Bud Bongao

The peak of the sacred mountain Bud Bongao

Di ka pa nakakapunta ng Tawi-Tawi pag di mo pa na-akyat ang Bud Bongao (You haven’t been to Tawi-Tawi if you haven’t climbed Bud Bongao)” said our Muslim guide Ben as we started our climb one morning in Bongao, Tawi-tawi. Bud Bongao dominates the whole landscape of the Tawi-tawi island. The Muslim people there considers the mountain as sacred and guards the well being of the island and the people that resides within. At least once, in every Muslim’s life living on the island, they would climb the mountain and pray at the peak.

Bud Bongao Macaque

A macaque contemplating on a bit of banana

Ben bought a bag of bananas for us to take on the climb . It’s not for us though, but for the Macaques who live there and are usually guarding the trail. These breed of monkeys are also considered sacred and wouldn’t let anyone pass easily if they are “bad”. Ben has guided a number of people on this mountain including some people from TV media. He’s the one usually assigned by the local tourism as the guide here. He narrated that one time, a macaque scratched on of his guest, he was sure that she did something bad before going to that mountain even if she brought bananas.

Bud Bongao Macaque

Bud Bongao Macaque

It was a bit scary at first with all those macaques making rustling movements above the trees and coming at you in different directions. But once you have given them a few bananas they wouldn’t mind you anymore. The trail with the macaques took less than an hour to traverse. It didn’t also help that the trail was sticky and muddy due to the light rains the day before. There were other families there who were climbing along us. Even a small child.

Bud Bongao Tampat and Knots

Bud Bongao First Tampat placed on the summit and Knots on the tree

Ben said that Muslims believe that if they take their young up that mountain and pray, their sickness be healed. I’m not sure if there’s scientific proof in that but they believe it works. Their faith is that strong. Speaking to a Muslim like him is like speaking to any other people. They also believe in ghosts and entities as well as the afterlife and somewhat similar to what we call ‘Karma’ They may have some extreme beliefs like the right to kill a person caught in the act of aggression but they are same people who laughs at jokes and has personal beliefs.

Bud Bongao Tampat Inside

A family inside the tampat

Close to the summit we saw the first of the three tampat. I remember Ben took a photo of the tampat on his cellphone saying “Ayun nakuha (there it’s taken)” saying that sometimes these tampats couldn’t be photographed for some reason. I guess the higher power here was giving and allowed us to take pictures. An imam was cleaning the tampat that morning before the family went inside to pray. Usually, some Muslims would also climb the mountain and would make a wish there inside the the Tampat, in exchange to that wish, they would do something like a service to their god. One example was the guy who constructed the concrete stairs on part of the trail going to the summit. He offered this in exchange to keep his home safe from harm. A fire blazed through the community where he was living recently wiping out most of the houses there, except his.

Bud Bongao Sanga-sanga View

Bud Bongao Sanga-sanga View

Just a short hike from the tampats is the peak. On one side of the peak a Globe Tower stands which is un-sightly if you ask me. There are plans to move it they say. It’s strange though that even with the tower at the highest point, globe signal is spottier and erratic than Smart. From the summit we saw the landscape of tawi-tawi. The mountain summit, according to my GPS is around 397 meters above sea level, but other literature states that it’s around 314 meters only.

Bud Bongao Simunul Island View

Bud Bongao Simunul Island View

On our way down, Ben told us that we could tie some knots there on tree branches if we want to make a wish. I saw those knots going up and thought at first they were markers for directions but the higher they go up it became thicker. It was actually very unsightly since the knots used were some plastics and chip wrappers. I asked if people can remove them but Ben said we can “dare”, some people who removed the knots said they suffered a simple headache for a week. Basically if one removes those knots it would have a negative effect on that person as simple as having a migraine or worse.

Bud Bongao Lower Peak View

Our guide Ben at the Lower peak

I didn’t plan to test if that was true so I left the knots as they were. I just instead tied up some leaves as Ben told us has the same effect. I think I tied more than three knots there going down. Right now I can’t seem to remember what my wishes were. The climb up Bud Bongao took more than two hours. It could have been faster if the ground weren’t that sticky at that time. But I sure did enjoy the experience. The only sacred mountain I know is the Mt Banahaw in Luzon and it’s great to learn there’s also a counterpart here down in Mindanao. The sacred mountain of Bud Bongao.

