Sunday, February 1, 2015

Lake Pinatubo: Catastrophe's Blessing

Botolan, ZAMBALES & Capas, TARLAC
Date: FEB 01, 2015

Mount Pinatubo in Zambales is one of the mountains that I always wanted to climb. Even though its catastrophic eruption back in 1991 was comparable to the end of the world, it left an aftermath which is now considered to be a natural wonder – Lake Pinatubo. Some people say that this lake would not be there forever, because it might disappear once the volcano erupts in the future. So when the opportunity to visit the lake knocked, I packed my bags and invited my friends to join me.

*Video unavailable in mobile devices and Germany

Screenshot of Lake Pinatubo
I left my aunt’s house in Caloocan early in the morning because my friends and I agreed to meet at Victory Liner terminal in Cubao as early as possible. I picked up Joey at her house and we reached the bus terminal at 03:30 AM. Aly, along with Marie and Jade, came in soon after at 03:45 AM. We rode an airconditioned Victory Liner bus and it left at 04:05 AM. Taken 3 was being shown on the television set inside the bus, but I was not in the mood to watch that time, so I just slept.

Welcome sign at the lake
We were already in Mabalacat, Pampanga when I woke up, where the bus had to do a stop over to pick up more passengers. We didn’t stay there for long, and the trip went on after 15 minutes. From Mabalacat, it only took us a couple of minutes to reach Capas, and we got off the bus when we reached the junction. At the junction, my friends decided to eat breakfast first, and then after they ate, we looked for tricycle drivers that will take us to Santa Juliana.

Trips going to Santa Juliana – the jump-off point for trekkers who would like to visit the crater - have a fixed price. It was P300 per tricycle, and because we were five in the group, we had to hire two tricycles (they said that a single tricycle cannot accommodate us all). The trip from the junction to Santa Juliana was 35 minutes long, and we reached the jump-off point by 07:30 AM. There were lots of tourists when we came, the majority of them being Koreans. I immediately went to the tourism office and filled up all the forms that they gave me and paid P6750 for the five of us (P1350/person). It was the cheapest package for those who wanted to visit Mount Pinatubo.

After paying for the package, the tourism officer introduced us to our tour guide, Sir Edgar. He accompanied us to a 4x4 truck parked beside the street and then a man, who would be our driver, started the truck’s engine and drove. We had to take the route inside Crow Valley – a vast desert made of lahar. It was very dusty, and we had to cover our faces to protect us from eye and throat irritation.

Group photo at the Toblerone Hills (L to R: Joey, Aly, Me, Marie, Jade)
There was a short stop over at what they call “Toblerone Hills” just for us to take some photos. It was called “Toblerone Hills” because of its land formations that looked like toblerone chocolates, and then the journey went on after we took our photos. We passed through bizzare land formations, and aside from the wilderness, there were lots of eroded hills on this route that shaped like hooded people. Then there was the Wall Street made of stone, and different colored rocks made from various minerals.

Rain suddenly poured down while we were still driving through the rocky valley, but it stopped once we reached the jump-off point. The sky was still gloomy and dark, and I never thought that it will be chilly in there. We began to climb towards the crater, and the trail was very easy. I was clenching my teeth while I was climbing, because my body wasn’t prepared for the cold. It was my fault - I’ve always pictured Mount Pinatubo to be warm and humid, and not this cold, bleak mountain.

We finally reached the lake
The trek lasted for 25 minutes, and we managed to reach Mount Pinatubo’s crater at 09:40 AM. Even though the registration area and Crow Valley is located in Capas, Tarlac, the volcano’s crater is found in a different municipality and province – its jurisdiction is under the town of Botolan, Zambales. The sky never became clear, and though it was gray all over, the water on the crater remained bluish. We began taking pictures, until it rained once again. We ran towards the snack bar and watched the erratic climate patterns on Mount Pinatubo’s crater. It would rain for a minute, and then it will stop. And then finally, the sun showed up. Its light gave us a majestic view of the crater.

