Tagaytay, The Philippines
Vacay in Tagaytay
Have you ever wondered where the locals of places considered our holiday destinations go for their holidays?
"Where do you go for holidays?" I asked the taxi driver in Manila, who has just spend the last ten minutes reciting the list of holiday islands in his country, straight out of a brochure that I got at the arrival hall of the airport.
He thought about this question, an indication that he has never been to any of these fancy tourist spots that he has just recommended.
"Tagaytay," he finally said, smiling with recognition at the sound of a destination more familiar. "My wife is from that province, it is so beautiful, so peaceful."
Then, he looked straight into my eyes and announced "you should go."
Introducing the Taal Volcano
And that is how I ended up in Tagaytay, a little piece of rural country town tucked 60Km south of the capital, fruit capital of Luzon, and the drop off point for the popular Taal volcano.
Stepping off the bus in the town center, I am greeted with a bustling market scene. A row of shops were selling shoes, clothes and accessories along the narrow alley leading toward the central market where crowds bargained for the best produce of the day. This is Luzon's fruit region, and the fruit stall is stocked with the red, yellow, pink and greens of bananas, pineapples, mangoes, dragon fruits and papayas. I was offered a taste of the local pineapple, it was sweet, juicy and full of natural flavors. Seeing my smile, she wrapped two more pieces in a small plastic bag and insisted that I take them with me.
I could have lingered and soaked in this vibrant atmosphere, except I longed to see this volcano the taxi driver told me so much about, so I hired a tricycle and we zigzagged our way down to the lake.
The last time I visited an active volcano, it huffed and puffed a whole lot of brightly lit lava into the air, as if Gozilla itself might appear out of its crater. However, as we approached the shores of Lake Taal, the volcano sat quietly in the background, waiting to be explored.
Walking the Taal
Most people choose to climb on horseback, however being an avid walker, it made more sense to simply follow my guide on foot, as we steadily ascended toward the top. The lush vegetation and serene surrounds made it hard to believe this is a volcano currently on alert level 2.
It is known to spurt 6-meter high geysers of mud and boiling water but today it simply hummed under our feet, with the occasional steam escaping through the cracks of the earth. We plough through the steep dusty track under the hot blaring sun. The landscape along the way was enough to make me want to live here, until I remembered that this is a volcano predicted for some serious seismic activity soon, so I hasten my pace.
From the top of the crater, where tourists were putting golf balls into the grey and steaming crater lake, I saw the surrounding landscape for the first time. I could see the resorts of Talisay, a nearby town specifically developed for the Taal tourism, and Tagaytay at the top of the range a little further away. I lingered for a fresh young coconut before following the same path back down, taking in as much of the view as possible before the ground leveled with my sight.
Relaxing in Tagaytay
Back in Tagaytay, I chat to the hotel receptionist about my day. I asked him where he goes for holidays, he laughed and said "I stay here! I have the best fruit in the Philippines, fresh air and beautiful volcano. I am on holidays every day!"
It may not be the most glamorous destination, nor does it have the sandy beaches and swaying palm trees that the tourism brochures boast about, but Tagaytay makes the perfect little short break for those wanting to escape the madness that is Manila.