Sunday, January 20, 2008

Zambales & Tarlac: Trekking and 4x4 to Mt. Pinatubo

Finally, I got to swim in the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo! And the water was light blue to blue green! There's an annual cycle of water color changes and it usually turns blue when the weather is cold. During other months, it turns murky brown. I still don't know why exactly.

I've always wanted to see Mt. Pinatubo. After all those planned trips that never pushed through, I was getting eager and impatient to see its famed crater lake. That's why when I received a message that our trip today might be canceled due to the weather conditions, I was devastated. It was raining in Batulao when I got the message but I said let's decide later. And so we waited. The final decision was to push through!

And the sun smiled on us this morning. We left Starbucks 6750 at 6:30 a.m. and stopped over at one of the gas stations along NLEX for a quick breakfast and supplies. The drive was relatively quick since it was a Sunday morning and we arrived in Capas at about 8:30 a.m. From the National Highway, you make a left in any of the streets in front of the market and drive towards the Capas Shrine. It's another 30 minutes to Barangay Sta. Juliana and you won't get lost since there are ample signs pointing towards the direction of Mt. Pinatubo.

We arrived at the Pinatubo Spa Town in time for our appointment. The package costs P1,500 and includes the 4x4 vehicle, toll fee for the Skyway (that's the new road they built to access to new jump-off point and there's a P500 fee if you use your own 4x4), a local guide and a heavy Filipino or Korean lunch when you get back.

It was a one-hour 4x4 ride to the jump-off point and that alone was an experience. The scenery was unlike anything I've seen before and the panoramic views of the lahar river beds, grasslands, streams, canyons and mountains made a surreal combination. I made a video for everyone to enjoy.

The Skyway Trail is the shorter route to Pinatubo, 3 kilometers to be exact, which can be completed in 40 minutes to an hour depending how fast you walk. It's actually the same old trail but its jump-off is closer to the crater.

The mix of colors along the way was just wonderful. It was mostly gray lahar. But if you looked closer at the sand, you could see various colors of sandstone. And imagine bright yellow streams of sulfur, streams with reddish rocks, the now healthy growth of grass and shrubs, and all the various colors of sand and stones along the trail. Simply awesome!

It was a leisurely hike thanks to the cool climate. As we neared the summit, there was a cloud cover which made the trek even more pleasant. It was drizzling by the time we made it there. But that did not dampen our spirits since the view of the picturesque lake as it beckoned was no less grand than on a sunny day.

We rushed down so that we could immediately take a dip. Whoever said that the sulfur in the water will damage your clothes should try it out first before talking. The water was very cold but refreshing. But we had to stay near the shore since the water got really deep just a few feet away. You could actually go boating but you'll have to mention this to the people in the barangay since the caretaker will have to tag along to unlock the boats.

After a few minutes swim, we rushed back to make it for lunch. Then a stroke of bad luck. My shoes gave way during the last 500 meters so I had to walk back to the jump-off point barefoot. I dealt with my ordeal silently and it was good that I lost my shoes during the sandy part of the trail so it wasn't that bad. I just had to be careful not to step on sharp rocks.

Back at the Pinatubo Spa, lunch was ready for us. I had a filling bowl of stewed chicken stuffed with sticky rice and ginseng coupled with a generous serving of kimchi. After taking a shower, we opted for the massage for P500. It came with a free facial too. The massage was really good and just the thing I needed after two days of hiking.

I would have wanted the 30-minute volcanic sand shower. This is a Japanese treatment wherein they bury your body under warmed volcanic sand which they say releases toxins and fats from your body. It's another P500 which is not bad but we had to rush back to Manila since it was getting late. We were back by 9 p.m.

Thanks to Anton for organizing this trip and for our photos which he took at the lake; and to Lauren and Maong for joining us.

Pinatubo Spa Town
Mobile +63 928 3410402
Landline +63 45 4930031
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