Adventure, Amazingness, Ancient Wonders, Courage, Culture, Curiosity, History, Human Spirit, Landscape, Miracles, Nature, Philippines, Scene Stealers, Travel
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Banza Church Ruins

“In the end, the character of a civilization is encased in its structures.” ~ Frank Gehry

I had this deadline for an airline travel magazine assignment which just gave me ample time to shoot Butuan City in one day.  It’s 5-6 hours away from my city. I needed a companion for the sudden night trip, and the only person willing to go with me was Ate Brenda, a female photographer who was as adventurous as I am.  I lured her in with the most tempting bait: she was fond of old, historic churches.

Ate Brens,” I began over the phone. “Last time I went to Butuan, they brought me to a dreamy location where what was left of a historic old church was its bell tower, now swallowed by a huge Balete (banyan) tree.”

I could feel her adrenaline coursing through the wires back at me. She was packing in a minute.

“Of course we need to have a male companion with us, so we can take turns driving the car, and just in case the car breaks down,” she reasoned.

So we lured another victim in, Gerry, a fellow photographer who insisted on driving the rest of trip, slowly through a foggy lonely road which looked spookily deserted, until we reached Butuan at past midnight.

The photo above is one of the reasons why I wanted to go back to Butuan. The Banza Church Ruins, reputed to be one of the most beautiful stone structures back in the 1600s, became the oldest stone church ruins in Mindanao when it was burned down by pirates in 1753.

Banza Ruins, Butuan City  © Jojie Alcantara

Today, a marker is in place to commemorate its historical significance, and what is left of its former beauty is a bell tower engulfed inside the giant tree. You can see a gaping hole in the trunk, right?  Somebody must have bravely carved through it in the past.


Banza Ruins, Butuan City  © Jojie Alcantara

Up close and personal with a historical balete tree


In Filipino culture, particularly with old people in the province, we believe that nature is protected by spirits and trees have entities inhabiting and protecting them.  But this wasn’t the first time I’ve encountered a giant old tree steeped in mythical stories.


Banza Ruins, Butuan City  © Jojie Alcantara

Note to self :  Do not stick your hand into where it is not wanted


So yes,  I stuck my hand with the camera into the trunk hole and, hoping for the best, took shots. Some of my shots revealed wooden structures with crumbled stones wedged inside the hollowed crevice.


Banza Ruins, Butuan City  © Jojie Alcantara

Inside the gaping hole of the tree using a camera flash


Incidentally, while we were driving slowly through the misty road, we were joking around as I regaled them of my solo trips and staying alone in hotels. My senses have actually sharpened in the years so that when I feel uneasiness in a room’s atmosphere, I will immediately request for room transfer.

Now upon arriving in this city rich in primordial history, I was grateful for the tourism officer to have prepared and arranged our accommodation. Needless to say, the hotel was beautiful but old, so vintage in its character and interiors, that it has got to be the most delightfully haunted looking hotel I’ve ever luckily stayed in.  I shot the interiors and its shadowy, somewhat eerie corridors.

But that is yet another exciting story. 🙂

Do you have yours?


Mabuhay Mag July 2013 Butuan by Jojie Alcantara

My lengthy Butuan feature story was published in PAL’s Mabuhay Magazine July 2013 issue.



  1. Why is my comment “awaiting moderation.”? I am sorry if i was offensive. i did not mean to hurt people’s feelings. Sorry, but i do not understand.


    • Tommy, it’s okay, “awaiting moderation” is a setting done by authors in their blogs to avoid spam and unwanted advertising messages to filter in. Nothing personal, I just need to approve comments once I go online. No one has written me offensively yet, and you have been very nice. 🙂


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