While D was still fighting the fog of jet lag, S was burning up with wanderlust. It’s not that her first three months in the Philippines were uneventful; far from it. Moving to a new country, then moving again a few weeks later from temporary housing to our permanent apartment; getting the kids settled with school and daycare; figuring her way around Manila while tackling the steep learning curve of her new job – there were more than enough challenges and new experiences to keep S thoroughly occupied during our separation. After spending a couple of months in Manila, however, S longed for a break and an opportunity to begin exploring our new country.
There were two long weekends in August during which S managed to organize a handful of excursions outside Manila, including a three-day stay at a rambutan farm, which the kids loved. By and large, however, she found it difficult to scrape up the motivation and energy to travel alone with the kids, especially since our car also took several months to arrive in country and only cleared customs the week D arrived. Instead, S lived for the future, poring over guidebooks and travel blogs and compiling travel recommendations from friends.
Last week, we started checking items off S’s extensive Philippines bucket list with a trip to the Taal Volcano. Not only is this scenic crater lake one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes, with 33 recorded eruptions, but also it holds the distinction of being the largest lake on an island in a lake on an island in the world. That’s right, you read that correctly, and if you want to get really meta, Vulcan Point – a small rocky outcrop of the old crater floor that protrudes out of the water – is widely considered to be the largest island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island in the world.
We chose Sunday for the outing to minimize the pain of driving and, with the exception of one rough stretch, did pretty well in avoiding traffic on the way there. It took us less than 90 minutes to cover the 75 km between Manila and Talisay, on the shore of Lake Taal. From the lakeshore, we took a bangka – a motorboat with outriggers that is modeled on traditional Philippine fishing boats – to the main island. This was Junebug’s first time on a motorboat; to say that she did not enjoy the experience would be a gross understatement. When Munchkin was about six months old, we took him on a speedboat in Croatia, and he giggled with glee at the wind rushing through his hair. Junebug, on the other hand, was utterly terrified and clung to S for dear life.
Unlike many of the countries we’ve lived – where foreigners beat a travel circuit few locals follow – there are plenty of Filipinos who travel around their own country and the region. Taal is a popular destination, and there were dozens of other visitors there, most of them making the 4 km ascent on horseback. We chose to hike instead, making our laborious way up the exposed trail under the hot glare of the unforgiving sun. Munchkin hiked with S, impressing us – after all his anti-hike tantrums – by making it up and down the entire way without complaint. Junebug rode in a backpack on D’s shoulders, saying hello to every horse we passed along the way. Her love for animals knows no bounds.
Although Junebug did not make for a great birding companion, growing immediately incensed every time D stopped and venting her frustration by flailing and whining, D managed to make the most of this, his first real opportunity at birding in the Philippines. After passing dozens of house sparrows and despairing of seeing any interesting species on this crowded hike, D spied the brilliant yellow feathers of a black-naped oriole, which flashed by and disappeared in a forested valley beneath the ridge where D stood. Some patience and a few fortuitous opportunities when D found himself alone on the trail resulted in ten new species for D’s list, with several other birds just outside D’s camera range.
By the time we returned home, night was falling on Manila and we were completely drained. There was no avoiding the bumper-to-bumper, end-of-weekend traffic heading back to the city, so the return drive took two hours. Plus, hiking on an exposed trail in the Philippine heat was bound to take its toll as well. While the hike on the crowded, worn trail left a bit to be desired, the boat ride was fun and the view from the top was gorgeous – the Taal Volcano hike is definitely more about the destination than the journey, but it’s eminently worthwhile if you’re looking for good day trip options from Manila.