Back in August in the middle of the rainy season, some foreign tourists on Mt. Pinatubo were caught in a landslide and killed, and the Safety and Security Director put trekking there off-limits to Peace Corps volunteers. I had seen Kate’s pictures and really wanted to go; he told me I could go when I was no longer a PCRV. So I saved January 23 for it. But I still didn’t want to go if it wasn’t safe! So I kept calling him; after all, it hasn’t rained for a while (flash floods are the danger there). This week, he called to tell me it was okay to go, and as of yesterday, the restriction was lifted.
Mt. Pinatubo was quiet for centuries until a violent eruption in 1991. The volcano lost 300 meters in height, the ash and rock column went 40 meters into the air, ash and rock covered Angeles, Clark and Subic Bay. At the time a typhoon raged, turning the ash into volcanic mud, which rerouted rivers and buries villages. If I recall, world-wide temperatures were cooler that summer because fine ash particles blew all the way across the Pacific
It meant getting up early again – lots of staying up late and getting up early these past couple of weeks; I can rest when I get back (maybe?). But I didn’t (and couldn’t) get there early enough; I had to wait for a few hours until the first 4X4s returned so I could be in the second wave. I shared the trip with two pairs of Germans, all of whom walked at a brisk pace! The 4X4 drive was along a riverbed (I could see the flash flood potential) lined with eroded lahar (volcanic mudflow). Some vegetation is coming back, and we passed some grazing carabao and cows and a couple of small Aeta settlements. From the end of the 4X4 ride there was a 45-minute hike to the crater, first passing some dramatic formations and then narrowing to a forested path that crossed the stream several times. I didn’t realize how big or how beautiful the crater and its lake would be; it was definitely worth it!
On the way to Pinatubo, I stopped at a shrine that marked the final point of the Bataan death march, on the site of the concentration camp where so many died. I had heard about this monument and thought it would be a nice way to cap off my WWII visits, but I didn’t realize that it was right on the way to Pinatubo until my (ex!) supervisor mentioned it earlier this week – I’m glad I went! There’s a big obelisk – its three parts represent the Philippines, the U.S. and Japan – and then a wall of names.
Would I have gone to Pinatubo anyway when no longer a PCV? Probably; that’s why I had the date in my head. That’s not to say I didn’t break any rules during my service. Last year when after I COSed I confessed to some of my violations – so I guess in keeping with this tradition, let me say that I may have ridden on the back of a motorcycle in Siquijor (honestly, I think I had a memory lapse and I thought only driving one was a violation; I got back and realized that merely being on one is – oops!). I may have ridden on the top of a full jeepney between Bontoc and Banaue, twisting through the mountains (line of the year – Me: Are we about to do something illegal? Bill: I think we’re doing something fun!) and I may have ridden on the top of a full bus in Bohol (and then on another motorcycle when even the top of the bus back was too full). I may have returned my life vest early and then taken boat rides without it (including one to the Caramoan peninsula when the boat also didn’t have any life vests – all the time watching the shoreline and reassuring myself that I could swim that far). But then again, I may not have done any of those things. Hey, I’m glad the Pinatubo restriction was lifted! A number of people suggested that I go to Mindanao (which has safe, beautiful parts) when no longer a PCV and subject to those restrictions – instead, it will go on the list of possible places to visit in a return to the Philippines.
Now it’s off to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – which will be chronicled in travelsinthe offseason.blogspot.com (eventually). In two and a half weeks, I come back here for a few more days – an overnight at the Farm and a last surfing weekend. I’ll be staying at the pension every other night while in Manila. They need my room here in Pasig! I’d gladly have stayed, but part of me likes the closure of staying in the pension where it all began. I’m glad I’m not saying goodbye to the Philippines just yet.