Desolate Mountain

Desolation can be beautiful. The starkness of the stone-strewn canyon, the glare of the sand reflecting the hot rays of the summer sun, and the massive cliffs of hardened lahar magnified the poetry of the ravaged landscape. It was a Sunday mid-morning and I was leading a group of trekkers to the Pinatubo crater. I had just watched Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Fando and Lis” and could not help but hark back to that rocky landscape where the two characters meet their fate. As I stepped from one stone to another and rounded yet another bend in the seemingly-endless canyon, I could almost imagine the brutal Fando pushing Lis on a cart. Walking under the heat of the sun with sand clinging on my feet, I understood why Jodorosky chose such a landscape in his masterpiece to portray his vision of sadomasochistic love and corrupted innocence. He was baring the human soul in all its desolation and ambiguities and yet, ironically, it in such stark landscape that one actually finds the beauty of it all.

Pinatubo is one of my favorite climbs, if you could call it that, as I don’t even call it a trekk. It’s really more of a walk. The “skyway” cut the 4×4 travel time and from where it terminates, it was just a mere 30-40 minute walk. Absolutely no sweat. The walk may not be as scenic as the longer 3 hour route which we took a year back, but the sights were still exciting enough. Looking back at last Sunday’s walk, “exciting” best describes it.

4 x 4

What really is Fate? What makes us choose one thing over another? Those were the questions that hammered on my mind as I stood in front of the 4 x 4 ahead of our vehicle that had rolled over twice at a slightly-elevated path. I was seated in front with JM, James, and Lawrence at the asleep at the back. I saw the vehicle on reverse then suddenly uncontrollably maneuvering to the right. It stopped then slowly rolled to its side twice. I was stunned and couldn’t react at first. I jumped out and rushed to the vehicle which we had to push to free one guy’s foot that was pinned to the ground. They all seemed okay albeit a little unnerved. Later on, I would find out that Gary, the EL, had to accompany two of them back to the spa (the starting point and registration center).

I chose the 4 x 4 we took because it seemed fairly better than the others. It didn’t have any doors but I figured it would be much cooler. I forgot all about the dust, though. “What if I had chosen that one..” I thought as I sat looking at the parked 4 x 4 as we waited for the others to arrive at the jump-off point for the walk.

Take the lead

With Gary staying at the accident site and Jay having had to go back to the site, Kelly and Jong were left to manage the group. There were almost 60 participants and most looked like it was the first-time. Sizing-up the crowd at 3 in the morning earlier at Chowking Balintawak, it looked like a picnic group. Kelly stayed behind with Tet to wait for Jay, Jong assigned me as lead while he was sweeper. It was a short walk so I didn’t think of taking any stops. Several times, I strayed from the path to walk along the river. I did pace enough to see the group behind. It was only when we got to the water source, about 10 minutes from the crater, that it became apparent that the walk was a little tiring to them. Another thing I like about Pinatubo and the surprise you get as you emerge from the trail, clamber up the cemented steps, and suddenly, you behold the crater in all its serene glory. Mesmerizing is all you can say as the deep emerald waters beckon you to forgo any rest at the shades and instead run down to the crater slopes. A couple of Indians were at the viewing deck by the crater trail and a couple of Caucasians that passed us earlier had already gone swimming. It was almost noon and I was famished. I had my salmon belly and crab stick wraps and my melted chocolate biscuits. Reminder: wrap the salmon belly well as the oil had seeped out of the container and wet my bag. As for chocolate-coated biscuits, they’re better off in cooler climes. “I wish I brought more food with me,” said James as he polished off his Mcdo meal. My golden rule in climbing: you can never bring enough food at a climb.

Row row your boat

The crater lake was more beautiful than I expected when viewed from a kayak. For 250 each, we got on kayak paddled by a local. Kelly and I, with two others got on one and I took the other paddle and paddled 🙂 It was difficult at first as I didn’t lift the paddle high enough to clear the water resulting in a lot of splashing. I soon got the rhythm and the movement right and it was just like paddling through a really really big swimming pool. The repetitive movement, the splashing sound, and the green green water was relaxing. There wasn’t much of a wind and the water was smooth. I could just imagined how wonderful it would be to paddle alone in the middle of the lake with nothing but the sound of water around you. From the view sites, the crater seems just one big circular lake. By kayak, you get to round a bend and get to the side not seen from the view decks. Here, the water is warm and on the shoreline, you see bubbles. We get off the kayak to explore the landscape. High above, the crater walls are white with stones and dust. The slightly-elevated slope is covered with stones. A little further off, the locals point to where the water is really hot the kayaks dare not venture out as the pressure underneath the surface might suck the boat or worse, melt it. On the opposite side, they point to a small channel that was created to drain water off from the lake and empty to the sea.

We trooped back to the jump-off point at almost 3 pm and were back at the spa at about 4 pm. Showering cost P 100 so I opted to just use the sink at the rest room which was clean anyway. The Korean-owned spa is nice and clean enough and is a good source of information for the walk. You can wash-up, have a massage, buy some souvenirs, and eat. Except for the caged wild cat and the chained monkey, it was nice enough. According to Gary, though, if it weren’t for the major at the military check-point, the lady who briefed us wouldn’t have extended any help to them who had to stay behind because of the accident considering they already paid for the registration, guide, vehicle, and other fees. They could have at least made-up for it. They didn’t even offer to bring the 2 injured to the clinic for an x-ray. Gary had to “force” them a bit. Oh well. That has to change or else they’re gonna get flak.

Pinatubo is beautiful. On the road to Tarlac, James asked what place in the Philippines I would like to keep going back to. Pinatubo is one of them.

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