LAST summer, I had the opportunity to hike, trek and “conquer” two of the most popular volcanoes in the Philippines – Mt. Pinatubo and Taal Volcano. I originally intended to create a separate blog entry for each, but since I have a blogging backlog, I figured I’d just consolidate these two adventures of mine to compare and contrast. (10/20/11 update: I split them into 2 separate posts anyway.)
Many people who are alive now probably have personal recollections of the destruction and overall environmental disruption caused by Mt. Pinatubo, way back in 1991. Back in those days it was a dark time for many Filipinos because only a year before was the killer July 16 earthquake that caused widespread destruction throughout Luzon. Mt. Pinatubo was a media sensation whose many intended and unintended effects include a general cooling of Earth’s temperature, the rearrangement of Central Luzon’s entire landscape, and the eventual non-ratification of an extension of U.S. bases in the country.
Well, almost 20 years later, Mt. Pinatubo has definitely calmed down and has emerged to be one of the most popular day-trip destinations for Manila-based tourists. By far, the most popular route (and as far as I know, the only route) towards the crater is the one maintained by the Capas Municipal Government, which did a lot in developing Mt. Pinatubo as a viable tourist destination.
Last April 18, 2010, I joined Travel Factor (TF) in one of their “Conquer: Mt. Pinatubo” treks. If you recall, Travel Factor is the tour provider that enabled me to visit Marinduque during the Holy Week. This time around, I was joining them not as a solo traveler as I had my officemate Danna Kitoyan tag along with her two friends Mark Manalo and Kris Domingo. I was probably misled by the “Conquer” part of TF’s promo that I prepared for this trip as if it were a regular mountain climbing trip. Even purchasing a hiking pole for the event. Apparently, what used to be a 5-hour trek has been reduced to just 30 minutes courtesy of the local government’s development efforts. I hardly broke a sweat, and our companion Kris was quite well justified in bringing only a towel and an extra shirt (as opposed to my full backpack).
The trip to Capas, Tarlac started around 4 am. By sunrise, we reached the jump-off point where we boarded the 4X4 jeeps that took us across the lahar wasteland before reaching Mt. Pinatubo. The long bumpy ride was not without incident. In one stretch in a downwards slope, the 4X4 ahead of us absolutely turned TURTLE. Here’s a picture of it:
The ones who were aboard it were part of the TF group, and it could have been us riding that 4X4 were it not for the luck of the draw. Anyway, they were not hurt seriously and, in a way, had a better Mt. Pinatubo experience to tell their friends once they got back to Manila.
(L-R: Mar, Danna and Kris)
Towards the drop-off point for the start of the trek, it drizzled a bit so we all had to wait under the massive sheds created by the Pinatubo Development Commission (PDC) before starting the hike proper. The path to the crater was one that we found quite easy from start to finish. the forested parts were not thick, and the streams that we passed were young in the sense that we did not encounter a body of water that was more than ankle-deep while on the path. The path itself was wider than any mountain path I encountered and we spent a lot of time taking pictures of ourselves and the surroundings.
Needless to say, I hardly needed my hiking pole as there was hardly a point in the path that made me lose my balance. It was hard to get lost in the trail because there were a number of signs pointing to the right direction. Before long, the slope steepened as we climbed up the crater rim – made a lot easier by the concrete steps created by PDC.
The first view of the crater lake was absolutely breathtaking! It was funny how all of us in our group were so awestruck that we crowded around the sign to take pictures with it, and it took us a very long time to actually descend to the crater lake’s shore itself. Eventually, when we’ve had our fill of the view from the top, we slowly trickled down to the lake’s edge.
Being outfitted for sun protection, I was surprised to find cool weather in Mt. Pinatubo. The guides were apparently also surprised because the day before, they told us it was very hot. (This was corroborated by a friend of mine who was actually there the day before.) In any case, we could not complain as it certainly made our visit a lot more pleasant than we expected.
Although the weather was generally a lot cooler than, say, Manila temperature at that time, conditions actually alternated between sunny and drizzly every 3 minutes or so – which was something I haven’t quite experienced before. The drizzles were composed of very fine ambon that dried up almost as fast as they touched the surface. The rapid changes in lighting conditions made shooting scenery so tedious that more than once I was tempted to set my camera to full auto just to be able to shoot faster. (I didn’t, by the way.)
I don’t like swimming in unfamiliar waters, but the chance to take a dip in the crater of the Mt. Pinatubo was difficult to pass up. Taking the cue from Kris who went ahead, I finally took a dip in the crater lake. Now, I was expecting water to be cold because because the surrounding air temperature was near-Baguio levels. The warm water was a pleasant surprise, but it was still scary the way the lake bed suddenly drops from under your feet, giving you the feeling of falling in a watery abyss of you didn’t know how to float. I never strayed more than 5 meters from the shore. I was that scared.
Eventually, I was forced to surface after a particularly “heavier” drizzle in order to relocate my stuff to a roofed area by the lake. I never went back in the water as I spent the next few hours shooting scenery. There’s so little walking space to go to once you’re actually on the lake, so a photographer has to make do with the available area. While Kris found a spot by the lake to seep on, Danna, Mark and I went exploring at a partly hidden area behind the low trees that looked as if it was made up of boulders cascading down.
We also soon after tired of this and returned to where Kris was to rest ourselves. While my three companions found spots for themselves where they could recline and sleep, I went ahead and ate my packed lunch of rice and Ma-Ling luncheon meat, and flushed down with ice cold water*.
(TIP: If you are going out on a hiking trip in the morning and still want your water ice cold by lunchtime, here’s what you should do: (1) freeze the water in the sealed plastic bottle overnight; (2) when it is solid ice, place the water bottle inside a thick sock, wrapping it completely; (3) place it in your backpack under layers of other stuff, preferably clothes; and finally (4) open your backpack as few times as possible for the duration of the trip. If you follow these instructions, i guarantee that you still have ice-cold water with ice, up until 10 hours from the time you took out the water bottle from the freezer.)
Since there was still about two hours from noontime before we made the hike back, I just spent the time shooting while the other three slept under the “cool” noontime sun. Before long, Mar Capistrano, our tour coordinator, signaled to us that it was time to go. We didn’t realize how steep the path downwards to the crater lake was until we were already going in the opposite direction. Before finally leaving, we posed for one final picture by the crater lake.
It was really just a come-and-go affair as there wasn’t much to do aside from admiring the view. The boat ride to the opposite shore was priced at extortionate rates, and my three companions didn’t seem to be interested in it, so overall, we didn’t find the stay too short. On the way home we passed by the Capas Shrine built for those who died during the Death March in World War II. Since this particular place does not jive with the topic, I’ll just leave you with a picture of the imposing monument. Here it is:
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This entry is part of the Two Volcanoes, One Summer series:
1. Two Volcanoes, One Summer (part 1)
2. Two Volcanoes, One Summer (part 2)