Week 3 (March 20th-26th) Taal Volcano and Beach Front Trip


March 20th: Chill day kayaking and camping on a beach…No big deal.
Here I am, March 20th at the Yacht club in the town of Tagaytay, about 2 hours outside of Manila. We are spending the weekend camping on the edge of the lake that borders Taal volcano. We will be ascending this small mount tomorrow. As we are here camping, I am so glad I insisted on bringing our camping gear to the Philippines. The yacht club being on lake front promises to offer a cool night breeze. The existence of a snack bar means that between the food we packed, the grill and coals offered by the boat club and view of the lake and volcano, we will be content belly, eyes and mind. Also our lungs are happier; a welcome change from Manila.
We left the city and the apartment in Pasig early in the morning (we were out the door by 8am). We got to the Yacht club without too many hang-ups. In the Philippines, it seems, each bus company has a different terminal. This is most significant for Manila, a transport hub, where there are dozens of bus terminals and you sort of have to gamble on which of the bus companies will best get you to where you want to go. Mainly, this time around, the bus we meant to take from one company’s terminal, was cancelled due to traffic. As such, we had to kind of ask around and improvise. We ended up deciding to make our way to an other terminal, rather than wait a few hours for the next bus at the terminal where we already were. It all worked out in the end.
It took us about two hours to get out of the city and to Santo Thomas, where we took a “tricycle” (really a motorcycle with a fancy sidecar attached to it) to our final destination. I’ll try and post pictures of the tricycles eventually. We set up our tent and quickly settled in. Then, we rented a kayak and explored the lake for an hour or so. It was our conclusion that one could probably kayak to the volcano very easily. The issue might lie in storing the kayak while completing the hike. In order words, we contemplated the possibility of kayaking to the volcano tomorrow. In the end though, we opted to take a chartered Catamaran, for convenience’s sake etc. The lake is gorgeous, surrounded by mountains and hilly islands dispersed amongst the waves. The volcano itself pretty much looks like all the other hilly land masses in the water. Most interestingly, the active volcano, we are told is housed within an older extinct volcano crater filled with water. Essentially, we, at the Yacht club, are camping on the lip of the large extinct crater which houses a lake, in the middle of which is an active volcano, which incidentally is filled with water and a tiny tine island in the middle; a lake within a volcano within a lake, within a volcano. Nature really amazes me sometimes.
It was beautiful to be on the lake and surrounded by the islands and traditional (though now motorized) Catamarans. Fred and I attempted to go and visit the Volcanology museum and measurement site… But everyone there seemed to be napping! We were told to knock hard on the gate, but no luck.  Tagaytay is a small village though pretty crowded, stuck somewhere amongst the lush green hills with old, mostly well kept colonial houses, beautifully lined with flowers of all shapes and sizes. Seriously, I have never seen so many houses in a row with well kept flowers, all in bloom. The colors were a fest for the eyes.
We came back to our camping site, right in front of the lake with a beautiful view, had a beer and made supper on a charcoal grill. This is the life!
March 22nd; Trigger warning, we were in a car accident, we are fine, someone else isn’t
 The camping trip ended up being incredible. On Sunday we climbed the 2.5 km to the top of the lip of Taal volcano. The hike, though short, was incredibly arduous. This is making me question the intensity of my training for the CDT hike so far. In case you have not read my “About/The Plan” blog entry: I am planning a major climb next year, hiking the Continental Divide Trail. Essentially, the uphill climb in the hot mid-day sun had my heart pulsing in my temples and my body sweating like a pig, while our guide Jason seemed to be enjoying a pleasant walk (he didn’t event have water with him!). An added difficulty was the sand being lifted into the air by horse hooves racing by us, having us swallowing the sand with every gulp of air. I also ended up figuring out that the heat was intensified by the water steam seeping out of rock cracks, triggered by the low grade volcanic activity of Taal. No wonder I felt like the heat was getting to me in the most intense of ways.
I just hope to keep up my training and to increase it slowly to ensure that next year I am ready to complete the CDT. Needless to say, the catamaran ride back to the camp site was most refreshing, the speed of the boat doubling the effect of the lake’s refreshing wind.  Getting back to the yacht club, we had the best beer ever (mostly due to our heat exhaustion, it felt so fresh and so delicious) and extremely tasty burger and fries. This all happened around 1pm (we hiked the volcano between 10:30 and 12:30). Given our level of sun exposure and tiredness, we decided to make it back to Manila on Sunday rather then Monday morning as we hard originally planned. So after a late lunch, we packed up and left.
