Wednesday, November 10, 2010

from the Cordilleras to Pinatubo (and the elements of disaster)

The trip from Bontoc to Banaue and Mount Pinatubo had the elements of a comedy + suspense movie written all over it!

Firstly, the diarrhea. The greedy load of yoghurt in Sagada surely did kick-in. What would you do inside a bus on a 9-hour drive?

Next, the late afternoon bus I was on had mechanical malfunction just before it started to climb the snaking and high road to Banaue. The incessant and unforgiving rain and the fog which made visibility a mere 5 meters were another. To complete the scene, include the mudslide--and it's not the alcoholic drink!

I can only take so much!

The bus left Bontoc at 3PM. But of course I relieved myself before I boarded lest I make a nasty, funky scene inside. The smooth ride was cut short half an hour later when the driver couldn't shift the gear anymore. The sound of broken rod constantly pelted at the back part of the bus. In no time, the driver pulled over and discovered that one of the parts was indeed broken! Oh, brother! If the malfunction wasn't too much to bear, wait until you overhear the locals talking about how last month, a convoy of military was ambushed and killed on the same spot. All killed by sniper bullets coming from every direction. The place was made for carthage! Not a house in sight. Lush vegetation. A ridge on one side of the road, a cliff and a river on the other. A few rice paddies occupy the small clearing. Beyond the clearing is the mountain range. A perfect look-out for snipers.

Time is of the essence here. It was almost dark and signs of a storm brewing up was all over. Black clouds almost bursting. Cold mountain air. Fog beginning to gather on mountaintops. By half past five, the bus was fixed and the drive to Banaue and eventually Manila, continued.  

In thirty minutes, I was not prepared for the eventuality of rain and landslide. Or at least I'd like to believe. The driver had to wipe clean the windshield while his assistant looked out for falling debris from the mountainside. In no time, stones began rolling. In some parts of the road, rocks as big as couch blocked a portion. And finally, like what one would expect during a bad weather in the Cordilleras--landslide blocking the whole road. The muscled guys did what they were suppose to do-under the rain and chill, got the blocks before a big boulder would. The rain grew heavy. Darkness set in. It was a suspense drama unfolding before my eyes. I lost track on the number of times I held my breath. But the guys were quick! Every time a boulder blocked the way, they did the same thing. Some parts of the road is barely passable already. The rain was getting heavier by the minute. The fog thicker. To avoid collision or worse, falling into a  deep ravine, the driver had to make the cat's eyes in the middle of the road his guide by driving in them.

We arrived in Bontoc 7ish. Heavy wind and falling branches greeted us, no less. But this part of the drive isn't as bad, so I got my iPod and chill all the way until I slept. By midnight, we pulled over for quick dinner and then continued our way to Manila. By 4AM, we were in Bulacan already. If the bus passed by Tarlac, it would have been easier and nearer to get to Pinatubo but the bus was on another route. So I had to transfer bus in Manila. The bus stopped near St. Luke's Hospital in E. Rodriguez St. I hailed a taxi to bring me to Victory Bus terminal in New York St., Cubao.

I took the bus to Baguio since it's stopping by Capas, Tarlac--the jump-off point to Mount Pinatubo! In two hours I was already having my breakfast in Mc Donald's Capas  while waiting for the staff at Mount Pinatubo Spa Town to pick me up. I prearranged the trip weeks before. Since I am sharing the trip with five other people, I opted-out the hassle of commuting by getting the van services of Spa Town. The charge is Php1,200.00 for a round-trip from Mc Do to Spa Town.

As soon as we got to Spa Town, we left our backpacks in the van and climbed to the 4x4 off-road jeep assigned to us. Unlike the sight two years before, the lahar valley was already covered with grass. It was no longer as dramatic as the beauty of a desert or sand dunes. The bumpy ride almost took forever to reach the drop-off point. Along the way, the aetas--the native in the area--were rebuilding their community.

This time, since a quarter of the way to the crater lake was left in total disrepair by typhoon Ondoy (which left French tourists dead in the flood in Pinatubo), my group had to walk half an hour to reach the lake. The course has changed. Two years before, it was on a different way.

And then I saw the familiar boulders surrounding the lake. In a mad rush to beat the others in being the first visitor of the day, I almost stumble.

There, laid before my eyes, the beauty of the crater lake of the mighty and once destructive Pinatubo. It was quite. Still. The clouds came and went. Dark clouds alternating the puff of cotton candy. In a minute, the sun was tough, in another, the clouds came to cover. I just stood there. Taking-in the view. Within a few minutes, visitors started to flock. So, I went down the crater but swimming is no longer allowed on its lake with its undetermined depth. I wrapped my legs with my arms and sat still while  listening to the hum of the universe.

I went back to the top which had a viewing deck and several huts. It was sad to see how things changed in time. It was not quite the same the first time I sat foot in Pinatubo. It was purer a couple of years back. Does a development like building a picnic grove really have to take place? I just wish they keep things organic, in proper perspective.

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