Friday, December 28, 2007

Island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island

We arrived back from Tagaytay this evening after a two day trip to visit Lake Taal and the active Taal volcano (last eruption 1977). Lake Taal is only 70 km south of Manila, but it took us five hours to drive there yesterday and two and a half hours to get back this afternoon – such is the state of the traffic in the Philippines.

Lake Taal is in a large volcanic caldera (which many people incorrectly think is the volcano’s crater, but the actual volcano is on an island in the middle of Lake Taal). And inside its crater is another lake, and also an island called Vulcan Point – which the locals claim is ‘the largest island in the world that is within a lake that is on an island within a lake on an island’.


We’d visited Lake Taal on many occasions before – and it’s certainly worth the trip down from Manila just to see the lake as long as the viewpoints along the ridge to the east and west of Tagaytay City are not covered by cloud – but on this trip we intended to cross to the volcano island in the middle of the lake and then climb to the top to see the crater lake. We stayed last night at a small resort called Balai Isabel right on Lake Taal just to the west of the small town of Talisay.


The rooms were 4,000 pesos a night (about US$100) – which is over-priced for the Philippines – but we’d managed to negotiate a 30% discount through a friend of the owner, and after some extra bargaining on check-in, we managed to get two rooms for 2,500 pesos each – a good price. The rooms were basic but clean, with two double beds, a small ensuite bathroom, a TV and a fridge. The place was quite new and seemed to have only a limited number of rooms completed, with others being constructed nearby. We saw only one other family staying there. There was a nice swimming pool next to a small black beach (comprised of crushed volcanic rock).


On the lake itself there was a floating pontoon with six smaller swimming pools built into the pontoon (at least that’s what the resort called them, but they weren’t much bigger than spa baths, so you wouldn’t be able to do much swimming in them).


Dinner was quite basic (mainly local food) and so was breakfast, but reasonably priced. I woke up early and wandered down to the beach to take a few shots of the lake whilst the light was still warm. A fisherman was heading out to the middle of the lake in a sleek wooden boat with an inboard motor.


Several locals were paddling around on the lake on rafts made of three or four bamboo poles tied together. One had tied a small wooden chair to the bamboo poles and was paddling around with a young toddler wedged between his feet. It didn’t look very safe, but living on a lake I expect they learn to swim at an early age.


After breakfast this morning we arranged through the resort to hire a bangka (an eight-metre wooden boat with an inboard motor and bamboo outriggers) for Php 1,600 to the return trip to the island (which included two and a half hours waiting time whilst we were on the island).


The boat picked us up directly from the beach at the resort and took us across to Buco, a village on the northern side of the island – a trip of about 20 minutes.


When we arrived on the island we hired five horses for 500 pesos each to take us up to the crater at the top of the island. Most of the guides walked the horses up the trail, but we saw a few others riding on the horses with the tourists. Some of the guides were quite young kids, but they all seemed very capable riders. My guide annoyed me a lot because all the way up he kept asking for a tip. I told him I would tip him when we got back down, but he kept asking. We found out from talking to one of the other guides (who was a young pregnant woman) that they only got Php 50 (little more than US$ 1) out of the 500 pesos that we paid, because the rest went to the horse owner, so when we got back we gave each of the guides a 200 pesos tip, and they seemed happy with that.


The ride up took 40 minutes, and it was quite steep in places. We stopped about halfway up to admire the view looking back towards the edge of the caldera, on top of which we could just see Tagaytay City.


I’m glad we took the horses because the sun was unusually hot for December. A couple of other tourists who had arrived on another boat about the same time as us, decided to walk (which takes about an hour) and they arrived at the top about 20 minutes after us looking decidedly worn out and soaked in perspiration.

There were some drink stalls set up by local villagers under wooden shelters on the edge of the crater, so it was nice to rest there for an hour, enjoy the views and some ice cold drinks (which weren’t unreasonably priced at 30 pesos each given that they have to be carted up to the top on horses along with large blocks of ice which are placed into wire cages on the horses).


There was also a small police outpost on the crater rim, and the policeman on duty asked Alan if he would like to shoot his gun for 500 pesos. He said he could have five bullets for that price. He had set up some plastic bottles for target practice in front of some bushes along one of the paths on the edge of the crater. We took him up on his offer and Alan took five shots at the bottles but missed them all.


I wondered who was paying for the bullets – the policeman or the Philippines’ constabulary? I can’t imagine the police in too many countries selling bullets to tourists to make a few bucks on the side – I shuddered to think of the consequences if someone had decided to go behind the bushes to relief themselves.

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