The test drive that leads our family to Monasterio de Tarlac also known as the Brazil of the Philippines

Christ the Redeemer Brazil of the Philippines

"Look, that is a Risen Christ statue. That's why they branded Monasterio de Tarlac as the Brazil of the Philippines because it is similar to the Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil --- Stop messing and playing around, there's a cliff over there!"

That's our mother who is executing one of her greatest talents we ever saw existed, and that is her sudden transition from giving out lecture to giving us some lecture

Ate Zhairra and I just roll our eyes at her, of course without her seeing because we don't want to hear more of her unnecessary sermon.

It's Sunday today and the only sermon that is highly welcome today will be coming from the priest later on the Sunday mass gathering.

"You're no fun, Ma. Just relax, a lot of people go down there to take some photos." My smart-mouth older sister Ate Zhairra answered.

We are near the famous Risen Christ statue and being the giddy kids that we are, we want to have fun and be brave. And in our vocabulary, it means going down the statue that is specifically mounted on a cliff.

Of course, we understand why our mother is worried. Monasterio de Tarlac is on the top of Mount Resurrection, a mountain range between Tarlac and Zambales and we truly understand where Mama’s worry is coming from. The approximately 30-feet tall statue is located on the top of a mountain and strategically placed on a cliff so that people from the distance can see it even miles away. Mount Resurrection is hours away from the city so if anything bad happens, it will definitely end up really bad, plus the fact that we must not forget that there’s no hospital in the municipality of San Jose and the nearest one is still in Tarlac City. So there’s that.

Just by looking at the site where the statue is mounted, you’ll probably hesitate for your life and that's no exaggeration. There’s no barricade around it and in case someone will slip, which is very likely if you are not extremely careful because the only cemented part of the cliff is the statue itself and around it are rocks and hard soil which basically makes up the cliff, or for whatever reason and you find your body decided to succumb to gravity then the only lifeline you’ll have are the vines and branches of bushes you hope to God can support your weight while grabbing into until you wait for someone who can get you back up up to safety. So let’s not hope no one will ever fall.

“Still, it’s dangerous!”

At this point, we’re starting to filter out anything Mama says to not tarnish our vibes while inhaling the cold breeze of the air due to the high altitude. The calmness and serenity around us made us oblivious of her rants even just for a few minutes.

We are in a seminary and we should feel at peace and unmindful of negativities!

“Remember that we almost didn’t make it here earlier, so don’t you dare do something stupid!” That line got to us and Ate Zhairra and I started laughing while remembering earlier’s danger we faced.

Our vehicle stopped mid-section of a steep slope with probably a 60% angle and that’s not it, there’s a car behind us when the machine distinctively chose to stop right there. Aside from the instant fear we also have to think about the people in our back. Just imagine our panic!

“I literally almost went out of the owner type jeep the instant it stops! I thought it will roll down the hill in reverse.” I said to Ate Zhairra while laughing, it turns out that I was not the only one who has thought the same thing, apparently, all of us have our flight reaction on, we'll except  Papa who is the one driving.

“Wow, now I know how much you trust me and my driving skills.” Papa joked. He’d been driving most of his life here and abroad for work.

“Of course we trust your driving skills! What we have a problem trusting is you trusting the vehicle too much.” One of my sisters laughingly noted. “If there is any public transportation here right now, you’ll probably be going home alone with that jeep later, Pa.”

Since Monasterio de Tarlac is located on the top of a mountain in Barangay Lubigan in San Jose, Tarlac, the transportation going there is hard to get. Since Lubigan is not the main hub of the municipality of San Jose, most travellers need to have their own vehicle to visit the famous monastery. Some tricycle can be rented out but only a few drivers and operators will negotiate with you if you try since it is very far and some tricycle units may not be safe to ride because of the altitude. For travellers, it is best to rent a 4-wheel vehicle and look for travel companions whom you can split the rental fee with.

The vehicle we used, which is an owner type jeep, was lent to us by our relatives and one Sunday morning Papa woke all of us and told us that we will be out for an adventure.

An adventure that actually served as a test drive that we are not aware of, if we have known that the vehicle has not been used in high altitude places then Mama would have firmly said no. As it turns out, Papa has also been clueless of the capacity and limitation of the vehicle not until a few hours later when we decided to visit our relatives on our way home.

We eventually got to the place and we decided to roam around the monastery while waiting for the next mass celebration to start since we weren’t able to catch the first mass, fortunately, it’s Sunday and there is more mass celebration throughout the day than regular days.

