Saturday, June 16, 2018

Tempered at Cebu City's Temple of Leah

If you’re an avid fan, you must be looking forward to that familiar climactic event in Greek and Roman mythology—the ultimate battle between good and evil. Before that showdown could take place, however, a far more crucial battle has to be fought, right inside the head of the hero or heroine. The protagonist needs to conquer an inner demon first and foremost before he or she can slay the beast, rescue a loved one or liberate the kingdom.

Like many mythological protagonists, you and I have our own inner demons—those  cacophonous voices inside our head that sap our strength and weaken our willpower, overwhelming us with strong feelings and emotions that turn into the Scylla and Charybdis of doubt, disappointment and desperation.

For quite some time now, I’ve been waging some battles with my inner demons, which have gotten more powerful of late. This prompted me to fly to the island province of  Cebu one long weekend, not to run away from them but to conquer them head-on in a somewhat different battleground—up there in the highlands of Dalaguete.

Self-doubt has been eating a part of me for many weeks. Some unknown fear was tearing me apart and I felt that a spontaneous adventure in Osmeña Peak would help me crush it. By scaling that peak, I believed I’d be able to win over my inner demons. So scale I did. And I was proven right (For more about my adventure there, click

Following that successful climb, I woke up rather late the next day, tired, torn but triumphant having finally stricken that highland hideaway off my bucket list. For almost an hour, I was restless—curling up the sofa, pacing from one end of the room to the next, watching the gloomy skies outside the window of a hotel somewhere in the vastness of downtown Cebu, uncertain of what to do next. 

A glimpse of Cebu's skyline from my room

Fearing that I’d lose the momentum I gained after scaling one of the highest points in the island province, I decided to go for another exciting highland adventure—this time to one of Cebu City’s emerging tourist magnets where I had a brief Roman holiday of sorts that seemed to have tempered the emotional tides that had been bashing me for weeks. The place? Temple of Leah.

Growing up reading Greek and Roman mythology (through books courtesy of my aunt who was a literature teacher), I couldn’t help but feel so exhilarated as I wandered around the temple.  The moments I spent up there—exploring its inner recesses, taking pictures, admiring the Graeco-Roman symbols around me—have changed me in ways I never imagined.

A glimpse of Cebu City

Touted to be the city’s version of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, the temple is regarded as an awe-inspiring gesture of love by a husband for his late wife. Unlike the Taj Mahal, however, which is a mausoleum, Temple of Leah is a shrine-slash-storehouse of the memories and treasures of Leah Albino-Adarna, the late wife of entrepreneur Teodorico Adarna. The couple happen to be the grandparents of screen siren Ellen Adarna.

Some accounts I’ve read say that Temple of Leah reportedly cost Php80 million to build (and still counting given that construction is still ongoing after it began in 2011). Three years ago, the Adarna clan, owners of the Queensland chain of motels in Cebu, Davao and Manila, opened the temple to the public for which they charge Php50 as entrance fee.

A glimpse of Busay's hilly terrain

It was a gloomy Saturday afternoon when I invaded one of Cebu City’s newest tourist spots. After waiting for about five minutes, the cab that Grab sent me pulled over in front of my hotel’s entrance. I felt feverish with excitement as I hopped into the vehicle. En route to the temple, however, I remembered something that my friends who’ve been to Busay before told me.

They cautioned me that finding a Grab taxi up there is no easy feat as the wi-fi signal in that part of Cebu is rather weak. So I asked the driver if he’s willing to wait. Good thing, he was, for a fee, for course (I had to add another Php200 to the metered fare). Well, it was worth it since the cab was at my beck and call. So off we went to the uplands of the city.

Located in the hilly village of Busay, Temple of Leah can be reached in less than an hour by car from downtown Cebu. Along the way, you’ll be treated to a panoramic vista of Busay as your vehicle passes through the 33-km Cebu Transcentral Highway, the city’s version of Baguio’s Kennon Road. Passing through that winding stretch, those wanting to go to the distant towns of the province, say, Balamban, can reach them in about two hours’ time.

Mind you, the serpentine highway that connects the highly urbanized city to the northwestern and western parts of the island treats passersby to a montage of awe-inspiring sceneries—verdant knolls, craggy hills, steep cliffs, quaint villages, fancy mountain restos—that are sometimes hidden from the naked eye by thick fogs during the rainy season!

Engulfed by the beauty of the sceneries, I hardly noticed the time. Before I knew it, we reached the temple roughly forty-minutes later. Pulling over the entrance, the driver told me he’d be parking somewhere while waiting for me. He gave me his number and requested that I text him when I’m done. After paying the entrance fee, I headed for the temple. From what I’ve gathered, it’s about seven stories high, covering a land area of more than 5,000 sq. m.

It was a little past 2 o’ clock in the afternoon so I thought the temple would be desolate. To my chagrin, there were pockets of tourists all over the place! To make matters worse, the building was undergoing some improvements, particularly on its façade, stairs and portico. It was difficult to shoot selfies what with so many photobombers intruding into your backdrop! Still, I managed to get a good number of shots—not the Instagrammable kind though.

