In which we scale a live volcano (part 2)

One thing you should know about the Philippines is that it’s a gardener’s paradise. Their wild, overflowing flora put our spindly drought-resistant little twigs and Yukkas to shame. Even the poorest Filipinos throw a few seedlings into some old oil jars and wind up with a front yard like something out of House & Garden. I reckon they just chuck a few seeds over their shoulders, clap three times, turn around and brain themselves on the ensuing foliage.

Hey, I’ve been to the tropics. I LIVED in the tropics, man. But the Philippines is more than just tropics. It was designed by the lovechild of H.R. Geiger and Peter Cundall on holiday on Fantastic Planet while watching Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. There’s cactus flowers and trumpet flowers and begonias and tropical ferns of all kinds, and pitcher plants and giant leaves with red skins and veins like people and huge walls of vines choking palm trees and snaking all over telegraph poles…and that’s just within a metre of jungle.

Perhaps it’s something to do with all the volcanic soil, for there are 5 earthquakes a day on the 7000-plus islands, and god knows how many volcanoes and hot springs. Every second ad on telly is about preparing your family for disaster, and what to do after a volcanic eruption. After we left Manila, we made our way to the aforesaid lake within a volcano within a lake within a volcano, to Tagaytay, high on the ridge overlooking said oddity. We rolled up to a fancy joint called ‘Sonya’s Garden’, without realising it was the honeymoon destination of choice for Filipinos, and that we would be treated with all the lavish care, solicitousness and privacy accorded all Couples in Love. Lucky us, eh?

At the restaurant they treated us to rosewater in little finger bowls, incense and scented candles, and a wee man in a straw hat fixed us with bright eyes and serenaded us with such chansons d’amour like ‘This is My Song’ and ‘Love Me Tender’. Our hillside chalet, set amongst the titular garden, was so quiet, so tranquil, so relaxing, that you could hear the couples shagging for miles around. Particularly from our toilet we found.

Yet again I thanked the gods I was not alone. We laughed ourselves to sleep over the guestbook, where couples of the past wrote long homilies on the amount of praying (pfft) sleeping (yeah right!) and laughing that occurred under Sonya’s gabled rooves (only at the guestbook, we decided, and the urgent sounds emanating from the chalet next door).

The next day we decided we’d sucked the marrow out of uncomfortable luxury, and by way of penance, stayed in a backpacker’s down on the shores of the lake in Talisay. Annoi had to hang out of the back of the trike – she was too tall to sit up properly – she had to dangle out of the back like a giraffe being transported to a new zoo.

Pausing only to buy Buko (coconut) Pie, we dumped our bags and hopped on the next bangka to Taal Volcano. The whole area is an active volcano (as we discovered at the Philippine Institute of Vulcanology and Seismology) with 35 cones and 47 craters, and has been reshaped again and again with various steam explosions, lava fountains and earthquakes. Apparently before something is about to happen, the whole lake drains out, and fissures appear along rock seams.

We laboured in intense heat up to the top, scrambling over rocks we only realised later were actually emitting very hot steam and sulphur! At the top the only thing left to do was open a San Miguel or three, and bring out the Gilbert & Sullivan pose to general acclaim.

(It was about this time that I started to suffer from the affliction of every curvy girl in the tropics – the chafing thighs. Add one hot, humid environment plus more than 10 minutes’ exercise plus two generous thighs and you get a nasty irritation only cured by talcum powder, long pants and instant relocation to a cooler climate. A good reason to cut back on the Buko Pie if ever I heard one.)

After such a mad scramble we were caked with red dirt, sulphur, sweat and general cack, which, in the mind of Annoi, was high time to break out the Nice N’ Clean wipes, which she insisted a neighbouring Dutchie and myself use on the offending limbs. And would you believe, it was rather nice to sport a clean leg on top of a volcano with a cool beer held to the temple.

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