Today, in lieu of visita iglesia, we went to this place in Rizal called Regina Rica. Apparently they have this huge statue of Mary, which sounds cool, so off we go. I love a good road trip. Too bad I slept through it all.
Getting there, it was obvious the place was a retreat center. It was surrounded by trees and hills, all resting on a mountaintop. Huts and houses are scattered around the periphery, and they make you want to live in it. This is a pretty place.
We saw the statue up top upon getting there. You do the way of the cross, and by the time you’re at the last station you’re already at the statue.
And so we prayed. Kind of. The scenery was too engrossing for me to recite from a prayer book. Why chant? The place was already a prayer in itself, if you let it be. Just look at it.
For the first few stations, steel crosses, painted white, are set against a backdrop of forest. The contrast is stark, like God Himself appearing before you out of nowhere. The path is obscured by so many fallen leaves, almost an ocean in their collective size. You wade, rather than walk over them.
You emerge from the forest into a shaded area, where you see the next stations encircling a hill. This being on a mountaintop, you fall subject to the weather, and the clouds at this moment decide to be somewhere else. You feel the sun on your skin. You feel gravity bearing down on you as you make your way uphill. You imagine being flogged, bloody and beaten, and having to carry a cross, to which they will affix you later. You can imagine it really sucking.
The last round of stations are along the path to the top of the mountain, towards where the statue is. Slowly your view expands. Majesty can creep up on you. We make the top of the mountain, and now we see the world. It inspires a reverence.
You see all the people on their way up top as well, tiny and bustling. Beyond that, you can see the other mountains, speckled with forestry. Further beyond, you see the horizon, and its almost imperceptible curve. I ponder: you get to the horizon, and what greets you is another. This vast expanse is but a tiny patch of the world, and you feel a sense of scale.
You see the clouds hovering idly above, like fickle gods who do as they please. Right now, it pleases them to rain. It overjoys me, especially after the climb. The mountains are veiled from sight, and for a moment everything is gray. It is beautiful. The rain wipes the sweat from my brow, pats me on the cheek for a good climb. The rain swathes me, caresses me like a mother. The rain pampers me, every drop like a kiss. I am loved.
As if in conclusion, the rain then stops. The clouds once again bow before the sun. It seems they left a gift. Struck by the sun, every single raindrop acts like a tiny prism. Colors explode, richer than they were before. Rays of sunlight now announce their arrival, gleaming like gold, and making kings of whatever they strike. The forest glows green, as if perched upon by emeralds. The sky now feels weightier, yet so much higher up, hinting at the vastness above. The grey of rain was to prime the eye for this kaleidoscope of a view.
I turn to the statue. She is smiling, with her baby Son. It is as if they are just as happy with the sight as I am.
What drives people to put up a huge statue in the middle of a mountaintop? I think it is the surrounding view. If you see this much of the world in one sweeping panorama, you would be driven to religion as well. You too would erect a monument. Out of reverence or defiance, I do not know. But you simply cannot deny that a God has made this. All this. If Wordsworth had Snowdon, it seems I have this.
Forgetting my iPod in the car, I haven’t taken any pictures. The spectacle has driven me to write, anyway. Everyone everywhere had a camera, trying to capture as much of this trip as they could. Sometimes I wonder if they ever saw past their viewfinders. Would they ever remember this mountain as vividly as I have? Or will all this have just end up as a bunch of pictures on Facebook, never to be recalled but on a screen?
I went down to get my camera and climbed up again, this time ready to take a picture for posterity. I frame the scenery, searching for the right angle, the right play of light and shadow which would best capture the feeling of this place.
I put the camera down. I no longer need it. I have taken it all in.