Independence Day in 2009 marked my first ever affair with mountains. I've read a lot about Mount Pinatubo and the information I gathered piqued my curiosity and interest. So much so that I availed of the package being offered by Juliet, which included a 4 x 4 ride, guide, and full meal, so that I could finally have a glimpse of the mountain's talked-about crater. The group I was with had a day tour rate of Php2,000.00/person. You may check Juliet's site at pinatubotrek.blogspot.com for the latest rates.
Meet-up time and point was 6 o'clock in the morning at Capas, Tarlac. From there, we were brought to the terminal of the 4x4 rides, and minutes later, I had a taste of the bumpiest ride I ever had. It felt like being in a Lord of the Rings movie with the wide expanse of dirt road, occasional river beds and grassy areas, and range upon range of mountains that accompanied the entire trip to the jump-off point. Except that had Frodo and Sam trekked the crater, they would have ridden on a 4x4.
Anyway, there were two ways to get to the crater - the long way and the Skyway. Before Juliet sent us off, she was happy to inform us that the Skyway was now passable. It was closed due to heavy rains from the previous week. The Skyway was recommended for the group because we had two senior citizens with us, and it would cut the trek to an hour. I welcomed the Skyway, thinking it was a paved road that would make our journey way easier. I was dead wrong. Slippery when wet was taken to a whole new level with Skyway. Remnants of the week-long rain allowed only one vehicle to pass through because of the danger of it sliding. From afar, Skyway looked impassable. One vehicle braved the climb, and it ranted and raved like there was no tomorrow but still it slid down the slippery slope. Just when it was agreed that we would take the long way rather than risk our lives on the Skyway, a bulldozer arrived to level the road. It seemed like hours passed before we could get through, and the ride just got bumpier.
I was so close to giving up because my butt couldn't take anymore beating when the vehicle stopped. We were at the jump-off point. Ahead, I could see the trail that didn't look that inviting. I could see the mountains, and their imposing stance, daring me to go further. I took a deep breath, and plowed on.
It was humbling to be walking amidst huge mountains and boulders. To my right was a river, and the view was a wonderful mix of all possible earth colors I could think of - green, gray, black, brown, red. After minutes of trekking dirt road, boulders, and rocks, the foliage part of the trail greeted us and it was a nice change of scenery. I noticed that we had been trekking for like forever, so I asked the guide how much farther we had to go. Twenty minutes, he says. After twenty minutes, we were still walking.
Me: How much farther?
Guide: Twenty minutes.
Me: You said that twenty minutes ago.
Guide: I did? Another twenty minutes then.
Several twenty minutes later, I was greeted by the most wonderful sight. The crater was welcoming us to its fold. Stairs led us nearer to the crater, and despite the fact that we arrived at 12 noon, we couldn't ignore the call of the lake. The color of the lake changes with the season. On rainy months, it's colored green. On dry months, it is the bluest of blue. The group swam to icy cold water. It is advisable to wear arm floaters or life vests because the lake could go 300-feet deep. In fact, it got deeper with only a few meters away from the shore. One could go on the other side of the crater through a boat for Php300.00/person. The water on the other side of the crater was warm, and the sand near the shore was scorching. We were told that one could boil an egg on this part of the crater. The water, because of its warmth, was inviting, but we had to tiptoe our way towards it like we were walking on burning coals because of the hot sand. And there was no shade so we decided to head back, where the water was cooler.
By 2.30 in the afternoon, I bade goodbye to Mount Pinatubo. And dreaded the bumpy ride back home.