ON THE WAY TO SUMLANG LAKE, I REACHED CATANDUANES
by Pablo A. Tariman
One of the glories of FB (Facebook) is that you get to see relatively unknown tourist destinations which match your state of mind.
I am in a reflective mood lately owing to some friends and colleagues passing away one after another and I told myself I better see Sumlang Lake in Camalig, Albay before it’s too late in the day.
On the day my writers fees metamorphosed into air tickets, I set out to see this idyllic lake by way of an hour’s plane ride to the Volcano Country.
The travel itch fell on a Sunday which means you can’t avail of tourist guides with the complimentary tourism rides that go with it.
But it did not make any difference to Albay Provincial Tourism Officer MeAn Morga Velasco Colle who quickly arranged an interview with Sumlang barrio captain Felipe Napa who started the idea of a placid lake as a tourism attraction.
Years earlier, Sumlang Lake was just a body of water groaning with water lilies.
After consultation with his barangay officials, they took up the idea with Albay Governor Joey Salceda who approved the plan and helped clean up the lake.
Napa revealed barangay Sumlang has a yearly income of only P2000 and with an 1800 population. He figured that if he developed the lake, income would considerably increase tourwith built-in revenues coming.
After six months, assorted rafts with chairs made a dry-run voyage in the lake and after a few FB postings promoting the place, tourists came in droves. In 2015 alone, the tourist arrival registered more than 60,000 with modest barangay revenues finally coming from environmental fees.
Leisurely raft rides became tourist favorites with souvenir stores suddenly sprouting around the lake with others opting for tilapia fishing in other parts of the area.
“This is one of the most visited tourist spots with an incredible 93 per cent increase in arrival figures,” said Colle who assists both local and foreign tourists day in and day out.
The barrio captain said more water-based activities will be introduced like kayaking and water biking.
What followed was that the new tourist attraction gave employment to some 30 barangay residents now alternating in raft rides.
In less than two hours after landing in Legazpi airport, my curiosity about the lake was more than served with Tourism Extraordinaire guide MeAn Colle giving me a ride to Tabaco Port for my first ride in Silangan Express 1 which serves the Tabaco-San Andres route to the island.
The usual ride took two and a half to three hours.
In this brand new jet boat called Silangan Express 1, the leisurely ride took only an hour and a half.
The two-level decks are clean and equipped with six (you read it right) comfort rooms. There are no vendors roaming around and to my surprise, the boat attracted mostly the island’s middle upper class professionals.
The jet boat is ideal for tourists and senior citizens who — in the other ferry boat — had to do a perilous balancing act before they can reach the restrooms two decks below.
Surely, Silangan Express 1 upgraded sea travel in the island into the 21st century level.
As earlier intimated, I go for tourist destinations that reflect my state of mind.
From Virac, a long-lost relative gave me a ride to Balacay Highland Point which gave one an unbeatable view of the width and length of the Pacific Ocean.
This place has a lot of potentials. It can be developed into a natural viewing deck or a retreat area. Local tourism attractions should include regular boat rides into the adjoining islands which remain breath-taking anyway you look at them.
Another bonus discovery is this beautiful house on top of the mountain range between Baras town and Puraran barrio.
It is another perfect venue for music workshop and music camps with an indescribable view of the Pacific Ocean below.
What I am saying now is that the local government should not stop discovering local attractions and make the most of them. The story of the phenomenal acceptance of Sumlang Lake in Camalig, Albay is a triumph of native imagination.
Those stretches of white sand from Puraran barrio to Gigmoto town — with all those beautiful islets dotting the place – can be transformed into regular boat ride thrills.
But tourism is a very demanding industry.
You need clean and fast boats to the island to serve both local and foreign tourists.
But if dirty business practice is introduced (like the other shipping line cutting fare into half to attract gullible travelers), one is bound to suffer and ultimately vanish in the interisland travel business.
That if Albay Governor Joey Salceda is encouraging clean and fast interisland vessels to serve both tourists in Albay and Catanduanes, the island public servants should follow suit. It should not allow unfair business practice to kill local enterprise in favor of shippers who have nothing comfortable to offer the island travelers except a long and tedious ride.
Local government should encourage local entrepreneurship. Local tourism office should endorse new modes of travel as its way of boasting local tourism.
Most of all, both local and national government — especially offices tasked with checking if Marina rules are followed to the letter – should check monopolies that give fair business competition a bad name.
It’s now time to double check if “Tuwid Na Daan” in the maritime industry is fact or fiction in the island.