Sunday, February 7, 2016

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LCVII: For the Love of Serving and Giving

I DO NOT KNOW WHAT to feel today, May 24, 2015. Yes, I am tired from yesterday’s activity in Lilo-an, Cebu but I have to be here in Guadalupe, Cebu City. My bones are cranky, my muscles are aching, my eyes are throbbing, my brain is floating but my spirit is on fire. I can feel it swelling and my heart knows it. What am I talking about?

I am talking about the outreach phase of the Who Put the “N” in Nature IV. WPNN4 was a free benefit gig held at the HeadquarterZ Restobar in F. Cabahug Street, Cebu City last May 15, 2015 where spectators, guests and visitors donated cash or notebooks, writing pads, pencils, ballpens and other educational supplies intended for the children of Cebu City's highlands. WPNN4 got more than what it had wanted, thanks to the overwhelming response of fellow outdoorsmen and well-meaning individuals.

I come early and, little by little, volunteers came. There are still many things to carry on to the place where we will do our outreach, even though most of it had been brought there last Sunday (May 17) and by an advance party which set out yesterday afternoon. Although I did not carry a bigger bag just like last week, I carry it almost full with most of my cargo consisting of eighteen juice drink retort pouches and a sprinkling of food ingredients for the feast which we will prepare for the children and ourselves.

The rest are so inspired! Jhurds Neo, the ring leader of this impressive activity and the new president of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, is a tough workhorse. He made it sure that not a single item be left behind, starting from the transporting to the preparation and, later, the distribution of our gifts. For the meals – the cooking and the eating.

As promised, specially-made school bags provided by Zue Fashion will be distributed to all the kids today and, I believed, yesterday's advance party led by Jerome Tibon had taken cared of the transporting of this bulk. Basically, most of the things we carry today are the food ingredients and the juice drinks. Carrying it are a bit of a problem, especially the meat, since when it loses its coolness it begins to go stale. We may have to hurry up.

Fortunately, volunteer Ariel Muntuerto volunteered to carry the bulk of the food and the juice inside a big Deuter bag which he carried empty for this purpose. He is a fine example of a guy who is well prepared and knows what to do without being requested to. Off we go to the Roble Homestead, a long line of optimistic romantics who banded together to make this world better by providing the tools of education for the children living on the highlands.

Below are a series of photo collage that describe the outreach program of the Who Put the “N” in Nature IV -

This writer, representing the organizers of the WPNN 4, wishes to give a BIG THANK YOU to our sponsors and supporters, our different groups of volunteers, the HeadquarterZ Restobar and the bands, the Roble Family, the residents of Barangay Sapangdaku, and everyone whom I failed to mention. You know in your heart that you are what I mean. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Monday, February 1, 2016


THE PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENCE Bushcraft Camp is fast approaching and I have to determine the ownership of the lot where the campsite will be. This is a bigger PIBC since there are many participants. Good thing that Aljew Frasco is available for today, May 23, 2015, to help me on this. Good thing also that Jhurds Neo and Dominik Sepe will be coming along also for this trip.

Earlier, Jhurds, who was with Dom, came with his Suzuki Scrum Van and whisked me from a street corner where I waited and we proceed to Lilo-an, Cebu where Aljew will be waiting. They both came on time and I believe we will cover a lot of ground. The campsite had already been chosen on my previous visit last April 11 with Jhurds and today we will do a courtesy call on the village chairman of Mulao.

The campsite is found beside the Cotcot River and can be accessed from the village of Mulao. Going to Mulao from the town center of Lilo-an is a bit of complicated since, according to someone whom Aljew had talked with, it is lined with low hanging branches of mango trees that a bus cannot pass. Mangoes are considered treasure chests here and cutting even one twig would elicit you a subpoena for malicious mischief.

We arrive at Lilo-an at 08:00 and into a gated residence the van parked. Big Mao, a fat Chow Chow dog sniffed us closely and released a single bark. Aljew served us brewed coffee and filled bread from Titay’s Bakery as he prepares himself to go with us. After a lengthy conversation, we proceed at around 9:30 for Mulao. We load up inside a KIA Picanto driven by Aljew.

We go past Cabadiangan and approach the spillway where the road begins to go steep. This is where mango branches sag so low but we found not a single branch hampering the passage of even the biggest bus. The Municipality of Lilo-an will offer us use of one their buses and I suspect that information about the mangoes could have been made by the bus driver himself. Either he does not have the gall to drive by that place or he is somewhere else.

Anyway, we proceed on and pass by an ongoing road concreting project. This is a narrow road where only one vehicle could pass in order to reach the village of Mulao. It is made narrower still when one-half of the lane is closed, nevertheless, the smaller Picanto maneuvered through between the curb and the row of stones placed as barriers to the concreting work.

We reach the village and immediately we walk a short distance to seek audience with the village chairman. We stated our purpose and our intent to stay for three days on a campsite which is on private land. The chairman assured us that he will be the ones to ask permission on our behalf and we could not be more than happy with this unexpected event. It is now almost noon and we have to make a 30-minute walk to the campsite where we will cook our meal.

