ANGELES CITY | The City Lane was recently invited by Ford Australia to tackle some of the most beautiful yet varied terrain in the Philippines, including Mount Pinatubo. One of the most interesting regions in this part of the world is Pampanga province, located approximately 80km north of Manila. Driving to Pampanga from Manila can take anywhere between two to five hours depending upon traffic, however it’s worth the trip.
Pampanga province has a turbulent history. In June 1991 Mount Pinatubo erupted expelling 10,000,000,000 tonnes of magma destroying towns, villages and the Clark U.S. air base. At the time Mount Pinatubo erupted, typhoon Yunya hit the region, spreading the magma and worsening the devastation. To really gauge the severity of this eruption, note the fact that this was the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.
After the sulphur cloud had settled and the volcanic rock had hardened, new villages were built, a mega dike was constructed to protect the city from Mount Pinatubo and the U.S. returned the land they had occupied since World War II to the Philippine government. This land has now been redeveloped into a special economic zone comprising of hotels, an aviation complex and tourism/trade centers. This is where our 4×4 adventure began.
We picked up our Ford Everest from the Clark Freeport Zone and headed out to Mount Pinatubo to traverse its volcanic ash (laher) riverbeds. We first drove through one of the villages that had been rebuilt. As we effortlessly maneuvered the Ford Everest down the small winding streets of the village, local children were standing on the side of the road waving and looking at our convoy with curiosity. It was hard not to notice the smiles on their faces as we drove by. We continued traveling through the village, weaving in and out of traffic, avoiding bikes, children, goats and stray dogs – these challenges are unavoidable here if you want to reach the open road. 10 minutes after this, we reached the spectacular laher beds.
Initially these volcanic beds consisted of vast areas of white rock however in the last 10 years this mineral rich soil has produced an abundance of vegetation making this one of the most picturesque parts of Pampanga to drive through. Despite the vegetation, this area is still incredibly volatile – with a tiny bit of rain the volcanic rock/soil turns into a slurry which provides a completely dynamic setting. This means you never quite know what to expect.
We slowly made our way onto the laher beds, traversing undulating rock mounds, and passing water buffalo soaking up the sunshine. We gradually reached an area of soft sand and a small river which cut through the landscape. With a turn of the terrain management system (TMS) button we were ready to attempt the sandy slopes. As we drove through the soft sand and small river, water cascaded over the vehicle. At times we were driving blind as the murky water covered all but the blue sky shining through the sun roof. There was complete faith in the car to help us safely and comfortably navigate this amazing terrain. As we drove through these conditions we were ever mindful of not taking the car below 30kph otherwise the tyres would sink in the soft sand and bog the vehicle.
With another turn of the TMS button we were once again ready to head to rocky terrain. We continued driving until we reached a fork in the riverbed. To the right were the Puning hot springs and Spa and to the left was the continuation of the volcanic beds and a picnic that awaited. As we drove past the fork we were told by the instructor that the hot springs would be different to what we might expect. At the hot springs and sand spa you can be buried in warm volcanic ash to relax and detoxify your body. The spa sounded amazing and incredibly unique, but unfortunately, there was not enough time to check out the hot springs so we instead we continued traversing the stunning laher beds. Gradually, we stopped the Everest at the the end of one of the canyons. Here, we left the SUV under a waterfall, self cleaning while we stopped to enjoy a picnic admiring the beauty of our surroundings.
Driving the Ford Everest through Mount Pinatubo’s laher bedswas one of the most exhilarating adventure drives I have experienced. Your senses are completed captivated by this dreamy valley which leaves you in awe. I would highly recommend making a trip out to Mount Pinatubo if you are in the Philippines as it really is an unforgettable experience.
If you are interested in an adventure trip through this area there are tour companies that navigate through the laher beds. Just a word of warning for those who want to summit the volcano though – you can hike Mount Pinatubo however you can not drive a car to the peak. Just like the laher beds the cliffs are also incredibly volatile. There are frequent rock slides that can be triggered with just a small amount of rain which makes taking an car or SUV through the cliffs incredibly dangerous.