Lake Ashino-ko (Hakone, Japan)

Lake Ashino-ko

We just finished our late lunch at Izumi Restaurant at Gotemba and we all had to rush back to our bus for the 30-min. drive to the Hakone area of Kanagawa Prefecture if we were to catch the last 4:30 PM ferry tour of Lake Ashinoko (芦ノ湖). It was still rainy when we left the restaurant. The lake is located on the Tōkaidō road, the main link between Kyoto and Tokyo. The bus made it just in time to Togendai-ko Harbor, the sightseeing boat pier at the lake’s northern shores.

Togendai-ko Harbor

The scenic Lake Ashinoko, also referred to as Hakone Lake or Lake Ashi, is a crater lake 720 m. above sea level that lies along the southwest wall of the caldera of Mount Hakone, a complex volcano that last erupted in 1170 CE at Owakudani. The name Ashinoko means “lake of reeds” in Japanese – ashi (芦) means “reed” while ko (湖  means “lake.”


The lake, situated some 723 m. above sea level, is the largest lake in Kanagawa prefecture.  With an area of 7 sq. kms., it extends 7 kms. from north to south and has a circumference of 19 kms. It is known for its views of Mt. Fuji, its numerous hot springs, historical sites and ryokan (inns).

Vasa docked acrossed from Victory at Togendai-ko Harbor

Royal II docked at Hakonemachi-ko Harbor

At Togendai-ko Harbor, we all boarded the Victory  (modelled after the 18th century British warship, the HMS Victory) one of three ships inspired by the design of sailing warships (the other two are Royal II, a replica of the 18th century French warship, the Royal Louis, and Vasa, a replica of the 17th century Swedish warship) of Hakone Sightseeing Boats, one of two companies (the other is Izuhakone Sightseeing Boats), that operate pleasure boats that traverse and cruise the gorgeous lake between four ports (Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi and Togendai and Kojiri) at the lake’s northern end.

The passenger cabin of the Victory

It stopped raining when we left the pier but the skies were still overcast. The boat cruise from one end of the lake to the other takes roughly 30 minutes. The lake, with Mount Fuji in the background, is the symbol of Hakone. However, as with our tour of Mt. Fuji, clouds and poor visibility block our view of the mountain. Visibility tends to be better during the colder seasons of the year than in summer, and in the early morning and late afternoon hours.

Still, the view and cool breeze from the wide open-air decks, with plenty of comfortable viewing spots, was still scenic, with small towns in the east and north and a couple of lakeside resort hotels lining the shoreline framed by the nearby mountain range that includes the famous Mt. Fuji. Legend has it that Lake Ashinoko was home to a nine-headed dragon which is presented with an offering of traditional red rice at the Hakone Shrine Lake Ashi Festival on July 31 every year.

Hakonemachi-ko Harbor

Our tour ended at Hakonemachi-ko Port, at the lake’s southern shore, where our bus waited for us.  On our way back to Tokyo, our bus made a short stopover at Odawara Shinkansen Station where a number of passengers took the super fast shinkansen bullet train back to Tokyo.

The author with Kyle at Hakonemachi-ko Harbor. In the background is the Victory and Royal II

Outside the west exit of the station is a bronze equestrian statue of Hojo Soun (1432-1519), first head of the Later Hojo clan, one of the great powers of the Sengoku period.   It shows him with flaming torches tied to his oxen and fooling his opponents that his troops were three times more than what he actually had.

Odawara Station

Back on our bus, we continued on our long haul drive back to Tokyo. Once in Tokyo, we made a number of stopovers at a number of hotels to drop off passengers before being dropped off at the Akasaka Excel Hotel.

The equestrian statue of Hojo Soun

Lake AshinokoHakoneHakone-machi, Ashigarashimo-gun 250-0521, Kanagawa Prefecture.

How to Get There:  Frequent buses connect Odawara, via Hakone-Yumoto, with Moto-Hakone and Hakone-machi. The trip from Odawara takes about 50 mins. From Hakone-Yumoto, it takes about 35 mins. The Hakone Free Pass is valid on Hakone Tozan buses (bus line H) but not on Izuhakone buses (bus line Z).

There is also a frequently served Hakone Tozan Bus line from Odawara via Hakone-Yumoto to Togendai  (bus line T). The trip also takes about 50 mins. and is also covered by the Hakone Free Pass. From Hakone-Yumoto it takes about 35 minutes.

A slow and scenic way of approaching Lake Ashinoko, from Odawara or Hakone-Yumoto, is taking the Hakone Tozan Railway to Gora, followed by a cable car and ropeway ride to Togendai. From Togendai, you can continue to Moto-Hakone or Hakone-machi by sightseeing boat . The whole journey is covered by the Hakone Free Pass.

