Dubbed as the Mt. Pinatubo Spa Resort, the US$400,000 worth and 5,000 sq.m. modern facility in the sleepy barangay of Sta. Juliana, Capas, Tarlac takes pride in its wholistic approach to health and well-being. It was recently launched by a group of enthusiastic Korean investors called Pull Destination Corporation (PDC) with Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano as special guest.
Mt. Pinatubo — the plain-to-jaggedly-steep summit that sits between Zambales and Tarlac — is the spa’s best sales pitch. The venerated mountain is the source of most materials being used in the spa like volcanic ash and sulfur soap. Among others, the spa offers Korean/Japanese style sulfur water hot bath, volcanic ash shower, Chinese-style massage, hot springs outings and optional trekking. The whole-day package with meals is a real bargain for US$45.00 (R2,430.00) per person.
Interesting items like native-made bags and accessories; sulfur soap, mudpack, body scrubs, lotion and bath gels, mineral oils and salt, aromatheraphy essentials and outing/trekking gears maybe found at the spa’s boutique.
The spa has a spacious al fresco restaurant that dishes out native, Korean and health-friendly foods.
With a very Zen ambience and overall Asian theme, the spa resort is pretty perfect in its simple layout and minimalist framework.
The non-gated entrance leads guests to a spacious and casual open-air restaurant that seats more than 50 persons at a time. Next to it, a souvenir shop-cum-boutique.
Then there’s the inviting open-air massage center with cushioned mats laid out on its sprawling hazel nut hued wooden floor that can accommodate about 20 or more persons. Manned by 38 skilled lady therapists/attendants, this is where guests can take pleasure in the leisurely hour-long rigorous head-to-toe chopping, kneading, patting, rubbing — yet still very relaxing, sleep-inducing and invigorating massage.
At the back of the massage center are two shaded giant rectangular boxes filled with 20 tons of sifted then heated dark gray volcanic ash. Ideally made for the 20 burning minutes volcanic shower, one box has 20 slots and another one with 40 slots.
A shovel-pushing attendant is assigned per client. This attendant does all the heaping on and covering of a client’s body with warm volcanic ash except for the face that is left to stick out so it can be covered with a white paper-thin mask soaked in water, alcohol and liquid sulfur to tighten the skin and make it look younger. The volcanic shower makes one perspire a lot and if done regularly, said resort manager Pitt Won, aids in losing weight or unwanted flab.
The traditional half-body hot bath in a round communal tub has a therapeutic effect for joints and is very good at easing muscle pains. Three to five persons are seated and submerged in the tub’s waist-deep warm sulfuric water to complete the half-hour balmy course.
A six-hour optional trek to Mt. Pinatubo is part of the whole-day package but if the guests are not up to the body-beating adventure, they can opt instead to do the Tambo Lake sightseeing or take the half-hour stimulating dip at the mini hot springs near Mt. Pinatubo.
With a theatrical setting bounded by what looked like a sweeping chiseled mountain wall in ash gray tone on one side, the mini pools of natural hot springs will greet guests who will either embark on a trek or stop by just to take a few minutes of invigorating dip.
The place can be reached via a 45-minute ride on a sturdy 4x4 jeep. Like a cruise along a Sahara-like stretch of land punctuated by some pointy crags and spiky desert bushes, the close-to-mid-day road trip was as dusty and bumpy as a galloping horse ride.
The ride would then come to a halt just before the terrain is cut like a platform with the slope leading guests to the mini spring pools. For those who like to stay longer, a large shady cabana between the springs to offer a shady stop so guests won’t be roasted under the scorching heat of the sun. It has a big table and monobloc chairs for instant picnics, and a few coolers stuffed with your favorite electrolyte-replenishing thirst quenchers.
Hundreds of local and foreign visitors troop to the now hush-hush Mt. Pinatubo, and many engage in other ecotourism or hard core adventures within the region. The spa resort will be a rejuvenating mecca where trekkers, campers and spa habitues may drop by to pep up after a punishing quest or just relax.
The spa has emerged as prized part of all of the upbeat changes that slowly took place after the long-standing shock of Mt. Pinatubo’s rage. The ashen peak was a global headliner way back when it exploded and turned parts of bucolic Tarlac and Pampanga’s productive tracts of lands and flowing rivers into a lahar-coated wasteland.
Afterwards, the DoT stepped in to boost the place tourism-wise. Director Ronaldo Tiotuico of DoT Region III pioneered in rehabilitating the place that helped much in steadily restoring the normal lives of the native Aetas via ecotourism projects and other related activities.
Director Tiotuico, at the region’s helm for the longest time we can recall, excitedly told us about the spa’s genesis and its likely lucrative future.
The Clarkfield and Subic air access points, recalled Tiotuico, had a chunky input to the growing number of visitors to the region. After most of the Korean visitors got bored with the usual Tagaytay, Laguna and Banaue trips, they soon switched gears, appraised Tarlac. Then the spa resort plan took-off.
Present during the presentation were PDC chairman Patton Kim, president Chris Park, and resort manager Pitt Won.
In welcoming the media guests, Patton Kim praised the Filipino’s dignity and human courage, especially the people of Pampanga and Tarlac, for their resilience despite the Mt. Pinatubo disaster’s aftermath that made life hard for them.
The volcanic sand shower, a Japanese practice is a first in the Philippines. "It helps open the skin’s pores to remove dirt then the heat aids in easing joint and hip pains while burning some fats," Won said.
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