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July 19, 2010 / iselgarcia

Expat Newspaper Travel: Braving the Pinatubo


Braving the Pinatubo

By Isel Kintanar Garcia

June 15, 1991, Pampanga:

Seismologists record that it was about an hour and a half past midnight when the tremors started. Exactly three months after the first signs of activity were observed on Mount Pinatubo, the worst was finally happening. At 2:30 am, less than an hour after the tremors, the volcanic eruptions that began in early June escalated into a climactic explosion: the second largest and most catastrophic one seen in the 20th century. Registering an alarming 6 in the Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI), it shot 10 billion metric tons of magma into its surroundings; destroying thousands of churches, buildings, homes and taking the lives of 800 people.

I was six years old when Mt.Pinatubo erupted. I remember waking up and seeing cars, streets and virtually everything outside my window covered in what I thought was snow. It wasn’t snow, of course, but ash.

August 1, 2009:

Eighteen years after the cataclysmic event, I found myself in a 4×4 jeepney, driving up to the foot of the Pinatubo. The chilly mountain breeze was slowly beginning to wake me and my companions up, and we couldn’t help but grab our cameras from our bags (very touristy, I know). The landscape was simply beautiful. It was a testament to the forces of nature: craggy hills, sudden drops, weathered cliffs and – of course – molten lava rock formations and stretches of earth covered in hardened gray ash. To a bookworm like me, the scenery looked like one taken straight from Lord of the Rings or Wuthering Heights that it was a little hard to think that something catastrophic, something horrific took place there. But there were signs of the eruption. Besides the sand-like ash, paths were carved into the ground where the lava must have passed, little snake-like windings stained with dark yellow – an effect of sulfur – as one of my companions pointed out.

After fording a river, revving up a steep climb and bumping my head a dozen times on the jeepney’s hand bar (good times!), it was finally time to get into the business of trekking. As I looked up at the peak of the mountain, I stifled the urge to ask “Are we there yet?” and focused on putting one foot in front of the other, telling myself that I was young, fit and free-spirited enough to conquer not just a mountain, but a volcano.

Thirty minutes later, I was ready to drop. Don’t get me wrong. The climb is well worth it. The forests of Pinatubo are lush, with a few streams running through – a proof of nature’s resiliency and ability to recreate itself after a calamity. But there were moments when I just wanted to collapse and rejoin nature. But that’s the thing about trekking: when think you can’t take another step, you take a hundred more (because you have to) and, suddenly, you’ve reached the summit.

“Imagine this being red,” one of my friends quipped as we gazed down on the still, bluish-green waters of the Pinatubo Crater Lake. Clothed in mist, it looked surreal, like some picture on a postcard. And yet, there we were, dipping our tired toes on the very pit from where destruction struck less than two decades ago.

You can swim in the Crater Lake and ride a boat to Pinatubo’s Hot Springs. But as it was drizzling and chilly the day we trekked, we promised ourselves that we would return for the water activities some other time.

August 9, 2009

But nature is unpredictable. The morning ofAugust 9, 2009, I woke up to the headline of a landslide in Pinatubo, caused by Typhoon Kiko and resulting in the death of six people: two European tourists and four Filipinos. Treks to the volcano were suspended until further notice. As my phone began to buzz with text messages from my trek companions, all I could think about was the irony of it all. In 1991, the Aetas, (a native tribe that has lived on the volcano since the Spanish colonial time) claimed that the eruption was punishment from their god, Apo Malari, for illegal logging. Did the Aetas see this as another punishment, perhaps, for man’s desecration of the forest? Once again, punishment or not, the beautiful Mount Pinatubo had become the site of a tragedy.

August 19, 2009

It has almost been three weeks since my friends and I “braved” the Pinatubo. As of presstime, treks to the volcano are still suspended indefinitely. The Department of Tourism (DOT) Region 3, however, assures the public that they are trying to fix things up and are waiting for clearance from DENR and DPWH.

As the weather gets better and adventurous souls brave the Pinatubo once more, maybe they’ll come to the same conclusion I did while writing this article. Nature is untameable.  The Pinatubo will continue to surprise us. That is the essence of it: the interplay between beauty and catastrophe, destruction and resiliency. The truth is, we are at nature’s mercy. But, ironically, as studies on global warming continually remind us, we also play a huge role in nature’s cycle. It is our duty to take care of the environment, to return what we get from it and not greedily take what we need. It shouldn’t take a landslide, for example, to remind us of the conequences of illegal logging. The beauty of Mount Pinatubo, as well as many other breath-taking spots on planet Earth, is already a living testament of what we should preserve– for the generations to come.


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