Monday, May 30, 2011

Run/Walk Across the Philippines (Summary Assesment)

Yesterday, after saying mass and preaching in the parish church of Aparri, I left for Tuguegarao where I took the 2 pm flight to Manila. I arrived here in Baclaran before 4 pm. This will be my home for the next four years.

Since Saturday, I have been reflecting on my experience. The questions that I have asked myself is: what was it all about? what have I really accomplished? what effect has this on me? what are the lessons that can be useful as I continue my journey through life.

What have I really achieved?

I have successfully completed the 2,060 km journey on foot (running/walking) across the Philippines in 57 days - from Davao to Aparri via the Cordilleras. I did it alone (although there were some who accompanied me for a few hours or a day) and unsupported (without any support vehicle or crew), at the age of 56, in spite of the blisters, diarrhea, fevel, heat, cold, rain and typhoon signal no. 1. This should be in the record book. Some have ran/walked across the Philippines - but they had companions and support vehicle and they did not go through the Cordilleras - the most difficult and challenging route.

I was able to proclaim the Gospel of Life and Peace and drew attention to the various issues and concerns (armed conflict, environmental destruction, extra-judicial killings, and RH bill) through various means: preaching in churches, mass media interview and coverage (TV, radio, newspapers), through conversations with ordinary folks in sari-sari stores and waiting shed, through blogging. I was able to deliver the letter to the President in Malacanang.

What effect did this journey has on me?

This was not just an external journey or adventure, but also an inner, spiritual journey. This deepened my faith in God - making me more aware of God's presence and providence, developing trust in God, experiencing closeness and intimacy with the Lord who is the source of strength and energy. This made me more fearless.

This has also developed a deeper faith in myself - believing in myself, my capacity to turn my dreams into reality, to accomplish what I set out to do, to fulfill my promises and commitments, to overcome my weaknesses.

I became more aware of my dark side (the pride, anger, compulsions, dangerous desires and tendencies) and not to allow these to dominate my life. I experienced inner peace and healing. I reaffirmed and value more my commitment to celibacy and chastity. I treasure more a simple lifestyle.

I have been able to integrate contemplation/prayer with action/praxis.

This journey gave me a clearer sense of direction and mission and the accompanying values that are needed.

Throughout this journey I have been following some guiding principles which made it possible for me to successfully reach my destination and which I believe is applicable to my continuing journey through life:

1. Take it easy, don't be in a hurry. Run slowly and gently, take frequent walking breaks, and do a lot of walking later in the day. Listen to your body and do not ignore pain. Never go all out. Remember, there is still tomorrow, and tomorrrow and tomorrow.

2. Take as much rest as you need. 8-12 hours a day of run/walking is enough. Give yourself time to rest and recover so that you can become stronger. Otherwise, you will break down or injure yourself and fail to finish the journey. Take a day off every seven days.

3. Travel light. You don't have a support vehicle or crew. You carry every thing in your back-pack. Take only the most essential things you need. Don't accumulate things, share with others.

4. You really don't need to eat much. Fast, take some fruits and hydration. Eat only at night - that will be enough enough fuel for the following day.

5. Rely on the kindness, generosity and hospitality of others. Don't feel bad or discouraged when you meet people who are not kind. A pilgrim cannot be demanding. Count your blessings, always be thankful. Most people you meet will be good to you.

6. Don't rely on your own power. Trust in God - the source of power, strength and courage. Your run/walk is an act of prayer and meditation.

7. You are not doing this for yourself - but for others, for a cause greater than yourself- for life and peace.

8. Be flexible. Your itinerary is not written in stone. Learn to adjust - be prepared for surprises.

9. Enjoy the whole experience, appreciate the beauty around you, savor the bliss & ecstasy of the journey.

10. When you reach your destination always remember that it is not really the end of the journey - for you continue as a pilgrim towards the final destiny - the heavenly home when we will see God face to face.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Day 57: Run/Walk Across d Philippines (Aparri)

I was very apprehensive as I left Gattaran early this morning. Storm signal no. 1 had been raised over the area. The rain and wind became stronger as I walked along. I kept on singing loudly the song that I learned as a young seminarian:
"When you walk through the storm, hold your head up high, and don't be afraid of the dark... Walk on through the rain, walk on through the wind... Walk on with hope in your heart and you'll never walk alone..."

