Crater Swim

Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Philippines  , Central Luzon,
Saturday, March 17, 2012

Prior to it's eruption in 1991, Mount Pinatubo was a relatively obscure mountain covered in dense forest and inhabited by several thousand indigenous people (who had fled there to escape the conquering Spanish)- it had no recorded history of volcanic activity. But when it did blow it's top in June of 1991 it went big (apparently it was the second largest explosion of the last century- that might be subject to some debate as I've seen Andrew S go off a couple of times when the Bronco's lose)- 10 billion tons of magma, 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide, global temperatures decreased by 0.5C, ozone depletion increased, adjacent river systems were altered for years, as well as the complete destruction of thousands of homes and related infrastructure (including the nearby American Clarke Air Force Base). Just to tweak the party a little more was the arrival of Typhoon Yunya bringing a lethal mix of ash and rain to turn the area into barren moonscape. The volcano had the good manners to provide enough early warnings that over sixty thousand people were evacuated to safer areas (although a reported 850 did die following the eruption) but the damage was immense (to provide some perspective, this eruption was over 10 times larger than the Mount St Helens eruption in Washington Sate that most of us native North Americans are more familiar with). Not a fun time to have a mountainside chalet!!

To get to Pinatubo you have to travel through the former Clarke American military base near the Angeles City (largely abandoned by the Americans after the eruption). Although many of the buildings are obviously left over and have been re-purposed to suit the new goals of a duty free zone and discount airline hub, it is still feels much more American than Filipino- the roads are wonderful and the traffic is orderly and pretty much obeys the standard rules of the road- the whole place is neat and tidy, and it's almost eerily quiet when juxtaposed with the rest of the country. Some parts of the leftover town around the base hold less pristine reminders of the American presence including a section our driver euphemistically referred to as “the road where husbands disappear at night”. Can’t imagine what that means and DH wouldn't let me find out through night time exploration??

Getting to the start point for the hike to the crater itself involves hiring a driver with a 4x4 and a mandatory guide (we got a bonus driver who was being taught to drive a 4x4 by the first guy). After her maniacal 4x4 performance in Pelau, I would have preferred to see DH at the wheel- we would have shaved an hour off the trip in and out. Hiking in to the crater after the drive was a bit of a race as we wanted to get a little quiet time at the volcanoes centre before any crowds showed up (hiking times are very limited because the Philippine Military apparently uses the area for target practise in the afternoon!). The landscape on the way in is a stark reminder of the recent eruption, with mountains of ash lining both sides of the trail- not one of our more scenic hikes but when you cross over the crater edge and the lake reveals itself, the toil of getting there seems very much worth it.  Swimming was discouraged because of the steep drop-offs but it seemed to be more suggestion than rule so after a quick change behind a see-through shrub, it was time to take the plunge. DH took a pass on the swim just in case someone needed to go for help- she's in charge of security on this trip and takes that role very seriously (she once stayed up all night with a flashlight pointed at the straw roof of our hut because she thought someone was crawling in).

There wasn’t much else to do here so we started walking back out just as the crowds were arriving (we even ended up doing some sort of interview with a Filipino television crew that was recording a travel show- DH kept elbowing me to one side as visions of a Filipino modeling career quickly developed). The hike back wasn’t particularly challenging but after spotting a ‘Volcanic Spa’ back at the village, DH suddenly developed a back problem that needed immediate attention... and after spotting me hanging around looking incredibly bored (intentionally), she immediately added another 30 minutes of treatment- not sure what the hand, foot, and temple massages had to do with a back issue but apparently it worked as she did that runway walk out of the spa and, with a hair flick, announced that it was her best massage ever. You can take the girl out of the spa but...
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Martin on

Great commentary, as always. I remember the Pinatubo eruption -the shot heard round the world. Hopefully the next one is long after you're off to the next exotic local. Love the pictures, especially the hood ornaments (as if cars don't depreciate fast enough as it is!). Travel safe.

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