2016 was jam-packed with all sorts of new adventures. Yet, many stories were still untold. The last one, however, was yet the most unique and, fairly enough, the most extravagant among all my other travels. What started out as a simple journey to the mountains of Tagaytay became an extension of what more we could expect. With Taal volcano just below, our trip has turned out to be an adventure where we saw the Volcano up close and personal. An astonishing sight that proves all triumph in our endeavors.
DAY 1 – Traditional Tagaytay
We – me and my travel buddy – pinned down September 16, 2016, as the 1st date of a travel with a very simple itinerary: to eat bulalo and enjoy the sights from the top of Tagaytay.
For the fair price of more or less ₱200, we took a bus from EDSA, Cubao going southbound to Tagaytay. We had quite a fuss trying to look for the right bus. Luckily, we found an empty bus to cool down from the dust and the heat of the sun. At least, in a couple more hours, I’ll relieve my sempiternal lust for nature and clean air.
And a few hours was right! 2 and a half hours felt long. At least, we’re already away from rest of the world below. It’s not the greatest mountain in the country but I’m a sucker for gorgeous mountains. We were brought down at a bus stop in the middle of Tagaytay, despite the refreshing air and the shroud of trees, we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere! I had no idea exactly where we are and how to get from place to place. Fortunately, the tricycle station nearby had drivers offering us a ride somewhere along Tagaytay – Calamba Rd. to another station near Tagaytay Picnic Grove. Perhaps, one obvious itinerary.
With the lack of ideas and preparation, I had no idea and no itinerary. The Picnic Grove seemed to be a viable option, though, so we pursued. With only an entrance fee of ₱50, we’ll be able to see a nice view of Taal Volcano from atop. Since we arrived there at 5 pm already, we’re lucky to witness an almost deserted park. Closed snack stores and other souvenir shops didn’t matter that much. What mattered were the sights.
That kind of isolation drew me closer. The grayest of skies was close to brumous. Something I desired at a great height. There were a lot of areas to get around which all gave beautiful views of Taal Lake. One unique feature was the bridge because it gave a short feeling of immersion and excitement compared to the rest of the park. I tried looking for a closer shot of Taal Volcano as best as I could yet I was quite dissatisfied with my shots. It was no one’s fault except my own craving, though.
For some apparent reason, Bulalo was a signature dish in Tagaytay. I take it it’s because of the hot soup complimenting the cold climate. We didn’t want to miss out on all the fad and went ahead looking for one for dinner. Just a couple of steps away from the Picnic Grove were a couple bulalo restaurants.
Siglo Restaurant was aesthetically wonderful. The vintage Spanish style interior felt calm and cozy. We settled in here for dinner. Accommodating staff gave additional positive feedback. While we were waiting, their paper placemats had games on them. It was very child-friendly and the staff didn’t bother when I asked an extra one for my sister. When the dish was served, the meat was tender enough to chew. I liked the sufficient inclusions of vegetables. Overall, the soup was well made like the classic bulalo. The taste can also depend on the sauce. Some would enjoy drizzling soy sauce or fish sauce to the soup but I prefer putting nothing for a beefier taste. Craving satisfied!
After dinner, It was time to hit the road again. Tricycle drivers were still offering their services. They were really nice and took us down to Olivarez Plaza. It was the one-stop shop for tourists and most likely a central feature in Tagaytay. We took a few minutes looking trough some ukay-ukays and other local shops. Of course, we bought what we might need at the convenience stores too. Since this was also the main district, buses come and go for us to board.
We were currently booked at Mc Mountain Home Apartelle for the night, I was quite skeptical when I asked it to the conductors. They said that they would drop us off at the hotel. Apparently, they drove us quite far from where I expected. It was near the Sky Ranch but we passed by it and went further. Again, I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. Google Maps showed us that we were already way beyond the hotel. So I wondered where exactly are we going? After a few minutes, though, they dropped us off exactly at the place expected. Turns out the place Google Maps pointed out was inaccurate (except now because I moderated it). Nice going google.
It’s not easy to find a good deal in such a reputable place and that’s why I had to settle a little bit less for our booking. It was not the best hotel nor does the room we booked in. In fact, they were still having a dry run. They did have better rooms but none of which had made it into the budget. Yet, it’s better and comfortable than hostels of course! We had our own privacy for the night inside a decent room.
DAY 2 – Fountain from the Core
The free breakfast was served! Our booking included free breakfast so that means we didn’t have to go out so early in the morning. I still had no itinerary for the day. In all honesty, I didn’t bother just having coffee overlooking Taal. My friend insisted on taking the trip further down to Taal itself. Sounded perilous yet enticing. Though what choice did I have? I was looking forward to seeing the volcano as close as possible either so I guess I’m down for it.
The night before at the picnic grove, bystanders were offering package deals going to Taal. Costing around ₱1,500 – 2,000 for two people. Therefore, I expected those figures. I have yet to see. Also, the tricycle driver from last night gave us his number just in case we wanted to get down to Batangas and towards Taal. He said there was already a place to get us a boat and off to Taal. For only ₱300, he offered a roundtrip from Olivarez to Batangas and back. I never expected any of those to come up on my list but I was being drawn.