At the center of the shrine’s main courtyard made of granite is a Roman-inspired fountain standing in the middle of the square. I wanted to have at least one shot taken there but to my dismay, I didn’t get the chance to do so. Each time I set up my tripod, the spot was immediately occupied by visitors like me who were all jockeying for prime positions to get their perfect shots! So I just walked away and entered the main building.

Inspired by ancient Roman architecture, the massive temple has Doric columns made of granite. A number of Graeco-Romano statues adorn the corners and different parts of the building. Two golden lions stand guard on both sides of the main stairs that lead to the wide portico that ushers in visitors into the shrine’s inner sanctums.

The main structure is said to house twenty-four chambers that hold all of Leah’s collections, from antiques to Chinese jars to a library of books. The temple’s piece-de-resistance is, of course, the statue of the grand matriarch herself. Roughly nine feet tall, the bronze statue of Leah occupies the most prominent part of the shrine.

At the foot of the statue is a brass inscription signed by Teodorico: “Beloved Wife and Mother: Leah V. Albino-Adarna was chosen Matron Queen of her Alma Mater the University of Southern Philippines. This bronze statue portrays her composure and regal bearing when she was crowned. May the beholder discern her innate beauty, poise and genteelness.”

Like some mythological goddess of healing (Hygiea to the Greeks, Salus to the Romans), Leah seemed to soothe my senses, making me feel light and easy, as if some heavy load I carried were taken off my weary shoulders. At that moment, I felt new reserves of optimism penetrating every part of my body—from my head down to my heels, giving me the strength and will I needed to win my battles against my inner demons.

Gazing at her humongous likeness, I couldn’t help but be spellbound by the kind of love she radiated and showered to all her loved ones, a love so powerful that it drove one man to put up a monumental landmark in her honor. Yikes, could this woman of substance be mighty Aphrodite’s (she’s Venus to the Romans) reincarnation, pray tell?

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Overwhelmed by Osmeña Peak in Cebu

Scale new heights, swim in turquoise waters and scamper to a new place I’ve never been were among the things I wanted to do as summer began. So far, I was able to push through with the last two summer goals last March and April, respectively, except for the first one. Some unfounded fear kept me from pursuing it. I haven’t scaled a peak the past three years, and that, I believe, has created a deep hole of doubt in me—so deep I dreamed about dying during a trek!

A glimpse Cebu's southwestern coastline and Badian Island from Osmeña Peak

The last one whose summit I reached was Mt. Calayo a.k.a. Musuan Peak in Bukidnon. It was one helluva difficult one for this world-weary adventure junkie who practically had no preparation whatsoever for the arduous trek. Good thing, I pulled it off successfully on my own, without any guide. For more about my climb there, click this link:

Can I do it again? Do I still have what it takes to make it to the top in one piece? I mused as the scorching summer days rolled by. Admittedly, age has caught up on my knees and legs; they’re no longer in tiptop shape like when I scaled Mt. Apo many years ago. Still, a part of me wanted to prove to myself that I can still do it.

Call it bravado but I was also out to prove to all and sundry that I still have what it takes to conquer mountains and volcanoes. As May crept in, however, the plan was starting to lose steam; I was close to giving up on the first goal. Perish the thought. You’re too old for that, a tiny voice at the back of my head kept cautioning me.

Just when I was about to abandon my plan, the chance to go climbing suddenly came my way—thanks to an unforeseen event held in Cebu that became my passport to another adventure in the uplands. Mind you, the island province has a number of interesting highland hideaways that are just waiting to be explored by adventure junkies.

Said to be one of the highest points in the whole island of Cebu, the stunning peak in the village of Mantalongon in the town of Dalaguete, overlooks the coastal towns of south Cebu and the nearby islands of Bohol, Negros and Siquijor at an elevation of 1,013 meters above sea level (roughly 3,325 feet). At the summit, climbers are rewarded with a spectacular vista of numerous jagged hills spread across limestone cliffs as well as the seascape of Cebu’s southwestern coast, including Badian a.k.a. Zaragoza Island.

Part of the Mantolongon mountain range

The peak, a part of the Mantalongon mountain range, is quite unlike other mountain ranges in the country given its numerous jagged hills neatly spread all over the place that provide a panoramic view of the southern part of Cebu Province. Osmeña Peak is the highest among these hills. At first glance, the conical hills resemble gigantic green Hershey Kisses! I was instantly smitten, nay, overwhelmed by the awesome beauty of this popular destination.

Chances are, the Chocolate Hills of Bohol would most likely cross your mind the moment you lay eyes on the Mantalongon mountain range. The hills in the latter, however, are thinner, sharper and craggier. Unlike the Chocolate Hills, the peaks of the Mantalongon range are assembled near each other. I surmised that they must have been huge corals that rose up so high from under the sea millions of years ago. 