Lake Kayangan (Coron, Palawan)


Lake Kayangan

Lake Kayangan

After a late lunch and check in at Asia Grand View Hotel, we all boarded our van for the first of two hotel-sponsored activities – an excursion to Lake Kayangan, one of seven enchanting lakes located in the center of Coron Island.  Kayangan is a Tagbanua word meaning “entrance.”  Lake Kayangan is the more popular of two lakes (the other is Barracuda Lake or Luluyuwan Lake) open and accessible to visitors.

Coron Port

Coron Port

L-R - Angelo, the author, Pete, Lindy and Mike (photo: Mike Potenciano)

L-R – Angelo, the author, Pete, Lindy and Mike (photo: Mike Potenciano)

However, before they were opened to the public, a meticulous ritual was performed by the indigenous Tagbanuas to transfer the spirits that are believed to inhabit the place, from Lake Kayangan and Barracuda Lake, to Lake Cabugao. Tagbanuas do not allow visits to the other lakes because they are panyaan (sacred sites) plus they do not want the swiftlet’s (balinsasayaw) nests to be disturbed.

Magnificent limestone karst formations seen along the way

Magnificent limestone karst formations seen along the way

Boat Landing Area

Boat Landing Area

After a short 5-min. drive,we arrived at Coron Port, beside the Coron Public Market, where we boarded a big outrigger boat that would take us to the lagoon.  The boat ride took us 30 mins.

Stairway entrance

Stairway entrance

The climb begins.....

The climb begins…..

Upon arrival at the boat landing area,   we made a short (10-15  min.) but steep and somewhat challenging climb up an uneven, 150-step  paved stairway up a hill to a small cave which is used by Tagbanuas as a shelter during storms.

The cave

The small cave

Cave stalactites

Cave stalactites

Here, we had a breathtaking view of the iconic, awe-inspiring and truly beautiful cove entrance, probably the most photographed site in Coron.  Justifiably, the view from the top is something to look forward to and we took our time taking photographs. From here, it is another 174 steps down to the lake.

The postcard pretty view

The postcard pretty view

Lake Kayangan is a volcanic mountain lake, with crystal-clear, turquoise, brackish and cold, 5-10 m. deep waters hidden among steep and jagged but spectacular and beautiful limestone cliffs.  It is served by a hot spring and has a halocline, a division between the much colder freshwater (70%) and the denser salt water (30%) below, at 14 m..   The lake is a Presidential Hall of Fame Awardee as the cleanest and greenest inland body of water for three consecutive years (1997-1999).

The wooden boardwalk

The wooden boardwalk

Upon arrival at the lake, we stashed our things at a little wooden walkway and platform, donned our mask and snorkel and went for a swim.  Diving is not allowed as the rocks underwater are sharp. Underwater, it was like a moonscape.  I felt like it’s out of this world.  With my snorkel, I saw schools of small (2-3 inches), odd-looking needle nose fish and shrimp swimming about the awesome rock formations.

The crystal clear waters of the lake

The crystal clear waters of the lake

The water does not seem to have any current or waves at all. I am not a qualified free diver with cave experience, but I joined Mike, Libby, Angelo and Ay Lyn as we entered a nice little swim through cave.  Diving is allowed in Barracuda Lake, said to be the home of a solitary, giant barracuda.  The lake is a short 5-10-min. hike along a tricky limestone path to the top.

Inside the swim through cave (photo: Mike Potenciano)

Inside the swim through cave (photo: Mike Potenciano)

The lake water’s varying blues and greens, with the limestone cliffs as backdrop, is just gorgeous. Describing Kayangan Lake as just enchanted is probably an understatement as it is, perhaps, the crown jewel among the best that Coron has to offer. A trip to Coron would not be complete without a visit to Kayangan Lake. Never miss the opportunity to kayak or board a bamboo raft to get to the middle of it. A PhP200 entrance fee, for maintenance, is collected by a Tagbanua guide. Visiting time is 8 AM to 4 PM.

The author

The author

How to Get to Coron: Skyjet Airlines has 4 times weekly (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, 10:30 AM) flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Coron (Francisco Reyes Airport).  Travel time is 30 mins.   

