I first heard of Sulangan from a Poor Clare nun who told me back in 1997 that she used to walk the rough and lonely road to Sulangan all by herself or with other nuns. I had asked her then, WHAT FOR?? "Penitence, sa'ad
(promise/vow), it's a pilgrim's road that you walk to ask for help or intercession from San Antonio de Padua." Sol (the nun's name) said that it was a long road that took her a whole day's slow walk while praying and fasting, and for a culture that doesn't put much importance on walking but much on drinking and eating, that's a lot of suffering. I passed this road 3 years ago (inside an airconditioned SUV) but even then, it took more than an hour's uncomfortable drive because of the bad road. It was a quiet and uninhabited place then, with a strange and eerie stillness that made us think, this is what it must feel like after an apocalypse. It made us wonder where all the animals, the people, the movement, and the noise had gone. But despite all that, it had a sacredness to it that made the place memorable.
It's different now. Ever since the beaches near the road to Sulangan were declared the next surfer's paradise, the stillness has been replaced by a slow destruction of nature. The stillness is gone. Now, there are signs of resorts being constructed. Now, all the properties have been bought by real estate developers and foreign investors. Now, there are tall resort hotels being planned. Although you can't see the construction going on yet, there is a waiting mood for the construction boom to begin, the way surfers wait and wait for that perfect wave. You know the wave is coming, just as you know the construction will start and destroy the pristine place called Calicoan.
But stuff like that is inevitable. What a traveler can do is go visit places like that before they are destroyed by progress. Visit, record, and move on. This would be my second visit to Sulangan.
Sulangan is at the tip of a peninsula, off of Guiuan Samar, which is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. The road to Sulangan which is called Calicoan island is bordered by beachfront properties on both sides of the road, which is a little disconcerting, because it's like driving on a natural bridge where you fall off the end of the island after an endless drive.
If Calicoan is secretly "known" for its surfing (especially during typhoons), Sulangan is known for its miraculous saint, San Antonio de Padua. There are records of the saint's miraculous interventions against disasters, of miraculous healings, and of impossible requests being granted. Not only by the locals, but by believers and pilgrims from all over the country. From a few households, the small fishing village has slowly
grown through the years. Sulangan seems like a place that has no town planning, and you can easily predict that after Calicoan is developed, Sulangan will become the tourists' village with lots of planning disasters. Which will win out, Sulangan as a tourist and backpacker's hangout, or a pilgrim's destination, we'll know in the future. For now, it's still a small coastal paradise, with its religiosity very much celebrated and respected by the locals.
The first time I came here was out of curiosity. I remembered what Sol had said about the walk: very spiritual, very moving, and very painful. I wanted to see what the road she had walked and talked about looked like. I had also heard a story of someone diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and who had made the pilgrimage and not only did she survive the travel, but got healed from her cancer. My two friends with me that time had favors/requests to ask. So I made one for myself too, not really knowing how things like that work. I heard their wishes were granted immediately.. mine wasn't.
This would be my second time. I have learned a lot about beliefs and pilgrimages since then, about miraculous healings and intercessions by saints and gods and goddesses, about blind faith and magic, and what I have learned should have prevented me from coming for the second time on a long and tiring trip, even if still inside an airconditioned SUV. A walk on the road would have been more fun (although more dangerous). But because of what I know about beliefs (that an object or belief is only as powerful or magical as your belief in it), I thought I'd like to try the pilgrimage again. Let me explain.. I do not believe that San Antonio de Padua can grant my wish. But I believe that if I go through the "pilgrimage" and bring myself into that relaxed and accepting state, I can also bring myself into that state of acceptance that I can and have the power to make things happen. The pilgrimage and San Antonio then become tools for me to believe in what I can imagine and manifest. That's how I believe things are created.
The two with me on this pilgrimage were very religious people. They like stuff like that, praying to saints and doing pilgrimages, so I was in good company. We talked with two women at the church, Mana Rosing and Mana Besing. You pay them to pray for your requests for nine days (novena), or you can just write your request on a piece of paper and drop it in a box for letters to the saint. It is blessed by the priest and what they do with the letters, I've no idea. It feels like writing to Santa Claus. I'm not much of a praying person, so I don't know how to mumble prayers. I gave my request to Mana Rosing so she can pray for my wish for nine days. I also meditated a little in front of San Antonio's statue, and roamed around the church taking pictures. I believe that silently doing these activities brought me to that state of belief, because as we were driving away, I knew for certain that my three wishes had already been granted.
This is why I like traveling to places like Sulangan, why I like pilgrimages, saints, gods, goddesses. Not because of my wishes being granted (since they can easily be granted anywhere else), but because a pilgrimage is a symbol of the different states we go through. It's like traveling through the many stages of meditation, only the travel is outside in the world rather than inside our minds. Sulangan or any pilgrimage sites are such places if approached with the proper state of understanding. They are symbols of our blind faith, of our beliefs, our convictions and enlightenment.
This is what the road to Sulangan is all about.
(For travelers and pilgrims: The pictures are ones taken of the roads and views from San Juanico Bridge to Sulangan. If you're driving from Basey, watch out for these places: Marabut for its magical small limestone cliffs jutting out from the sea, Balangiga where the Balangiga massacre by American soldiers is remembered every year, Guiuan with its 16th century old church, and the undeveloped road to Sulangan.)