Category Archives: story
I’m not one to broadcast my failures online – Facebook, Twitter, this blog….but I promised myself I’ll be more fearless for this year. Posting this may be a good start. It’s quite poetic that my first post for this year is about failure and probably won’t be the last.
So early last year, I participated in my fourth climb with two of my college friends – Len and Jam. Len had been an avid hiker long before Jam and I got into mountaineering and when she told us about Mt. Tapulao which features Pulag-like scenery and fog, we quickly said yes to the invite without researching about the mountain. Our blood is singing with longing for the Great Outdoors, a veritable escape from the tediousness of city life. Not to mention the package is cheap! Just PHP650.00 for a day hike which includes transportation and guide fee*. There’s no way we’re gonna pass it up.
Mt. Tapulao is the highest mountain range in Zambales region. We left Cubao around 9PM in the evening because we need to get be in the jump-off point at 3 AM to start the trek. The three of us were happily chatting inside the bus, blissfully ignorant to the torturous trek ahead. Looking back now, the whole trip went smoothly. Too smoothly, in my opinion. Knowing my luck, I should have known that was a sign for the things yet to come.
Before the sun rose, we set off to the infamous Rocky Road, the first phase of the trek. Why Rocky Road you ask? Just take a look at the picture below. And if you’re thinking ‘Meh, that’s just the quarter of the trek. It can’t go on forever’ then you’re WRONG. The Rocky Road is like 80% of the trek and by the time you descend Mt. Tapulao, the mere sight of a harmless rock will drive you nuts. Nuts, I tell ya! (I can’t eat a rocky road ice cream without having a flashback of rocks, rocks everywhere)
The rocks don’t disappear. They just keep getting bigger and bigger.
As far as I remember, the route to Mt. Tapulao covers 16 stations of which I don’t know how it was divided. Let’s just say up until Station 14 or 13, you’ll be tripping on rocks until you finally enter the pine tree forest, the most scenic part of the hike. Jam and Len went as far as Station 14 while I, worried about the dusk, decided to climb down earlier. It was around 1 PM and we haven’t reached the peak yet!
In my previous hikes, I used to enjoy the descent more so than the climb. At least, I have some help from gravity when it comes to pacing. With Mt. Tapulao, the hike down is just as painful to the knees as the climb. The rocks are slippery and my knees are close to buckling down from exhaustion. I swear I have to ask my guide to have a rest every ten minutes or so. And when things couldn’t get any worse, it rained. Heavily.
Good thing I brought some extra clothes and underwear for the occasion. When we arrive back to the Rangers’ Station, it was nearly 3 PM and I changed off my wet clothes without some competition from other hikes. After comforting myself with a cup of warm noodles, I collapsed to one of the benches and slept until evening like a wimp.
TIPS BEFORE GOING TO MT. TAPULAO:
- If you’re a beginner, I STRONGLY recommend you to join the the overnight hike instead of the dayhike. If you want to challenge yourself, prepare prepare prepare weeks before the actual hike.
- A walking stick will be very useful especially during descent. By this time, your knees may buckle anytime and it’s good to have a stick to support you.
- Always bring a poncho or a raincoat. Don’t take the weather lightly.
- Wear comfortable footwear. You’re gonna rely on it especially during the Rocky Road.
- Mt. Tapulao is also a perfect pre-major hike climb. If you want to take on Mt. Pulag’s infamous Akiki challenge, Mt. Tapulao can prepare you for the terrain and the altitude.
- And don’t get discouraged! Whether you reach the summit or not within the allotted time, it doesn’t matter. We have revenge hikes for a reason 🙂
- Have fun!
Make sure you file your one-day vacation leave after the hike.
A hotel promo and a sudden whim to go out of the Metro for the weekend brought us to the province up the north – a historic little province called Bataan. My bestfriend seemed to understand my fetish for old houses and structures, historic churches and historical markers so one day, she surprised me that she already booked a hotel room for the two of us in a price we can both afford at a hotel in Balanga.We got more than we bargained for, because the hotel sits literally at the center of the Plaza Mayor, sandwiched between the grand City Hall and an even grander-looking Robinson Mall at one side.
