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. Read more


Word of Mouth

DAVE NORTHALLdave0
Travel Photographer

The journey on the 4×4 is fast at the start, driving along the river bed along which lahar has flowed, cutting across numerous streams and dodging small rocks. However, as the journey continues, the banks of the river bed rise with high cliffs of ash, rock and pumice, these wearing away into amazing formations that stand out brilliantly in the early morning light. At the same time, the sizes and numbers of rocks in the river bed increases and the jeeps have to slow down, traveling across ever moving bumpier tracks. Ultimately, the jeeps can go no further, the 7 km hike on foot starts.

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Starting out along the river bed, and jumping across small streams or balancing on strategically placed rocks, the river bed narrows, the cliffs close in and the rocks become larger and more colorful. Carrying on, areas of tall grass sprout between the streams and rocks, conveniently hiding the increasing gradient.

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Eventually there is a rest stop, theoretically no more than a 20-minute walk to the crater rim. At this point the scenery takes another dramatic change, as dies the gradient and the track. The surroundings hills right up to the edge of a beautifully clear flowing stream—which itself, in many cases, is the track—are covered in deep lush tropical plants. After passing the last of the streams, there is a set of steep concrete steps up and then down to the lake–the final push to the rim of the crater. You can’t go there and not dip your toes in the water. But then, there’s the climb back up–only softened by the fact that the rest of the journey is downhill–and about 20 minutes faster than the trip up!

One piece of advice–wear sturdy shoes that you’re happy to get wet, and carry a simple walking stick. The kids at the setting off point sell bamboo sticks for P20—the best 20 pesos you’ll ever spend!

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migs

MIGS, Planning & Design Engineer

Besides the well-known scenery of the lake and the mountains of lahar, interacting with the Aetas is one reason for me to visit Pinatubo again. It’s a humbling cultural experience to meet them and they greet you with sincere smiles. Seeing them live a happy uncomplicated life–the parents herd their cows, the kids make stone houses for fun–was relaxing. During our visit, the Aeta children were very eager to pose for the camera and they got thrilled when we showed them their photos. We also talked to some parents and we had a great conversation.

Photo by Migs Reodica

Photo by Migs Reodica


image2ANTON, Wanderer

Since I was young, I’ve always looked forward to traveling to other countries, forgetting that the Philippines has plenty of beautiful places too.It was mere curiosity–after hearing so much from friends and family–that led me to my first hike at Mt. Pinatubo.

We drove to Zambales for two and a half hours and rented a 4×4 jeep to take us to the drop off point. The ride was bumpy but definitely exhilarating. After the jeep ride we started our trek which was greeted with warm smiles of the  Aeta children.

The beauty of the location was so inviting. We took countless photos, then continued the three-hour journey. On our way to the crater, it started to drizzle and that made the whole trek relaxing and peaceful. When the trek ended, we stood in silence at the sight of the crater. I’m blessed to have  traveled to different countries, but this day trip is one of the more significant ones. Definitely short, but truly memorable.

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ann2ANNE, Health Advisor

I booked a flight from Cebu to Manila to experience the epic 4×4 ride and 7-kilometer trek. The trail was fairly easy even for beginners, although you need to prepare for the long hike under the scorching heat of the sun. The rock formations were fascinating. Surreal. Along the way, you get to bond with the locals and experience their warmth and genuine smile. Close to the crater, the trail gets narrower and the rocks are more slippery.  When you reach the peak, the magical beauty of the crater lake will sweep all the pain away that you can literally do push ups! The trip was definitely  worth the time and effort, and it’s an experience worth sharing with loved ones.

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neilNEIL, Accountant

Back then, all we saw was the terrible tragedy that claimed many lives. Now,  we see a beautiful and serene place that reminds us of how powerful and faithful our God is. It evokes mixed feelings and thoughts for personal reflection. It makes me think that no matter how bad our situation might be now, just think that in time it may turn out to be unexpectedly beautiful like what happened at Mt Pinatubo.