Asia Grand View Hotel: Governor’s Ave., Jolo, Brgy. 5, Coron, Palawan.  Tel:(+632) 788-3385. Mobile number: (0999) 881-7848. E-mail: Manila sales office: Unit 504, Richmonde Plaza, 21 San Miguel Ave., Ortigas Center, Pasig City.  Tel: (+632) 695-3078 and 531-8380.  Mobile number: (0917) 550-7373 to 75 Fax: (+632) 695-3078.  E-mail: Website: 

Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333. E-mail: Website:

Sumlang Lake (Camalig, Albay)

After our visit to the Natural Carpet Industries Factory, Brgy. Sumlang Chairman Felipe Noe M. Mapa, Jr. invited us to visit scenic and tourist-friendly Sumlang Lake, Camalig’s newest tourist attraction. To get there, Euden, Lito, Star, Oliver, Ida, Babes, and I rode on an SUV while Nestor, Rommel, George and Alex road on a red pickup as we negotiated the short distance, along a narrow dirt road, to get to the lake.

Sumlang Lake with the partly cloud-shrouded Mt. Mayon in the background

Sumlang Lake with the partly cloud-shrouded Mt. Mayon in the background

Upon arrival, we all sat on bamboo benches under shady coconut trees overlooking the lake, partaking of a merienda of  pinangat sandwiches, langka (jackfruit) and fresh buco.  While dining, we all enjoyed the majestic view of the partly cloud-shrouded perfect cone of Mt. Mayon and observed children flying their kites along the lakeshore.

Boarding our nicely furnished bamboo rafts

Boarding our nicely furnished bamboo rafts

Later, Felipe invited us to go cruising on the lake on board bamboo rafts. Accompanied by boatmen using long poles to move the raft, Mr. Jockey Serrano (of the Albay Provincial Tourism Cultural Affairs Office), Boyet, Ida, Babes, Lito and I boarded the bigger raft while Rommel rode solo on the smaller raft, seated on a woven wicker canopy chair.  The others decided to stay behind.

The smaller bamboo raft with Rommel on board

The smaller bamboo raft with Rommel on board

Crusing the lake on a bamboo raft (photo: Rommel Natanauan)

Cruising the lake on a bamboo raft (photo: Rommel Natanauan)

The raft ride on the placid lake was an experience by itself. On the raft, Jockey, Babes, Lito and I were comfortably seated on rattan armchairs and sofas with soft, white cushions and woven wicker canopies to partly shield us from the heat of the sun. Ida and Boyet tried out the day bed with rattan roofed canopy. A driftwood center table completed the rustic furnishings which are all products of Bicolano creativity and ingenuity.

The pensive Ida enjoying the rustic scenery

The pensive Ida enjoying the rustic scenery

Thus comfortably seated, we enjoyed the rural scenery of coconut, banana and fruit tree plantations; rice fields; water lilies; swimming ducks; grazing cows and occasional, roosting cattle egrets; all with postcard-pretty Mayon Volcano as a backdrop.  The lake is also an ideal spot for fishing as carp, tilapia and dalag (mudfish) abound. 

Lotus flowers

Lotus flowers

Sumlang Lake: Brgy. Sumlag, Camalig, 4502, Albay

Mayor’s Office: Municipal Hall, Poblacion, Camalig, 4502, Albay. Tel.: (052) 484-1965.

Municipal Tourism, Culture and Arts Office: Camalig Tourism  and Pasalubong Center, Brgy. 2, Camalig, Albay.  Mobile number: (0927) 621-3315.  E-mail:

Provincial Tourism and Cultural Affairs Office (PTCAO): Albay Tourism Bldg., Albay Astrodome Complex, Capt. F. Aquende Drive, 4500 Legaspi City, Albay.  Tel: (052) 481-0250 and (052) 742-0242. E-mail: and

Eco-Friendly Kayaking at Lake Bulusan (Sorsogon)

From Bayugin Falls, we continued on our way until we finally reached Lake Bulusan, in Brgy. San Roque, Bulusan, by mid afternoon. At this time, the broad daylight provided a mystical shadow effect of the greenery to the emerald green water. This small, round crater lake, known as the “Switzerland of the Orient” (minus the pine trees, alpine forests or ice caps) due to its lovely, spectacular scenery, is located at an elevation of 635 m. on the southeast flank of Mt. Bulusan volcano.

Tranquil Lake Bulusan

The Department of Tourism has declared Bulusan as a Tourist Zone due to the fact that it has the biggest share of Bulusan Volcano National Park (BVNP) in terms of land area, 43% or 1,580.20 out of 3,673.30 hectares.  Six of the town’s barangays are located within the national park and all are ingress and egress points to this protected area.  The lake, currently manged by volunteers of AGAP-Bulusan, is surrounded by lush, awesome and breathtaking forests containing endemic species of plants such as Forestia philippensis, Pinanga insignis and the newly discovered Schefflina bulusanicum and Pronephrium bulusanicum; jade vine (Stronglylodon macrobothrys); ground orchids (Phojus tankervillea); tall, centuries-old tindalo (Afzeliarrhomboidea) trees and mountain agoho (Casuarina rumphiana).

