Taal Volcano, The Philippines
Did you know that there’s a special list of the most hazardous volcanoes in the world? There are just 16 of them on this list – from all around the world – and they have the nickname of ‘Decade Volcanoes’. (The name sounds quite cool but it only came about because this project was started during the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction.)
So from Russia to Mexico, Spain to Japan, these potentially deadly volcanoes are given special attention because of the danger they pose to humans. They were chosen because of their history of destructive eruptions and their proximity to large populations.
One of these volcanoes is called the Taal Volcano and it’s in the Philippines. Oh, and I’m climbing up it at the moment.
The Taal Volcano is often described as ‘an island within a lake within an island within a lake’ because of its rather interesting geological formation. The larger of the lakes is in the Taal Caldera, which was formed by ancient eruptions. The mountain rising out of the middle of it is the active volcano. Water has collected inside its crater to form a new lake and there’s a small island popping up above the water surface.
This makes the journey a little different to the way you might normally approach a volcano (if there is such a thing as ‘normal’ in these situations). It’s certainly nothing like the time I climbed Villarrica volcano in Chile!
The first step is to take a boat across the large lake for about 20 minutes, landing on a sandy beach at the foot of the mountain. From here, the options are to either trek up the steep slope or ride a horse. I opt for walking – partly because I quite enjoy this kind of trekking and partly because I feel sorry for the horses and am unsure of how well they’re treated.
Although I don’t question the ethics of my decision, there are a few times I do curse myself. The climb up Taal Volcano is long and takes at least an hour. The sun is rising higher and sweat pours from my body. There is no shade and the horses kick up dust as they race by in both directions. I feel my skin burning and my leg muscles doing the same.
Halfway up there is a spot to have a break at a stall where a young boy chops open coconuts and sells them under the watchful eye of his father. Enterprising. And just what’s needed ahead of even more uphill.
Eventually, the climb to the top comes to an end. I feel like I’ve been sunburnt and I’m desperate for a bottle of water. Thankfully there are quite a few shops here with all sorts of food and drink. This is a natural site – a potentially deadly one bubbling away with lethality – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to buy a cold beer, apparently.
Whether the visitors here choose to trek up like me or ride on the back of a horse, the main attraction is not the journey but the destination. Standing at the rim of the volcano, looking around the 360 degree panorama, the views catch you in every direction. Whether it’s back out over the lake I’ve just come, across to the other mountains and green landscapes in the far distances, or down into the centre of the Taal Volcano itself.
It doesn’t look too intimidating, I have to admit. There’s no fierce bubbling or gushes of toxic-smelling gas. No lava spews forth and the ground doesn’t rumble. At one end of the viewing platforms, a Filipino man is charging tourists to hit golf balls out into the centre. With the warm sun, the beautiful views and the gathering of visitors, it’s actually quite peaceful.
Perhaps that’s the most frightening thing of all. Something that appears so serene hides an enormous danger. This is nature at its geological, uncontrollable, scariest. A quiet blue lake is actually the entrance to a fiery inferno in the bowels of the earth. And it’s right beneath me.
As a Decade Volcano, researchers are keeping an eye on Taal and I’m not worried there’ll be a sudden eruption – but who really knows when next it will explode and bring destruction with it. It could be coming sooner than any of us realise. Time to climb down and cross the lake to safety again.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Expedia UK but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.