This weekend I climbed another volcano! Mt Pinatubo. This is the volcano which erupted in 1991 causing a fair amount of chaos and climate disruption.
I must confess that I didn’t really know all that much about it until it was suggested we go and climb it. I did a bit of reading in the Lonely Planet and on the WWW, but for some reason when we arrived there it wasn’t what I had expected at all!
A group of 5 of us had booked to go with Tripinas. The tour was extremely well organised – from the initial information emails we received from them following our enquiries, to the confirmation emails, to the transport & guides to the crater and even a follow-up email saying ‘Thank you’ for our custom. I would highly recommend the company.
My day started with my alarm going off at 3am, to catch a taxi to Quezon Avenue, corner with EDSA, in the Northern part of Metro Manila, for our 4am rendevous. The rendevous point was in a McDonalds. One of the lads was particularly excited when, as he was queuing, the menu flipped over to the breakfast menu. It meant he could get his fix of a double helping of pancakes and hot chocolate to get him fuelled up for the day. This same lad managed to nip into a McDonalds where we stopped for a comfort stop, to get an ice cream. All of this before 6:30am.
We were driven from Manila to Barangay Sta Juliana (in Tarlac) where we changed vehicles into 4x4s. It was quite a sight to see all the various shaped and sized 4x4s lined up along the road. Some had doors and roofs, others were more of a shell. We had been warned that there were no seatbelts, so we’d have to hold on tight. I don’t remember being warned that there were no doors. It all added to the experience.
The 4×4 ride to the foot of the climb was definitely a highlight. The route took us through a valley full of volcanic rock and almost-rivers (varying between trickles and full-on flowing water). At many points there was no clear road at all. The 4×4 drivers negotiated the valley with extreme skill. It was exhilarating racing through the dryer bits of the valley one minute and then negotiating rock-strewn rivers the next. I was often surprised that we managed to get through – the slopes looked too steep and the river to be too fast flowing. But I guess that’s what 4x4s are made for.
And then it was a 7km hike to the crater. It was a very gentle hike until the last 1km, where even then it wasn’t particularly taxing. We had been advised to wear trekking sandals as we’d be walking through numerous rivers. I’m glad I followed the advice – there were a lot of these river crossings. Whilst it was a gentle hike, the terrain is rough and uneven.
The crater is much larger than I had expected. Like really really big. Swimming was strictly prohibited (our guide told us that he’d lose his job if we didn’t take heed of his warning!), even though it did look very inviting to get into, especially after a 3 hour walk. We walked down the 176 steps to the waters edge and did go for a brief wade. The water wasn’t hot (for some reason I thought it might be). Then we walked the 176 steps back up to eat our picnic on the grass with a slight view of the crater. It was only 11:45am! It’s amazing how much you can fit into a day when you get up so early. Having lunch at that time means that there are still plenty of other opportunities throughout the day for more food. Surely.
The walk back was quite a bit shorter. The 4x4s picked us up at the point where the trek got a bit steep on the way up. This meant for some even hairier river crossings on the way back, as the 4x4s followed the route we had walked up. I hadn’t even noticed that there was a road for a considerable portion of the walk up. There was an incident of a 4×4 getting stuck at one of the river crossings and later another vehicle lost a wheel!
The journey back to Manila took about 2 hours – a whole hour less than the scheduled time. We arrived back hot, dusty, tired but happy. It was a great day out of the city. And there was time to use the pool whilst it was still light when back at the flat!