Cheating My (Sky) Way to Mount Pinatubo

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March 3rd 2013
Published: March 4th 2013
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The Crater Lake of Mt. PinatuboThe Crater Lake of Mt. PinatuboThe Crater Lake of Mt. Pinatubo

Dormant for half a millennium, devastating in its violent awakening in 1991.
Nearly 60 and a big cheat. Say what you like, but we got farther with our 4x4 jeep before starting the trek towards the Mount Pinatubo Crater. Typically, trekkers do an hour on the 4x4 jeep to reach the base. From there it's a 2 hour-trek towards the crater. Well.....

The 'Skyway' or The Shortcut?

If it can be done via a 2-hour 4x4 drive and a half-hour trek instead, why not? "I'm game!" I confidently told my niece. "Skip the rubber shoes as you'd just get them soaking wet crossing brooks and streams while trekking" , she reminded me. Without her seeing, I rolled my eyes. No way I'm giving up my rubber shoes to wear those sandals. If they get wet, so what? My 2 nieces coming along each woke me up at 2 am, then at 2:30 am. Hard to resist screaming "Leave me alone!" -- but surprisingly, I was too excited to mind being sleep-deprived. We left the house at 3am to meet our group at 3:30am. Before sunrise, we were registering to join the Mount Pinatubo trek in Capas, Tarlac on the morning of March 2, 2013. Bought a cane
Some Started Their Trek HereSome Started Their Trek HereSome Started Their Trek Here

Don't look at me. My butt's glued to my seat on the 4x4 as far as it gets.
and a hat before mounting the 4x4 jeep from the back -- the first hurdle. (Nieces pushing my butt to climb up....) A native Aeta named Jimmy (no, that's not his real name, I'm sure) was our driver for the day. When I asked him how he learned how to drive, "Jimmy" said he just watched how others did it. Hmmm. For our guide, we had Jun, an ex-Philippine Marine. Jun briefed us but all I heard was this would be just a 1 hour 45 minute drive and a 20 minute trek to the crater.

A Bumpy Ride

When I say it was a bumpy ride, trust me. I would have gladly seated myself in front beside "Jimmy" but someone beat me to it. So I sat at the back with my 2 nieces and the guide. For nearly 2 hours, "Jimmy" skillfully drove through lahar country, crossing streams, and even pulled another 4x4 jeep with an overheated engine. All that time, I felt like my stomach, liver, kidney and whatever else inside got all interchanged to form a new anatomy. A few times, my butt left the seat
Lahar EverywhereLahar EverywhereLahar Everywhere

Those aren't real hills. That's hardened volcanic debris spewed out by the volcano.
suspended a few seconds in midair, to land with my large and small intestines fully intertwined. Thank God, we stopped somewhere in this lahar landscape to meet some local Aeta vendors selling bananas and sweet potatoes. Some memorable snapshots here with the friendly locals. The Aeta children giggled as they viewed their faces flashed on the LCDs of our cams. We gave them our sandwiches and snack items. "Jimmy" our driver told us that it's a hard life for them where sweet potatoes are all they have from sunrise to sunset. Harder still when the June 15, 1991 volcanic eruption lasting all of 9 hours forced them out of their homes in the mountains. Before this disastrous event, people referred to the 1883 Krakatua (Indonesia) eruption as the biggest disturbance to the earth's stratosphere. Mount Pinatubo changed all that. In fact, the aerosol cloud wrapped the earth for a good 2 weeks and lowered global temperatures. Worse still, thunderstorms and typhoons in subsequent years caused lahar disasters where volcanic debris mixed with rainwater flooded and even buried some towns where such mudflows crossed. One such town is Bacolor in nearby Pampanga province where a beautiful, still functioning church stands half-buried
The Aeta ChildrenThe Aeta ChildrenThe Aeta Children

This is their territory. Their home. Till the violent eruption and subsequent lahar mudflows.
in lahar. You may check out my earlier blog on this lahar-devastated historic town.

Some Territorial Issues

Boo! Just 4 kilometers away from the start of the half-hour trek, our paths were blocked. Someone radio'ed our guide that we could not cross the Capas, Tarlac-Botolan, Zambales boundary. (We started in Capas, Tarlac where the hiking/trekking trail starts but Mount Pinatubo is actually in the province of Zambales) Some territorial issues they said, bordering on INCOME-SHARING disputes. The guide said the town in Zambales had a share in the tourism business up until 2011. They wanted to force the issue NOW, just when jeeploads of tourists arrived at this spot just 4 Kms from the border.

The wait took more than 2 hours. Remember this is lahar country. No shade other than that cast by the lahar-formed hills and rock formations. Bored, sunburned and a tad frustrated, my friends and I nearly volunteered to negotiate. Thankfully, some local officials came and agreed with their Zambales counterparts to resolve the issue within a week. No tours, no treks while negotiations are pursued. But WE were
A Cross at ViewpointA Cross at ViewpointA Cross at Viewpoint

Downhill towards the lake from hereon. Nearly 180 steps down. Problem is the same 180 steps climbing back up.
allowed to cross as the last batch of tourists till after these territorial (aka income-sharing) issues are resolved. Gee, a gazillion thanks!

