It was late October 2019 when I decided to visit Manila for a weekend, mainly to see a close friend. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to do there – it wasn’t as if I had explored the city. I had been in Manila back in 2012 for 19 days, undergoing missionary training. During my training, I was confined to the training center on the outskirts, so I had no idea about what was beyond, except for what I could glimpse from the window of my bus.
At the end of the day, I’m simply not a city dweller. My friend suggested that we catch a musical, featuring the magnificent Lea Salonga, and then we dedicated a day to explore the city. However, after exhausting the interesting places I found through online research, I felt the need to get out of there.
Hiking in the countryside was the way to go if I wanted to immerse myself in nature. I concluded that Pinatubo was the most convenient destination from Manila. In 2019, I embraced a more frugal mindset, so despite numerous tours offering pick-ups from Manila, I chose to save costs and navigate our own way there. Fortunately, my friend, being a local, had no trouble guiding us with the buses and tricycles.
A word of advice if you plan to go from Manila: consider investing in the extra cost for transportation. The hassle is just too much, and you will see why. But it’s worth mentioning that the Pinatubo hike requires a guide, and the most affordable options are with local companies having website domains ending with .ph. I booked with Tripinas, and needless to say, I was very pleased with them.
Trouble to base camp
Our journey to the Pinatubo base camp commenced at Hop Inn Aseana City around 10:30 pm. Taking a Grab ride, we headed to the Victory Liner bus terminal in Pasay. However, a bit of confusion led us to Pasay Bus Terminal instead of the Victory Liner, necessitating an 8-minute walk to the correct location in a somewhat shady area. While I’m accustomed to such environments due to my upbringing in Malaysia, my friend expressed valid discomfort. At times, I realize I may be too laidback about my own safety—a trait I need to be more mindful of not only when traveling in a foreign country but in my own too.
To prepare for the journey, we discovered that the last bus from Manila departs at 11:45pm, with another at 2:30am. While the 2:30am bus could potentially get us to the base camp right on time, our paranoia led us to opt for the 11:45pm bus, a budget-friendly option at around PHP190 each.
I managed only a few short naps on the decent but cramped ride, recognizing the challenge taller individuals might face. The journey was 2 hours and 45 minutes, culminating at our stop near McDonald’s in Capas, Tarlac, by 2:30am. Tricycles were readily available across the street, and despite the early hour, we found refuge in the 24-hour McDonald’s. There, we washed up in the bathroom, although sleep proved elusive amidst the loud music and bright lighting. I stayed awake until it was time to leave at 4:15am.
Most reports indicated that the tricycle ride to Sta. Juliana Tourism, where we were to meet up with the tour group, would take approximately 1 hour. However, in reality, it took us no more than 40 minutes. The ride was initially quoted at PHP300 per person, but we managed to negotiate it down to PHP200 each. Riding the tricycle was an experience, though not the most comfortable one. Afterward, we settled down to wait and changed into our hiking attire. Finally, the vans carrying other hikers arrived.
After receiving a briefing and signing the mandatory safety waiver, our group of at least 16, joined by approximately 40 more from other companies judging by the number of 4x4s, eagerly hopped onto our 4x4s, ready for the Pinatubo adventure!
Through the lahar field
The bumpy 4×4 ride took about 2 hours to reach as close to the hiking point as possible. The views were mostly of nothingness, consisting mainly of lahar fields and distant mountain ranges. However, we were treated to a beautiful sunrise, as it was early in the morning. A small piece of excitement ensued when our jeep got stuck while crossing one of the few streams. Fortunately, we were able to get pulled out by another jeep.
This is where we first encountered the indigenous tribe of the area, the Aeta. Most were curious children, venturing into the fields for a glimpse of visitors. Others were seen taking their laundry to the river for a wash or selling snacks and drinks to tourists. Though they might initially appear wary, a smile would instantly brighten their faces.
Simpleness of life
As we continued our journey on foot, tribal children ran over to greet us, treating us like fascinating visitors from the outer world. I imagined it must feel similar to how I felt as a child when encountering fair-skinned foreigners, as if the TV shows and movies we watched had come to life before my eyes.
It’s a privilege to possess vast knowledge of the possibilities and opportunities in the world beyond their bubble. Simultaneously, living carefree in their bubble, unaffected by the stresses and depressing state of the world, is another kind of privilege. It’s a privilege that, I believe, many of us yearn for as we grow older. What irony it is to desire the modern city life as a child, only to later yearn for the simplicity of childhood. That’s why I’m happy to introduce myself as someone who grew up as a small-town girl.
“It’s like a Windows desktop wallpaper!” – my friend
The 5km, 2-hour hike came to an end as we arrived at the beautiful Pinatubo crater lake. The spectacular view confirmed how worthwhile the hike had been.
It was a beautiful day, and we were given an hour to lounge by the lake, chatting with fellow hikers and resting our weary feet before our return to base camp. Swimming wasn’t allowed because the water was hazardously acidic, being in a volcano crater. I briefly dozed off in the warm sun, fully immersing myself in the country life. As for my friend, who was a first-time hiker and had low stamina throughout the hike, it was a new accomplishment to cherish for life.
In the end, it was a day well spent—lounging by the lake, sharing stories, and conquering new trails. A reminder that sometimes, the simplest moments in nature create the most lasting memories.