Conquering Mount Pinatubo, Among Other Things

What I Saw:
In Photographs: Mount Pinatubo

How I Did It:
Hitched a ride with

Per the request of Brice — a French friend whom I’ve met quite recently, but have grown to love immensely — our friends and I booked ourselves a trip to MounPinatubo as his last hurrah, as his three-month stay comes to an end.

Of course, we oblige. After all, the guy has been nothing short of a sweetheart, and it was such a pleasure to have him. It was too short of a stay, but it’s been a good run.



Other than that, I am often disappointed by how much of the Islands I haven’t explored, despite being a homegrown Filipino. There was always some excuse not to do things — brought about mostly by the people around me — but now that I’ve pooled up resources and smarts, I see no excuse not to do it now.

And I’m afraid I’ve caught a bad bug, but I’ll save that for another time.


Nestled among the three provinces of Zambales, Tarlac, and Pampanga, Mount Pinatubo was ideal for a day trip: it was close enough to be feasible, but far enough away from the city to give us the provincial and natural encounter that are true to the Philippine experience. We got in touch with, as recommended by friends from Chalk Magazine, who gave RJ Tours rave reviews as a service. I am inclined to do the same, because they did make the trip so easy, and they did treat us very well.

They picked us up at 5 AM, at our designated meet-up point. It was dark on the way out, but I did catch the sunrise. I missed out on everything else, as I was running on 2 hours of sleep from the night before.

By 7 AM, we had arrived at Base Camp — Alvin’s Homestay — where we were greeted by Alvin, himself. Being a homestay, naturally, they would be accommodating, and have a warm, familial feel about the place. We were served breakfast, coffee, his dogs, his sleepy cat, and a couple of eagles. Yes, eagles.

After breakfast and signing our lives away on waivers, we were off!

b7a48-img_1463 Of course, I chose the red 4×4. It wasn’t the most comfortable ride, but driving over all that volcanic rock, you really don’t expect any other ride to be. I suppose our car’s lack of suspension and jeepney-type parallel seating didn’t help, but it is what it is. You’ll only have to do it once… in your life. (There’s still the trip back, so maybe twice today.) And if you’ve seen Mad Max Road Fury, I will say that it was exciting because it reminded me so much of the movie. “I live! I die! I live again!”

More than anything, I was surprised that the nausea that I normally get from bumpy rides did not act up. Like Penelope Cruz’s character in Woman on Top, I have terrible motion sickness, unless I am in control (of the vehicle). But that is besides the point.


As you can imagine, the scenery of Crow Valley Canyon was dynamic in texture and color. There were wide planes of lahar, set against a background of green and ash mountains. Rocks came in varied colors, testament to the richness of minerals in the area. The rocks and the creeks that trickled through them were so ferrous, they looked like rivers of blood.

We arrived at the foot of the trek site, 28 kilometers away, about an hour and a half later. After settling our shaken heads, stomachs, and legs, we immediately began our trek. Apparently, there was a new trail that had opened up, which would take all of 30 minutes. This is the longest trail they offer now, and of course we took it; we were told that the Senior Citizen trail had just opened, and I am hoping that this wasn’t it, but that seemed too good to be true.

And then we arrived at this magnificent view:

The Crater Lake at Mount Pinatubo

I was awed by the view, of its majesty and significance. When Pinatubo erupted in 1990, I remember waking up in my house in Pasig City, and our floors were covered in volcanic ash. And now here I was, 25 years later, at the mouth of an historic volcanic eruption whose reach was so widespread and powerful that it helped patch up the ozone layer, and cooled global temperatures by 3 degrees. That’s an amazing thought.

On another note, when I say that RJ Tours treated us well, I mean it. I was told that they would provide all of our food and refreshments, but coming from a Production background, I’ve always had low expectations of packed meals. But check this out: all that rice, 3 hearty pieces of super tender roast beef, veggies, and the best banana I’ve ever had. Plus, sturdy utensils. Nothing fancy or anything, but I am nothing but full of appreciation.


Perhaps it was because I was running on adrenaline to compensate for my lack of sleep, or caffein, or because I was surrounded by all that nature, or all those things combined, but I was so happy yesterday.

Of course, it brought up some points for reflection, as what I seem to be so keen on doing these days. Especially now, as I am at such a significant turning point in my life, I think of so many things, and try to dig up whatever truth I can from my experiences.


Being a speck in the vastness of Crow Valley Canyon, and looking out at its overwhelming size, it came upon me that you could be a free radical at the moment, but any direction you choose to go will take you somewhere, eventually. Hopefully, it will be where you need to be. I will be the first to admit that at this point, I am spinning around in circles, trying to figure out which way to go. Although I am narrowing down which directions seem viable, and looking at paths which might seem barren now, but show some semlance of promise for greener pastures. It doesn’t make me any less nervous; in fact, it is giving me cold feet being so close to having to make a decision. But I’m going to have to move, and I’m going to have to do it soon.


On another note, it was at this very moment during the trek, when I took this photo was when it also dawned on me that the whole time I was hopping from rock to rock with my head downcast, my eyes sharply watching out for any loose ones that might cause me to lose my footing. Although I was agile with my footwork, all I could really see were my feet, which is not exactly what I came to enjoy the great outdoors for. We are often caught up with looking out for rocks to either skip, to avoid a problematic slip; or rocks that are stable enough to step on. So much thought goes on into what it takes to move forward. So much so, that we forget to look up and appreciate the bigger picture — where you are, where you came from, what you are working towards. There is life all around you, and it flows freely, while you stand there whether, holding out, watching out or stepping out for your next move. You’ve already elevated yourself from the foot of the mountain. It will only be a matter of time until you get to the top. Just keep going. But remember to look up.


The end of our trip brought us back to Alvin’s, where I was told the story of Fultro. He is a wild eagle, which an Aeta brought to Alvin for some care after he was left bloodied, with a broken wing. Because of this, Fultro has been grounded, and unable to fly. But has that robbed him of his true nature, his wilderness? No. Here he is, devouring what’s left of the serpent he caught earlier in the day.

And that is Invictus, William Ernest Henley’s words brought to life:
Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

At this point, I will continue to explore different directions. Some may seem barren for now; others might seem to flourish from the onset. Either way, I wouldn’t really be able to tell until I explore them further. But what can I offer? How do I go about it? Can I endure the journey?

But I suppose you never really know your power until you are put to the test. Pinatubo is not my first mountain, nor will it be my last. However, it is the one that has taught me the truth of being so good at being who and what you are, that your fire, greatness, and beauty will be spewing out from the deepest of your cores, and the world cannot help but stop, stand back and behold it. 

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