What : Mt. Pinatubo Trek (daytour joiner through a tour organizer)
When : Sunday (12MN – 11PM), January 22, 2017
Who : Nath (my favorite sister) and Len (my post-college friend as she endearingly terms it)
This was a hike I long wanted to do and thanks to these two I was able to tick off this one particular item on my bucket list. Here’s to sharing with you our experiences so you can minimize the avoidable blunders and appreciate the gift of nature on this side of the planet.
Call time was 2AM in Ortigas. If you’re not familiar with being a “joiner” of an organized tour, as a start you should know that all joiners shall be pooled or fetched from a single point. In most cases as in our case, we met at a 24-hour Mcdonald store. Because we had to prepare food, double check our packed bags and shower, we woke up at 12 midnight. My travel buddies did not sleep at all anymore.
We paid the fee in full upon meeting our tour coordinator, grabbed super early breakfast, then load one of the 4 vans assigned to us. Here we had the chance to catch forty winks.
Travel from Ortigas to our base camp in Botolan, Zambales took roughly four hours. There is another base camp in Capaz, Tarlac where you can also ride 4×4 rides but to where your base camp would be depends on which tour organizer you’ll get. The trek – its difficulty and view – of course varies with each base camp.
A short briefing was done by our coordinator then we loaded our assigned 4×4 trucks. Put on your sunblock, leave things you won’t use during the trek inside the van to lighten your load. Do not bring backpacks which are much heavier than you could actually carry then punish your poor tour guide by having him carry your entire group’s excess baggage! Be responsible. It’s called adulting.
You have to take this 4×4 off –road ride seriously. You will cross streams, go on deep dive and climb steep curves in this 4×4 truck for 2 hours (or more if you’re unlucky to be assigned on a slow and malfunctioning truck such as ours) amidst all the lahar (mudflow of lava) dust. A face mask or anything that can help you cover against dust is surely a must. And prepare your upper body for some major stretching before the hike with this ride.
Comfort rooms won’t be a problem as there are lots in the base camp, at the jump off point of your hike after this 4×4 ride, another on 800 meters before the reaching the crater and on the crater vicinity itself. Sanitation is the problem and we cannot tackle that without going deep into Philippine society’s social fiber.
Yup, it took us this long to reach the crater and we’re not even the last group to arrive. Normally this should take 1.5 hours -2.5hours. The trail view was stunning! Going up isn’t really hard due to lack of steep assaults you might have already experienced with climbing mountains of 2/9 difficulty.
The trail was a very gradual assault and because on the first few parts, you would be walking on lahar sand, you may still feel a toll on your legs. Plus you would have to do this for hours so endurance is really the name of the game here. I’d say it again, pack light.
Len and I wore sandals without socks but you can still opt to wear shoes then change into slippers when the parts where you have to cross rivers/streams come. In our case, given that it was January, the river parts came after the registration stop.
We came upon an Aeta village. Actually that was just 4 nipa huts and a basketball ring. A Filipino village won’t be complete without a basketball court no matter what happens! You will find in these Aetas the purest traces of Filipino hospitality. Their warm smile they wear as they welcome hikers with English phrases such as “Good morning!” and “Goodbye” cannot be ignored.
We ate our packed lunch here beside the crater, rested for some 10 minutes lying down on concrete, and went down to the crater itself through some less than a hundred step of stairs to see it more up close. All these in less than an hour.
I recommend trying to go to Mt. Pinatubo by forming a group of 5 then go on a DIY trip so you own your time. Our group and the other joiners felt that we were so hurried by the organizer. Most joiners did not even had the time to go down to the crater because even before you can actually regain strength, you had to go start your way back to base camp already!
I have confirmed it with my own eyes. Mt. Pinatubo is a beautiful disaster. Whenever I travel especially if it the destination is either sea or mountain, I can’t help but sink into my deepest reflections and utter my most honest adoration. You tell me now that there’s no one supreme being out there who created the beauty such as this.
