Mt. Pinatubo. May 24, 2014. Stepping down from the 4-wheel drive on the way to the foot of Mt. Pinatubo is like finding yourself in this vast and blank piece of canvas. You are engulfed in this intriguing gray from all possible sides – the crumbling walls that may or may not be part of the foot of the mountain (I forget), the rocky path my Havaianas had to contend with and the sad clouds that hovered above as my friends and I took the cheesiest photos possible in the middle of it all, as if to challenge this strange feeling the place seemed to demand from its curious visitors.
It could also all just be a side effect of the 2-hour nap that we were generously granted due to the 2 am call time in Ortigas. One moment we were preparing our sandwiches for the trip and then next we were in a McDonalds that was packed with people like it’s 12 noon on a weekday. A hundred people dressed in compression shirts, pants, thickly-padded sandals that came in more styles than I could ever imagine while my ever-so-athletic self decided to go with light long sleeves, casual shorts and the oldest Havaianas pair I have for the particular challenge ahead.
The real challenge however started four hours later after the van ride to Capas, Tarlac and the convenient 4WD ride that took us to the beginning of our trail that is apparently called the O’Donnell according to the certificate I would later receive. And so with our shy tour guide, the 3-hour trek to the crater lake began. The trail was not much different from the 4WD photo break except that the gray canvas seemed to have grown bigger and was closing in more tightly around us. The walls of varying shades of gray and brown reached much higher and had visibly darker shades that seemingly dripped from above. These vertical stripes are apparently what the clumps of lahar leave in its wake after breaking off the tall walls and rolling down to the already rocky floor – this we learned after a crumbling noise silenced our careful strides and made us witness the rocks falling from one spot on the face of the mountain, it was quite the cinematic scene, really, with the musical score and all.
Soon enough, grass, trees and narrow streams of water interrupted the increasingly uncomfortable gray scenery. I would imagine this is what it would feel like to stand in an abandoned building that was never completed, left with the concrete pillars that were made for grander purposes than housing wild grass that just happened to grow there. Maybe Pinatubo is not far from this image. We were after all walking through the remains of a violent eruption that displaced thousands of Filipinos, revisiting a moment that commanded global attention, experiencing a place that has since then reinvented itself to this beautiful irony that kids like us come to see.
Three hours of hiking up the mountain, carefully choosing which rocks to step on while crossing narrow streams, sitting down in makeshift huts for breaks and walking up and down artificial steps all led to the big reveal of the majestic place that tourists truly come to see. It is a view worth way more than postcards and Facebook profile pictures (but that did not stop me haha). It is as if the crumbly gray fortress that we know stretched on for at least three hours of hiking was built just to protect this untouchable and unassuming lake. Note: It is literally untouchable unlike before when tourists were allowed to swim.
The wind was surprisingly cold in that crater. I brought out the black scarf in my backpack, tucked my hands in and surrendered to this crater weather that invited me to a sweet sweet nap. Our group hiked back to where we started in less time but was a lot more strenuous, at least personally. Just as we reached our 4WD, big raindrops started to fall, more and more by the second, and so our 4WD whizzed in and out the rain-filled puddles on the way back to the base camp.
That strange impression I had on that 4WD photo break is really quite characteristic of the entire experience. The beauty of the place is indeed different. That strange feeling I had when I looked at that gray mountain range I realize now is a subtle but a suddenly overwhelming realization that what I am looking at is actually and honestly beautiful. It is bare and raw and unpretentious. It does not try to be anything that it isn’t and it does not deny its past. And like any good piece of art (I would assume), the feeling it stirs in you stays with you long after you’ve left it – in this case, after my overstretched thighs have recovered, my photos have been uploaded and this post has been written.
Visit Pinatubo! I joined the tour by TRIPinas. It cost Php2,100 which includes the van, 4WD, entrance fees. All you need is to be in Ortigas and to bring food and water. I am really not an active person but this was not just doable but also pretty worth it! Oh and yes, my Havaianas survived.
See with your heart.