Finding beauty in the aftermath of destruction: Mt. Pinatubo

Going to Mt. Pinatubo let me cross two things off my bucket list: go on a solo trip and go to Mt. Pinatubo.

I didn’t actually plan to hike Mt. Pinatubo alone, but everyone I asked was either busy or lacking in funds. But since I really wanted to see Mt. Pinatubo, I decided to go alone. This was the first time I was going on a trip by myself and I was really excited and nervous. This was also my first hike that lasted for over an hour!

The one-hour 4x4 ride was jarring as we drove thru rocks, lava, and river crossings.
The one-hour 4×4 ride was jarring as we drove thru rocks, lava, and river crossings. I only had a rope to keep me from falling out of the car in case the 4×4 turns over/sideways, which, according to our driver, John, has happened before. But not on his watch, he says proudly.

I joined Tripinas’ public tour, and the meeting point was at McDonalds in El Pueblo, Pasig, at 2:30am. If you’re coming from the south, don’t take the C5. I left home before 1:30am, and we passed by C5, which apparently is very traffic at that hour.

By 6am, we were already at the base camp for Pinatubo. I rode in the van with three other solo trippers and a group of four, but I was content to be by myself although I did chat with them every once in a while. In the 4×4 ride, I was grouped with three adults and a kid. They were really nice and friendly, but since they were part of a larger group who rode in another 4×4, they joined with their friends so I was left alone with the tour guide. I didn’t mind because I was going so slowly and I didn’t want to chat on the way. It was pretty hard enough walking 7 kilometers uphill and I was conserving my energy.

The rocky road to Mt. Pinatubo's crater was a view and an experience all by itself as we passed by mountain-like walls made up of lahar from the 1991 eruption.
The rocky road to Mt. Pinatubo’s crater was a view and an experience all by itself as we passed by mountain-like walls made up of lahar from the 1991 eruption.

I think God was blessing me that day because He gave me everything I could want: a really capable and friendly 4×4 driver (he was Angel Locin’s driver and KathNiel’s driver when they visited Pinatubo) and a strong and silent guide all to myself! It was nice to have some quiet time to myself and to just enjoy the view.

The lahar walls could come down during the heavy rains.
It amazed me how destruction could still result in beauty, given time and letting Mother Nature work her magic.

I just felt this sense of urgency to see things now because things might change and I won’t be able to see their beauty anymore. My only wish while passing through this breathtaking terrain was that I wished my mother could see them too.

Since the terrain can be pretty treacherous, the 4×4 drivers have backups and 2-way radios so they can easily call for backups.

We were blessed with cloudy skies on our way up, although it rained a few times. Others took out their umbrellas, but I couldn’t navigate properly with an umbrella so I just used my cotton shawl. I also had on a face mask, which I recommend if you’re asthmatic or allergic to dust, like me. I needed my face mask until after a kilometer up the hike. Afterward, the air was so fresh that I even stopped coughing.

The tour guide insisted I take a picture here!
Kung gusto, may paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan.

After hiking for three hours, with the tour guide repeatedly asking if I wanted to take a break, and me shaking my head, I finally reached this sign although I haven’t seen the crater lake yet. I thought it was going to take another thirty minutes since the last sign. (By the way, right before this sign are toilets you can use for free.)

This image is nothing spectacular, but this was the first picture I took that showed a glimpse of the crater so I'm particularly fond of it.
This image is nothing spectacular, but this was the first picture I took that showed a glimpse of the crater so I’m particularly fond of it.

When I took a few steps from the sign, I finally saw the crater and the lake. I actually laughed out loud, because I did it!!! And it’s so beautiful. My sense of accomplishment was only slightly hampered by the fact that my tour guide (pictured) was the one who carried my bag, but he said I was too slow and might not make it to the top if he didn’t carry my bag. He’s right. And I think my left knee would have suffered more if I hadn’t let him carry my bag (when we got to the base camp, I tipped him P200.)

Swimming in the lake is not allowed anymore, but taking about three small steps on the shore is allowed.
Swimming in the lake is not allowed anymore, but taking about three small steps on the shore is allowed.

Over a hundred steep steps from the viewing deck brought me down to the crater’s lake. The water felt particularly cool as I stepped into the crater lake. For safety reasons, visitors are not allowed to swim anymore, but stepping on the shoreline is allowed. However, after three steps, it drops to ten feet! The water in the crater is actually rainwater that filled the hole since it erupted in 1991.