The Cotcot River still has running water although it has leveled low. The swimming area near the acacia tree is now on mid-thigh level now and the bare boulders reflect heat from the noontime sun into our bodies and placed so much glare upon our eyes. The hot surface of the boulders are felt in my feet soles and more of it by my bare hands. Age and bulk caused me cumbersome and embarrassing moments hopping and balancing among smoothed rocks but it was really something else.

Fungus growing under the toenail of my right big toe had caused so much pain and limited my movements. The toenail had thickened and grown long, warping inward where it pierced flesh on the upper reaches of the nail. I had remedied it long ago by cutting the nail with a steel saw when it grew long. Then I applied Vicks Vaporub over the nail for several nights and the fungus disappeared. Lately, it returned with a vengeance.

I have to take it easy so toenail would not bump the insides of my shoe, especially during forced jumps, or when the rest of the toes pressure against it as when I lodge foot in rock crevices. Watery eyes betray the pain I hid with a red-and-white krama and it added to the misery of the eyes straining against the oppressive glare. I begin to feel the tell-tale sign of irritated eyes which hounded me during my lenten hike last April.

Epang, a local whom the village chairman had requested to accompany us, arrived together with his nephew. Together we fix the natural spring by placing a new bamboo trough. The mature bamboo was hard but it gave in to the sharp edge of the AJF Puygo knife that I had borrowed from Jhurds. But I liked better the performance of my AJF Gahum, which I did not brought along. I open carry a smaller knife instead – a deer-antler-handled Fame knife from Sheffield, England given to me by Alan Poole.

We reach the campsite. It is really wide upon second inspection. Although near the edge of the river, it is about three meters high from the level of the river bed and I see no signs of debris brought by an overflowing water. The ankle-high shrubs have wilted before the onslaught of warm days brought by a mild El Niño weather and it effectively became great cushion for ground sheets. Sleeping on the ground then becomes much comfortable with it, I suppose.

Immediately, as it is now 13:40, we prepare our meal. From my vintage-looking Lifeguard USA rucksack, I retrieve cook pots, pork meat and the AJF Folding Trivet. Jhurds and Epang forage firewood while Aljew starts a fire with twigs by the unfolded trivet. Dom starts slicing onions, garlic, green pepper, potatoes and meat with a Humvarnet. I filled my bigger pot with rice and water and Aljew took care of that on the fire.

When the rice got cooked, Dom take his turn with the fireplace. We do not have cooking oil but I got soy sauce and he improvised. We got braised pork with potatoes as viand and we eat our very late lunch at 15:00 together with Epang and his nephew. After the meal, I revive the fire and dispose all man-made garbage by burning. Organic garbage are spread over the vegetation. Fire burned down until it dies. I left my pots unwashed and proceed to stow it back to my rucksack with plastic.

We go back from where we had came and that means downstream. That also meant that I have to pass again the narrow ledge where I have to kiss the rock wall and, once again, to a difficult obstacle. Despite my qualms, it was easier if done in reverse but the pain on one foot remains. Biting the bullet, that is. We give thanks to Epang and nephew and go on our way back to the highway. We passed by the same road where there is a constructed stretch and, thank God, the road concreting had just been finished!

We pass by first at Barrufol Resort, to examine the place. This is where the participants will cool down after three days in a humid camp. It hosts a swimming pool, several cottages, a bar and beachfront. Satisfied with our inspection, we end our day with a post-activity discussion over cold beer. And when you are at Aljew’s, the blades are the main topic.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LCVI: Classified as Urgent

IT IS LOGICAL TO transfer immediately all the school supplies that we have had collected through donations to the Roble homestead for storage today, May 17, 2015. Preparations for the big day next week (May 24) would be simplified and would not need a lot of people to do that task. Once done, the hours of that day would be focused more on the outreach itself. The carrying of the school supplies is, thus, classified as urgent today.

Many came on short notice and we all meet at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. The bulk comes from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, lead by its president, Jhurds Neo. Assisting us is Eli Bryn Tambiga and fellow paramedics from the Philippine National Red Cross. Tagging along is an “all-girls-mountain-cleanup” contingent. Spots of rain clouds paint the sky and there was a brief shower.

The school supplies, consisting mostly of notebooks and writing pads are distributed evenly among the volunteers for carrying and wrapped in plastic to prevent damage by rain or by sweat. Not only that, food ingredients that are to be prepared for the noontime meal are added to their bags. The journey start at 08:30, although a bit late but just enough to assure us that rain will not threaten the activity.

I purposely brought a South Korean military-issue duffel bag again, just like last year, to fill it as many notebooks as possible. I fill it with less – eighty pieces – this time because I already carried six kilos of poultry feeds intended for my six turkey chicks which have just hatched there just this week. I add a kilo of rice and I intend to keep my water bottle empty. I do not want to overstretch myself. I am not young anymore.

I just ate two fig pies as my light breakfast and doused it with one peso worth of cold water bought from a coin-operated automatic water dispenser in Guadalupe. That is just it. No more no less. The sun is now shining at its brightest splendor and I prepared for the worst by drinking another measured amount of water from another water machine in Napo.

