My eyes were glued to the aqua emerald stillness of the lake. Feathery white clouds sailed through the clear blue sky, softening the rays of the sun touching my cheeks. On a beautiful morning atop the crater of the world’s smallest active volcano, I was sitting on a rust-colored cliff, adoring the magnificence of such a tiny yet powerful wonder.
It was my first time to embark on a journey in Luzon alone. My college friends could not even believe that I was being serious about going to Taal Volcano all by myself. They thought I was joking. I wish I was too. The concept of a volcano erupting in any minute scared the heck out of me. Moreso the strangers that I will be meeting along the way made me very anxious.
But being there on its mouth, surrounded by the gases coming out of its fissures, reminded me that anything can be accomplished despite the presence of fear.
“He’s still not here.” I garbled with my teeth clenched.
Holding on to my bag of hard boiled eggs, my palms were sweating profusely as I patiently waited for a man in a brown tee to fetch me from the corner of the street. It was 15 minutes after 7 o’clock and the sun already lit up the city of Tagaytay, Cavite.
Little children passing by, wrapped with colorful thick sweaters, were on their way to school that morning. An eatery along Ligaya Drive filled the atmosphere with the aromatic smell of freshly prepared coffee. Tricycle drivers across were finishing off wiping their vehicles clean. As for me, I was nervously tapping my foot, constantly checking my phone for any new messages from someone whom I never even met.
Slowly, a man from afar walked towards me. He was looking down with both of his hands forming a tight grip on his phone. “Kuya Angelo? (Sir Angelo?)” I called him out with uncertainty. He immediately picked up his pace, wore an ear to ear smile, and introduced himself to me.
When we both shook hands and got to know each other briefly, I forwarded his contact number to my relatives to update them that I was on my way down to Talisay, Batangas.
He offered me a seat behind his motorcycle, gently patting on the padded leather and calling me over. As I looked down on the very steep descent, I respectfully declined his invitation and hired a tricycle just to be safe. (Although I would have saved a lot if I just hopped on with him.)
“Kuya, sundin lang po natin yung naka brown. (Sir, let us just follow the guy in brown.)” I said to the driver who was busy adjusting the side mirror. “Yes ma’am.” he quickly responded.
We carefully drove down to a series of squiggly road curves. The sun was beaming on the blue waters across me, and on the west, the indigo silhouette of the volcano can be seen from the distance. “I’m so near!” I whispered to myself.
“Kuya, saglit lang po ha. Mag-pipicture lang po ako dito. (Sir, please wait a moment. I’ll take a picture here.)” I told the driver.
Eighteen short minutes have passed after swirling through the snake-like road, we finally arrived at the boat dock. Kuya Angelo directed me to the registration area prior to sailing. Papers were signed, payments were given, and some guides were assigned to me. My boat was being prepared whilst intently listening to the tales of the locals sitting under the shade of the tree.
I hopped on board when suddenly a small-framed, middle-aged woman approached.
“Mag-isa ka lang ba talaga? (Are you really going alone?)” she asked.
“Opo. (Yes.)” I replied with a smirk on my face.
“Taga doon po ako sa Taal. Yung pamilya ko naghihintay sa akin doon. (I live in Taal. My family is waiting for me there.)”
“Gusto mo bang sumama sa akin papunta doon? Maluwag naman. (Do you want to join me? It’s spacious.)”
She firmly gripped my hand, quickly nodded, and went straight to the far end of the boat, holding on to her belongings. I followed through and positioned myself next to her. When Dong, the boatman, started the engine, I waved goodbye to Kuya Angelo and the rest of the people on the shore.
I was giggling with the woman beside me. She was teasing me of finding the man of my dreams on the crater of Taal Volcano. How I wish that was even possible – fate and love? Nah. Well that really made my day. Who needs a joke from a stranger reminding you that you’re single anyway? (I do!)
We were already halfway through the Taal Lake; Dong tossed us a sheet of plastic cover (the one used in covering books). I had no clue as to what its purpose was so I laid it in front of me. “It’s probably for his kids’ school project.” I said.
The waves picked up its pace, bobbing us up and down the water. Tiny splashes reached us. It was nothing unexpected. But when that large blob of wave began to hurry itself towards us, I instantly grabbed the plastic cover sheet, gave one end to the woman, and braced ourselves for a gigantic splash.
“Oh dear!” I shouted.
They all laughed, mouths opened so wide, eyes shut, and a resounding “hahahaha” filled the cold atmosphere. I got the feeling that I looked like a clown to all of them – not knowing what to do or reacting differently to a simple situation. I must admit it was a bit funny (considering my facial expression). You should have seen my face out there.
