Climbing the Sacred Mountain
Bud Bongao with its altitude of 300 meters stands prominently in Bongao town like a stationary honor guard geared up to protect the whole Tawi-tawi territory.
“If you are kind-hearted you won’t have trouble climbing,” Kuya Ladz of the tourism office told me – an indication that what we’re about to climb is not just an ordinary mountain. It is actually regarded to be sacred and revered by many Muslims.
The mountain has often been enfolded with tales of mysticism. One of the legends is that of white monkeys who were believed to be its guardians in the olden times. Now, instead of them, grey-colored macaque monkeys which they consider sacred inhabit the place.
Amidst the scorching heat of the afternoon sun, the climb proved to be tiring but I soon forgot all about it. After all I was with a fun bunch of hiking buddies – Kuya Ladz and his three nephews who are students from Mindanao State University.
It was perhaps almost halfway through the climb when the friendly macaque monkeys started appearing and swaying through the trees. They seemed to be following us all the way and I was so amused while we fed them with bananas.
one of the three tampats
Near the summit, we arrived at a holy shrine. There were three tampats or holy graves where the Muslims would usually say their prayers.
A few moments later, we finally reached the peak. Now I probably know why they say that you really haven’t been to Tawi-tawi if you haven’t climbed Bud Bongao. Its summit will give you a commanding view of the vast Sulu Sea and the Tawi-tawi landscape. Kuya Ladz pointed to me the islands of Sibutu, Simunul and Sangay-Siapo. On a clear day, one can even see the outline of Borneo atop this mountain. It was kind of a bizarre feeling, I was at the southernmost tip of the Philippines and what I behold before me was already an international border.
What better way to chill out after a hike than with barbecue and fresh buko by the beach? The al fresco setting of the barbecue place beside the Beach Side Inn where most locals flock to for beer, barbecue, and videoke is certainly a perfect spot to mingle with the locals, wonder at the vastness of the Sulu Sea and view the mystical Bud Bongao from a distance.