“Do you want to run with me in my backyard?”
Received one Friday night the private message in fb from fellow Irigueno and runner Nino Monte. I readily said yes knowing Nino from my very first Mayon 360 way back in 2011. He has proven to be a focused runner and a smart young man. He was one of the eager beaver runners who joined my wet and wild adventure at the 2nd Bicolano Penguin Anniversary Run (a.k.a. Lake Bato Ultra). He is one kindred spirit.
I knew the Bicolano Penguin would be in for a treat wherever the run will be.
The morning after I woke up early at 4am to be at the meeting area by 5am in front of the Central public school in San Nicolas. Nino was there garbed in the Lake Bato Ultra shirt. The message of the shirt read – “Matira ang Matibay. Matira ang Bato.” The message was clear. Our running adventure that morning will not be for the weak and meek.
Nino pointed to Mt. Iriga, all 4,823 feet of green highland territory. He smiled and then he told me that the mountain was his “backyard.” But he said not to worry coz for this morning, we will explore the lower side of his backyard, meaning the trails on the foothills. He said we will do a traverse of Inorogan and Ilian, both foothills of Mt. Iriga. I said “lead the way.”
We saw ourselves running towards the barangay of Sto. Domingo where Inorogan Hill is located .
I heard of this hill before but Nino was kind enough to fill me in on the historical and religious significance of this hill. In the year 1641, the volcano known as Sumagang ( now known as Mt. Iriga or Mt. Asog) had a major eruption. So major it formed a gully on the Buhi side of the mountain leading to a steep ravine which is the crater of the volcano. According to stories, the Nuestra Senora de Angustia appeared at Inorogan Hill and through a miracle saved the fledgling I-raga settlement (in the 16th century up to 17th century, Iriga was a barrio of Nabua) at the foot of the volcano from destruction. Oral tradition among the indigenous people tell of 3 Agta hunters finding an image of the Our Lady of Angustia on the hill. In modern times, to commemorate this miracle, a chapel was built on top of the hill. It has now become a favourite destination for the Catholic faithful, especially during the Holy Week.
1st Station of the Way of the Cross at Inorogan Hill
After turning left on a side street in Sto. Domingo from the Iriga-Buhi Road, we found ourselves at the start of our quest up the miraculous hill. The start is marked by Station 1 of the Way of the Cross. It was all uphill road from the 1st Station to the 13th Station. And the hill saved the best for last as to reach the chapel where the 14th station was located , pilgrims and runners like me will have to tackle a long flight of stairs. I did not bother anymore counting as I was busy trying to keep up with the younger and more agile Nino.
At the bottom of the stairs to the Inorogan Chapel
The penguin trying to catch up with...
...the younger Nino.
Photo with neighbors.
On top of Inorogan Hill.
Inorogan Chapel undergoing renovation.
The legendary 3 Agta hunters.
At the 14th station.
He reached the top first where he got to meet some old friends from his neighborhood. A chapel under major repair and renovation was what greeted us. He showed also to me a replica statue of the 3 Agta hunters. I asked where is the 14th station. Nino showed me to a narrow path downward at the back of the chapel where we found the last station of the Way of the Cross. He then guided me to a moss-covered pathway where at the end we saw a big rock nestled on top was a concrete image of Our Lady of Angustia. Nino told me that the agtas referred to this rock as ‘buhay na bato” as it is suppose to be getting bigger. I had no way of verifying the veracity of this claim but what was evident to my naked eye was the fact that a lot of wild flowers were blooming around the “buhay na bato.” The beauty visible to my senses seems to engender a better feeling of well-being.
Moss-covered path to Buhay Na Bato in Inorogan Hill
Our Lady of Angustia at Buhay Na Bato.
Brimming with life around Buhay Na Bato
With the first hill tackled, we set our sights on Ilian Hill. It is 2 barangays away west of Inorogan. To be precise, in the barangay of San Nicolas. And to get there, we did not bother to use the paved roads. Instead, Nino brought me to a path which started out as muddy giving way to verdant trails replete with bamboos and carabao grass. It was running on the wild side. There were even wild mushrooms strewn all over the grass trails. It was a rare sight for me and this spurred me to gallop in tandem with the sky running veteran Nino.
Down a muddy ...
...a carabao grass path.
In no time, we reached the foot of Ilian hill where an agta settlement was located. In this indigenous setting, we were greeted by something inspired by Hollywood. A big IRIGA CITY sign jutting out of the side of this hill. To reach the sign, we could not run but instead had to do clamber and climb using at time the aid of ropes. It had me sweating profusely while the younger Nino was cool as a cat in navigating up towards the Hollywood-like sign. I figured I stopped half a dozen times to catch my breath but eventually we reached the top where we were rewarded with an awesome view of Iriga and the nearby Lake Bato and Lake Baao.
At the foot of Ilian Hill is an Agta settlement.
Ilian tribal settlement
Climbing up the hill...
...with the help of a rope
The Hollywood-like Iriga City sign.
The view from the hill top sign
Going down the hill, we could not help but mingle with some children playing old school games like “sulbodan” (agawan base) and spider-fighting. The young ones from the settlement seem to be spared from the couch-friendly and obese-inducing computer games. Like the two of us, these kids were clearly in their elements playing in their backyard.
Not bad for an unplanned weekend run. There will be many more of this running frolic in our backyard. Maraming salamat Nino.