The newly-acquired aqua cycles
A carefully designed concrete pathway rims the lake, affording the visitor a pleasant, serene and leisurely nature walk.  However, Bernard and I weren’t here for the walk.  We were here to do some kayaking, a refreshing, non-polluting outdoor activity in the lake.  Aside from tandem kayaks (rented for PhP100 for 30 mins.), canoes and rowboats, there are also 6 colorful aqua cycles (or water trikes) just recently turned over, early this year, by the provincial government to the municipality.
Bernard and I kayaking Lake Bulusan

Bernard and I donned life jackets and were each assigned our paddle and tandem kayak.  Once on our kayaks, we started paddling along the lake’s 2,006 m. long perimeter, admiring the lake’s calm, emerald green waters and the park’s impressive and lush old growth forest of dipterocarp trees and endemic species of plants.  Overhead, a soaring eagle kept us company.  Truly a postcard-pretty sight.  It was already dusk when we returned to shore and, after a merienda of maruya, brewed coffee and soft drinks at the BVNP Visitor’s Center, said goodbye to our gracious hosts, returned to our vehicle and continued on our way to Sorsogon City.

The BVNP Visitor’s Center

AGAP-Bulusan, Inc.: Bulusan Social Development Center (BSDC) Bldg., 262 Sesbreno St., Brgy. Dapdap, Sorsogon City, Sorsogon.  Mobile numbers: (0918) 457-8767 and (0908) 896-8826 (Mr. Philip Bartilet).  Email:

Paoay Lake National Park (Ilocos Norte)

Cattle and boats for hire line the lake shore

After our brief sojourn in Batac City, we next proceeded to the Malacanang Ti Amianan (Malacanang of the North) in Paoay.  Along the way, we made a brief stopover at the view deck of Paoay Lake National Park.  This 470-hectare, horseshoe-shaped lake, the largest in the province, was declared as a National Park on June 21, 1969 by virtue of Republic Act No. 5631.  Once known as Naguyudan, it is known to the locals as Dakkel a Danum and is a popular picnic site. The lake is artificially seeded with various species of colorful fish and is 10 m. deep, yet the surface is below sea level.  Its fresh water comes from a subterranean source.

Lakbay Norte 2 at Lake Paoay National Park

According to a charming but Sodom and Gomorrah-like legend, it is said that a once-prosperous town, San Juan de Sahagun, once stood where the lake is now.  The materialism of the town and the indolence of its people incurred God’s wrath, so he sent an earthquake and flood waters that swallowed up the town and formed the lake.   Town elders will tell you that the original townsfolk, in gaudy fiesta finery, can still be seen as colorful, transformed fishes swimming around with earrings and bracelets.  Geological studies indicate that the lake was formed by a massive earthquake that caused the ground to sink and be filled with water from underground springs.  

A barge used to cross the lake

The lake is ideal for bird watching   Common residents here include the endemic Philippine Duck (Anas luzonica), the White-Collared Kingfisher (Halcyon chloris), the White-Throated Kingfisher (Halcyon smymensis), the Brahminy Kite, cattle egret and little egret. Migratory birds that linger for a while here include the Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), the Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), great egret and the osprey. Cottages (PhP50) can be rented at the viewing deck.

Paoay Lake is located north of Paoay town, 3 kms. off the main highway and 3 kms. from the sea.

Pinatubo: Scratch This from my Bucket List (Zambales)

Our 4 x 4s  traversing dry lahar fields and small streams

Mt. Pinatubo was prominent in my Bucket List of places to visit and I readily joined the 5-day, North Philippines Visitors Bureau (NPVB) and Manila North Tollways Corp. (MNTC)-sponsored Lakbay Norte 2 Tour as it figured prominently in the itinerary.  We were now in the third day of the tour and we left Microtel Inn & Suites Luisita  (Tarlac) very early in the morning, eating our packed breakfast on our special Victory Liner bus along the way.  By 7 AM, we arrived at our jump-off point for the trek to Mt. Pinatubo’s 2.5-km. wide Crater Lake – P.D.C. (Pull Travel Destination Corp.)  Spa Town in Brgy. Sta. Juliana in Capas in Tarlac.

The Trek Begins….

