Tagaytay, Taal (volcano), Philippines
Today was a day in the Philippines I will never forget. We left Cainta and the Metro Manila area and went into the country and to Tagaytay. 640m above sea level Tagaytay ridge overlooks Taal Lake and Taal volcano which was my destination. First we went to picnic grove (and guess what?) had a picnic. There we met Ryan, a 'tour' guide and agreed a price of just P1,500 (+ optional tip if we were happy) for a boat ride to the island. We took Ryan with us down to his boat and from there travelled across the huge lake to the island in the middle.
Upon arriving at the island we found the local village. We were flocked by young girls selling water for the trip up the mountain. They were very insistant, and a bit annoying, but the Philippines is a poor country and many people scrape a living the best way they can. We already had water, and on refusal prices soon dropped from P30 to P20. Despite our refusals the girls still followed us around. Ryan led us to book horses. This was quite expensive, but about what I expected - P750 each. We had considered walking up, but a 4km walk up a mountain in tropical heat didn't seem such a good idea once faced with it. After booking the horse came a surpirse and rather suspect 'entry' fee to the island of P150.
Three of us trekked up the volcano with a man, young girl and young boy. The young boy accompanied me and was skilled at guiding the horse despite being no more than 7. He also spoke good English. A short way up he stopped guiding the horse and got on the saddle behind me and began to make the horse go faster where possible. Its quite an experience especially if your not a seasoned horse rider like myself. At first I held on for dear life until I felt more comfortable with my balance.
The horse walked the steep areas of the path to the top which was so well travelled there were channels deep enough into the earth that I had to lift my legs to save them being scraped on the sides as the horse travelled through them. The view on the way up was stunning.
At the top you are 'invited' to buy a drink for your guide and its hard to refuse when young children are involved - although I felt quite sorry for the horse too. That's just P30. We then walked a short way to the very top using sandbag steps.
The view is simply stunning. You can see the lake withing the volcano and then turn around and see the volcano within the 30km diameter Lake Taal. The volcano is active and you can see and smell sulfur fumes coming out of the ground. Naturally I took alot of photos and some video too.
The distant rumble of thunder told us it was time for the journey back. Going down is quite scarey. As the horse carefully navigates the steep slopes you are naturally tilted forward. I got my guide to stop and let me take photos on the way down, but even so, like on the way up I was first down by about 5 minutes, while my Filipino friends followed.
At the bottom I was somewhat at the mercy of the locals looking for tips. My mistake of giving out some loose change earlier came back to haunt me and I was surrounded by children. I gave my guide a P50 tip but even then his mother came out and asked me to buy him a drink. I simple pointed out that it was a good tip and would easily cover the cost of a drink also. When my friends arrived, having run out of change in pesos, I paid the other two riders in £1 coins telling them it was about P90 worth. They seemed quite happy and my guide and the children posed for a photo, for once without asking for any money.
We walked back through the village to the beach and found Ryan waiting for us. Then came the boat ride back. The rumbles of thunder were far less distant now and halfway across the lake (with about 7km to go) it was obvious that it was raining on the other side. A little further and the rain was so thick we could not see the distant shore anymore. It began to rain and heavy. Ryan grabbed some plastic sheeting and this at least kept my camera bag dry. Even in the thick rain you could still feel the tropical heat, and even though I couldn't see it, I knew I was close to shore when I felt warmer gusts of land-heated air hit me.
Pretty much soaking wet we returned to shore and Ryan let us use a room to change in. We had thoughtfully brought spare clothing, though more because we thought it would be soaked with sweat than rain.
All in all it was an unforgettable experience. Absolutely brilliant. The horse-ride and rain just made it even more exciting. Relatively cheap all in once you arrive, even including the P500 tip I have Ryan which, considering the cheap price of the boat trip and his efforts to keep us dry, I felt he more than deserved.