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November 26, 2006

by Jett Aguilar

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Where in the world would you find an island within a lake within an island within a lake within an island? This particular geological oddity could be found in Taal volcano, which a group of ALPers together with our honored balikbayans Imelda Joson and Edwin Aguirre set out to visit one Sunday in November 26, 2006.

Our small group consisting of ALPers "Edwelda", James Kevin Ty, Allen Yu, Peter Tubalinal, Dennis Llante and myself left Manila in a convoy of two vehicles at past 7:30 am for the Phivolcs Buco Station in Talisay City, Batangas. We had a stopover for breakfast at the Alabang Shell gasoline station and were able to arrive at Tagaytay around 9 am. From Tagaytay ridge, we took the long zigzagging dirt road going down the Phivolcs Buco station in Talisay, which took about an hour.

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The long and winding road down to Buco station

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Approaching the shore of Lake Taal

We reached Buco at about 10 am and Mr. Ric Seda, our guide was waiting for us at the station with a boat. Buco station is at the Northwestern portion of Taal lake. After some introductions and preliminaries, we wasted no time in loading our light gear and provisions. We only brought our cameras and bottled water, soft drinks and some snacks so that we would not be hampered so much with the trek going up the main crater.

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Source: Philvolcs

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Source: Philvolcs

061126_aguilar-f.jpg (89289 bytes)Philvolcs Buco Station - Talisay, Batangas 061126_aguilar-g.jpg (78091 bytes)

All set to go !


The boat ride from the Buco station to volcano island took about 30 to 40 minutes and we had a nice view of Binintiang Malaki along the way. This dormant volcanic vent is mistaken by most people as "The Taal Volcano" because of its classic cone shape and ready visibility from the road along Tagaytay (not to mention its ubiquitous appearance in textbook pictures, art works and postcards). The actual active volcano is Volcano island with its central crater lake. Volcano island is actually just a part of what was once a very massive 6,000 meter high volcano which erupted thousands of years ago forming a great depression which is now Taal Lake. Taal Lake makes up most of the 25 x 30 km caldera formed by the collapse of this massive prehistoric volcano, and Volcano Island represents the younger residual volcano in the middle of the lake. Volcano Island has 47 identified cones and craters, and the last major eruption here was in 1977. It is interesting to note that the Tagaytay high lands, notwithstanding its skyrocketing real estate prices, is at the edge of the Taal caldera and people who brought properties there may actually be living on an ancient volcano.

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Binintiang Malaki

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Close-up of "Taal Volcano"

We reached the Northern shore of Volcano island just before 11 am. I was immediately struck by the presence of a thriving community in this supposedly permanent volcanic danger zone but I guess situations like this are normal in the Philippines. It is estimated that about 5,000 people are living without permission on the 23 sq km Volcano Island. In the event of an eruption, these people have to be evacuated posthaste using only small boats like the one that we rode. This tourist-oriented community caters to the foreign visitors (nowadays mostly South Korean) who flock to the island to view the main crater. Most of the tourists make the ascent to the main crater riding on dwarf horses and a big group of these horses with their handlers are waiting for potential riders just a few meters from the shore (P 300 to rent a horse, guide included). Surgical masks were also being sold by vendors since the trail is quite dusty especially if one is going by foot.

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Our group proceeded right to the business of climbing up the main crater sans horses and guide. We just followed the well-worn and dusty Daang Kastila, which is actually not a very difficult trail to follow even for week-end climbers like us. What made the climb uncomfortable was the hot morning sun and the dust, due mostly from the heavy traffic of horses with their riders going both ways along the trail. At one instance, I was nearly sideswiped by a horse being guided by a child-guide. For future climbers to Taal, I would advice bringing the following items with them: a hat preferably with a cloth sun shade for the neck area, sun block, sun glasses, surgical mask, bottled water and light snacks.

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Our ascent was slow and leisurely and we made numerous rest stops along the way to take pictures. Binintiang Malaki again made a good photo op since it was easily visible on our right side.

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Binintian Malaki as seen from Daang Kastila trail. It forms the Northwestern appendage of Volcano Island.


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Edwelda resting

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ALP Boys

Near the summit, we encountered a steam vent along the trail. At first I thought that what I saw was smoke coming from a fire along the trail but we were pleasantly surprised when we found out that it was actually a volcanic steam vent. It smells mildly of rotten egg (Hydrogen Sulfide) and the steam emanating from the hole is too hot to touch. While taking pictures (and movies) of the steam vent, Dada pointed out a foreign tourist outrageously dressed in a shirt and tie while riding up the slope. There was also another woman tourist riding a horse who brought her small child with her. I can’t help being amazed about the volume of tourists which I think is the normal situation here and Taal was even at level 1 alert at the time!


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Volcanic steam vent near the summit

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Imelda and a tourist in short and tie


The last part of the climb was the steepest and most
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061126_aguilar-r.jpg (135956 bytes)Crater Lake as seen from the viewing deck . The lake is 2 km wide and 80 m deep.

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The island within a lake within an island within a lake within an island


From the viewing deck, I can smell the hydrogen sulfide coming from several steam vents at the Northeastern edge of the crater lake. Part of the lake’s water is bubbling due to steam and gas, and together with the multiple steam vents indicate some heightened volcanic activity.


061126_aguilar-t.jpg (90754 bytes)Steam vents and bubbling water of the crater lake 061126_aguilar-u.jpg (99413 bytes)

Close-up view of the steam vents and mineral-stained soil

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Close-up of the steam vent. This vents may exhibit geysering during times of increased volcanic activity

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Another steam vent near the crater lake


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At the crater's edge

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Edwin and Imelda with Binintiang Malaki at the background

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Our descent was much faster and easier and our guide, Mang Ric met us at the shore with his boat. Our next destination was the lava fields at the Southwestern portion of the island. Since it was already late in the afternoon we decided to forgo climbing Mt. Tabaro and just visited the old lava flows from the 1969 eruption.



We again rode our boat and we swung around Binintiang Malaki towards the lava fields at the Southwestern portion of Volcano Island. Most of the lava formations here were formed during the 1969 eruption of Mt. Tabaro.

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On the way to the lava fields

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Old lava flows along the southwestern shore of Volcano island

At the Kaygabok shore of the lava fields, the vegetation was very dense but Mang Ric was able to guide us to a marvelous lava rock formation where we were able to take rock samples and pictures.

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Approaching the Kaygabok shore

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Imelda and Dennis on top of a lava rock formation

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Close-up view of the old lava rock formation

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The source of the lava flow in the background

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Peter, James, Allen and Dennis standing amidst lava deposits

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Sunset signals the end of the ALP Taal expedition trip


After that, we were just happy to get back to our boat and start our way home. After a 30 min boat ride, we reached Buco station at sunset. This was my first visit to Taal volcano and it was an immensely enjoyable (if not tiring) and educational experience. I am very grateful to Dada and Edwin, if not for them I would not have attempted my first ascent to Taal’s crater, something which I would heartily recommend to all Filipinos to do at least once in their lives.

For more activity images of the event, click here.


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