Sunday, May 15, 2011

[LUCBAN] ??? Steps to Jesus

Kamay ni Hesus is a sanctuary similar in terms of concept to Iguig’s Calvary Hills in the Cagayan Valley. Although they present the same theme via life-size figures depicting the Stations of the Cross, Kamay ni Hesus presents a more challenging terrain for the pilgrim. Situated on the slopes of Mt. Banahaw, the location requires you to ascend around seven levels in order to reach the grand statue of Jesus above. This is in contrast to Cavalry Hills’ seemingly flat topography. Both sites offer a stunning view, though. Iguig has the Cagayan River while Kamay ni Hesus gives you Banahaw and an aerial view of Lucban.

The place was really crowded, perhaps because my visit coincided with the Pahiyas and Mayohan Festivals. The religious atmosphere of the place is very much evident once you pass the entrance gate. You'll immediately see three to five religious sculptures within reach. To the east is some sort of shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Straight ahead then left are the church and the hills, while going farther ahead leads to the Garden of Eden where Noah’s Ark is located. It's like a giant set for Bible the Movie, complete with waterfalls and stone snakes.

Once you reach the church you will then have a good vantage point to assess the total land area of the place. You'll also notice how the cement you are stepping on is filled with many engraved messages and prayers from donating families. Mt. Banahaw is also present, although its full appearance heavily depends on the mist surrounding it. Behind the church are the hills with life-size diorama. Right there you'll already have an idea whether you'll be willing to hike all the way up there to meet Jesus or not.

I entered the Garden of Eden which seemed to be hosting a big family day because of the multitude of people gathered there. The queue was long and a renegade line formed in the middle cutting our original line in half. Some people protested but nothing happened. Noah’s Ark was very much alive with hyperactive kids playing around and in it.

Technically, the Stations of the Cross are outside the Garden of Eden. However, the hills extend inside the garden and contain more life-size statues of various biblical personalities. Right in front and easily spotted upon entering the garden are two of its most prominent characters: Adam and Eve. And the snake, do not forget the snake. They are situated right next to a cascading waterfall flowing right into a medium-sized pond abounding with Koi. You could make a wish and drop coins but there is a large warning sign prohibiting you from throwing coins at the fish. No fun. There are more ponds as you enter the pilgrimage site.

Right at the entrance by the gazebo with a Pieta as its centerpiece is a signboard announcing that you cannot enter the place if you are wearing a sando, a skirt, etc. It says that you should be dressed as if going to mass and that the place is bound by rules of the clergy. I wonder if Lady Gaga would be allowed in wearing her meat dress. Too bad I did not ask.

The ascent was exhausting, obviously. Be forewarned that there are obstacles along the way by the time you reach the second level. It is understandable to stare at the figures out of fascination but make sure that you mind where you are going. On the second and third levels are mini ponds at the center of the path formed by mini waterfalls coming from the higher levels. You have to step on the large stepping stones to cross. Otherwise, you get wet. As simple as that. There are uneven rock formations on the ground and tripping over them could be really embarrassing. Imagine yourself rolling down those hills. I have no idea what their purpose is, although I would bet that it is not for aesthetic reasons. Maybe they want you to suffer too to complete the experience.

Halfway through the top (around the fourth or fifth level) is a big grotto of the Virgin Mary. Perfect photo-op if you have a companion on the lower levels to snap your picture. It might also be of interest to you to know that you really have to go all the way up in order to start your descent. The path going down is blocked by railings and the gate was locked. I am not sure if this is the case during ordinary days. A couple of old people were among us when we climbed those hills and they did finish the climb. I do not see a reason why you could not. The giant Jesus above is a dead ringer of the one in Rio de Janeiro, albeit colored.

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