Start Trek

The marker says 15 to 20 minutes of trekking towards the crater. We thought we'd beat the odds by hurrying up. Were we wrong! Or maybe, that marker got it all wrong!

I hardly looked at my watch. But hurrying up as I tried for the first 10 minutes, it was certainly more than 20 minutes even for those in a rush. We must have been trekking for 15-20 minutes before we reached the halfway mark. By then, I gave up on the bet. No way we can beat the odds. When we reached the crater viewpoint, we were poofed!

It would be another hurdle to do the downhill trek towards the crater lake. Well, the uphill climb back to the viewpoint was what discouraged some not to proceed. I went. And I climbed back up with many oxygen breaks. Lunch was ready by the time I
Lahar MarksLahar MarksLahar Marks

Earlier photos do not show the lahar marks, which are visible here.
climbed back up. But I was totally wasted by then. I gave away much of the lunch and simply nibbled on the fish, nearly swallowed a whole tomato, munched 3 tiny bananas for my potassium dose and downed 2 bottles of water.

Still, I was happy to have done it. The lake water was not as torquise colored as I expected, but the vista makes me forget the havoc wreaked by this volcano. Dormant for half a millennium, devastating in its violent awakening in 1991.

Additional photos below
Photos: 24, Displayed: 24


Some Trekkers Stop HereSome Trekkers Stop Here
Some Trekkers Stop Here

Good snapshots from here. So some don't bother to go down to the lake.
Posterity ShotPosterity Shot
Posterity Shot

With my friends Jun and Cynthia, fantastic hikers both!
The Way Down To The Crater LakeThe Way Down To The Crater Lake
The Way Down To The Crater Lake

No railings. No shade. BURN.....
Posterity ShotPosterity Shot
Posterity Shot

This time with my nieces Sarah and Suzette.
We crossed some brooks & streamsWe crossed some brooks & streams
We crossed some brooks & streams

Nimble with our footing!
4 Kms to the border4 Kms to the border
4 Kms to the border

Trek starts in Capas, Tarlac. Ends in Botolan, Zambales.
Passing Locals Doing Their LaundryPassing Locals Doing Their Laundry
Passing Locals Doing Their Laundry

They bathe here. They wash their clothes here.
Friendly Aeta ChildrenFriendly Aeta Children
Friendly Aeta Children

They don't ask for money, but they love posing for cams.
Born FREE!Born FREE!
Born FREE!

An Aeta boy enjoys his bath.
Pile of StonesPile of Stones
Pile of Stones

Guide said they were used much like road signs.

4th March 2013

Looks like a fun trip :)
5th March 2013

Hi Jay
It was fun. Tynnie, you and I should do a local trip together! Where are you off to next?
4th March 2013

Wish we had been with you.
I laughed when you rolled your eyes and kept your rubber shoes! Sorry to hear your trip was delayed by political issues. Sounds like the hike portion was misrepresented a bit but as always you concurred the mountain! Miss you.
5th March 2013

Miss you too!
Yup, we could have done it and rolled our eyes together! But at the time you were here, it was still a 2 hour trek going+another 2 hours back. Too hot to bear. The 'new route' opened just a few backs ago. Miss you two!
5th March 2013

Hmm.. I'll be climbing Mt. Pulag on March 16, then going to Cambodia in April. On May 15 I will be attending the Pahiyas Festival. You can join me there! :)
5th March 2013

I've done Pahiyas but won't mind going again. Just to sure if I'm in town. Will let you know!
7th March 2013

Go for it!
Another great effort beyond the call of duty! We know the feeling - just arrived Shimla, the summer home of the Raj, up at 2200m and feeling the jelly legs! David and Janice
7th March 2013

I wonder when I'd cross off India from my bucket list. I should stop putting it off!
7th March 2013

What an awesome place to visit :)
I never thought Mt. Pinatubo will become such a beautiful place to visit after the 1991 volcanic eruption happened. The images are so beutiful. By the way if you have some time you can read my blogs about festivals and events here in the Philippines. Here's the link:
7th March 2013

I'm done with hotel reservations for the October MassKara Festival in Bacolod but would love to do more. I'd check out your link soon. Thanks for dropping by.
15th March 2013

wow! way to go tita. i definitely don\'t blame you for going through the shorter way =P just send me a note tita if you and jay figure out anything/any place where we can go together, it should be fun! :)
19th March 2013

Feel free to make suggestions
Hi Tynnie. Let's start with a day trip. Perhaps this April, so my apos can join us. :-)
8th August 2017
A Cross at Viewpoint

A Cross at Viewpoint
That photo makes me want to go now! Actually all your images and stories are wonderfully enticing. But could I make it up? Will have to see some day.
8th August 2017
A Cross at Viewpoint

A Cross at Viewpoint
That photo makes me want to go now! Actually all your images and stories are wonderfully enticing. But could I make it up? Will have to see some day.

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