By Aileen Santos
Images by Constante Santos
“What did I get myself into?”There we stood, just a few steps outside of the tunnel’s entrance, phones in our hands (to be used as flashlights), our shoulders squared against the chilly Baguio air.
It was six p.m. and already dark. The usually busy Botanical Gardens were closed, and quiet, and empty of people.
Except for us.
Seven (crazy?) people who decided to go on a ghost tour. Plus our guide.
“You’re next, ” our guide named Anton now said.
Tour of the dark
My honey and I took the few steps toward the tunnel’s gaping darkness (yup, this is how we date), and my phone light suddenly stopped working. In fact, my phone’s entire screen just inexplicably blacked out.
“Remember, stay on the main tunnel,” reminded Anton, his voice beginning to fade behind us as we made our way slowly inside. “Don’t go into the side tunnels. It’s a maze in there, you could get lost. And I might not be able to find you.”
A maze of tunnels. In pitch black darkness. With only one phone-in-flashlight-mode to light our way.
Oh, and did we mention that these were the very same tunnels where dozens of Japanese and American soldiers got trapped for days until they died?
No, not all of their bodies have been found yet. And yes, we were shown a photo of one section of the main tunnel just a few minutes ago: The verified photo of the ghost of an American soldier, standing in what was left of his uniform, looking solemnly at whoever had taken the picture.
How come there are this many stone sculptures on this path? Why were so many babies stillborn that year? During his tour, Anton encourages you to ask important questions, not just look for ready answers or assumptions.
Dark tourism a lot of tragedy and death certainly happened in Corregidor, and there are a lot of tour packages that offer tours that tell us the stories behind them.
In fact, we were nearing that section now.
Our shoes made soft squishing sounds as we walked, making us realize that some parts of the ground were muddy and wet. All around us was darkness, the smell of damp earth, and the silence of cold stone. Our measly phone-in-flashlight-mode was no match for the blackness, only showing us the next two steps ahead. The tunnel was so narrow. If we turned around, we would surely brush against its walls.
And I did not want to touch the walls. Because I did not want to accidentally touch whatever else that could be standing there…
…Or get my hand pulled by some entity, and maybe dragged into one of those side tunnels where many other bodies still lay buried, never to be found.
Hon raised his phone a bit higher, and we stepped further into the dark.
Thing is, I’m no stranger to ghosts.
In fact I’ve extensively researched and written about them over the last five years (I wrote the SPRG Trilogy, a teen paranormal romance series set in Manila), and I’ve had on-and-off experiences with them since I was a teen.
But knowing about ghosts and being in a place where they’re proven to make appearances are two different things.
Still, I’m getting ahead of myself.
You probably started reading this article interested in knowing more about ghost tours, and wondering if you’d ever be brave enough to join one.
Well, I’ve got interesting news
The likelihood of you encountering a ghost during a ghost tour is just about the same as your chances of encountering a ghost in your everyday life.
Some things you need to know about ghosts
Considering how old our world is and how many billions of people have already lived (and died) before us, it would be safe to assume that ghosts are everywhere.
Yes, even in your shower.
So if you haven’t been encountering ghosts in your shower (or office, or bedroom, or kitchen), then your sensitivity to them isn’t just suddenly going to level up just because you’re in a location where ghost sightings have been reported.
And just to put your mind even further at ease (or not), here are some other things about ghosts and haunted locations you might want to know about.
The ghosts in most historical sites aren’t even actual entities; just recordings.
Paranormal investigators call these “residual hauntings,” and the basic theory is that the places where emotionally intense events happened (like wars and other tragedies) somehow “recorded” these events onto their natural magnetic fields. So whenever the conditions are just right—the place experiences the same weather, or temperature, or time-of-the-day and day-of-the-month—then it’s like someone presses “play,” and the sights/sounds/smells of that long-ago tragedy just somehow repeat themselves for present-day witnesses.
In short: These “ghosts” aren’t really there, because they’re just recordings of the past. But they are the ones that are often sighted, and even captured on EVP (electronic voice phenomena).
Meanwhile, some places have “intelligent hauntings,” or actual spiritual entities that can interact with living people. (And maybe pose for pictures.)
These spirits might speak to you, or look at you, and even change their locations since they’re not bound to repeating the same actions like “residual haunting” does.
The good news is—even though they’re “intelligent haunting”—they’re still just spirits, and can’t really hurt you.
Unless you specifically do something stupid, like try out a spell you read in some book to make them manifest, or play “spirit of the glass,” or challenge them and say things like “I don’t believe you, why don’t you just show yourself right now?”
(I know of at least three personal accounts of friends who were there when some fool issued this challenge, and they witnessed firsthand how bad things turned out for the challengers.)
