Taal Volcano will never be the same again. Taal Volcano in Batangas province in the Philippines erupted on 12 January 2020, and still has ongoing activity as of posting time. I reminisce the time that our class in UP Manila (UPM) trekked in 2002 to Taal Volcano as part of our Geology 11 class requirements under Professor Malvin Manueli. It was relatively safe to climb at that time, as it was not under any Alert Level by the Philippine Institute for Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs).

taal volcano island from the shoreline of Talisay, Batangas
During quieter times. Taal Volcano Island as seen from the shores of Talisay, Batangas

It was my first-ever climb to any mountain (or volcano for that matter). In retrospect, I think this sparked my interest in climbing mountains later on in life. There’s just something spiritual, enlightening feeling that I feel whenever I climb mountains, in spite of the huffing and puffing while you trudge along.

Taal Volcano as we know it in postcards

As a student at the time, I have always thought that “Taal Volcano” is that prominent landmass at the tip of Volcano Island. In the chronicle, whenever I would mention it, I was actually referring to what is the dormant “Binintiang Malaki” crater, which is just one of 40-plus craters of Taal Volcano as a whole.

Binintiang Malaki crater as seen from Taal Lake
Not quite the Taal Volcano. This is Binintiang Malaki crater, just one of over 40 craters on Volcano Island.

I hope that with today’s eruption event, more people will realize this confusion as well so everyone will be better informed that the volcano is not just that structure we usually find in postcards. 🙂

Read on and see how our adventure went that sunny and almost-cloudless Sunday of 22 September 2002, from Padre Faura, Manila to Talisay, Batangas, to the crater lake itself on Tabaro Main Crater.

Chronicling Taal

Getting ready for the trek

03:30: I woke up, excited although still sleepy; my things are already in place. I took a bath and then ate. Ready to go.

05:20: It’s a good thing I haven’t forgotten anything as we were about to leave the house. Papa wanted to drive me to UP. We can make it by 06:00.

06:10: We arrived at the college grounds in CAS. Joanne, Daisy and Mara were already there, waving at me. I unloaded my stuff: two bags, a Coleman jug, and a pair of sandals. I had to go inside the campus to go to the CR. It’s good that we were allowed to go in.

Ramon FVelasquez [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]
UP Manila By Ramon FVelasquez [CC BY-SA]

06:25: It’s almost time to go, but the group wasn’t complete yet. Karen arrived carrying our lunch; I went and helped her, but as we approached CAS, my foot dipped into a ditch full of dirty water! Had to hurry back into campus to wash my left shoe. I got out, but we are not yet going into the buses. A few minutes more and we finally got into one.

07:00: Waiting, waiting, waiting. Some freshmen students went into the rear part of the bus, while our block was at the middle part. Finally, the bus started moving. I challenged Emily to a dama board game to while away the time. At the second game, some guy from the other row (who appeared to know Emily) kibitzed his way into the game, advising Em of moves. After two games, we played perdigana. After two rounds, we already were in Magallanes, heading toward South Luzon Expressway.

09:00: We just passed by the new STAR tollway. Half an hour later, we abruptly stopped; we did not know why. After five minutes, we discovered that the bridge ahead was under repair, so we went out and hired jeepneys to proceed. We waited for around ten minutes, and the jeep traveled in a different (although longer) route to Philvolcs.

10:15: We arrived at the DOST-Phivolcs monitoring station. At this time, Taal Volcano was in clear view. The clothes bag I was carrying, along with the others’, were placed in the basement. We departed for Taal in small groups via boats.

Students boarding boats bound for Volcano Island
Geo11 students boarding the boats in groups
(Screencap from video courtesy of Mr. Manueli)

10:50: Taal Volcano was very near… But we suddenly veered right! I thought we were going there straight… But we turned right and were headed somewhere.

Start Trek

11:40: We arrived at the shore. The other groups were already there, since our boat was rather slow (but at least we enjoyed the view). Then the long trek to the top began (what top? I don’t see any peak!). We made seven stops, as I can remember: First on a field, another after five minutes, third and fourth in a gentle slope, a fifth stop beneath some tree, sixth at a point where the “Taal Volcano” as we know it is seen, and the seventh at a fork, in which we don’t know where to turn. We took the left one with the help of our guides.

