Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mt Pinatubo or what is left of it...

Everyone knows Mt Pinatubo's name, but personally I wasn't sure why... So let me give you a bit of history. It's a volcano north of Manilla which had a major eruption in 1991, it lost 300m height, covered a gigantic area of ashes creating an incredible landscape, even leading to the closure of an American air force base 50 km away.
So here we go, we are flying to Angeles-Clark, the airport which opened following the closure of the American base. Landing at midnight, we are being picked up for 1h30 drive to Santa Juliana, the village on the foot of Mt Pinatubo. We spend the night in a farm and we are waken up by chicken, ducks and other noisy animals. 6h30, our 4*4 is here to pick us up and drives us to the registration office where we pay the fees and meet a lot of other tourists!
Soon we are back on board, we pass at least 3 check points all saying "entrance to army air base" but I don't think they have ever seen a plane! No runway anywhere, and apart from the 4*4, everyone is on foot or on the back of a cow...

Anyway, we now have 1h10 of 4*4 before the beginning of the treck. We had been told to check the weather forecast before going up and once we have crossed the river for the 10th times, you understand why!
The landscape is moon looking, grey ashes everywhere with a river eroding the soil very easily , that can easily be turned into disaster if the flow of water becomes significant!
After a 1st flat-ish part, the 4*4 gets to demonstrate its full power in the 2nd part, it gets rocky and steep. We go through one or two villages where people seem to live so far away from modern civilisation
and we observe walls of ashes/volcanic sand which have now been taken over by vegetation.
After reaching the car park (2nd 4*4!!!), we are the first hikers to get started, we enjoy this peace and quite!
Now is probably a good time to say that we really don't know where we are going... The usual conic shape of a volcano is nowhere to be seen, there are some very steep cliffs around us but we have been told on the morning that the 2h walk we thought we were going to do was in fact just a 1h, so there is no way we can climb these cliffs, really no idea... So we keep on following the river which goes from bright yellow to an orangy-red depending on the dominant ions.
The rocky walk is just about to transform into a jungle walk when we see the following sign:
Ok, so it is nearly over... We actually get into the crater by a crack of the enclosure, and soon after that, we reach the lake which now occupy the centre of the volcano.
It's beautiful but really not as impressive as the landscape we saw earlier in the walk or in the 4*4, we sit for a while with our feet in the not too cold water and we study a few rocks, not like I'm an expert but they were different from any volcanic rocks I had seen before.
A bit granite looking with some bits looking like sea salt inside!
To come back to the "where were we heading" question, we couldn't see a typical conical volcano shape because there is none left, Mt Pinatubo properly destroyed himself during his last eruption, there is no more mountain, I'm sure there is one point which could be consider as the summit if you take the highest point of what is left, but not a point of any significance.
After enough photos, we decide to head down, we are counter flow of all the other tourists arriving.The trip back in the 4*4 is a chance to get more stunning views:

By lunch time, we are back at the administration office for a gigantic meal made of Korean and philippino specialities. Then it's time to test the local spa! First being buried alive (head out:-) under hot volcanic sand. It's itchy, it's heavy and you end up sweating a lot (at least much more than during the walk), then we get covered of mud and left to dry in the sun. When it becomes painful to smile and bend, we are ordered to the shower once again so we can get clean for a massage! What a great day!!!!
As it is still early in the afternoon, we decide to rake the public transport instead of a taxi to Angeles. Ok we start by cheating a bit as we took a tricycle to Campas where we were told we could take a bus. In Campas, we look for a jeepney, this old jeeps which have been extended and are now buses. We get on the first  jeepney and the driver makes an attempt at charging me 500 pesos, I refuse laughing and we wait for the bus to start. As it is taking for ever, we get into another one who was already on the go; price 36 pesos, people have really no conscience! The system is really fun, people get in and out at any time, (entrance is at the back), and then money is passed from the back to the front until it reaches the driver and the change is passed back from hand to hand, the same way.
Soon we reach the outskirts of Angeles, the city known for its sex workers; even the lonely planet hasn't found anything which was worth a visit!
We spent the rest of the WE having dinner, sleeping late and enjoying the glorious weather around the pool! And this time we are back in Singapore on time for dinner on sunday evening!

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