On June 15, 1991, the wrath of a raging beast was felt not just in the Philippines but affected the entire world. Ash blanketed the metro and global temperatures dropped by about 0.5 °C for 3 years. Mt. Pinatubo took hundreds of lives and left thousands homeless.
But today, she's blooming.
(REALLY) EARLY MORNING DRIVE
I was relieved that someone from our group was willing to drive to all the way to Capas, Tarlac (about a 2.5 hour drive from Manila) early in the morning, instead of renting a van, to save money (I'll get into that later).
We left at 3am and with no stop overs, we got to Barangay Sta. Juliana (the take-off point of the trek) around 5:15am. We had some time to stretch our legs, check the place (the shower area), buy walking sticks, and enjoy our drive-thru McDonald's coffee as the tour officially starts at 6am.
BUMP, BUMP, BUMP
It's a 1.5 hour ride going up the mountain, cramped in a 4x4. We were a party of 4, all seated at the back. In front were our driver Jose and our tour guide Rudolfo.
The ride went from flat to bumpy to really bumpy! It was honestly so difficult to take photos. Most of the time I was just praying I'd get a few clear shots.
the mountain is stunning.
We paused to set up the drone but with much disappointment, we weren’t able to use its full capabilities since we weren’t logged in and we couldn’t anymore. WHY? Because there's no signal! We just ended up flying it manually with no visuals, hoping to take great shots. Curse you, auto update!
We almost lost the little device as it flew off fast away from us. My husband and drone pilot, Don, had to fly it higher for us to see it against the sky. All while Rudolfo was telling us stories about how several people have already lost and crashed their drones in different areas of the mountain. Check out the short video that my brother-in-law, Paolo, came up with below.
I think we were all holding our breath at one point.
Heigh ho, heigh ho
We took the 3km hike which takes you about an hour to reach the peak. One can opt to be dropped off earlier for a 5km or 7km jaunt. It's an easy trek, nothing steep like the beginning of our Taal hike. The only thing that made it challenging was my significant lack of cardio. I just gave birth to my first baby via C-section last March and I have to say, being sedentary for a year really took a toll on me.
My body has definitely changed. I felt weak. My husband saw that I was slowing down, though I showed no signs of stopping.
He told me to sing a marching song to get my mind off of it and the first thing I thought of was the song of the 7 dwarfs.
- 1km before the peak is a rest station where you can whip out your snack and take a bathroom break.
- You know you're near the peak when you see man-made stairs.
- According to our guide, during typhoons, the hiking area can be flooded up to 5ft deep.
- One time, different species of fish like Tilapia and Bangus were put in the crater lake to see if it would survive. Poor creatures didn’t even survive a day due to its sulfur content.
- The crater lake is 2km in diameter.
- Before, one could swim and ride a banka on the lake. Now, both are strictly prohibited.
- From the peak, there are 170-179 (depending on whoever tour guide you’re talking to) steep steps going down to the crater lake.
- When asked if the greenery in the mountain is seasonal and if it dries out every summer, the guides said no. The mountain is gradually blooming and growing lushly.
- On September 3, 1995, lahar flow from the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo buried the San Guillermo Parish Church at half its 12m height. Know more about it and the rest of our Pampanga Tour here.
One of the things that fascinated me is how the scenery changed just after several meters of walking -
From sandy, to rocky, to several scattered clutchES of towering grass, to stepping into a thriving forest.
For someone cooped up in the city for too long, this was a treat for my eyes. I don't mind doing this again.
- Bring sunblock. Self explanatory.
- Bring sunglasses not only for the sun but also to shield your eyes (sort of) from the sand during the 4x4 ride. Maybe a scarf would work better?
- Bring a jacket if you’re the type to feel cold easily. You might need it when you’re at the peak. Our guide says it’s necessary especially if you take the tour in December.
- Bring extra clothes and toiletries. You can take a cold shower in the shower stalls at the take-off point for only Php 50 (USD 1).
- Log on to your drone app before you get to the take-off point. There’s no signal during the entire tour.
- Buy a walking stick (Php 20 / USD 0.40) from the kids that sell at the take-off point. It helps you keep your balance going down the mountain and gives the kids a bit of business.
- Bring water. In case you run out, refreshments such as Gatorade and water are sold at the peak for Php 100 (USD 2) a bottle.
Driving yourselves there, bringing your own food and drinks will significantly lower your cost. Tours that include a roundtrip from Manila via van plus food can easily amount to Php 3800 (approx. USD 75) each. For the 4 of us, it was just Php 1775 (approx. USD 35) each. How?
- Php 3000 (USD 60) - 4x4 with max. capacity of 5 pax
- Php 500 (USD 10) - Tour guide per 4x4
- Php 500 (USD 10) - Conversation Fee per head
- Php 400 (USD 8) - Botolan, Zambales Fee per head