Being an outdoorsy person has always been one of my major frustrations. I’ve always oohed and aahed over photos of the great outdoors, found myself fascinated by the characters in movies like “Into the Wild,” “Vertical Limit” and “127 Hours”, and I keep telling myself that one day I, too, would be on an adventure of such proportions. I think it’s why a lot of the items on my 30 Before 30 list has something to do with me diving, climbing mountains, swimming with whale sharks and going on white water rafting trips. See, it isn’t just fears I am dead set on conquering, but frustrations as well.
It started last August when I started actually enjoying being physically fit. I began running, and from a sport I once resisted—hated, even—it is now among the things I find myself waking up in the morning for. I love the energy it gives me and the sense of accomplishment I get after beating a previous personal record. And it has been a great form of meditation—running lets me live in the moment and helps me appreciate the present more.
The trek up Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake was another form of active meditation. Quite like my fateful trip to the mountains of Miarayon, Bukidnon, I had under-expected the adventure I found myself in. First of all, I was originally under the impression that it would only take 30 minutes to hike up the volcano’s crater. But because of recent floods, the skyway that used to make the trip shorter got washed away and had already been the cause of a few road accidents. The organizer didn’t want to risk it so what was supposed to be a 30-minute leisurely walk ended up being a grueling four-hour trek back and forth. It was a good thing I had fully recovered from the colds and was much much fitter compared to the last time I went hiking (read: a 15-minute hike to Coron’s Kayangan Lake had left me panting in a really unattractive way).
The adventure started with a 4×4 ride from the Pinatubo Spa Town in Barangay Sta. Juliana to Crow Valley, which was eerie as it was beautiful. The place took much of the brunt of Pinatubo’s eruption—lahar pretty much covers the entire area, and driving past it felt like driving along a flatter version of the sand dunes in the Middle East. By the time we reached our drop-off point, we all looked like we walked through a cloud of dust.
The fresh mountain air felt welcome to the lungs. I had brought my pseudo-asthma gear with me and I didn’t even have to use it. We hiked through volcanic sand, rocks, and even waded through relatively shallow rapids, all under the harsh glare of the mid-morning sun (read: slather yourself with tons of sunblock).
The hike going up felt like forever—the moment we would find ourselves approaching a certain junction, I would automatically assume the crater was right in the next corner; and then I’d find myself frustrated to find yet another expanse of monochromatic grey. Grey rocks, grey streams, grey boulders…not that the view going up was unattractive. Far from it. It amazed me how an eruption that destroyed the lives of countless people in the ’90s could leave such a vast expanse of beauty in its wake.
We finally reached base camp after an hour and a half, and found ourselves challenged by this sign:
We certainly didn’t want to be branded as seniors or middle-aged so we decided to take on the 15-minute challenge. Turns out it was easier said than done because the final hike to the crater was much steeper. There were inclines to contend with now, and I even found myself almost tripping a couple of times. By the time we reached the stone steps leading up the crater, we had already nicknamed ourselves “Ancient”. But it didn’t really matter at that point because the moment you catch a glimpse of Mt. Pinatubo’s crater lake, with its stunning turquoise green waters, all thoughts will cease to exist.
It was truly a sight to behold. Moments like this makes me so proud to be a Filipino living in the Philippines. You really need only look in your own backyard to see beauty you will never find anywhere else in the world.
The day definitely picked up after seeing the lake. We partook of a really filling pinoy lunch prepared by Everybody’s Cafe and washed away the dust and grime from the trek with a dip in Pinatubo’s cool sulfuric waters. Swimming in the lake was quite like swimming in Kayangan Lake in Coron, Palawan. Both have this Lochness Monster vibe. According to our guide, there are no living creatures in the lake because it was too acidic. It also gets deep very quickly, and god only knows how deep it actually is. My friends and I wanted to go on a boat ride across the crater, but we didn’t have enough time so we just spent it floating about and spacing out.
The trip back didn’t feel quite as long and was actually more fun this time around. It was living in the moment, with us just looking toward ten steps ahead and pausing every now and then to appreciate the rocky mountains surrounding us. It was one of those few times wherein I felt one with nature. I felt so tiny and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, that my world was so big, but it also made me realize that my possibilities were endless.
Now I get why people go on these trips—they remind you of the one thing that matters most: BEING ALIVE.
And with that knowledge, so simple yet so full in meaning, comes the bigger question: what do you want to do with your life now? :)
January 22, 2011