At last I have time to blog again! Here is a quick run down of why I have been absent and what I have been up to…
Finished last 5 weeks of Phantom of the Opera in Manila (while working on my thesis at the same time), came home for 4 days, went to Brazil for 10 days as part of my MBA, came home, worked like a demon for 16 days, handed in my thesis, partied for a week or so and that takes us to about now 🙂
So now that I have my life back I thought I would sum up the last 5 weeks I spent in Manila in a few short posts – highlights only, which will be rather difficult as it is such an incredible place but here goes….
The last 5 weeks were filled with both highs and lows. An obvious low for me was having to sit in my hotel room all day working on my thesis while the sun teased me through the window. But I did allow myself one day off a week and it was on these days that I had my greatest adventures. The first was in week 3 at the Pagsanjan Falls , then the following week at the Taal Volcano and finally in week 5, the incredible hike to Mount Pinatubo crater lake.
The Pinatubo trek caught my eye from the first week in Manila. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 was the second largest of the 20th centuary after the eruption of Novarupta in southern Alaska in 1912. The hike to Pinatubo is an epic journey that begins at 3:30am and ends at about 7pm. The decision to do it was especially difficult because the show ends at 11pm on Sunday night and Monday is the cast’s only day off so it means getting to bed at 12pm if you are lucky enough to fall asleep, getting about 3 hours sleep and then getting up again for the hotel pick-up. Needless to say I struggled to get a group together to join me for the trek. Most people heard the words “3:30am” and started to laugh hysterically. Eventually I managed to scrape 4 brave souls together and off we went. We spent the next 2.5 hours in a minibus to get the permit; the area is used for naval training so on certain days they don’t allow anyone to do the trek. Then we spent about 1 hour bumping around in a 4×4 open-topped jeep.
The terrain is moon-like; grey, flat and filled with loose rocks. Its obvious where the larva carved out its path down the mountain and burned its way right through the cliffs.
Afterwards we persuaded our sore bottoms out of the jeeps and the 2.5 hour, 7km hike began.
Four words…bring the right shoes… Basically you wade through rivers every 10 minutes or so. Some are knee-deep and you almost lose your shoes, others rise to just above the ankle but the rocks are loose and slippery so come prepared (especially if you are a ballet dancer and twisting your ankle would put you out of work for a few weeks). I bought these plastic crocs with good gripping under-foot and an ankle strap. One of the guys in my group wore aqua shoes which have really thin soles which I do not recommend. His feet were sore for 3 days after the hike – our guide, however, managed with a pair of flip flops.
You start hiking around 8am when the weather is still cool. Hiking is a solitary exercise. There is no time for serious conversation as your head remains bent with eyes fixed firmly on the ground which is either slippery and wet or loose and dry. Either way you need to look where you are going. After about an hour the terrain starts to rise steeply and you pull your way up, sometimes using your hands for balance. At this point it is hot so sunscreen and a wide hat are essential. Finally you reach a resting point where we all enjoyed our trail mix, granola bars and lots of water before pushing through the last frontier.
A small sign signals how much longer to go, depending on your age. I was the youngest in the group but I took the longest because I had to be extra careful not to injure myself. Best tip, take your time, place your feet carefully and don’t lift one foot unless the other is firmly in place. The last frontier is completely different to the rest of the hike; jungle-like terrain, steep rivers (that you hike through) and some shade from the burning sun.
Finally you arrive at the top and get your first view of the crater lake….incredible.
The colour of the lake changes according to the sulphur-levels in the water. I read that it goes from palest aqua to green to brown and even to black. I prayed we would be lucky and get aqua waters and we were! Nothing can describe the water and the view.
The mountains are deep green, lime and purple, the lake, turquoise. It is one of the most breath-taking sights I have ever seen and well worth the incredible effort.
Best of all you get to swim in the healing waters. You step in and immediately sink. It’s not like a beach where the ground gradually gets deeper – you are in the crater of a volcano. The water is strangely cool and even though there are no fish inside the lake, no one ventured further than a few feet from the shore. The idea that this lake is bottomless is a bit freaky. Apparently its depth has yet to be measured because all instruments melt once they go beyond a certain depth, closer to the core of the earth. Here is a short video I made (for my dad) of me swimming in the lake…
The water stays aqua even up close, it’s the strangest thing. Floating in the lake, looking at your body. The water is both opaque and aqua, not like the turquoise waters in the Seychelles or Thailand which are clear and you can see to the bottom. I took so many pictures to try to capture the colour of the water but you just have to see it in person.
We swam for about an hour and then headed back down. The trek back is the hardest part because you have already seen and experienced the climax. Plus it’s usually after midday and even with the bit of cloud cover we had, we still melted.
If I had to grade this hike on difficulty I would say its intermediate if you are a relatively fit person. What makes it difficult is the unsecure ground, the changing terrain, the length and the sun. There are no toilets or places to buy food and water so you must bring everything with you on your back. Also that you can’t wear normal hiking shoes makes the hike difficult. If I had to grade the hike on “worthiness” I give it a 10 out of 10. The whole experience makes you feel like you can conquer the world and the beauty of the crater lake and the experience of swimming in it are life-changing. I highly recommend this trek to anyone with an adventurous spirit. So you will be a bit tired and a bit sore but what the heck, you can sleep when you’re dead right?
Its incredible to think that just 20 odd years after the devastating eruption of this volcano I was able to swim inside its crater. If nature can rebuild itself in 20 years imagine what humans could do if we put a bit of effort into cleaning up the mess we have made of our planet.