Eventually, we found ourselves going down the road leading to the Risen Christ statue, Papa leads our pack so we didn’t hear much from Mama anymore. With the help of our handy digital camera, we were able to snap some photos. At first, most of the photos are hand-held selfies because it’s much easier since we don’t have a tripod stand or selfie stick, I don't think we even know those things ever existed. A few shots later and there’s still no clear shot of the statue in our photos. The statue is facing the land beyond the cliff and in order to take photos of the statue with its front side, we have to squish ourselves with the little amount of land that separates the statue and the edge of the cliff. No matter how we try or no matter what angle we use, we can’t still get the statue in the frame of our photos and it kinda frustrates us because we’ve seen people do it so we know it’s possible.

“Hold my bag, I’m going down.” I handed Ate Zhairra my bag and started walking towards the edge of the cliff. Mama and Lola didn’t go down with us in the statue so they are a good few meters away from us and that made me brave, she can’t pinch me or something for doing this.

Of course, she said a few things which I discarded because I chose to focus on my steps while trying not to fall.

Once I found my level and got to a comfortable stance,  I directed them to their proper places. After shouting directions and a few minutes later we finally got bunches of photos where the Risen Christ statue fit perfectly to the frame. Of course, I wasn’t in the picture but it’s still a win for me. 

Aside from the 30-foot Risen Christ statue, there is also some other statue but are smaller. They are mostly statue of Saints and are strategically placed in different places inside the lot of the Monastery. I also found some buildings that look like a castle. They look something like the ones from Scotland but smaller, those are probably the dormitory of the monks living here.

“Let’s go there.” I heard someone from our group said but I’m not sure who it was since I’m busy browsing through the photos we took earlier.

“That looks like an off-limits area. See, no visitors are trying to get near it.” I heard Mama said, and I know it’s her because I might be confused who is who whenever I hear some of my sisters speak but I will never forget how Mama’s voice sounds like. “That’s probably the residence of the monks and priests who live here.” with that remark my sisters obediently stayed near us even though the explorer in them wanted to run and conquer every square meter of the mountain where the monastery is mounted.

‘Let’s go near the chapel while we wait for the mass, it’s almost time”

We just followed the elders and once again, Mama is right. A few minutes after we reached the chapel where the mass celebrations are held, the people started storming out. Once the coast was clear, we went inside and occupied a pew with big eyes full of curiosity and awe. The inside is not that big and can only accommodate probably around 50-100 people and the quadrangle just outside the chapel can fill hundreds but they have to stand.

It is small but the inside put us in awe. The inside is sparkling with the gold colour which adds elegance and royalty to the whole vibe. The deafening quiet that makes us hear the chirping of the birds flying to and from the chapel is fascinating. I love how the echo of the chirping birds sound like whenever I'm inside a chapel or church. It is just so beautiful. 

Shortly after, the chapel was full and the mass started. It was the usual mass celebration ceremony but somehow it felt different. Maybe it’s because of the ambience of the place or the choir that gives me goosebumps whenever they sing, it just feels different and peaceful.

“Why is there a grill that separates the altar from the pews?” That’s our youngest sister whisper.

She probably noticed the fence in the front part of the chapel that separates the church-goers to the main altar. The grills aesthetically complement the structure of the chapel but we’ve been to a lot of chapels and that's very unusual. Also, the fence really screams ‘off-limits’.

"That's for security purposes. Monasterio de Tarlac houses a piece of the relic of the True Cross of Jesus.” My mother explained while walking out of the chapel.

Being the educator that she is, it's very normal for her to spurt out facts as if everything is a classroom discussion, and that like her students we are required to take note of it, thankfully there's no graded recitation or exam for us.

We walk towards the posters where facts about the Monasterio de Tarlac are printed for everyone to read.

I found out that the late Governor Jose ‘Aping’ Yap helped a lot in the formation and foundation of the monastery. He extended help when he found out through Rev. Father Archie that the Servants of the Risen Christ Monastic Community is in need of a place where they can truly live as monks. At that time, Governor Yap had an on-going project at the Eco-Tourism Park in Brgy. Lubigan San Jose, Tarlac. He invited him to build them a monastery and after seeing the place, the rest is history. A few years later, the community received a gift in the form of a relic of the True Cross of Jesus that was dedicated by the Papal Nuncio to the Philippines, His Excellency Fernando Filoni, D.D.

Because of the relic and its serenity, the place gained popularity among Catholics and became a religious sanctuary aside from being a tourist spot.

The idea that we have a piece of the relic of the True Cross of Jesus is mindblowing. Who would have thought that of all the monasteries out there all throughout the world, the monastery in Tarlac was chosen?

Imagine, a hundred thousand years old lies in the hand of a monastery close to home and the possibility that we can touch and look at the container of the relic since they have an annual celebration where visitors can line up and see and touch the vessel is too much to ask for!

After scanning through the printed materials that there is, we decided to look for a shed or picnic table where we can eat our packed lunch because we're all hungry.

We found a vacant table hiding behind tall trees which I can not identify no matter how hard I tried, and what I mean by hard means trying to distinguish with the limited names of trees that I know inside my head which are mostly fruit-bearing trees.

