Constantly shaped by the forces of nature, the always-changing landscape of Mt Pinatubo gives an intense kind of experience to the adventurous. Before I set foot on this vast land of lahar and enormous mountains, the photos I saw in blogs were barely imaginable. When I finally saw it myself, I was astonished. It was surreal. It was like walking on the moon.
Part 1 of 2
I asked the konduktor to drop us off at Sta Catalina. There’s no such place in Tarlac, he replied. Boom! That’s what happens when you Google your itinerary, put it in your phone, and your phone suddenly declares EMPTY BATT. So, the bus dropped the clueless hobbits at the Capas Junction. From there, we took a jeepney to “the drop off point” for the Pinatubo trek” only to be told by the locals that we have to get to Sta Juliana—yes, that’s the name, I remembered—by taking a tricycle.
So, off we went on a tricycle, with kuya driver deciding on our fate. I seated on a narrow rest near the entrance, closed my eyes and held firmly to the bars as the cold misty air slapped my face and gave me shivers. And then, after 45 minutes on that unfamiliar road, we reached the drop off point: Barangay Sta Juliana.
We filled out registration forms, signed waivers, and paid the fees. The 40-somethings also had their blood pressure taken, which I had to skip because I’m not in that category yet. Our guide, Kuya Benjo, then led us to a good-looking 4×4 jeep and recited his rehearsed introduction for the tour. Mt Pinatubo’s crater lake is 30 kilometers from the drop off point, he said, and that part of the journey is a 7-kilometer hike that can last for two hours.Bring it on, adrenaline rush!
The first part of the terrain was grassland, so the ride was normal, no thriller. The sun was barely up and the morning air cold. The dark sky still cast its shadow on the mountains, giving some drama to the landscape. Shortly, the scene started to change. The mysterious mountain range showed up, and the muddy plains became more and more beautiful in the morning light. We met a carabao in his early morning trek and woke up the sun-dried grass celebrating the blessings of that cold misty morning.And then the ride became a little bumpy, the road most traveled turned to a vast arena of dried lahar, streams, and rivers. The moon! It’s the moon….breathtaking…, the exaggerated hobbit told himself.
The 4×4 cut across streams and rivers, making the adventure more exhilarating. We gripped the bars as tight as we could, or the 4×4 would send us flying to different directions. And then, probably halfway to the entire trip, we stopped for some photoshoot—in a new hairstyle, thanks to the windy ride. We made friends with the Aeta children who happily obliged for jump shots. We asked them their names and, to cheer them up, distributed the candies we packed the night before the trip.
The ride went on. The 4×4 crossed many more streams, and the hobbits were speechless as they enjoy the sight of the mountains glimmering in soft sunlight. The chilling cold was bliss. The trees perched on the mountains made the surrounding a refreshing sight of white and green. The heaps of loose earth were breathing, moving, slowly changing shape with the wind, and the rocks all over the vast span of land made the feeling extraordinary. It seemed like it wouldn’t be a difficult hike but a happy stride on the moon.
Finally, the car halted by the mouth of the river. Kuya Benjo asked us to prepare for the real thing: the trek. TIME CHECK: 7:20 AM
The 7-kilometer hike commenced.After more than an hour of walking, we stopped to recharge. We sat on the rocks beside a stream, listened to the gargling water, and caught our breath as we munched our sandwiches.Dwarfed by the white walls, we trekked deeper into the mountains. Kuya Benjo, then announced that we have reached the last leg of the trek, shorter than what we’ve already completed. The scene has changed–no more tall white mountains, only clearings of nameless trees–one had a lot of balls–and cold water flowing downstream. We thought the hard part of the journey was over, only to learn that there was one final challenge: climbing the stairs to the crater. It took a few stops before we reached the last step, and the gift of the long travel unfolded right before our eyes. It was the beautiful blue-green lake of Mt Pinatubo, the volcano that once placed this land in doom when it blew up its top on June 12, 1991.
I was in awe was an understatement.
This view used to be a mountain range, calmly asleep. Until one day, it awakened with so much anger. After the eruption, rainwater filled the caldera, and gave birth to a crater lake. Who would think that the monstrous volcano, which awakened the world in fear on Independence Day, will later turn out to this peaceful basin of blue-green water?
While the Philippines has many other volcanoes, several with crater lakes, none can compare to that of Pinatubo. The crater lake itself is beautiful in its aqua-colored basin surrounded by green and rusty-yellow perimeter, but much of the beauty of this trip lies in the amazing landscapes you’ll witness both during the 4×4 ride and the hike. These, definitely, are worthy of a visit in their own right.
–David Northall, Travel Photographer
Even at midday when the sun is up and bright, the surrounding near the lake is cold. We took our meals, a lot of selfies and jump shots, and some quiet moments just marveling at the beauty of Pinatubo. After about two hours, we decided to head back to the village. We took the same route back, a glorious march home that lasted for another two hours.When we thought we’ve seen everything there was to see, to our surprise, we found the place very different from the way we saw it the first time. We passed by the same mountains, the same streams, the same rocks, but with the sun lighting up the whole place, everything was grander, more breathtaking. Inevitably, we wished our distant 4×4 car were close by.
As we got closer to the drop off point again, we realized that we’re about to end a great journey—and there’s so much to miss. I realized that travelling can work two ways: the world opens up to you, and you also reach out to the world. Nature connects you to the beauty of life and reminds you of lessons we don’t seem to see in the noisy world.It will take me years before I set foot on Pinatubo again. But the memories are unforgettable, always vivid and powerful, even as I write about it two years later. I will always remember that once, a hobbit walked on the moon and his moon rover was a 4×4 jeep.
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