Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Journey to the Cross on Mt. Samat

I have seen and known the Mt. Samat cross ever since I was a kid. We used to make the very long trip (pre NLEX and SCTEX) to Villa Imperial near the PNOC complex when I was about 7 or 8 years old. It would take 4 to 5 hours by road travel, and the last hour and a half would always have a good view of the cross on top of the mountain. I always wondered what is up there. I have heard of stories that the cross is actually a building with an elevator. Also that it is a tomb for some of the soldiers who died in World War 2. I never got to go up and confirm these, till April this year, which is 30 years after.

My sister Cecil and her sons did not have anything to do on a Good Friday so we decided to go on the pilgrimage to climb up Mt. Samat and learn what is really up there. We made the trip via NLEX and the San Fernando - Bataan Road. The trip was shortened to almost just a couple of hours because of the improvement of the road infrastructure, a far cry from trips we made when I was little. Once we reached that intersection after Balanga in Bataan, slowly we made the ascent to the wooded areas on the foot of the marked mountain. The straight roads of the highway was transformed into curving till it was almost zigzagging. Bends became sharper and negotiating the turns went from manageable to hard for our vehicle as the road sloped steeper. But surprisingly there was pedestrian traffic running alongside the vehicles, even when there was no sidewalk on the road. People were doing their own pilgrimages by foot, a much harder task to hurdle as the mountain is surprisingly high and rugged. This is unexpected as it is not apparent that Samat is a slightly tough cookie to conquer, when you see the view of it and its cross at lower elevation.

When we neared the entrance of the cross shrine, we realized our ordeal was far from finished. We had to continue on foot as the parking was already full and the road going up to the foot of the cross was also packed with parallel parked cars. My heart pounded as I saw the series of stairs leading up our cross goal. I was anticipating my own agony. My younger nephews negotiated the steps easily and of course i lagged behind them and my sister. But slowly and surely, i managed to catch my every breath. With a little help of will power I soon was pacing my last strides, raising my now much heavier calves to the last risers. My ultimte joy was seeing a store selling cold Coca Cola on top of the last flight. Probably the best can of soda I had.

It is true that there is an elevator within the cross, but on that Good Friday afternoon, getting on it was a much greater task than climbing to the cross grounds. There are literally hundreds of people awaiting their turns to get on the elevator car and ascend to the top of the cross, where I heard the view is priceless. We had to content ourselves with the satisfaction of reaching and seeing the cross upclose. Besides, the view at foot level was also something to look forward to. Here you could already see the whole of Bataan and Manila Bay. We were already very much happy with what we saw and experienced.
Probably another surprise was to see that what was on top in the Mt. Samat shrine is not only a monumental cross. It is a complex with a main shrine building, a congregation area with grandstand, accommodation facilities and service areas. The architecture was definitely American influenced, probably Art deco because of the elongated geometric patterns. Minus the very rowdy crowds, I could imagine that the place is indeed a conducive place to remember and contemplate the heros and martyrs of World War 2. It is a monumental island on top of a very green background that is Mt. Samat. Incidentally, the third surprise was to find this part still covered with trees and lush greenery. But regret is that among the thick green of reforested area, exotic trees are very visibly intertwined with the native species. This silent war between natives and exotic flora would not probably merit any monuments like that of the Mt. Samat cross. Just hope that in the end, it is our environment that turns out the big winner.
Eventually my sister, nephews and I found ourselves on the way back feeling like winners ourselves. We have conquered our goal for that day. We reached our cross! It is not a tomb, but a fitting memorial to remind us of a sad part of our Filipino history. I confirmed my suspicions on what was up there on that far cross. And after years and years of wait, I finally reached the summit of Mt Samat.


nucleardreams said...
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Plant Chaser said...

I've never tried going to the cross. I think I will include it in the list of family must-do's.