A Purposeful Trek to the Sacred Bud Bongao Mountain | Tawi-Tawi

I remember being envious of my then-girlfriend years ago, when she went on a solo backpacking to Tawi-Tawi and hiked the Bud Bongao. Not only is the mountain located in the southernmost province of the Philippines, it is also considered as a sacred peak. Two preachers mentored by Karim ul-Makhdum–the Arab missionary who brought Islam to the Philippines in 1380–are said to be buried in Mt. Bud Bongao in a location called the Tampat Rocks.

Tawi Tawi travel guide

Since I love a hike to the mountains especially sacred and historic ones such as Mt. Sinai in Egypt, imagine my delight upon learning that our party of travel writers who covered the Agal-Agal festival, will have a side-trip to Bud Bongao.

A Bud Wiser

The name of the mountain was derived from the Tausug word Bud, meaning mountain and Bongao–the name of the island where it is located. A pilgrimage site for both Muslims and Christians, Bud Bongao towers 1,030 feet above sea level overlooking the 250-hectare tropical forest inside the Bongao Peak Eco-Tourism Park–a protected biodiversity site.

"This nature park was one of the chosen model sites of the New Conservation Areas in the Philippines Project or NEWCAPP–which was a 5-year project implemented by the Biodiversity Management Bureau in 2012" says Ayesha Dilangalen, the former ARMM DOT Secretary.

Jeff mendez, Potpot Pinili, Celine Murillo, Christine Fernandez, Olan Emboscado

Characterized by six limestone pillars that make up Bud Bongao's ragged six crests, the summit summons a breathtaking scenery of several islands and small towns of Tawi-Tawi.

Cheekie Albay

As someone who loves the great outdoors, the relaxed hike to the top of Bud Bongao afforded me a front-row seat of viewing one of the few remaining moist forest in the country. Cap it off with learning additional tidbits about the mountain–its connection to the history of Islam in the Philippines–the afternoon hike we had also made me a little bit wiser.

The Long-tailed Guardians

On the way to the top, you will get amused or frightened by countless playful long-tailed Macaques. Fortunately for us, we all had a blast being entertained by these adorable creatures moonlighting as the guardians of the sacred Bud Bongao.

Bong Go

Similarly mischievous as the ones I encountered during my hike in Dambulla, the macaques on this mountain seem to study us with deadpanned stares, as if judging our characters if we are worthy of hiking the mountain. Fortuitously, none from our party were barred for rambling and they let us on our way albeit after an inducement in the form of bananas.

Potpot Pinili, Christine Fernandez, Ferdz Decena, Celine Murillo, Marky Ramone Go

Their presence made the hike under the torrid sheen of the sun a lot bearable. Along the trail, I would sit under the shade of a tree for a brief rest and as if on cue, dozens of them would show off their vine gymnastics skills.

A Hallowed Highland

Our guide told us that as recent as a couple of years ago, tying plastic strips on tree branches are widely practiced by both Muslim and Christian pilgrims as an offering to the sacred Bud Bongao. This tradition has now been prohibited in order to safeguard the natural appeal of the mountain.

As we approach the final assault to the peak, we passed by the two sacred tombs of Muslim Imams who were the disciples of Karim ul-Makhdum. Even as a non-Muslim and a non-practicing Catholic, I stopped by and paid my respect by offering a short prayer. I expressed my gratitude to God for showering me another burst of good karma that made it possible for me to finally set foot in Tawi-Tawi.

Photo courtesy of Ferdz Decena
As I alight out of the forest and my vision revealed the blue waters of Celebes Sea and the green ridges of its neighboring peaks, I elated at the culmination of an hour and a half trek. After years of having this wanderlust desire, I finally understand why my then girlfriend waxed romantically and poetically about her encounter with Bud Bongao, the blessed mountain.