Friday, April 20, 2012

I Walked TO The Shrine of Valor

In English, that is called the Shrine of Valor, but for Filipinos especially in Bataan, the place is commonly called by its Tagalog translation Dambana Ng Kagitingan. It is even usually shortened further to just dambana – meaning shrine.

So, there I was at the Balanga City bus/jeep terminal, fresh from a long bus ride from Manila, now trying to find a ride to Pilar – the town where Mt. Samat is and where the dambana stands at its peak. The helpful drivers and dispatchers in the area showed me the jeeps going to Morong and/or other places on the western side of the Bataan peninsula as they all pass by Pilar. But it was taking so long as each jeep must first be filled to the rafters to depart!

I was almost tempted to hop into a trike. But I stayed on since there was no hurry. The dambana was supposedly my only destination for the day in this place anyway, so I told myself I could take the whole day if need be hehe! It was only somewhere half past 9AM and I learned that the bulk of transport movements during these times are arrivals from the hinter towns into Balanga. I was going in the opposite direction, thus, few passengers, thus… long wait!

My jeep eventually got full and went off. Patience is a virtue hehe! But it was only a few minutes of front-seat ride on good wide roads (actually a highway) with a lot of rice plantations and sporadic farming to middle-class villages for a lovely countryside morning view.

And there I was, standing at the corner of the highway and the road that goes up to the Dambana Ng Kagitingan! Yes, I was mostly saying, I should have taken a trike for this short distance! Oh well, I was thinking this was on another road, probably unpaved and uninhabited as if I was going to some waterfalls or mountain range. Argh! Wrong assumptions. I should have done better research! This was actually the very main road we passed-by two months ago going to Montemar Beach Club! Anyway…

Now what?! I was at the corner alright. but how was I supposed to go up this feeder road to Mt. Samat? There is this little building that seems to have been erected in conjunction with the shrine. Went near only to find out that there is nothing there. No trace of humanity, from the looks of it, I think this building is not even being used anymore. It does have some signange bannering Philippine-Japanese friendship, so I was intrigued…

Though seemingly abandoned, if there is that building about Philippine-Japanese friendship in this area, one thing naturally comes to my lowly mind. Meaning the Japanese government was probably part of, or instrumental in the construction of something. In this case, like what? The Shrine of Valor? Gosh! Or this road that leads up to it? Gosh too! How absurd, and well yes, how cunning of whoever solicited or enlisted their help hehe! If indeed that is/was the case. Bright!

What did he/she/they say to our Japanese friends? Like, “come now my tomodachi, please donate XXX million pesos so we can build a big grand monument to commemorate and to ensure we always remember how your Imperial Army attempted and almost got successful in conquering and annihilating the Filipino people together with many American soldiers”. Ganun? I wonder hehe! It is there anyway, and it still has signage, so all I could do was smile hehe!

There is a little store across, so I went there to ask. The lady told me that I was standing on the very corner where the rides (habal-habal) to the shrine emanate from but they are all probably not yet around or have already gone up with passengers. I asked how far is that thing away from here anyway, and she replied that it is 7 kilometers. She told me to just wait a little while more, and I took that waiting time to munching some crackers with a bottle of Coke from her little store. Breakfast at 10:28AM, SRO  - as in Standing Room Only!

Impatience, excitement or both… instead of steadfastly standing on that corner to wait for a habal-habal ride, I started inching forward on that road, just to see things around. I knew if them habal-habal drivers came, they would have easily spotted me anyway so I can hop on to go up the dambana.

Something caught my attention. Things strewn on the pavement that seemed unfamiliar to me. I know it is common in the provinces for farmers to dry palay on the roads, but this was no rice I was looking at! It seemed like so many hundreds, even thousands of little sticks!

Still walking, I looked for someone who can answer my little question - what were the sticks for and why were they being dried strewn on the road. Hah, a kid appeared so I asked him. Answer? Barbecue sticks! Yes, those that you buy from the market to skewer meat, chicken, banana, camote and whatever else. Hah, so this was a barbecue stick factory hehe! I noticed that most in the neighborhood were into this kind of business. I did not think however, that those sticks are still sun-dried before being sold. Hmm, what for? Ah, maybe so they wont rot, I guess!

