Mt. Pinatubo: A Beautiful Mess

Look how eerily beautiful the crater is. The beauty that took a thousand lives. 

TA-DAAAHHH!!! Lo and behold, my first ever (comprehensive) post about my travel shenanigans!!! Truth be told, I have always thought of publishing a travel entry since my last update, but just wasn't able to squeeze anything creative out of my brain. I guess today is a perfect day to catch up-- a lazy Sunday, with Jason Mraz and Jack Johnson playing in the background, a cup of strong joe within my reach, and lots of free time.

Anyway, my first travel post is about our recent trip to the fabled Mt. Pinatubo. We started planning the trip late last year after Happy, my office seatmate, and I saw this while browsing the offerings on Metrodeal:

For the longest time, I have always wanted to see the legendary crater lake. I've seen countless photos of its beautiful turquoise water and the ashen ridges protecting it. We thought it was a fair deal, so without a moment's hesitation, we asked our other colleagues to join us and booked a total of 11 vouchers.

Booking a slot for our trek was a real headache, because: first, I needed to make sure that everyone was available on the date I suggested; and second, contacting the travel agency, Travel & Save Tours, was a really arduous task, as I could hardly get a feedback from them regarding our request for a schedule. When we were finally able to save a slot for one Sunday on February-- alas, it was cancelled as they advised that the weather was ugly. Should we choose to push through with the trek and DOT Capas wouldn't let us, we would forfeit the vouchers. Ugh, just ugh. I am not really the type who books tours through travel agents as I enjoy DIY, so I told myself I would never avail of travel and tour packages ever again. At least not from these guys.

So came April 14. Have we not bombarded their call center (it was actually just a cellphone number answered by random staff members) with calls a few days before the actual trip, the guys from TST would not have confirmed the reservation. When we called, they said, sure, this has already been confirmed, but man, could they use some proactive customer service! Have we not asked, they wouldn't have informed of the details about where to meet them up, who to contact and all that fuzz.

Anyway, at around 3 AM, we all met up at Victory Liner Cubao (except for Leo, who was down with the flu that day), and snugged ourselves in the van they chartered for us. I slept through the almost 3 hour ride at the back of the van with Jeber, commando style. The back of the van, which was spacious enough that I was actually able to stretch my legs across the other seat, was nonetheless noisy (the door was creaking like crazy the whole time), bouncy and warm.

I woke up when the engine died, and saw the sparkling yellow M sign behind the window. Why hello there, McDonalds-- where we ate the "buffet-turned-pancake-meal" breakfast supposedly included in our package. Obviously my friends were not happy about this drastic change. Trekkers expected a hefty rice meal, just to end up with 2 pieces of pancakes as hiking fuel? Thank goodness the pancakes were fluffy as expected. So far, I was still having a good day. After eating, we headed to the tourist center and joined a big flock of people who was also there to see the famed volcano.

After paying the necessary fees (a DOT fee of PHP 400 each was paid in advanced through bank deposit) such as the transpo fee (PHP 750 each, roundtrip) and the additional PHP 130 for the "people of Zambales," we took off on our 4x4 trucks. Look how cool they were!

 Rayzan and Megs posing with our 4x4. 5 people shares one ride. I was with these guys along with Pops and Jem. Jeber, ate Raks, Happy, SC and Lysette were on the other truck.

After 30 minutes of rough ride through a vast wasteland of ashes, sand and stones, we stopped over at a small community of Aetas who were selling root crops and plantains. We also had our pictures taken with the friendly local kids and the toblerone-like formation of volcanic ash in the distance. We were told to brace ourselves as the next ride would be rougher and tougher. Time to wear those masks and prepare for the dusty ride!

The Toblerone Mountains, as Jem would call it.

We spent the next few hours admiring the white lahar walls, boulders, streams of crystal-clear water, the Crow Valley (part of the Tarlac Military testing grounds), and an occasional sighting of locals who were trying to make a living out of what grows on the near-barren landscape of Pinatubo. While the view on the way was quite entertaining, it eventually bored me. So I decided to take a nap, bouncy ride aside (haha!).

We learned that we didn't have to hike for the next 2-3 hours, because the trucks can now access the once-impassable dirt road . I thought it was nice, but I guess our mountaineer get-up was a bit of an overkill! HAHAHA! Next thing we knew, we were already on the foot of the volcano, where the rides were all parked, and the trek would begin.

There was a sign at the jump off that tells approximately how fast one can reach the crater, categorized by age range. It says that the senior citizens can reach the top in 20 minutes. Honestly I couldn't tell how accurate this was as I didn't set a timer trying to beat it. The air was cool, and the sound of the bubbling brooks and chirping birds made the trek very enjoyable. 

Crater lake, at last.

 Lake shore

To be honest, the crater lake was all awesome and beautiful, sure, but we were a little bit underwhelmed. I, for one, was expecting the water to be deep-turquoise in color. That, after all, was what I expected to see. Or maybe the timing was wrong. Maybe the morning sun didn't cast a light bright enough to allow the lake to display its magical emerald color.

 Lysette, Jeber, Megs and ate Raks.

 No emerald lake, but still awesome. Right?

There was a swarm of tourists on the crater, and it was kind of crazy. I'm not used to a very big tourist crowd but that's understandable, as Mt. Pinatubo is known all over the world. The 1991 eruption made the volcano an instant celebrity, infamously as the second largest terrestrial eruption of the 21st century. The volcanic debris it spewed supposedly decreased global temperature by 0.5 Celsius. It also claimed more than 800 people in its wake. Now that's one angry volcano!

On the bright side, this is now the present incarnation of the deadly monster of a volcano-- a beautiful crater holding an enchanted lake that displays interesting colors. Been to the coves of San Antonio in Zambales? It has been said that the picturesque landscape of these coves is the product of the lahar flow to the shores, rendering the sand ash-grey instead of black. The volcanic soil also encouraged the growth of agoho trees along the shores of the coves.

Of course, we did the usual stuff. We took a bunch of pictures, stroke crazy poses with the crater in the background, and ate our trail food in the hut (thanks to Happy and SC, who brought a cornucopia of food enough to feed the whole group!). It's just sad that we were not able to stay long enough since we needed to leave the crater after an hour. We were told that we might not be able to pass by the Crow Valley after the scheduled departure time because of the ongoing Balikatan Exercises.

Despite all the mishaps we met along the way, we surely had one great time! I couldn't help but remember the havoc caused by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. But it's amazing how something so disastrous can yield something so beautiful.

Our trip started out as a disaster as well. But thanks to my friends who didn't let the primary setback spoil the trip, I had the pleasure of seeing this wondrous work of nature. Truly, a beautiful mess!   

For the complete collection of photos, please click on this link to view my Facebook album.

Thanks to Pops, Jem, Megs, Happy, SC, ate Raks, Jeber, Lysette and Rayzan for making this trip a blast! Until the next one :)

No comments:

Post a Comment