A modern day crucifixion?
Surely not something at the top of any traveler's to-do list. Alas, it was something I wanted to witness first-hand. Real nails, real hammers, but worst of all - real hands and feet! A thousand times owch.
The crazy thing is, people are volunteering for this. I must constantly remind myself that nobody is being punished, but rather, something they look forward to each year. I spoke with Ruben Enaje, shortly after coming down from the cross for the twenty-fifth time in as many years.
"Why put yourself through all this pain?" I ask, unable to stifle my most obvious question.
"Why take a bath at the end of each day?" he retorts quickly, grimacing each time he touches his heavily hobbled hands.
"Do you want to see?" he suggests, catching me looking at his bloodied bandages.
"No, that's OK" I try to say, but it's of no use. He thrusts forward his battle scars, and I find myself looking at a gaping wound in his left palm. There is little blood, but a bouquet of bone and muscle on display. He catches my look of terror and laughs proudly.
Once the volunteers come off the cross, they are treated like rock stars. Everyone wants their picture taken with these brave souls, but shaking hands is strictly frowned upon.
Close by to the crucifixions, a man walks blindly, with a black sheet over his head and a crown of thorns upon his brow. His back is bare, dripping with blood that spurts and splatters with each crack of his whip. A passerby, riding in a pedi-cab, curses herself for wearing white as he stomps past her.
The man's pants have begun the day as the color white. Hours of searing heat, dust and constant whipping have created a backlash of blood. The sweat pants are now blood-red, and their owner winces with each step he takes.
Suddenly, I find myself in a meditative trance. The whip-slap soundtrack provided by the masked madman, combined with the intense heat and humidity has taken me to an astral realm. All of a sudden though, reality shifts back into focus with a loud bang. Everyone begins to rush in the same direction - there is to be one more crucifixion for the day!
As I reach the mound where the crosses are stationed, I look around at my surroundings and notice the similarities to the real deal, two-thousand odd years ago. The weather is steamy, but with desert like temperatures to boot! The landscape is somewhat baron and ultimately, it is rural. There's a viewing platform, and vendors selling everything from San Miguel Pilsen to Buko juice.
The final volunteer has the look of unease in his eyes, eyes which bulge with fear as several coils of rope fasten him to the cross. His hands are washed with alcohol, with just one step left in the process.
A soft thud from the hammer, is all it takes to force out a blood-curdling scream as his body writhes in agony. His body is writhing, like a snake being skinned, and his howls of pain could wake the dead. A similar result occurs when the right palm is nailed to the cross, and he's sobbing as they stand the cross up straight. He's not out of the woods just yet though, as each foot must be nailed in place too.
Perhaps only in The Philippines would a vendor of helium-inflated animal balloon animals stand just meters away from a man being crucified. He looks on with interest as the nails disappear in flesh, before looking around the crowd to see if anyone needs a refreshment.
There's a long list of events that fall under the category of 'only in the Philippines...' - but for me, this stands out!