Thursday, November 8, 2012

Taal Volcano Crater via Balete, Batangas

This post is my day trip experience at Balete, Batangas-Taal Volcano's Crater and Lake.  

My apologies for posting this late.
P.S.  This blog post is loaded with pictures!  I tried so hard to keep it to a minimum.  :p


Come to think of it, I've been to Tagaytay plenty of times since I was a kid and mesmerized by the beauty of Taal Lake and Taal Volcano, but I haven't gone to both, up-close.  Not until last 21st of October (2012) where I, along with fellow blogger/local travel enthusiast Tim and his sister, Mikee, were invited by Meet Manila, Ms. Riva Galveztan of Casa Marana, and Balete, Batangas Mayor Joven Hidalgo to experience a day tour at Taal Volcano via Balete.  I haven't heard of the town (Balete) before, so that's a good start.  Exploring a new place is definitely a plus!

To kick-start our trip, we all met at Magallanes Shell Station around six in the morning.  We instantly found our shared traits on the hour trip to Balete.  Having found fellow local traveling enthusiasts and possible future travel buddies was an accomplishment!  I've been trying to look for such and I finally met them.  

If you're taking a car for the trip, take SLEX and exit at Sto. Tomas heading towards Star Tollway.  Take Malvar Exit from there, then turn right at Barangay Bulihan and straight to Balete.  Follow road signage to Punto Miguel Lakeshore for the sightseeing boat tour.

If you're commuting, take any  bus to Lipa-Tanuan.  Drop off at Levi Town in Lipa and take a jeepney or a tricycle to Balete Municipal Hall.  Behind it is where Punto Miguel Lakeshore is situated (fronting Taal Lake).

But for our group, instead of heading straight to the lake, we went to Mayor Joven's humble abode just three minutes away from Punto Miguel.  As soon as we hopped off the van, we were welcomed warmly by Mayor Joven and his wife, along with his staff.  

bottom left:  Mayor Joven Hidalgo; right: our breakfast c/o Mayor Joven

Hospitable at its finest!  Fried tilapia, sinigang na tilapia, rice, suman, and kapeng barako for breakfast.  Yum! :)

No need for sugar on their suman.  Kapeng barako is my fave coffee, ever!

According to Mayor Joven, Balete is a former barangay of Lipa City.  The town now serves as the gateway to Taal Volcano and its crater.  Unlike the usual route from Talisay, there's a trek that will lead you to the crater from Balete's side of the volcano.  Since the town is fairly new to tourists (local and foreign), Mayor Joven and his municipality are very enthusiastic on developing their side of town, and us, bloggers, are very willing to help promote the place.  By 2013, the local government will start developing the shoreline of Balete by putting infrastructures for tourism, which is a great place to open businesses too, thus more jobs for the locals.  :)  That's what I like most about Mayor Joven, he is working his way to develop his community, focusing on tourism and discipline, as it will generate income to the town.  That's why I asked if there's any historical landmarks around the area that would add to their tourist destinations, but he, unfortunately, said that it no longer stand since the historical church (I forgot the name) was put down by the landowner and barricaded it with high walls.  Though there's Marian Orchard at Barangay Malabanan in Balete.  It's a spiritual place for religious tourists.  Will definitely check it out some time soon.

Top left:  our boat to the volcano; top right: Mayor Joven leading us towards the port at Punto Miguel Lakshore.
bottom left:  (left-right) Mikee, Tim, me, Mayor Joven, Riva;  center-right:  our entourage c/o Mayor Joven

Right after breakfast, we walked our way towards Punto Miguel led by the mayor himself.  He wasn't able to tag along on the trip due to his commitments that day.  We were then accompanied by his staff and local policemen.  That's what you call entourage ;)  Wow, we're definitely pampered and secured! :)

Gloomy weather at Taal Lake.  Refer to where the arrow's pointing at, that's the volcano's rim.

top: Tagaytay City (see those three buildings, I believe that's SM Wind Residences.  I really don't like condos); the mountain on the far right is Mt. Mapayong.
bottom:  nearing Taal Volcano's shoreline.

top left:  touchdown Balete side of Taal Volcano
top right:  Tim, Riva, Jener and Arianna
center left:  Jener and Mang Itoy (one of our tourist guides), Kuya Mar (Ms. Riva's driver), and Police Officer Rara Layon
bottom:  my horse, Angelica (named after the actress, Angelica Panganiban, seriously)
bottom right:  one of the steep treks towards the crater.