Binintiang Malaki crater in the background with lots of meter-high weeds in the foreground
Binintiang Malaki crater in the background
Classmates resting under trees

Mind you, between the first and second stops we simply complained of horse dung; for the third, fourth and fifth stops we were rather weary of walking; by the sixth we already sat, ate, and rehydrated, thus renewing our spirits. As we were approaching the seventh stop, we didn’t have to complain of slippery slopes, but of ravines left and right — bangin in Filipino — that might bring us nowhere!

13:00: We saw the never-before-seen beauty of the main crater, Mt. Tabaro crater. Up ahead lay more problems — steep tracks and high weeds, the pollen-puffed plants that Mama oh-so-hates. Turns, twists and tangles impede our speed. And, finally… A clearing — up ahead!!

Main crater of Taal Volcano
Main crater of Taal Volcano Island

The gloriously wide expanse of the crater lake showed itself before us, amidst the silence and searing heat. You can hear the gentle flapping of the waves ahead. My tired body seems to simply recover, all pain vanishes, upon the sight of the crater. By this time the wristwatch I’ve been carrying told me that lunch break is over, and it was already 13:45. The people broke into groups, apparently due to a muddy, watery path up ahead. They didn’t want to pass through the watery trail. Since we didn’t want to be delayed, we went the other way, turning left from the main track.

group of people posing with the Tabaro Main Crater of Taal Volcano in the background
Under the searing heat of a September sun, the question on each person’s face is: “What’s Ronx?!”

Lunch while resting under a rare shade of trees

14:00: The group I was with had just finished taking pictures. Alain and Jreyman went somewhere else, since they were already too tired. As for me, I went with Julie, Karen, Em, Daisy, Harold, Dan and Joehanna back to the end of the trail. We saw Sir Manueli, and we almost started eating there had it not been due to the heat. We had to go somewhere shady, so we backtracked and walked further into the trees. Thorns were blocking the way to “paradise”: A small patch of shade ahead with no interfering thorny plants or weeds. After a few minutes’ worth of harsh “negotiations” with thorns, we reached the small and shaded clearing and started eating our lunch.

group of students eating lunch
Picnic at the (volcanic) park. We got to find our spot where there’s enough shade for lunch!
(Screencap from video courtesy of Mr. Manueli)

14:25: Feasting on water, ice, more water (yes we’re totally thirsty), food (including adobo, hotdog and others) and Sprite, of course we didn’t forget to thank Him (informally, since not all of us are Catholics), we ate lunch, amid the shrill shouts of a distant group. I ate only just the right amount, knowing the fact that too much can cause me to be sleepy. Nevertheless, I felt full. Sir Malvin approached us with his videocam, and told us to be back on track by 14:30. He left our group right after.

While packing, I saw that a couple of my friends were leaving their tissue on the ground, with other trash. The tissue’s going to decompose anyway, they said. I felt that I had to use my garbage bag for the trash. Well, somehow they pitched in their garbage, and we left the place as it was before we went there. I am quite happy that the place is clean.

man carrying an umbrella while walking on the crater lakeshore
Resuming the trek after lunch break
(Screencap from video courtesy of Mr. Manueli)

Resuming the return trek

14:40: We converge back at the main trail. Sir Manueli, James, Owel and Alain are there too, waiting for us and some people at a distance to the right.

students taking their feet for a dip at the volcano crater lake
Some of us enjoyed a quick dip at the crater lake — maybe it can cure some foot ailments?
(Screencap from video courtesy of Mr. Manueli)

Sir Manueli picked up a rock and threw it to the lake. He says that it’s tradition to do it. We followed suit, as I threw a large one, two kilos I think, as far as I can. We then started our hike back to Stop # 6, where the others were waiting.

15:00: We stopped to rest, and at this point we saw, for a second time (since the hike earlier), the glorious entirety of the crater lake. We again took some pictures, while Sir Manueli went ahead. After a few more minutes, Ice, Joanne, her brother, and Aris came into view. After a few more photo sessions, we continued our trek (amidst the left-and-right “pitfalls of doom”) to Stop # 6. We rested and gave in to buy 365 mL softdrinks, despite the hefty price at P30 apiece!

Trekking to a rest stop with trees
Hiking toward our rest stop where there’s a handful of trees to seek shade
group shot of students with Mr. Manueli
Group shot before continuing on another trail

15:15: The people started the trek downward, but in another path. We continued, on the other hand, to take pictures of our block, and we followed Sir Manueli down the path, in a semi-jogging manner. Julie asked me to place my new 24-EXP film in her camera, because she ran out of shots. I, Joanne, her brother, Daisy, Akee, Owel and the softdrink vendors continued to walk, and we got separated from the group (our block). We made it at the top of the hill. From there you can see a lot — the larger Taal lake, the other mountains, the boats, fishpens — everything. It was really breathtaking.