I’ve known Bataan from history books as a site of the infamous Death March during the World War II, when the Imperial Japanese forces overwhelmed the last stand at Corregidor and made the prisoners of war march to their death from Bataan to prison camps spread across Luzon. Thousands of Americans and Filipino soldiers either died out of exhaustion, dehydration, torture or the desire to escape (they were shot on the spot). Even today, markers are spread on the street and main highways, commemorating the ordeal that marked the dark age of Japanese rule over the archipelago.
Our first destination after we reached the hotel is the St. Joseph Cathedral or the Balanga Cathedral. Just a few seconds walk from our hotel, we already reached the doors of the church. Since it’s Sunday, we are lucky that there aren’t any holy masses and we are free to roam around and inside the church. I quickly took notice of the historical marker placed on the side of the wall, meaning the Balanga Cathedral is one of the country’s national cultural treasures. I’ve been around churches for so long now, not entirely out of religious reasons (I consider myself a Protestant ), but because of my love for history and anything old. Catholic churches are the town’s cultural crown jewel – you can trace a place’s history through the consecration of the churches. As I keep saying, if you want a glimpse of a town’s history, visit their churches.
Next stop, we went to the Dambana ng Kagitingan at Mt. Samat. It is a giant memorial cross placed on top of the mountain which commemorates the heroism and courage of joint Filipino-American soldiers as they stood their ground to the waves of Japanese attack during World War II.
You can either walk on foot or take a tricycle going to the top. A tricycle ride is strongly advisable for city bums like me (travelling on foot would take you an hour and a half). On the other hand, a tricycle ride would cost you Php100.00 per head, one-way only, and you’d get to the shrine after 30 minutes.
Tourists can go up as high as to the left and right side of the cross through an elevator which costs around PHP10.00 per head. At the top awaits a magnificent view of the whole Bataan peninsula and the rugged mountain range of neighboring provinces. You can also catch a glimpse of the top of Mt. Mariveles, a dormant volcano beside Mt. Samat that nearly covers all Bataan.
It is an amazing feeling to behold the 90-ft cross standing proud and mighty against the elements. Yet its sheer size and grandiose is nothing but a humble, simple gift for our heroes who fought for our motherland even when the odds are against them. Visiting here made me realize how important it is to be reminded by their sacrifices to protect the liberty they valiantly fought for. Times may have changed now and our former enemies are now our strongest allies, but forgiveness doesn’t have to equate to forgetting. It’s no different than spitting on the graves of our heroes.
For dinner, we ventured to the Balanga Night Market where we got to taste one of the tastiest, juiciest sisig and grilled squid ever. For just Php135.00, we are served with two meals plus two rice. I’m not sure if the Night Market is for Christmas time only, but if you’re looking for an affordable meal, it doesn’t hurt to inquire about it to the locals.
The locals in Bataan are also the friendliest and most helpful people I’ve encountered. They are always quick to help you out and offer you points of interest. Some of the people we met didn’t take advantage of our apparent clueless-ness of the place and offered the best price for the services, like the tricycle driver in Mt. Samat.
The next day, we traveled to the West Nuk Beach at Morong, Rizal, at the farthest point of Bataan, to check out the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. I’ve always wanted to have a tour inside the first and only nuclear plant of the country. It is now called the White Elephant of the Philippines, as useless as any non-functional power plants can go, and the government is spending millions of pesos just to maintain the facilities. Now, it is a tourist sight and people can walk inside the power plant with a tour guide.
Unfortunately, the staff is having their Christmas Party when we arrived. That means no tours for us 😦 The only silver lining we got after taking the grueling trip from Balanga to Morong (Php55.00 each for the hour and a half ride) is that we got to frolic on the calm waves of West Nuk Beach. We didn’t stay long though because we have to catch the check-out time of our hotel.
We bought some Araro Cookies with cashew nuts for pasalubong at the Robinson’s Mall in a rush. Tinapa is Bataan’s own specialty too. The Gabi Ice Cream is also a well-loved specialty and you can try it at Orani, a town before Balanga.
