Friday, April 25, 2008
An Encounter with the Eerie (A Trip to Banahaw) by Crispin Alexander A. Parlade
It was early morning and I hardly had a good night’s sleep. Grumbling, I boarded the bus filled with rowdy boys who filled the bus with their boisterous laughter. I wanted to sleep, but it was just impossible. I wanted to scream, “SHUT THE HELL UP!” at the top of my lungs but I powerless against them. So I ended up being in an irritable mood, looking out of the window hoping for a miracle to happen; a miracle to shut my classmates up. After all, the place we were going to is filled with mysteries and miraculous stuff. And so this was how my third year high school field trip to Banahaw began.
Passing through the countless roads of traffic (whether in Manila or Laguna), I could hardly care. I was just looking at the window, watching the cars and the ads along the way. Sometimes I would look at the people living out their normal lives as I munched on my baon. Or from time to time I will glance at the show being shown on the television with a lack of interest. I’m not much of a miraculous things fanatic nor a nature lover, so I bet that I wouldn’t enjoy this trip. So what if the locals consider this a sacred place? I’m not as rowdy as my classmates are anyway, I thought. Little do I know that there were surprises waiting for me ahead.
From the bus, we went to a village that leads to the mountain. The villagers there were mostly elderly, and looked like a grumpy bunch when you see them, but they welcomed us warmly. They took us to a small shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The shrine was small, but it was a sight to behold. The altar was mainly white, as if made of pearl, filled with statues of saints. Dominating the scene was a statue of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that she descended down to visit these mountains once in a while. But an even more surprising image is a picture of Jose Rizal outside of the church. Our facilitator told us that there are cults here that worshipped Rizal as a saint or even a god. Woah, I thought, I never knew people could praise Rizal this much. As someone who loves to write, I’ve always looked at Rizal as one of my inspirations. But I’ve never thought that people would go as far as to treating Rizal as one equal to the divine.
From there we started to climb the slope of Mount Banahaw. At the first glimpse at the endless trail or huge rocks, trees and shrubs, and slippery mud, my first impression was, we’re climbing THAT? You’ve got to be kidding. But to my dismay, the facilitator instructed us to fall in line and start the climb. My heart beat faster with every upward step, moving as slowly as possible to avoid the possibility of slipping. I got so paranoid with slipping that I became oblivious to the people around me, save only the hand of the one before me to help me up and the one behind me who I must help up in turn. The world seemed to have narrowed down to a beautiful picture of huge deformed rocks that had jagged edges and mosses growing all around them. They seemed to me like stone guardians of trail, clothed in lush green moss clothing, but weathered down by time. My mind started to wander into my imagination when I felt a sharp pain along with a flow of what seemed like droplets. I returned to reality only to find that I scraped my knee upon climbing up. Great, I said, we’re not even at the top and here I am with a wound on my knee. Fortunately it was only small, and I could manage to continue. As we climbed higher, we found a rock that was shaped like someone with a huge backside. My classmates jokingly named it Janice after our math teacher. I couldn’t help but laugh. Pretty soon we were starting to name rocks just for fun. At that point I started to think that the trip was not so bad after all. Yes, I told myself, even with this darn wound.
At some point in our ascent, my classmates and I got separated by how fast our paces were. Once again, I can feel my heart beating faster; only this time it was not much on the activity that I was doing but more of panic. I felt a cold shiver down my spine and goose bumps along my skin. I tried to look back but my classmates were nowhere in sight. The same thing happened when I tried to look forward. Sweat trickled down my face and I knew not what to do. Should I wait for my classmates to arrive? No, I told myself, because who knows if I’m at the end of the line? Then I asked myself if I should go on upward instead. I sighed and thought that this was the better choice. After all, I told myself, we’re all supposed to eat lunch at the peak. So I looked around again at the tall trees at grasses around that seemed to hide any view of my classmates as well as possible unknown dangers. Damn it, I cursed, who knows if a duwende is playing a trick on me? I closed my eyes tried to picture the face of my crush in order to find some source of strength to push forward my seemingly frozen body. Making a sign of the cross, I plunged into the unknown. Boy, if I were to mention places where my faith was tested, this would probably be in that list.
