The first thing that struck me when I first saw Mayon Volcano was how awesome it was. Awesome in its immensity, awesome in its perfect form, awesome in its power that, most of the time, is neither seen nor felt but, when unleashed, spells a terrible fury that few ever forget.
Yes, I gaped – mostly in breathless silence. I was so smitten that I couldn’t wait to drive up Mayon to take photos. On the drive from Legazpi City National Airport to Tabaco City, we asked the driver of the van to stop beside a rice field which afforded an uninterrupted view of Mount Mayon. I opened my window and took photos. But clouds covered the top. That’s how Mount Mayon is most of the time – covered with clouds, like a shy barrio lass covering her face with a veil. And that makes it appear even more mysterious.
There are many legends about Mount Mayon and all of them are based on a tragic romance. They all agree too that the name “Mayon” came from “daragang magayon” or beautiful maiden.
One of these legends is found on the old the web site of the Mount Mayon Natural Park (the web site no longer exists). It tells the story of a young woman, Daragang Magayon, who fell in love with an outsider, Panganoron, who had saved her from drowning. Paratuga, a rejected suitor, kidnapped the young woman’s father and demanded her hand in marriage as ransom.
Not that Daragang Magayon was a woman of unquestionable virtues. Despite her love for Panganoron, she did not want to marry him because he was an outsider. She was afraid of what her fellow Bicolanos would think of her and the possible ostracism she was facing. She confided as much in her father who promised to help her find a way out of her dilemma. It was while her father was still thinking of a solution that Paratuga decided to kidnap him to force his daughter to marry him.
Panganoron heard the news and gathered his tribe to attack the village of Paratuga. Panganoron arrived as the wedding ceremony was being peformed. Daragang Magayon rushed to him and was hit by a stray arrow. As Panganoron lifted her body, he was attacked from behind. The lovers died.
Dagarang Magayon’s bereaved father buried her with all her earthly possessions including the gold, pearls and diamonds that Paratuga had given to her as wedding gifts. A week later, the burial ground started to rise to the surprise of the villagers. Even more astounding was the constant presence of white clouds hovering over it. As time passed, the mound rose higher and higher.
It is said that the tremors and occasional eruption of Mount Mayon are caused by the angry spirit of Paratuga who, every once in a while, tries to exhume the grave of Daragang Magayon to retrieve the precious stones and gold that he had given her. He fails every time as only rocks and lava are emitted by the volcano. It is also said that the cloud perpetually hovering over the volcano is the spirit of Panganoron who still cries over the loss of his beloved. His tears fall as raindrops, showering the slopes of the volcano and keeping its soil fertile and the vegetation lush.
I was in the fourth grade when I first read an abbreviated version of that legend in a textbook that also contained a legend of Taal Volcano. Those two, their histories and their mysteries have haunted me since. No wonder I burned my back and shoulders under the midday sun when, during our second day in Albay, we drove up Mount Mayon where the Planetarium is, so we could get a closer look and taker clearer photos.
When I zoomed in at the top of the volcano, the black scorched earth where lava had flown during its 2006 eruption was clearly visible. I stood there, camera poised, waiting for even just one moment for the clouds to disperse and leave the top totally uncovered. But the clouds never did.
I looked at the scorched earth and the hovering clouds and the whimsical side of me wondered if Paratuga’s wrath has finally won over Panganoron’s grief or whether their spirits are still engaged in an elemental tug-o’-war for the love of the long dead Daragayang Magayon. In a place like that, folk stories seem to take on a form of reality that is easy to shrug off under the bright city lights.
As an interesting bit of trivia, at the waiting area of the Legazpi City National Airport, posters encouraging people to vote for Mayon Volcano as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World are still on the walls. The contest, sponsored by a private foundation, concluded in 2007 and Mayon did not make it to the list of finalists. I’m sorry that Mayon did not get enough votes – it will always be among my top seven wonders of the world.