I found this song very meaningful today. It was no longer just symbolic, it was real.
You'll never walk alone. Yes, even though I walked alone, I was not really alone - the Lord was with me. This is why I remained calm and unafraid as I continued my trek towards Aparri.

There were times when the wind and rain became so strong that I took shelter. The weather improved in the afternoon. I did some intermittent running. I finally reached Aparri at 5 pm having covered 37 km for the day and 2,060 km for 57 days. Typhoon Chedeng couldn't stop me from reaching my destination.
I reached Aparri quietly like a true solitary pilgrim, without any welcoming group or streamer, without any media coverage. There was no official finish line or medal that awaited me.
Fr. Adalbert, the parish priest welcomed me. He was expecting me to arrive tomorrow.
Tomorrow, I'll spend the whole day resting and reflecting on this whole experience.

I am just so glad to complete my journey. True joy comes not only in reaching my destination today but undertaking the whole journey for the last 57 days. After all what matters most is the journey and not just the destination. I could reach Aparri much quicker by taking the bus or plane but I wouldn't have the same satisfaction and joy of doing it on foot alone for almost two months across the country. I will always treasure what I experienced and the effect within me.

Day 56: (May 26) Run/Walk Across d Philippines (Cagayan Valley)

After concelebratimg at the 6 am mass, I had coffee with Msgr Othello and the other priests. Mgr Othello told me that he had just called the parish priest of Gattaran who told him that he won't be around and that I couldnt be accomodated. Mgr. Othello told me that he already called his friend who will put me up.
By 7:30 I was on the road. It was very hot in the morning . I felt tired that I made a lot of rest stops. The rain and wind came in the afternoon. I thought the storm had already come but it did not last long.
By 4 pm, I was able to cross the Cagayan river by motorized banca. I continued my trek along the national highway. It was already 7:30 pm when I reached Gattaran after covering 43 km. I was met by Joey who brought me to his home. His wife was cooking dinner when we arrived. After taking my shower we had dinner together.

Tomorrow is the last day of my journey. If everything goes well, I should be in Aparri in the afternoon. I hope the storm does not come our way tomorrow.

Total distance so far: 2023 km.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day 55: (May 25) Run/Walk Across d Philippines (Piat, Cagayan Valley)

After having coffee and oatmeal with Bishop Jun, I asked for his blessing and he saw me off at 5 am.
I was expecting to be fully recovered and fresh after a day of rest. Instead I felt sluggish and weak. The heat added to my lethargy. So I made frequent long rest stops, drinking cobra energy drink.
The road became more rough and dusty so I walked slowly. I got several text messages warning me about the supertyphoon which is coming soon. When it started to rain by 3 pm, I thought that this was already the effect of the storm but it did not last long. After the rain stopped I felt stronger so I did some intermittent running on the hilly rough road. I expecting to be doing 43 km today but when I reached Tuao at 7 pm, it turned out to be 48 km. I went to rectory and met Mgr. Bacule. He told me that he had just been newly assigned to the parish last week and the whole place was still a mess and could not accomodate me. So he brought me to the nearby Basilica of Piat and introduced me to Mgr Othello who invited me for supper and gave me a room at the pilgrim hostel.
So here I am at the shrine of Our Lady of Piat - a popular Marian pilgrimage site since the 17th century.
I am one day ahead of schedule. Had I been given accomodation at Tuao, I would have walked the 10 km distance tomorrow and spend the rest of the day in recollection and then move on to Gattaran on Friday. But since the typhoon is expected to hit Cagayan Valley on Friday, I will have to reach Gattaran tomorrow afternoon and then take shelter from the storm on Friday. I am not sure if I can reach Aparri on Saturday if the super-typhoon Chedeng pass this area. Everything seems to be uncertain at the moment.

Total distance covered so far: 1980 km.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day 53 & 54: Run/Walk Across d Philippines (Cordillera Region)

