Climbing Mount Pinatubo

It’s true what they say that some people want things that they do not have and in a way miss out in appreciating the blessings that they are given.

I am one of those people.

Last year a colleague from Sydney came to Manila. He was excited to be in the Philippines when he heard about beautiful tourists spots that we have to offer. As a local, I was able to mention a lot of places that he can visit but I was not as excited as he was. If you talk to me about travel I will tell you a long list of foreign countries that I dream of visiting. However, if you’d ask me where I want to go in my own country – I only have a few.

Before Ming left the Philippines last year he promised to come back to visit Mount Pinatubo. I was excited and at the same time worried. To be honest, climbing Mount Pinatubo was not on my bucket list nor something that ever crossed my mind.

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When I was young I can remember being in a car with my parents and driving through a forsaken area with nothing but kilometers of space filled with gray dust and lahar or better known as volcanic fragments caused by the explosion. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was known as the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century thus making it one of the popular destinations for enthusiasts and adventure-seekers in the northern part of the Philippines.

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A 4×4 jeep during a stop-over before reaching the base camp.

When Ming arrived here I have done all my research and have set a schedule with one of the well-known tour guides from Tarlac. Sonia Bognot was referred by Ronnel, our assistant manager in the office, when he knew that we were to climb Mount Pinatubo. She is known to offer great services and affordable rates for the tour inclusive of transfers and food.

Truly, word about her reputation was real.

We decided to get a day-tour. That day we woke up as early as 1:00 AM since we will be coming all the way from Alabang. We took a cab going to Makati and met the others in a convenience store along the way. By 2:00 AM we were picked up by Sonia’s van and headed all the way to Capas, Tarlac where the registration for all climbers is located. The trip going to Tarlac from Metro Manila was about 3 hours and we spent most of it sleeping in the van. When we arrived in Tarlac it was still dark but there was already a number of people waiting for the registration booth to open.

The registration was quick. All you have to do was fill up a form and wait as tour guides approach the group. Sonia wouldn’t personally be accompanying the group but she has a team of experienced tour guides who knows the place very well since they are locals in that area too.

Before we jumped in our 4×4 jeep, a local approached us and offered a 20 peso walking stick made entirely of bamboo. At first Ming laughed at the thought of bringing a walking stick but the seriousness in the eyes of the old lady telling us to buy it made me believe her – and she was right. The walking stick according to Ming while we were in the middle of our climb was “the best 20 pesos he ever spent!”

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The view on our way to the base camp was just surreal. For a moment I forgot where I was while I was looking at the vast terrain and mountains surrounding us.

It was beautiful!

Although I found it quite a challenge to take photos because the 4×4 jeep was running at a speed of 120km/hr and had to set my camera on continuous mode to capture photos. I would say that was one of the most challenging things I have ever done for the love of photography and for sake of taking pictures that I can share to the world.

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We also had the opportunity to meet and take pictures of Aetas living there. Aetas are known to be indigenous people living in isolated mountainous areas in the northern part of the Philippines and described in our history as the earliest inhabitants of our country.

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An Aeta girl we met during one of our stops.

We also passed by difficult terrain and crossed more than a dozen rivers to get to base camp. I could no longer count the times Ming and I screamed while we were hugging parts of the 4×4 jeep so long as we won’t fall out of it.

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After more than an hour in the 4×4 jeep we reached the base camp and from there we started the initial 5-kilometer climb going to the crater of Mount Pinatubo. It wasn’t a very steep climb but the soft sand and big chunks of rocks definitely made the climb very challenging. I had to stop from time to time in order to catch my breath and Ming had to teach me the breathing exercises of Taichi in order to get as much oxygen as I can. Antonio, our project manager in the office who was also there at that time, couldn’t stop laughing every time I raise my hand to signal “Timeout! I need a break!”

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In the 5-kilometer ascend to the crater there are 3 huts in between so that people can rest for a while and hide from the heat of the sun.

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Trekking along a sulfur river.

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Locals measure distance by the number of mountains we have to pass through.

I brought with me 2 liters of water, 1 bottle of Gatorade, trail food, a first aid kit, camera and clothes. It is true what people who have successfully climbed Mount Pinatubo have shared on the internet. They advised those who are planning to climb the mountain to bring a light backpack because it’ll be difficult if you are carrying too much with you.

I have learned that the hard way while we were in the middle of our climb. My backpack was holding me back and I was behind the group that the tour guide offered to carry my bag for me just so I could keep up. My camera alone was quite heavy already and the additional weight of my backpack really slowed me down.

After about 4-kilometers we have reached the base camp at the bottom of the crater and had 1 kilometer left to go. From there I was amazed because there was actually two separate functioning toilets just like the ones we can find in bus terminals. All I could think of was “HOLY PORCELAIN!” It was nothing fancy but it was good enough rather than giving it a go in the middle of the rocks.

IMG_8610It is also important to focus on the trail while climbing. We passed by some tourists who got injured because they tripped and hit their knees on the sharp rocks. We have been warned while we were in the registration area to be very careful because tripping or falling head first on the rocks could be fatal and help won’t come as soon because of the distance and inaccessibility of vehicles in the area.

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After hours of climbing and unending “Are we there yet?”, alas, we have reached the crater of Mount Pinatubo!

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I have never felt so tired and amazed all at the same time. I remember during the last few steps of our climb and knowing that we were soon to be filled with awe that people from behind me were running so that they can finally see the view. It was too good to be true that I remember the exact words of Ronnel when he shared his experience “You just won’t believe what’s in front of you, it was too good to be true.”

And yet there I was, sitting under a hut as I tried to catch my breath and stared at the crater.

Yes, I was in a crater of a volcano!

Besides praying from time to time for the volcano to be calm and thinking “Please don’t erupt! Please don’t erupt!” I was also having the best time talking to people who were there resting under the hut with me. Then one of the most unexpected things just happened when two guys just started to perform and it was absolutely fantastic!

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I thought I have already visited a lot of places here in the Philippines that I don’t feel excited to explore more however that changed when I saw the beauty of Mount Pinatubo. It is ironic that a foreigner has to convince me to travel within my country.

Before Ming left the Philippines a few days ago he gave me a mantra with Chinese characters on it. When I asked what it meant, he said “Action is the beginning of dreams.”

This experience was definitely life changing and it reminded me of how much I am passionate about traveling and going to places I have never been.

Now I have a long list of other regions and provinces that I want to visit in my country. I promised to myself that I shouldn’t be a stranger to my home and that this is one way for me to embrace my culture and identity as a Filipino.

As what my father always tells me “Love your own…”

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3 responses to “Climbing Mount Pinatubo

    • Hi Elmer! Your comment actually inspires me to write and share more photos than I usually do. It does feel good when your work is appreciated. Maraming salamat! Cheers! :)

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