Sunday, February 15, 2015

[TARLAC] Wearing Your Wedges to Pinatubo

“Some people actually come here in wedges,” the tour guide said before rolling her eyes and adding, “Shopping?” When I hear the term “wedges” what really comes to mind are those scrumptious slices of baked potatoes drenched in cheese and mayonnaise that KFC serves whenever I am in Malaysia. She had to be talking about some sort of footwear, though. Since Google is my friend, I figured out later that wedges are that kind of women’s shoes with a flat and rather inconveniently elevated base.

To the defense of women who prefer hiking mountains wearing such kind of footwear, I think it would actually work at Pinatubo. You see, I don't like climbing mountains per se but having friends who do makes me feign interest once in a while, lest I lose even a semblance of a social life altogether. I have been to Gulugod Baboy, Nagsasa, and Taal. Believe me when I say that Pinatubo, in comparison, is a walk in the park. And yes, I think your wedges might work.

I would not really know because I am a guy who only has around two pairs of shoes at any given time: leather and sneakers. I used to have thick-soled Merrell sandals reserved for emergency situations like this but for some reason they decided to go AWOL on the day of our hike. So I said, fuck it, I’m wearing Havaianas. I did not have any problems. It was even refreshing because I got to wash my feet every time we crossed a stream.

For women who want a real challenge, wear heels, maybe. Chances are, those stilettos would get caught in between the rocks, which would then lead you to slip, hit your head, and die. Now that’s exciting, even more so if you live to tell the tale. Near death experience! I don’t think wearing flat soled footwear would be suicidal. If anything, I think the wide base would actually allow more friction depending on which rock you decide to step on, effectively guaranteeing a stronger foothold. Adventure!

But why are we talking about shoes? This is Pinatubo, dude, and there are more interesting stuff to talk about. My first observation is that the tourist infestation levels are quite high during weekends. Taal and Pinatubo were not that full when we went there. Nagsasa was practically empty. You'll immediately notice how Pinatubo has adjusted to the whims of tourists, with 4x4’s shuttling how many groups of five back and forth almost non-stop. The roads are not paved but the fact remains that THERE ARE roads.

Geographically tagging this trip has been a real pain given how the volcano straddles not two, but rather three provinces. Upon reaching the entrance to the Crater Lake, you'll be greeted by a signpost saying “Welcome to Botolan, Zambales,” but you'll then recall how the hike started in Tarlac, which is why I am putting this under that province. Besides, I already have Anawangin for Zambales. Anyhow, given the plethora of tour groups organizing Pinatubo trips, booking from one of them is not a bad idea.

You can probably go DIY if you have a 4x4 which can easily traverse the lahar-rich landscape leading to the main attraction. Now that is no simple walk in the park. We're talking about over an hour of bumpy terrain. Looking back, I even think that “bumpy” is an understatement. The terrain is so challenging that American and Philippine soldiers actually conduct joint exercises there. Did I mention that the place is some sort of a military basecamp?

If you are not that keen on subjecting yourself to that kind of logistics and planning torture, just book a group tour. The one I got was Tripinas. They ask for 2,090 pesos which includes the van transfer from Manila and back again. The ATV ride and all the permits needed are also included. All you have to do is get your ass to McDonalds across Meralco Theater and make sure that you have enough sustenance for a half a day. There are food vendors at the Crater Lake hawking their products but with Cebu Pacific rates, like, 100 pesos for cup noodles. What special ingredients do those noodles have? Lahar?

Depending on your hypnotic capabilities, you can persuade everyone in your ATV to choose the trek distance that suits you best. The 4x4 could drop you off as far as 7 km or as close as 0.5 km from the start of the Crater Lake trail. I was on that ATV with two couples who thought that 5 km would be just fine. I was not really in the mood to analyze the pros and cons of the varying trek distances that day so I just obliged. The walk was actually fun but I do have to warn you that you will get wet.

It was drizzling when we were there but it never really developed into hardcore rain. A waterproof hoodie would've been nice. Mine wasn’t. Thankfully, the sun made a belated cameo appearance before our descent, which immediately dried my wet hoodie. All good! I have heard horror stories on how extremely dusty the place could be when the sun is up, and so I was rather thankful that our ascent was cool and not really that haggard.

The local tour guide assigned to us was chatty alright but he mainly talked about politics in the area rather than geological facts. It was interesting and mind-provoking, to say the least, giving an honest insight on how locals live their everyday lives. Did I mention that there are aborigines living on the mountain ranges? He also had interesting anecdotes about them, and the other couple even got the chance to have their photo taken with them on our way down.

If your team decides to start the trek at the ATV station, you'll have to hike less than half an hour to reach the Crater Lake. Where is the fun in that, really? However, I guess it still depends on many factors, like how serious a camwhore are you in relation to the stamina of your legs. You will know when you get there. For those who have attention-deficient bladders, there are toilets installed strategically at some points or you could always heed the call of nature like everybody else does. Choose your own stream!

Swimming has been prohibited for quite some time now because the Prima Donna mermaids inhabiting the lake have filed a temporary restraining order against the human race. Rumor has it that some stoned foreigners became a bit too raunchy one day, leading to some unfortunate incidents. This is kind of depressing because some people would want to take a dip after a long hike. Sorry, just choose one of the streams if you want to do that. Or just do it in one of the pay showers back at the basecamp.

Was the trip worth it then? I would say so. The hike was not that difficult and devoid of steep inclines which make other mountains a tough climb. Another perk is getting back to Manila on the same day, although you'll have to be at the rendezvous point as early as 3:30 AM. All in a day’s work! If you want to stay longer, I believe there are accommodations and side trips available somewhere near the place. That is so not my problem, and Google is your friend. Will you be wearing wedges or heels?

[TARLAC] Wearing Your Wedges to Pinatubo

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