Normally, trekking via the Capas Trail (the easiest route to Mt. Pinatubo), passing by lahar deserts, would have taken us a grueling 6-8 hours on foot. However, five 4 x 4, 5-pax (including our driver) all-terrain vehicles, a mix of short wheelbase land cruisers and homemade jeeps, were made available for our use.  These were to negotiate some of the watery and rocky paths across Crow Valley, unreachable by other kinds of vehicles.  The drive through the valley, though at times bumpy, was exhilarating, with spectacular views of the Cabusilan Mountain Range.   After an hour, we arrived at the base of the mountain, the jump-off point of our trek.  From here, it was to be all 2-3 hours (dependent on our fitness and ability and the size of our group) of footwork, through the valley and up a mountain path, to the Crater Lake. Normally, a very hot trek, especially during the summer months (when the light gray volcanic ash reflect the rays of the sun), we were fortunate this day as it obviously rained the day before and it was quite windy.  Just the same I applied sun block lotion and wore a cap, shorts, sturdy rubber  sandals, plus my a comfortable light blue and white MNTC-supplied T-shirt.  

A surreal but serene landscape

The trek, though very tiring, was truly exhilarating as we traversed sometimes fairly flat and dry lahar riverbeds and oftentimes rocky ground and crossed numerous small creeks and rivers by jumping from boulder to boulder or, in my case, I just getting my feet wet under the cold water (truly a different kind of experience).  After a short, final hurdle up paved steps, we reached our destination – viewpoint for observing the magnificent crater and it turquoise-colored lake created during the 1991 Pinatubo eruption.  The viewpoint was developed to cater to us tourists.

Boating at the Crater Lake

After a few minutes of rest and quietly admiring the beautiful scenery set before us, most of us went down the paved steps down to the lake where a number of us rode boats, in two trips, and were rowed to the other side of the lake by an Aeta boatman.  The others, including me, contented themselves with dipping our feet in the cool lake waters while two others (Karlo de Leon and Melissa Dizon) took to swimming its deep water. Upon the arrival of the second boat load, we all made our way back up to the rest area, bade farewell to this magnificent creation of nature’s fury and made our way back to our respective vehicles.  The return hike was easier and done in half the time it took to get there as it was mostly downhill. The uphill climb to our vehicle’s parking area was the most strenuous.  As soon as everyone was accounted for, we all returned to our assigned 4 x 4s, too tired to even take pictures, and made our way back to P.D.C. Spa Town.

Mindoro Trail: San Jose (Mindoro Occidental) to Calapan City (Mindoro Oriental)

The dreaded Day 3 soon dawned upon us, the long (210 kms.) haul, with Charlie again at the wheel, from San Jose down south the previously mentioned horrendous stretch, then up north to the Mindoro Oriental border and on to Calapan City, the provincial capitol and the island’s only city.  We hoped to make it in time to meet with city officials.  After a short, early morning visit to San Jose’s Caminawit Port and 6 kms. of concrete road out of the town, the road soon returned to gravel up to Magsaysay town.

Bulalacao Bay

This was heaven to what awaited us: a “short” 35-km. uphill/downhill stretch along one of the worst “roads” I have ever seen, still tossing about, even in a car with good suspensions.  We never encountered any car, only motorbikes and an occasional bus.  The bad road condition was tempered by beautiful mountain scenery untouched by “progress” (brought about by good roads).  Upon entering Bulalacao, the road soon hugged the coast opening, before us, a panoramic, offshore scenery of beautiful islands along Bulalacao Bay.   Upon reaching a gas station, we had our dusty car washed, thinking that the road ahead would be better.  How wrong we were!  Although the worst was behind us, it was still gravel all the way to Mansalay and Roxas, again coating our newly-washed car with dust.  

Danggay Port

We arrived at Roxas town’s Danggay Port by noon, taking our lunch at a small eatery, part of the time watching people and cars unloading from  a slow ferry at the RORO pier, the gateway to the white sand beaches of Boracay Island (a 5 to 6-hr. boat ride away), the country’s No. 1 tourist destination.  The road from hereon to Calapan City was paved, partly concrete and mostly new and ancient asphalt (with occasional potholes).  It was still a long, nearly 100-km. drive to the city but, from now on, it was all smooth sailing.   Still, we were in a rush.   

Lake Naujan

However, old habits die hard and the tourist in us egged us to veer into a narrow dirt road, hoping to get a better view of the 79-sq. km. freshwater Lake Naujan, the largest (covering the towns of Naujan, Pola and Victoria) in the province and fifth largest in the country.  Ideal for birdwatching (it supports a large number of ducks and other waterfowl), the lake’s rich fauna also includes the country’s two crocodile species: the highly endangered Mindoro freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis) and the estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus).  However, no matter how far we went, no good vantage point was in sight so I decided to leave the car, go by foot up a hill and there, get a good shot. 

