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Lake Escape

The Underworld of Buhi, Camarines Sur

I have this habit of storing leftover coins in a jar and exchange it with paper bills at the end of the year. As I was counting all the dusty coins, I found one collectible 10-centavo denomination that was circulated in 1983 bearing the image of pandaka pygmea (pygmy goby), the smallest freshwater fish in the world.

I recalled that in mid-90s while I was traveling in Paris, I threw all my leftover Philippine coins into a wishing well in one of those parks near the Eiffel Tower. I laughed at the weightless 10-centavo coins, as it might just float and not even hit the bottom of the well. Last night, as I was looking at the fish embossed on the coin, I remembered my trip in Buhi, Camarines Sur where a variety of this specie abounds.
In late 2011, my friends Al and Janice toured me in Buhi, Camarines Sur. This small hinterland town in the Rinconada District thrives by fishing around Lake Buhi. They are famous for harvesting the world’s smallest commercial fish called sinarapan or tabios. Indonesia’s paedocypris progeneticaholds the record of the smallest fish category but Buhi has the tiniest freshwater goby genus in commercial production.
Mt. Asog, Mt. Malinao and the low-lying ranges of Albay frame Lake Buhi’s serene panorama. It is a peaceful town inhabited by people who speak Buhinon, a unique language that mixes Rinconada and Camalig Bikol. Despite its remote upland location, Buhi was one of the strong 18th-century Spanish settlements in the province. A testament to it is the church of San Antonio de Padua built in 1730 after its original wooden structure was turned into ashes by fire.


It is rare to find tourists in Buhi as it is never really within the tourism circuit of Bicol. But this sleepy town is in itself a wonderful place for retreat. Apart from an all-embracing boat ride on Lake Buhi, it also takes pride of Itbog and Baybay waterfalls.
The best place to spend the night is in Lake Buhi Resort, a lakeside hideaway perfect for a quiet flight from urban noise. It is a bit old but its amenities are modest. It lies on a sprawling property yet the feel is still intimate.


Sinarapan may just be one of those tiny swimming creatures but they feed a largely unnoticed community. They are immortalized on weightless minted coins but now in the hands of the numismatics. Behind its diminutive size is a big town who lives by its existence and reliant on its provisions. Despite it being a low value currency, Sinarapan’sabundance in Buhi is a huge recognition of how diverse the Philippine underworld is. 
  • The nearest airport is in Naga, Camarines Sur. Check the web for available tariff and schedule.
  • If you are commuting via public public transport, take the v-hires near SM Naga. There are vans that go directly to Buhi.
  • You may also choose to take the bus but it only reaches Iriga City. From the junction (near the plaza), there are single motorcycles and jeepneys going to Buhi.
  • If you are driving on a private vehicle, take the road that leads to Albay. At the junction in Baao, turn right and head to Iriga City.
  • Near the city plaza is a road that leads to Buhi. Just follow the road up on rolling hill as it will end up in Buhi.

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