Jenna, not her real name, was panting really fast when she approached the gate of Dambana ng Kagitingan (or the Shrine of Valor) atop Mount Samat in Pilar, Bataan. After a very deep breath, she finally said; “..at last..”, then sipped the last drop of water from a transparent container.
I saw Jenna and here companions halfway to the shrine when I was on my way up on a trike. I met her and her friends just arrived when I was on my way down. I would like to warn her that it isn’t their last struggle, but then I realized they already endured a 7-kilometer trek, so why not a short climb. Thus, I continued my way back to the main highway using the same tricycle I rode when I went up.
How to Get There
Let us go back to the story before that. From Plaza Mayor in Balanga, where my accommodation, The Plaza Hotel, is located, I boarded a trike to Balanga’s Central Terminal then asked for a jeepney route that would pass Mount Samat Road junction. A friendly local told me that I can take either jeepneys or buses that travel to Cabog-Cabog, Parang, Binukawan, or Bagac. I got plenty of options so I chose the one with the most passengers. The first to get filled, of course, is the first to leave.
I paid ₱19 for a fare to Baragay Diwa and got off at the corner of Linao and Mount Samat Roads. Tricycles to the Dambana ng Kagitingan were waiting for passengers at the intersection.
The whole day back and forth fare for two persons is ₱400. This is probably one of the reasons why Jenna’s group refused the ride and trekked instead.
I was alone so I had to haggle. I told the next driver on queue that I won’t be spending more than 2 hours up there and asked if ₱300 would suffice. With a slight reluctance, he agreed, and the deal was closed.
We immediately started rolling our way up. The road was paved but it was all uphill, with some minor flats and zigzags. I believe the trail justifies the expensive tariff.
The Memorial Cross
My trike driver brought me directly near the foot of the Memorial Cross so I bypassed a lot of stairs.
The base of the Memorial Cross is adorned with reliefs depicting historical figures and events. It stands 92 meters at the highest point of Mount Samal and is made of steel reinforced with concrete. The cross’ arms, where a viewing gallery is located, is 74 meters high. Guests can get to the view deck using the elevator or the staircase.
By the way, I paid ₱20 at the gate and I used the ticket for me to access the gallery at the cross’ arms.
It offered a stunning view but at a bothering height. I just watched the movie San Andreas a day before the visit. So the earthquake scenes were all fresh and they were all populating my thoughts. When it got too crowded above, I took the elevator down. I felt relief when I arrived at the foot safely.
The Colonnade and the Esplanade
From the Memorial Cross, I took the zigzag stairway down to the Colonnade. The stairway, by the way, is paved with bloodstones from Corregidor, so make sure that you walk here with all respect.
I met a lot of tired individuals going up, along the way, complaining. Then I thought, I was lucky that I was assigned to a clever driver that made my life a bit easier.
The colonnade is a marble structure supported with pillars featuring religious stained-glass murals, four large bronze chandeliers, and the narrative texts (the Battle of Bataan) on two lateral walls. The esplanade that surrounds the colonnade is accentuated with interesting geometric patterns.
Fronting the colonnade, before the esplanade, are two giant bronze urns symbolizing eternal flame.
North of the colonnade is Mount Samat stage where the official government celebrations and commemorations are usually held.
World War II Museum
Attached to the south wall of the Colonnade is the World War II museum which exhibits photographs and weapons taken and used during WWII. There are also soldier uniforms and many other historical memorabilia.
A miniature of Bataan’s four great mountains; Mount Mariveles, Mount Cuyapo, Mount Samat, and Mount Santa Rosa were also in the exhibit.
I fulfilled my promise to finish the tour within two hours to my trike driver, so I saw no frowning face when I met him at the gate. That was the time I saw Jenna’s group arriving.