All in all, I think I only spent Php1,000.00 for the activities and the fares for our 2-day stay. Excluding the hotel stay, of course. I would highly recommend staying in a less luxurious place, or in a house of a friend or a relative. Of course, you have to take note that the tour fare in Bataan Nuclear Power Plant is not counted in my breakdown of expenses, though it is recommended to have the tour with a group so you can share the package fee.
* Bus Fare (Cubao-Balanga) P200.00
* Jeep (Balanga-Diwa) – P17.00
* Tricycle (Diwa -Mt. Samat) – P100.00
* Entrance Fee – P20.00
* Elevator Fee – P10.00
* Tricycle (Mt. Samat-Diwa) – P100.00
* Jeep (Diwa-Balanga) – P17.00
* Mini-bus (Balanga-Bataan Nuclear Power Plant) – P65.00
* Bataan Nuclear Power Plant Entrance Fee – P20.00
* Entrance at West Nuk – P120.00
* Picnic Table – P60.00 (P30.00 each)
* Mini-bus (BNPP-Balanga) – 65.00
* Bus (Balanga-Manila) – P200.00
So all in all, Bataan is one of the most affordable out-of-town trips I’ve had. If you’re a fan of history or you just wanted to venture out of the Metro and visit a nearby province to relax, Bataan should be on top of your weekend getaways.
Last 2012, I was part of the media entourage who went to Las Casas Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. It is a man-made park filled with heritage houses uprooted from different parts of the country; houses that are decaying in their original location. They are henceforth transferred in Bagac for recreational viewing and preservation. You can check out my article here.
I could spend the whole day with her, sitting at her feet until the dying rays of the sun streamed through the veranda window. Her voice, husky and hoarse but firm and wise, carries across the dim-lighted room filled with books, antique wines and pictures of smiling loved ones who have come and go in her life, and that’s why at the grand old age of 104,Lola Jessie carries the burden of remembering a hundred years of memories time itself had forgotten.
She is the grand matriarch of the Lichauco Family, one of Santa Ana’s oldest families. She’s American-born. Before the war struck, an 18-year-old Jessie traveled from the opposite side of the world to the Philippines and married a promising lawyer, the first Filipino to have graduated from Harvard University, Marcial Lichauco. She’s been here all her life, but it was only in 2012 that she received, as she amusingly claims, the second-most important paper she signed next to her marriage contract – a paper noting she is now a Filipino citizen.
Her house at Santa Ana, Manila doesn’t bear any slightest indication of being regal and grand from the outside. It was flanked by a sturdy concrete wall along the streets of Pedro Gil and a plaque by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines is the only indication that this house is as old as Santa Ana itself. It was built back in the time that the Pasig River as at the peak of its glory, ferrying visitors in and outside Manila, and so the house is designed to face the majestic river to welcome its most-esteemed guests.
Walking inside the house is a queer experience of visiting memories encased in glasses, methodically preserved and well-kept by the family. There are Marcial’s stuffed hunts back in the days that hunting in wild Africa is considered a worthy indication of social status and prestige. On the conventional backdoor, you will find yourself staring at a hundred-year old balete tree, its vines lazily fluttering against the hot afternoon wind. The tree has been Lola Jessie’s silent companion, a mute witness to the eventual decay of the Pasig River and of what has was known to be the Queen City of the Pacific, the City of Manila.
Lola Jessie spends most of her time at the second floor of the house, in the veranda overlooking the two things she loves the most- her balete tree and the river. For her, those are the only things that remained unchanging. The tree continues to stand like a proud sentinel, the river continues to flow on its own course, though barely moving because of the mud and trashes down its innards. There isn’t any space at the walls of her house that isn’t occupied – every inch is covered by pictures, paintings and mementos of letters, certificates and family trees detailed in handsome script.
Even when she’s talking, Lola Jessie’s words are painted with interesting stories of different layers; a wistful retelling of what happened during the Great War and the price Filipinos have to pay when the city fell on the hands of the enemy. She would always recall how the remaining ones carted off the dead ones on the street after the Bombing as it they are sacks of rice piled up to be sold to the market. When the City of Manila was flattened beyond recognition, Lola Jessie witnessed the biblical exodus of the survivors from Intramuros and Quiapo to the relatively spared districts of Santa Ana to seek refuge. The Lichauco House became a makeshift hospital for the weak and the orphaned, and it was Lola Jessie herself who presided over the stench of loss and death.
