Travel diaries: Pinatubo Virgins

By Korina Iledan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 07 2010 01:04 AM | Updated as of Mar 08 2010 07:20 PM

"Manong, malayo pa ho ba? (Are we there yet?)”

I shouted through the rumbling of the engine while trying not to inhale the dust swirling around us as our all-terrain vehicle (ATV) sped through the ash-covered road.

We were in Mabalacat, Pampanga -- on our way to the now-famous crater of Mt. Pinatubo.

"Malapit na ho! Malapit na! (We're almost there!)” the driver shouted back, his face breaking into a grin. I could tell by his look that he was amused by us (four girls) as we hung on the nooks of the ATV like our lives depended on it, screaming every time our vehicle swerved or hit a bump.

(Left) The road to Mount Pinatubo. (Right) View from inside our trusty ATV.

It wasn't exactly a comfortable ride. But hey, a couple of bumps and bruises won't stop us from what lay ahead -- the magnificence of the Pinatubo Lake.

Touching base

After an hour’s drive, we were finally at our first pitstop -- the part where we began our trek.

Our driver parked our ATV and we met up with the rest of the group, which we called "Pinatubo Virgins," since we were all first-timers.

It was a sunny day but we all donned our sweaters when we felt the cold breeze, which was probably a sign that we were already halfway up Mt. Pinatubo.

Pinatubo Virgins.

Not wanting to delay our date with the Pinatubo Lake, we charged on ahead.

The green lake

Ten minutes into the trek, we were all panting already. It really wasn’t the hardest terrain, but I guess our bodies didn’t expect to be too worked out that day.

We stopped every few minutes to rest and to admire the tranquillity of the place -- the sound of a stream flowing nearby, the birds chirping, the leaves of the trees rustling with every breeze.

During our trek, we saw a sign that said it would take us only 15 minutes to reach our destination -- unfortunately for us, we spent 30 minutes getting there.

Destination: paradise.

We were ready to plop down, but the sight of the green Pinatubo lake caught our breath. It was there, just below us, shimmering and beckoning us to take a refreshing dip.

Hot and cold

I couldn't believe that such beauty existed within a mountain that once caused devastation to the Filipino people.

The sun shone on the waters, causing it to glimmer in different shades of green and aquamarine.

The mere sight re-energized us. We raced towards the lake and practically jumped on the boats so we can get to the other side of the crater.

The Pinatubo Lake. Simply breathtaking.

All aboard. The Pinatubo Virgins off to explore the other side of the crater.

It took us roughly 10 minutes before we reached the other side. It felt like we were in a different world (think: Lord of the Rings).

When our small boat finally docked, something odd caught my eye -- heat bubbles popping in and out. The water seems to be boiling at the edge of the lake.

It was deceiving, really, because when we jumped into the water, it was freezing! We hit warm patches of water, but most of the time, we gritted our teeth in the cold.

After 12 minutes of braving the waters, we finally got out.

Inside the Pinatubo crater.

Stragglers. Waiting for our ride back to civilization.

The mighty boatman

We wanted to explore the crater some more, but we were dead tired from all the trekking and the swimming. So we decided to wait for our boatman to come pick us up and take us to the other side.

We had to wait a good 20 minutes before we got our turn on one of the boats since there were a lot of visitors that day.

I was so absorbed by the beautiful scenery during the ride that it took me a while before realizing that our boatman was grunting -- his arm muscles ripped with every pull of the paddle.

HOW TO GET THERE:

Via private vehicle

If you’re coming from Manila, take the North Luzon Expressway, then exit Dau toll.

From there, take the Mac Arthur highway to Mabalacat en route to Bamban and Capas in Tarlac towards north.

When you reach the market place in Capas, take a left turn to Brgy. Sto. Rosario and negotiate the 22 km. countryside road passing along barangays Arangureti, O’ Donnell, Sta. Lucia, Patling and finally, Brgy. Sta. Juliana.

Once you reach Brgy. Sta. Juliana, proceed to the Pinatubo Spa Town Visitors Center to register.

Via public transportation

All buses from Manila going to the Ilocos Region and Baguio City pass through Tarlac.

Once you reach the municipality of Capas, alight the bus then take a tricycle or jeepney to Brgy. Sta. Juliana.

Once you reach Brgy. Sta. Juliana, proceed to the Pinatubo Spa Town Visitors Center to register.

I had no doubt if he was strong enough to take us to our destination, but his weary face really worried me.

"Manong, okay lang kayo? (Are you okay?)," I asked.

"Okay lang ho, ma'am. Medyo nagugutom lang. Hindi pa po kasi kami nanananghalian (I'm okay, ma'am. I'm just a bit hungry, we haven't had lunch yet)," he replied.

"Ha?" I asked. "Eh alas kwatro na ho ah (But it's already 4 o'clock in the afternoon)."

"Eh kasi tuluy-tuloy ang dating ng mga turista. Walang oras kumain. Sunud-sunod ang paghatid namin papunta ng kabilang parte ng crater at pabalik ng tourist area (But tourists kept coming, so we didn't have time to eat. We've been taking them to and from the crater)," the boatman explained.

My heart suddenly felt heavy. I wished I had food at that time. I could see that paddling the boat was difficult even for someone who's been doing it for years.

PINATUBO TOUR PACKAGE (Good for 5 Pax)

Php 6,250 (Php 1,250/head)

All-terrain vehicle rental - Php 2,500.00
Tour guide - Php 500.00
Skyway toll fee - Php 500.00
Conservation fee - Php 1,500.00 (Php 300.00/head)
Packed lunch - Php 1,250.00 (Php 250.00/head)

*Packed lunch includes kanin na binalot sa dahon ng saging, daing na bangus, tortang talong, itlog na maalat, kamatis na may ginisang alamang, saging, mineral water

Optional activities:

Boat ride - Php 350.00/head
*The boat ride will bring you to the three parts of the crater: the Pampanga point, Zambales point, and Tarlac point

Volcanic ash massage - Php 600.00
Mud pack - Php 600.00

For inquiries, you may contact:
WENDELL MERCADO (0919.6084313)
President
Capas Pinatubo Four-Wheelers Club

I realized that propelling our weight against the strong current was no joke. And judging from the volume of the visitors, our boatman must've done more than 20 trips that day alone.

Imagine doing that every single day. For what? A meager income.

Might Manong Bangkero (boatman). Waiting for his next batch of passengers.

When we finally reached the tourist area, I fished for whatever bills I could find inside my pocket and handed it to the boatman as our tip.

He only had time for a quick "Salamat po (thank you)" before jumping into his boat again to ferry the next batch of trekkers.

THINGS TO WEAR / BRING:

-Comfortable clothes (dri fit top and shorts, preferrably)
-Light sweater (it can be a bit chilly up in the mountains)
-Swimwear
-Comfortable shoes for trekking (sandals / mojo’s / ACG’s)
-Sunglasses / Cap
-Sunblock
-Toiletteries
-Handy bottled water
-Extra set of clothes

TIPS:
-Make sure you get enough sleep the night before to make sure you’re fully-energized for the trek.
-Eat heavy breakfast in the morning.
-Pack a couple of chocolate bars in case you need some energy boost during the trek.
-And of course, don’t forget to pack your trusty camera!

I began walking towards the path to civilization, but I stopped for a bit, looking back to take in the magnificence of the Pinatubo crater one more time.

I wanted to bring back with me not only memories of the glittering lake and the adventure we've been through, but also stories from the people I met there.

I wanted to remember the people who, with their own tales of struggle and survival, give trekkers like us more than the exciting experience we initially bargained for.