Taal volcano crater lake in green

Philippines: Taal Volcano and Manilla

*Update* This blog inspired my winning entry to Daily Telegraph’s Just Back competition – which you can read here.

Manilla is one of the world’s largest cities and it has a reputation for not being the safest. However, like anywhere, it’s all about where you stay. We opted for Makati, a very central area with trendy bars and pop-up restaurants, it is reminiscent of Soho in London. It felt very safe and was convenient for getting around as well as having great food options nearby.

Sadly I was getting around much…as previously mentioned on ‘When things go wrong’  – for the first 24 hours I couldn’t walk (!) so sadly I missed out on the bamboo bike tour Jess took around the city centre. She came back singing its praises, though, so if you’re after a bike tour this seems like the one to do!

Taal Volcano

When I regained the use of my foot the next day, we took a private tour out of the city and to the Taal volcano – the second most active in the Philippines and part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. We were too late to book a tour and I didn’t fancy negotiating the manic roads out of Manilla myself…so we used a Trip Advisor forum to find a recommended driver. It is possible to do it on public transport, but we wanted the ease of being driven and to max out our time.

We lucked out and got Jesse, who was very informative and friendly driver – great for a local perspective on all things volcanoes, religion and politics, even house buying. We stopped at many stunning viewpoints on the way – with Jesse revealing that the lake was, in fact, the crater, and the volcano we were looking at was just the baby one! It was really stunning and not surprisingly, this area is the main honeymoon destination for newlyweds from the city.

We made it to the private dock behind a family run restaurant and met our guide for hiking the volcano – Carlos. Life vests on, we started out in the little traditional fishing boat, speeding across the huge lake. After 5 minutes we stopped. Carlos got up and threw a blue plastic sheet over our legs.

“You’ll probably need this.”

We gave him a quizzical look.

“And put your bags in the middle – between you.”

We picked up speed again and almost at once, I was slapped by sulphuric smelling water right in the face. For 15 whole minutes, it was like the ice bucket challenge on repeat but with tepid water that smelt of eggs. The sheet did almost nothing to keep us dry as we didn’t realise the precarious nature of the windy lake situation and hadn’t sealed it around ourselves. As our little boat was thrown around under the swelling waves – we let out squeals and shrieks every time the water shot up our noses, gushed into our ears and slapped our cheeks. By the time we reached the other side we were drenched. As I climbed out of the half-drowned boat and onto the black volcanic sand of the island, I was wringing the water out of my top and shorts.

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The unofficial wet t-shirt competition starting strong but still smiling!

With no change of clothes we just headed on up the hillside, leaving a trail of drips in the sand as we went – locals laughing at our wet dog styled hair and trying to sell us touristy (but dry) t-shirts. The climb wasn’t too strenuous and only took around an hour, offering fantastic views over the lake and of the other volcano crater. You can use ponies to take you up, but having seen another tourist being stretchered down because she had fallen off her (less- than- trusty) stead, I was glad we opted to use our own legs…

Coming up to the top, we finally realised where we were, at the crest of a huge flooded volcano crater. You could see bubbles on the water surface, giving some indication of how hot it was, as well as steam rising from nearby rocks. It was busy at the top with everyone straining to get their best selfie shot. There is even a driving range where you can take shots into the crater – just don’t expect to ever get your golf ball back!

We paid the small fee to go round to the red rocks area which was much quieter and worth it for the different perspective. Carlos proved an excellent photographer and took some lovely shots for us.

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Red Rocks are…red!

As we headed back down I was still damp, two hours since arriving and in 30-degree dry heat! We were informed the wind had picked up even more and now we were going against it, so we should prepare for a wet ride…

Once again we braced the log-flume-esque ride back to the mainland. Cue a super soaking part two. Once we had attempted (unsuccessfully) to dry ourselves yet again, we were told that the coast guards had stopped all boats leaving for the island because of the rough conditions.

Thankfully we had made it back to land and after a scenic lunch in a local hotel overlooking the lake, we were heading back to Manilla – sat on a stack of sodden newspaper…

Manilla

That night, we headed out for a sake seven-course tasting menu at restaurant 12/10. It was delicious. If you want an independent upmarket Japanese restaurant in Manilla this would be it! We had plates of mussels with green curry and mango, duck with strawberry and rice, catfish with scrambled eggs, ikura and dill. Angus beef fillet with uni (sea urchin!) and panko bread crumbs, coconut sorbet with lemon and burnt caramel and fois gras with meringue and pineapple. The food was perfectly matched with three different types of sake and certainly helped us forget the mornings’ unexpected dunking in sulphur water!

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A brilliant foodie night – the sake wasn’t bad either!

 

Notes:

Salt – Makati, affordable, stylish and some yummy classics – the fried chicken is especially good. A hot hit for young middle-class Philippinos (££)

12/10 – For beautifully crafted Japanese dishes matched with delicious Sake. A smart, upmarket and trendy affair. The number of tables is small (around 10) so best book in advance. (£££)

 

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