“How many minutes pa, daddy?”
My daughter and traveling partner, Asher, asked as she was starting to get bored with the three hour trip to Balanga. We were enroute to Mount Samat and we were both enjoying the bucolic scene while our bus was traversing the green fields of Pampanga and Bataan. We decided to spend one laid back Sunday to cross out one item that has been on my bucketlist for a long time – Mount Samat in Bataan.
Mount Samat is a historic mountain in Bataan where a 302-foot Memorial Cross was erected in honor of the valiant heroes that fought the Japanese forces at the onset of the World War 2. It was in the Bataan Peninsula where our valiant freedom fighters stood their ground before bowing down to the Japanese forces in 1942. It was also in Bataan where the 100-kilometer traverse, by the tired and hungry American and Filipino fighters, through Bataan to Pampanga started. It was to be known as the “Death March” where hundreds of POWs died. Hence, the national shrine was erected as a fitting tribute to the valiant men and women freedom fighter.
The Road to Mount Samat
Our trip to Mount Samat started in Cubao where we boarded a bus that was headed to Balanga in Bataan. The three-hour bus ride had us enjoying the green fields of the provinces of Bulacan, Pampanga, Zambales, and Bataan. It was a nice break from the usual city landscape that we see every day.
Our first stop was Balanga - the capital city of Bataan. What really struck me the most was the city center where they were able to maintain the old city vibe. In fact, there are specific areas of the plaza where you would actually feel that you are somewhere in Europe because of the architecture of the buildings surrounding the area.
After a quick lunch, Asher and I walked to the Central Terminal where we boarded a jeep headed for Cabog-Cabog. Again, the jeepney ride had us cruising along the green fields of the Bataan Peninsula. I actually noticed the Death March Markers along the side of the road that meant we were driving along the way where heroes once tread.
At the jump-off point to Mount Samat, we hired a tricycle to bring us to the Mount Samat Shrine. The trip from the base to the top took about 20 minutes of traversing through a winding road that is highlighted by the rich foliage of the mountainside. You would also feel the cooler weather as you get nearer to the shrine while catching a glimpse of the Bataan Peninsula. It was an exciting 20-minute fast-and-the-furious-kind of ride.
Up and Above
Upon reaching the Mount Samat Complex, I was treated with a very magnificent view of the Bataan Peninsula. The flat terrain of the province meeting the blue waters of Manila Bay was a visual treat. The view made me feel like I was on top of the world. The sun was out during the visit and the weather did not deprive us of being able to appreciate the amazing Bataan landscape.
The complex is complete with a colonnade with artworks that pay tribute to the heroes of World War 2. Adjacent to the colonnade is an esplanade where guns and ammunition are strategically displayed. The marble structure and its manicured garden complements the view of the mountain ridges and plains of Bataan. The place was peaceful and serene. It was a great place to relax and enjoy the peace and quiet that it offers.
At the back of the Colonnade, is a cemented zigzag trail that leads to the huge cross at the top of Mount Samat. Although an asphalted road is also in place for those who brought their cars, the trail is a good alternative for those who want a huff-and-puff kind of experience going up to the iconic structure. One good reason to walk up the path is that it offers a spectacular view of the land that Mount Samat overlooks.
A Hero’s Cross
Standing at 92 meters from its base, the memorial cross of Mount Samat is the second largest cross in the world. It sits on the highest point of the mountain at 555 meters above sea level. The base of the cross bears the NHI plaque that recognizes the historical value of Mount Samat. The base is also highlighted by sculptures done by Abueva that depicts the country’s significant events and personalities. A small compact entrance will lead you inside the cross where you can opt to take the stairs or the elevator to the cross’ viewing deck.
Located within the walls of its crossbar is the shrine’s viewing deck. The easiest way for access is the elevator but, if you are coming in for a visit on a weekend or on a holiday, expect to line up and wait for your turn to head on up the deck.
The viewing deck offers visitors a 360 degree view of the Bataan Peninsula, from the waters of Manila Bay to the mountain ranges that guard the province. It gives you a bird’s eye view of its landscape. It was an amazing sight. Interestingly, the place is not airconditioned as the glass panels are open for natural air to come through the deck to circulate. No worries as the glass panels are too small for a normal person to fit in. You can attempt to take a peek down its base which can be quite a challenge if you have a fear of heights.
The view will definitely captivate you and I guess the best way to enjoy the view is to sit down and enjoy the landscape as you feel the gentle and cool breeze blowing on your face. It is definitely relaxing.
Sidetrip: Balanga Cathedral
We were not able to get around much in Balanga as time did not permit us to do so. Although, we did manage to get a good look of the Plaza Mayor de Balanga – the city center. At the center of all the activities is the Balanga Cathedral.
Established in 1739, this humble church served as an artillery station by the Japanese against Filipino and American soldiers who took their last stand on Mount Samat. The church had undergone a lot of renovations and improvements after World War 2. Needless to say, its architecture blends in with the old city feel of Balanga’s city center with its red brick walls. An image of Saint Joseph, to whom the church is dedicated to, highlights its façade.
The interiors of the church was designed with simplicity with the altar as its major focus. The cream-colored altar has the image of the Holy Family as its main centerpiece.
We came in at a time when a mass was ongoing so getting around and exploring the church was not really a smart thing to do. In the end, as a traveler, I need to respect the community and the motions of their faith. But it was good stop for a short thanksgiving prayer for another opportunity to travel and discover the Philippines.
Post Travel Notes:
After the rush of getting to Mount Samat, my little travel partner and me decided to get a quick snack of chicken skin and settle down in one of the benches of Plaza Mayor. We did get a couple of smiles and nods from the locals. I guess we were pretty obvious that we were just visitors in the area and the affirmation from the locals that we got made us feel very comfortable.
Looking back, it was a great experience for both me and Asher. It was nice to get my little girl understand a little bit more of Philippine history through our travels. It was also a nice way of teaching her that travel need not be the usual holiday trips that we get. Exploring destinations is about hopping on a bus and discovering something new.
It was also nice to strike off Mount Samat from my bucket list. Now… I need to plan for the next.
Getting there: You can take a Genesis Bus or Bataan Transit Bus bound for Balanga. Once you reach Balanga, you can take a tricycle to the Central Station where you take a jeep bound for Cabog-Cabog. Ask the driver to drop you off at the Mount Samat Shrine jump-off point. From the jump-off point, you can hire a tricycle that will take you directly to the shrine.
Ask the tricycle driver to wait for you at the gate as you will need them to head back. Once at the jump-off point, you can take public transport to head back to Balanga where you can take a bus back to Manila.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.