PART 1: BARANGAY STA. JULIANA TO CROW VALLEY
The trip starts before dawn with a full moon accompanying our van. A few hours later we reach our initial destination of Pinatubo Spa Town, BNGY Santa Juliana, Capas, Tarlac. This is the main stop for all private vehicles and the place to register yourselves in case anything happens.
It is so typical of the Philippine government to neglect this area except for a rudimentary Philippine Air Force check point for anything out of the ordinary. If it were not for a Korean company putting up this clean dinning/shower/massage venue there would be nothing by way of comfort except for a few family run sari-sari stores. Then again, it could be good without it being a profit generating tourist attraction for our country. Ain’t our government grand for thinking so much ahead? At least they paved the road concrete until the start of the lahar fields.
After a fifteen minute pee/stretch break our group packs into the 4×4′s. All 4×4 jeeps are old and put together from various mostly surplus and seldom new parts and all drivers/guides are locals. This is quite practical as the terrain is very rough. All roads consist of just lahar and lahar terrain changes from day to day based on rain and/or wind conditions.
Roads are pretty much even terrain but it gave ‘bump and grind’ a whole new meaning. Hold on to that camera or it might fly out of your dusty paws and make sure your cap or hat is tight on your head. The jeep we were on was doing a solid 40-50 kph. It felt like being on a convoy under General Rommel’s command on Germany’s Africa campaign in WWII-not that I’m that old it was just my imagination going on overdrive.
The lahar is a problem for photograpic equipment. Make sure to have a filter as front element of your lens as dust will be a problem. My Canon 50D/24-70L stayed in the well protected back pack until the crater lake. I opted to use my Canon G7 p&s the whole way up and down. Trust me, dust was everywhere and you can’t just wipe it off. You will need a good fine brush to take off dust before wiping down gear with some water. I suggest some sort of protection with just the front element exposed-still not a guarantee of a dust free experience. There will be a big chance the fine lahar dust will give a high five to your camera sensor.
The trip took about an hour or so to reach the trek point for the Pinatubo crater lake. Here, two outhouse style comfort rooms provide you with the basic-lets take a whiz and run type of scenario. Usually, the crowds get too big and these are mostly used by the women. On that morning, us manly men, opted for the-lets hide behind the jeeps and shower the grass lands with mineral bodily fluids-complete with photo ops and won’t be posted as it is NSFW!
Next-Mt. Pinatubo, Part 2: The Trek to Crater Lake