PT Note: The following is an essay written by my friend, fellow pinay traveller Divine Love Salvador. If you want to read more of her hilarious and sumptuous adventures, you can visit her blog at Bogchi ni Bochog [http://bogchinibochog.blogspot.com]
BIG AS A BOULDER, LIGHT AS A FEATHER
Husgado. From the root Tagalog word, ‘husga’, which means ‘to judge.’ Husgado is a place where judgments are made and rendered, where justice—or not—is meted out. Husgado. Such a severe name for a cave. As I stood at its entrance, looking down into the rocky tunnel with its sharp and jagged edges, I thought about the judgment to be passed on me as I lowered myself into its depths.
The cave is situated in the Sta. Lucia Complex of Mt. Banahaw, a mystical mountain in Quezon province. The foot of Mt. Banahaw has long been home to a variety of Philippine folk Christian sects that blend fervid nationalism with the gospel of Christ. The mountain itself is seen by its inhabitants and protectors as a ‘new calvary’ and pilgrims, both local and foreign, habitually climb its heights and plumb the depths of Husgado.
Husgado is a long curved tunnel that cuts a V across one side of the mountain. The darkness stretches from beginning to end with only candles left by the pilgrims on small stone altars lighting the way. Earlier, our guide had told us about the cave, about how one’s sins are enough to deny a person entrance. The rocks move to let those who are pure in heart and spirit pass through. The sinful never get out.
I stood there, silent, recounting my sins of the past… week. God, they were many. Let me see. I teased my friend mercilessly about her dwindling IQ. I laughed too hard when another friend slipped on the pavement… I ate all the major food groups, except for the veggie group, in one meal—merienda. What if the spirits abhorred gluttons?
Behind me, my panicky friend kept whispering, “Natatakot talaga ako.” (“I’m scared as shit.”). I kept thinking, “Shut up! I’m bigger than you are. How do you think I feel?”
Finally, it was my turn to go. The fearless high school kid before me instructed me on how to go down. I put one foot on one rocky side and the other on one small ledge on the other side. After jumping, I had to slip through a tiny crack by executing something like a half-split, again balancing myself with each foot on small dents on either side of the tunnel. I was able to crawl into the first chamber, which was just big enough to accommodate four small to medium built people, only after what seemed to be ten minutes of gymnastics. I would later admit to myself that it was probably just around two, three minutes of bending and flexing.
I sat for a while on a rock, resting and taking a glimpse of my enclosed surroundings, as our guide, Kuya Rex, showed me how to push myself up, using my hands as leverage, through the tiniest hole I had ever seen. At that point, I wanted to go back but there was already a long line of fellow pilgrims waiting their turn after me.
I remember Kuya Rex explaining how “thin people can easily get through but, for healthy people like us, we have to push harder.” Now, if that’s not nature discriminating against overweights then I don’t know what that is.
So after a couple of tense drawings of breath, I lay down in a diagonal position with my upper body slanted upwards inside the hole. Then I grabbed a hold of the rocky protrusion just above me and, with my feet, I pushed. Hard. Harder.
Oh my God.
“What is it?” Kuya Rex’s voice came to me from the second chamber. He could see that my upper body was already out.
“I’m fine,” I assured him, nonchalant, as if my Reubenesque hips weren’t stuck in a hole the size of a pre-pubescent model’s hips. Then I got mad, mad at the fact that I could not fit into a stupid hole. It was as if the heavens had opened to bestow upon me some healthy anger, just enough to make me determined.
I was pissed; so
Finally, I was out. I had acquired a new philosophy: Wiggle. (Which, now that I think about it, may actually be the same sort of philosophy newly outed gay men adopt for themselves. Wiggle.).
And then I was faced with another small hole, this one leading to the third chamber. It had a sharp point, like a stalactite, hanging from the middle. Others called it the ‘tooth.’ I thought ‘incisor’, or better yet ‘fang’, was a more suitable term. I straddled the stone in front of me then I slipped through the hole, first with one shoulder then with the other. My upper body was free. Except…
Oh my God.
“What is it?” Kuya Rex asked again. “Is it your leg?”
No, it’s my hips. It’s always, and ever been, my hips. Can they get any bigger? No one has the right to make caves narrower than my hips. (Do you hear that, God?).
“I’m fine,” I said aloud. Then I wiggled again until I got to the third chamber.
The third chamber was like a small shrine. I was in front of a small altar with candles lighting it. I was to balance my left foot on one edge of the shrine while I reached and put my thigh through the crack. I was doing fine, had my left foot balanced on one edge, had a good grip on one of the rocks. Then, as usual…
“Hindi kasya (It won’t fit),” I called to Kuya Rex. “Try your knee,” he offered.
So I did. Goodness, it fit. I fit. One more haul and I slipped out of the crack and out of that stringent, unrelenting cave.
“Ha!” I told the cave that had tested my resolve severely. “Take your judgments, Cave, and go!”
The spirits don’t hate gluttons after all.
I was first in my group to get out. I felt light as a feather. As we waited for the others to come out, I kept smiling to myself because I knew now what the rocks in Mt. Banahaw know—that there are other things in life that matter more than weight.
(Another version previously published in KAMPUS Magazine, Vol. 5, Issue 10)