She will struck you as someone who haven’t experienced the darkest moments of our history. Her eyes are bright and shrewd and her movements are sharp and definite despite her frail health. Her sense of humor is just as timeless. She is a voracious reader and her books are free to be opened by everybody. When she asked who among us likes to read, I slowly raised my hand and she turns to me with a mischievous grin, “You can come here anytime.” I smiled and promised I will.
She is as interested with people as she is with books. She asks smart questions and responds with witty answers. When she asked one guy about the course he is studying, he said that he has already graduated. With grand flourish worthy of her age, she responded “I’m asking you what did you study. It doesn’t make a difference if you already graduated.”
I like to think of Lola Jessie as the remaining link of what connects Santa Ana from its rich beginnings. The district, once known to be the Forbes Park during the Spanish rule, home to elegant boutiques and shoppes, is but a far-cry of its old exalted self. Its residents unaware of its lofty history as the seat of a pre-colonial empire, a federation of barangays whose form of government rivals the might of that of Germanic tribes and Scottish clans. Lola Jessie, with all her stories and anecdotes, wise counsels and sentiments about the past, would be a big part of Santa Ana’s journey to stand up and rise to reclaim its dignity.
At one point, she struck up a conversation with one of her visitors. The girl, having been surprised to be singled out, shyly hides behind her male companion. Lola Jessie affectionately pats her arm in a gentle reprimand, then said, “What are you doing? You shouldn’t be hiding there. Don’t you ever hide behind a man!”
She is that precious.
It’s not easy to be a Pinoy cinephile in the Philippines. Most copies of classics are not readily available on video stores and online. When you’re gushing on a good classic film you’ve recently watched, chances are people don’t have any idea what movies you’re talking about.
So thanks to this man, this wonderful man, Simon Santos, the cultists of Filipino films finally found an endless source of collection to sate their Filipino cinephilia. The humble but fascinating store is found in West Avenue, Quezon City, near DELTA (almost got lost when finding it but man, it’s worth it).
A Facebook post made me smile today. It’s about a worker who paid his salute to the Philippine anthem by clasping his fist against his chest as our three stars and a sun was being raised up in front of the Municipal Hall. That in itself is already a moving sight, since most Filipinos seldom pay homage to the flag-raising ceremony if they weren’t part of the event. But the fact that this guy is doing it hundred foot from the ground, at the top of a church scaffolding, deserves a thousand ‘likes’ (twenty-thousand and counting by the way)
This made me remember something that happened to me a few months ago at the MOA Arena before the opening of the International Pyromusical Festival. I was alone waiting for my office-mates at an open patio of a restaurant sitting beside the baywalk when I heard the faint tune of the Philippine anthem from a distance, signalling the opening of the program. I stood up and a few others also did. A waiter passed by, suddenly puzzled over why I am standing, and smiled at me. “Wow si ate, makabayan!”. (‘Bayan’ in Filipino means country so makabayan roughly translates to ‘someone who loves his country’)
He said it in a teasing, patronizing way as if expecting me to comb my bangs sideways and proclaim myself as ‘Rizal’. I took his jibe with a smile. He ought to be thankful I didn’t turn into a Bonifacio and chase after him with an itak for interrupting my sentimental reaffirmation of my allegiance to my country. (Honestly, is it that hard to stand still for a few minutes until the anthem ends?)
There are some things I can’t understand about Filipinos and this is one of them. When one from our brood gains worldwide recognition or achieves something worthy of international praise, we are quick to jump in the wagon and declare ‘Proud to be Pinoy!’ or ‘Philippines is blessed to have so many talented Filipinos.’ Personally, there’s nothing wrong with recognizing the achievements of your fellowmen, but purely identifying your national identity and pride to the success of some Filipinos who shed blood and tears just to get to the top, then I guess there’s something wrong with you. You may be a proud Pinoy but you’re not a true Filipino at heart.
