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It felt like we were going on a safari trip, nature all around with no sign of civilization; even our cellphones had absolutely no signal
AS SUMMER APPROACH- ed, I started dreaming of gentle waves lapping against soft, white sand under a clear, blue sky, and the perpetual taste of salt on my lips. Then my friend burst my bubble. ?We?re going trekking on Mt. Pinatubo!? he announced.

The pristine picture in my head was abruptly replaced by bleak images of lahar, boiling mud and water, volcanic rocks and the rotten-egg stench of sulfur. To my dismay, all our other friends were enthusiastic about the idea. I secretly wished the trip wouldn?t push through.

It did. One early Sunday morning we found ourselves struggling to climb onto an army-green 4x4 jeep.

We felt the excitement as soon as we saw the expanse of lahar against a clear blue sky and the searing sun. It was the perfect setting for a desert shoot. We asked our driver to pull over. My artsy friends expressed regret that we didn?t lug along gowns and other killer outfits to pose in.

Amazing scenery

There were cliffs, mountains, jagged and spiked rock formations and dead rivers that struggled to flow through the thick layer of lahar. We cheered as our ride splashed through. It felt like we were going on a safari trip, nature all around without a sign of civilization, even our cellphones had absolutely no signal.

We also drove by an Aeta village. I smiled and waved at them, and they readily waved back.

The 20-minute hike up to the crater required our full concentration as we negotiated our way over rocks, boulders and through cool puddles and streams of water. Beads of sweat later, we finally reached the still, crystal-blue crater lake of Mt. Pinatubo, surrounded by white peaks capped with what looked like snow (in fact, lahar). ?It looks like we?re in Europe!? my well-traveled friend said as he clicked away.

We took a boat ride to the other side of the lake where there were less people and absolutely no structures or sheds, just a deserted expanse of lahar. We found shelter under a little tree to eat our packed lunch: adobo, rice, red egg and tomato wrapped in banana leaves and eaten with our hands.

We couldn?t resist the urge to go into the water. But those of us who didn?t know how to swim wore life vests. To this day, they still don?t know the exact depth of the crater-lake. And typical of volcano lakes, the water level suddenly drops just two or three feet from the shore.

The water was also thick with minerals, so we couldn?t see through it when we dipped our heads in. All we could see was blue. And you know the feeling of how your feet sink into the wet sand touched by the wave?

In Mt. Pinatubo, it was unbearable to keep our feet in there too long. The wet lahar was hot, ?enough to cook an egg,? our guide said. So we ran and jumped over it as quickly as possible. Oddly enough, the water was perfectly cool, with just the occasional warm spots.

We spent the rest of our time taking in the amazing scenery as we bobbed in the water, and of course, we continued our photo shoot.

Roughing it up

This is the kind of trip you gear up for in hiking sandals, since your feet are sure to get wet on the trek. This is the kind of trip that you go to the restroom every chance you get because there won?t always be one around!

You come home with layer of minerals and lahar on your skin, your hair dry and stiff from sun exposure, your skin burnt and your muscles aching. And you can?t even sleep on the ride back because it?s too bumpy. The Aetas also like to burn several patches of trees and plants on the volcano in the afternoon, so on our way down, we felt like we were driving through a forest fire.

Mt. Pinatubo isn?t the kind of place you go to for relaxation, luxury and pampering. It?s an adventure, a one-of-a-kind and worthwhile experience, for rare sightseeing, and to be able to brag that you?ve been to the center of an active volcano.

One of my friends was particularly paranoid about this. What if it exploded while we were there, right smack in the middle, she worried. We assured her: ?You know, if that happens, it will already be too late to run. Just accept it!?

What to bring: Backpack, swimsuit, sunblock, towel, change of clothes, water and/or Gatorade, food, hat, shades, handkerchief/face towel (so as not to breathe in the lahar while riding through), camera

Travel tips:

Dress comfortably.

Hiking sandals are the most ideal footwear.

Pack lightly.

Don?t forget to reapply sunblock.

Show up with a game, adventurous attitude.

For more information:

Call Pinatubo Spa Town at (045)493-0031, 0909-9513103 or 0908-8858479. Visit their website at for more information.

Tour packages: P1,500 per person (minimum of three; maximum of five); P2,000 per person (minimum of two); P4,000 per person (minimum of one). Inclusive of 4x4 ride, guide, lunch and locker and shower facilities.