The biggest volcanic eruption in living memory, the 2nd largest terrestrial blow-up of the 20th century spewing up millions of tons of ash 35 kms into the atmosphere (more than any eruption since that of Krakatoa in 1883) and plummeting world temperature by 0.5 degree Centigrade, thats Mount Pinatubo, the revered mountain of the Philippines.
Whats left now of this 1,486 meter big bang volcano which blew up in June 1991 is a 2.5 km diameter gem-like turquoise lake of 85 km depth surrounded by high uneven cliffs. Its destructive power and brutal beauty is a tourism attraction. And for 4x4 enthusiasts, what better way to visit this revered mountain than to drive 22 kms off-road through Crow Valley aka moonscape route.
Forty Land Rovers from Defenders, Range Rovers, Discoverys to an Evoque did that on 23 February during the Land Rover Festival (LRF) 2013 organized by the Land Rover Club of the Philippines (LRCP), supported by LR Phils Inc and RFC. This out of this world experience is in support of Tourism Depts Its More Fun in the Philippines campaign. The journey took the travelers from Capas, Tarlac province all the way off-road until the last km of navigable flat land, after which, they had to trek on foot up to the caldera lake.
A day earlier, with incessant rain hammering down from the heavens, dark stormy clouds looming menacingly above, the journey was still a touch and go stage, depending on how the weather would turn for the next 24 hours. Thus, it was a wet affair as the participants from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand flying in by Air Asia Philippines descended on Clark Field, Subic Bay followed by the transfer to San Fernando City, to the residence of Romero.
The wet stormy afternoon continued into the night. The rains did not abate throughout the opening night, which had to be shifted indoors. They were informed by the authorities that for safety, the permission to ascend Mt Pinatubo would not be granted under such prevailing weather conditions. The same directive was applied for low flying aircraft; such was the ferocity of the wind and rain.
Even though the welcoming night was warm and bright, there was an air of apprehension of how the weather would turn on D-Day. The start of the drive would include a photo shooting session with the Hot Air Balloons event, which also was in doubt of taking off if the rains persist. It was a long wait and see night.
However, the next morning, as dawn approached, Lady Luck smiled, Mother Nature was kind, the rains ceased even though dark clouds still loomed up above. The word given by the authorities was a Go.
With that, the synchronization plan for the photo shoot of the Landies with the hot air balloons were put into action (wake-up call 4am, breakfast 4.30am, departure from Romeros residence at 5am and rendezvous at the designated site at 5.45am). It was a perfectly executed photo-shoot at dawn with the Land Rovers all lined up in a row as the hot air balloons ascended into the sky.
From Subic Bay, the convoy headed along the MacArthur Highway towards the historic town of Capas (about 100 kms from Manila). This is the best known gateway to Mt Pinatubo, even though its accessible from two other provinces (Zambales and Pampanga).
After passing through the military checkpoint, it was rock and roll time driving across this undulating moonscape valley encrusted with lahar, a concrete-like sludge of pyroclastic deposits. Water has crafted the thick lahar into lofty cliffs and small plateaus in many places. The whole trail is not permanent as water (typhoons//rainy season) flowing from the ODonnell River, which runs the length of the valley, always change and mould the terrain.
Along the way roaming cattle and water buffalos (carabaos) crossed and re-crossed each other on the parched river bed while different makes and models of Land Rovers supplied by LR Phils Inc, the local distributor and members from LRCP rocked, rattled and rolled along the volcanic plain, gullies and crisscrossed the ODonnell River numerous times. There are also two lakes here, the San Marcos and Tambo, created by the volcanic eruption years ago.
During the rainy season, especially around July and August, the river and lakes can swell with little warning. But for now, that was far from the thoughts of everyone in the convoy. The two-hour winding, twisting and turning across the vast corridors, plateaus and tight mountain tracks was the ultimate 4x4 drive. The trail gets tougher the nearer it gets to the crater. The last km to the caldera lake was on foot only, worth every step for the breathtaking view of this majestic mountain that shook the world twenty two years ago.