My bag is heavy and uncomfortable. The unpadded shoulder straps begins to dig deep on the flesh of the shoulders as I walk farther and farther. I wore an ACU camo hat to prepare for the heat but God has kind eyes for me instead and for the rest, as the clouds returned to cover and diffuse away the sun’s scorching rays. It turned into a very pleasant morning instead, quite breezy. I could feel how everyone felt at this unexpected opportunity.

The trail showed that the soil is parched and in need of a really good shower of a few days. Cebu and the rest of the country is experiencing a mild El Niño and it had not rained seriously for more than two months now. I take it slow. I take my first rest underneath a mango tree. I do not intend to remove my bag while sitting. Putting it back would be difficult and you would have to expend energy placing it back which I am not generous this time.

I plan to fill my bottle once I will reach the Lower Kahugan Spring. I ditch that idea and savor the thought instead of drinking directly from the natural spring water. When I reach it, I also ditch that opportunity of a drink. I would have, if it only been very warm, but it had not. Besides the bag is a bit of a problem. I would have to remove it so I could stoop low to catch water with my hands. So, I just sit and take a breather, enjoying the conversations of those who sought rest there.

I did not stay long and proceed on my own. The trail begins to ascend gently and I switch to another path where it would had been easier in another time. One foot forward over the other brought me to a place where there is a community and I am winded, this time, and I sit and rest without taking the bag away nor do I enjoy the privilege of drinking water. This personal situation today I would consider as part of my preparation for the next segment of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project.

When some of the party arrive at my perch, I stand up and continue the ascent. Walking ahead of me is the 7-year old son of Richie Quijano – Legend, who is also with his wife, Francelyn. The soil is loose and sometimes dusty. The boy run up and down the trail and simply enjoying the freedom of the outdoors. His mother would snap at him for carelessness but it is a child’s world really and I am quite elated that the lad had taken a liking of the mountains.

We overtake a group of hikers resting at a row of mangoes. The boy lead me on until I reach the Roble homestead at 09:45. It is so surprising on my part that my effort had brought me earlier than I thought I would have. In fact, it was just a little more than an hour than I had expected it to be. Fele Roble is splitting a green bamboo pole with a stout stick hammering at his long native blade while wife Tonia is readying a pot with hot water for coffee.

A circumcised Josel is wearing a big t-shirt but still smiling. I gave him the 50-peso worth of sweet bread that I bought in Guadalupe and he disappears into their tiny makeshift hut, the abode that they had been using as a home right after their original house was destroyed by Typhoon Seniang. A new but unfinished house is standing on the former site and promises a new beginning for the Roble family.

Slowly, the rest arrive and occupied the empty benches. The school supplies are all collected and placed in the visitor shed for an inventory later. Meanwhile, I need coffee. I am very thirsty and the only remedy for that is a cup of coffee – and a refill - which I sip one after the other. I part the kilo of rice to Ernie Salomon, our food fixer par excellence.

I give the bags of both starter and booster feeds to Fele. The young turkeys would really need this to keep them healthy in the coming weeks. I am very happy to see the tiny guys peering from the wings of their mother. The six would be divided between me and the Roble family and I believe this venture would improve a little of their economic standing as the children are growing. Manwel is now a young man doing vocational schooling while Juliet is serious with her secondary studies. Little Josel is following in their footsteps.

While the rest are preoccupied of their tasks, I focused mine on making two sets of fireboard and spindle for a bowdrill. I used the folding saw from Victorinox SAK Trailmaster to cut it into manageable pieces and the vintage Sheffield-made knife with deer handle to shape these. When done with that, I proceed to carve a forked piece of wood with the Sheffield knife as the “bearing block”. I would need these things for the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp in June.

After the notebooks and writing pads had been sorted and tallied, we proceed with the most important activity of the day – eating. Ernie, time and time again, had concocted another wonderful meal fit for kings. Pork chop estofado, grilled pork and a foraged banana heart (Local name: puso) that was cooked with oyster sauce is laid on the table for the hungry volunteers. Added to that is his signature raw cucumbers and tomatoes in vinegar.

Siesta is allotted instead to the discussion of the next tasks for next week (May 24) which would be the day when the gifts will be distributed which Jhurds is now facilitating. When that was finished, Mayo Leo Carillo proceed to finish another Penobscot bow made of three layers of bamboo. This is much better than the two-layered one which he made last time. I tried the pull of the limbs and I believe it is between 20 to 35 pounds.

On the side, Legend and Josel, together with Jerome Roble, bonded each other by plinking empty cans with slingshots. Later on, the guys dragged two boards and place it side-by-side on the ground and another glorious round of blade porn ensues. To make this quick and over with, everybody grabbed their blades from its hidden pockets inside the bag and pierce it on the two boards.

We leave at 16:20 back to Napo after securing the notebooks in a waterproofed location and saying goodbye again to the Roble family. They assured us that they will prepare the place for the big day next week and we promised them something in return. It was a very good day and my duffel bag is blissfully light even with a stash of sweet potatoes inside.

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