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How to Get There

  • Flying?
    Fly to the Clark Airport in Pampanga. From there, take a cab to the Mabalacat bus terminal and take a bus bound for Pangasinan or Baguio. Ask the driver to drop you off at Capas, Tarlac. Travel time is about an hour. Take a jeepney for Patlin and ask the driver to drop you off for a tricycle ride to Sta Juliana. The tricycle ride can last 45 minutes and cost about P300 one-way.
  • Driving?
    From Manila, take the North Luzon Expressway and exit at Sta Ines toll gate. Continue diriving to McArthur Highway onwards Bamban and Capas, Tarlac. Take a left turn to Sto Rosario when you reach the public market in Capas. Continue driving past the Capas National Shrine and Camp O’Donnel until you reach Sta Juliana.
  • Taking public tansport?
    From Manila, take a bus going to Pangasinan or Baguio (Victory, Partas, Farinas, Five Star, Florida). These buses have terminals in Cubao and Sampaloc. Get off at Capas, Tarlac. Travel time is about 3 hours, and the fare is about P200. Then, take a jeepney for Patlin and ask the driver to drop you off for a tricycle ride to Sta Juliana. The tricycle ride can last 45 minutes and cost about P300 one-way.

Money Matters

A Pinatubo tour is not really expensive if you come as a group and split the bill.
* Amounts below are estimates and are subject to change.

Bus fare from Manila to Tarlac—about P200
Jeepney, Tarlac to Patlin–P8
Tricycle, Patlin to Sta Juliana–P300
4×4 jeep rental—P3000 for 5 persons
Local guide fee—P500 for 5 persons
Conservation fee—P500 per person
Aeta passway fee—P150 per person
Packed lunch—there’s a McDonald’s in Capas, too


Sample Itinerary

03:00 AM—Depart from Manila (Sampaloc terminal)
05:00 AM—Arrive at Capas, Tarlac
06:00 AM—Arrive at Sta Juliana Tourism Office, Registration
06:30 AM—Depart for Pinatubo, ride 4×4 car to jump off point
07:30 AM—Start of trek; 7 kilometers, may last 2 to 3 hours
10:30 AM—Arrive at Mt.Pinatubo crater; lunch
01:00 PM—Trek back
02:00 PM—Jump off point, ride 4×4 car back to Sta Juliana
03:00 PM—Arrive at Sta Juliana Tourism Office; wash up
03:45 PM—Arrive Capas Junction; early dinner
05:00 PM—Depart for Manila
08:00 PM—Arrive at EDSA, Cubao


Travel Tips

  • Bring the essentials—Valid ID; 1L of water to hydrate; snacks/trail food; packed lunch; extra clothes and towels; mask; sunblock; sunglass; hat; plastic bag to wrap bags in case it rains; hiking sandals or slippers; tent—and goodies for the Aeta children. Ooops, don’t forget your camera!
  • Be safe—Check the weather on the travel date and prepare alternative plans. The best months to visit are November to February when the lake is vivid blue-green. Pinatubo is a moving landscape and is prone to landslide on windy and rainy days. Follow safety precautions.
  • Book in advance—There are many tour operators, but the most recommended is Wendell. And come early to enjoy the cold morning and avoid the intense heat of the sun.
  • Get enough rest—Sleep well to prepare for the trek and enjoy the amazing view of Pinatubo.
  • Pee before the ride—Seriously. The next station is two to four hours away.

Contacts

Wendell Mercado, tour organizer—0919.608.4313
Capas Tourism Office—045.925.0154
* The tourism office opens for registration at 6 AM. The last batch is entertained until 8 AM.

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For more photos, check the Instagram and Facebook account of D’YAN LANG, the most-voted travel blog in the 2015 Bloggys Philippine Blogging Awards, and the winner of Best Travel Blog and Best Photo Blog in the 2015 Best Cebu Blogs Awards (BCBA).

ArisMape

ArisMape is a travel insider at ABS-CBN's Choose Philippines. He loves orange, halo-halo, and PowerPoint, and hates beef, slow internet, and long taxi lines. His pastime is watching people watch other people. He swears on the power of smartphone. His half-life? Thirty.