Mt Pulag, Mt Pinatubo and back to Manila

By 10am we were on the road out of Sagada heading to Mt Pulag. We stopped for lunch in Banaue. Alfredo knew a good place and we had a fantastic vegetable curry between us out in the balcony with a view over the town.

It was a little boring going partially back the way we’d come but that all changed in the next town of Lagawe when a tuk-tuk drove into the side of the car, it hit the back as Alfredo swerved. They both pulled over, clearly no deal could be done (payment) as a few minutes later they were both off to the police station as Alfredo needed a police report to claim on the insurance. He was calm but pissed, the car wasn’t his it was his boss’.

It was better we didn’t go with him he said, so he dropped us at a local restaurant. We shamelessly walked in and used their toilet and then had a walk around the town. We had been feeling like we were passing through too many towns that looked fun to explore so for us it was happy accident.

We were braced for a wait of potentially some hours but less than an hour later he called to say he was done and would pick us up near where he dropped us off.

The delay meant that when it went dark at 5:30pm we still had a good way to go. Not helped by Alfredo having never been before, he had to keep stopping and checking directions and as accommodation options were spread out when we googled them we hadn’t pre-booked in case we booked somewhere inconvenient so Alfredo also kept checking there was somewhere to sleep too.

Finally we hit the road to the top, it seemed to go up forever and for the first time the hill was tackled in a straight line. It got narrower and narrower and we could just make out we were on a ridgeline. Finally we arrived, the village was deserted but we found a young guy to check where the accommodation was. It was 8pm when we checked in, the journey had taken us 10 hours. The woman that ran the accommodation was friendly. Inside was a big wooden room with a kitchen at the end and bathrooms off to the left. Our room was at the far end, a small olde worlde room with the same wooden floor and thin wooden partition. Noise wasn’t going to be a problem though, we were the only ones there. It was also really cheap.

The third highest peak in the Philippines it is 2922m. We’d been able to tell when we arrived we must basically have been at the summit by the feeling of openess all around that we’d have a good view. Both turned out to be true in the morning. By the attention we got it was clear not all that many foreign tourists make it there or if they do they don’t stay in the village, they drive through.

The ranger hut to pay the National Park entry fee was just above us. It’s a hefty fee here and given we were at the summit and had got the view we’d come for we didn’t want to pay it. Instead we had an early morning walk near our accommodation and then as we left we walked down through the village and got Alfredo to pick us up there. The road was really steep and Alfredo had had issues turning up it the night before so he was pleased with this plan. We liked the place a lot, with more time it would have been great to have explored more.

We headed onwards towards Mt Pinatubo. Another decent driving stint it would take us most of the way back to Manila. It was an uneventful drive this time and we arrived in Capas, the nearest town in the early afternoon. After looking a a few accommodation options we went back to the more pricey first one we looked it. It was a resort in town and was busy, 2 others were cheaper but one was a dingy motel where the room was behind a garage (as in you walk through the garage to get to it) and the other was a resort that was totally dead and was barely cheaper than the first and the woman wouldn’t budge on the price. Both were on the way out of town so we’d have been paying foreigner tuk-tuk prices to get back to life and find shops and have dinner.

Instead we had a good room, a reasonably priced restaurant on site and the centre of town outside the door. We settled in then headed out to explore, taking a long narrow backstreet that would have been a wide footpath had it not been for the motorcycles that could make it down. It was full of life; kids playing, parents hanging out playing cards. All were friendly and spoke. We loved it.

It took us a little while to find our way out without going back the way we came but we did eventually pop back out on the main road. Then it was time for some shopping at a proper supermarket and back for showers and dinner.

Mt Pinatobu is a volcano that last exploded in 1991. The second largest eruption in the 20th century. It lost 300m off its top and blew ash 40km high. It coincided with a typhoon which created a lahar that massively changed the landscape. More than 350 people died during the eruption, most from collapsing roofs. Disease that broke out in evacuation camps and the continuing mud flows increased the death toll to 722. A further 200,000 were left homeless. Unperturbed locals have rebuilt.

You can pay to take a 4WD for a hour and walk to the crater which from pictures looks like a blue lake. The cost is very hefty though (it might be cheaper on a group tour). We were quoted NZ$130, so we did some reading up and people are giving it bad reviews for being overpriced and not interesting. One said the 4WD drive was the best bit. We decided to pass on going up and instead early the next morning Alfredo took us to the nearest village he could at the bottom and we had a walk round. In a military area there are checkpoints to go through and Alfredo had to hand over his ID card in return for a tag at one.

The village was pretty cool, we enjoyed walking round it and we found a good local market down a side street. Either because it is not always there or because it was nearly Christmas it was packed with people, they must have come from all around.

The journey back to Manila was pretty boring, it was mainly on the expressway and by 11:30am Alfredo had dropped us at our hotel. Not yet able to check in we dropped our bags and took the chance to visit the Museum of Filipino People that we had ran out of time to visit last time. The temperature was a bit cooler than last time and humidity didn’t feel too bad. We decided to walk the 2km there so it didn’t take us long to feel we were back in humidity and start sweating as we made our way down a typical busy Asian street where there is no such thing as a side walk.

The air con when we arrived was bliss. The Museum was quiet and free. Bags have to be checked in so we wandered round with the freedom of just carrying cameras and phones. It was pretty good. Our favourite exhibition was some burial caskets that had been found in a cave somewhere. The top of the casket was a cartoon like image of the person.

The Museum is on the corner of Rizal Park and opposite it in a building that is a mirror image is the Museum of Natural History. We’d googled it and it turned out it only opened this year and people were raving about it so we decided to go across and take a look. It was on the same set up as the first but a much more modern interior with an internal metal structure to resemble the tree of life. It was also heaving with people. It was interesting and the exhibits are on a par with any Western museum, but if you’ve visited other big Natural History Museums like in London, it’s collection is not that interesting. A humongous crocodile skeleton was pretty cool and the key exhibit of a Sperm Whale skeleton is still being installed in the entrance hallway but will be pretty cool when done. We learnt some things about the local animals, birds and floral and fauna too.

The evening was spent having a massive re-pack as we were heading onto our island leg of the trip the next morning and our plan for the first island (Bohol) was to pick up a motorbike. Knowing we can’t get both the big rucksacks on the bike too we were rationalising down to one for a couple of days.

Dinner of course was BBQ, we agree with the Aussie guy that recommended it – the best street BBQ in Manila – had to be done.

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