Friday, March 20, 2015

Beautiful Disaster: MAFIA's One-Day Mt. Pinatubo Tour with TriPINAS

Mt. Pinatubo would not be called “a beautiful disaster” for nothing. In fact, the movie Crazy Beautiful You (featuring KathNiel love team), where I got this phrase, still was not able to give justice to the breathtaking splendor and the destructively stunning wonder that's Pinatubo.

MAFIA-natubo Adventure

I went to Mt. Pinatubo with my MAFIA (Mars and Friends In Action) friends. It was my first time to travel with them. Before that, I just used to see them on Facebook. MAFIA was formed by one of my good friends, Mars. Yeah, she’s the “Mars” in the name, and we are the “friends”.

I have known Mars, a dedicated public school teacher and writer, since 2010 when we attended the LIRA Poetry Clinic. Since then, she’s been one of my inspirations on how to live to the fullest: travel while you are young, travel while you can, pursue your passion, help other people, and be a gift to others.

More than just traveling, MAFIA goes to various places to do outreach programs. The group usually distributes books, bags, school supplies, and animal hats, among others, to far-flung areas. Storytelling to children often goes with this. The group loves mountain climbing. It even conducts one of its annual outreach programs on Mt. Timbak!

My first escapade with MAFIA last March 7, 2015 though was not for outreach, but for pleasure! Mars coordinated the tour of Mt. Pinatubo in Botolan, Zambales with TriPINAS, owned by the athletic Ms. Anne Pablo. We paid Php 2,100/pax, inclusive of bus ride from El Pueblo, Ortigas to Sta. Juliana, Tarlac, the base camp; 2-hr ride (approximately) on a 4x4 vehicle from the base camp to the point where we needed to start our trek; and a tour guide who could be a photographer!

Prior to the trip, Mars had never failed to remind us of the things we needed to bring: cap/hat, umbrella, dust mask, sunblock, at least 1.5 liters of water each, packed lunch, trail food, and pink shirt to be used for our International Women’s Month celebration photo-op. Meeting time: 3am. Meeting place: El Pueblo, Ortigas, inside McDo.

From El Pueblo to Sta. Juliana

I arrived at the meeting place on time – 3am, as Mars said. Several people who would also be joining the trip were waiting inside McDonald’s. Khu, another LIRA co-fellow and a member of MAFIA, was already there when I arrived. Mars arrived after a while and she introduced me to her cousins – Ghed and Jay – and another friend, and co-mountaineer, RA.

MAFIA (L-R): Mars, me, Khu, RA, Jay, Ghed

Ms. Anne discussing our itinerary and reminding us of the tour guidelines

Prior to boarding the bus that would take us to Tarlac, we paid the balance of Php 1,100/pax to Ms. Anne. (A deposit of Php 1,000 is needed to confirm your attendance). For groups of 10, dedicated vans were provided. For those groups who were less than 10, or those who are travelling alone, 2 buses were available. We boarded the bus at 3:50am and then started our trip.

We signed a waiver a few minutes after our bus left El Pueblo. Inside the bus, a video documentary about the explosion of Pinatubo was shown. I was only able to catch the beginning of the video because I was still sleepy – and so were other people! I slept and woke up when we had our stop-over in Tarlac to have our restroom break. The morning sun greeted us while on the road. We reached Sta. Juliana, Tarlac at around 7am.

Sta. Juliana to Mt. Pinatubo crater

From the bus at the base camp, we transferred to 4x4 vehicles, which traversed the rough and bumpy trails towards the point where to start the trek.  Two options for the trek were given – the 1.5 hours walk using the old way, or the 45-minute walk. MAFIA chose neither! We maximized our 4x4 vehicle ride (or until 1 km from the crater lake)! It was fortunate that our 4x4 vehicle was a closed one. However, there were no seatbelts.

Our 4x4 vehicle

Along the way, we chatted with our tour guide who enthusiastically told stories about the recent filming of KathNiel film, Crazy Beautiful You, in the area.

We learned that the tour might be stopped for a time due to the Balikatan Military Exercises scheduled in April. Pinatubo crater was not the only view to look forward to in this trip! The Toblerone lava formation and the sand that mimicked those of the Middle East’s were picturesque scenes, too!

Group shot with the Toblerone lava formation as our background

We came across Aeta kids and had our photos taken with them. We gave them candies and chocolates and they were very happy to receive those! According to our tour guide, they were dwelling in the woods along the slope of the mountains. When asked how these kids study, he said they needed to walk several kilometers everyday just to go their school!

Teacher Mars enjoys her time with the Aeta kids!

At the point where trekking to the crater began, we had our photos taken. More photos were taken as we moved along! Fortunately, our tour guide was a willing photographer! We enjoyed walking under the shades of green, hopping from one rock to another, and dipping our feet into the cold, shallow waters! The heat of the sun didn’t hurt! It’s like a kiss – a warm kiss that you would like to feel it on your skin over and over again!

The 20-minutes-to-the-crater-lake marker (approx. 1km from the crater lake)

I never imagined traversing along this path towards the crater lake!

Mt. Pinatubo crater – a picture-perfect scenery

In about 20 minutes, we were greeted by the magnificent view of the crater. Wow! Magnificent was an understatement, indeed! 

Mt. Pinatubo Crater Lake: A Beautiful Disaster

We took our chance to have our photos taken with the awe-inspiring view of the crater as our backdrop. With Mars direction, we had our solo shots, group shots (cousins shots, fellows shots, MAFIA shots, mountaineering shots), jump shots, endorsement shots (White Flower and CBTL), graduation shot (for Jay) and advocacy shots (for International Women’s Day).

Group shot: The 3MARs (fellows shot) - MARk, MARicor, MARs

Group shot: Cousins shot - Ghed, Jay, and Mars

Jump shot! (see the photobomber, now in apple green attire!)

Endorsement Shot: Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf

Endorsement Shot: White Flower (Ghed was holding the bottle)

Advocacy Shot: Happy International Women's Day!

(Tip from Mars: Bring various sets of costumes for photoshoot! Take advantage of the view!)

Swimming was not allowed due to acidic nature and hot temperature of the water. Although some tourists still opted to dip into the water – pasaway!

We had our lunch there.  We shared our packed lunches – adobo, tapa, bread, pichi-pichi. And of course, the cake! Ms. Anne, talked to us and shared stories about how she’s able to come up with TriPINAS.

We brought a cake! This was Jay's graduation cake (he graduated last year).

Return to Manila

We returned to our 4x4 vehicles at 12noon, and traveled back to base camp. We reached the base camp around 2pm. We received our certificates from Ms. Anne and freshened up. We left at 2:50 and reached El Pueblo at 5pm, earlier than expected.

Certificate of Conquest received!

MAFIA ended the day with an early dinner at SM Megamall Food Court.

MAFIA's MerienDinner at Megamall Food Court (Mars was the one taking the photo, and the food to my right was her goto).

(Upon learning the situation of Aeta kids, MAFIA decided to go back to Zambales for its next outreach programs.)


TRIPinas also arranges tours in other destiantions: Taal Volcano – Pagsanjan – Mt. Pulag – Banaue-Sagada – Corregidor – Anawangin – Ilocos. For more information, visit or dial 0917-9037672.