Monday, October 5, 2020


LONG TRAILS WALKED at your own pace and in as many days as it takes for your feet to carry you is an adventure worth living for. (And maybe dying too if you ran out of luck.) It is the apex of you getting lost. There are so many established long trails in many countries but travel costs and stay duration provided by host countries are too daunting to one's pocket and too tight for your time and mobility. Then this pandemic made it more discouraging to do one's wanderlust at least once in our lifetime.

The lure of the long trails inspired me in 2011 to create one for myself (and later for you) in my own island of Cebu because I simply do not have the financial resources to embark in one. Cebu, part of Southeast Asia but better off as an island in the Pacific, is elongated and narrow with a rugged spine of mountains running on a north-to-south axis which is perfect topography to engage in one. Cebu now has the Cebu Highlands Trail, which is, more or less, 400 kilometers in length.

Apart from myself, only one person has hiked through the CHT in a month in 2017. It can also be hiked one weekend at a time since it has eight segments, making it easier for hikers who do not have a surplus of time due to work and other lawful callings. Only three people have walked the CHT in segments and they finished it in two years time.

Daunting? YES! If you do not have the courage, the stamina and the mindset of a warrior, the long trail is just a bucket list for you. Nothing more. Nothing less. And nothing will ever take place. Anyway, it will be there for as long as I am still able to guide you. Until then, it would be unwalkable and remains a dream.

However, there is a much shorter route than the CHT and it is a poor man's version of the Camino de Santiago, an ancient path found in Spain. It is actually a true Camino de Santiago, because it is officially recognized by the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, only it is walked right here in Cebu. It is 175 kilometers in length, which is a project of the Archdiocese of Cebu, and 23 pilgrims have already walked this pilgrimage route since its inception in 2017.

Long trails are different than exerting your effort up a high mountain. Apart from a drastic change of scenery as you progress forward up and down the route, something changes you from within and it is beautiful and a thing to rejoice as you reminisce it. Then there are the folks you meet along the way and it is the treasure that I so hold dear close to my heart because I can see what other people cannot. When you see what I saw, you might, perhaps, become another Paulo Coelho in the making.

Long trails, by its very nature, are expensive, even here. Try doing a Thruhike with me on the CHT and you would likely balk at the cost. Try doing it in segments and you can feel that the endeavor is achievable, much to your liking. The Camino Cebu is not expensive. It is a spiritual journey and much of it are focused on donations for food and the night's rest.

Those that have done these long trails are eager to repeat it again for they simply become lost in themselves and enjoyed it; and it is unexplainable nor understandable to those who have not been there.

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Photos courtesy of Adrenaline Romance Blog, Apol Antenor and Markus Immer.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020


WHAT IS THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO? For those who have no idea what this is, it is the oldest known pilgrimage route in Europe. Its most popular route is the one called Camino Frances. It starts from St. Jacques Pied-de-Port, France and rolls out west on the plains and hills for 790 kilometers until you reach Compostela, Spain, where the remains of St. James the Greater is buried in a crypt underneath the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrimage changed many people’s lives or started a new one, in case you do not know that.

St. James evangelized the Iberian Peninsula, west of the Ebro River, right after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and was ordered beheaded by King Herodias when he went back to Jerusalem, thereby, giving him the distinction of the first among the Apostles to shed his life, or martyred, for the Christian faith. His disciples brought him back to Spain and buried him in a cave and forgotten until a monk dreamt of St. James under a “field of stars” which led to the discovery of his grave and given a proper burial on the present site.

When the faithfuls heard of this, pilgrims begun to set out on a holy journey from as far as Dublin, Oslo, Morroco, Istanbul, Malta and Moscow, to atone for their sins and to gain for themselves spiritual indulgences. For more than a thousand years, the Camino de Santiago provided more than a million pilgrims hopes of prayers fulfilled, of new beginnings, of stepping out of their traumatic pasts and of redeeming themselves before their families, their communities and their Creator.

Walking the Camino de Santiago is not an obligation nor it is the sole domain of Christianity. It welcomes everyone regardless of faith, color, gender preference, economic standing and creed. However, it really is not possible for a poor Roman Catholic from the Philippines taking a shot at redemption in his own terms on the Iberian Peninsula. It can never be unless he wins a million in a lotto draw, talented enough to play for Atletico Bilbao or be in a state of an out-of-body experience. Economic considerations dictate that. 

But it does not have to be that way forever. In order for the Camino de Santiago to be accessible for everyone, it has to morph itself and be replicated everywhere so that the poorest of the poor could have access to the spiritual rewards that everybody has been talking about for a millennia. Every Filipino pilgrim returning or of those who have read about it yearned to have one or something like this in the Philippines and those prayers were indeed heard upstairs.

Shall I talk about the Camino de Santiago in Cebu? Well it took a Cebuano priest, Fr. Scipio Deligero, to have this realized. He had not been to Spain but he knew the significance of a Camino in Cebu since he was, at that time, the parish priest of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santiago de Compostela, located, of all places, in Compostela, Cebu. The namesakes of both the cathedral and the town in Spain is right there on that sweet spot of Cebu; the same Cebu which figured prominently in Antonio Pigafetta’s diary of 1521.

I have read also about the Spanish Camino and had been planning in 2012 (which I never did) to establish a pilgrimage route that would start from Cebu City and ending at the Municipality of Badian, because St. James the Apostle is the patron saint of the latter. I did not know then that the Municipality of Compostela also has St. James the Apostle as their patron. It was my meeting with Fr. Deligero in March 2017 that changed all that and then we had our first-ever Camino de Santiago in Cebu a few months later.