Taal Lake as seen from Taal Volcano Island
Taal Lake with the mainland Batangas towns in the background

We encountered traffic until we reached the other blocks. Although they started to move, we waited for our blockmates; we were getting worried, since they were not viewable yet from our view of the hill. Then, we heard some voices, and we shouted — but our voices only got carried away by the wind. I used my binoculars to see them. They’re there on top! I swayed my hands in midair, hoping to let them know we were at the bottom of the hill. Sir Manueli emerged, then Erwin, then Em, then Dan and Joehanna, then the rest. We continued our trek, and it was uphill again. Soon, we caught up with our two other classmates in Geology, and then the other blocks as well.

15:50: “Torn-left!” “Torn-right!” The path we were going through contained a lot of thorns — big ones! Good thing I wore pants. On our left is death, a wide abyss covering nothing, with a background of the distant mountains. On our right was Taal Lake, with the sun up ahead. In front of us lay the sand hill Sir Manueli was talking about earlier. We walked toward it and felt the soft sand giving way to our shoes (though only so slightly, otherwise we would have been buried alive, haha!). The slight drizzle slowly became rain, so we hurriedly took our block picture there — all cameras in!

Group shot at the ash mound
Group shot at the ash mound

16:45: I went with Joanne and Daisy, running down the slope and feeling the last of the gray-black soft sand. Umbrellas open, we walked down until we reached the base of the island. Someone was selling softdrinks, but now for only P20. All of us split once again into groups, as the boats readied to go back to the Phivolcs station. Our group — Akee, Daisy, Em, with Owel, Mark and James — rode a boat, albeit a different one, back to the mainland. It will take more or less an hour and forty-five minutes for the return trip.

17:15: We were again passing by the “Taal Volcano” (Binintiang Malaki, which was sleeping since its last eruption in the 1930s, as Sir Manueli said). We took another set of photos, and I imitated Owel in taking my right foot for a “swim”, by the side of the boat. The boat ride was again, rather slow, and we made it very memorable. It’s slightly foggy in the distance, as dusk covered the light… It’s simply beautiful.

Post-climb and the journey back to Manila

18:10: When we alighted from the boat, the blocks dissolved into the changing rooms and began washing up. After I washed my face and changed clothing, I waited for my blockmates and all of us went with Sir Manueli to the last available jeep, since all the other jeeps are already full. I opted to hitch, so the girls can have seats. The jeep took us to the bridge under repair, where our bus was parked nearby.

students preparing to wash up at the Phivolcs station
Students preparing to wash up after the day-long Taal trek
(Screencap from video courtesy of Mr. Manueli)

19:00: Our Block was having dinner, as our energies were almost nil. I opened my Hunt’s Pork and Beans and shared it with Em and the others. We’re almost home free! Owel and Erwin were to alight at Alabang, while the two Mercados, Em, Mark, Harold and I were to stop at Magallanes in Makati City to ride the MRT train. Attendance was checked, of course, to ensure who will be exempted from the final exams for taking the Taal trek instead.

20:45: The six of us rode the train at MRT Magallanes Station. At Shaw Boulevard station, I alighted and took an FX. I’m home free.


I simply cannot believe that I made it! The morning before the climb, I didn’t have any idea of how difficult the trek will be… That is, until we reached the island. The boat ride was really breathtaking, in clear view of Binintiang Malaki, the “Taal Volcano” we’ve come to know about in books and postcards. Oh, and I discovered that Volcano Island, in reality, doesn’t just have one crater; it has more than ten! Five are large, namely: Binintiang Malaki, Binintiang Maliit, Calauit, Pira-piraso and Mt. Tabaro crater, also known as the main crater, the one that erupted in the 1990s.

During part of the trek, I felt the need to pray, because I thought I couldn’t make it. When we reached the crater, I thanked God for bringing such beauty before our eyes. I then realized, so many people complained of our plight, but the thing is, the beauty and glory of Taal cannot be seen without passing through some kind of test, or trial.

I realized that there was more to Taal than just the picture in postcards. The postcards cannot do justice to the volcano island’s complexity in terms of its land, skies and crater-lakes.

It’s just unfortunate that I wasn’t able to take a dip in the crater-lake’s waters. I just hope that we can return there again, someday. Or better yet, I’d like a new “Survivor” challenge: To the mountains and beyond!

— Ronx

2002 September 23