Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Confessions of a Reluctant Pilgrim
All my travels have reflected an inner itch to escape whatever present physical or mental confinements I am in. Always on the search for the literal and figurative "peak experiences" as the psychologist Abraham Maslow would put it, I lived for the next mountain adventure or the sea escape. Without them I felt like a fish stranded in land or a restless caged panther. Perhaps I wanted so much to be freed of my external surroundings in as much as I wanted to escape myself. Travelling gave me leeway to assume different personas. From the wild hippie chick, to the solitary philosopher to the playful adolescent. I could always justify that if most people had their religion, I had my itinerary for my morphine. Travel as my drug of choice for my next "high".
But what was I really trying to run away from? Now there is a realization that my pressing need to leave or go straight for the nearest exit door was my way of coping . I did not have a name for my clinical depression then. The vivid greens , the turquoise waters and the pink sunsets somehow relieved the persistent blackness hovering over me. I was a dried-out nautilus. A balloon waiting to breathed in to life. My desolateness and emptiness was filled in with the myriad of sensations of travel. Seeing, feeling and taking it all in what was outside was my relief. I lived vicariously through peoples' smiles;their songs, and their stories.
If things do have a way of catching up on us, then my two-day climb to Mount Pinatubo was my confrontaton with myself. The setting; a vast lahar wasteland in the province of Capas Tarlac. The presently standing five thousand foot volcano in Central Luzon is still nature's work in progress with its intermittent eruptions for more than 35,000 years. Its most recent in June1991 was recorded to be the 2nd world's largest eruption in the 20th century. Albeit considered by volcanologist a minor eruption compared to other more catalclysmic ones of its history , it's catastrophic magnitude can not be underestimated with all the 80,000 locals of surrounding provinces of Tarlac, Zambales and Pampanga displaced. 1/8 of this belonged the Aetas, an indigenous tribe living on the foot of the mountain. This also sealed the fate the US Military Base leaving their barracks and nuclear playground for good. With its desolate terrain, I knew right then that this was not going to be my usual pleasure trip.
It could have been the perfect backdrop for a sand dune fight scene in Star Wars ,with its endless stretch of lahar (volcanic debris composed of mostly Silica and other minerals lending its ashen gray color). This perhaps would be the closest experience I can get to walking in the moon. I was soon jolted out of my reveries of a "Sahara crossing" riding on a camel's back in this sand terrain with the screeching sound of our pick-up truck's wheels mired in heaps of lahar. We initially planned to cut the distance of our walk by driving through a third of the way. It took us a two hour delay to dig our tires out of their quicksand-stuck state.The original 3 hour trek turned into a six hour pre-holy week penance.
Surpisingly, one soon grows into the land's permeating silence like comfortable companions. Me and my fellow hikers lost in our own private ruminations, our walk surprisingly turned out to be an enforced meditation. Tuning us out in whatever chaotic selves we brought here to a state of "tabula rasa", a blank slate. Transporting us into the uninhabited planet in us. Or perhaps in our minds, we were cursing ourselves for going to this trip in the first place.
As I slung my backpack and prodded on a step at a time, I could not help but wonder how nature does not always show its nurturing and magnanimous face. This now barren land is covered by layers of sulfuric ash covering almost 4 million square kilomemters of once lush vegetation. The archetypal human drama of man's helplessness to nature's destruction. This was no walk in the park with its eerie gothic aura of twisted gray mounds of earth and huge boulders of dark basalt rocks strewn all over. A once raging river now is but a trace of a thin strip of water slithering through it.
Reaching the end of the trail and counting aside the blisters on my feet, beholding the lake sitting like an emerald eye on the volcano's crater was all worth it. Technically an acid lake, formed by rain water and volcanic gases (sulfur and carbon dioxide) released by small slits of vent underneath. With the sun's rays reflecting on its green glass surface, it was nature's cathedral window.In search for my next thrill, I found this grotto of stillness after what seemed to be an endless bleak terrain. One of the rare instances when one stops running to get a taste of peace and a glimpse of home.