The landscaped park grounds of Mt. Pinatubo these days
The landscaped park grounds of Mt. Pinatubo these days

If you have lived to witness the explosion of Mt Pinatubo in June 1991, I’m sure you wouldn’t forget the devastating effect it had on a global scale. Almost 2 decades since then, from what seem to be start of creation on this land, it has evolved into another nature masterwork but now with an added human touch to its surroundings. It’s so fitting to name this this mountain “Pinatubo” which also means, “To make grow” and sure it grew after the years, and here are my observations from each visit within those 2 decades.

4x4 vehicles make it easy to reach the Mt Pinatubo crater
4x4 vehicles made it easy to reach the Mt Pinatubo crater

It was in 2002 when I first stepped on the grounds of Mt Pinatubo at the Capas Tarlac side. It was my early days of travels and my 3rd mountain to climb at that time. I can clearly remember the grueling 6-7 hours hike to the crater from Tarukan Aeta Village where we had our outreach back then. The landscape was like walking on the moon. Barren and deserted. In each step our foot would sink a few centimeters then we would walk across a number of rivers. Add to that is the unbearable heat from the sun and the light reflection from the rocks. Reaching our camping grounds near the crater was a sweet accomplishment.

Aetas on the road
Aetas on the road is a common sight in Mt Pinatubo

Four years after that, 2006, I had a chance to go back to Mt Pinatubo by assisting as the lead on an expedition for a company’s Earth Day Climb activity. It was evident that Mt Pinatubo is in a transition. On what used to be walls of lahar (a mixture of volcanic material, rock debris and mudflow), plants and vegetation are bursting through. It is also fast becoming a popular tourist destination. Utilizing 4x4s as transport made it a lot easier for visitors to reach the crater lake. Hiking time has been cut down to 3-4 hours. The crater water has also receded to reveal a beach. Nonetheless, the turquoise water was really appealing.

Other Aetas us this old form of transportation
Other Aetas still use this old form of transportation

And recently, this 2011, Lakbay Norte 2 took us to Mt Pinatubo on our third day of the tour. It’s still the same jump-off as before but the place is now called the Pinatubo Spa Town, where guest can just come in, then check and choose the packages for the Pinatubo hike, either with a cultural immersion with the Aetas or a unique Spa experience after or both. It’s a lot more convenient for tourists nowadays. It’s best to go there in groups of 5 since the 4×4 can only accommodate that number. It’ll also be cheaper.

Our 4x4s heading up to the Skyway Route
Our 4x4s heading up to the Skyway Route

Our 4×4 vehicle ride to the crater took at least an hour. This time I get to try the so called “Skyway” which I heard cuts down the travel time significantly. It may sound like an easy way but this road is still rough road going through the upper terrain which somehow resembles an outback. There are a few Aeta communities living on this trail as well. Our driver said that this cut the trekking time to 30 minutes originally but with the recent landslide, it’s an hour’s trek to the crater.

On the Pinatubo Trail no a lot easier with the shorter hike
On the Pinatubo Trail no a lot easier with the shorter hike

The trail from where we left the 4×4 vehicle hasn’t changed much aside from a few new structures along the way. Like a shelter, which thankfully has a cogon roof not steel and some restrooms before moving into the heavily vegetated trail along the stream. But even though this is a lot easier now, a climb is still a climb and I would still recommend the basic mountaineering practice of having a front man, middle man and sweeper with a radio. People have died on this trail by underestimating the mountain.

There are now rest stops halfway of the trail
There are now rest stops halfway of the trail

Emerging from the heavily vegetated trail and seeing the crater lake again brought the same awe as the first 2 times I’ve seen it. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sights in the country now. Of course as expected, the crater grounds has been developed like a park with paved pathways and landscaping. I guess this would be better for tourist’s convenience and accessibility. But gone are the thrilling days where mountain climbers have to really sweat it out just to be rewarded by this view. I guess we can’t fight change.

Pathway to the crater beach
Pathway to the crater beach

The addition of boating on the crater is a welcome change. It’s the first time I’ve been to the other side of the crater’s shore where the landscape is still Jurassic and raw. It’s like a portion of how the landscape looked like a few years after the explosion. I was in a frenzy exploring that area from the steaming shore lines to the colored rocky beach surface. I was quickly called not to wander too far off as the land and lahar walls are still unstable and could collapse anytime.

Boating at Mt Pinatubo Crater at P250 per head
Boating at Mt Pinatubo Crater at P250 per head

After all this climbing, the experience continues at the Pinatubo Spa Town. Late lunch was served and I can certainly say almost everything served there tasted good. Since there were around 30 of us in the group, we had to split up on some of the Spa offerings. I first had a 1 hour and 20 minutes Thai and Shiatsu Massage. My masseur was really good that I gave a nice tip after.

The Jurassic landscape on the other side of the cratera
The Jurassic landscape on the other side of the cratera

Then I moved to the Volcanic Ash Spa, where I was almost buried alive with volcanic ash. It’s like being in a sauna with the underground furnace giving off heat with the ashes containing them under. Just don’t do this late in the afternoon when mosquito starts to roam around. Lastly there’s the Mud Pool. Here’s a fun one where I apply a good amount of mud all over my skin then wait for it to dry. I could actually feel the stretch of my skin in the process.

A different atmosphere on this side of Pinatubo
A different atmosphere on this side of Pinatubo

That’s the major destination and activity of the 3rd day of Lakbay Norte. I’m glad I got go back to Mt Pinatubo again and witness its change throughout the years. Who knows what’s it’s like again after a couple of years or so.

Heading back
Heading back

Pinatubo Spa Town
www.pinatubospatown.com
Tel (045) 493.0031
Mobile +63.909.951.3101

Very relaxing Thai and Shiatsu Dry Massage at Spa Town for P500
Very relaxing Thai and Shiatsu Dry Massage at Spa Town for P500

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Join our Backpack Photography Workshop, Photography 101 at Banaue at March 4-5, 2011 and Island Hopping Photo Tour in Batanes on April 17-23, 2011.

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Ferdz
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.