It’s not easy going there, especially if you don’t like dust, heat and getting your skin browner.
And since I am neither of those, I signed myelf up to my friend and former workmate, Melai’s, FB post of asking people to join her and her newfound Vietnamese friends to trek Mt. Pinatubo.
Well, first you have to fight the urge of oversleeping because the bus ride from Manila to Tarlac is around two hours.
I had to drag myself off the bed and do a little of my early morning prayer at 2 AM because I could not afford to miss my schedule.
My dad dropped me off at Victory Liner Pasay and we had a small chitchat before my bus going to Dagupan was to pull out of the station at 4:20 AM.
He was half-awake all the time so he probably did not notice me getting a couple more hundred pesos from him “just in case”.
And because it was an “aircon” bus, there were few passengers.
Nothing worth writing about except for one little freaky moment when one man from across the aisle kept on staring at me like he was memorizing the number of moles on my face.
I waited for him to sleep then I transferred to the second or third row to sleep.
Melai called at around 6, wondering where in the world was I and when I told her I was in Tarlac City already, she told me she’d pick me up in the Tarlac City terminal.
When I rang Melai’s phone to tell her I was waiting for her already, a guy’s voice was on the other line. It was my first time to talk to Juric.
I wandered around the terminal with my heavy backpack and wondered how many people were still sleeping in Manila as I skipped paying P5 to the lady manning the wash rooms.
NOTE TO TRAVELERS: One thing about bus terminal wash rooms in the Philippines is that they are never ‘free’. But paying is not required. You may or may not want to pay the ‘donation’ for peeing.
Finally, after X years of not seeing each other, I finally saw Melai and her height. Melai is what a modern hybrid of an Anakite and Filipino is. She’s ultra tall, and she’s Pinoy: friendly, full of energy and very fun fun fun.
I hopped in the pick-up truck and found myself sitting beside two guys. Francis, a barefoot runner, to my right, and Dax, a government employee-slash-pro photographer, to my left.
Small Hi’s and Hello’s were exchanged and soon, our lives were being pried open like a frog dissected by students who have no idea what to do next.
We arrived a Capas to wait for the Vietnamese visitors. We parked outside Chowking to have breakfast.
Juric, who I happen to see for the first time in limelight, brought – to my amazement – too much food that I thought he packed for a one-week excursion around Asia.
He knew it too, so he was trying to unload everything by feeding us with peanut butter and bread. He also brought enough water for an Aeta family to survive on for three days.
This was an advantage to me, because opposite to him, I barely brought food. I only had one packed lunch (adobo + rice) and the rest are camera-stuff.
We ate at the back of the truck while taking our chance to talk for the first time with eye contact compared to the peripheral views we had of each other while inside the passenger area.
Ten minutes later, the Vietnamese girls , Dzan and Kristen, arrived, with one Vietnamese guy, Ryan, whom they met online through a travelling website. They all decided to meet and travel together in the Philippines.
Short intros were done and since we all could not fit inside the truck, Ryan, Juric, Francis and I all volunteered to sit outside – at the load area of the truck.
It was a mistake.
As Capas welcomed the cold of January, we all found ourselves freezing while grabbing on whatever was stable and connected to the truck.
Melai must have forgotten we were outside and just decided to imagine driving on a freeway.
After 20 minutes of agonizing life-juggling and awkward I’m-sorry-I’m-touching-your-arms, we arrived at the Tarlac tourism information center, to pay for our passes, sign the waver and get the guides. We got two 4×4′s.
The first one had Melai (front seat), Francis, Kristen and Dzan. The second one had me (front seat), Juric, Ryan and Dax.
We soon realized that all photographers were in one jeep and so for the first half of the ride, our jeep had no photo.
MORDOR +HAIR CLAY + NOSE JOB
If you had a nose job, I wonder how synthetic stuff will react with cement-like substances.
Don’t go there if you have asthma. I dunno how you’d take the number of dust particles entering your body from all your openings.
Getting there via 4×4 gives you the experience of putting on free clay hair gel. I had bandana on, but it still was not good.
I should have brought an astronaut head gear.
We had a pit stop at Mordor. We called it Mordor because it reminded us of – well – LOTR and Mordor.
The driver and the guide told us to take some photos, like it was a ritual we’re required to undergo.
I have to admit, it was a lovely place. All you can see in that lahar-stricken place was… lahar.
Everywhere you look, it’s lahar. You breathe lahar. You think lahar. When you close your eyes, you can’t so easily because of lahar.
After some Pulitzer-prize winning photos, we headed to our destination. 45 minutes later, our lahar-covered selves found the entrance to the trek.
And we were excited.
Some significant moments during the trek:
- Juric and Melai’s club dance moment
- Getting to interview the Vietnamese people
- Making Dax a kawal
- Photos photos photos
- New rubber shoes getting soaked
- Francis being reprimanded for shouting
- Francis finally getting barefoot
- Kristen puking
- Juric and his peanut butter sandwich
Two hours later, after trekking, getting to know each other, taking turns in leading and getting behind, we found a stopover hut and rested for around ten minutes.
Melai, Francis and I skipped the sitting part because we all believed sitting will make our bodies reset and relax. Some weird physical mumbo-jumbo.
Before entering another trekking area, you will see a sign that says “Your climb starts here.”
After two hours of fighting exhaustion, the sign simply says it was the beginning of our ascend to Mt Pinatubo.
Now that I think of it, it seems right. We’ve only been walking horizontally. Now, it was the time to really ascend.
Climbing the crater could take around 15-25 minutes, depending on your age and speed. Well, your stamina and gut-feeling too. There was also a challenge for youngsters to beat the minutes for their age group.
We were up to it. Except, we seem to have not made it.
Skills you must possess in reaching the crater:
- Balancing between one slimy stone to another
- Discerning between paths
- Breaking the physical barrier of “no two objects can occupy one place at the same time” for times when you will encountering returning trekkers
- Mental positive self talk (especially if you are really not born and raised in the wild)
Finally, after 20 minutes, we reached the crater.
Words to describe it?
Amazing. Whoa. Volcano.
We rested while taking lunch. Francis entertained everyone with his language-proof jokes and some Filipino-only ones.
Going down the crater to swim / ride a boat / simply take photos is easy. Since it was a common trekking tourist spot, there were steps made of small stones already.
Maybe it was sheer statistics, but the Dzan, Kristen and I couldn’t swim with the guys because it was our period of telling the world we’re women.
I earlier decided to take a dip but I had no extra pads with me and it would be a hassle to do it especially without a proper changing area.
Melai, Juric, Ryan and Dax all dove in the unsure depths of the crater. I was drooling on the inside. But I had to stick to my woman’s wisdom.
I had no extra whatnot.
While they were fighting off the cold in swimming, I went off and took videos of whatever I could just to forget the misery of not swimming.
I took videos of the lake, the lahar, a plant, the boats, a pair of shoes, clouds and more clouds.
While everyone was jeering, the two girls dipped their legs just to feel the water. I did too, at one point, and to fight temptation, I walked farther from the group to go solo.
More photos in the far future. There is a part two of this article… soon.