The mountain tells a story. There’ll be days when everywhere we look at, our surrounding environment is the same shade of grey. Those who feel like their world’s erupting, or their sanity exploding any time, those who are losing breath due to sulfuric acid haze of their own hate and mistakes should look forward to how God can create something beautiful out of all the mess. He will allow problems to shake you, spew hot tears and blood out of you only to rise as powerful and as exquisite as Mt. Pinatubo. Charmed but dangerous. This volcano’s appeal comes from being boastfully lovely with the whole world knowing how tough it can get when necessary. Pretty much like a life peg for me!
As I hurriedly stare at it for one last time to fight another battle of grit going down it whispered an art-of-war tip: make forecasting what you’ll do next a challenge even for experts. ^_~
12:43PM – 3:07PM
For me, descend was more challenging. I’m already tired, and because there were around 3 slopes downwards going to the crater, this time around, it’s time for some climbing action. The trail going back to the base camp is the same so I was glad that the mesmerizing view has a rewind.
If it weren’t for the 1991 eruption, the second most destructive volcanic eruption of the 20th century, the trail won’t be there. What was once a forest is now varying pits covered with trees and plateaus of rocks and streams.
3:07PM – 5:20PM
After your leg workout, be in again for some upper body exercises. Since we barely had sleep, all I really wanted was to catch some nap inside the 4×4 ride. Admittedly, I was a fool for even thinking that was possible! Halfway through, all the sleeplessness I felt was erased by the rough ride. You will be rewarded by the view of beautiful sunrise and sunset during both 4×4 rides.
We could have taken a bath before our van takes us back to Manila but we chose to just change clothes. We grabbed some hot instant noodles and crackers being sold by a pop up store in the base camp. Certificates of conquest were also distributed by our tour organizer.
Travel time back to Ortigas. When the van took a stop in a gasoline station in Subic, we grabbed some fast food and ate dinner inside the van.
Tour Organizer Review.
There are a lot of tour organizers for Mt. Pinatubo. We booked through TRIPinas and I do NOT recommend them. Though they are cheaper, take into consideration the service and most importantly, your safety. This isn’t some juvenile, irresponsible rant as our group was able to voice out what we have experienced to the tour organizer face to face before we packed home. Unfortuantely, the organizer did not respond at all. No consoling words, no apologies nor action whatsoever.
I won’t go into the details of how other tour organizers could make the trip more fun and informative and more concerned in their approach to their guests and will just focus on safety.
The 4×4 ride assigned to us was slow, somehow malfunctioning as the driver had to stop more than 4 times just to check its condition (prolonging the ride). What made it worse was the wooden log placed unattached inside the truck for some unknown reason. So when the truck made sudden stoops, that log randomly hits the passengers and my sister was one of the victims. It must be with the driver or the 4×4 itself, either way that is the tour organizer’s responsibility. Our 4×4 ride on the way back to the base camp is exceptionally rough that passengers are already bumping on and hurting each other. The driver said no warning, no apologies and even blurted out, “Dapat kasi kumapit!”. He has a point as it was an off-road ride after all but just as with the coordinator, I didn’t like his approach. I have a high standard when it comes to customer service as my job involves heavy client interface and that’s just not how you respond to inquiries, concerns, issues, etc. I’m not saying they’re way too bad but surely you can find better from the plethora of tour organizers out there.
Another of their 4×4 ride got stuck in one major river crossing and that’s fine and definitely part of the fun and adventure but oil splattering out from the exhaust to your skin and clothes is definitely unsafe.
The beauty of the trail and the crater itself, the company you are with, the experience, the Aetas’ warm welcome, the adrenaline rush, the memories, tons of instagram-worthy pictures, and that sense of fulfillment of conquering yet another mountain would be more than enough to feed your travel hunger. Mt. Pinatubo is a great way to start a series of 2017 travels. I hope you also enjoy as much as we did when it’s your turn to gaze at Mt. Pinatubo’s allure.
More photos of our adventure below: