The last week of November is usually my vacation week as I have to go home in Cagayan de Oro for a fiesta and a school reunion. But November of 2011, I decided to change plans, instead, I travelled with a friend and went to Tawi-tawi.
Most people who hears the word Tawi-tawi would associate it to kidnapping, war and hostile people. But then it was on the contrary the people there were very accomodating, hospitable and friendly. Somebody offered as a place to stay during the entire duration.
Tawi-Tawi offers a lot from trekking to white sand beaches to scenic diving spots. I got the chance to do diving when I met a group of researchers from the Worldwide Wildlife Fund.
But what I can’t forget in Tawi-Tawi is the mystical Bongao Peak, the Sacred Mountain of the Muslims believed to have the power to heal sickness of people and cleanse you from your sins. And once you had made your promise to climb, you should fulfill it, otherwise you will get sick.
Going to Bongao Peak is not that difficult as there are trails, some points have cemented stairs. It is not so steep. Descent and ascent are not so difficult. There is also this belief that when you have difficulty climbing the mountain means that you have more sins. And this is the reason why you will see all over the place some white piece of cloth, some are plastic and other materials tied up in a tree or a branch. It is believed that this practice will lessen the burden and cleanse your sin. At first I thought it was some sort of vandalism or craziness. Upon learning this, I jokingly told my friend, that if ever he has difficulty climbing, pretend that its a lot easier, our guide might think we are so sinful.
Another worth seing during the climb are the Philippine Macaque monkeys. This is the reason why my friends told me that we should bring bananas during the climb. As soon as these monkeys hear or see humans approaching, they will gather or approach you, asking for bananas. Compared to the monkeys in Palawan where they will steal your belongings or your bananas, these monkeys are so well mannered that they will askfor bananas and they wait until they are given. At one point I left a number of bananas in the shelter, and there were several male monkeys nearby, that I appreciated there being so prim and proper. Once you offer a banana, the monkeys will slowly come near and get it.
Reaching the top of Bongao Peak, you will see a burial site purported to be one of the Islamic Missionaries. It is believed that praying there can heal the sick. You will have to go inside the tomb and offer something ( as for me, some few coins) and offered my prayers. I prayed for blessings and healing of my illness. I was so amazed upon entering inside the tomb, which, from the outside seemed ordinary, but inside smells so good. Inside, I had never felt as peaceful at that time for the past months or maybe years.
At the peak, I also tied a piece of plastic in one of the branches of a small tree to cleanse me from my sins. I did what locals do upon reaching the top. The tranquility, calmness and the cold wind blowing seeped through my mind and body that I felt so energized. I felt like I am transformed and renewed.
The peak offers a picturesque view of Sanga-Sanga island where the airport is situated. On a clear day, you can see Simunul, Sitangkai and Sibutu islands. One can also see cargo ships passing by from afar.
As I left Bongao Peak, I felt something strange, I feel ecstatic, somehow I had come to have peace. I felt I was so much blessed.