The tourist bus bound for Zambales leaves at 1:30 AM and I caught myself in dilemma when my companions have not arrived yet. It was 12:45 AM. For a moment, I doodled in my journal while I waited for them to show up. No signs of them still, despite texting my friend. No reply (I only read the FB message the day after the tour. My apologies). The group’s supposed to meet at a fast food chain in Ortigas.
Feeling that something’s wrong, I checked my travel voucher to see if I was really at the right assembly area. Oh, geez. I was actually at the right fast food chain. But at a wrong branch! I thought I mastered the streets of Ortigas Avenue, but when I got a bit panicky, the whole place suddenly became new to me. Then, I headed right to Emerald Street after walking for several minutes and even riding a taxi which lasted for like 45 seconds. Talk about short and free ride. Still, I wasn’t able to reach the exact place (for one thing, I suck at following directions). I was at Doña Julia Vargas. Lapit lang naman…pala. To make the long story short, I spotted the fast food chain and found the other tourists and my friends waiting for me.
So there. Before the trip took its kick-off , I got lost already.
No. Even more, I got lost in the wonders of Mt. Pinatubo.
Literally “biting the dust” was all worth it!
“Another one bites the dust”
We arrived at Mt. Pinatubo Base Camp around 4:00 AM. The place was already alive with tourists, locals, and kids scampering around selling hiking canes. We waited for our tour coordinator’s cue if it’s OK to alight the bus and look for our guide and the driver who would take us to the drop-off point (that’s one and a half hour-ride from the base camp).
A little later, our guide Kuya Joy, approached us and led us to our vehicle. The 4×4 vehicles are the only off-road transportation going to Mt. Pinatubo since the terrain is incredibly bumpy. No wonder, our own 4×4 got this ala Mad Max design. Right there and then, we knew we’re in for a thrilling ride. The driver told us that his 4×4 is one of a kind among the other vehicles.
The road to Mt. Pinatubo is a field of dust and rocky streams. But looking around, it seems that this almost barren, moon-like terrain, enwraps you with awe and enchantment.
The Mad Max feels upon riding our 4×4. This truck is one of its kind among the off-road transpo here in Mt. Pinatubo said the driver.
It was indeed a thrilling one and a half hour-ride going to the drop-off point. It was still dark when we left the base camp so we couldn’t really see anything except the dust rolling up in the vehicle and the long shadowy grasses along the riverbed (which reminded me of the trail followed by Baldo in Manuel Arguelle’s How My Brother Leon Brought Home A Wife). As we approached the drop-off point, the terrain became more and more challenging. We had to pass by rocky streams which made the ride even bumpier. Precipitous trails compelled us to hold on to our dear lives. Imagine braving the terrain with no seat belts or anything to prevent ourselves from falling. Nevertheless, it was one hell of an adventure.
A long but never a tiring trek
After the ride, we finally reached the drop-off point at around 6:00 AM. As the day slowly started to seep in, the view became more and more ostensibly mesmerizing. We were surrounded by lahar walls, some even formed like temple pillars from ancient period- something that you see on dystopic fantasy flicks. One word: SURREAL.
The guide said that during rainy season, the terrain changes because the lahar deposits become soft which create erosion and massive land slides.
The gray and green combined create such a metaphorical breathtaking view. I’m not yet talking about the caldera.
Stopping by for a pose with these kids who were building fire to warm themselves.
The trek could last about two hours depending on the hiker’s pace. But really, who would mind? Despite crossing rocky streams and sandy soils, we felt like we were walking on the best gift nature has given us. Knowing the catastrophe that formed this majestic ground, we moved forward blissfully. We survived!
On our way back to the drop-off point after the trek to Mt. Pinatubo.
Caldera not crater
Apparently, the main highlight of the trip is the “crater” itself. However, Anne, our trip coordinator, emphasized that the word “crater” is not the right term for the giant hole which was made by the eruption. Scientifically, it is called caldera, a large, basinlike depression resulting from the explosion or collapse of the center of a volcano (dictionary.com). Crater, on the other hand, is the depression caused by an impact of a celestial body hitting the earth. So yeah, after an hour or so, we made our ascent to the caldera. Not crater.
After an hour and a half, we finally reached the starting point of the trek to the caldera. Before going there, there is a rest area and two washrooms if you like to pee or take some refreshment. Some locals sell energy drinks and ice candy.
The climb to the caldera is quite different from the previous trek. As we took our ascent to the much anticipated summit, we were greeted by mossy boulders, mini-falls and interesting plant species along our path.
As we got closer to the caldera, we were soothed by the sights and sounds of nature.
I don’t even know how to begin describing the lake. Sure, most of us have heard about Mt. Pinatubo or how beautiful it is as we have seen it on travel shows or magazines. But having a first-hand view of the caldera and being within the caldera of the volcano is magnificently beyond words. This breathtaking view just proves how something disastrous can turn into something majestic. Instagram-worthy in every angle. The verdant slopes and the serene lake seemed to have been painted by a great artist. As you gaze at the view around the caldera, you could almost feel that you are in a foreign land, perhaps in New Zealand… even in a fictional world of Harry Potter.
Finally reached the caldera! From this point, you need to descend through a man-made staircase going to the lake.
Behold the Mt. Pinatubo caldera. It will remind you of The Black Lake from Harry Potter.
Now I am lake. A woman bends over me,/Searching my reaches for what she really is./Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon./I see her back, and reflect it faithfully. -Sylvia Plath, “Mirrors”
Ms. Anne, the trip coordinator and owner of TRIPinas Travel and Tour Ventures, provides the guests with information about Mt. Pinatubo.
A perfect Valentine getaway
One might ask, what did you do when you reached the crater? There are a lot of things to do along the lake, actually. Although swimming and boating are prohibited, feeling the presence of an unknown energy can give you a sort of relaxation. You gaze at the sky, the slopes, and the lake. You can take pictures with your friends. The whole place is just so apt for pictorials. Just bring someone who can really take good photos.
With my equally adventurous travel buddy and soul-sister Dawn
Passing by these Aeta kids enjoying their bath made me miss my childhood.
We stayed along the lake for roughly two hours fighting the cold that enveloped the whole caldera. We partook lunch and celebrated Valentine’s Day over a bottle of wine and some chocolates. We watched different tourists doing different things. Everything around the caldera was beautiful that day. My heart was filled with gratitude.
I don’t mind being lost…at all.
” How I wish you were here/We’re just two lost souls/Swimming in a fish bowl/Year after year…” -Pink Floyd, “Wish You Were Here”
Do you want the trek to Mt. Pinatubo be your next adventure?
Visit TRIPinas Travel and Tour Ventures website for bookings. It’s http://tripinas.com.ph.
Photos by: September Noon Macahilo