It's one hour drive in the 4x4 ( there was a driver but hanging on to stay in the car was just as tiring especially for someone who rode at the back sideways like we did) followed by a 2.5 hour trek ( if you were as slow as we were. ). That was just on the way up. Every step was heavy with lahar. It was very sunny although windy. The air was full of unseen grains of lahar which createsdlayers on our face and our hair that felt like it would take days to get off. Blisters aren't uncommon ( believe me, I've seen several groups suffering from many. ) Shoes might give up along the way. ( there were some worn soles littered about to prove this.) To top it off, it can be expensive to arrange ( relative to other treks. ) All the hassle is worth it though just to see that picturesque crater lake atop Mount Pinatubo.
Coming from Pampanga, we started our day at 5:00 am and got there (after several wrong turns) at 7:00 am. After meeting with our tour coordinator and settling our balance, we were on board the 4x4 jeep by 7:15 am. Little shallow girls that we were, we can't help but be amazed when we drove through fields of lahar waving back to local kids along the way. Then the first time this happened, our hearts just stopped. We crossed a deep part of the river by jeep! It just went across like it's the most normal thing (well, it must be normal for them, right?) After going across several times though, it had lost its charm.
Alas, we're... at the start of the trek up Mt. Pinatubo itself! We rested some in the cottages (free!) just before the final trek. Just so we were up for the challenge. It said on the welcome sign. "Kids: 15 minutes, Adults: 18 minutes, Senior: 20 minutes. Where do you belong?" When you're ready to make your own trek, do not fret about this! We took 38 minutes to reach the summit. We must be ancient!
Just like typical treks, it was the hardest traverse up the final ascent.
At 11:00 in the morning, our stomachs were growling when we reached the summit but it soon faded into background as we saw the postcard beauty of Mount Pinatubo. It's just not a common sight, trust me. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7,8, 9, 10 minutes of taking in the beauty and finally we felt our stomachs ache again. We laid down awhile to eat our cheeseburgers and rest some, weakling that we are.
My Trekkie friend Meh and I went to bathe in the lake with the others. It was rather cold and the bottom very steep. Few swimmers dared to go to the far side. You can opt to ride a paddle boat around the lake at Php 350/ person. We were planning to do this but we heard a passenger going down say, "what a waste, there're nothing but rocks," we decided to forego. Try it if you want though, give the boatmen some business!
At 1.30 pm we took one final shot and went on our way down. With a lot less inspiration, I found the journey back torturous as I had some blisters already. I felt bad for myself until I saw a girl walking past with the back of her feet bleeding profusely but still walked on and then I just felt a lot less pain. We finally crossed the bridge across the river where we started at 4 pm. We went on the 4x4 jeep again. You would think it impossible because of the very rocky terrain but we fell asleep. You must not think so badly of us, aside from the early start, we had a really late night (around 2 am, oops, that's morning already but you get what I mean.) catching up on one another's miseries, thus the sheer exhaustion.
Weary as we were, with muscles hurting, I think I can speak for everyone that Mount Pinatubo is one big volcano everyone must experience for themselves. I may be not resourceful enough, but it seemed impossible to go to Mt. Pinatubo without booking through an agency. Therefore, we sought to look for the cheapest rate sans groupon and the likes. We booked with e-Philippines.com.ph for 7500.00 for 5 people. It's the cheapest at 1500.00 per person, excluding transportation from Manila that I was able to unearth.
Go through NLEX until the last toll gate then be ready to turn left to Sta. Ines Exit. Do NOT head toward SCTEX. After (a lot of minor and one major) the curve, turn right heading to Mabalacat/ Clark/ Baguio. Turn right at the intersection of Mercury Drug. Go straight towards Capas, Tarlac. Stay at the left when you see Caltex Station. Turn left at small road around opposite Burger King (if it's still there when you go) from Caltex. At the end, turn right and go straight towards Sta Juliana, Capas. (You'll see signs for the Volcanic Spas and an Iglesia ni Cristo. You're on the right direction! Just go ahead. The road just heads to one direction only. It'll go through fields and you'll see breathtaking views of mountains. Stop when you see a lot of 4x4 jeeps or else a lot of cars, or else an Orange Trailer on the left. There you'd most probably find your guide. When lost, feel free to ask the locals. We did and a kind man asked us to park on the shoulder of the road, went down his tricycle, and explained to us 3 TIMES the direction where we should be heading. He really made sure we understood. :)