Our food is just enough for us since our trip wasn’t planned at all. We just woke up in the morning and got instructions from our parents to get dressed and off we go. Yes, this trip is out of whim that we don’t even have cold water with us. 

“We should have brought some ice along the way earlier.” Most of us agreed. It is windy and the breeze is cool but since we walked a lot it means we sweat a lot too and our throats are dying up.

“How could we not forget when you got all super excited, you almost forgot to bring the utensils,” Papa noted with amusement. It’s true though, all of us got so excited and immediately ride the jeep without checking if everything was complete, fortunately, we did some roll call and found out what we are lacking.

We all ate our lunch enthusiastically, and if you’ll see us you’ll probably think we haven’t eaten for a day. But that is a complete lie because right before we leave the house we had a heavy breakfast, we’re just tired from all the walking and travel.

“Stack the utensils you used properly.” Mama reminded us after we ate. We help with cleaning up and stacking the utensils we used and resume to our seat to rest.

It was past noon already and the sun is extremely hot. It’s still windy but the breeze already changed, it’s warmer.

By this time we are all exhausted and no longer have the wits and energy to take photos. We’re just waiting for Papa to return since he went to get the vehicle we used so we don’t have to walk.

Monasterio de Tarlac, by all definition, is beautiful. I love the peace and the calmness it gives other people. When you are here your problems seem to disappear. While you are here you are one with nature, you are free, and maybe that sold this place to Father Archie when he visited this.

It is far from the city, far from other people, far from the fast-paced life we have, but it is close to yourself. It makes you feel whole and complete. It brings you close to yourself and that is something most of us want these days.

A honk brings me back from the reverie, it was Papa. Without talking we gather all our belongings and walk towards the jeep. We deposited all our bags and took our seats.

When the vehicle started moving Papa told us we will visit some relatives in Iba, San Jose and we got excited because that also means that we get to swim in Saipan Beach.

Saipan Beach is just a river, the reason behind why it was called the way it is is unknown to me, as long as we get to visit and take a dip in the water is enough for me.

“Saipan Beach, here we go!” Papa exclaimed as we exit the property of Monasterio de Tarlac.”But let’s pass this slope first, now lean back.” he added.

 Our excitement suddenly left us the minute we saw the slope where our vehicle stopped.

“Isn’t it easier since we are going down?” Someone asked.

I literally don’t know who spoke, I was busy leaning my weight back and being alert, our youngest sister probably asked that question.

We know how to ride a motorcycle and I know that the basic rule applies to 4-wheel vehicle as well, so I’m guessing my other sister understand what Papa is talking about too that’s why they are all silent as well.

When conquering a slope the important thing you have to remember is to change gear when needed to, the power of your gear will put you on the top but it’s different when going down. Because of the pull of gravity and the weight of the vehicle, it might go down the hill at full speed that’s why you have to have a good break to help you control the speed when going downward.

And because of Papa’s remarks, one thing is for sure… he does not trust the breaks.

Oh, God. 

"Did you not check the break, earlier?!" Mama almost screams her words once he's done explaining to them about the breaks, the gravity, acceleration, and how they relate. For a moment I thought I was in a crash course in science where we discuss Newton's different laws.

At this point, she's starting to get worried and we know it, her pitch confirms it, but she's trying to calm down because she and my grandma are both hypertensive and we don't want any hypertension attacks anytime soon.

"Of course, I did. I went to a shop and had a mechanic check on it." Papa defended. "There's no harm in being careful."

Papa said and that made us feel a little better, little only but we'll definitely feel a lot better once we're done with this slope.

Fortunately, at a painfully slow speed, we were able to pass it. 

And then off we go to Saipan Beach. 


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  1. ohh!! Tagal ko na rin gusto puntahan yan pero I didn't know na nasa cliff siya. Nastress din ako dun sa drive niyo pababa hahahahaha nafeel ko even by just reading it.

    1. Monasterio de Tarlac is on a top of Mount Resurrection but it's perfectly safe. I heard the Risen Christ statue already have railings for safety purposes so it's not that scary at all, also a lot of bikers go there as well- a proof na may improvement and madali na lang syang puntahan ngayon. It just so happen siguro na nagulat lang din yung sasakyan na gamit namin sa task namin para sa kanya Hahahaha

  2. this is nice Thet!! Thanks for sharing your experience. It seems pretty challenging to go over here. This is the first time that I get to hear about this Monasterio de Tarlac, I'm not really more of a hiking type of person, but I'll surely check this out as well. <3

  3. This story made me feel nostalgic about a similar family trip. Your mom sound so much like mine! The Risen Christ statue sounds similar to the one I saw on Pilgrimage Island in Pangasinan. Definitely going to check this out when it okay to start travelling again. ^-^