.
In Naga I checked in at the budget Sampaguita Tourist Inn (P500, air-con) beside Sunny View Hotel. Here at Sampaguita a bath towel costs you P100, refundable upon return. The next leg was a 90-minute journey via van (air-con, P70) to Buhi, which turned out to be a charming town just past Iriga City.
Finally I took a tricycle (P100, good for three) to my destination, the Lake Buhi Resort, 4 km from the poblacion (town center) in Barangay Cabatuan, Buhi.
The facade of the resort was unpainted and modern in style, therefore not too attractive?at least to me. But the rest of the resort was lovely: 22 elegant rooms, a gazebo, duplex bungalows, the obligatory coconut palm trees and well-manicured lawn, kiddie and adult pools, a mini-golf course, a function room and a presidential suite by the lakeshore.
The poolside is often used for events. When I was there, a wedding reception was under way, a calf was being roasted, and staff released three hot air balloons into the sky as night fell. Part of the resort is a bahay kubo (nipa hut) within the lake itself, where guests can dine, have coffee, even play mahjong or cards.
The two-hectare resort is bracketed by the lush foothills of Mt. Asog (known as Mt. Iriga on the western side) and Lake Buhi with its mountain ranges. It?s owned by a local boy who made good, Cyrus G. Obsuna (0917-325-3118), an entrepreneur who attained success in furniture export and real estate in Cebu, now a part owner of Hilton Mactan.
The resort?s consultant is Juan Victor Ramos, a veteran hotelier and onetime executive of the Manila Hotel, Bayview Hotel, and many other establishments.
Lake Buhi can compare in beauty to Lake Taal in the Batangas-Tagaytay boundary, and Lake Bulusan in Sorsogon. It spans 1,800 hectares, with twin waterfalls at the end. The lake is often described as the home of the world?s smallest edible fish, tabios. They measure 12-mm, smaller than a ten-centavo coin, with hundreds of thousands scooped up in one dip.
The lake also teems with tilapia, carp and mudfish (dalag). Then there?s atas, green and thorny, although this is not too abundant, and the small shells called bugtas.
?The water is clean because there are springs,? said Obsuna. ?But the bottom is murky, being mud, and not recommended for amateur divers.? The deepest part of the lake is 65 feet.
The legend of Buhi (as retold by Damiana Domingo in her book ?The Myths?) is that it used to be an enchanted town where people forgot to pray as they became wealthy. So God punished them by sending them to the bowels of the earth, from where a beautiful lake, Buhi, materialized.
It is claimed that on a windless day, when the waters are still, you can see the people of enchanted Buhi town going about their daily tasks.
Another legend about the lake has a familiar ring (pun not intended) about a bell that in olden days warned the people against raids by Muslim buccaneers. One day the Muslims stole the bell and hurled it into the lake. And it has not been found to this day. Other lakes have similar legends.
The lake was even more beautiful in the morning, the waters and the mountain peaks coming into sharper focus. And what a bonus ? Mt. Mayon in the distance, in clear outlines despite the clouds rolling by.
Boating, swimming, fishing or whatever could wait. For now, happiness was curling up on the chaise lounge with my book (?Flaubert: A Life?), surrounded by trees, flowers, sculptural rocks, birds, monitor lizards (bayawak), mountain ranges, and the waters of the silvery, serene lake.