Venture South :: Taal

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Now that I’ve got my bearings a bit in Manila, we decided it was time to explore outside the city. One of the main things I want to do here in The Philippines is see some volcanoes, so Taal seemed like the perfect choice! Robin’s family has a cottage in a community called Crosswinds in Tagaytay, one of the cities that follow along the coast of Taal lake, and a perfect place for us to set up home base for our trip!

We left late Tuesday night in order to avoid traffic heading out of Manila. I didn’t really realize just how much traffic there was in Manila until we made it to Tagaytay in about half the time as there was less than half the people normally on the road. We arrived early Wednesday morning to find out that the air conditioning doesn’t work. Luckily we had picked up some cool drinks to ease our pain, and cold showers always help! After a short sleep, we were up wandering around Tagaytay.

Our humble abode during our stay!

Our humble abode during our stay!

Robin hadn’t been into town in a few years so we drove around a bit so he could check out what had changed. He said the city had been built up quite a bit, and with the area’s spectacular views I can see why! We stopped for lunch at Gerry’s where we noticed a large group of bikers outside. A little nervous as to what the wait would be like, inside the restaurant it was fairly empty (phew!). We opted for some traditional Filipino delicacies, and I was adventurous enough to try Balut! Mind you it’s not the true street meat style where it’s cooked in the shell, but it was a good introduction with a mushroom-like sauce and tofu. It tasted similar to quail egg, mind you it was the texture of the embryo that threw me off a bit. I didn’t turn green so I’ll definitely have to try it again in its true form! The highlight for me however was definitely the Bulalo. Even on a hot day, this savoury stew loaded with meat and veggies is worth every glimmer of sweat.

I'm hungry again just looking at this photo!

I’m hungry again just looking at this photo!

While we were eating we noticed a crowd of bikers wandering around, and then later swarming around a young woman on the other side of the restaurant. Later on a camera crew came through, and as the saying goes – curiousity killed the cat. We asked our server what was happening, discovering that they were filming for a History Channel show. We went in a little closer when a man from A+E told us more about the show, Ride and Seek.  A popular show only aired in Asia, Ride and Seek is about Jaime Dempsey, a stunning young woman from California that had been biking through different areas of The Philippines and documenting her travels. So that was the reason for the crowd of bikers outside – mystery solved! It was wonderful to meet her, and I’ve now had a chance to watch a few episodes of her show. Luckily you can find some episodes on YouTube, and I highly suggest it! The first season of the show has her exploring Malaysia, and it makes me excited for my short stay in July! She’s super bubbly and has an adventurous spirit, so if you wanna see this awesome babe trek around exotic places on a Harley – this is the show for you!

So happy to have met you Jaime!

So happy to have met you Jaime!

After a leisurely lunch and checking out the sweet view of Taal Volcano Island from the second floor banquet hall, we made our way back to Crosswinds to get this bloody air conditioner sorted out! We told the guard as we arrived that we needed someone to come look at it, and about 30min later an electrician arrived… not the most helpful as the unit itself worked. Confirming that it was a problem with the freon, they were able to get someone in to take a look. It turned out that one of the parts had rusted out as the cottage is often not in use, so they needed to bring in a part… tomorrow. Ack! Luckily they were able to patch it up temporarily for the night, so at least we weren’t sweating again!

The next morning we made sure we were up and alive by 10:30am as that’s when we asked them to come back to make the official repairs. I found out later on that they had told Robin sometime between 10am and noon… and as noon rolled closer I became a little more grumpy. I was anxious to get to Taal and do some exploring! When there’s somewhere I want to be, I’m not a patient person – I want to get there and I want to get there NOW! (I’m trying to work on it, I promise) About 10min to 12 they arrived with the part, and about 45min later we were on our way to grab some lunch and head for Taal.

We opted for Gerry’s next door neighbour, Josephine’s, as was suggested in a Philippines Travel Guide by Lonely Planet. The book did not disappoint! I had their house seafood chowder which was delicious, but not a good idea if you’re in a hurry. I love my seafood, but I’m not a fan of shelling it, which you had to do for this meal. Already being a little grumpy, the stickiness of the soup as I tried to eat my crab and shrimp only added to my nerves, but the awesome view from our table helped tame this a bit. With full bellies it was time for our next stop – Taal!

I couldn't wait to get hiking that island!

I couldn’t wait to get hiking that island!

The man who came to fix our air conditioner suggested us to one of his friends who is a guide for the trek up Taal. We met up with them close to Crosswinds and made our way down to Taal. To get there you have to take a banca, a canoe-like boat with outriggers made of bamboo for balance. We snagged one from Villa Minalo Beach Resort and about 30min later, land a-hoy! Time to put my hiking boots to good use!

Love these colourful little ships!

Love these colourful little ships!

The trek itself is fairly easy, minus some spots with fairly uneven terrain. It could be a brutal hike if it was extremely hot, but lucky for us we had some clouds to keep the heat at bay. There is an option to ride up the hill on horseback, however I saw some of the horses being whipped, and many of them had their tails being pulled by the guide. The amount of fecal matter along the trail is extremely unfortunate, but I just saw it as an additional challenge to not get poop on my shoes. Almost immediately however, the views were absolutely spectacular. I’ll tease you with a photo or two here, but you’ll have to stay tuned for a later post with more!

During our hike our guide walked ahead of us, more concerned with taking selfies and getting to the top than actually guiding us. We didn’t mind too much as it was just a straight path up, and it meant that we had our own space to take photos and what not. However it would have been nice to have someone a little more chatty who could give us information about the volcano itself!

After a little over an hour we were at the top and the view was definitely worth the hike. If you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen a shot of this already, but the lake inside the crater is quite gorgeous! There was a great lookout point and a few shops set up by the locals selling water, etc. Another ‘fun’ activity you could do is shoot a golf ball as hard as you can into the crater. Mind you having an inner hippie I didn’t indulge as the golf balls weren’t biodegradable, however if they were I might have paid the 50 pesos to do it. One thing I found interesting though was that Robin mentioned when he was here years ago, there was little to no water in the crater. I had felt kind of bad as he has done this trip numerous times so I thought it might be boring, but the change in scenery made it somewhat new!

Definitely worth the trek!

Definitely worth the trek!

As with all hikes, the trek down was much quicker as I had already stopped for most of the photo opportunities on the way up. Our trip back was around 4:30pm and as the sun sets around 6:15pm in The Philippines, the sky was beginning it’s descent. It meant for some beautiful skies evolving as we took the banca back towards Tagaytay. We looked to our guide for instructions on payment, thinking we would be paying him as he was the one we signed up with. He told us to pay our banca ‘captain’, who then in turn gave some of that money to our guide, which seemed a little odd to us. Not thinking too much of it, we made our way back up to the pick-up point, where upon exiting the car our guide asked for a tip. I’m not overly knowledgeable of The Philippines, but Robin looked a little shocked that he had asked for a tip when we both knew he had received a cut from the banca. We gave him a few pesos, but we would have much happily have gave him more if he had done some actual GUIDING! In all honesty we felt a little cheated, which can sometimes be a problem in The Philippines as it’s clear we’re not locals, but alas we had a great time sightseeing – and we had a sunset to finish watching!

We enjoyed the rest of the sunset close to the Crosswinds exit while snacking on some siapao and making faces at two adorable Filipino children in the yard close by. After a quick shower and picking up some fun fruit for dinner (as well as the ever famous Colette’s buko pie!), we called it a night. We needed to rest up as we had more adventures planned for the next day, but you’ll have to wait for another blog post for that!

Gotta love sunsets with those beautiful colours!

Gotta love sunsets with those beautiful colours!

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