Don’t get me wrong, Taal was a lovely volcano, but it just wasn’t enough! I needed more… so off to Mt Pinatubo we went! After asking around and hearing wonderful reviews, we stayed with Allan at his guesthouse in Santa Juliana. If you’re heading for a trek up, definitely stay with Allan. His hospitality is unmatched and his place is perfect to get away from it all for a little while.
Let’s backtrack a little first – to the drive up to Santa Juliana. In Manila, there is a coding that’s enforced in an attempt to remove cars from the road and create less traffic. As a result, depending on what number your license plate ends in you cannot drive for certain days. If you’re in certain areas or certain highways there’s a window where you’re exempt from this, meaning we didn’t have to worry too much as it’s a short trek to the highway from Robin’s.
Unfortunately the EDSA highway often has a fair amount of traffic. Robin discovered a short cut to bypass some of the traffic through Rockwell, which he took in instinct – he wanted to get there just as quickly as I did! However, we realized after making the turn that this lead us straight into Makati… and where we weren’t allowed to be driving. My heart started racing! I’m used to keeping eyes peeled for the police at home when on the highway to make sure I’m not speeding, but not like this! I don’t want to get arrested in a foreign country!! Luckily we managed to dodge the police (barely!) until we were back on EDSA and heading for the North Luzon Expressway, but I don’t think my heart stopped thumping until we were out of Manila!
We arrived at Allan’s in Santa Juliana just before sunset. After settling in, we wandered around the town and enjoyed the sunset just down the street in what he called the ‘barren lands’, an area which the US military uses to test tactics with the Filipino army. We wandered up the hill to get a view of the area – quite beautiful with the setting sun! Our stomachs began to rumble as we decided to head back for some grub before calling it a night to prep for our big hike.
5:30am came way too quickly as we got up and prepped for our trip. Allan’s wife (Irma I think? I’m blanking on her name – I’m terrible!) is a great cook and spoiled us with wonderful food day and night. About an hour later the 4×4 came by and we were on our way to Mt Pinatubo! It’s an hour ride until the start of the hike, so we settled in for a bumpy ride. Needless to say we were happy to stretch our legs once we arrived!
As it’s the brink of the rainy season in The Philippines, we had a bit of water to contend with. Allan had mentioned earlier to bring flip flops, and upon arrival I understood why – there were small rivers we had to cross! With no hope of keeping my hiking boots dry, I embraced the water and off we went with a squish squish squish. The hike takes about 2 hours each way, and the terrain is fairly level. There isn’t too much of an incline, but quite a few rocks to dodge and steady yourself on. As long as you take your time it’s fairly easy to get through, just be sure to bring plenty of water! Even at 9am the heat is quite toasty!
The first part of the trail is more rocky than anything, with huge cliffs on either side. I’m going to assume that this was carved out when Pinatubo erupted back in 1991, which was the second largest of the 20th century! Robin remembers it as he was young and living in Manila. Having never seen snow before, he mistook it for such and tried to eat it as us snow-living folk do sometimes in the winter. His tastebuds had quite the surprise! The entire eruption however was a process of a few days as volcanic activity started early in June of 1991, with a small explosion indicating the eruption’s violent phase on June 12th. Since the process didn’t start immediately, they were able to evacuate a lot of people living around Mt Pinatubo. The damage was intensified as Typhoon Yunya arrived on the same day as the eruption. You can read more about it on Wikipedia here – it’s quite interesting!
As we got closer to the crater you could see the landscape becoming more and more green. The heat was starting to get to me until we were about 20min away from the crater. Here there is a small clearing with some bathrooms, but more importantly – fresh water! There’s a fresh spring near by with refreshingly cold water, which I definitely indulged in. After loading up and sticking my head under the tap, we were off on the last part of the trek! This area felt more like a jungle as there was lush vegetation surrounding us. There were plenty of beautiful miniature waterfalls also! Finally, we arrived to the view we had been searching for!
We arrived around 10-10:30am, meaning we had an hour or so to rest our feet and enjoy the scenery before making the trek back to the 4×4 drop off site. Another reason to stay at Allan’s place – there’s an option to have lunch pre-made for your enjoyment at the crater! So yes, Robin and I enjoyed our delicious chicken adobo with the unreal scenery of this volcanic crater. Bucket list item – check! Unfortunately due to previous accidents we weren’t able to swim in the crater’s lake, but we couldn’t resist putting our feet in to cool down a little.
After a solid hour of rest, it was time to say goodbye to the crater and make our way back. My feet were quite sore by the time we arrived due to the amount of water caught in my hiking boots, so I opted for my flip flops (or chinelas as they’re called here). It meant I had to take it a little slower in order to not slip on too many rocks as I had less grip, but it meant my feet could breathe! Wonderful! However my ankles were soon hating me as we ran into some rain. Remembers those small rivers I mentioned earlier? They became a lot bigger really quickly, with a much heavier flow of water! I was lucky Robin was walking behind me at one point as I got my legs crossed by slipping twice on rocks. If he hadn’t grabbed me I’d have two sprained ankles! We figured out a system so that I wouldn’t get my flip flops caught in the current, but I still needed his help (and our guides) a few times to make it across safely. Needless to say when we arrived at the 4×4 site, my ankles appreciated the rest as we rode back!
As we drove our guide told us that every afternoon in June it rains like clockwork at Mt Pinatubo, hence the early start so we can get out before the torrential downpour hits. Looking back you could see the clear outline of the rain coming down – and it was coming down hard! Even as we were walking back some of those raindrops packed a punch! To add to the excitement, the 4×4 ahead of us lost it’s exhaust pipe as we almost ran over it, which was followed by a roar of laughter from everyone. Don’t worry, we all made it back safe and sound, tired from the excitement.
Robin and I were spoiled yet again with delicious cooking, and we treated ourselves to a few San Miguel Lights (hey, we earned them!). According to my Fitbit we walked over 26,000 steps in our trek, so needless to say our feet and legs were a wee bit sore. We relaxed as the sun set, enjoyed a movie in the comfort of our room as we called it an early night. The peace and quiet of Santa Juliana made our sleep that much more restful, hidden away from cell service – but don’t worry, I let my mom know we made it back safe and sound! 10 hours of sleep later and a delicious breakfast, we were on our way for our next adventure – Zoobic Safari!