We went closer to the lake
From the snack bar, we descended closer towards the crater, and witnessed how stunning it was up-close. The ashes on the crater’s rim looked like snow, just like a glacier. I’ve also touched the water on the lake, and it felt warm. Swimming was prohibited the time we visited because according to our guide, there were no lifeguards around. I was taking some photos and videos when a strong wind blew, causing my tripod to fall and then breaking the side part of my camera. L

After staying on the lake for two hours, we decided to go back to Santa Juliana. According to Sir Wendell’s website, lunch is already included in our CONSERVATION FEE, and we were all looking up into it. We trekked down the crater and rode the 4x4 truck, and asked the driver to stop at the best land formations that we will pass by.

Panorama of Lake Pinatubo
Eroded hills
There were two instances that we stopped along the way – the first one was at the stone Wall Street (that’s what I call it) and the other one was at the eroded hills – just to to take some photos. I also planned to have a stop over at the desert but I slept along the way - so deep that I never felt the rocking of the truck when we passed by the wilderness. We were at Santa Juliana when I woke up, and noticed that my hair was sticky and dirty. I immediately asked the secretary at the tourism office about our FREE LUNCH, but she stated that it was no longer included in the package. I even called Sir Wendell to verify it, but it wasn’t really included. He admitted that his website was no longer updated, and apologized for it.

Walking around the wilderness
That was disappointing, but I just accepted their explanation. Since we were very hungry, we just ate at a nearby carinderia located on the side of the road and ordered chicken afritada with rice. They also have shower rooms so we took a bath, and then texted our tricycle driver to pick us up. Before leaving the tourism office, I checked if there were still souvenirs, but everything was already sold-out.

Posing at the shrine
We left Santa Juliana at 3:15 in the afternoon, and had a side trip at the Capas National Shrine. We just walked around the shrine and didn’t stay for too long. It was 4:45 PM when we reached Capas junction, and we thought that it’ll be too hard for us to get a bus back to Manila. Fifteen minutes later, an airconditioned bus came, and fortunately, there were available seats for the five of us. The trip was hassle free, and it only took us two hours to reach Cubao. I rode two other buses and managed to get home safely at 8:35 PM.

The trip was worth it because we managed to visit one of the most beautiful lakes in the Philippines at the cheapest price. It was so incredible thinking how a catastrophic volcanic eruption gave birth to this magnificent wonder of nature – which is the crater of Mount Pinatubo, also known as Lake Pinatubo. But just like what other people say, nothing lasts forever. I just wish that the crater could stay there for much longer or be spared if ever Mount Pinatubo would erupt in the future, so that more people could witness its wonder.

The wonder that is Lake Pinatubo

03:15 Left home and ride a taxi to Cubao, P80
04:05 AC Victory Bus left for Capas, P170
06:05 Arrive at Capas and eat breakfast (I didn't eat)
06:55 Ride tricycle (x2) to Brgy. Santa Juliana, P300*
07:30 Arrive at the registration area and register. NOTE: As of 2015, free lunch is no longer included. P1350 for 5 persons
07:53 Ride 4x4 to crater jump-off
09:14 Arrive at the crater jump-off. Start trekking.
09:40 Arrive at the crater. Sight seeing and picture taking.
11:35 Go back to crater jump-off
11:57 Arrive at the crater jump-off point and ride the 4x4 back to the registration area
13:30 Arrive at the registration area and eat lunch (P80) and take a shower (P50 + P6 shampoo)
15:15 Left the registration area and go to Capas Shrine
15:40 Arrive at the shrine (P10/entrance)
16:25 Left the shrine and go to Capas Junction
16:45 Arrive at the junction (P320 for tricycle going back to poblacion, x2)*
17:00 Ride AC Viron Bus back to Cubao, P152
19:12 Arrive at Cubao. Ride bus to Ortigas, P12
19:30 Arrive at Ortigas and ride bus home, P27
20:35 Home

*since we hired 2 tricycles, we have to split up the bill, which was P240 per person

TOTAL: P2177

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