Bishop Jun Andaya and his 3 companions (including Fred Pangsiw of Radyo ng Bayan) accompanied me all the way from Lubuagan to Tabuk yesterday - a 42 km trek. We started at 6:30 am after breakfast and a short prayer in the parish church. Right at the start Bishop Jun experienced some knee pain due to arthritis and I gave him some flanax capsule. We walked slowly and talked about our common advocacy. He has been promoting the culture of peace in his diocese amidst tribal violence. He started the Peacemakers' Movement. He has also supported the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities.
As we reached Naneng, around noontime, we were warmly welcomed by some parishioners who prepared snacks. They walked with us a kilometer to the place where another were waiting for us and we had lunch together. We continued our trek after lunch, this time accompanied by Fr. Bong, the parish priest of Naneng, and 2 Kalinga elders (Manuel, 78 yrs old, & Juanito 63). 8km before Tabuk, we were met by Twinkle & Liza (staff of Cultural Heritage Research Center) who brought a welcome streamer and walked with us the rest of the way. We continued walking in the rain amidst darkness until we finally reached the Tabuk Pastoral Center. We celebrated the Eucharist with some leaders and members of the Peacemakers' Movement - presided by Bishop Jun and I gave the homily. At the beginning of the mass the leaders performed the traditional ritual of welcome for me. After the mass we brought the lighted candles to the peace shrine which commemorate the victims of violence - including four priests. Then we gathered for a fellowhip meal.
Yesterday has been the best day of my journey on foot across the Philippines. I was not walking alone. I experienced community and the solidarity of a local church and its shepherd who has been on a journey for peace. There was no need for me to proclaim the Gospel of Life and Peace here since they are living it and witnessing to it. The Shrine of Peace in Tabuk is a fitting pilgrimage site for a pilgrim of peace.

Today is rest day for me at the bishop's residence. Tomorrow I make my final push to Aparri which is just four days away.

Total distance from Davao so far: 1932 km.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Day 52: (May 22 ) Run/Walk Across d Philippines (Cordilleras)

I celebrated the 8 am Sunday mass and was able to leave Sadanga at 9:30. According to the internet distance calculator, Lubuagan was only 32 km away and I expected to get there before 6 pm. So I thought this was going to be a short and easy trek.
Well, it turned out to be the most difficult day so far. Lubuagan was actually 47 km from Sadanga! There were long sections of the road that were narrow and rough. When the rain came at 3 pm, they became muddy. The sun set at 6:30 and I continued to walk in the dark on a muddy and slippery road, with my headlight showing me the way, and the rain continuing to pour. There were no houses or people along the road. I was already hungry since I didn't have any lunch. Finally, at 9 pm, the lights of Lubuagan became visible as I was descending and I was just filled with joy. I reached the rectory at 9:30 and was welcomed by Bishop Jun Andaya - the Bishop of Tabuk who will walk with me from Lubuagan to Tabuk tomorrow. A hot meal was waiting for me.

Total distance so far; 1890 km

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 51: Run/Walk Across d Philippines (Cordilleras)

I was expecting a short & easy 32-km day but once again the map/distance calculator was wrong. It turned out to be a hard 41 km trek.
I reached Bontoc at 10 am and stopped over at the cathedral rectory for almost 2 hours. Fr. John Habawel invited me for lunch which I could not refuse. He also contacted the new parish priest of Sadangan to inform him of my coming. Fr. Requino told him that he wouldn't be around but I was welcome to stay overnight in his parish.

I left Bontoc at noontime thinking I only had less than 14 km to go. The road after Bontoc was mostly narrow and rough, with some concrete sections. There were long stretches where I could not see houses or people. I was completely alone. I reached the junction after 19 km and had to make a 4-km steep ascent to the poblacion. I had to walk very slowly using my walking staff because of the slight pain in my knees. I reached Sadangan before six in the afternoon as heavy rain started to fall. Three seminarians were around to welcome me and brought me to the room they had prepared for me. After supper they brought me to the hot spring shed where I had a very relaxing bath.

During supper, I was once again asked the same questions that people have often asked: why are you doing this alone? Are you not afraid?

There are so many reasons why I am doing this alone. I can run/walk at my own pace. I want to spend more time in silence, prayer, contemplation and reflection - thus facilitating my inner, spiritual journey. It is cheaper and easier to get accomodation. It symbolizes my celibate life - I do not walk hand in hand with the woman I love and our children for the rest of my life. Along the way, I encounter people I like who become my friends and perhaps walk for a short while but we go our separate ways hoping we can meet again someday. I may experience community but move on. I become more aware of the invisible loving presence of the One to whom I have consecrated my life. And because of this I am not afraid.

