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Nov
29

Slip inside a steamy bath inside a volcano on your next vacation

We’re known for our great deals, especially our cheap tickets to places like Manila and the Philippines. It’s a country that doesn’t get its due when it comes to nature tourism even though it is consistently written up as one of the best dive spots on this great planet of ours.

Divers, of course, are grateful. But we are agents of travel and it is our job to spread the word when something is meant to be seen.

Dive this

Dive this

Anyway, when I was writing about the volcano erupting in New Zealand, I came across another beautiful land with its own volcano that has now become one of the great climbing rocks of all time.

When

pinatubo eruption

pinatubo eruption

erupted in June 1991, it spewed out more than 1.2 cubic miles, of magma and sent an ash cloud 22 miles, into the air. It was the second largest eruption of the 20th century, exceeded only by the 1912 eruption of Mount Novarupta in Alaska.

But today, more than 3,000 tourists a month climb the volcano, whether to swim in its perfectly blue caldera lake. But like all good things in life getting there is half the journey.

The historic town of Capas, in Tarlac Province, around 100 kilometers from Manila, is Pinatubo’s best-known gateway.

From the Santa Juliana section of Capas, tourists follow a 25-kilometer trail to the crater of the 1,486-meter, or 4,875-foot, high volcano. When tours began in 1999, a ride in a jeepney, the army-jeep-turned-minibus that is ubiquitous in the Philippines, was followed by a six-hour hike to the summit. It was intense and made getting there all the more special.

Now, four-wheel-drive vehicles can navigate about 16 kilometers of the terrain — reducing it to an hour-long ride and a two-hour hike. As hikers start toward the “Old Way,” a gully that leads up to the crater, volcanic rocks called dacites and andesites dot the landscape.

Mt-Pinatubo hike

Mt-Pinatubo hike

At some points in the gully, the shallow streams that form the headwaters of the O’Donnell sometimes reduce the trail to a pair of footpaths, each barely a meter wide. Some rivulets of warm water are green with algae; others look like they carry animal droppings that are in fact chromite from the volcano.

Ahead, a wooden sign challenges hikers to complete the final distance in 20 minutes — or be labeled “senior citizens.” Beyond the sign, the path turns into an ankle-deep, tadpole-filled brook flowing into a hardy forest. Strange plants thrive here, including a tree with poisonous fruit that looks like the atis, or sugar apples, sold in local markets.

Ah, sweet relief

Ah, sweet relief

Finally, the trail ends at about 50 concrete steps and the first view of Lake Pinatubo. Called Lawa ni Apo Malyari by the Aetas, the area’s aboriginal settlers, the lake is a turquoise expanse surrounded by high, uneven cliffs.

The beauty, especially after the beastly hike, takes your breath away. What is it about all the power, the destruction that makes us love volcanoes, makes nature love them too? A soft blue lake surrounds this tool of destruction, inviting you to take off your clothes and float? It’s positively biblical.

mount pinatubo the mythical

mount pinatubo the mythical

From the viewing deck, a 170-step staircase descends to the white-sand beach. While too sulfuric for aquatic life, the lake’s cool, opaque waters are safe for swimming. Guides do warn that the lakebed drops off quickly and that the crater’s atmosphere is erratic, turning nippy at a mere drizzle.

The lake, which is 2.5 kilometers in diameter, is around 85 meters deep, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. It had threatened to spill over the caldera’s rim until the institute undammed the waters in 2001 by digging a trench toward Zambales.

the ride to the other side

the ride to the other side

Pinatubo’s fire can still be seen on the lake’s far shore. For 350 pesos, guides will row tourists to the lake’s misty Pampanga side, where the water bubbles, and the sand is so hot that locals claim it will hard-boil eggs.

Retracing the hike is fairly easy, although climbing from the shore back up the 170 steps can be exhausting. Visitors who have made arrangements in advance at the tourism office may be allowed to stay behind and camp in the crater.

 Mt Pinatubo Philippines

Mt Pinatubo Philippines

Mount Pinatubo’s history stretches far back in time. It is known to have had at least six eruptions, with the penultimate one occurring almost 500 years ago.

But Maria Antonia Bornas, the institute’s chief of volcano monitoring and eruption prediction, speculated that it could have been much more active. “It’s possible that other explosive eruptions of Pinatubo vanished from geologic record,” she said.

“Based on the foregoing, we’ll not say with 100 percent certainty that Pinatubo would not erupt in the next few years. We never say no anymore in volcanology.”

Book a flight to Manila and see it for yourself. It’s just one of those things you ahve to see.

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