Taal- My Philippine Volcano Adventure

17 Nov

There is something particularly awe inspiring about volcanoes. They are a direct connection to the Earth, playing a role in creating and destroying the world as we know it. Without notice they can change landscapes, wreak havoc on communities and make us realise how insignificant we truly are. Cultures not only fear the wrath of these mountains but worship and respect them as vital parts of their lives and history.

Coming from a country like Australia without any of these living mountains on the mainland, I always took particular interest in volcanoes. I remember first arriving in Indonesia and my friend pointing out the highly active Gunung Merapi of Central Java and watching it puff out smoke and steam and being amazed. This is the first I had seen of these creatures and something I always assumed was a thing to be feared suddenly became an obsession, a love and most of all something I wanted to understand better. When I was asked to go to the Philippines the first thing I did was look on google for any volcanoes close to Manila which I could explore.

Mount Mayon looked amazing, its conical shape considered to be one of the most perfect in the world. However it would require me to fly there which was not feasible in the time that I had. Mount Pinatubo also intrigued me with its ferocious nature. It is the perfect example of a volcano completely reshaping a landscape, blowing out the side of a mountain when it erupted last century. This left one volcano, the closest and most convenient judging on the time we had available Taal Volcano. When I was told that Taal only stood 300 metres above sea level I was quite disappointed, this seemed like nothing compared to the 3200 metre monster I had attempted to climb in Indonesia, however all it took was a photo to convince me Taal was worth exploring. The volcano is situated on an island in the middle of a lake which features a number of active cones under water. It is considered to be the World’s smallest volcano on an island in a lake on an island.

We arrived at Tagatay, a small town on the shores of Lake Taal at around 3pm in the afternoon. This worried me, I had read that it was still at least an hour’s climb to the top and I didn’t want to miss the boat back. We hired two boats which were noisy and blew diesel fumes into the air but provided a perfect mode of transportation to Volcano Island in the centre of the lake. Looking down on Taal from the ridges around the lake there is a prominent cone which one would assume is the volcano itself, arriving on the island we were told this wasn’t actually the active cone which instead could be found to the rear of the island. In the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia we decided that we would hire some mangy looking horses to take us up to the rim of the volcano rather than walking through the dust. As we set off, the air was soon full of dust, getting in your eyes and up your nose which combined with the heat made for a horrible experience however my guide decided that the dust the rest of the group was kicking off was not for us and we quickly took off up the trail leaving the others behind us.

My guide of course had no idea that I was rather frightened of horses and riding them was not particularly a favourite past time of mine so without thinking decided to make the guide rope into a set of reins for me and told me he would run behind me while I rode up the volcano. This made me feel quite anxious which soon turned into a feeling of utter fear when we reached the ridge with steep drop offs on both sides and a two metre wide track. Finally though we reached the top leaving a short walk up the steps, and as is an all too common site in Asia, a battle through a number of people trying to sell you drinks and other useless souvenirs which of course can be bought on the shores of the lake for half the price. Reaching the edge of the crater was spectacular. The volcano came from nowhere and the crater itself probably was at least a kilometre if not more in diameter. The crater itself, was filled with turquoise water, swirling steam at a constantly warm temperature. It was an amazing sight and as the sun was slowly setting, sending reflections of orange and red across the landscape, it really made you feel small, like the World was so much bigger and more powerful than you. It was time to leave to make it back to the boats in time.

This meant that it was time to take the horses downhill which was not a prospect that thrilled me, especially with a guide who thought that I loved to ride. As I got back on the horse he told me that once again, I could ride the horse and he would run along with me. To enhance my experience he seemed to think it was a good idea to keep hitting the horse so we would take the downhill journey at a trot. That said it was not all bad and I did eventually get used to the riding and even start to enjoy it. We tried to converse in broken English and he informed me that my horse was named Likea because he Likea me. I told my guide about horses in Australia and the Melbourne Cup as that is about as much as I know about the equine world. We rode slowly through the small village and stopped at his house where I tipped him generously for helping me overcome my fear of horses and he directed me in the way of the beach.

As I walked across the beach, again bombarded with villagers try to sell me their wares, the sound of cock fights and requests to come and play volleyball. I stepped into the boat and as we took off across the lake in the glowing, setting sun, I looked back at Volcano Island and Taal Volcano and realised that even what may seem small and insignificant can be absolutely incredible.

from April 2010

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