Calapan City Hall

We finally reached Calapan City by 4 PM and got to meet with city officials at their stunningly new, white-painted and 2-storey high City Hall, built in the Neo-Classical style of architecture.  Calapan has changed much since my last visit and the city is now booming, with new hotels sprouting up.  One such, the Calapan Bay Hotel, where we stayed overnight, is worthy of note.  Aside from its 12 beautiful airconditioned rooms with bath and cable TV (standard and superior), its appeal lies in its porch-like, multi-cuisine coffee shop (Café Angela) facing the sea.  Here, one savors not only the good food but also the all-embracing whiff of the cool sea breeze.  Too bad it was just an overnight stay.  I would have enjoyed a longer stay.  Just the same, we still had to proceed to Puerto Galera, our final destination and debarkation point back to Manila.

Taal Volcano: Hike to the Crater Lake (Talisay, Batangas)

Mt. Binintiang Malaki

This Holy Week, I availed of a standing invitation from Ms. Lily Rodrigo-Canlas, president and C.E.O. of Jesu-Mariae School, my son’s school, to stay at the Jesu-Mariae Center in Tagaytay City.  This retreat/seminar center could comfortably accommodate 80 people in dorm-style facilities.  With this center as a jump-off point, I planned to revisit Taal Volcano via the Kayabok Trail on the other side of Volcano Island.  Joining me were my son Jandy and daughter Cheska who’s been egging me to include her in my escapades.  Joining us were 5 of Jandy’s teachers: Mr. Robert Castaneda, Ms. Veneriza “Vener” Trillo, Ms. Theresa “Thet” Quieta, Mr. Joel Fatlaunag and Mr. Erwin Vizcarra.  All, except Robert, are jittery first-timers at the volcano.     

Picnic Grove with Taal Volcano behind us

We left Manila on the morning of March 27 and arrived at the center in time for preparation of a delicious barbecue lunch.  After customary visits to the city’s Picnic Grove (where we went horseback riding) and People’s Park in the Sky (now in a sorry state of disrepair), we returned to the center for a delicious supper and retired early as we had to leave very early in the morning for the volcano trek. 

Cheska horseback riding with Thet

The next day, Holy Thursday, we all awoke by 5 AM, had breakfast, pack our provisions of bottled water, sandwiches and bananas (good trail food) and left the center by 6:30 AM.  From Tagaytay City, we went down to Talisay (Batangas) via the treacherous concrete zigzag road called Ligaya Drive, down to Brgy. Caloocan.  As soon as we arrived at the boat landing station, we were swamped by boatmen hoping for an early kill, this day being a holiday.   Soon, they were trying to pluck our feathers by charging us a cutthroat rate of PhP3,200 just for the trip (with 6 passengers only).  It was soon watered down and we settled at the still horrendous price of PhP2,400 to bring all 8 of us to our destination.

On our way, by boat, to Volcano Island

We left the station by 7 AM on board a big motorized banca.   The trip was smooth all the way as the waters were calm. As we went around the island, the 311-m. high (the island’s highest point) Mt. Binintiang Malaki (translated as “giant leg”), soon hove into view.   This northwest cone, seemingly featured on most Taal Volcano postcards like an island (actually connected to the real Volcano Island), emerged overnight during the 1707 eruption but is now dormant. A dismal sight during the voyage was the presence of numerous fishpens which our boat had to negotiate to get to the other side.

Nearing the homestretch

We landed on the island’s western shore at Brgy. Kayabok by 7:30 AM.  All throughout the trip, the boatman kept egging me to get a guide (at extra cost of course) but we have decided even before the trip to do without one as the Kayabok Trail was definitely well-trodden.  We also refused a lady islander’s rather steep offer to guide us for PhP500.  Anyway, we had all the time in the world even if it meant getting lost in a small island.   Our seemingly concerned boatmen seem to have other things in their minds.  I wonder why.

The Crater Lake seen from a distance

We began the trek on a happy note, following the well-trodden trail up a hill. The sun soon rose brightly on the sky and we began to feel the effects of the intense heat from the morning sun.   As we soon reached the top of the hill, the trail began to fork, leaving us in a dilemma.  All the while, we somehow had a feeling that we were being followed and, soon enough, our boatmen were hollering for us to come back.  We ignored them.  Later, we encountered our huffing and puffing boatmen along the trail.  We were told that we took the wrong turn and they, in all kindness, offered to guide us in the right direction.  Or were they?    It soon dawned upon me that these boatmen were concerned, not with the guide fee (which I consistently refused), but with the fact that they may lose their first big meal ticket (or buena mano) of the day among the winding trails.  We could just as easily have taken our boat ride back to Talisay from the other coastal villages.  With this in mind, they never left us out of their sights after that.

