Oya Choleng attests so strongly as to the efficacy of the healing powers of Mapaso. So strong is her belief that it was she who was very much enthusiastic for us to finally visit the place. It was a year ago that she already planned to accompany me to its location. It seems that only the old timers of Bulusan know the place. It is, they say, a healing hot spring.
Mapaso translates to hot. It is how the locals refer to the place. It is not however the name of the village. It is the name of the specific location where the springs can be found. Yes, these are actually series of springs with varying water flow. Like veins jutting out from underneath and sides of a low cliff.
The invite was an offshoot of my query to Oya Choleng (Soledad Freo) on why she is still so sprightly, with youthful vigor and without any serious ailments at the age of 75. She matter of fact answered: It is because of my first Friday visits to Mapaso. Curious, I challenged her to bring me to the place.
Fast forward. March 1, 2013. A first Friday. While I was still having my morning meditation, Oya Choleng knocked on my door. “Dagos kita?” (Are we going?). I made my move only later because I have some itinerary padded to the Mapaso trip in San Vicente. We proceeded at around 10 am.
Mapaso is in San Vicente, more commonly referred to as Buhang by locals.
Buhang is around 5 km from the Poblacion. It is a big village, almost like a town center. It is the second biggest barangay next to the Poblacion. We rode a jeepney from Poblacion Central (my place), together with my sister-in-law who will also make a ‘pa-ilaw’ (light candles as offering) to San Vicente since it is a First Friday. I prepared and memorized the prayers and prayer intentions to the Saint beforehand because the San Vicente church will be our first stop before going to Mapaso. This was our own itinerary. Others do it separately in different instances, meaning one can go directly to Mapaso spring without passing by the church, the same way with the Pa-ilaw, one is not obligated to go to Mapaso. These are two different occasions. But we decided to do the two separate events on the same day. First Friday of March 2013.
We lighted candles and after saying our prayers for intercession to San Vicente Ferrer, the Patron Saint of Buhang, Saint healer who offers intercession for healing from ailments and protection from misfortunes, we proceeded to Mapaso by walking around half a kilometer. Passing by a bridge we can now see the low cliff where the healing spring is located near the ocean’s edge.
Mapaso, it turned out is a series of pocket like hot springs near the water edge of Buhang’s seacoast. Its front is a vast fishing ground of the Pacific coast frequented by fishermen with ‘agahid’ (a pole with a net on one end). The series of vein-like water hot springs jut out from the low cliff that separates the ocean and the hilly part of the coast that breaks into an awesome rock beach landscape. The rocks, actually small to medium-sized boulders, are strewn all over the beach area easily creating the impression that long time ago these boulders were brought here by a strong force of nature. Perhaps an ancient volcanic eruption? No one knows. The fact is, the view is marvelous. We settled in one of the hot springs with ample flowing hot water about the size of an arm.
The temperature is enough to cook an egg to a ‘malasado’ (soft boiled), also a perfect temperature to make a ‘nilanta na pili’ (fresh pili dish prepared by softening the pulp with hot water). I tasted the water and sensed a similarity to the waters of Masacrot only this one is stronger and hot. It has also a slight sulfur smell. Surprisingly, I can taste a tinge of sweetness to it. But my companions were not in agreement with me. They say the taste is not to their liking. It has an unpleasant aftertaste of sulfur.
The caretaker who has built an open hut near the flowing spring was in an animated mood. Talking non-stop while we tap and coax the water talking to it in silence as we tap and dip our toes and hands and pouring some of it in our faces and bodies. Bathing on it will require a ‘tabo’ (water dipper/scooping container/bucket).
Still talking non-stop, the caretaker regales us with clients coming back several times with testimonials of the healing powers of Mapaso, a patient undergoing dialysis for example was cured here he asserted. I glanced at several candle remnants on a stone boulder on the upper part o f the spring. And he added that those were the candles offered by recent visitors who asked for healing. Mapaso Spring is like a Shrine without an icon so to say. So I asked him from whom these people seek the power to heal them. He answered simply: the waters. The Friday pilgrimage practiced by locals to this site is already embedded among the locals’ psyche and no one knows why. It is locally known that Friday is the day of healing most preferred by the ‘parabolong’ (local medicine men/healers)and by extension of logic the Mapaso spring is a parabolong also.
Mapaso is for me one of the best kept-secrets of Bulusan. Unlike the other springs dotting all over the mountain villages, this one almost touches the sea and the only one attributed with healing powers. No signage along the road going here, either. It is obvious that this place is an indigenous healing ground/shrine. And therefore everyone presumed that everyone already knows how to get here if what they’re seeking and asking for are healing and good health. It seems to me that knowing and finding this Mapaso Spring will come to the ‘seeker’ naturally as if by invitation by the waters itself.
I whispered my prayer to the waters knowing intuitively that this has a direct link to the volcano. It smells like a volcano. It is I presumed a living vein connected to the main artery around 8 km from this point to the active interior of Mt. Bulusan, an active volcano. The waters flow with a whiff from the volcano like a penetrating scent from the vowels of the living earth. The stones touched by it in fact are reddish from the constant contact with the waters. The hot waters carrying a familiar volcanic taste that I find pleasant like soda waters leave its track painted with a reddish rust-like hue as it flows down in a meandering mood to meet the sea.
Getting back to the nearby main road will entail passing by the low tide of the beach and I noticed water bubbling like little dimples on the shallow sea water while I was walking on it. I recorded the bubbles going on and off with a rhythm that will arouse curiosity for anyone new to the place. Is the sea also connected to the volcanic vein?
Mapaso was a fascinating journey and I will surely go back to the spot again and again. Oya Choleng was right after all in telling me that the source of her youthful vigor is Mapaso. There is something in it that is invigorating and mysterious at the same time.
My research for Mapaso the next day, led me to Phivolcs profile of Bulusan Volcano. I found out in a map from Phivolcs that Mapaso throbbing hot spring has a direct link to the living volcano. It is in fact, according to the literature from Phivolcs an ancient lava flow route that can be traced up several kilometers from its exit point in Mapaso spring to the source of the lava flow from the active center.
I remember now what the non-stop talker- caretaker of the spring has told us that Phivolcs monitoring staff frequented the place to inspect and record the temperature of the series of hot springs lining the area. This story of course was interspersed with stories about clients undergoing serious medications who were healed by the spring hot waters. Some even offered tokens and gifts to show and express their gratitude which he accordingly declined because he said the gift of healing is a gift from Mapaso springs. And it is therefore free. He, however, upon my prodding received the 20pesos for his merienda (snacks).
Making the trip to San Vicente Shrine/Chapel and to the healing spring of Mapaso was like a 2-1 healing trip that invigorates both the mind and body. It also offers hope for those burdened with serious ailments and experiencing exhaustion literally and physically.
Note: “In San Vicente, about 5 km north of the town of Bulusan, is a hot spring that shoots out from an old lava flow and pours into the sea.” Phivolcs – Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology
Text and Photographs by Alma P. Gamil
San Vicente (Buhang), Bulusan, Sorsogon, Philippines