Sidetrip: Botolan’s Lahar Watchpoint
Until now, remnants of the lahar flow that resulted from the Mount Pinatubo eruption of 1991 are still visible in some parts of Pampanga and Tarlac. But it is in the town of Batolan in Zambales where a large swath of lahar field can be seen. A large percentage of the estimated total lahar coming from Pinatubo was deposited here, altering the town’s landscape. Botolan is the largest municipality in Zambales in terms of land area. It is well known for its Aeta population, grey sand beaches and most of all, Mount Pinatubo.
Before approaching the town proper, we were already seeing from the bridge the large desert that was created by the lahar. It was summer during that time, and the Bucao River had turned white from the lahar being dried up. The wet portions of the river where the waters are still flowing turned grey due to the lahar mix-up. The searing summer heat further intensified the feeling of being in an arid desert.
I saw from several video clips on how ravaging the lahar flowed, no wonder the original bridge that stood here collapsed, unable to handle the massive flow.
Another feature that we saw from the bridge are the rows of houses at the hilltop. Out of curiosity, we went there to investigate.
The road is paved with concrete but is steep. It is seemingly abandoned due to the grass that is growing between the cracks. Climbing further, we saw the houses that were forgotten by time. The grasses and shrubs had grown so tall that the houses were hardly recognizable. Perhaps we have just stumbled on a ghost town.
On the other hand, the view from the top is very rewarding as it offers a breathtaking view of the large plain and some of the mountains of Botolan and Iba, and also the Bucao River that expanded due to the lahar flow. But because of the eerie atmosphere, we did not stay very long and descended back.
Take the Pangasinan-Zambales Road and alight at the bridge in Brgy Bucao, just before approaching the Botolan town center. A trip from Manila takes about 4 hours.
From Cubao, ride a bus (Five Star or Victory Liner) bound to Iba, Zambales. The frequency of trip is daily.
Alternative: From Olongapo, there are provincial buses, mini-buses, and jeeps with a route to Botolan. Just inform the driver or conductor to drop you on Brgy. Bucao’s bridge before approaching the town proper.
DASH OF HISTORY
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo is considered one of the largest that occurred in the 20th Century. The series of eruptions started on June 7, with the final and climatic eruption taking place on June 15.
These eruptions caused a massive ashfall that covered virtually entire Luzon. People have to cover their noses, and roofs began to collapse because of the weight of the accumulating ash. (Though early warnings prompted an effective evacuation, about 847 people were still killed, most of which are due to collapsing roofs.) Furthermore, Typhoon Diding (international codename Yunya) which passed close the volcano on its climatic June 15 eruption complicated the situation as the rainfall mixed with the ashes, triggering massive lahars. The eruption also affected the global weather: the aerosols and dust particles trapped in the upper atmosphere lowered global temperature averages by 0.6 degree Celsius, an effect that lingered for three years.
According to geologists, the last time that the volcano erupted is somewhere in 1500 AD.