Finally, at the Crater Lake

Vegetation on the island is sparse, consisting mostly of short grass, tall, nettled spear grass (cogon) and thorny brambles.  The treeless trail we trekked was all loose volcanic ash and the ground underfoot was also hot as volcanic rock retains heat both from the sun and the hot magma trapped deep within its bowels.  This, coupled with the sweltering heat of the sun, soon made our tongues hang out.  Our party was soon divided into two as our neophyte mountaineers Vener and Thet began to lag behind.  Cheska, however, proved to be tough and resilient as she kept up with the guys. 

The island within the Crater Lake

We took solace under the small shade of occasional thorny aroma trees (most of the large trees have been blown away by previous eruptions) where we quenched our parched throats and munched bananas as we waited for the stragglers to arrive.  Along the trail we passed by one of Taal’s 47 craters.  This seemingly dormant crater had a flat, cogon-covered bottom.  We also encountered makeshift refreshment stalls selling canned softdrinks (PhP30) and bottled water (PhP20).  After a tiring uphill hike, the shimmering blue-green waters of the crater lake made its appearance like a mirage on the horizon.  It was all downhill after that and, soon enough, we reached the crater lake’s rim.  It was 9 AM and the hike took all of one and a half hours.    It could have been longer.  Our socks and shoes were soon off as we couldn’t wait to dip our tired feet in those inviting waters.  However, the lake’s waters deepen just a few feet from the shore. About 30 m.  offshore is the small, crescent-shaped island.  The lake’s waters are actually dilute sulfuric acid with salts and other minerals such as sodium, boron, magnesium and aluminum added in.   Acidity in the water, measured in pH (the lower the pH, the higher the acidity), is a “whopping” 2.7 (neutral pH is 7.0) with about 3% sulfur.   Sulfurous waters have medicinal qualities and it did wonders for my mosquito-bitten legs.  Our boatmen also took home 1.5-liter bottles filled with this salty and bitter water.  Also as a result of the sulfur deposits, the stones at the lakeshore are coated yellow.

L-R, Vener, the author, Jandy, Thet, Robert, Erwin and Joel

After lolling about the waters, taking our lunch of sandwiches and photo shoots for posterity, we left the lake and retraced our way back to our boat and left the island by 11:30 AM.  Any notions of being in Tagaytay for an early lunch were dashed when our boat engine conked out (obviously out of gas) just a kilometer off the shore of Brgy. Caloocan.   We had to wait for half a hour for a relief boat to ignominiously tow us back to shore.  After paying our boatmen (they had the gall to ask for a “tip”), it was back to our car for the uphill drive back to Tagaytay and a well-deserved lunch.  Back at the Jesu-Mariae Center, we collapsed, dead-tired, on our beds. 

Lake Danao Natural Park (Ormoc City, Leyte)

From Kananga, we again boarded the AUV for the 2,193-hectare Lake Danao Natural Park.  Declared as such on June 2, 1972, this outstanding trekking area is part of the 40-km. Leyte Mountain Trail which starts from the 365-hectare Mahagnao National Park (established in 1937), between Burauen and La Paz, to Lake Danao and Tongonan National Park.  The trek offers a rain forest tour, beautiful Lakes Mahagnao, Malagsum, Kasudsuran and Danao, the spectacular Guinaniban Falls and breathtaking views of the mountains, forest, plains and the islands of Samar and Leyte from the crest of the central Amandiwing Mountain Range with its near-virginal tropical rainforest.

Lake Danao

Located 25 kms. from Tacloban City and 15 kms. (a 30-min. drive) northeast of Ormoc City, the violin-shaped, 148-hectare Lake Danao, formerly called Lake Imelda, is situated at an elevation of 1,600 ft. above sea level and is hemmed in by the cloud-capped Amandiwing mountain range.  Considered to be one of the most beautiful and cleanest lakes in the country, it is 3 kms. long, 200 m. deep and has a cool and invigorating climate.  We parked our vehicle near the Ranger Station and went up the nearby wooden viewing tower for a beautiful view of the lake.

We were greeted by Mr. Antonio Elias, station utility man, who offered to row me and Jandy in his small banca to the middle of the lake.  Upon our return, we paid a visit to the lone ranger (any similarity to a fictional character is purely coincidental) assigned to the station, Mr. Quinciano C. Abiertas, Jr., who gave us additional information about the lake.