I admit there’s nothing much to be proud the country at first glance. We all have the cliche developing country problems like corruption, poverty, unequal treatment of rich and poor, lack of education, national apathy and a case of bad historical amnesia blah blah blah. In some corners of the internet, Filipino pride is the butt of all jokes by foreign and Filipino netizens. It didn’t help that some Filipinos are butthurt about the affronts these foreigners make, whether it’s only satire or just an outsider’s observation. But the thing is, all countries have these problems too. I didn’t say I’m proud that my country has these problems (even US residents are ashamed of how badly their government handled its foreign policy in the Middle-east). My take is that you should justify your pride with positive actions. If you’re itching to slapbitch an author who blatantly states Manila is the Gates of Hell, then do your part to revitalize Manila than vent your persona-non-grata rage to the internet. If you believed there’s something in our genes that makes us great, prove it to yourself and stop hitching your wagon to someone else.
You can show your national pride through simple yet meaningful gestures. You can still be the proudest Filipino out there by recognizing the flaws of your country and adapting a mindset that you can do something to change it. You can be wise and patriotic at the same time. You can criticize. You can praise. You can observe. You can be that ordinary Juan doing your job and looking forward to contribute your part. You can be that daredevil manong standing at the side of the church dome, paying homage to the flag.
Because being a makabayan for the right reasons may not be an ‘in’ right now but you’re still going to feel awesome.
Last May 2-4, 2014, I attended a 3-day conference sponsored by the National Commission of Culture and Arts and also Wikipedia Philippines. The agenda is simple: Build a cultural mapping site which will document all heritage and historical sites across the whole country. Now, I don’t really consider myself as someone who loves heritage house and old buildings just for its art, nor the aesthetics involved. I don’t have an eye on what beauty is, and if I do, I don’t have any words to explain it. For me, beauty is a matter of degree..not a lack of it. When you’re talking about an old house, the overall architectural beauty of the place comes in second for me after its historical value or the hidden stories it may contain.
I have a fondness for old buildings ever since I was in grade school when my grandmother, who was a school principal that time, used to take me along field trips of her school. Usually, the destinations are historical sights or old houses of our heroes. I like running over the long hallways and running my hand over wooden carvings and balustrades. When I stumbled upon a room with a four-poster bed, I would imagine a young lady sitting on her bedclothes and braiding her long, dark hair while singing a song that would calm the night. Old houses are invitation for wild imaginings. When you’re talking about old, you’re also talking about stories. I love stories. Whether it’s just a short rambling, or a funny anecdote, or some great history involving the place, I cling to every word. In my book, whoever preserves these old gems are worthy of praise because they’re not only preserving the place as a whole, but the stories they contain…the people and events they’ve lived by. They are the irreplaceable parts of our history as a people and I would surely feel the same way even when I’m looking at old houses in Mindanao and Visayas as I would tour the houses in Luzon.
So why heritage? I like to think that I’m fighting for something that’s irreplaceable. An old house, an old building, a battlefield or an artifact, whatever they may be, the value they hold is no less important than what they look or what stories they contain. It could be my sentimental self speaking, but I like the thought of preserving the memories of old because without them, what am I going to call myself to begin with?
When you’re doing your part on preserving the history, you’re passing down an identity, a consciousness to the future generation. Loving our heritage, even if it’s influenced by our conquerors and colonizers, intricately connects and binds us together. You may love heritage for its art, or for its architectural wonder, or how it survived many generations, anywhere you look at it, it will remind us of what we endured and learned as a people.
The last time I ventured inside the vast Manila Cathedral was when I was in 2nd year college and had no idea of the historical relevance of the place. Yesterday, I bore witness to the grand re-opening of Manila’s cultural and religious jewel, the seat of the Catholic influence in the whole Philippines and a great heritage treasure we should cherish regardless of religion or absence of.
