Trip Start Jun 08, 2013
7Trip End Aug 05, 2013
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Even though the more distant surrounding areas of Pinatubo are back to life and densely populated again, the 20 or so kilometer radius around the volcano feels like another world. It is a restricted area, and the only people who are allowed to live there are Aeta, indigenous folks that have lived there for ages. Even they are sparsely scattered through the area. Weirdly enough, the U.S. and Philippine Air Forces also use the area for bombing practice - I'm betting the locals don't love that
The closer we drove to the volcano (this was a lazy man's "trek", by the way - they drove us 20 kilometers and we hiked one kilometer to the crater lake), the more barren the landscape became. I tried to order the photos in a way that you can see the progression - the beginning of the drive was pretty green, with plenty of trees, and then it started to look like the freakin moon. All of the mountains and hills in the pictures are actually made of lahar (volcanic ash and rock)- the area was so completely destroyed and covered in lahar that very little of the original earth is visible. In fact, as we were approaching the crater lake, we kept asking our driver which mountain was Pinatubo, to which he would respond vaguely, pointing to a general area with tons of peaks. Finally, we realized that he was so vague about it because what used to be Pinatubo no longer exists - it destroyed itself in the explosion. Pinatubo now consists of the crater lake, surrounded by peaks of lahar.
Streams fed by the crater lake run down the slopes leading to the crater, and have made the slopes green and beautiful again, although our guide told us that animals have just recently come back to live in the area. The lake itself is fed by cold springs, which actually act as a kind of cooling system for the volcano, which is why it doesn't erupt more often
Apparently some days people can swim in the lake, but when we went the sulfur and boron rates were incredibly high, so it would be dangerous to do so. Of course by the time I learned this I had already put my feet in the water - whoops.
Anyways, the pictures can probably do more justice to this place than my descriptions, so enjoy!