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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.

19 Responses to “Tawi-tawi: Climbing, wishes and beliefs at the sacred Bud Bongao”

  1. i always find it fascinating to hear stories like this one in trips. i wouldn’t really call them tales because who knows what’s really fiction and what’s really true? anyway, the climb was hot, humid and exhausting, the trail muddy, but the experience was unique and memorable, monkeys, tampats, muslim hikers and all. wish the knots work wonders on your wishes, amigo 😀

  2. had a wonderful experience climbing that mountain so many years ago when i was around 8 years old…
    surprised to see so many houses now on the underlying areas. thanks for sharing. 🙂

  3. Millie

    Ang ganda pala when u reach the top, buti na lang pinagbigyan kayo ng weather to take pictures of this wonderful place. Hope all your wishes be granted. Beautiful Ferdz 🙂

  4. Onga Og, the muddy trail slowed us down, but it was a very interesting climb.

    Haha! Ayaw mo na talaga mag climb. Salamat Barok!

    Medyo madami ng houses ngayon dun Zandi! Hey thanks for dropping by here.

    Thanks Dom!

    Thanks Millie! It’s fortunate di kami inulan at that time even if it was a bit cloudy.

  5. ang galing naman. i agree with Oggie, what actually makes an adventure awesome are the tales/stories from the locals. yung mga kwento na nagpasalin-salin na. ang galing namang mga trail guardians ang Macaques, pati behavior ng mga dumadaan nababasa nila. malamang ang wish mo Ferdz ay: “world peace!”

  6. another great adventure. the prize for the climb is a sweeping view, a million dollar’s worth, of the town below. i am more interested in the monkeys and their behaviour than the climb itself (halata bang di mahilig sa climbing)

  7. Hmm. Pwede rin Rayts! More than three wishes yun so “world Peace x 3” 😛

    Thanks Kyels! Taken early morning at the top of the Capitol.

    Salamat Allan! Natuwa rin ako sa nag arc na clouds

    Haha. True, amazing views up there Photo Cache. Makukulit din yung mga monkeys na yan.

  8. tina alviar

    hi, i love going through your website. its sort of my guide as i travel around the Philippines. i’m planning to go to Tawi-Tawi by june. do you have the number of the tourism office or that of your guide (Ben). thanks a lot and may you have more (safe and fun) trips in the future. God Bless.
    tina (“,)

  9. Kastilang_Pinoy

    Hi Ferdz,

    i just read your travel info about Tawi-Tawi.
    I don’t know if I missed something, but did you write here of how to get there?
    How’s the peace & order situation?

    Your information is highly appreciated.
    Thanks Ferdz


  10. chemist

    ive been to bongao for 3 years kasi my project ang SZOPAD (tulay ng pangulo sa mindanao) at ive stayed at beachside hotel (the 1st and only hotel na 1 star during that time)…. yes its true na napakaganda ng bongao tawi tawi… parang circle ang daan nyan eh… kung saan ka pumasok eh dun ka din lalabas…hehehehe nakaakyat na ako sa bongao peak… sa baba palang marami ng unggoy na aabang sayo… sabi nga nila dapat my dala kang saging sa mga unggoy kasi tagabantay daw yan sila ng bundok… in short guardians… hehehehe siguro mga 3 piling ng saging kulang kasi sa dami ng unggoy jan sa bongao peak… mauubusan ka… hehehehehe pero what i like most jan sa bongao is yung foods nila especially the sea foods…ANG MUMURA… sobra…. lapu lapu na kasing laki ng long size na bondpaper is 20 pesos (YUNG SURUY HA) lang… grabe… from fish to crabs to seashells… name it… matitikman mo lahat… sobra…. para kanang kumain sa 5 star resto lalo na yung lobster at abalone.. hahahahaha hmmm ang downs lang din ng bongao is regarding sa water…mahal ang mineral water…. although my tubig sila na local district pero nasa inyo na kung kaya niyo…hehehehehe seeing forward to go back there…

  11. Howie

    Been there 10 years ago and stayed there for 3 weeks for a community project. Bud Bongao is the best experience! I hope to go back soon and see the macaques again.

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