Total distance from Davao: 1843 km

Friday, May 20, 2011

Day 50: Run/Walk Philippines ( Cordillera)

The first 12 km early this morning was a slow uphill walk from Abatan to Mt. Data. This was followed by 28 km of mostly intermittent downhill running to Sabangan. I just couldn't resist the temptation to run even if I already resolved to walk slowly to prevent knee injury. I told myself that if any sensation of pain appears I will immediately shift to a walking mode. Fortunately, my knees felt alright. I was conscious of using the chi-running technique (bent-knees, midfoot landing, slight lean forward) combined with Galloway method (3 min run/2 min walk cycle).

My mind tells me that I should just walk the rest of the way to make sure that I reach my destination. But my body wants me to keep on running, even if I do it intermittently. I should listen to my body and not ignore pain. This means run when I can, walk when necessary. Running produces endorphine & nitric oxide which can me me high (that's why it is addictive). Walking, on the other hand, is like a sedative. Both are necessary. When overdone, running is risky since it can lead to the break down of the body. Walking aids recovery. Combining both will make sure I enjoy and finish the journey.

Four kilometers before Sabangan, I stopped by a coffee shop which had a good view of Mt. Kalawitan, the Chico river and rice terraces below. I ordered brewed coffee and pancake while enjoying the beautiful scenery.

I reached the rectory of Sabangan at 4 pm after covering 40 km. The parish secretary, Dorna, welcomed me. She was informed by Fr. Mario (parish priest of Abatan) that I would be coming. The parish priest, Fr. William, has been on a leave of absence and the new parish priest will take over tomorrow.

I had supper with Bro. Noe (a seminarian) and Serafin (convent boy).

Total distance from Davao so far: 1802 km

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Day 49: Run/Walk Philippines (Cordilleras)

I thought I was in Rome in the middle of winter when I woke up at 3 this morning. It was just so cold. I wore 3 layers of clothing - with my jacket over my sweater when I left the rectory at five. But as the sun came out I peeled off the jacket.
Before six I arrived in Catlubong - the highest point of the Halsema highway and the Philippines (7400 ft). As I gazed at the view, I was overwhelmed by the beauty that I saw - my eyes swelled with tears. I praised the Creator and started to sing: "Sing to the mountains..." and "Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, yet the Love of the Lord..."

I just love mountains. They make me more aware of the Divine presence. That's why I climbed Mt. Apo seven times and live occasionally as a hermit in the mountain of Busay. I get my runner's high in the mountains. This also why I go through the Cordilleras on my way to Aparri.

Along the way, an elderly woman on her way to her flower & vegetable garden walked with me for a while and gave me some bread. As we conversed she told me that this journey would lead me closer to God. She was right.

Later another elderly woman also walked with for a few minutes. She told me that she had been waiting for me because she heard from a neighbor that I would be passing through. She is active in her the parish and in the Basic Ecclesial Communities and she just wanted to welcome me.

Today, I did less running and more slow walking. I noticed slight pain in both knees especially on steep ascents. With 9 more days left I have to be very careful that I don't incur injury. I will have to resist the temptation to do more running in the mountains. What matters most is to reach Aparri on foot - with more walking and less running if necessary.

I reached Abatan at 3 pm after covering 35 km. Fr. Mario Tambic, the parish priest, welcomed me to the rectory.

Total distance covered: 1762 km

Day 48: (May 18) Run/Walk Across d Philippines (Cordilleras)

It was very cold early this morning, I had to wear my jacket. As I continued to ascend the Cordilleras along the Halsema highway my right knee became a bit painful. I was very worried that this could develop into an injury like what happened when running the Rome marathon 16 years ago. So I decided to walk slowly. I found a stick that I used as a walking staff. It helped, the pain disappeared.

The last time I was here was in 2008 when I went around the country on a mountain bike. That particularly day I biked from Bontoc to Baguio for 15 hours - from 5 am to 10 pm. So it was already dark when I went through this section of the Halsema highway. This would be first time to see it at daytime and appreciate the view.

The view around me and below me was just spectacular. But then in the afternoon the fog came and covered everything. Suddenly a heavy cold rain began to fall and the wind increased its fury. I had to find shelter. After 30 minutes, the rain eased but did not stop. So I continued walking, wearing my sandals, jacket and umbrella. The ascents became more steep and it got colder. The rain finally stopped late in the afternoon.

I reached Sayangan at 6 pm after covering 50 km. It was colder than this morning since we are now over 7000 feet above sea level. Fr. David warmly welcomed me. He lent me a winter jacket and thick jogging pants. He told it would even get colder at night and early morning. I took a warm bath before joining Fr. David and the seminarians for supper.

