Down the Primordial Taal Volcano
By Apolinario Villalobos
The wanderlust in us, members of the PAL Mountaineering Club, brought us together during the last week of January, 1980 for a trek down Taal, the “volcano island”, the country’s second most active volcano, the last eruption of which was in November 1977. It has a record 33 historical eruptions to date, with total casualties of 5,000 to 6,000, since 1572. The dormant Binintiang Malaki is the prominent cinder cone that can be seen from the view ridges of Tagaytay City. The Binintiang Munti crater is located on the westernmost tip of the island. The most recent period of activity of the volcano took place between 1965 and 1977, with the area of activity mainly felt in the vicinity of Mt. Tabaro.
Geographically, Taal Volcano and its lake are located in the province of Batangas. Its northern half is within the jurisdiction of Talisay, the southern half within San Nicolas. Other towns that encompass the lake, include Tanauan, Talisay, Laurel, Agoncillo, Sta. Teresita, Alitagtag, Cuenca, Lipa, Balete and Mataas na Kahoy. The lake of the volcano is the “largest lake on an island in a lake on an island” in the world, and this lake also contains an island, the Vulcan point.
That early morning of our departure for Tagaytay, everybody was excited, as although, most were seasoned mountain climbers, it would be their first time to go down to this low-lying volcano. At eight sharp, the driver of the “baby bus” that we hired in Baclaran, turned on the engine and we were on our way. We took the Zapote road, instead of the superhighway (now, SLEX) and this option gave us the opportunity to have a glimpse at the saltbeds of Paraῆaque, the old houses along Las Piῆas and the church where the Bamboo Organ was kept.
As there was not much traffic, in a little more than two hours of travel, we already felt the cold air caressing our face, indication that we are within the vicinity of the resort capital of southern Luzon. Sights of fruit stands along the highway confirmed our arrival in Tagaytay city. There was a last-minute shopping of provisions such as extra rolls of film, food and drinks.
We took a dusty road down the range on which our bus seemed to groan as it made swerves down and up, following the zigzag. After almost forty minutes of tortuous bus ride down the road, we reached Sampaloc, a barrio of Talisay where we were supposed to take off for the island volcano. But since there was no available big boat that could accommodate the whole group, it was decided that we proceed to the Talisay, the town to look for one. However, five of us in the group decided to stay behind and take the small boat that would take us ahead of the rest to the island – a wrong decision. The five of us thought that our destination was the prominent big crater, the Binintiang Malaki, because for us, that was already Taal volcano. The rest of the group which anchored their own decision on the suggestion of their boatman, decided to go to the new crater at the westernmost tip of the island. Clearly, there was no unanimous decision as to which docking areas that should be targeted, and the problem was not patched up because there was yet no cellphone that time.
The five of us proceeded to the beach of Binintiang Malaki and waited for the rest, thinking that they made the same decision. A quarter of an hour was spent waiting for them, until we decided to proceed with our trek towards the dead crater. The Binintiang Malaki was quite a challenge to us, despite its low elevation, because of the thick growth of cogon and talahib grasses. In half an hour, we were able to reach the crater and after some time of dilly dallying for photo opportunities, we practically slid our way down back to the beach.
While we were preparing our lunch, we worried about the bigger group that could have “lost” their way. Later, when we met again at Talisay, we found out that while we were worrying for them, they were having a grand time in traversing the island towards the new craters. According to Ceres Noble, they had a grand time trudging on gullies of hardened lava, cogonal land and a small desert of sulfuric sand.
The boatman that we contracted would be fetching us the following day, yet, so that our group spent the night at Binintiang Malaki. We had a bright evening on the beach as the moon was at its fullest. Under its gaze, we retired for the night lulled by the waves of the lake. But in the dead of the night, I could hear yet the old woman in Sampaloc, who told me many things about Taal when it erupted in 1911.
“Everybody panicked and there was a scramble for the boats, but a child was mysteriously saved by an overturned big kettle. That was how Matandang Bulkan (Binintiang Malaki) was formed,” she said. As years passed, the villagers along the shores of Talisay would constantly hear the island rumble. Many time, too, the islanders were evacuated due to minor eruptions.
The lake teems with freshwater fish such as tawilis, siliw, maliputo, ayungin, dangat, dulong, and carp. Anglers from Manila and nearby towns frequent the lake for leisurely fishing.
When our group finally met the splintered group that we thought got lost, there was an endless exchange of adventures. Of course, those that went traversing got the most, because our group just spent an idyllic time on the beach of Kabintian.
Tagaytay today has developed into some kind of a mountain resort with resthouses mushrooming on its mountain slopes facing the lake. Add to this the exotic restaurants and greenhouses that where flowers and vegetables from other countries are nurtured. It is also the site of prominent seminar venues and retreat houses, not to mention the park which offers horseback riding.
It is possible to commute to Tagaytay from Manila by taking buses from Baclaran with travel along coastal road, taking only about two hours (without much traffic). Another option is by taking a bus from Alabang. For groups, however, it is advised that a transport be contracted. Most importantly, one should fill his purse with plenty of money for the fresh fruits, vegetables, and bottled jams and jellies, for which Tagaytay is proud.