Honestly, it was my first time riding a horse.  I even thought they were ponies because they look small for a horse! LOL.  I'm more of a trekker, but since everyone's riding, I gave it a try too.  I kept on petting Angelica, telling her to take care of me.  :p  I'm quite anxious on the entire ride due to the steep slopes.  Oh, by the way the entire trip was sponsored by Mayor Joven Hidalgo (much thanks, Mayor!).

Here are some tips on this trip towards the crater:

  • Be at Punto Miguel by 6AM so that you'll be at Taal Volcano right before 7AM and start trekking and be back before noon to avoid the extreme sun rays. 
  • Wear long sleeves, pants, cap, and trekking/rubber shoes whether you trek by foot or riding a horse since there are large weeds with razor-sharp edges along the way and it's usually scorching hot (when it's sunny, of course).
  • Beware of steep roads.
  • Bring raw eggs :)

top:  At the ridge.  Stopover.  overlooking Taal Lake and Mount Maculot (behind me is Taal Volcano's crater)
bottom:  Taal Volcano's Crater

overlooking Taal Lake and Mt. Maculot

top left:  our sort-of-terminal from the ridge.  Hop onto that big rock so you could hop on your horse easily.
top right:  The crater.  The sandy-like shore on the right is where we'll be heading at that time.
bottom left:  Look at that rainbow-like crater lake.  Beautiful!
bottom right:  It's just me fixing my clothes after my jump shot :p

Too bad we hadn't brought raw eggs with us so we could boil it into the crater lake.  Might as well wear your swimsuits under your shirt and pants so you could have a quick dip at the lake.  I happen to just dip my hands and it really was soothing.

We then headed back after 45 minutes of exploring the crater, though I wasn't able to see if there's boiling mud pool or steam coming off from the ground on the other side of the crater lake.  So, yeah, bummer.

The entire horseback riding-trek, back and forth, took us only half an hour.

top right:  That used to be Gringo Honasan's resort
center right:  Bird Sanctuary
bottom left:  Binintiang Malaki
bottom right:  Mang Itoy, one of our tourist guides

Aside from the Taal Volcano crater, there's more to explore around Taal Lake.  This is not usually included on a regular packaged trip to the volcano island, but you could request this side trip to your bangkero with additional cost (that you have to haggle).

We were able to see the bird sanctuary around the volcano island, floating fishing pens up-close, a dog swimming in the middle of the lake (weird yet cute), Binintiang Malaki up-close (where it's mistakenly pointed as Taal Volcano by many, and Mang Itoy informed us that it's part of the volcano, though it's not the "core"); and saw Pulo-Pulo, small islands near Mt. Mapayong (named after an umbrella because of it's cone-shaped top).  If only I had zoom and wide lenses, I would be able to take better pictures of Kasiles (white and brown long-neck birds) and Tagaks (white long-neck birds), and the picturesque view of Taal Lake.

We even had white-water-rafting-like experience on some parts of the lake due to northeast monsoon and, boy, that was fun, yet kind of scared for our gadgets' sake haha!  We weren't able to bring our dry bags since we weren't expecting this side trip prompted by Mang Itoy.  A very thrilling ride indeed! :)  I should start saving for a waterproof camera/flip video camera for these kind of trips.

The entire Taal Lake ride took us 2 hours, as far as I can remember.  So there goes our appetite for late lunch at Mayor Joven's house.

top:  Barangay Sala where Mayor Joven's house is situated.
bottom:  Fried tilapia and adobo for our late lunch.  Yum!  Galit-galit lahat hahaha

Since Mayor Joven wasn't around, we left Barangay Sala and went to Cintai, Corito's Garden and experience Bali in Balete.  That's another post, dear reader.

The proposed itinerary for Taal Volcano Crater via Balete, Batangas after the jump.  :)

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