“Diretso lang po. (Just go straight ahead.)”
Slightly disoriented by the heat, I stared at the half-naked young man, one finger pointing at a gently sloping rocky trail that wound around the majestic stone mountains of Montalban. Perhaps it was his cool indifference to my apparent confusion, or maybe he was just mocking me, that it was not without some trepidation, I picked up my bags and made my way upwards, not fully knowing what awaited me at the end of the trail.
I realize it says something about me, that, having lived all my life in Montalban, I have not visited the Wawa Dam except for that long lost time in my childhood when, as my mother recounts for me, we spent the day there in the company of family and friends. I have always been an urban rat, preferring the security and relative safety of huge metropolitan centers like Makati or Ortigas, in comparison to the disorder of fierce Mother Nature. So when my editors informed me of the planned shoot in Montalban, I was apprehensive. There was a slight interest, yes, but there was also fear. Nature and I just don’t mix, or at least I didn’t think so. Days later, the childhood memory again slightly taking form in the recesses of my mind, I guess it is not without some irony that I find myself climbing up the dirt road towards the great white wall residents call the Montalban Falls of Wawa Dam.
It was hot, and the summer sun was beating down hard on my skin. I was contemplating the merits of that wonderful invention known as sunscreen when I took a short turn, and came face to face with what was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen.
The waterfalls cascading down the rough walls of the dam created a beautiful backdrop to the scenery before me. Above it was the clear blue summer sky, cloudless and infinite. Beside it were two stone mountains, gray with spots of green, immutable and strong. The dam itself was punctuated at the side by an ancient tower that offered a frame to the beauty before me. I was speechless. How could something so beautiful escape from my memories so easily?
I walked on, my eyes trying to capture as much as it possibly could. Huge chalky white boulders, which were marble as someone informed me later, dotted the landscape. Quaint small huts, placed strategically at different points in the place, offered some shelter for the common tourist. The water, flowing downwards from the dam, covered most of the spaces until it stopped short of several meters from the small village at the foot of the mountain.
A few minutes later, I came across an interesting card which simply stated “Paa ni Bernardo Carpio” with a small arrow pointing left underneath. Staring at the direction of the arrow, and boosted by a very fertile imagination, I guess the small body of water below the trail could maybe pass off as a print of a footstep of the mythological giant.
By the time I got to the shoot, the models were already aboard a small bamboo raft, gamely posing with the horn and trombone. Gianna was particularly luminous, her small frame clad in the pure white fabric studded with Swarovski crystals. The interplay of the modern sensibility in the clothes contrasted quite nicely with the raw imagery provided by the water and the mountains. It was breathtaking.
By lunchtime, the models found themselves on top of the old 40ft tower by the waterfalls. The four guys were teasing each other, trying to trick the other into jumping towards the green crystalline waters below. Then a white flash that seemed to come from nowhere and a loud splash. I quickly ran to see who jumped. It was Gianna, quite brave, wet and laughing, glad to show the guys a thing or two about fearlessness. Needless to say, the guys soon felt the need to jump and followed soon after.
When all the proper elements are in place, there is something about nature that allows us to connect to some stronger energy, some higher power that can give us strength and allow us to see more of who we are. Perhaps it is the rawness, the potency, the primordial power it represents, or perhaps it is something else entirely. Considering the amount of work each person had to put into that photo shoot, the fact that we never bit each other’s head off was nothing short of a miracle. Nature is a healer, definitely, and gifts us with a powerful connection, both to ourselves and to each other.
It was with some heaviness that I waited for the day to end. It ended well, the sky bursting into a multitude of brilliant colors, still cloudless, still infinite. We packed our bags and made our way downwards. There was a strong wind, and then a soft whistling. I looked around for the source of the sound and realized it was coming from the mountains, as the wind blew through its caves. I heard a tinge of sadness, weak but definitely there, and it was beautiful.