Volcano stories

January 26, 2020January 28, 2020

The recent Taal volcano eruption is a reminder that nature doesn’t always stay silent. Our ancestors knew this and embraced it. 

But we really don’t have a choice, do we?

It’s Like Pinatubo

My parents and I visited our relatives in Olangapo a few months after Mt. Pinatubo erupted. Around that time, transportation to Bataan and Zambales has resumed. I’ll never forget the sight of how the towns looks like on our way to Zambales. 

Leafless trees, heaps of sands all over (residents started making sand bags out of it), parched streams, silver flowing rivers and countless roofs that caved in.

It was apocalyptic, like a scene from those Mad Max films.

Pampanga rising and tamales

About eight years ago, I visited the Church of Bacolor. Interest in it has grown because of a local telenovela. The church was prcatically their set. I’ll never forget the experience. I attended Mass, my first in Capampangan! I was there to research about the brilliant military leader, Gov. Simón de Anda y Salazar.

Lahar from Pinatubo buried half of the church. I was told most of the town was in 6 meter deep deposit before. Many lives were lost, properties destroyed—they had to rebuild from scratch, start all over. I got to interview some locals. After all these years, the memories are still fresh. 

I got to taste the popular Capampangan tamales, from a vendor there in Bacolor church’s gate. The vendor told me everything’s back to normal with a big smile.

Lahar buried many towns but the Campampangans survived the devastation, they came through the other side. Makes one think, our ancestors had dealt with such natural disasters for thousands of years, it’s in our DNA to survive, to be reselient.

By the way, the tamales was awesome. Pampanga food culture has remained unchanged and is now as popular as ever. Like what a Capampangan friend from Lubao said, “it’s (Capamangan cuisine) the anchor of our culture.”

Pops called it

Four years ago, while eating lunch in Tagaytay, my father, gazing at Taal, said that it would soon erupt. My Mom and brother weren’t amused, but we’re all used to his dry humor. He said it partly in jest.

My Father passed away two years ago.

One of the first messages I received when Taal erupted was from my brother, “Papa predicted it, he’s right.”

Taal is not dormant, so what happened is something we should’ve expected. My father knew it erupted in the 60’s. He probably thought it was due for another one. 

But why  are there even people living in the volcano island is something that’s hard to understand. The 1965 eruption is in most of our lifetime. Our memory is that bad?

Hargrove’s handbook

One of my favorite local history books is the “The Mysteries of Taal” by Texan Tom Hargrove. Reading it inspired my interest in Taal and the lakeside towns around it.

Hargrove’s covers everything about Taal, from theories about its marine life to the missing old towns around the volcano. He even brought a psychic to weigh in on the research. 

Mysteries is written like an engaging investigative report, introducing facts and conclusions. The historian, though a foreigner, is a resident who lived in nearby Los Banos.

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i like it when the route pass by taal lake. looking down, three things you know you'd miss about tagaytay, the sight of taal, the cool weather and bulalo

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Mysteries of Interest

The first recorded observation about Taal’s activity was in 1572. It was an Augustian, who founded the mission in Taal.

What were the eruptions like before it and how did the people reacted? That in itself is a msytery. Nobody knows. Nobody bothered to write them down like what the Friars did.

It is believed by some that there has been as many as four or five Taal town. That’s like having an intermittent exodus.

Other towns like Lipa, Taal and Bauan shares the same story.

So many interesting stories in the book. Like Salas, eventually combined with Tanauan. But not without resisting the change. Salas, being an old town on its own, had developed traditions of their own. It must have been a difficult process. There’s not a lot of example like this in our history. 

The story of Batangas’ lake town reminds us that geography could not contain historical identity. A town can be transferred, and for as long as they maintain tradition and way of life, they’re still the same town. 

Eerily similar

The images that we saw of Taal’s explosion was a sight that we couldn’t have imagined. But the Spanish Missionaries recorded the same, in great detail centuries ago.

“The entire sky was shrouded in such darkness that we could not have seen a hand placed before the face had it not been for the sinister glare of the incessant lightning. Nor could we use artificial light, as this was extinguished by the wind and copious ashes, which penetrated everywhere.”

The ashfall threatened the native dwellings.

“The natives swept off the roofs the large quantities of ashes and stones which kept on accumulating upon them and threatened to bring them down upon us, burying us alive beneath their weight.” 

“But even in the beautiful chapel of Caysasay, the nightmare did not end. For 3 days, mud and ashes rained, and the entire sky was shrouded in such darkness that we could not have seen a hand placed before theface had it not been for the sinister glare of the incessant lightning. Nor could we use artificial light, as this was extinguished by the wind and copious ashes, which penetrated everywhere.”

The province’s Governor sent what refugees needed but it did not made it. 

“The Governor of Batangas sent a shipload of food and clothing to the Taal refugees—but the ship broke up from Balayan’s rocky and storm-wracked shoals.”

Hargrove, in the final page of his book said that Taal is both a blessing and a curse. 

No truer statement could be said.


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The Hargrove book must reprinted. I myself have read it out of curiosity when I was in highschool, with my school quite near to the lake. Since then I have not seen the book…until people started posting its book cover in social media, but then again, I have not seen the book.

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