“Yung plastic po ma’am para yan sa iyo. (The plastic was intended for you, ma’am.)” Well, now I know. I smiled back at them. They continued laughing.
After that fun-filled 45-minute boat ride, I finally laid my feet on the black sand of the base of the volcano island. Local fisher folks stared at me (probably because my pants were wet and I am still wearing a thick black jacket). The woman wished me luck on my journey and thanked me for the ride. She went to her house and her children were running like crazy to greet her arrival. It was touching.
Yes it’s still cold there. The temperature in Tagaytay was near 14 degrees Celsius that day and even in Taal lake, it’s around 15-16 degrees. I’m fairly new to the “cold wind blow” and I would love to warm myself with my jacket.
Dong called me over to the information kiosk and endorsed me to the people in charge. I ran as fast as I could. (I am really that excited)
“Horse? Yes please!” I told the lady. (I was jumping with joy followed by multiple squeals of happiness.)
I spent 5 minutes getting to know Christine. She’s a gorgeous young horse and I could not help but pet her several times. She even has matching white bangs which I think looks cute. “You will look like a unicorn when I add a horn on your head.” I told her. She nickered back.
“Ilang minuto ba papunta ng crater? (How many minutes will it take us to go to the crater?)” I asked Kimberly.
It would take us 15-20 minutes to the mountainous rim of the volcano. I sat on Christine and away we went to the dusty trail towards the crater lake. The view was breathtaking that I said “Wow” more than 10 times that moment. Kimberly remained quiet when I engaged a conversation with her. She might be shy. But I could detect a smile from her.
The trail was very steep. Christine was fond of passing through the edge of the cliff which gave me a series of mini-heart attacks on our way up. I caught Kimberly laughing at me when I said “Shiiiit Christine!” She then pulled the horse away from the corner of the dusty road (a very dangerous fall if something would go wrong.)
To calm my nerves, I began singing Miley Cyrus’ song…
“I hopped off the plane at L.A.X. With a dream and my cardigan. Welcome to the land of fame excess (whoa), Am I gonna fit in?Jumped in the cab, here I am for the first time. Look to my right and I see the Hollywood sign. This is all so crazy, everybody seems so famous… Yeah, yeah, yeah… it’s a party in the USA!”
I continued singing until we arrived at the top. Bebot (Sorry I forgot his name. It’s difficult to pronounce so let’s stick with Bebot for now), my 19-year-old guide, accompanied me to the mouth of the volcano. Yes, we were the only ones there. It was really early. Locals were still setting up their stalls at the side of the crater. (Yeah, we’re definitely early!)
I kept bugging him that I wanted to go down and touch the crater lake with my own two hands. He apologized that he could not bring me there because of a provision that specifically stated that people could not go down because it’s very risky. I had no choice but to respect that. Instead, Bebot took me to the other side of the crater which requires a few minutes of trekking.
After exhausting myself of the curves and slightly confusing trail to the other end, it all paid off when I saw the enchanting colors of the crater lake. There, I was seated on a cliff with a clear postcard perfect view of the “island in a lake in an island in a lake.” (as what most people would describe it). Alas!
This journey taught me a valuable lesson of trust. Despite being told never to talk to strangers, I think it is very essential to engage with them especially if you’re all alone and you need help. I have learned to trust people (not necessarily the whole 100% of it) and to open myself up to them. In this way, they will be able to get to know you and find it in their hearts to assist you in any way that they can. I am looking forward to another exciting trip alone – to find myself, and to interact with the locals around me.
* * *
For more information, you could contact my “stranger-turned-friend,” Kuya Angelo at 09197280514.
Regarding fees, here’s a breakdown: Tricycle ride (round trip back to Ligaya Drive) costs Php400. You may want to go in groups to save a lot. Boat fee is Php1500 (for 6 people) Again it’s best to go in groups to divide the cost. Guide Fee is Php500. Entrance Fee is Php50. Horse Ride is optional and it costs Php450 (round trip). Exit Fee is Php50.
Other things to consider: It’s best to give out tips Php20 – Php50 will do especially if you are riding the horse. Also, there are people there lugging DSLRs and bugs you that they want to take your picture. You may smile at the camera but expect them to sell you that printed photo on a frame which costs Php350. (I discovered that you have the option of purchasing only the photo which runs around Php100 – Php200 if you’re lucky.) If you don’t want it just leave it there for “many people” to see. Kidding. Aside from that, do bring your own water. The water there (at the top) costs Php50 and it’s a tiny bottle.