Mt. Cristobal and the Mysteries of the Mountains

Saturday, May 04, 2019

mt cristobal forest
Photo by JH Miranda via DIY Travel Philippines

A few days ago, I saw this trailer of a local movie called “Banal”. It’s about a group of friends who decided to go up a mountain. In the movie, there are claims that once you reach the mountain’s peak, you could ask for a miracle and it would be granted – and this was apparently the motivation of one of the characters. However, what was supposed to be an adventure turned into some Blair Witch Project kind of wild. There was a lot of weird stuff going on in that trailer. There was some hacking and slicing of bodies. Lots of blood. Really unnerving. Check it out for yourself:

See that part right at the end? It said “inspired by true events”. And that got me curious.

My earliest memory of what you would call a paranormal encounter was when I was eight, back in our house in Sorsogon one summer night. I was vacationing in the province while my parents were back in Rizal. An aunt stayed with me and we had the humble bungalow to ourselves. 

I slept in my parents’ bedroom, on a rickety wooden bed pushed up against the wall – a jalousie window ended right where the headboard began. I never had a problem sleeping with the lights out – I’ve had my own room since I was six – and that night was no different. 

In the middle of the night, I woke up from a dream. I couldn’t recall what it was about, but I remember turning to my other side and then glancing up the window over my head. There was a bit of light outside – perhaps from the lamppost by our gate – so there was no mistaking what I saw: a silhouette of a hand pressed against the frosted glass. Half-asleep and confused, I lifted my head a bit to take a second look. The hand was still there and it remained unmoving. I was tempted to crack the window open but I was a sleep-greedy child so I shrugged it off and slid right back to slumber. 

The next morning, the first thing I did was go out to our porch and check where the window looked out to. About two feet of “garden lot” separated that side of the wall from the tall wire fence, and the only way you could stand immediately outside that window was if you hop over the porch’s balustrade and walk over bougainvillea shrubs. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could do that, especially so late at night and with the locked main gate. 

Over breakfast, I told my aunt what I saw and she was pretty much dismissive about it. Several other curious events took place the following nights: when I got up to get some water, I saw how a curtain rise so high up as if blown by a breeze, only there was no breeze. In the living room, while watching TV with my aunt, I kept seeing scuttling shadows through the gap between doors and the floor, even though there was clearly no one home besides the two of us. 

I don’t remember being particularly frightened. Nervous, maybe. And mildly annoyed. As I grew into adulthood, things like this kept happening, I feel (and even see) presences, but I got used to it. One thing I can tell you, however: the mountains are alive

I’ve heard many stories about strange things happening in the mountains – tents being ripped, sandals going missing, supplies getting pilfered, trails going in circles, the works. All mountains have its fair share of “ghost” stories, but none as plenty as that of Mt. Cristobal

Formally known as Mt. San Cristobal, this inactive volcano has the reputation of being the “Devil Mountain”. It’s right next to Mt. Banahaw – the Holy Mountain. The Yin to its Yang, as some Chinese philosopher puts it. Locals say Cristobal absorbs all the negative energy of Mt. Banahaw, so while the latter gives you the feeling of peace and calm, the former is just pure kilabot

But many stories also surround Mt. Banahaw, most of them involve “alien abductions” – people vanishing without a trace. But these days, Banahaw is more popular for its miracle springs while Cristobal remains notorious for its creepy encounters. 

This reputation can be traced back all the way to the Spanish era when Filipino revolutionaries made the mountains their base. They started making up and spreading “ghost” stories to ward off the Spaniards, and to practice colorums – indigenous religions. In fact, one religious sect had set up camp in Banahaw: the Watawat  ng Lahi (Flag of the State) movement who believes Jose Rizal is the reincarnation of Christ.

In the mountaineering community, meanwhile, this is what we know: Cristobal takes hikers. A prevalent story is that of a couple who went on a night trek and never came back. Then, one day, a rowdy group of friends went up the mountain and met the couple along the trail. They followed the couple, believing them to be experienced hikers. At some point, the two vanished and the group found one of their members hanging off a cliff. Fortunately, he was saved. 

Encounters of a creature known as the Tumao – a kind of malignant spirit, similar to the West’s Big Foot, said to waylay hikers for his own amusement – is also many. One group even claimed to walk for three hours only to find themselves back at the same spot where they saw the Tumao.

Perhaps the most interesting story I’ve heard about Cristobal is from veteran mountaineer and trailblazer Sky Biscocho. In the campsite, while inspecting maps and marking routes with his exploration buddy Lester Susi, Sky saw another person sitting beside his companion. This newcomer was wearing a white loincloth, built like the indigenous Aeta, but was faceless. It sat on its haunches, seemingly fascinated by the maps the two were studying. Sky finally told Lester there was somebody else with them. Lester looked up, rolled the maps slowly, and calmly told Sky they should pack and descend. As the two men raced through the trail, Lester admitted that the faceless Aeta had been “riding” on his backpack the entire time. They kept running until they felt the presence disappear. 

Many more tales are told of Mt. Cristobal and Mt. Banahaw. Even the locals that live around it have their own accounts. Most mountain guides even wear amulets and talismans to “counter the evil spirits”. 

Personally, I’ve been wanting to visit Cristobal. The forests here are said to be one of the most pristine in Luzon. And, well yeah, to maybe get a feel of how truly evil the Devil Mountain is. Too bad the mountain is indefinitely closed for hiking.  

You could say that, of course, there are logical explanations for some of these strange mountain encounters. Like the “unexplained” forest fires that were later determined to be caused by honey hunters and slash-and-burn farmers. But I think it’s not wrong to believe in the unexplainable. God, after all, cannot be explained away, and many of us still believe in Him/Her/It. 

The world is vast, see, and there is plenty of room here for the supernatural.

Have you had any encounters in the mountains?

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