AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Day 100: Mt. Pinatubo

Day 100 of our trip and we were making the biggest and most difficult trek yet. We were excited about the climb and eager to get going. So much so that waking at 4:30am was surprisedly easy, we left the hotel at 5am and headed north to Tarlac City where we would swap into a jeep to take us to the edge of the volcano.

We had read all the warnings the night before. We must have good walking shoes, we must have spare shoes, don’t strain yourself, wear socks, bring trekking poles, plenty of water, etc. We had signed the disclaimer and taken full responsibility. We were ready to climb an active volcano which last erupted 20 years and was the second largest eruption of the 20th century.

By 7:30am we were dropped off at a place where everyone gets into a 4×4. We were also paired up with a guide. As we walked towards our jeep I looked at the other vehicles, many had bald tyres, body work missing, rust everywhere. These looked 50 years old and not up to the job. We had been warned about vehicles breaking down or getting stuck and what to do in that situation. The one good thing was every jeep had a radio so they could communicate if anything happened. When we reached our jeep our worst fears were confirmed, we had one of the worst jeeps, with an open back and very small seats.

We set off and I think we had yet again found the fastest driver available. We drove up the almost empty river valley at a fantastic speed. The volcanic ash blowing up into huge clouds behind us. Within a few minutes we were covered with ash. Our eyes continually watering and our mouths getting full of dust wasn’t pleasant, but it could be mostly ignored by the more pressing matter of having to hold on for dear life. The back of the jeep had a single bar, shin high, one violent bounce was all it would take to fall off the back! We bounced up the valley for over 30 minutes. Finally we stopped for a rest. From here we were told the track got a lot more rugged. We wandered around and took a few photos while our guide stood by the jeep smoking and coughing his guts out, he didn’t sound well.

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The next section was taken at a far slower speed but was no less uncomfortable. The jeep was skillfully manoeuvred along a set of tyres lines through huge boulders, down extremely steep gradients and through fast flowing rivers.

After about another 40 minutes we were told more about the route. We were to be dropped off a 5km walk from the summit (this was a disappointment because that is a very short walk), we were then told we could be dropped earlier and add an extra 2km to the walk. We immediately agreed to that, anything to make the walk longer.

Not long after that the jeep stopped and we were told we’d be walking from here. Finally the walk had begun, it was 8:30am and the sun was already hot. Our guide looked old, but he went ahead and very soon he was quite far ahead. We did our best to keep up but it was a struggle. We walked up hill, in the heat at 5kph (3mph). We were dripping in sweat and out of breath. But our guide just kept on going. He didn’t even look back, he just kept on pushing. After 10 minutes of walking we reached the jeep drop off point where everyone else was dropped off. Amazingly, we were only a few minutes behind them all and pretty soon we were ahead of everyone. (You may have noticed that 2km in 10 minutes works out at 12kph. I was tracking the route on the phone and we only walked 750m).

Our guide typifies the ‘do as I say not as I do’ attitude that we’ve seen a lot of around Asia. We were told not to push ourselves yet he walked at a pace closer to a jog than a walk. We were told to wear proper footwear yet our guide wore a pair of flip flops. Proper clothing, etc were all ignored. Little wonder that no-one bothers to follow the rules when those leading don’t think they need to. I asked how old he was expecting to hear him say something around 70, he replied 56. Wow! He had aged badly. Yet somehow he kept up this incredible pace. We had left our group far behind and we were now passing other groups also making their way up. We stopped in a couple of shelters along the way to cool and drink but then we were back at. Luckily, the slope was very gentle so the only thing making this hard for us was the heat.

Just down from the summit we reached a rest spot. There was a sign showing rough timings for reaching the summit from here, 15 minutes for younger people, 18 for most adults and 20 for older people. We had been told at the bottom during the briefing not to try and beat this time but to take it steady. Again, we our guide set off at one hell of a pace. We did this section in 13 minutes and that was only because we caught up with another group and we couldn’t pass. We would probably have done it in 11 minutes. Our guide didn’t care, now we were standing on the ridge of the crater. But, no time for photos, our guide was now going down the steps towards the lake which now fills the caldera. We went at a reasonable pace down the steps and at the bottom there was a small beach next to the lake.

The beach was boiling hot in the sun and we quickly took shelter in one of the straw huts on the beach. It wasn’t even 10:30am and we were at the summit, beside the lake taking shelter from the sun; it had taken less than two hours to walk and we had left our group far behind.

After 10 minutes of getting our breath back and cooling off we ventured into the blazing sun to take a few photos. It then dawned on us the reality of our surroundings. Swimming in the lake is forbidden, as are boats. There is no path around the lake. No more paths full stop! The rest of our group were still not in sight and apart from this tiny beach there was nothing else here. And we had been told we would start descending around 1pm. Over 2 hours up here sat around. The walk and difficulty had been hugely over hyped and the summit was nowhere near as good as the scenery we get in Switzerland, or even the Yorkshire Dales or Moors.

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An hour after we arrived at the summit the rest of the group arrived. For a while we didn’t really say anything to each other but then someone started talking. After quite a while of talking we did proper introductions and had a good long chat. It made the day far more interesting, learning about life on the Philippines and the Filipino view of things. They were also interested to hear about life in the UK.

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1pm came and we set off back down the mountain to the jeeps. Annemarie went ahead with our guide but I hung back. Firstly I couldn’t be bothered racing down to the jeep to stand around and wait and secondly I was still talking and learning plenty. We caught up with Annemarie at the first rest point. She then decided that going slow and chatting was better. Our guide didn’t look happy for the rest of the way down, but we enjoyed it.

The jeep ride back to town was as bumpy and dusty as the way there. By the time we were back we had a layer of sand covering us and our hair was dry and disgusting to touch.

The driver who picked us up at 5am was waiting to take us back to the hotel. In the morning we had passed a monument marking the end location of Bataan Death March and he had very kindly offered to take us into memorial site on the way back. So we wandered around while he told us a bit about the history of the death march. It’s rare that we find something which we know absolutely nothing about, but by the time we left we’d learnt about more about WW2 in the Pacific and a dark time in Filipino history.

Our driver typified many Filipino young. He was working part time to pay for university, studying to be a pharmacist. He hoped that he could go and work in the USA. Having seen the Philippines and knowing the wage difference we totally agree with him. It’s the Philippines’ loss that many intelligent people go and live and work abroad but as far as we can see the Philippines is currently punching far below its weight and could do far more with its resources.

This day, our 100th, neatly sums up our trip so far. It started with high expectations (maybe a bit too high), has been hugely underwhelming but highlighted by meeting people and learning about their lives. And we’ve also learnt a lot of history about the region.

All the photos from the day can be seen here.

Posted from Botolan, Central Luzon, Philippines.

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