Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 158. Taal volcano

I am still hurting all over, but this is not going to stop me from exploring the intracaldera complex of Taal. Whimpering slightly I came down the stairs, to meet my smiling host, Mrs. Gloria Castor herself. She is a wonderful lady in her mid 70’s who speaks very good English and seems to have a motherly attitude toward her guests. She sat by my side as I drank coffee, and we had an easy conversation about our respective children. She told me her son and two daughters are all grown up and she doesn’t get to see them that often, so she has “adopted” Vita, Richard and her young wife Monet, and their two children. She was also distraught that I was traveling alone, made me promise I will come back with Faby and DJ, and gave me all sorts of advice about how to avoid tourist scams in the island.

Richard is the designated boat driver, and he took me across the lake to what the locals call “the volcano”. In reality, the island inside the volcano is a complex formed by post-caldera eruptions, including a smaller nested caldera. The boats they use here are really handsome. They seem to be a mix of Venetian gondolas and South Pacific barges (powered by a car engine). Apparently they are a local production, built by a small shipyard on the far side of the island.

So I got to the island, fended off the offers of horse rides and guides, and slowly (and painfully) walked up the path to the rim of the nested caldera. It was a delightful walk, among fumaroles and mango trees, and at the end I beheld one of nature’s most magnificent sights: From the rim I could see a small island, in the middle of a caldera lake, in the middle of a bigger island, in the middle of a larger caldera lake, in the middle of the Taal mountain massif, in the middle of the South China Sea. Nature’s joke at simulating a set of Russian dolls!

I seem to recall that a large set of eruptions took place in the late 1970’s, which gave rise to a series of pyroclastic surges that swept over the surface of the big lake. If memory serves me right Jim Moore wrote and article in Science or Nature about this event, so once again I will give my students the homework of tracking this reference down.

From the nested caldera rim I had fabulous views of the larger caldera, which has the typical scalloped outline caused by landsliding of the original caldera wall. A long walk through the luxurious vegetation took me through many parasitic vents. Composition? Well, I have no idea about the unit whose eruption caused the collapse of the large caldera (all I could see along the walls as I was driving in yesterday were cutoff andesitic tephra units); I will have to see tomorrow if I can find it as I drive away from the caldera. The intracaldera complex is dominated by andesitic tephra, with very few fragments that I would venture to call dacitic. The most mafic thing I saw were some large blocks of pyroxene basaltic andesite.

My long walk also took me through clusters of dwellings, where everyone greeted me warmly and asked me where I was from. As usual, on hearing I was from Mexico people broke into the dialogue of one telenovela or other, and I was expected to give them details about the lives of their favorite actors and actresses. I like the Filipinos!

On the way back to the mainland Richard took me to visit one of the many fish farms in the lake. They are basically nets draped over a floating framework of bamboo, within which tilapia are grown over a period of 5 months before they are harvested. The fish seem to have enormous appetites, and can pack nearly 200 kg of feed per day. In order not to waste the feed, it has to be spread a little at a time over a period of hours. Furthermore, the fish farmer needs to be around for most of the day to make sure that the voracious cranes do not eat the fingerlings.

Speaking of voracious appetites, by the time we came back I was famished. Mrs. Castro outdid herself with a Tilapia Escabeche, which was not only beautiful to behold but also very, very tasty. I am going to miss her cooking as I venture into a new area tomorrow.

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