Trek to Taal Volcano 
 by Milo Villabroza, Pilipinas Sierra 
Where in the world is there an island on a lake on an island on a lake, on an island on an ocean? 

Taal Volcano, in the Philippines, has been called the smallest active volcano in the world. It is located about 70-km south of Manila on an island inside a lake called Taal Lake. What makes Taal Volcano more unique is the fact that the volcano itself has a lake of its own inside its crater which is called the "Crater Lake." One can even swim inside the Crater Lake but don't stay too long because the lake's water is a very diluted form of sulfuric acid with high concentration of boron, magnesium, aluminum and sodium in salt form. The first recorded scuba dive inside the crater was made by a team led by Thomas Hargrove in 1986 to a depth of about 20 meters or 60 feet. There is even a tiny island in the Crater Lake which Hargrove's team also explored. 

Pilipinas Sierra's outing last March 2 and 3, 1996 proceeded to the Taal Volcano Crater Lake on the first day where we arrived at about noon. We were pleasantly surprised that there were two Americans already having a good time swimming at the Crater Lake ... we joined them pronto and had lunch thereafter. We introduced Thomas Gebele, a German Student who was with us to the Americans who we found out later were connected with the U.S. Embassy. 

At about 1:30 pm we packed up and trekked back to the rim and proceeded to the new Taal crater. It's called Mt. Tabaro and the trek towards it was hot since vegetation was sparse around this new crater. After a brief summit assault we proceeded to the campsite late in the afternoon. 

We decided not to camp inside the Crater Lake as originally planned since most of the trekkers preferred to camp at the Taal lakeshore where fresh fish can be bought from fishermen living along the lake. After having our dinner, we had our socials where participants got to know each other better. 

Our campsite for the night was located on the shore of Taal Lake. Unlike the Crater Lake, it is safe to swim here since this is a fresh water lake. The marine life study of Taal Lake indicates that the body of water here may have been, in fact, salt water in pre-historic time. Even today, one can dive to uniform depth of 30 feet all around the lake bottom and still find traces of an ancient beach littered with seashells. 

The whole area itself including the surrounding province of Cavite and Batangas was once part of an immense pre-historic volcano estimated to be 18,000 feet high which erupted violently and collapsed into a caldera with a channel opening towards Balayan Bay. Between 1572 to the present, more than 41 eruptions have been recorded with the great eruption of 1754 lasting close to six months. Just like Mt. Pinatubo, it darkened the skies over Manila for days, that people during that time literally walked around the city carrying lanterns even at 10:00 in the morning. It is most probable that this eruption finally closed the open channel to the sea that allowed the accumulation of fresh water from rainfall leading to the formation of Taal Lake. 

With this backgrounder, it is no wonder that Taal Lake is home to the only known species of sea snake that inhabits fresh water, Hydrophis semperi. Even the fish called maliputo and tawilis are saltwater fish-like in characteristics. According to Peter J.P. Whitehead of the British Museum of Natural History, tawilis "is the only species of Sardinella that is found mainly in fresh water." Dr. Dioscoro Rabor even confirms that sharks once swam Taal Lake's water. He studied their biology personally before their extermination by overfishing in the 1930's. 

  See also The Mysteries of Taal by Thomas Hargrove
  Taal Geology
  More about Philippine Trek Groups and Trips
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