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Published: March 4th 2013
The Crater Lake of Mt. PinatuboNearly 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.....
Dormant for half a millennium, devastating in its violent awakening in 1991.
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 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
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 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 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!
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
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.
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