Our trip to see the Taal volcano was great fun, exhausting and a great lesson in local horse trading also. The hotel arranged for us to hire a driver with a large van (a very nice van), a tour guide at Taal, lunch and a boat trip to the volcano – which sits in a lake. The price worked out to a little less than $100 USD each – and was a bargain. Or so we thought.
The drive out of Manila was great. The day was beautiful, we drove up into the beautiful resort town of Tagaytay, “Probably the Most Pleasant City in Asia” where the road is lined with permanent souvenir stalls. You can buy pineapple, coconuts, machetes, brooms and any number of handmade items too large to ship home. This goes on for miles and miles.
When we reached the main part of the village about 2 hours after we left Manila, we started our descent down a winding, narrow switchback-laden road down to the lake surrounding the volcano… The drive is quite stunning visually, and for those of us who didn’t grown up in the mountains, a little unsettling. The road is narrow, there are rock/earth slides to dodge, jitneys to dodge and people bathing in the waterfalls coming off the mountain to avoid. Once at the bottom, our driver found the house that held our boat launch and our cabana for our lunch later in the day.
As we ordered a selection of local foods that would be ready when we returned, we doused ourselves with sunscreen, loaded our valuables into waterproof bags and got into the outriggers for the trip across the lake. The boats were seaworthy, but held together with lots of plastic zip ties – but we got across the lake in 20 minutes or so.
When we got out on the beach – where people were bathing and BRUSHING THEIR TEETH in the lake – we were asked how many horses we needed for the hike to the top of the volcano. Only 750 pesos up and down. Being the typical healthy and fit (if doughy) computer nerd type, we all sneered and said ‘none’. The first stop was a cabana where we were told we needed to pay our local guide. Wait, what? Included in the price? No…… so we each threw in 100 pesos and our guide takes us off hiking upward with about $17 more in his pocket than before.
Here’s where it gets clever. It’s hot. It’s steep – we’re walking on ash. About 200 yards up sit 3 or four men with horses to rent for only 500 pesos ($11) – up and back – good horses, good guides, cheap – you ride. Three of us (including me) saw this as a great option – 4 kept going on foot. We climbed aboard the small horses (not typical American work horses) and up we went. The saddles weren’t American western trail saddles – not even a little bit – you couldn’t get ‘up’ in the stirrups when the horse trotted either. So except for having a horn to hang onto, we’re basically riding these critters bareback up a rocky slope. I think I probably feel better today than the men do, but it still smarts.
While we’re walking up, my guide tells me this is a company horse – he only get 50 pesos for running up and down the mountain and he has 2 babies to feed and he has no formula for the babies and FOR PETE’S SAKE HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT?!!!! Ok, 500 pesos per baby. We’re good. (Don’t tell- Sshh! – company horse – not supposed to take tip – secret okay?) The other riders of course reported the same story from their guides. I offer him a bottle of cool water – he declined.
When we do get to the top and get off the horses, we are met by a crew of women who are pulling iced Mountain Dew bottles from coolers and waving them at us. Don’t we want to buy our wonderful guides a cold drink? Look at them? They’re hot – they’re tired, they’re very good guides – they need a cold drink. Oh for crying out loud, how much? 100 pesos each. Fine – have a soda.
The walking crew followed shortly behind. I am impressed because they are alive. It’s steep, its hot. We’re all drenched in sweat and it was hard to tell whether the smells were from the volcano or from us. They had the guide with them. After we rested, I asked the guide to tell me about the volcano… He shrugged and pointed at it. What’s the elevation? (shrug) When did it last erupt? 1987 (all other material says 1977) – Where were you? Evacuation center. What did you do to earn the guide money? (I didn’t ask that last one, but should have).
Oscar found the extended trail out to the edge of the volcano while the guide rested and several of us went out there. We were offered the opportunity to hit a golf ball into the volcano for $100 pesos – no takers….. there were t-shirts and other souvenirs to be had. My fellow travelers helped me collect rocks to take down and after a bit it was time to go back down, across the lake and find lunch. The trip down by horse was about the same as the trip up, but when we reached the pickup point and dismounted, we were urged to tip. THE HORSES. They’re good horses. Strong horses – tip? No, Susan – tip for Angel, your horse? No tip? OH FFS! Give the horse the money and buy a padded saddle.
Now we’re back on the beach and I hear one of the local people walking with our bus driver behind us mention the word “cincuenta” and I told the gang that we were about to be charged 50 pesos for something. For the GANGPLANK to get onto the boat without getting our feet wet – which we used to get OFF the boat. And for the pushback from the beach. Fine – who has a 50?
We arrived back at the cabana for lunch and all of us were too overheated and tired to eat much. The highlight of the meal was that we ordered one noodle dish without meat because one of the crew has an allergy to chicken. We’re looking around at the dishes and the noodles clearly have chicken (or some bird) in them, so we call our host over and ask about the dish with no meat. He points to the noodle dish and says ‘no meat, just chicken’. Awesome! We now know to order food with no meat AND no chicken.
The drive up the winding road was less impressive due to fatigue, and the drive down from Tagaytay to Manila took hours due to people returning to Manila from their mountain getaways. We were exhausted when we got back, but as long as we focus on the spectacular sights and sounds from the top of the volcano, we’ll remember a great time. If we recall the entire adventure, we will remember an adventure.