Where do they get the bamboos? Kid told me that there are a lot of those further up the road all the way to the dambana. Interesting! So I leisurely walked further up if only to see more of them bbq-stick producers! There were of course other interesting sights on the way and it was getting breezier as I went on. Like some big wide leaves fallen off trees, I picked one and saw that it could easily wrap my size 12 shoes! And oh, a little bit further I chanced upon a kilometer marker that said I was 6 kilometers more to the dambana. Wheh! That meant I have already been walking for a kilometer from the main road. Gosh!

Oh alright I said, go on walk more and see more, and in no time, that dmabana will be just a few more steps away hehe. So I did! The views to the plains down below were getting more and more fantastic. And the tree cover on the road was getting thicker and greener. So it was a fine breezy morning for a walk. Though uphill, I did not really quite notice. I found this walk quite exhilaratingly fun!

There is some kind of a picnic area along the way, with tall trees, concrete tables and benches, nice views of the farms down below, so I rested a while in there. Hey, I even had a pictorial of my own self as subject and still me myself and I as photographer hehe! I did feel some thirst and I knew that corner store would have already been very far back to return to. But I was sure I would probably pass by another sari-sari store along the way.

A few steps from the picnic area, I encounter another marker that said the dambana was 5 kilometers away. Now I was verbally and even loudly exclaiming “oh c'mon, that was already 2 kilometers?” for it was not easy to believe I already walked that far hehe! And I have not even seen the folks who gather bamboo made into sticks! They could not be up at the shrine, right? Its a building and surely any bamboo growth or even some trees will have been cut to make way for the facility and its ornamentals, right? I was sure those dudes would be somewhere nearby, so I walked on…

And… every hair in my body stood tall at the next scene that confronted me!

It was the boy I asked down at the road earlier. He was the one who answered my questions and the very same one who told me I would find more of them bamboo gatherers somewhere here. He was actually the only human being I ever saw after the manang at her corner store, But why was he already here, some few meters ahead of me even? I knew I was walking alone, and I have not seen nor heard any human being walk past me since I talked to him a few kilometers back! Yes, I stayed awhile at that picnic area, but I was sure no one, not even any type of vehicle overtook me. That picnic area is just by the side of this road anyway. I should have seen or heard anything!

Yes Mana Ruby, I instinctively made the sign of the cross and did not even know I was already mumbling “I believe in God…” followed by The Lord’s Prayer. That, as many things flashed in my head. Gosh, was I in Samar? Or in Siquijor? Was I in Capiz or Antique perhaps? NO! I was in Bataan and I have not heard anything ghostly about Bataan. OMG, but he was there, the boy, a few meters where I was heading. He crossed the road, glanced at me, smiled and disappeared into the thickets.

I wanted to scream, but what could the screaming do? I was kilometers away from the nearest human being - if this boy was not! Running back would have been futile if I already saw that the kid was suddenly ahead of me for no discernable reason since I left him kilometers back! He could appear in front of me whether I go forth or turn back, I was already sure of that! I moved on just the same. No I was not afraid. I WAS TERRIFIED hehe utang na loob naman o! Kayo na makakita ng ganito! But for some reason, something in me said I better go on forward instead of back.

As if really on cue, a big black bird, not a crow, went swooping down the road as if to pick something up, then, noticing that I was approaching, it flew just as quickly to a nearby tree. Its a big bird, not totally black, and I think I somehow talked to it hehe. Cant remember but I think I was pleading for a safe passage in this place. Yet I did take a picture of the bird since it was just there perched, as if watching me! Nearby was some kind of memorial marker so I stopped and read what it was. An award recognizing the dambana as “an outstanding national civil engineering landmark”. Whatever that means, it sure at least shifted my attention from the mysterious boy that suddenly appeared and disappeared.

A few steps on was another memorial, this time with religious significance. I got curious since there were two statues and they did not look like those I commonly see at churches or other religious places. They looked like tombs from a distance. The big signage says “KANNON THE GODDESS OF MERCY & VIRGIN MARY’S PILGRIM PLACE”. The little issue in my little brain was that what looked like Virgin Mary to me had Kanji inscriptions while the other one that I thought looked like a Buddhist Goddess had nothing written anywhere. Ah, whatever, especially with the boy still in my mind, I stopped a while here and prayed hard!