Why do I like scaling peaks and mountains? Well, there’s something about them that’s worth all the effort. To borrow the words of John Muir, Scottish-American author and environmental philosopher: “Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” And climb Osmeña Peak I did “to wash my spirit clean”. I guess I needed some “washing” if only to scrub out self-doubt.

It was a hot Saturday when I finally embarked on my trek. Waking up early, I took a quick shower, skipped breakfast and messaged Grab for a cab. Around 7 AM, I was on my way to Cebu South Terminal. Arriving there, I was dismayed to see several long queues waiting for the buses that will take them to various destinations. On weekends, the terminal is usually packed with passengers going home to the southern towns of Cebu and even to those in nearby Negros Island.

It wasn’t until around 9:30 AM when I finally boarded an airconditioned Ceres bus bound for Bato and Oslob (passing through Dalaguete). Good thing, I was able to get a window seat that afforded me a spectacular view of Cebu’s breathtaking coast. Almost three hours down the road, I finally reached Dalaguete, the take-off point for my trek. There are other entry points to Osmeña Peak but I chose this route since I’m familiar, more or less, with the town having visited it a few years back.

Ignoring the grumblings of my tummy, I decided to head straight for my ultimate destination instead of having lunch first. I bought some stuff though from a 7-Eleven outlet at the town’s junction, intending to eat them later when I’m already at the mountain’s summit. To get to the peak, I hired a motorcycle taxi locally known as habal-habal, plying the route from downtown Dalaguete to the upland village of Mantalongon, the jump-off point for the peak.

From what I’ve gathered, Mantalongon, which is one of the 33 barangays (villages) that make up Dalaguete, boasts of cold temperatures ranging from 18 to 24 degrees Celsius. Known as Cebu’s “Little Baguio of the South”, it has also been recognized officially as the province’s “Summer Capital”. With its nippy climate, high-value veggies like carrots, cabbages, eggplants, lettuce, squash, among others, are grown extensively in different parts of the barangay, earning for it the moniker, “Vegetable Basket of Cebu”.

After getting what I wanted, I went out of the store and saw a squad of habal-habal drivers just across the street. After some negotiation with one of the fellows, I hired the services of Arnold who drove me all the way to the tourist center at the foot slopes of Mt. Labalasan. One way fare per person is pegged at Php100. As the motorcycle can accommodate two persons, I had to shell out Php200 for one way fare or a total of Php400, including the return trip.

Osmeña Peak Tourism Center

The smooth ride along the zigzagging but well-paved Dalaguete-Badian Road passing through Mantalongon treated me to a picturesque montage of the countryside—lush mountains, rolling hills, steep cliffs, green veggie patches, quaint little huts and charming rest houses and a whole lot more. About 45 minutes later, we reached the base or jump-off point where visitors—I was among the throngs who were mostly backpackers and hikers from Luzon—are made to sign at the Osmeña Peak Tourism Center. Entrance fee is Php30 per person.

The view down below

Local guides often approach visitors, offering to show you the way to the peak for a fee, of course. It wouldn’t hurt your pocket to give something to augment the income of the locals, most of whom seem to live below the poverty line. I got the services of an older guide named Boy. About Php150 would suffice as guide’s fee but I gave him Php200 because he also doubled as porter and photographer.

Mind you, Boy clicked like a pro, directing me how to position myself, fiddling with my smartphone’s camera with ease as if he owned it, and snapping most of my best shots!  I can’t thank the fellow enough for the guidance and the pics so I offered him free merienda after we descended from the summit.

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So far, the trail going up the peak is among the easier ones I’ve trekked in recent years. The less-than-a-kilometer hike from the tourist center all the way to the summit took me roughly 25 minutes to complete, including brief stopovers for catching my breath, quenching my thirst, and of course, having my photo ops. Fast climbers, however, did theirs between 15 to 20 minutes. Geez, my lungs could have burst had I followed their lead!

On our way to the top, Boy told me that the peak was discovered by no less than President Sergio Osmeña, Sr., the country's third president. Osmeña, a native of Cebu, often had his plane landed there. Boy also mentioned that the boulder where I posed for some pictures used to be a cornerstone bearing an inscription about the late president’s discovery of the peak. I'm not sure though how accurate his account was. Nonetheless, I enjoyed to the hilt that quick escape to one of Cebu's highest points.

If there’s one important thing I gained from my trek to Osmeña Peak, it is this: That somewhere between my soul and that highland hideaway, after all the starts and stops, the doubts and the drifts, the sunburn, the sweat and thirst, swollen feet, sore muscles and all, I’ve proven to myself that I still got what it takes to scale new heights (although not as high as the other ones I’ve trekked before) and stumbled upon a little bit of bliss up there where the sun kisses the jagged hills. John Muir was right. We all need some “washing of the spirit” if only to become bigger, better and bolder versions of our old selves. 🤣🤣🤣