Friday, April 23, 2010

Taal Volcano Trek

taal volcanoThere are times when you feel so good, so energized, that you think you are immortal--like you can take on anything. It is indeed a great feeling, only until the 'high' fades away, you realize that it isn't so, and Mother Nature reminds you who is the boss. If you like a good story, I invite you to read this one.

Just like most other days, I was feeling relatively strong and energetic--ready to take on anything--so, I decided Simon and I would take on Taal in Tagaytay.

Not too far from Manila, we left early in the morning and was able to reach Tagaytay City in less than two hours by bus. A 20-minute or so tricycle ride accompanied by scenic views down to the lowlands (as opposed to the highlands of Tagaytay) took us to the villages by the shore of Taal Lake. Here, we were able to rent a boat at, unfortunately, tourist rates.

Nevertheless, we were already here and turning back would be a waste of time and money already spent, so we just went onward and looked forward to what lied ahead in this Taal Volcano adventure.

The boat trip across Taal Lake seemed like a relatively brief one, perhaps because the scene and the mist produced from the boat spearheading through the lake made for such a refreshing experience.

Before we knew it, we were already across the lake and in a new village or barangay--an arid one. Moreover, a pack of vendors waited at our very drop-off point and pounced on us before we could even make a run for it. To avoid angering the residents, who make a livelihood out of such products and services, I went ahead and purchased a hat--unfortunately, it turned out to be a bit small because I didn't even take the time to try it out before purchase.

Always on a tight budget, I could no longer give in to their other services that they were pressuring on us. Thus, I remained firm in declining the horseback riding and opted instead to walk the whole distance. They actually did not believe we could do it, so they followed us on horseback up until halfway through the trail to see if we would give in. No sir, no thanks--we've been through similar and harder situations. We're 'Coconuters,' horses are for whimps!

A guide was required to accompany us to the top of the crater. But upon seeing the magnificent view of Taal's crater lake, I just knew I had to get down to the water as I was awed by the sight and was still bursting with energy. When I mentioned to the guide that we wanted to go down and I wanted to do it by going through the shortcut (the steep slope directly downwards) rather than the long and gentle trip around and into the crater, the guide opted not to come with us--which was much to my delight, because this would save us some money on the guide's fee.

So, down we went (Simon and I). It started off relatively well, with the sight of the crater lake enticing us and our adventurous spirit cheering us onward. But as we hit the steepest parts of the crater's slope, the momentum began to change.

The sun was starting to beat down on us--I had to use my hat now. Much energy was being spent controlling our speed going downwards so as not to fall down any cliffs. Agility and balance was much needed in order to traverse down. Wrong footing on some loose soil or wrong grabbing on weak branches and weeds could have spelled disaster.

It was getting worse... My slippers gave in, as the strap broke off. I had to go the rest of the way barefoot--stepping and skidding on rough pebbles and stones. We were breathing and eating dust, which transformed into a mud-like consistency as it mixed with our saliva and perspiration. Yet, even our own sweat production would soon cease and our mouths dried as we had no liquid to replenish our body's water reserves. Thirsty...

But at last, we made it down to level ground. Large holes in the ground with boiling mud signaled that we were pretty much here. Just a few yards more, and we had reached Taal's crater lake. Victory was ours! Or so we thought...

Maybe it was the sun and the thirst. Maybe it was the exhaustion and the sight of refreshing water. Maybe it was Taal playing a trick on me. Whatever it was, I was apparently not thinking clearly--at all. You would have thought that the steaming holes of boiling mud would have been a major clue or the smell of burning foliage that emanated all around the crater lake, but it wasn't so for my delirious mind. My body wanted cool water and it held on to the fact that I heard the locals say that the crater lake's water was cool. So, when we reached the crater lake, I immediately stripped and ran for the water. In fact, I was so excited that I jumped into the water--like you would at the beach. And then...

BOOM! I mean WHAM! KA-BOOM! I sunk into about knee-deep of mud--BOILING MUD. The heat immediately registered upon contact. I panicked; I did not even yell for help as I had to act fast--immediately. There was solid ground in arm's reach, so I pushed myself up and OUT. I could only mutter a few expletives in an out-of-breath manner--f*ck, sh*t, m*therf*cker, p*tang ina, and any other ones my mind spat out instinctively.

But the cursing didn't last long, as my mouth shut up as my body seemed to want to shut down. Perhaps it was in a state of shock--I knew my mind was after experiencing the excruciating pain. I didn't want to move my legs or my feet. I didn't even want to touch them. Simon was also in a state of shock, as he stared in amazement--not sure of what to do. But he was able to snap a photograph for remembrance.

The pain was unbelievable. Combine that with the exhaustion, thirst, the fact that there was no way to alleviate the pain--and you've got yourself a dreary situation.

Various fleeting thoughts flickered in my mind:

- I am so lucky that I didn't jump farther into the water where I would have landed in deeper mud and would have had no solid ground to push myself out.

- Oh what cruel, non-immediate, and indescribable pain it would be to die in an inferno or boiling pool of mud.

- Ok, so that is the reason they have mini-boardwalks on the lake--so that people can ease into deep water where they do not have to get in contact with the lakebed and boiling mud.

