City Girl does Mountain Part 1: Mt. Pinatubo Flashback

I have so much to write about, as JG lined-up a lot of activities for us before he started graduate school. I actually have the time to post entries every day, but I thought it be best if distributed it at least one new article a week so as not make it into an obligation.

But I wanted to write this down because, one, it was really a great experience for both JG and I. And two, I can hit two birds with one stone by finally getting the chance to write about something I neglected to post for two years. This is why this post will come in two parts.

As you read in the title, JG and I recently climbed Mount Pico de Loro, which is located about 2-3 hours away from Manila. The said peak can be climbed from either Batangas, Maragondon or Tarnate both in Cavite, the latter where we started our hike.

Now it would be impossible for me to explain why conquering Pico de Loro was such an accomplishment for me and JG without telling you about our trip two years ago where we climbed Mount Pinatubo, in Capas Tarlac.

Actually both mountains are volcanoes and are part of what is called the Bataan arc which I think is what they call the collection of volcanoes in the middle-north of The Philippines (or something like that), except Pico de Loro is considered dormant while Pinatubo is infamous to many for its epic and devastating eruption in 1991.

So let me first take you back two years ago in our Pinatubo hike. This was around the time when we came home for a month long visit, and JG (for some crazy reason) decided it would be fun to spend the day climbing and seeing a crater of a still active volcano. I considered this decision of him peculiar and outrageous, because not only does JG hate outdoor activities, back then he was also lethargic and fat. Those were the days when JG would refuse to climb one flight of stairs even if you paid him to do it. So you can imagine my confusion when he said he wanted to go hiking. To be fair, I was also unfit during those times, difference is I knew that, and was practical enough to know my limits.

I realized what compelled my husband to do this when we got there and was given a glimpse of the trek. He perfectly described the trip as climbing Mt. Pinatubo was like climbing Mordor, the same volcano that Frodo and Sam had to climb to destroy the One Ring of Sauron. Yes, it was my husband’s geeky fantasies of playing Hobbit, that drew him to do this. Because as Mordor was in the Lord of the Rings, hiking Mt. Pinatubo meant walking seven kilometers in desolate lands of part soil, ash, and rocks.

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But before you started this dreary climb, you will first have to be shaken like a dice in a box, via a 40 minute to an hour 4×4 ride to the starting point. The said trucks used to take hikers up to more than half of the 7 kilometer walk, but as bad luck would have it, during our batch this was not allowed as the only passable road for vehicles was closed for some reason.

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Even at our unfit state, walking wasn’t such a problem, the challenge Mt. Pinatubo brought was that unlike other mountains where your trail is soil and trees, you would have to tackle a slippery and rocky terrain. If you don’t carefully watch your step, you might slip on a rock and hit your head. And while other mountain trails will distract your physical efforts with its flora and fauna, the grey and grim atmosphere will surely zap out whatever enthusiasm you managed to collect as you get closer and closer to the crater.

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If you are wondering what my incentive for this, and why I ran along with this crazy idea, is that I am sucker for swimming trips. I love the lure of a water, whether it be a sink hole, or a fancy pool, or the beach, tell me there’s swimming involved and I am there. And I was told that up the crater is a lake, and so what swimming enthusiast would deny getting a chance for a dip in a lake up an active volcano?

There isn’t much to say about the whole trek expect rocks, dried grey soil, and ash. Nevertheless as you continue about ready to crawl or pass-out from the terrain, occasionally indigenous Aetas native in those areas would casually pass by, some carrying heavy loads of luggage or food, others barefooted, without breaking a sweat like it was nothing.

When you get to about the five kilometer mark, it will start to feel more like a mountain-climbing trail as it will get a bit greener, albeit a more steeper climb.

And before we could even get there, JG was about ready to give-up. In fact at one point he told our guide that he couldn’t do it anymore, and he would just sit there while we go up the crater and wait for us to come back for him. At this point I too was tired and sticky and wondering what the hell were we doing there, and I could not help but resent JG for wanting to give-up when all this was his idea in the first place.

JG channeling his inner hobbit.
JG channeling his inner hobbit.

Our guides, God bless them, were kind and patient, willing to stop every time we got tired and wanted to rest (which was happening more frequently as we got even more tired, which in turn slowed us down, not to mention slowing down every one else in our group putting us way behind schedule). They were determined to politely and enthusiastically encourage JG to keep going. And slowly but surely he did, and once we got up there, more than looking at the crater, he was just so happy to have done it.

Our very patient guide, sorry I forgot his name, but he was really nice and encouraging.
Our very patient guide, sorry I forgot his name, but he was really nice and encouraging.

For as long as I live, I will never forget, my husband (who refuses to even sit on public park benches), lying down on the ground up on the summit, sweating all over, out of breath, panting, saying, “ Let it be a testament to all fat men, that it can be done, and that I did it!”

As for me, as happy as I was to also have conquered Pinatubo, my disappointment could not be hidden when we were told that they have forbidden climbers to swim the lake because they recently found out that it has hazardous substances like sulphate and arsenic. (But if they had me sign a waver and let me swim, I would’ve done so in a blink. Call it crazy, but it beats forever wondering).

The view up there, was quite awesome though, especially if you think about the fact that it was wrecking havok spewing gas and fire just a couple of decades ago.

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Now many hikers will tell you that the view up a mountain, will surely make you forget all the pain and hardship you went through getting up there. And for as long as you are there, you kinda do. But what they neglect telling newbies is that going up is one thing, coming back down is another. It’s also sort of like, the fantasy of happy endings in fairy tales or romance novels, without considering; what happens during the ever after? And as every story has a climax, all stories also have a denouement before the finale. And in JG’s case, unlike Frodo and Sam, there are no gigantic eagles to come and fly us back down.

You now probably sensed, and I will have to admit that climbing Mt. Pinatubo was an experience I really did not enjoy. By the time we got home, I was beaten and tired, hungry and resentful, with nothing but my aching muscles and a very dry bathing suit to show for. I will always look back and be a bit proud that I climbed Mt. Pinatubo and its crater, but I guess it wasn’t my kind of mountain, and an experience I would rather not do again.

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