Finally, like we mentioned before, the likelihood of you having a ghost sighting during this kind of tour is the same as your chances of encountering ghosts on a regular day.
This is because legitimate ghost tour guides will do what any good guide is supposed to do: Make sure you stay safe, engage you in the history and other attractions of a location, and make sure you have a good time.
Having said all this, let me take this opportunity now to clarify that ghost tours have nothing to do with “hunting ghosts” whatsoever (not the legit tours, anyway).
Ghost tours are not about digging graves, or chanting words in Latin, or passing around a knife and asking you to spill your blood on the ground. (If your guide asks you to do any of these things, please check if they go by the name of Voldemort. Or Anita Blake.)
Instead, ghost tours are essentially historical tours at heart, revealing to you the secrets and stories of certain important places in our culture and history.
Who goes there?
The ghost stories (and ghost pictures, if any) are just an exciting bonus. Even then, the reason for these ghosts’ presence in these places is a lesson in themselves.
Because when all’s been said and done, a “ghost” essentially represents someone who once lived, someone who used to smile and laugh, someone who once had their own hopes and struggles and dreams, someone who—in their dying moments—most likely thought of the ones they loved most, and maybe wished they could live just a little longer, for them.
So what was I doing, going on this ghost tour, pretending I was as brave as the characters in my stories?
I wanted to see if I could be as brave as the characters in my stories.
Being courageous while reading and writing fiction is one thing. But going through something in real life that I’d already gone through in my imagination with my characters was something else.
So what happened to us in those tunnels?
No hand reached out from those walls to touch me (I think), no spectral face (or shoulder or foot) appeared in any of our photos, and we emerged into the other side relieved, smiling, and quite proud of ourselves for not having screamed while we were inside.
It was Joss Whedon who said: “I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore the things I’m afraid of.”
I completely agree with him, of course.
It’s just that in this case, I’ve decided to take my exploration a step further, and faced my fears head on.
(Too bad I don’t have the t-shirt to prove it.)
3 Approaches to enjoying a ghost tour
So, really, it’s not just ‘ghost hunters’ who can enjoy a ghost tour.
And while they are already exciting by themselves, having your own unique mindset in approaching this kind of tour can help you enjoy the experience even more.
It’s like going into a buffet: you know there will be a lot of choices and you know you can’t try them all. But if you have a clear idea about the kind of dishes you “feel like eating” that day (Japanese? Mediterranean? Anything with cheese?) then you will have created your own definition of “enjoyment,” and made sure you will have fun in the process.
(And people who know how to enjoy themselves are more fun to be with, period.)
So here are the three ways you can approach the ghost tour experience, and yes, you can always add your own.
1. The Photographer’s Approach
While there may already be hundreds of photos of these same locations online, they probably would’ve been mostly taken during the day. A ghost tour, on the other hand, presents you with the unique challenge of taking photos at night.
So whether you’re an amateur or a pro, brandishing a slim camera phone or lugging around a DLSR with a monster zoom, you’ll be exploring new skills as you turn poorly lit locations into “studies of contrasts between light and dark.”
And if you capture an apparition or two along the way, then that’s just a plus! (Or not. Your call.)
2. The History Enthusiast’s Approach
As we mentioned before, ghost tours are essentially historical tours with a twist, and the best guides are the ones who have the most thoroughly researched stories, shedding factual light on hearsay, legends, and myth.
If you approach the tour with an attitude of “I want to know the real story,” then you will most likely come away with even more: not just stories but realizations, not just answers but even better questions. And isn’t this what true learning is all about?
3. The Ghost Hunters / SPRG (Student Paranormal Research Group) Fan’s Approach
So maybe you’ve read the books, or watched the TV series. Maybe you even downloaded an EMF meter app, and brought along a separate phone to record EVPs. In short, you’d really like to know what it’s like to conduct a paranormal investigation.
Depending on your guide, you can do these things, too—as long as you practice “respectful tourism.”
Respect and observe the rules and guidelines set at each location, as well as those set by your guide. These include the places you can/cannot enter, the amount of time your group can spend in a location, and even the acceptable noise and activity levels expected from visitors.
Be mindful of other people in your tour, and make sure your actions/reactions do not disrupt their own enjoyment.
Practice safety for yourself and your companions. Move carefully in darkened areas, safeguard your belongings, and never panic (or cause someone else to panic).
Aileen Santos is the author of the SPRG Trilogy, the college paranormal romance series that’s set entirely in Manila, Philippines. SPRG Book 1 “Voices in the Theater” is available in all major bookstores nationwide. Find out more at www.SPRGtrilogy.com