The steep roads to Mt. Samat turned out to be just an illusion. Except for one.

The walk starts at the foot of Mt. Samat when you cross the post standing over an asphalted road that announces DAMBANA NG KAGITINGAN. Underneath, it marks the location DIWA, PILAR, BATAAN. It’s at this point that tricycle drivers would approach you and offer to take you on a ride to the summit. If you declined the offer and are still walking, you deserve a cup of hot taho from a passing vendor as your reward. You’ll pass by houses distanced from one another, a couple of sari-sari stores, some makeshift seating areas made of bamboo and even a spray-painted message on a maroon gate that says, “P30 tanong, P20 turo.”

No need for asking directions. Just follow the line of concrete road that stretches uphill and in a zigzag. As houses disappear from view, you realize the concrete road lies in the middle of a forest. You hear only the birds singing above the trees and the crunching sounds of the dried leaves you step on. You might think the air would be cooler as you make your way up, but the canopies don’t completely cover the skies so the heat of the sun still shines through.

You pass by monuments that reference to the Philippine-Japanese peace pact, a sitting area surrounded by litters, a biking trail and an overlooking view of rice fields and small towns. You walk over steep-looking roads that turn out to be just that – they just look steep. The steepness turns out to be an illusion when you finally walk over it. Another illusion is when the white cross finally looms on the horizon above the trees. That only means you’re still far off.

The road turns on a bend until that looming white cross hides again from view. The rustling of the canopies begins to sound like the splashing of waves in a beach. You pass by more S-lines and sloping roads until you see a stony wall in a manicured garden. It’s been two hours from the time you started. Excitement washes over you so you make a dash to the gate of Mt. Samat shrine. Then it becomes like the trudging Death March Bataan is known for. The end of the road tells you, “Not so fast.” It’s at this end where the steepest portion lies.

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