16 June 2008

Itogon Hot Springs

A couple of weekends back, my brother Dodi was raving about this new place they visited which had swimming pools and a hot spring in a tunnel. They kept saying it was in Balatoc Mines. I remembered vaguely reading about this new attraction whereby the closed mines has been converted into a tourist attraction but I was not able to connect it to the pools and the hot springs. At any rate, they said that they were going to Balatoc Mines again the following weekend and they were inviting us.

And so we did. My sister had their van prepped up and soon my brothers and sisters, mother, and some friends were on our way last Saturday morning. After passing the airport and PMA, we took the road going to Balatoc. There was also a sign that said "Balatoc Lake" which added to my excitement because about the only lakes I have seen so far are the man-made Burnham Lake and the majestic Taal Lake.

The view along the way was spectacular. This part of Benguet still has large tracts of land with pine trees on both sides of the road. That wonderful scent of pine pervaded the air as cows plodded lazily by. At most times, we are driving by the mountainside with the cliff providing us a wide view of the region.

Soon enough, we saw what seemed to be a dried-up river below and then we stopped by the swimming pools with a hut waiting for us.
We were expecting a lot of people to be here soon so we decided to visit the hot springs early. It's a 5-minute walk on the riverbed, where the local folk huddle in the streams panning for gold. This must be Balatoc Mines, I said to myself when we saw the small number of people hoping for a catch of that elusive, glittering gold.
After crossing a narrow bridgeway (with Jo-Lo on my shoulders)...

The tunnel is finally sighted! And wow, the water rushing from it is quite abundant. And hot! Smoking hot. I tried to dip my feet into the water and it was boiling hot! We made the short climb to the tunnel and gingerly navigated the rocks and slabs of wood strategically placed so visitors can navigate their way through the hot water. We stopped at around 3 meters into the tunnel and stood there, relishing the free spa experience.

Soon enough, we were all breaking into sweat. They brought along olive oil with rock salt in it which they started to apply on their skin. "It's a great exfoliant!" they said. So I tried some on myself. Pretty soon I was perspiring water and oil. I felt like I was ready to be fried. hahaha!

Unlike other hot springs where the scent of rotten egg (the sulfur has this notorious smell) is ominously evident, the scent here is only very faint, so that's a bonus.

I was thinking... if this was the mining tunnel, then the railings for the cars must be here, but there wasn't any. And the tunnel was elevated, so it would have been difficult to get the cars out of the tunnel. But I'm not in the mining industry so I would not know how that worked.... but I had my doubts already. Besides, it was hot at the entrance of the tunnel... how much more inside?!
We stayed there only for a short while. We learned that our stay was indeed short because the eggs we brought along were not yet fully cooked so we dipped it into the spring outside the tunnel.
The rocks over which the water flows display a green and yellow hue, an effect of the minerals contained in the hot water.
We stayed there til 4PM, and I was with Jo-Lo under the sun the whole time. I did not realize that I was already being sunburned until we were already on the way back to town. My shoulders hurt! Today, my skin is starting to peel off. Aaaargh. I hope Jo-Lo, who loves swimming pools, is faring better.
Before making this post, I decided to google Balatoc Mines as added information for this adventure. And my hunch was right. It was not the Balatoc Mines we were visiting! hahaha. I later learned it was the Itogon Hot Springs. This was a nice, sunburned experience nonetheless. I hope I can go to the real Balatoc Mines tour soon.

Related link: Grumpy urban slacker and his adventure at the Balatoc Mines
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