Total distance covered so far: 1727 km

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Day 47: Run/Walk Across the Philippines (Baguio)

It is my rest day here in Baguio. I did my laundry this morning and later went to SM to buy some pairs of socks and a sweater. It's cold here in Baguio and I expect it's going to get colder as I go up higher in the Cordilleras. Tomorrow I continue my trek across the mountains of Benguet, the Mountain Province, Kalinga & Apayao. This will be the most difficult and exciting stage of the journey. I'm not sure if I will be able to update my blog daily. It will depend on whether there will still be strong cellphone signal.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Day 46: Run/Walk Across d Philippines (Baguio)

I was planning to just walk slowly up to Baguio via the Kennon road but after 30 minutes of meditative walking I felt so fresh and alive that I started to run uphill intermittently, with some walking breaks (Galloway method).
For the past weeks I've done more walking and less running because I wanted to conserve energy and prevent injury. But today I threw caution to the wind and did more running even if it was mostly uphill and carrying an 8-kilo pack onmy back. Anyway, I told myself, tomorrow is rest day and I have time for recovery.
I love to run especially in the mountains. This is where I get my runner's high. Running up to Baguio brings back memories of similar runs in past - Busay & Kan-irag mountains in Cebu, Bukidnon-Davao, Pyrennees in France. But I know that I can't overdo it because I risk injury. Even if walking does not really produce a high or ecstasy like running, it is necessary in order to survive and to continue my journey. So there are days when I do more walking and less running, and days when I do more running combined with walking breaks.
The last 8 km to Baguio was mostly on the steep zigzag road. This time I did more walking. I arrived in Baguio at exactly 2 pm after covering 35 km. I stopped by Don Enrico's for pasta & spaghetti before proceeding to the cathedral rectory. Fr. Manny Panayo, the parish priest, welcomed me and provided me with accomodation. Fr. Manny remembered me well because two years ago, I conducted a retreat to the priests of the diocese of Baguio. They all went to Davao for their retreat.
Since tomorrow is his rest day, Fr. Manny went
Home. So, I'm the only priest here, with the cook and the convent boy.

Tomorrow is rest day.

Total distance so far: 1677 km

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Day 45: Run/Walk Across d Philippines

I said the 5:30 morning mass at the parish church of Binalonan. I also preached at the 6:45 am and 8:00 am masses. The parish priest, Fr. Jimmy and his assistant Fr. Irong wanted their pashioners to hear my message of life & peace.
I was able to leave at 10:15 accompanied by Fr. Irong and 3 other young people. They went with me as far as the next town - Pozzorubio, 5 km from Binalonan.
Even if it was very hot, I was glad to see long stretches of tree -lined highway which provided shade. Being a Sunday, I wasn't fasting so I took a lunch break at a roadside restaurant.
I did some intermittent running later in the afternoon. The Cordillera mountain range was looming ahead of me.
Throughout the day I experienced once again the generosity of some people who provided me with material & financial support - from my hosts Rolly & Tita, from the parish, from young girls along the way, poor men with their few pesos. Some asked to pose for a picture with me.
I wasn't too sure where to sleep tonight. I knew there would be no parish on the Kennon road to Baguio. I even wondered if I could find a lodging house. Fr. Jimmy suggested that I sleep in the rectory of the Rosario parish, over 25 km from Binalonan. But when I went there, the girls in the rectory told me that the parish priest was in the US and they couldn't accomodate me. A tricycle driver told me that there is a cheap lodging house near the checkpoint at the beginning of the Kenon road. So here I am after trekking for 27 km. I'm thankful that some people gave me more than enough so I can pay for my overnight stay in Aqua Vida. No need to sleep in the rough.

Total distance so far; 1642 km

Day 44 (May 14): Run/Walk Across d Philippines

The hottest day so far - it felt like 40 degrees celsius especially between 11 am -2 pm. It was still cool when I started at 5 am, but by 9 am it got hotter and hotter that I had to use my umbrella.. I did longer rest stops at around noontime as the heat became unbearable and I felt weak.
After passing Urdaneta, it became cloudy. I felt reinvigorated. I reached Binalonan, Pangasinan by 5 pm after covering 45 km. The parish priest, Fr. Jimmy was out of town but he asked some friends to welcome me and to take care of my accomodation. So after dinner at the rectory, Rolly & Tita Hernandez brought me to their house where I will stay for the night.

Total distance covered: 1615 km