Saturday, June 04, 2005

News: Out the Window : Lava is a many-splendored thing

Out the Window : Lava is a many-splendored thing

First posted 09:17pm (Mla time) May 27, 2005
By Tals Diaz
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on Page G1 of the May 28, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

MY GUESS was that there were no virgins left in Pampanga to sacrifice to the volcano gods back then. So it came to pass that the mighty Mt. Pinatubo, inundated by an upset belly, angrily spewed out its searing guts for nine hours, taking the lives of hundreds, displacing thousands, and leaving one lonely desert of ash. Yep, Pinatubo was a real ash hole.

That was 14 years ago. Today, who would have thought that what was once a dreary, barren land would come back to life, with new communities dusting off the past and rising from the proverbial ashes?

Pinatubo has even become a favored destination for eco-adventure tourism, with both locals and foreigners trekking through expansive valleys to go up the once-feared volcano.

And after comin' down the mountains, what better way to wash off the caked mud with... even more mud? Mudslinging may not be all that unusual in this country but this time, it's actually good for you, especially at the newly-opened Mt. Pinatubo Wellness

Spa at the foot of the volcano in Capas, Tarlac. Bath... massage... volcano? You bet!

Mudventure race
The mudventure began with a rip-roaring 4x4 road trip through Crow Valley, an awesome site with the view of jagged mountain ranges stabbing the sandy plains. The ride was a helluva rush, as we drove through sand, rocky terrain and snaking rivulets while ensconced in ghostly plumes. (I made a mental note to e-mail Jerry Bruckheimer and Phil Keoghan to tell them that this would be a good Fast Forward challenge for the hundredth season of The Amazing Race.)

At the foothills, we took a dip at the natural "hot" springs--which were really more like boiling . I should know because in my haste to take a dip to de-frizz my new buhaghag hairdo, I stepped into the water and yelled out a bunch of expletives because I thought my feet had melted in lava.

In the neighboring pools, I espied a little snack: eggs being boiled naturally in the clear hot waters. Yum.

A drive to the other side of the valley brought us to the serene Tambo Lake, where some locals were fishing and gathering snails for dinner. The lake is currently being developed into a recreational water sports resort by Korean investors. Very soon, Sandara's peeps will be building resthouses around the lake and bringing in jet skis and boats. Props to our Far East Asian neighbors for keeping the faith in our little archipelago!

Sandy shower
As we headed back to the Pinatubo Wellness Spa, you could just imagine how driving through lahar country had turned me into a human "polvoron," and still with buhaghag hair that would've chipped Ricky Reyes' manicure.

The Spa was a welcome respite, as cleaning up was next on my agenda. First, I had to take what they called a "sandy shower." Eh? More sand? Indeed, as I submerged myself in a bed of volcanic ash, the first of its kind in the country. The sand, taken from Pinatubo, is sifted and mixed with volcanic salt, which is good for the skin and body because it heals wounds and eases arthritic pains.

A special sulfur facial mud pack, a mixture of liquid sulfur and water, was then applied. The sulfuric mask has an anti-microbial effect and tightens pores for healthier and clearer skin (and it doesn't stink!).

A shower, a dip in the hot outdoor stone baths and I was ready for my massAaaahge that took me to la-la-lava land for a glorious hour. It should be noted that the Pinatubo Spa gave jobs to over a hundred residents of nearby Barangay Sta. Juliana, who were professionally trained like eager young padawans. My personal masahista in fact shared that she was trained for months in the ways of the Shiatsu. From the way my body wonderfully felt like jello afterwards, I could vouch that the Force was truly strong in her!

The Pinatubo Wellness Spa can accommodate up to 200 guests, and offers Shiatsu therapeutic healing therapy, outdoor massage, hot baths, a sulfuric volcano ash spa and sulfur foot spa (everyone, say it with me: sulfur, so good!). Plus, there's a big, open-air restaurant that serves traditional Pinoy and Korean food.

The spa is a joint venture of two entrepreneurs from the Philippines-Korea Travel Agency Association, Patton Kim and Chris Park. Its launch is in line with the Department of Tourism's campaign to develop and promote the Philippines as a growing health and wellness tourism destination in Asia. In fact, the Philippines participated in the International Tourismus Böaut;rse last March in Berlin, and the International Spa Conference last May in Singapore. Representing the country were the likes of the world-class Mandala Spa in Boracay and The Farm at San Benito in Batangas.

Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said the Pinatubo Spa "demonstrated the power of tourism... what was once a deserted land was now a vibrant economy."

And vibrant it is-taking in the view of the majestic mountainside, who could ever doubt the power of healing in bringing forth new life?

Got you curious? For more info, contact the DOT, City of San Fernando, Pampanga at (63 45) 961-2665/2612 or email: or surf