Mt Pinatubo: An Incredibly Fulfilling One Day Getaway
That was what I felt when I reached the crater of Mt Pinatubo.
The view was breathtaking and surreal. The mountains, with a slightly foggy sheen, looked like an enormous, elaborate painting of serene colours. Strange as this may sound, I initially thought that if I could extend the reach of my hands towards the mountains to touch the whole surface of the horizon, that my hands would meet a flat exterior. But later on, when I sat on the ground near the lake and stared closely at the unmoving mountains, I gradually began noticing the depth and the intricate details of the mountains. The feeling felt sublime, as if I was unraveling secrets from a lost period of time.
Let me recount how I got there. A destination would lose its value if the journey is forgotten.
Early morning, 5:00am. After a 2-hour bus ride (which was spent sleeping since we left Metro Manila at the ungodly hour of 3:00am), my sister and I finally arrived in Barangay Santa Juliana in Capas, Tarlac. The weather was very cold, which I took much pleasure from despite not bringing a jacket because I am fond of cold weather and it was refreshing to escape the ruthless heat in Metro Manila.
Having said that, I would suggest that you bring a jacket or wear a long-sleeved shirt because there were moments when the breeze would mercilessly attack you and leave you shivering. The sun was already out by the time we arrived, and I felt an overwhelming sense of invigoration as a result of the refreshing, unpolluted provincial air.
We rode a 4×4 to the start of the trekking point. At most, six people can fit in the ATV, exclusive of the driver and inclusive of the guide who comes along with you. To be perfectly honest, I was floored by the sights we encountered during the bumpy and speedy ride. It was unbelievable that a natural phenomenon such as an eruption of a volcano was able to shape the mountains in a state that was so aesthetically pleasing. Simply put, it looked like art made by a supreme being.
We drove through a bumpy landscape of lahar, traces of ash floods, gray rocks, boulders and a number of small streams. Driving through these paths, we witnessed the mountains that were affected by the lava of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991. Your ATV driver will also stop at certain points, so you can get the chance to take photographs. If you’re traveling alone, with a companion or in a group, don’t worry about having all of your photos comprised of selfies. You will have a guide along with you that will gladly take your photographs.
As my foot stepped on the ground, I felt transported in another time and space. It was extremely humbling and eye opening to feel calm and centred in the midst of what used to be a place of turmoil and calamity. We also passed by a couple of local Aeta tribes that were residing in the vicinity and a couple of children walking casually in small groups in what is known to them as home. Their features were so pure and their beautiful brown eyes so piercing and mysterious, if only I was given the time and privilege to, I would have wanted to get to know them better and unravel each of their stories.
After an hour of riding the ATV, we finally reached the trekking point and began our journey on foot to the crater of Mt Pinatubo. My sister and I were too concentrated on reaching the crater as soon as possible that it didn’t cross our minds to take photographs.
If you are not used to walking for a long period of time (it took us roughly 2 to 3 hours to get to the lake), don’t worry because there are about 4-5 resting points, 2 of which have bathrooms, if I’m not mistaken. Moreover, I realized that if you listen to instrumental music while trekking, it makes the trek that much easier and more bearable.
I listened to Tycho (an ambient artist) on the way and I could say that it made the experience more vibrant and stimulating. It also helped keep me going when I was getting quite tired due to the heat of the sun, because there were moments when there would be no wind at all and the merciless heat would make you feel weighed down.
At 10:30am with the glaring sun shining down on us, we finally reached the beautiful, pristine crater of Mt Pinatubo! All the sweat and the aching of my feet (due to me being hard headed and not choosing footwear that was suitable for trekking, or rather, not having the time to purchase a pair of trekking shoes) was overcome with a sense of fulfillment. There it was, the immaculate beauty of the hidden lake. All the slippery rocks and complicated (but achievable to pass through) trails we surpassed were worth it.
We were given about 2 and a half hours to roam around, eat lunch and take photographs of the scenery. The color of the lake varies from blue green to muddy brown depending on the season, and what I witnessed was something in between, which was a dark blue. Most blog posts and reviews about trekking in Mt Pinatubo that were dated back in 2012 and prior to included swimming in the lake. Unfortunately, swimming in the lake is no longer allowed due to the rising levels of sulfur present in the water.
Nevertheless, despite having an immense desire to take a dip in the water and float freely on the lake without a care in the world, I enjoyed the magnificent view, the perfect weather and the relaxing ambiance. I would like to put emphasis on the weather being perfect because despite the extremely chilly wind, the sun’s heat balanced it out nicely, making you feel just the right amount of warmth and coolness. Three hours of bumming around at the crater was very therapeutic because it was quiet, windy, and there was no cellular signal at all, which really made me feel that I was having a mini-vacation from all the deadlines and work I had waiting for me back in Manila.
At around 1:30pm, it was time to leave the site and trek all the way back to the start of our trekking point. Ironically, the trek back seemed easier for me and my sister in spite of our legs giving out at some points. There were times we’d slip and stumble on the rocks but we managed to laugh it off, content with the whole experience and the pleasant weather on the way back. On the arrival at the start of the trekking point, we rode an ATV again on the way back to Barangay Santa Juliana, where we had an hour to wash up and rest before leaving at 4:00pm. After a safe bus ride back home, we arrived in Metro Manila at 7:30pm.
A few reminders that could be helpful to you:
Things to bring: Sunblock, shades, a cap, a good pair of trekking shoes or sandals, a fully charged camera (or just the trusty lens of your smartphone), a portable mobile charger (if your cellular phone’s battery runs out quickly), food that will still taste good even if it’s not warm, water, tissue, a change of clothes, a pen (just for shortly filling up papers regarding your contact information in case of emergencies and whatnot) and a companion, unless you would preferring going alone!
Remember: Inform your loved ones, friends, work mates, group mates or anyone who you need to keep in touch with through your mobile that there is absolutely no signal in the place you’re headed. There will be no cellular service once you’ve set foot on Barangay Santa Juliana, which makes for a better getaway or mini vacation.
So When In Manila, do make time to get away from the city and experience the comeliness of the Philippines’ natural sights. The feeling of being humbled by nature’s wonders is an emotion unlike any other. You feel incredibly small in a world so colossal, powerful and sublime. I felt that there are greater things to be seen and experienced out there that is just a couple hours away from the comfort of your home, where you’re merely staring holes into your laptop screen either delaying productivity or dreaming about things you wish to happen.
So go out there and get away from the city once in a while. Walk distances, climb mountains, go to places you haven’t been to before. Do it now while you still can, because one day, you’ll wake up realizing that you won’t be able to do the things you want to do anymore.
I will end this by simply quoting the famous line of John Muir, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
Also, a tremendous thank you to Travel Factor for a safe, wonderful and comfortable first time experience of conquering Mt Pinatubo!
Check out another one of our Travel Factor adventures here: Conquer Sagada with Travel Factor
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