Trekking on Mount Pinatubo is an easy peasy, rewarding trip. You start off riding a 4×4 off-road vehicle then hiking on foot and end up mesmerising a jaw-dropping view. I’ve finally ticked it off my Philippine destination list!
*This is the fourth destination of my two-week cheap backpacking trip around Luzon.
My “sigh” turned to “wow” when my dark brown eyes finally laid on this magnificent view in real life. Beautiful. Amazing. Wonderful. I could use all similar adjectives in the dictionary, but honestly I was lost for words.
I’ve been longing to see the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo for two years. The tours available before were a bit expensive and I couldn’t get three to five people to join me – they’re either busy or no budget 🙁 (trust me, I desperately need more spirit-free, travel-minded buddies). You need to be a group of at least five people to get a cheaper deal as low as 1,500 Philippine peso (US$ 30) per person. But that’s a couple of years ago. Tour fees may increase every new year, so, it was a total dilemma. Imagine my excitement when my friend told me that we’re going! And yes, it’s the most expensive among the destinations we’ve visited for the entire two weeks. But that’s okay – it’s worth it.
“It would be another night in the street,” I sighed. My friend assured me that we could probably stay for the night at the lounge area of the guesthouse. It was a last minute arrangement with Sonia, apparently a well-known Mount Pinatubo tour agent and owner based in Capas, Tarlac. We’re fortunate to get slots for one of us on that same Friday night (the next morning was the scheduled tour) because most travellers would likely book beforehand and each group could be easily full.
I also had no idea how far Barangay Santa Juliana is from Capas junction, an intersection and a common pit stop for drivers/passengers coming from Manila (south bound) or northern provinces. When we got off the bus, there were several motorised tricycles parked on every side of the junction. There’s also McDonald’s and 711, both open at that time. We headed straight to the McDonald’s, where my friend ordered some meal. I skipped as I wasn’t hungry, let alone a soda drink.
A few minutes after, we walked out and asked around how to get to Sta. Juliana. It was around one in the morning, so my guess about jeepneys being unavailable during that hour was right. We could wait for three hours or just hire one of the tricycles. All the drivers seemed to know where we’re going, and were probably waiting there for particular passengers – Mount Pinatubo tourists like us. One driver offered us a ride for 200 pesos, instead of the normal rate of 250 or 300 I think, so we grabbed it. The ride to the guesthouse was almost endless!
For the next three hours, we stayed at this unenclosed hut – just a sitting and waiting area with a roof, no light switch too I think. Everyone was asleep except for one house nearby that’s hosting a wedding party and a few young boys walking around the street. I felt uneasy being there out in the open although I trusted (and hoped) my friend would defend us just in case some drunk guy see us and unwittingly try to hurt us. Luckily, nothing bad happened and we’re able to get a short nap.
Oh, wait. Who does that – skip sleeping for 8 hours and hike the next morning? Well, we did. We survived the whole trek.
After a brief orientation of the dos and don’ts of hiking on Mount Pinatubo, we all hopped in our designated 4×4 off-road vehicle. Of all the Sonia’s groups of about twenty people, only four to five passengers per vehicle were allowed plus the driver and the tour guide. Bear in mind that’s just a group of one agent. It’s Saturday, which is the easiest day to book for most people. I suggest you go on weekdays to avoid a larger crowd. You might want to have the crater lake to yourself, but unless you’re mega rich who can selfishly buy the whole day for himself, that’s unlikely.
The entire 4×4 ride was a full rush of excitement. We drove by long and wide-stretched, sandy areas and crossed shallow streams with a scenery of ash formed mountains (the place was once covered by lahar from the volanic eruption). With the sun rising, the day couldn’t be any better.
We then stopped by for a quick break and free photo sesh with the Tobleron-shaped mountains in the background. As we resumed the “lahar” road trip for another fifteen to twenty minutes, the path became narrow and narrower, whilst more and greener mountains in the surroundings.
I wasn’t certain how long the whole drive was because I was busy doing, you know, the usual – video taping and taking photos. What I can vividly remember was when our vehicle stopped the second time, I knew it’s time for us to begin our trek. Our tour guide handed us a bottle of water each. He continued carrying all of our lunch bags (that’s very nice of him, huh). Both lunch and water were included in the tour fee – like I’ve said it’s worth it.
Our group consisted of a Filipino couple who are both in the medical field I think, an Italian business man who’s recently based in Makati, my French friend and the “mocha mermaid” me (lol, thanks ginger clown for that nickname). The race was about to start. I call it that way as I didn’t want to walk closely or side by side with slow trekkers. As much as possible, I don’t want to be mixed with strange people because of indifferences. In this case of hiking, you have no idea how slow they could be. And since we’re in a group, we needed to stay together but that rule wasn’t strictly applied. Thank goodness!
Although it’s my first time without any idea how hard or rough the path would be, I was confident that I wouldn’t pass out nor easily get tired and give up. My friend and I walked ahead by two minutes until we couldn’t see them from behind because we’re going too fast. We’re able to find time and stop for a few photos too, and they couldn’t catch up. I’d like to keep it that way so we could have the crater lake to ourselves even for a minute. Other groups were quite slow too, or maybe trying a casual stroll. Most of them were carrying a long wooden rod, which was sold by kids back at the waiting area in Sta. Juliana. You don’t need that – it’s just another weight to carry. The trek was super duper easy.
There’s a specifically designed area for catch-your-break-and-drink-water and washroom breaks. As much as I’d like to keep walking, my legs needed a short rest. We then got reunited with everyone in our group until we all continued the trek together, but as I’ve predicted, we remained as front-runners. 😛
The hardest yet manageable part of this whole trek was the concrete steps, that lead to the main deck where you’d have the best view of the Mount Pinatubo crater. There’s another staircase going down to the lake. They can cause a slight muscle strain. It’s best that you’re physically prepared for this little challenge. We’ve taken so many miles for the first five days. Perhaps, that gave me the support my body needed to endure this trekking adventure despite the insufficient sleep I had the night before.
As a nature lover myself, it’s surely worth trekking for. How wonderful is that view!
I love the contrasting blue and green colour of the water. It keeps changing as the sun comes out from the clouds or hides behind them.
For the rest of the next hours, we indulge ourselves to this splendid view. Ignoring the countless steps, I went up and down three times. From the top, you’d see the rest of the water and the beautiful mountains around it, not to mention the reflection. Go down for an up-close meet. I cannot tell you how warm or cold the water is as I didn’t bother touching it. I’m guessing the mouth of the volcano is lukewarm because it’s still claimed as active. It was permitted to kayak on the water not after three years ago, not sure why this isn’t allowed anymore. I also saw nobody soaking in mud. I remember a volcanic mud spa advertised before – maybe that’s gone too.
When we had enough of the view, my friend and I had lunch – rice and fish fillet with sweet chili sauce, not that bad at all. We’ve talked about random stuff and eventually took photos together for the last time before we bid our goodbye to this once-devastating-now-an-inviting volcano.
Thanks for trekking with me!
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