- I bow down in honest admission of my vulnerabilities and mortality and in humble submission to the unfathomable power of Mother Nature.

The sun's rays were now electrocuting my feet. The burns caused blisters and ruptured blood vessels, but at the moment the problem was that they caused my feet to become extremely sensitive--all feelings became magnified. The heat from the sun by itself was hurting it, so as you can imagine, the pain from walking barefoot back was indescribably excruciating.

Yet, there is a will to survive. Even with the state of my feet and the overwhelming thought of the giant Gorrilla facing us in the climb to get out of the crater, I still mustered what was needed to make it out. I had to--there was no place to recover there. It was like having burning feet in a desert and an accompanying boiling oasis. We had to get out.

There was a decision to be made--take the gentle but long hike around and out the crater, or take the steep shortcut up the slope like we did coming down. I don't know if I made the right decision, but I wanted to get out ASAP, so I opted for the latter.

I probably made the wrong decision. It was so hard going up, especially in the state I was in. We paused only every now and then to ensure we had a good hand and foothold so that we would not fall off. We also paused at the request of our pounding hearts, which was undoubtedly so stressed out due to the ensuing dehyrdation. But our thirst drove us onward, with the sun's beating rays whipping us like we were carabaos.

It was a very long, very hard--perhaps one of the hardest--trek. But at last, after several kilometers of walking and climbing and several befuddled stares by the locals who probably wondered what in the hell happened to us, we made it back to the boat.

On the boat trip back, I didn't want to talk, I didn't want to answer any questions, I didn't even want to open my eyes. I just wanted to meditate and thank my lucky stars (again). It feels good to be alive!

Note: It wasn't only us who suffered on this adventure, so did our handy-dandy camera. It accidently got banged and even plunged into soil during the steep slope climb. Now its lens malfunctions, and pictures are sometimes blurry and/or noticeably polarized. If you enjoy the photographs of the places we go to, please help us out in either getting this compact camera repaired or helping us invest in a sturdy dslr. (update: the camera no longer operates.)

Check out my Youtube Channel for a clip of this adventure.


bertN said...

I was in a situation out in the field when I did not have any water and I was dying of thirst. I know the feeling and I never made the same mistake again.

SpeakingMouse said...

Always be very careful with your steps and also with the people. The guide could have been honest enough and warn you about the danger. I have been 4 times to the volcano island and I can really understand what happened even though I was lucky enough to be in good company and not to have any problem. I accessed the shore of the inside lake twice. The first time, I went swimming around the small islet but the water gets hotter in some areas. The second time, I was at an opposite shore and could not swim that far even though it looked I was closer to the islet. I wish you recover well with your legs.

Anonymous said...

Hi David, I hope you've recovered. That adventure sounded too painful!

I would like to visit Taal Town and see the old houses and basilica in June. Could you tell me what bus you took to get there? I'd be coming from Pasay. Thanks! Heidi

Eric said...

Your entry here reminds me of my first Taal trekking with my Korean students..reaching the peak was really hot and exhausting, but when you get to see the crater and the entire'll see how wonderful Taal is..I feel sad because it's only few of our Kababayans who likes and can afford to cross the Taal island...

Heidi: if you are from Pasay, take the bus headed for Trece Martirez and drop at SM-Dasma or Robinson Dasma and take another bus going to Batangas or jeepney for Olivarez...

Mervin said...

matagal ko na gusto pumunta d2, kaso wala pa time, wala din naman nag iinvite... hehehe!!!


Anonymous said...

Hello David.

How much is the boat trip to Taal Volcano? We're planning to go there this Saturday. I googled it and find that it's Php 1500 (max 6 persons) and Php 500 each for the horse ride (I'm a wimp, I might need to go on horseback :) I'm not sure if these are updated as the posts were from 2006.

Thank you for your blog about Taal. It gave me a good idea of what to expect. I find that there is very little info on Pinas tourist spots on the web, and most are outdated. We're not the outdoor-sy types so we'll take extra care. And we'll bring hats/sunscreen.

So sorry about your camera :(

Coconuter said...


Yes, those figures are accurate. Your plan sounds good. Also bring plenty of water!

Take care.

bebe said...

Thanks so much for your response, David. Yes, we will bring plenty of water! :)

keirboy said...

ganda ng taal... sa susunod na punta ko diyan, gusto kung lumapit sa volcano... wow!!!

naomi said...

man..I totally hear ya,just came back from a 34 km trek up some perilous mountains in search of this mythical beach in the canaries..the heat killed me,almost passed out,was suffering from over breathing from the huge load we were carrying uphill(tents,food water etc)then had to swim a great deal to get to the beach,had a panic attack..just couldn't cope with the incessant waves which were lapping over me..mother nature gave me a big silent talking to..over all really came to terms with this crazy planet we inhibit and reading your article reminded me abt all those feelings i experienced..

ara said...

thanks for posting the tagaytay trek on his blog,it gave wannabe trekkers like me an idea on how it is not for the faint hearted and unprepared. since you are promoting the philippine isles, i think it would be an idea for he Department of Tourism to provide you with a replacement cam:-) enjoy the adventures!

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