Me and Jandy at the viewing tower

The lake is home to giant and native tilapia, shrimp (awang), mudfish (bul-a), shellfish (kaykay and taab) and is also said to be the habitat for giant eels  (igat or kasili).  The 2,045-hectare surrounding cloud-capped mountains has a dense secondary rain forest and a mossy forest on top.  It is planted with narraagoholauannato and gmelina trees plus wild ferns, pitcher plants and wild orchids.  It is also home to much wildlife including monkeys, wild pigs (baboy damo), monitor lizards (bayawak), deer and iguanas (ibid).  Birds include wild chicken, hornbill, kingfisher, hanging parakeet, parrots, serpent eagle, kite eagle and wild ducks.  The park is ideal for swimming (near the river’s mouth), picnicking, hiking and horseback riding.  Hunting is prohibited but can hardly be enforced due to Mr. Abiertas’ lack of personnel. Kaingin (slash and burn) farming is also a problem.  The lake can be reached by jeepneys from Ormoc City’s jetty.

The Lakes of San Pablo City (Laguna)

San Pablo is also known as the “City of the Seven Lakes” and number one on my list of places too see is these lakes.   Within the city limits are 7 (actually 8 including a very small one) crater lakes of extinct volcanoes, all with scenic charm and worth seeing.  Total aggregate area is 210 hectares.  Leaving our car at the cathedral grounds, Jandy and I walked towards the City Hall where, as told to us by residents, the 105-hectare Sampaloc Lake could be found. It is the largest, nearest and most accessible of all the lakes.  The other lakes have an aggregate area of 34 hectares.

Sampaloc Lake

We viewed the circular Sampaloc Lake from the massive stone balustrade off the street above the lake.  It is also best viewed from the stone benches and picnic tables of the small Dona Leonila Park located adjacent to the City Hall and accessed by an 89-step concrete stairway (built 1912 to 1916).

According to legend, there once lived a well-to-do but childless couple with a large orchard of tamarind (sampaloc) trees which bore the sweetest fruits in all the land.  Proud and selfish, they fenced in the orchard and placed a big watchdog to guard it.  God was not pleased with the selfish couple.

He sent a fairy disguised as an old and hungry woman beggar to beg for some of their fruit.  They refused to give her any and instead let the watchdog loose to bite the woman.  Before turning away from the inhospitable spot, the old beggar touched the tree with her wrinkled, skinny hands and told the couple “You shall be punished for your selfishness.”

After she left, a terrible storm broke out with heavy rain falling throughout the night.  The following morning, a vast expanse of water covered what used to be the couple’s orchard.  Through the transparent waters, the dark mass of the tamarind trees still rooted to the sunken ground, could be seen.  From that day onwards, it was called Sampaloc Lake.

The lake is 1 km. across and 27 m. deep and has a fairly large river flowing through it.  A 4-km. cemented peripheral road (Dagatan Blvd.) encircles the lake which also serves as a walking path.  Around the lake are floating fishpens and cages (bangus and tilapia), water hyacinths (a special variety used for sandal weaving) and several lakeside restaurants (serving Filipino and Chinese cuisine) standing on piles along the shore.  The massive silhouette of Mt. San Cristobal forms a beautiful background on the east.

Lake Calibato

After exploring Sampaloc Lake, we retraced our way back to the cathedral and our car.  Driving south along Narcarlan Road, we parked within the entrance of Villa Reyes in Brgy. Sto. Angel (within is Kalibato Lake Resort).  From there, we made a 500-m. walk along a dirt track to the edge of Calibato Lake. It also has fishpens and has a fine view of Mt. San Cristobal and Mt. Banahaw.

According to legend, hundreds of year ago the place was once a beautiful valley with many kinds of verdant trees beneath which are numerous stone-covered paths called Cali-Cali.  It was inhabited by simple, peaceful and hardworking people who gathered firewood, picked fruits and hunted wild animals in the nearby mountains using the Cali-Cali.

The time came when no more wild animals were left.  Diwata, the goddess of the mountain, was deeply concerned.  She disguised herself as an old woman, going from place to place and observing how the people lived.  To her dismay, she found out that the people were living luxuriously beyond their means.

To punish them she sent a big storm into the valley, creating a fearsome flood that poured from the mountain and submerging everything in its path – trees, people, houses and the Cali-Cali.  Diwata followed this up with a strong earthquake.  The next day, people from the other side of the mountain saw a lake where the valley used to be. They named the lake Calibato after Cali-Cali and bato, the stones that covered the path.

With our limited time, we were not able to visit the other lakes (Malabunot Lake, Mohicap Lake, Palakpakin Lake,Pandin Lake and Yambo Lake) as we had to return to Manila.  Visiting the lakes involve varying amounts of hiking and some tourists may need the local guides to get there.  Just the same they are all worth visiting.