Living in Manila has its perks, like only having to walk a couple of blocks to get to work, and, uh… I guess that’s about it. Fact is, the city is ugly, dirty, and stinky. At least my part of the city is. Every day I walk in its streets, I feel certain I’m going to die of lung cancer. So when my friend Issa asked me to tag along their hike in Mt.Banahaw last February 19-20 as part of Siao Campoamor’s P.I. 100 class, I didn’t think twice about joining.
I wanted to get away from the concrete and midden nightmare that is Manila and treat my lungs to the exhilaration of the outdoors. And treat myself to the exhilaration of the outdoors I did:
we crossed streams and rivers, bathed in pools and falls
crawled into and out of caves and holes
went cliff-diving and swimming
hiked up the summit of Mt. Banahaw
and rode on the roof of a jeepney on the way down
All I wanted was a breath of fresh air, but I ended up taking in a different kind of breath, a more spiritual one if you will. Mt. Banahaw, aside from its natural beauty, is popular among hikers for its religious and cultural significance to Filipinos; indeed, its residents consider it sacred, and pilgrims flock to it every year. At the foot of the mountain reside a number of Rizalist groups, who believe that national hero Jose Rizal is some prophet and/or deity. We stayed at the home of one such group, in Nanay Nita’s laberinto, and spent a goodly part of the trip learning about the Rizalistas and visiting their sacred sites in Mt. Banahaw.
It never ceases to amaze me how people interpret texts and the world to fit their desired narratives regardless of whether the fit is an uneasy one or not. But hey, we all got to make sense of the world, right? In its fusion of folk Catholicism and nationalism, I think Rizalist beliefs make for an interesting and quite empowering ideology.
I don’t remember much about the particulars of their doctrines or the names of their sects and shrines, but what struck me about them is the harmony of their coexistence. The Rizalistas are not a homogenous group; they include a number of sects with various beliefs. Now, I have my beefs with organized religion (like its systematic tendency to foster fundamentalism, literalism, conservativism, dogmatism, and a lot of other -isms exemplified by the CBCP), and one of them is the way it contributes to divisiveness, especially when members of some religious group think their religion is ~The One True Belief System~ and that only they can be saved. Given this, I found the religious tolerance among the sects in Banahaw impressive. Instead of rivalry and hostility, one finds in their interactions with one another great amity. These are people who respect each other’s beliefs and take maxims like “live and let live” to heart, a welcome break from people with holier-than-thou attitudes.
But more than the immersion with devotees, I went there for the hike. The trail, for the most part, was pretty easy, although I can’t say I enjoyed wriggling into and out of caves (cue Maricel Soriano exclaiming, “Ayoko ng masikip. Ayoko ng mabaho. Ayoko ng madumi. Ayoko ng putik!”). Husgado was PURE TORTURE — I scraped my knees, shins, and the soles of my feet. I LOVED the hike up Kalbaryo to the summit of Mt.Banahaw, though. It was tiring, yes (methought I could feel my quadriceps bulking up, pressure!), but watching the sunset atop the mountain left me more breathless than the climb did.
With all the huffing, puffing, wheezing, and scrambling, the climb up Kalbaryo made me ask why I love hiking. Sure, the sights are rewarding, the exercise exhilarating, but more than these things, I think I’ve grown to love hiking because it’s like an intense, simpler version of life (and here I interpret the world to fit my narrative): you go through ups and downs, and often the going gets tough, but you just have to keep going on, keep putting one foot after the other – sooner or later, it all ends, and at the top maybe you’ll find beauty, at the very least, peace. But it’s not the summit that’s all-important, it’s ~the climb~.
So, you know, just enjoy the journey, have fun, take in the sights, breathe deep. You may be surprised at the things you can do.
To learn more about the Mt. Banahaw hike/immersion and its relation to teaching history, check out “Akademya at Banahaw” by Prof. Nilo Ocampo.
To read more about the particular adventures of the hike, check out “The Treks of Torture in Mt. Banahaw” by Anna Oposa.
For more photos, check out my Facebook album.
THREE MONTHS THREE MOUNTAINS:
February 19-20: Mt. Banahaw