Mountain High!

I'm playing catch up! Last post I stayed on a hillside home then prayed to high heaven on another (hill). Coming down from Regina RICA our party ate lunch in one more. Someone got on Google to search for a nice place to eat at, one that allows in "baon" (packed food) as long as you order from the menu too.
Sierra Madre Resort came up and it was quaint in a way, a little kitschy with the gilded Greek statues, recycled art pieces (white painted metal "armalite" and guns on a tripod, an incongruous mix), climbable fallen log "bridges" and plastic bottle lamps hung on pine trees.
From the road it didn't look like much, just a low bungalow with a sign for the restaurant.
The guard tells you to drive around to the back and the place turned out to be this hilly (yes, again), rolling expanse of green grass, stands of pine and cypress with a wooden deck precariously set on metal pipe frames on one side, above villas and rooms hugging the "terraces" leading down to a swimming pool and an organic salad greens garden.  

A couple of dogs are there too, keeping a respectful distance until you throw them scraps. 
It was almost rustic and reminiscent of Baguio's log cabins but then you look around some more and there's no denying the urge for taking selfies in the gazebo with the tongue in cheek reproduction of the Creation painted on the ceiling, an archway of flowering vine (yellow bells and droopy white flowers) running up to it, flanked by two golden Cupid and and a Venus de Milo/Aphrodite tucked in the shrubbery.
There's a golden girl on a very mossy pond that could be Lorelei - a siren on a rock described in a German legend.  This Lorelei is accompanied by golden egrets.  I'd have thought they're swans in really shallow water so their stick legs look longer.  Or flamingos, except they're not pink.
Did I mention a nice view of the Sierra Madre Mountains? That is, if you overlook some bald mountaintops.
You go down a hanging wooden bridge (some slats are out of alignment) to find a small garden with more statuary and stone (marble?) benches. 
A little ways off is another bridge made of stout nylon ropes - a web for Spiderman wannabes to practice on.  I'd have tried it but I was exploring on my own and there's no one to leave my stuff with.  After a lunch of baon corned beef and tuna omelette, ube puto, Tinapayan breads, grilled chicken and the restaurant's bulalo (bone marrow soup) and liempo (fried pork belly), my companions are either busy reading the paper, taking a nap or chatting at the picnic area. I was the only one walking about.  
Besides, I already crossed the hanging bridge with one hand in a death grip with my clutch bag (bad idea to be carrying one but then I didn't know I was going on that kind of a trip). The bridge was swinging in the wind so much I swear I felt vertigo set in when I got to the other side. 
If I weren't alone I'd have followed the path to the jungle and natural falls way beyond. 
Though I am comforted that a huge Virgin Mary seems to say you can safely pass I find I cannot fully trust myself not to remember scenes from The Hills Have Eyes and Turista.  I will explore next time, when I am among more adventurous people capable of saving me haha. Or Sam Claflin. Double haha! I did meet the ice cream man walking up the path. Hmmm.
Oh, and there was a zip line hooked up from one of the terraces, disappearing through the trees and emerging high above the salad garden and ends at a ramp placed just before the Virgin Mary.  Hmmm, hmmm,hmmm. 
The day we were there, there was mass at the chapel up front.  There were plenty of kids and the choir is mostly kids too.  The altar is filled with different statuettes of the Sto. Nino or baby Jesus in all manner of dress -capes, hats and all.
There was a veddy veddy nice gentleman too, who stopped his chariot for me so I can snap a picture.
So you see, Sierra Madre is a whimsical place which the owner built with a huge childlike heart and just let loose on the fantasy bit.  Works for me! 
Sigh...I live for the days when I get lucky. 