We started from Badian on July 6, 2017 and reached Compostela ten days later. The first pilgrims were myself, as guide; Fr. Deligero; the mayor of Compostela – Hon. Joel Quiño; the couple Roderick and Jem Montesclaros; Mizar Bacalla, lay minister; Roger Montecino; Alvie Rey Ramirez, the assigned photographer; and Jonathaniel Apurado, the non-Catholic among us as our sweeper and medic. We succeeded and reached Compostela in ten days despite the difficulties encountered on the first few days.

The 10-day Camino de Santiago or, to its more appropriate designation, Camino Cebu, traverses over the mountains of Cebu Province from south to north. It is about 175 kilometers long and the pilgrims are assured of proper rests among the convents of the mountain parishes located along it. The last day is the highlight of this local Camino as it passes by a giant cross on the hill. Following tradition of the older Camino, pebbles are placed on the bottom of the cross.

On July 14-15, 2018, the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santiago de Compostela introduced a very short Camino of two days and 28 kilometers. It starts from the parish, cross a river on a footbridge into Liloan town and back to Compostela through a hanging bridge. The second day passes the giant cross and go down and back to the parish. Fr. Gonzalo Candado, the parochial vicar of the parish, and then deacon, Fr. Vhen Fernandez, pioneered this route along with 65 other pilgrims which included me. This 2-day Camino can be done anytime and many such sequels followed.

On January 27, 2019, I led again another party of pilgrims on the Camino Cebu. The arrival of these pilgrims of this Camino on the tenth day will coincide with the start of the 2nd National Congress of St. James the Great Parishes and Devotees on February 5, which both the municipality and the parish of Compostela are jointly hosting. Meanwhile, another 2-day Camino Cebu was held simultaneously on February 4. There were 78 pilgrims for the latter and there were eleven for the longer and harder Camino.

The pilgrims that were with me then were Fr. Wilfredo Genelazo of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima of Basak, Mandaue City; Randy Salazar, adventure entrepreneur who would walk the rear; ship electrician Rafael Gica; journalists Erl Durano and Grace Lina; Big C survivor Renita Reynes; Jocelyn Baran; travel tour operator Jean Antipuesto; Sheen Mark Deligero; and Razsil Zuasola. I led them on a much-better route than the last one and at a much better pace which ended each day ahead of schedule.

The 2nd National Congress was an occasion where the Camino Cebu was officially recognized by the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela, Spain as an equal to their own Camino de Santiago. Msgr. Eduardo Villaverde Temperan, chancellor of the Galician cathedral brought very special gifts to Cebu: relics of St. James and a document called the “spiritual bond of affinity”, signed by the Archbishop of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The document states that what spiritual indulgences you received by walking and completing the Camino de Santiago in Spain is the same as walking it here and vice versa.

The congress was a success and it gave the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santiago de Compostela a sense of urgency to put itself on the map of pilgrimage routes and religious tourism, most notably, for the occasion of the 500th year celebration of the Christianization of the Philippines come 2021. A huge structure, designed to hold an 11.5 foot botafumeiro was constructed for this purpose. It is now almost finished and soon the giant censer would be hanged and swung from the rafters, following the tradition in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

The Camino Cebu made it synonymous with me. Individuals and organizations sought me out to guide them personally, whether it be 2 days or 10 days. A mother and daughter from Los Baños, Laguna walked the 10-day Camino on July 8-17, 2019. Dr. Marianne Leila Flores, a professor in veterinary medicine of the University of the Philippines, decided to treat her daughter, Frances Marie, to a journey of meditative walking after graduating fine arts from the University of Santo Tomas. Both were a revelation when the Camino went on its final days despite receiving a sad news from home.

Notable pilgrims that I have guided on the 2-day Camino Cebu were five original members of the Cebu Mountaineering Society who laid aside their adventures for a while and walked the Camino in the middle of Lent of April 2019. Fr. Jose Quilongquilong SJ, spiritual director of the Ateneo University System, walked at the spearhead of 35 businessmen and veterans of the Spanish Camino, known as the “El Caminoans”, in August 2019. Last November 2019, Fr. Gerry Quejada, chaplain of PAREF Springdale School of Cebu, walked and finished the Camino, even with the pains of an old injury, and brought six of his wards through to the welcoming peals of church bells.

Could a Camino de Santiago in Cebu be possible? Quite positive. Just this January 12, 2020, three pilgrims reached Compostela after starting in Badian ten days ago. These were Rafael Gica, a repeat pilgrim; Vladimer Acain, a master of an ocean-going vessel; and Markus Immer, a 68-year old Swiss national who dreamt of walking the Camino del Norte and the Camino Primitivo in 2021. The routes of the Camino Cebu are now established, although not as perfect as in Spain which has signages and albergues along the way. Ours is still primitive and it may well be a Camino at its still unadulterated form prevalent during the medieval years.

But last June 18-22, 2019, through the request of Fr. Deligero before he would finish his term in the Archdiocesan Shrine of Santiago de Compostela, I established the third and last route of the Camino Cebu – the one coming in from the St. James the Great Parish in Sogod town; which can be walked in five days over the mountains of Carmen, Danao City and Compostela at about 65 kilometers in length. St. James would play an important role come 2021 during the quintecentenial commemoration. It was he who introduced the Christian faith in Spain and from them we got ours in 1521. Buen Camino!

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