How residents make a living out of their home, Lake Bulusan

Bong Santisteban
How residents make a living out of their home, Lake Bulusan
For years, Virginia Negrite mastered every detail of the lake, and the stories behind it

SORSOGON, Philippines – The lake was calm, and the ambiance was serene. The mirror image of Mount Bulusan in the backdrop left the tourists muted in awe. It seems that everyone was caught by the hypnotic beauty of the scene – a perfect setting to relax for the weekend.

Marhay nga aga (Good morning)! Welcome to Lake Bulusan,” a woman in her 40s said, breaking the deafening silence.

Virginia Negrite, or Ate Virgie as she introduced herself, is a mountain guide at Lake Bulusan National Park.

Before exploring the lake, tourists will undergo a short orientation on the do’s and dont’s of the tour. This includes what to do if separated from the group, and unauthorized plucking of any plant species, among other rules.

During the tour, Negrite showed some pit stops where visitors can take several breaks during the two-kilometer hike, including the old Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) observatory and the dance pavilion used by American troops during the Martial Law era. (READ: FAST FACTS: Mt Bulusan, the PH’s 4th most active volcano)

Negrite explained how the lake became home to a variety of plant species. The rich biodiversity within the national park is nurtured by the year-round temperate weather.  Two of plants first discovered in the park have scientific names named after Bulusan – Prenephrium bulusantum, a fern; and Schefflera bulusanicum, an evergreen tree.

For years, the tour guide mastered every detail of the lake, and the stories behind it. The lake was her home, and since it was opened  to tourists in 2010, it became her job.

Privilege more than a job

A former housewife, Negrite supports her 3 children with the income she gets from guiding local and foreign visitors around Lake Bulusan.

For a group of 10 persons, she receives P150 ($2.92) as payment. The whole tour lasts for two hours. According to her, she handles not more than 3 tours a day, sometimes, none at all.

The challenge for tour guides like Negrite is to make sure that their earnings will last until the next group of visitors arrives.

“Hindi po namin masasabi na bukas may bisita ulit, kaya ang kita ko sa araw na ito ay iniipit ko hanggang sa bukas, at sa susunod pang araw,” she said.

(We can’t tell if we have visitors for the following day, that’s why we make sure that our earning for today will last until tomorrow, and until the day after that.)

Despite this, Negrite said that being a tour guide is a privilege more than a job.

“Dahil po sa trabahong ito, mas nakilala ko po ang aking lugar. Kung noon hindi ko masyado pinapansin ang paligid, ngayon nalaman ko na ang bawat puno dito ay may kuwento, she said, pointing to one of the trees known to many for its mythical origin.

(Because of this job, I became more acquainted with my place. If before, I don’t know about my surroundings,now, I know that every tree here has their own stories.)

Negrite also related that if given the chance to choose a job, she would still choose to be a tour guide. According to her, nothing is more fulfilling than showcasing the beauty of their place to every visitor. (READ: 6 travel mistakes that harm beautiful destinations)

“Sa bawat ‘thank you’ po ng mga bisita, alam ko na nagawa ko po ang trabaho ko bilang guide. Masaya na po ako sa ganoon (With every ‘thank you’ I received from visitors, I know that I already did my job as a tour guide. I appreciate that),” she added.

To end the tour around the lake, visitors were challenged to take the 340-foot hanging bridge to return to the base station. With a harness securely wrapped around their waist, they crossed the hanging bridge suspended 30 meters above the ground with courage and shaking knees. (READ: Beautiful Bicol: What you can see, eat, and do)

COURAGE. Ate Virgie used to take this hanging bridge almost everyday to end the every tour she handles. While all of us cross the bridge with harness and shaking knee, she courageously lead the way without any safety gear

More to do

If you’re not fond of hiking, Negrite suggested some of the activities around the lake.

If you want to just relax, having massage by the lake would be best for you. For P300, you can enjoy the knuckle-massage of locals using their own pili ointment.

For those seeking a water adventure, you can rent a kayak for P250 per hour and enjoy the serenity of the lake. You can also go fishing for free, just bring your own fishing rod. (READ: Tourism: What PH must do to be more competitive)

Local delicacies and souvenir items are also available in the canteen at reasonable prices.

The lake is located at the foot of Mt Bulusan, the 4th most active volcano. (READ: Active volcanoes in the Philippines)

On October 23, 2016, a phreatic eruption occurred in the volcano, producing an ash column 2.5 kilometers high. Up to this day, Alert Level 1 remains in effect, meaning, there could still be more phreatic or steam-driven eruptions.-