I woke up to a very chilly morning as the van sped across the bucolic, quiet roads of Tarlac. Sunrise was already breaking through the dreamy fog that shrouded the seemigly endless, narrow road. Amidst the cheery laughter of the people in the van, I wanted to have more of that shut eye. I only had an hour of sleep after coming from an overnight work. But I have to tuck that comfty nap for a while because that long-awaited adventure at Mt. Pinatubo is about to begin.
I had been longing to hike this dormant volcano that peacefully rests on the border of Tarlac and Zaambales. Though this tourist destination boasts of being a fun and friendly, chill hike, this mountain has carried a very violent past. Its 1991 eruption has been considered as one of the strongest in history, causing extensive damage around the area and affecting distant regions and countries. I could still remember my old nipa hut playhouse being covered in white ash days after that disaster. Still, beauty had risen from beneath those ashes. This was what I had been anticipating for this trip.
We had to take a bumpy ride on a 4×4 truck before reaching the hike’s jump-off site. The vast, almost bare, but scenic, rocky terrain opened wide before us as our heads bobbed along the ride. Our tour guide told us how this place would be changed into a pseudo-war zone when Filipino and American soldiers train here for the annual Balikatan exercises.
The place looked like one giant, crushed highway. The small pebbles and huge boulders littered on the jagged pathway were remnants of that deadly lahar flow that came with the eruption more than twenty years ago. Cliffs and ranges that have been scraped by the molten lava loomed at our sides as we were about halfway to the jump-off. Some of them have been precariously and fantastically molded by a more previous lava flow a hundred years ago. Our tour guide proudly told us that this area would be used as a
favorite shooting site for film and television productions. He reiterated countless stories of actors and actresses seen there, with him once taken as an extra for the shoot!
There are no dense forests or elfen-like jungles but the green little hills and the carved valleys were enough to awe me as we tip-toed over the rocks from the beginning of the jump-off site. I believe this area can be a good geological study. However, this valley is slowly eroding because of the little streams that flow from the top of the mountain. One area even had a minor landslide as the soil had become loose.
Groups of Aeta children waved and said hello to passing hikers. I find them amusing because they were making makeshift houses from any thing they can find. Our guide said their parents would work as guardians of the mountain. They are the ones who check out the weather conditions of the place as well as making sure whether the mountain is safe to climb or not.
At the last leg of the trail was the original jump-off point. A sign told us the estimated time we can get there. Young adults, it said, can reach the summit in 18 minutes. But our tour guide warned us that’s not the case.
True enough, the path became even
rockier. The rocks were definitely a challenge to my two left feet. Still, this is the easier path, said our guide. The other that would come from Zambales is the more challenging trail. But I would not ask for that for now.
Reaching the summit was a relief from the stone-filled pathway that almost zapped half of our energy. The rocky terrain was way behind us as we arrived at a well-developed garden-paradise that was draped with lovely landscape.
The memory of the chaotic ash rain and molten fire brand that nearly destroyed the mountain was wiped away by the stunning blue green lake sitting at the very crater that now lazily yawns before the clear blue skies. I curiously touched the waters and found out it was cold. But no one is allowed to dive into it because no lifeguard can save you from its deep abyss.
For now, the steam from this volcano would go out at the other side of the mountain, our tour guide said. I breathed in the fresh air until the tranquility that fills the place lulled me back to the sleep I’ve been longing for that day. Mt. Pinatubo may release its rage again into another time and era, but at this moment, she lets her weary visitors rest at her bosom.
Since this was a two-hour trek, the group I’m with decided we take a side trip to the falls before we go back. But we had to scrape that plan at our descent because the rain was threatening to pour down. Should the rains be heavy, there’s the tendency that the stream waters may rise and make our journey more dangerous.
We were leaving the site in our 4×4 trucks when the rains poured down. The ride back was even heart-stopping because there were times our dear, elderly driver would try to cross a higher plane where we had nearly fall sideways. The bumpy ride seemingly became even bumpier! Now, I guess this is where the adventure is, as it made my heart jump to my throat.
The hike may not be as strenuous as the previous ones we’ve taken but it was a memorable one. Maybe because through its transformation, Mt. Pinatubo is a testimony that no dire or tragic history can ever overcome hope in this generation.