We were then asked to transfer to a 4x4 land cruiser that would take us to the main trek. (at this point, the driver hands us our snack - 1 mars bar each, a choice of soda/water, boiled egg and sandwiches that is neatly packed in a cooler). We were thinking of riding the open top jeep.. you know, make it more thrilling.. but the guide said it would be better to ride the closed one. This reason would be quite obvious in a few minutes....we head off the the vast expanse of lahar.-- a desert of ash everywhere you look. Having no roads, the ride was bumpy and as the day wore on, dusty too. I could understand the sound advise of the guide asking us to choose the closed van. I saw some others in the open one, covering their faces from the dust and dirt that was flying all over. Aside form which, the rough road looked like it could bump you out of the vehicle at any minute. The temperature was quite cool and we were thankful that we did come at this time of the year. I couldn't imagine travelling during the summer heat...
By rainy season, the road would become a raging river. Last Aug 2009, a group of tourists got caught in a flash flood on that river and drowned. After 45 minutes of bumpy road, we noticed the landscape changing... grass, hills with grass and some foliage was showing up.
We saw some of the other trekkers in front going through the same underbrush.. we felt as though we were traveling on some safari in Africa. We went up the mountain using the "skyway" a path they carved out of the mountain and after some time, we reached the jump off point of the trek. There are options on the trek where you can opt for a longer hike. I even saw children walking on this hike. I was also told you can also camp at the crater but you have to get special permission from the military.
The guide said that the walk is not that hard-- (see sign), but I guess we were worst off than I thought. It took us 25 mins (a little worse than senior citizen capability) to reach the top. The trail was rocky and we had to be careful not to slip on something and sprain an ankle.
We finally reached the clearing and saw the crater.... it was awesome!
the water was very very blue (blue green)... it was amazing to realize that a few years ago, this was the site of a very destructive force... the explosion equivalent to 20 million tons of SO2.. and it's the second largest terrestrial eruption in modern history.
The clearing had a great view of the crater lake and they already developed the area for tourists.. they had a shed where you can buy drinks and snacks, some basic facilities and boat rentals to go to the other side of the lake where there is a hot spring. We decided to explore the hot springs and rented a boat. It cost an extra P350/head (about $9). We walked down the manmade spiral steps leading us from the observation point to the "beach". It was already noon and we already consumed the sandwhiches that were packed for us. We also quenched out thirst on the soda and water we also brought.
The water was very clear and cool that I couldn't wait to swim. It actually felt like we were not in the same country at all. Surrounding the crater were hills of ash, and I could imagine them turning to molten lahar as the rains came. They look like cement.
Viewing this scene, it almost felt like we were in the movie "Lord of the Rings" and I would see frodo come out from one of the rocks. (or Gollum... my preeciousss!!!!!) The boat ride was a good 25- 30 mins and we had a leisurely time joking with the boatman and taking pictures.
Reaching the other side, we saw steam coming off the sand. And a spot where they made a hole.. in this hole, you can see the water bubbling.. (hot!).. The hot spring that they said was nowhere.. (it was not an actual site).. the whole beach WAS the hot spring. some parts of the sand was hot and my friend actually jumped when she put her foot down. I had some water proof shoes (essential on this trek..I don't recommend any rubber shoes and socks.. it is better to wear sandals or one of those open sandals with straps.) and went for a swim. I had a lifevest on because the water was quite deep. and they said it was not recorded how deep the lake even went. I was wondering the whole time if I may see some kind of lochness monster come up from the depths and eat me.... hahahaa.
The water was very cold in some parts and suddenly, you can feel the warm water coming from the other side. I really wanted to swirl the water around to make the temperature more balanced. I had warm on the left and cold on the right....
After sometime, it was time to make the trip back... All of us were quite satisfied and happy to be able to reach this place. We plan to come back some time and look forward to more similar adventures. We reached the camp back at Tarlac (walked back down the trail, rode the 30km back in the 4x4) and had our lunch. - included in the package, a choice of Filipino or Korean food).. At the spa, you can opt to have a massage (1 hour) or hot volcanic sand pit (30 mins) at an extta P500 ($13) cost. The gift shop also had some sulfur products like soap, sulfur bath salts and the like.
We left Tarlac at 4pm and reached Manila a little over 7pm. Overall, this was an awesome awesome trip!