Yours truly did the research, and booked a Taal trekking banca and guide with the Taal Lake Yacht Club (TLYC). Whilst this was more expensive than the touts flashing 'boat ride' placards around the Tagaytay rotonda, we were enticed by the fact that TLYC's boats came equipped with life vests (as their website sternly intoned, "NO LIFE VEST, NO TRAVEL"!) and fire extinguishers; and they have back-up boats, if needed.
Plus, they have free parking and free shower facilities. As events later in the day proved, one needs a good shower to get rid of the muck and mud from the volcano trek.
We took the scenic route via Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay Road, and faithfully followed the directions given by the affable people of TLYC. Turned right at Ligaya Drive, which proved to be a steep, rather challenging road to navigate. And we eventually turned into the TLYC's sloping, narrow dirt road driveway.
To the banca! We excitedly climbed our motor boat for the day's adventure (TLYC has a total fleet of 6 bancas).
The boat ride proved to be a pleasant one, with a balmy sky and gentle breeze blowing, and took around twenty minutes. We arrived at the Taal Volcano Island, where the visitors' center was located.
Our guide tried to hard sell us to ride horseback going up the crater (Note: To be technical about it, we were going up one of the craters. There are 47 of 'em in total, of varying sizes). He mentioned that it was a difficult uphill trek, yada yada.
Of course, being the undaunted adventurers that we were (!), we didn't give it a serious thought and decided we were gonna go on foot. Riding horseback was for faint-hearted tourists, ya know.
Or maybe we were just cheapos. Haha!
First part of the trail proved to be rather steep, and dusty (especially as numerous other tourists riding on their horses walked past us, kicking up billowing clouds of dust); and it was indeed difficult to maintain one's footing as the sand kept on shifting underneath one's weight.
(photo taken by Hello Newman)
And as Forrest Gump used to say, when there are horses, there's sure gonna be horseshit. Clumps of them! So mind your step, and be careful not to step on these land mines. And the smell is as can be expected. Here's a particularly festive bunch:
Along the route, we also came upon an active volcano vent, with sulfur (smells like rotten eggs) vapors wafting out. Very hot to the touch!
The huffing and puffing did take its toll, and we got all sweaty and thirsty. When you ask the guide how near the crater was, they just invariably say, "it's near"; so no other choice but to keep on walking. Here's Sh. taking a rest (and more likely than not, wondering what on earth convinced her to wake up early and expend so much physical effort, being the notorious non-exerciser that she is :-D)
The trail became faster at the midpoint. Newman observed that the tourists going down on horseback all had a rather pained look on their faces (with glazed eyes). "Parang natatae" were his exact words. Why? They didn't enjoy going up the crater, and they were disappointed? They got vertigo from the jostling and swaying of the horse?
Towards the final stretch, the trail became steep again so we made one final push. And wallah! Here was the sight that greeted us:
(photo taken by Hello Newman)
Beautiful, huh? I'd say it was definitely worth the effort.
But after a few minutes of admiring and taking photos, what does one do while up at the crater viewing area?
Errr, nothing much, i'm afraid. WARNING: There is NO toilet here. You are welcome to pee into the crater, though. Hahahaha!
There were lots of Korean tourists (with a Korean-speaking local guide, to boot).
And oddly enough, one can choose to play golf. Yup, this lady holding an iron, with her bucket of golf balls, will let you whack a ball into the crater for a handsome fee. Easiest hole-in-one in the world, huh?
Here's the 'Wi-Fi' zone, and here's some hapless tourists waiting for the very slow, non-existent signal. Zero mbps!
Our guide revealed, with a wide smile, that it was just a sign. Apparently the locals take delight in tourists who fall for it hook, line and sinker. Haha.
We decided to start trekking down eventually, due to inevitable hunger pangs (and zero Wi-Fi!). Going down was actually not as easy as one would think, as one misstep can result in a rough, not to mention dusty, tumble into the dirt path.
Then it dawned on us why those visitors on horseback looked the way they did. They weren't natatae, after all; they were hanging on for dear life!
Check out the website of Taal Lake Yacht Club for full information regarding their volcano tours, at www.tlyc.com.