In the great South China Sea there lies an island called Luzon, and on that island is an enormous volcanic crater, ages ago turned into a lake. In the middle of that lake is an island, which contains Taal, the remaining active volcano of the otherwise extinct crater. In the middle of Mt. Taal is another volcanic crater, also filled with water (and sulphuric acid). And in the middle of that lake is another island. Like a set of nesting dolls, Mt. Taal is a geographical oddity, and has become a popular tourist destination in the past ten years. Since we’re staying on the edge of the larger crater, overlooking the still-smoldering island, we couldn’t pass up a chance to see this volcano for ourselves.
Everyone piled into the car and we coasted down the surprisingly well-paved road to the water’s edge, 13km away. Fred has a great idea of offering a downhill bike service, letting people enjoy the winding road down the side of the crater, letting gravity do the work for them. We got to the bottom and set about arranging a boat for ourselves. Despite the volcano being established as a tourist destination for some years now, the whole industry is very decentralized, and it’s just a group of private boatmen and guides. To walk to the edge of the inner volcano overlooking the lake, a 1,500 peso boat ride and the 500 peso guide is necessary. The path is ridiculously simple, right up a gentle slope to the edge of the crater, but a guide is required, apparently because of the “danger” of walking on an active volcano. Not that our guide could have done anything if there were an eruption, and she seemed as indifferent to walking a group of tourists up a hill as we were to have a useless escort.
One of the other odd developments on this island was the option of riding up the trail on horseback, which has more or less decimated the first half of the trail. A carnival of unwashed horses wait near the start of the trail, and horsemen will literally follow you up the mountain, assuring you that you’ll get tired and want a ride. This obnoxiousness will last the entire hike if you don’t nip it in the bud. Fred told them in no uncertain terms he’d never accept a horse from them, and they finally backed off. I began to preemptively offer horses to them. They clearly didn’t know how to react, so they left me alone as well. As I said, the horses have all but destroyed the first part of the trail, eroding it into a deep trench filled with the stench of manure. I was wondering what the big deal was about this crappy hike, when the trail finally lifted itself out of the trench and it became rather nice. The hike was only about 40 minutes long, and the second half gave lovely vistas of the crater and the surrounding landscape. The brevity of the hike made the horseback riding seem even more ludicrous, but business was swift as large groups of Koreans slowly trotted past us on sad looking mares. I found the whole affair rather disgusting, and wished we’d opted for a longer, less popular hike from the backside of the island.
Before we knew it we were standing on the edge of the volcano, overlooking a bubbling lake rimmed with a rainbow of sulfuric crust. The lake was indeed a beautiful sight, and it would have been cool to go all the way down to the water’s edge, but end of the trail was high up a sheer cliff, making a safe descent unlikely. I wandered around the small collection of shops, sipping on fresh coconut juice and making friends with the local cat population. The return trip seemed to take even less time, and before we knew it we were rolling back up the hill to our oasis in the volcano.