This time I was really sure that the Japanese must have had something to do with this road or the dambana itself. For even their goddesses are enshrined here alongside Mama Mary. Or probably a witty addition by the constructors so that even Japanese tourists can come here and do not feel really guilty or sorry about the past. Eh, past is past, and loyalty does not ever get doled to a perceived enemy, right? So, no need for us to condemn the Jap as a race when we get reminded about the wars of the past!

Now now folks, if earlier on this walk I was like wondering why it seemed so fast that I was already kilometers away from main road, at this point I was already feeling like the dambana was still too far away after all. Look at that picture. That cross was/is the destination. And if earlier I thought it was just near, this time, most probably after the encounter with the boy, I thought that was toooooo far! And a few steps more I discover another marker that said it was still 3 kilometers away from where I was. Argh! I was midway, so to return will have been stupid.

I moved on, though reluctantly. This time I was praying for some habal-habal to already show up and get me to the top quickly! Psychology must have worked its toll on me at this stage. Why? Because all of a sudden I felt really thirsty, a bit hungry, felt I was perspiring too much, felt my backpack was getting heavier, cursing myself why did I have to wear jeans on this trip… ah just about so many things worth complaining, they all came to mind. But for some reason, I was still inching my way forward. On hindsight, I think the negative feelings all came after the goose-bumpy sighting of the boy that smiled at me and suddenly disappeared into the thickets hehe!

The boy… OMG there he was again! Crossing my path again! But I looked at his feet, he was not as if floating in air like it is told in many a ghost story. He looked real so I told myself he must be real. He was lugging some cut bamboo and some wood strips that I think was firewood. I moved forward, but he already crossed the road and disappeared into the bushes and trees. I doubled up to be at least in shouting distance of him as he continued to disappear. “Saan ka galing” so I hollered, I could see leaves and branches moving where he was passing. He replied saying “dyan”. Hmm he meant he just came from where I was standing. Wasn't that obvious? I continued with “saan ka papunta?” and he replied back saying “pauwi na”.

I continued walking while still thinking about his reply. But a few steps on, I stumbled upon a young man busy cutting bamboos right on the side of the road. I of course stopped by to watch and ask a few questions – foremost about the boy. Aruuuu! I discovered the lad is his relative and they use the "shortcut" when traversing this area instead of following the road that is zigzagging all the way to the top of the mountain. Shortcut means a path from the road up or down to the next level without following the pavement that, I now discovered is actually quite lengthy since the bends are far apart! Their walking paths are steep yes, but definitely shorter in distance than walking the road as I did!

Stayed there a while to learn more about their shortcut hehe. I even tried my hand at cutting those bamboo nodes into little sticks as this brother of the boy answered my questions. Hesumalusep! And I really had to recite ’I believe in God’ and ’Our Father’ hahaha! Shortcut lang pala! Everything changed in my attitude! I was now again eager to go walk all the way to the dambana. There were no more apprehensions about engkanto, and the likes hahaha!

Continued with my walk and just as I passed by the marker that said I was 2 more kilometers to the shrine, a habal-habal passed by with driver quickly hollering at me if he should come back to pick me up. You guessed it, I said no need! A few steps further, I stumbled upon this marker/monument/whatever that did not have anything written in English! I mused that must have been Kanji writing if not Chinese. But having seen the friendship house and the Kanna, I was sure that this is Japanese writing.

More of the walking and twenty minutes more I passed by the marker that said I was just a kilometer away from the shrine. Yey! The road gets steeper here though and it was really an effort hiking up this area. As if to affirm that, some bikers came to overtake my turtle-pace walk and all of them were panting mighty hard I could even hear some of them already gasping for air hehe. But they did move on very slowly, but at least still faster than my walk! As for me, I even had to walk backwards at those steep curving portions.

And there I was about to enter the big compound of the Shrine Of Valor or Dambana Ng Kagitingan - that's the very first picture above. Time check: 12:40PM and I started this walk at exactly 10:28AM down at main road intersection!

Lets have more of my dambana stories in the next entry. Hah! Kapoy!


  1. bilib ako tsong! grabe mga trip mo! wag mo ko isasama sa mga ganyan ha!