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October 08, 2006

Lake Taal - A volcano (on an island in a lake)^2

Apologies to the potentially confused reader-- this is another story that I am posting a couple months late...

Liz was in the area (well, she was in Taiwan, I was one country further south...), and we had spent almost no time together in the last 3 years, so she spontaneously decided to ditch the touristy part of the conference she was attending in Taiwan. When her travel agent confirmed that she found a flight for Manila for the next day, for a weekend, she literally got off the tour bus somewhere in the mountains in Taiwan and went home to get ready to leave the next day.

When she arrived, first order of business was to get a copy of the Lonely planet, which gave us an excuse to visit the brand new SM Mall of Asia, supposedly the world's third largest mall. And really, I do need an excuse to spend any time in a mall. Before switching to Apple, I had literally not been in a mall in 3 years. But most Apple stores are in malls, which gave me a chance to remember how much I hate their consumption-focused vibe and artificial environment.

That said, seeing people iceskating in the tropics, and having a super-sized (not!) brownie with ice cream was certainly entertaining.

Next, I needed to check email, so Liz suggested to do what only business travellers with a mild, healthy knack for bending the rules would do: Take a taxi to the nearest 5 star hotel and peruse their business center. Which we did; and just to make ourselves feel better about pretending to be guests (and to satisfy her craving for sparkling water), she ordered a $6 class of Perrier... It was interesting to realize that most foreign travellers in Manila only what we have seen so far -- a modern, overpriced facade, designed to shield the traveller who doesn't really want to be here from the reality of a country with some extreme contrasts... 

After checking out business-traveller-Manila, we switched pace and took a bus and various other means of transportation to Lake Taal. This place is a bit of a geographical oddity: The world's smallest volcano rises out of a lake which is in a crater on an island in a lake which is in turn located on an island in the Pacific. Did I get that right?

    luzon island
        lake taal
            island in lake taal
                crater on island
                    lake in crater
                        volcano cone in lake

Yes, I think so...

The place was actually quite interesting and beautiful. The boat ride was pleasant, and I admired the car-to-boat conversion job. They use everything -- from clutch to steering wheel. I guess on fresh water you don't need marine grade parts.

And given that they built jeepneys essentially by hand, a converting a boat like this must be a trivial exercise...

On the island, (#2), it was strongly suggested to us to hire horses to the rim of the volcano (with the lake with the volcano in it...). So we did... my 13 year old horse guide finished his cigarette and off we went. The horses, although small, were some of the most motivated and strongest I had seen. It was hard to believe that they were able to do this... The trail was uneven and steep, and yet they decided to run along at an almost scary pace. Fun fun fun.

The inner lake seemed to have boiling water in some places, and I would have loved to swim in the section locals said was cool enough to swim in. But, no time, we had to head down.

Smoker kid was not happy when his tip went into his non-smoking companion's pocket, but he got the message that I am not supporting his efforts to kill himself. And if he can afford cigs he's obviously not starving.

By the time we got back, it was dark, so we spent the night in the little village of Talisay. We had a hard time finding food, a problem we solved by radical application of extreme friendlyness combined with mild pushiness... the hotel owner didn't want to cook, the cook had already gone home. We walked around the village (well, along the village, as there was only one road) and found out that there was no food to be had. As we walked by one of the houses on the lakefront, I noticed some coolers on the sidewalk, and opened the lid. Ha! Fresh fish, just as I thought. I bought about three times as much of it as two people could reasonably eat, and we headed back to the hotel and asked the owner if she was hungry, waved the fresh fish around, and asked if we could use her kitchen and buy some ingredients from her fridge.

Liz started working on some fantastic Taiwanese fried rice, while I did my best to look so clueless cleaning the fish that our new friend took over and taught us how to clean and cook what turned out to be bangus (milkfish -- the Philippine's national fish). After a brief, failed attempt to burn down the neighborhood (the gas hose had come off the stove) I had an opportunity to do something more useful and fix the hose. At this point we were all having a good time chatting and drinking beer.

The meal was delicious, and the hotel owner had turned from a tired lady who seemed to be annoyed with foreigners into a very friendly and wonderful person, once again demonstrating filipino friendlyness.

The leftovers were gone before we got up the next morning, and we were aggressively invited by the whole familiy to come back soon.

Posted by rick at October 8, 2006 08:29 AM