I’m back from my trip to the mountains. Body, completely sore. And I’ve confirmed that I am terribly out of shape and will probably not survive a zombie apocalypse.
So yes, for a weekend I disappeared to go on a hike to Banahaw for my Philippine Institutions class. We went to experience the supposedly sacred mountain and survey certain religious beliefs and institutions. Most of the population there were very religious out in the boondocks.
We slept in a sort of dormitory in the back of a local church. The church’s religion was based off of Catholicism but with a twist, they believed that Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero/writer/doctor, was holy. From what I gather they believed him to be the second incarnation of Christ. It was pretty strange, but they were very nice people.
That little church was within a town called Ciudad Mistica De Dios, which translates to something like The Mystic City of God. Pretty epic name for a town in all honesty. There are many ways to enter the town, but I think my favorite one would have to be through this massive, metal double-gate, probably over 3 stories high. On top of the lintel you’d find massive swords crossed over each other held by severed hands. And on top of both the posts, giant, flaming hearts. And on the bottom, Phoenix-like birds and cherubs. Flags of the world were also painted on the gate. It was amazing and ridiculous at the same time.
Now here’s something interesting: Apparently, nearly every house in Ciudad Mistica was a church with a different religion. According to our guide, there could be less than a hundred religions there. Yet, all these neighboring churches respected each other’s beliefs mutually. It was a peaceful town of many churches.
Touring around the little town for a bit was peanuts compared to actually traversing the mountain. I actually didn’t finish the flipping hike up to the top because my leg cramped up and I couldn’t support myself properly. Which was a problem as the “hiking trail” was very steep and narrow. And as a person that has not done a lot of physical exercise, I was pretty much screwed from the beginning. But in retrospect it was a pretty awesome experience despite the pain and heavy wheezing I had to endure.
There were a few places of interest in the mountain, which I think you go through in a sequence as climbing up Mount Banahaw was a spiritual journey. We started going down to a river, which I forgot the name of, but I do remember my professor saying that the river was the gatewey to the soul or the spirit world or something like that.
There were two small falls there. One was male and the other was female, because apparently the female one had roots cascading down it which represented long hair. We were told to splash in both a bit for the success of the group’s trek supposedly. And then we were told to dip into the river. Afterwards we journeyed to a natural well, got splashed with more water. At this point we were all completely soaked. I made the rookie mistake of wearing jeans and sneakers. Water did not leave my shoes and my jeans were twice as heavy. And then we climbed further up the mountain. I think the water was supposed to make the climb harder as the climb up Mount Banahaw was, I guess, a sort of ritual of penitence. The mountain was already pretty difficult to climb considering you climb using steep, crudely-carved steps of stone, mud, and root. And occasionally you had to do a bit of free climbing on jagged rocks and boulders.
So up we went, and found a cave called Prisintahan, which is where you present yourself to God. You light a candle inside, make a wish there in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary. And then you enter a cave called Husgado, which means The Judge. This cave is pretty narrow and full of jagged rocks and if you make it out of this cave without a cut or a scratch, you are supposedly found without sin.
I was pretty excited to go in, but because my leg cramped up pretty badly earlier, the guide said I should sit it out as I might find it difficult to go through it. At first I persisted, but my leg wasn’t finished hurting, so I opted out of it. Ah well…
After being “judged” you climb up to Kalbaryo, which is the Tagalog of Calvary, famously known for being the hill which Jesus climbed to with the cross in which he was crucified on. Now, in the Philippines, Kalbaryo can also mean, “a tribulation one must endure.” As the climb to Kalbaryo is very treacherous and arduous. I didn’t go through with it on account of my leg. Felt like I missed out on it actually. But everyone was severely tired when they came back down.
The whole trip was pretty exhausting. But I guess in retrospect it was pretty fun. I wish I could’ve posted pictures but I couldn’t find the time or energy to snap any during the trip. But you can Google this probably. Or you can just come to the Philippines to experience the place yourself. I can’t really claim that it’s more fun in the Philippines, unlike what the country’s tourism board’s current campaign is suggesting. But I do believe the amount of culture in this tiny country to be worth an excursion. Our culture is basically what makes this place unique from anywhere else. Our little country has so many stories of magic and wonder and I do believe it’s better to have the place, the mountains, the rivers, and the people, tell you all about them.
Also, I congratulate you for finding this interesting enough to finish reading. :)