Where were you when the second-largest terrestrial volcanic eruption of the 20th century occurred on the night of June 15, 1991?
I was in my house in Cavite, about 120 kilometers south of Mount Pinatubo, watching television. When I went out to get some fresh air, I saw everything outside starting to get covered with ash fall. I switched to the news channel and learned that Mount Pinatubo had erupted. The images that I saw on television were all disturbing. People living near the volcano were shown covered with ash, and buildings collapsing and roads becoming unpassable from the sea of dust and mud.
This stratovalcanic caldera at the tripoint of the provinces of Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga did not have any modern recorded history of eruption prior to the big one in June 15, 1991. The name of the mountain came from the Sambal word meaning “made to grow,” the name which suggests a knowledge of its previous eruption in about 1500 AD. It is the home of the indigenous Aeta tribe, which considers the mountain sacred. Apo Namalyari, the pagan deity of the Aetas, is Pinatubo’s protector. Apo Namalyari is said to have induced the 1991 eruption because of his fury toward illegal loggers.
Pinatubo’s eruption killed about a thousand people, displaced hundreds of thousands and buried several towns.
Before it erupted, Pinatubo’s height was 1,745 meters. After eruption, it went down to 1,485 meters. In 1992, a new lava dome started growing into a caldera. The caldera soon started to be filled with water from the annual monsoon rains. This started the formation of a crater lake, later called Lake Pinatubo.
News of the beautiful lake spread like wild fire. Once the mountain was declared safe, adventurers, hikers and tourists started going up to see the magnificent Lake Pinatubo. My first climb to Pinatubo was in 2000.
How to get there
The main gateway to those planning to climb Mount Pinatubo is the town of Capas in Tarlac. To get there, drive north via NLEX, exit from Mabalacat and continue drive to Capas via MacArthur Highway. At the Capas junction, turn left and continue drive 22 kilometers to Barangay Santa Julia, where the Capas Municipal Tourism Satellite Office is located.
Those who wish to try the facilities of Puning Hot Spring at the foot of Mount Pinatubo must enter Clark after exiting Mabalacat, continue drive within Clark, and exit at the gate going to Sapang Bato, and then continue drive all the way to Sitio Target.
What to see, what to do
Although there are other trails going to Mount Pinatubo crater like the Sapang Uwak in Porak, the most popular and the most developed is the one via Santa Juliana in Capas. There are now many travel companies offering day tours (between P2,000 to P2,500 per person), but it is still best to know the many fees required when climbing Pinatubo. Climbers are required to make prior arrangements with the Capas Tourism office, submit medical certificates, pay registration/conservation fees of P450, hire a local guide (P500 per group) and rent a 4×4 vehicle (P3,000 for a group of five).
From Santa Juliana, climbers will take a bumpy and dusty ride for about an hour and a half going to Lipit Station. From Lipit Station, it’s a 7-kilometer trek going to the crater like. It usually takes about two-hours of many water crossings, climbing and sometimes crawling before reaching the view deck. The view deck affords a breathtaking view of the crater lake and its ever changing color of water that shifts from emerald to turquoise depending on the season.
Another way to enjoying Mount Pinatubo is via combination of adventure and relaxation being offered at the Puning Hot Spring and Resort. The resort is able to make use of hot spring water coming from Pinatubo as well as its sands. The resort has three stations: Station 1 in Sitio Target is where the reception and restaurants are located; Station 2 is where visitors can enjoy being in a hot sand; and Station 3 which can be reached after a 15-minute 4×4 ride is where guests can enjoy dipping in hot pools.
Those who wish to see the extensive damage caused by the Pinatubo eruption may visit the town of Bacolor in Pampanga. On October 1, 1995, over 20 feet of lahar buried 18 of the 21 barangays of Bacolor. The San Guillermo Church, which was built in 1897, was also half-buried. The people of Bacolor painstakingly excavated the altar and the retablos, and restored them to its original glory to remind them of the town’s rich cultural heritage. They kept everything else half buried to remind them of the fury of Pinatubo. The San Guillermo Church is now Pampanga’s famous symbol of resilience and faith.
Where to stay, what to eat
Visitors to Pinatubo are required to bring their own food and lots of drinking water. Some travel companies provide packed lunch for their guests. For those doing the DIY climb, there is a 7-Eleven convenience store in Capas Poblacion, and a 24-hour MacDonald’s Store, which has become the assembly spot for those going to Pinatubo. In Santa Juliana, there are several carenderias selling rice and cooked viands.
For places to sleep, camping is no longer allowed near the crater of Mount Pinatubo or anywhere else near the volcano. So for those who wish to be in Santa Juliana by the 6 a.m. take-off time, the most convenient place to stay is in Angeles City and inside Clark, where there are many lodging places and hotels to suit any budget.
But these places to stay are just secondary to exploring Mount Pinatubo and its surroundings, which Mother Nature continue to shape, showing its raw beauty beyond the fury.