It was the second day of spending a quite time in Limasawa, part of my yearly unplug travel to celebrate my birthday which I have done a few years already. The sun was out, blue skies and the sea was calm when I awoke that early February morning. Having prepared my stuff and had taken breakfast, the resort’s caretaker called out that my habalhabal ride just arrived. Perfect! I said to myself, excited of my plans for the day.
Limasawa Island is an elongated stretch of land, a mass of rocks with hills and plains, especially at the northern end, rising from the depths off the town of Padre Burgos where one gets a pumpboat ride. If not for an accident in history, this would just be another island in the Philippines with its own share of pristine white sand beaches and dive spots. But back in March 1521, after a stopover at the island of Homonhon, it was where the group of Magellan’s fleet celebrated the first mass on Philippine soil.
From Dapdap Resort, it was just less than a 10 minute ride going to the National Shrine of the First Mass. The park is well kept and clean. The main path leading to the building is flanked by gardens. Inside, Sam Galvez, the popular tour guide at the shrine animatedly explained to me a brief history. His voice rises and falls as he dramatically narrated the events of that fateful day on the 31st of March. Supporting his narration are a series of paintings and a tableau of the places history. If you’re asking about the Limasawa controversy, it has long been settled and this island really is the site of the first mass.
I gave him a hundred peso bill as donation to the shrine, thanked him and proceeded to climb the more than a hundred steps to the cross atop the hill. The path is well maintained but having no exercise for the past few months (or years?), I was gasping for breath! So much for being a mountaineer a couple of years ago! But good thing that there were cement benches at rest areas where one can not only collect oneself from the climb but also enjoy the vista towards the sea while a cool breeze blew.
At the top is a thin cross and during that month when I visited, two men were resting from cleaning the area in preparation for the March event. I was hoping that it was at the edge of the cliff, with great views but the cross was surmounted at just a higher elevation. Still a hundred feet away was the edge of the cliff. It was already hot and humid and with no trees to shelter from the sun, I just stayed at the cross site enjoying the cool breeze.
The National Shrine of the First Mass can be reached via habalhabal in Barangay Magallanes, Island of Limasawa, Southern Leyte.