By Joseph Bautista
There’s an old saying “Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.”
I have been curious all my life. I remember the first time I went to Tagaytay. When I saw the magnificent
Taal Volcano, I became very curious about that volcano on the lake and how to get there.
Several years later I did get a chance to visit Taal Volcano. I was visiting Tagaytay with a couple of friends when a man with the card “Boat Ride” approached us. “Would you like to visit the volcano island?” he said. I got curious, and asked how much? We agreed on a price, and he said follow him on his motorcycle to the boat station in Talisay. We drove through the winding Sampaloc Road as our guide led us to Barangay Leynes in Talisay. We met our boat man, and half an hour later, we were already trekking the steep inclines of Taal Volcano. It was challenging but fun. I could finally claim that I have already conquered the volcano that I used to just look at from the ridge.
My first trek to Taal Volcano was followed by dozens more. I have become a certified Taal guide, taking friends brave enough to take the challenging trails of the volcano island. Then, the 2020 Taal eruption happened, followed by the pandemic, and once again I have to contented to just looking at the volcano from the ridge.
Perhaps there are other ways of exploring Taal from the ridge. I can always drive to the lake, but I have done this many times. Or, I can trek from the ridge to the lake again. I have done this once. From the Tagaytay Rotunda, I descended the 14-kilometer Sampaloc Road, reaching Leynes, Talisay three hours later. But that was the time when I was young and active. I am now a 60-year-old retiree.
But I’m a 60-year-old curious retiree. And so, I started researching how to get to the lake on foot. I found out that there are five trails connecting Tagaytay to Taal Lake. The two trails, Sungay and Sampaloc, have become popular with motorists. The other three, Sambong, Bagong Tubig and Neogan, are old foot trails that are now gaining popularity with downhill bikers.
I chose Sambong as my trail to explore. I saw from several videos posted by bikers that it is shorter than the rest. From the ridge to the lake, it’s about nine kilometers but full of steep declines and winding paths. Bikers have called Sambong Trail as “unli-ahon.” I was going to do the reverse.
I also chose Sambong because many years ago somebody told me that there’s a beautiful waterfalls near this trail. It’s about time to finally find out where it is.
I decided to start early with by solo trek. By 6 a.m., I was already at the start of trail at Tagaytay-Mendez Crossing. The beginning of the trail is actually the narrow road right next to a convenience store. I started my descent.
The first 300 meters of the trail are still fully cemented, and then it gets narrows to almost a foot path, just wide enough for solo motorcycles and bikes. I actually saw many motorcycles going up, carrying residents of Sambong on their way to work in Tagaytay. Sambong is actually the last barangay of Tagaytay, on the boundary of Laurel, Batangas.
Aside from the occasional bikers passing, the trail was completely empty. Only giant trees, curious birds flying around, wild flowers and the great view of Taal Lake basking in golden sunrise greeting me as I go on my solo trek.
I walked slowly, enjoying every step. It took me two hours before I reached Barangay Sambong. I asked around where I can find the waterfalls, and it took a while before I was directed to the right path. The sight of an old man who just trekked for just two hours to see a waterfalls must be too unusual to the locals.
The waterfalls was not easy to locate. There were no signages. I had to ask for directions along the way. When I finally reached the river that leads to the falls, I had to remove my trekking shoes and walked barefoot doing several river crossings. It was crazy doing this alone, but I felt excited. After about 15 minutes, I finally reached the waterfalls. There, in front of me was my dream waterfalls in full splendor. It was an emotional feeling seeing something that I have been looking for in years.
My trekking continued for another two hours before I reached Taal Lake. As I stood by the lake looking at Taal Volcano, I couldn’t help but felt triumphant on my attempt to go solo trekking from the ridge to the lake. As I looked up to where I came from, I made a wish that there’s one curious young man up there looking down thinking of going on the same path as I did.
(Joseph Bautista is an adventure traveler. He used to write a monthly column in Manila Bulletin’s Cruising Magazine. He recently retired from Isuzu Motors Corporation.)