We took a Jeepney (google that shit, they are so beautifully decorated!) to Tanana where we would be able to take the direct return bus, following the route we had originally planned on our our way to Tagaytay. On our way, however, the Jeepney we were ridding hit a motorcyclist, head on. It apears the breaks failed as the Jeep was passing a car driving more slowly in front of it. I never even got to find out wether the motorcyclist who was hit is still alive, but I would be surprised if they were. We had to get off the Jeepney and take a Tricycle the rest of the way (all the Jeepeneys that passed us were full to the brim). It was unsettling, Fred and I kind went on autopilot from there. I have been exercising a conscious effort of maintaining a distance from the event, just to manage it, really. I think being stuck in the middle of an unknown part of the country, away from all I know, I really just had to block it out; it was getting late and we didn’t really have time to process. I also felt in a bit eager to make it to the bus station before the sun set. I don’t love wondering around at night in an unknown area.
 We arrived in Manila, grabbed a taxi and went home to sleep. I decided to take Monday off just to cool off and catch up on yoga, running and sleep.
Then, I spent Tuesday and Wednesday getting ready for our next trip out to La Union Province for the Easter long weekend, which begins on the Thursday here.
Thursday March 24th
Last night we had planned on leaving for La Union province, in order to complete the 10 hour journey by night and thus avoid loosing a day. However, once we arrived at the bus station (at midnight), it was full, packed and I mean packed like I have never seen a bus terminal packed. We had been warned that Easter, or as it is called here, Holly Week, if an important holiday and most everyone travels home, resulting in serious traffic jams and high public transport demands.
After quite the kurfuffle over figuring out the system for getting on a bus, we figured out that you pay the fare in the bus itself, but that we needed to get a wait line number to know when we would be called up to embark on a bus. Here in the Manila, each bus company drives to a different region and each different company has a different bus terminal in the city. Any way, we got number 741 and 742 on green tickets….they were calling number 700 which we thought was a good sign. NOPE! That was 700 of the yellow tickets (which went up to 2000). After getting to the yellow ticket number 2000, the line would start again at 1 on the green tickets. Essentially….there were 2000 people before us! We waited an hour to see the rate at which the number were being called…about 100 per hour, meaning it would take well over 10 hours to get to our number at that rate. So, after much tired tense discussion, we decided to go home in order to get some shut eye before coming back to do more waiting in the morning. We hopped back into an uber and made it home around 3:45 am, to sleep four hours and leave the apartment by 8:30-9am. We did all that and got Starbucks coffee and baked goods for breakfast. Except to our greatest surprise, our number had been called already by the time we got to the bus station (probably about half an hour before our arrival). We panicked a bit, at least I did, really wanting to go travelling this weekend, holly week be damned. Anyway, we inquired with a guard and he said to go upstairs to the second floor of the building, take a seat and wait. It took a while, long enough for us to start seriously wondering what was going on, but then they called all the people who’s numbers had already been called and missed it. And so, within an hour of arriving, we were on a bus and slowly making our way to San Juan, La Union. The scenery has both been beautiful and peculiar, in that there have been endless fields  and shanty-ish town but also laden with beautiful if poorly unkept colonial style houses in the middle of squat-like settlements and big construction development project in the smack middle of nowhere with literally nothing else near bit large endless fields. It took us over 24 hours to get to San Juan.
Friday: March 25th
 Last night we arrived quite late at the other office in San Juan. We arrived cranky and ready to sleep, though all and all the trip was not unpleasant. The one scary bit was walking through a long alley way to get to the house where a loose dog started violently barking at us, and we got a little bit scared of what would happen. But Fred tucked in behind me (I has the one walking furthest from the dog), we kept walking assuredly and everything was fine.
On a different note, though maybe influenced by the trip and spending the day by the beach, I have been thinking about the rage I feel when I get impatient, how unproductive and exhausting it is. Also, this intense feeling gets expressed in violent ways, mostly towards those people whom I love best. For example my tone and wording change and I express irritation uneccessairly loudly. So, I want to meditate on that. The hyper focus and directional manner I develop in tense situations, is productive, but I don’t need the intense emotions to accompany any of those behaviours. By letting go of rage, I could utilize these tools most peacefully and with more compassion for those around me, and myself, ultimately. Maybe that’s something to work on this year, as I navigate travelling in packed and delayed buses.

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