Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Of prayer knots, wishes and hikers on Bud Bongao

"You've never really been to Tawi Tawi until you've climbed Bud Bongao," so says our guide, Ben, as we set out on an overcast morning. It was a sentiment echoed by the staff of the local Tourism Council and it was easy to see why. While not particularly high at 397 meters according to my buddy's GPS (314 according to references), Mt. Bongao stands imposingly, visible from any point in town as if guarding it from harm.

We took a short tricycle ride to the jump-off in Pasiagan, lugging bunches of bananas.F rom the beginning, the trail was slippery from consecutive days of start-stop-start rainfall during the afternoons.T he 1.5-2 hour long climb is described in the reference books as hot and dry during the summer months. But now, it's hot and humid as we made our way through the thick forest cover.Past midway, the trees rustle even though there was little wind. Then, the shrieks came - guttural and insistent. The leaves part and reveal the macaques, expecting us to give them their fill of bananas to which we happily oblige. Pretty soon, the air is filled with their grunts. The monkeys are considered sacred by the locals, superstition dictates that those who touch or harm them awaits misfortune. The higher we climbed, the less boisterous they become which is well and good as we quickly ran out of bananas.On the first clearing, we found the first of three tampats or holy resting places. An imam awaits sojourners here like the families who followed us on the trail. They take off their slippers before entering the tampat. One parent bears a sick daughter, bidding the imam to give a blessing and summoning the mountain for healing.

On the way back down, Ben points out many branches knotted with all sorts of tying materials -- plastic wrappers, twine, branches. these are sort of "prayer" or "wish" knots as sojourners pray and make a wish then bind this with a knot. no one dares remove any of the knots for fear of retribution or worse, becoming the cause of a wish to go unfulfilled.I must've tied several knots with branches before we continued our descent and enjoying the vantage point afforded by the elevation. It's a heady feeling to survey Tawi Tawi from this high, even headier to feel the mountain's energy course through our beings.


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