Virgin on the Hill

Always the way - when you don't make plans, it's more likely to push through.
I was wondering where I'd be come Holy Week.  Home, most likely.  It was too hot to move but I had to get away. My brother has been lighting up two to three mosquito coils at a time to kill the darn pests, oblivious to my discomfort (asthmatic bronchitis).  Luckily my friend invited me to stay at her place.  Her house is set on a hillside in San Jose del Monte, Bulacan. The air up there is a lot cooler.
There's also the old nudge to do something for my spiritual health.  Solution? Go on a pilgrimage the weekend before Holy Week. My friend's mom decided to bring us all to Regina RICA in Tanay, Rizal.
Run by Dominican sisters and a bevy of volunteers, Regina RICA is basically a place of prayer and contemplation, with the 70 foot Virgin Mary at the top of a hill the main focal point. You can see the Virgin for miles around.  It was sculpted by artist Jose Barcena, Jr. There seems to be a trend for massive, gigantic religious symbols.  I assume it's because people tend to forget and to see these looming over Creation brings to mind the existence of a higher power.
There are 308 stone steps winding up the hillside, bordered by sunflowers and bougainvillea.
Incongruously, here and there are flowering Poinsettia. Christmas and summer flowers, together.
You walk up steps of rectangular fired clay bricks (clay dug up right there I suppose) firmly wedged and hemmed in with bamboo stakes pounded on the ground. For a small fee, you can have your footprint impressed on a clay brick for posterity.
The walk (or climb) up should give you enough time to recite the rosary, which is really the idea. 
No, I didn't get to pray the rosary at the steps.  It is rather difficult to do so with everyone else moving forward.  Plus I could never keep up without rosary bead in hand.
Also guilty of taking pictures!
I did manage it very very quietly, without holding up the line.
It is important that everyone goes in one direction only - up - and go down the other side of the hill. No two way traffic!
Only the elderly are excused from not completing the walk up. The rest of us should consider it a worthy sacrifice (Jesus endured way more) and a test of faith.
Common sense and propriety dictates dressing conservatively in long skirts, pants, sleeved top or cover-ups. Like the volunteers and the nuns at the orientation said (one held right before you go up the hill and the other right under the seraphim studded cloud at the Virgin's feet), you wouldn't want to distract the pilgrim behind you. No jump shots and no selfies either.
You can take pictures quietly, discreetly along the way but not when you get inside the prayer room under the Virgin's mantle. It is big enough to accommodate fifty people at a time. 
You are asked to leave footwear before you go up to the inner sanctum.  I simply tucked my slippers in my jeans' back pocket.
There are 16 smiling angels on the cloud and a 17th angel in an area of the inner sanctum, that one with a wing covering sad eyes. See that picture of the angel in profile, seemingly trying to fly out of the cloud? Kind of reminded me of the terrible angels swooping out of the Ark in Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Inside the chapel, there's a cross with a "smiley" like cutout (or a host with a crescent).  At orientation, the nun said something like surrendering your worries to the heavens and leaving the chapel with a lighter heart and a smile.
I'm a little cross though, at all those people who can't keep their kids quiet or from calling out to people in their party for a "wefie".
What did make me smile is seeing a lamb straying from its flock (the sisters keep body and soul together with organic veggie gardens and farm animals) to nibble at a clump of grass right in front of me.
Along the sides of the hill are stations of the cross.  At the bottom on the left side is a beautiful church.  The exit path takes you to it, your last prayerful stop.
You may catch your breath in one of the rental cottages tucked among the trees. The day is a scorcher and I got an effortless tan.  I didn't have sunblock on. Walking along the treeline was a relief.
You can bring food to the cottage or eat a modest, organic meal at the restaurant/canteen. Clean as you go, of course!  We opted to go to lunch at a resort we passed on the way to Regina RICA.

Best to visit the Virgin on a regular day so you get a full sense of contemplative peace.
It could be a little off putting to see some parts of the hill barren, almost scarred looking to me.

The place is a work in progress though.  There are patches of land and hillsides dug up for a future facility.
It is the vastness, the rolling hills, clumps of pompom topped mango trees, tall stands of a birch like tree and open sky that's as awe inspiring as the Virgin that reigns above all.
As a reminder that God created awesome creatures too,  a peacock stopped me in my tracks.  He allowed me to come nearer and stalk him.
What can I say, animals love posing for me hehe.
P.s.  There should be food at the end but I went on a modified fast.  Don't worry, part two comes soonest, with food! :)