Our 4 x 4 vehicle thudded along the scorched gravel road, forcefully freewheeling its way over the uneven terrain. The landscape was a sea of sunburned land and hills of towering ash set against a backdrop of a perfect blue sky.
I held on to the railings of the open-sided vehicle, torn between the desire to take photographs of the stunning scenery and the pressing need to hold on to something steady lest I be tossed from the jeep with one jolting movement.
We were on our way to Puning Hot Springs, a spa resort at the edge of Sapang Bato in Angeles, Pampanga. Save for a few stretches of paved road near one of the spa areas, most of the route is vast desert-like land, rugged canyons carved from lahar and shallow streams foggy with steam. The 4 x 4 jeep deftly navigated between canyons, cut a blazing path through the streams and was tossed heedlessly behind swirls of water.
The coolness within the ravine soon gave way to a blindingly bright sky and strange rock formations spewed by Mt. Pinatubo during its eruption two decades past.
Carved from the wrath of one of the world’s most infamous volcanic eruptions, Puning Hot Spring offers an exciting and different spa experience.
Visitors defy the rough terrain just to soak in the hot spring on the foothills of the mountain. The thermal spring along the Sacobia River offers eight natural pools with temperatures ranging from a sultry 40 degrees to a searing 70 degrees. The warm sulfuric waters are renowned for their painkilling powers and their ability to naturally eliminate toxins from the body.
According to tour organizers, most of the resort’s clients are foreigners, with Koreans in the majority since it was developed by a Korean investor married to a Filipina. The resort also provides employment to indigenous Aetas, the original residents of the area, who were displaced during the volcano’s eruption.
With smoke billowing out from mountain crevices, natural pools and waterfalls sprouting from the dry earth, and oddly-shaped geologic formation, the terrain looks almost prehistoric.
It’s almost surreal to see modern amenities instead. Like in most developed resorts, there are several bathrooms and changing areas near the pools, with alert attendants handing out fresh towels to newly-arrived guests. Picnic huts, paved stairways and cement banisters made to look like wooden logs, have been carved from this mountain of stone and soil.
I dipped my foot gingerly into one of the hot pools and immediately retreated as the heat pierced through my skin. I moved to another pool where there were more people and found it relaxing in a feverish sort of way. Beads of sweat broke out on my forehead as my body slowly adjusted to the temperature. The heat of the pools really seeped in and soothed one’s aching muscles in no time.
After enjoying the experience of stewing in the pools, our group was ushered back into the 4 x 4 vehicle to another area of the spa, this time featuring a huge covered sand pit. Here we were given white robes and shorts by uniformed attendants. They dug body-sized grooves in the pit and instructed us to lie down before slowly burying us in a bed of warm volcanic sand.
The heat of the sand was stifling and heavy yet strangely relaxing at the same time. Buried up to the neck, we felt waves of heat enveloping our body.
The third and last part of the experience was the mud smear spa treatment. Cold sulfuric mud was lathered on to my face and exposed parts of the body and left for about 30 minutes until it caked dry on my skin.
Sulfur mud baths have long been touted for their ability to treat skin disorders and arthritis, and sulfur products are often applied on the skin to treat skin acne and allergies. The mud treatment felt instantly detoxifying. It was a bit hard to scrub off all the mud in the shower area, but the whole group left feeling refreshed, relaxed, and in high spirits with the whole spa experience.
This rising attraction in Pampanga offers a great adventure and health benefits, and leaves visitors with a newfound respect for nature. Unlike the usual spa treatments you can get in the city, a visit to Puning Hot Spring is really a unique experience. The road to relaxation may be rough, but the scenery and the journey is worth the trip. •
Puning Hot Spring is located in Sitio Target, Sapang Bato, Angeles City. The 4 x 4 jeepneys are stationed in Sitio Target, where guests can avail themselves of the day tour packages which include the 4 x 4 ride, buffet lunch, entrance to the hot spring, sand steam, foot massage and mud pack for P3,000 per person, minimum of two. Alternatively, you can hire only the 4 x 4 jeep for at least P1,500 that can fit up to six persons. Call (045) 499-0629, (0920) 8664246 & (0919) 3392795; (0917) 5360618 (Korean clients) for inquiries.