The Manila Cathedral sits at the center of Intramuros, the historic walled city, in the gardens of Plaza Roma in front of the Fort Santiago. It is one of the last cultural buildings that had retained its former glory and grandeur. Unlike the San Augustine Church, the original Cathedral didn’t survive the bombing of Manila during WW2 like most of the city’s old Hispanic buildings. Much of the old church was destroyed but the original plan and design were retained for old times’ sake.
Even before the destruction of the churches in Cebu and Bohol due to the 7.8 magnitude quake that struck Visayas last year, it is already a great concern for the church administrators and Manila city officials to preserve the Cathedral for future disasters. Starting from 2011, the Cathedral was closed for retrofitting so it can withstand strong shockwaves from earthquakes. Donations and pledges are made and after two years, the Cathedral is now ready to open its doors to the local worshipers and foreign tourists. Undoubtedly, it will be another precious collection to Intramuros’ rich heritage for non-Filipinos to see.
Forgive the blasphemy but I have to say this: Manila Cathedral, you are a heck of a sexy architecture and I hope your glory lives as long as there is still a Philippines.
The reopening of the Cathedral provided an excuse for a small college barkada reunion. And when you’re in a historic, solemn place with your nerdy, history-buff friends, discussions and stories are bound to be serious, if not philosophical.
Jayson, wearing his green-striped polo shirt tucked in his pants, has to sneak away from his work as a reporter to the local paper just to catch the event. When it comes to Philippine history, he’s the rockstar ever since our college days. Rene (my other friend) and I can only listen and nod agreeably when he’s spewing angry tirades and rants about anything from people ignoring and ambushing the performing Rondalla dancers once the doors of the Cathedral are opened, to the conspiracy involving the Bangsamoro peace deal. He knows the history of Intramuros in the palm of his hand and if there’s anyone who loves Manila inside and out, despite its blatant flaws, it’s him.
When you’re with a friend like Jayson, you will feel guilty of not being Filipino enough. He’s as precious as a heritage building: Few but true. That’s the most poetic description I could think of about a friend.
So late at night after the mass, as we strolled around the cobbled pathways of Intramuros, getting drunk over the mellow streetlights and melodic clamps of moving calesas, we engaged in our favorite pasttime of asking ourselves of what had gone wrong in Philippine history that condemned us in this culture of mediocrity and inferiority.
And the reason why I wrote down this anecdote is because of Jayson’s tirades. According to his lengthy but interesting exposition, even before the Spaniards came, the islands are already governed with several clans and tribes, each had the habit of waging war and killing each other off. In pre-Hispanic Manila alone, there are already three kingdoms thriving: The Kingdom of Maynila, Tundo and Namayan. Tribes across Luzon pledges loyalty to the Kingdom of Manila, but they are ruled autonomously, each with different leaders who seldom cooperate with each other.
“The Spaniards didn’t understand the complexity of the political system in the archipelago.” Jayson explains. “They didn’t understand that there’s a culture of strong regionalism in each island, in each province. Most people recognized Lapu-lapu as a hero of Cebu but Cebu and Mactan are ruled by different datus then and each held a bitter grudge against each other.”
What the Spaniards did, Jayson explained, is they rounded up all these kingdoms, tribes, clans, islands in one country in such a rush despite the obvious disagreements and grudges, hoping the hodge-podge would call itself a nation.
“Nasa dugo na ng mga Pilipino ‘yan.” (It’s in our genetic code). Jayson continues. “We inherently sided with the community than pledge our support to the greater society. That’s why we have political dynasties ruled by rich families in each region or province until now. It is in our nature to be ‘loyal’ to this people. The lack of education didn’t help our situation.”
That observation can only come from someone who spent so much time thinking about the Philippines, and there’s no question that Jayson is like that.
The discussion moved from Filipino society to the Spratly Island tension against China. Rene pointed out that if there’s one thing that unites Filipinos, it’s the presence of a common enemy perceived as an invader or a bully, as what majority call China these past few weeks.
“Well, at least we have to thank China for that,” I quipped. “Without China the ‘bully’, we would be busy pulling each other down.”
“Mabuhay China!” we cheered, and a couple who were busy making out at the corner just sent us weird looks.
We enjoyed the sated calm that follows after the orgasmic discussion. Who knew having threesome could be so gratifying?