In the great scheme of things, many events cannot be explained.
This past weekend, my college blockmates and I climbed Mt. Pinatubo, an apparently squat volcano. We all had initial perceptions of an imposing, terrifying, dark mountain that was waiting for us.
Our weekend began with us traveling to Pampanga on Friday night after our respective work hours with a classmate driving for us to our host’s beautiful home in Guagua. We slept there so that we wouldn’t have to wake up too early and make the trip all the way from Manila on the day of the trek.
D-day: April 5, Saturday, 5:00 AM. We woke up and in 15 minutes, left for Capas. Apparently, it was still a good 1 hour and half drive! The Tourism Office and base camp where treks are organized are located in Barangay Sta. Juliana in Capas, Tarlac.
The adventure began on our 1 hour and a half 4×4 ride. Boy, was it a bumpy ride! We almost felt like we were going to be tossed out of the jeep! We made a quick stop at one point to marvel at the serrated mountain sides and have a photo op. We were so happy to take pictures with local Aeta children not for posterity but to extend also warm affections.
As soon as the 4×4 was parked among a strip of other colorful 4x4s, our trek began. It was an hour and half walk over very rocky and sandy terrain under scorching heat. I think it was a good 39 degrees that morning. Luckily, it was breezy and the sight and sound of a flowing stream was consoling.
Alas, when we finally got to see the crater, it was an experience of immense joy. It was majestic, it was beautiful, it was edifying. There was one last stretch to get to the actual shores of the crater but by the time we got to the crater lake, our exhaustion momentarily disappeared. We sat on the shore and just marveled at the grandeur before us.
Unfortunately (really, it’s a bummer), visitors CAN NO LONGER (yes they used to allow) swim in the lake. It would have been a fuller experience if we got a chance to wade in the lake and enjoy the sun in the water. We had to contend ourselves at staring at the tempting lake. We were also lucky that one of the few huts were vacated, thus, we were able to avoid the sun even for a few minutes.
The crater is mesmerizing but also, provocative. How could its current beauty mask its reign of terror in 1991 and years after? How could a peaceful lake now occupy the crater of a mountain that spewed toxic ash, altering the world’s temperature and destroying thousands of hectares of farmlands and transforming these into waste lands? Mount Pinatubo’s violent eruption changed/destroyed centuries of pastoral activity, rural life and even, history and heritage in what was once a very affluent region of hacienderos.
Lunch was very cowboy. We ate our baon of fried rice, grilled chicken and pork belly (liempo) with our hands. It felt so rustic hahaha!
A few cigs and minutes of rest, and at high noon, we began our descent. It was far easier, at least for me. By then though, two of our companions were already feeling fatigue and were sporting serious head aches. Good thing there was a stop where they were able to wash their heads and refresh.
The return 4×4 ride, however, was far too tiring! For some reason, the trip was longer and bumpier. It came to a point I asked our guide “Malayo pa ba?!” hahaha
At the base camp, we relished the presence of an old pozo and pumped water to wet our heads, foreheads and necks. We then made our way to Angeles, excited to eat and experience Aling Lucing’s sisig.
Indeed, we pigged out at the clean and well-serviced carinderia – the so-called birthplace of the famous Kapampangan bar chow. Cold beer accompanied our hearty meal of sisig, grilled liempo and tenga (pig ears), delicious ensaladang inihaw na talong (grilled egglplants) with green mangoes, tomatoes, bagoong (fermented shrimps) and delectable buro (fermented rice).
Our day still ended in the water we so craved. Upon our return to our classmate’s house, we indulged by swimming in the warm swimming pool and enjoying a good bottle of Shiraz, a couple of cold Pale Pilsens, good music and of course, awesome company.
The next day, we were treated to typical Kapampangan hospitality by my classmate’s family who prepared a sumptuous breakfast for us. They left before we even got to pack (as they had family obligations in Manila that morning) but managed to make sure we were taken care of. Now that is hospitality.
Pampanga’s bane a few years ago, now a source of tourism activity: Pinatubo.