We prepared for Taal! Outside, the sun felt closer but at least the air is cold. Just off the road was the open cliff where Taal Lake was visible. It was not difficult to get around Tagaytay as I thought. Jeepneys and buses passed by every few minutes despite not having bus stops. As long as the main road is visible, there was no need to worry. We’ll be getting to Olivarez via jeep. We passed by some stores occasionally. Some small bulalo restaurants, unique looking coffee shops (Starbucks too), small compounds of restaurants, and the Sky Ranch. They all were wonderfully located overlooking Taal Lake and Taal Volcano. Next time, I’ll make sure to drop by those stores.
We arrived again at Olivarez Plaza early that day waiting for the tricycle driver. As promised, he took us down. Based on my reliable friend google maps (with sarcasm), we should be taking a zig-zag road named Talisay Road. While we did use that road, it felt quite perilous. The mountain path was very prone to landfall as evident from the rocks that sometimes block the road. Driving fast while turning was too dangerous but our driver was really good. I have to commend that.
Moments later, the blue water was visibly becoming thicker and thicker. We were getting closer and closer until finally just being alighted just below Talisay Road at a small dock shack.
I have an imaginative mind yet I was not delusional! They offered a package of ₱3,500 inclusive of the boat, the horse for the hike, the local entrance fee, and the guide for 2 people. That’s too much than the figures I imagined! I felt like I was led to this trap. After giving it some deep thought, I just went ahead.
Towards the Crater
We were provided with life jackets for safety while we were cruising. The spoondrift can be felt as we made our way towards the volcano. The wind wonderfully warm as it blows against our direction. The sun made the waters glow its blue color. At the distance, part of Taal Volcano can be seen in blue from the sky’s silhouette. In just a few minutes I’ll be reaching the first steps.
From up close, Taal Volcano isn’t as high as mountaineers would consider. The summit wasn’t that far and high enough. Though getting there still bought an excitement. Upon arriving, an old lady placed a small wooden stair for us to step on to avoid getting our feet wet. They could’ve built a dock instead but it turns out we had to pay for her service. ₱50 for the stairs. Vendors have taken over this wonderful land and it was horrible for me to witness. They were too persistent to the point that they’re putting the items in my hand already, assuming that we can pay anything they give us. I paid ₱100 just because they handed me a face mask and gloves. They said it was because of the sulfur on the volcano. It wasn’t really that necessary. Bad call.
We started our hike on a horse. We should’ve gone by foot but I lately realized it. I learned my lesson on that part and also with the vendors. We first passed by some ethnic group at the bottom of the volcano. I found it educational to see them living their daily lives away from the big crowd. There were different people coming and going so it didn’t feel empty hiking the volcano. Interestingly, the horses know where to go as they avoided incoming tourists and even small animals, like dogs. The sights of more pushy vendors selling expensive drinks continuously pestered me, though. One of the worst was the involuntary photos which cost ₱350 each. I thought they offered it with the package until they asked money. I really had to say no and with a very serious tone, mentioning I didn’t ask for it in the first place. The vendor offered it lower and lower down to ₱50. Sorry to him, I didn’t take it even if he gave it for free. The guides at El Kabayo in Clark even took better photos than him. The guy should learn his lesson and hopefully all of them.
Upon arriving the summit we came back to our feets again. From all the heat with the vendors, I finally saw that what I came for was worth it! For the first time ever I’ve witnessed the wonderful sight of the open crater. It was huge and magnificent. I’ve never seen anything like this before. With the last ₱100, we entered the endmost tip of the path which was isolated and risky to walk on. The rocks were tainted red. There were no fences to hold on to. It was dangerously exciting. I took as many shots as I could but the panorama shot completed the image well. It was truly magnificent to see such a sight. It felt like a once in a lifetime experience and I was blessed with the wonders of nature. Truly, it was a moment of silence and isolation.
The cold air was back and cooled us from the sun-drenched peak. We were back in Olivares, Tagaytay and rode a bus going back just in time before our check out time at Mc Mountain Home Apartelle.
We made one last stop to check out the Sky Ranch. Next time might be a good time to try this one out. Though we only settled to dine in at Red Engine for lunch. We ordered some rice meals and a pizza which all were sufficiently satisfying. It was nice to dine outside as well at their balcony just next to the Sky Ranch amusement park. We were able to see the commotion that’s happening inside. With the final stop, we had to get back to Olivarez and grabbed a bus going back to Manila. It was the end of the final journey of 2016. Despite being unprepared, I witnessed one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been to! Thanks to my friend as well. Next up is the coming of Christmas day!
This trip was quite something I couldn’t speak out. There was a journey to the mountains, then to the waters, and the volcano which reminded me of a journey Link would’ve gone to in a Legend of Zelda game. Surely enough, I promised that I’ll go back to Tagaytay to just enjoy another cozy moment with a cup of coffee in my hand and with the passing chilly breeze.