People used to think that Mt. Pinatubo was only a mountain because it was actually covered. However, in March 1991 scientists were amazed to see steam rising out of what was supposedly a mountain, so they went to investigate. They discovered it’s actually a volcano because there was a crack at the top and lava was visible. They evacuated people, and in June 1991, Mt. Pinatubo erupted, raining ash, boulders and lava around Pampanga. It made the sky go dark for several days, and effects were felt by our neighboring countries. I learned all these from Mr. Tee, who walked around the crater’s viewing deck with a clear book to tell us about the place. I really appreciated that effort by Tripinas!

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The color of the lake actually changes depending on the season, they said.

Locals insist there’s a rock in the middle of the lake, covering the hole of the mountain. They say it’s the reason why the volcano stopped erupting, and boaters occasionally check the rock in the middle to make sure it’s not going to suddenly erupt. I don’t know if that makes me feel any safer!

When I reached the top, it was already past 10am, and we had to start our descent at 11:30am, so I hurriedly ate my packed lunch before taking pictures, like everyone was doing. The rain was on and off, but we were blessed with sunlight for several minutes so we were able to take decent pictures. There’s food sold at the top, but limited to cup noodles, softdrinks, Gatorade, and even iced candy. If you don’t want to bring food, you can help out the locals by buying from them. Don’t forget to bring a plastic for your trash!

The descent felt a little faster, as with any end of the trip phase. However, by the 10th kilometer, my left knee started to ache. I really had to have internal motivational speeches and remind myself that I can’t roll down the mountain. And that no one’s going to carry me back to camp! I realized then that you really have to have a lot of passion and perseverance to get thru obstacles especially when you want something, which, for me at that time was to get home safe and sound. I experimented with different ways of stepping on my left foot until I found the kind of stride that lessened the pain.

Checked Mt. Pinatubo off my bucket list!
My tour guide was the one who guided me to this spot. They’re so used to the picture-perfect spots!

We reached the base camp by 3pm. I paid P20 to change clothes and wash up a little, but you can take a shower for P40. Cheaper if you’re only going to use the toilet.

I didn’t know we could take a shower so I just cleaned up and changed from my sweaty clothes, and into flip flops. From all the adrenaline, I didn’t realize I already had several blisters and most of them had burst, so I really recommend bringing slippers.

We arrived back in El Pueblo past 7pm because it was pretty traffic in Edsa that Saturday night. We were the last to leave the camp because five of our shuttle mates were the last to arrive. There’s also food for sale in the base camp, but I ate my leftover trail food. The recommended water allowance was 2L, but I brought 3L because I misread the email. A good thing too, because I get dehydrated easily, and I actually finished all 3 liters as soon as we arrived in El Pueblo. If you’re not squeamish about toilets (and the sun will drain the water from your body anyway), drinking a lot of water shouldn’t be a problem in this hike.

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One of the biggest obstacles was battling all my inner fears and really wanting to get out of my comfort zone so I can achieve one of my dreams.

Going into this hike alone made me realize a lot of things. One is that I actually like my own company! Second is that I’m not a hiker. I just really wanted to see Mt. Pinatubo, but I prefer going to beaches or having a waterfall or beach or river to swim in at the end of a long hike. If the weather is cooperative, I’m going to Mt. Batulao next week, so I’ll be able to confirm this with myself. Third is the old adage: Kung gusto, may paraan. Kung ayaw, maraming dahilan. I think these are things I wouldn’t have discovered about myself if I let myself be dissuaded by the little things (my allergies, the rain in Manila, my parents’ safety protests, being alone, cost past my initial budget).

Since I was alone, I made sure to join a public tour with a reputable travel agency. After looking around and asking my friends for recommendations, I joined with Tripinas. They also offer the cheapest rates I’ve been able to find.

My budget was only P2000 for the whole trip, but the rate was P2,499. In total, I spent about P4,000, including all my meals (packed lunch, two burgers from McDo before and after the hike, revel bars from Dessertations by Sarah, and water and cab and toll fare to and from my house in the south).

My friends have been asking if it was worth it. The only answer I could give is YES. 🙂


This is not a sponsored post. My pictures are unedited, please don’t grab them. 

One Reply to “Finding beauty in the aftermath of destruction: Mt. Pinatubo”

  1. […] is one blog post I never thought I’d write because I’m not a hiker (despite my going up Mt. Pinatubo and Taal Volcano the same year). I just never thought of myself as fit enough to actually hike a […]

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