As I’ve mentioned earlier, I didn’t really believe much in miracles. But to my surprise, I found myself at the peak where the rest of my classmates were. I thanked God for sparing my life, saying a silent prayer at a wooden cross at the peak. Then I sat down to eat lunch with my classmates. It was then that I saw another spectacle. I could see the entire mountainside from there as well as the villages in the distance. From gigantic trees to various shrubs and vegetation, as well as huge boulders and winding routes of mud, everything was visible at that point. I could even see my classmates who were just on their way to the peak from afar. Looking above you could see the clouds that seemed so close that you would think that you were flying. After taking some pictures, we started our climb downward.
At that point I started to go down at a faster pace, fearing nothing at all. But I made sure I had my classmates in sight this time. Nothing was slowing me down, not the trees nor the rocks. That is, until the rain started to pour down. The slope became slippery that I had to cling on to the rocks for support. As I’ve expected, I wounded myself yet again. Once again irritable and at the point of exhaustion, you could only imagine my joy when we arrived at our destination.
Along the way, we met a couple of girls from St. Paul, a batch higher than we were. Catching a glimpse of them from afar, my classmates acted as if they’ve seen a diwata pass by. We acted like gentlemen before them, helping them up (touching their hands felt like heaven) and encouraging them on. Their smiles were priceless. Some of my classmates even went as far as introducing themselves to the girls. It was a funny sight watching them. I guess it’s just God’s way of providing them with a miracle after a long, exhausting journey. Wow, I thought, the view is perfect for someone who’s falling in love. I smiled. This thought reminded me once more of my crush.
Finally, we reached the place we that we were supposed to go to. It was a small cave where everyone rested and tried to dry themselves up. There, the facilitator organized a group of volunteers who will venture into a cave called bla. It was mentioned to a very narrow cave, one that you have to crawl into in order to maneuver. They even said that it is a place that will change your life, that you will be a different person when you emerge out of it. Sadly I declined. I couldn’t bear any more wounds, or worse broken bones. Plus, I’m a stout fellow, so I don’t want to end up stuck like Pooh bear was in his Disney movie. And so I stayed there looking around the place. The cave itself had a small shrine with some statues of Mary. I went there for a while along with the others who declined and prayed. I thanked God for this exhausting but beautiful journey. When my classmates came back, I asked them how the adventure went. I could only laugh when they confirmed that they were indeed changed. I’ve never seen them so holy before.
Finally we descended down altogether down the mountain. My classmates couldn’t help but wave at the girls who were just passing by. As for me, I was looking around once more. These trees, rocks and shrubs that made me nervous during the trip were no longer heralds of dangerous beings of the unknown, like when I got lost earlier. They seemed like silent guides who show you the way back. For once during the trip I saw them like friends rather than enemies. My eyes were opened to how nature was actually supporting me. The trees, with their fan like leaves, shaded me from the heat of the sun. The rocks, grotesque as they are, served as handlebars to hold on as you go down a slippery trail that would make you appear like a roller skater.
We made our way back to the shrine and the village where we started. At the village, I could only imagine the inhabitants laughing at our appearances. We were soaking in sweat and muddy; exhausted but all with a big grin spread across the face. We returned to bus to change our clothes and prepare for our way back. Just then something really hilarious happened. Some of our classes, after having changed, came down of the bus and went to the buses of the girls of St. Paul. They stopped by the window of the girl considered the heartthrob and, to my classmates’ amusement, they started serenading her. Our bus was soon filled with boisterous laughter and loud voices cheering our classmates on. Fortunately, after the show, my classmates who did the serenade were still in the right mind to stop and return to the bus. Shortly after, we were on our way back. I can’t remember what happened next. All I know is that I feel asleep on the way back due to exhaustion, waking up when we arrived back at school.
At the end of the day, I realized that I was wrong. The trip that I thought would be forgetful turned into one memorable adventure for me. It made feel like a different person altogether. Not only did I learn to appreciate nature, it made a believer out of me. My faith in God was strengthened and now I believe in miracles. Given the chance, I would want to go back to Banahaw and take the trek once more. So may strange and miraculous things happened to me, so I doubt that I would even be bored. Do try it, if you have time. Who knows, we might cross paths in this encounter with the eerie?