Sunday, May 1, 2016

BEBUT'S TRAIL VIII: Treasure Peak

WHEN SOMEBODY IS SENDING you a long text message, you read it whole and do not jump to conclusions. Do not assume you know the full context of the message. If you do, you suffer inconveniences as well as admitting that you are yourself stupid, with which word, in my own case, I am fond of labelling at less-imaginative people. Oh, stupid me.

That happened for today, August 15, 2015. It is a Saturday and I am supposed to be in the office working my butt for my bosses. I requested to be absent from work at the last minute because I thought this is the day that I am going to guide biology students to the village of Sapangdaku. The biology class would pay me and it would compensate much my absence. However, they reminded me TODAY that it would be tomorrow!

I am alone at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. It is 09:30 and I am in the middle of my boo-boo. I am thinking of how I would spend the day instead. Going home is out of the topic. I am at the gateway to the Babag Mountain Range and the mountains are calling. I decide to do a solo hike instead to kill time. I shoot a message to Ernie Salomon that today's activity is postponed.


I am not carrying my usual items because the excursion with the biology students assures me that I do not have to cook food. They would carry pre-cooked food. Anyway, I decide to make today a training activity for myself in preparation for a series of bushcraft camps at the end of this month at Lilo-an, then probably in Luzon in September and back again to Cebu in October and November.

What I really worry about is the Segment IV of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project come October. It is a long hike that will start from Mount Manunggal over the rugged spine of the mid-north area to Carmen. I need a lot of second wind to develop and, for that matter, the third and fourth winds, if there would be such. Today would be a good opportunity to engage in a survival hike.

When I finished filling up my Nalgene from an automatic water dispenser, Ernie arrived. He did not receive my message I sent a few minutes ago. Oh well, I told him of my boo-boo and I have to postpone the activity with the biology students because of their inavailability. He decides to go with me, after all, the mountain trails are near. He needs to train himself too because he had not been to the mountains for sometime now.


Okay, I buy five bread, four mooncakes and two sachets of 3-in-1 coffee. There will be no cooking except boiling of water for coffee. Fortunately, I have brought my Trangia alcohol burner with its collapsible stand that is designed as a wind screen but I have no alcohol. Ernie has. We are good to go now and I choose Bebut's Trail because it is near and I am planning to visit again the fabled Starbucks Hill.

It is now 10:00 as I lead up the high steps of a concrete stair that will also lead to the lowest ridge of the Guadalupe Hills. It is very humid. There is mild sunlight and there is a promise of rain. Clouds begin to block the heat and it is a good moment at this tormentable hour to walk this bald hill which I had named as “Heartbreak Ridge” for it caused heartbreak to a lot of people.

I rest under the shade of a Jamaica cherry tree (Local name: aratiles, mansanitas) and I place my AJF Gahum knife on my belt and an olive-green meshed shawl on my head. Camera on the ready, I stalk the path leading to the power pylon, the tunnel vent, the small farm and beyond the ridge. The ground is wet since it rained early morning with dews on the leaves.


The rains had fattened the vegetation and stimulates growth of rare plants like the elephant foot yam (pongapong) and the pepper vine (buyo). Ernie is fascinated with my knowledge on plants and he wanted me to find him purslane (olasiman) so he could plant it in his small garden. I tried but I cannot find one which left me wondering why since it is very common like a weed.

We reach the place which I called as the Portal, which is really what the locals called in its vernacular version - “ang Pultahan”. For more than one hour we walked without stopping although we walked at a normal pace. At the Portal we rehydrate and eat a mooncake each. We engage a passing old couple with two empty 5-gallon bottles to a conversation. They are going to Kilat Spring. I gave them date seeds hoping they have better green thumbs than me.

I look at the path going to Starbucks Hill and it is overgrown with thick vegetation. According to the couple nobody goes that path anymore. My audacious outlook melted when they said that and my earlier plan to whack bushes got scuttled. I settled for an alternative. There is still the only path of the seven found at the Portal that I have had not walked. This trail goes up into an unknown peak.


Once I settled my backpack on my shoulders, there is no stopping. Ernie follow behind me, adrenaline rising and ready for another opportunity to explore places. Much of these hidden small places are now known because of my daring and my drive to quench my adventurous spirit. Nobody goes to these places because nobody wants to. Most outdoors people do not have the penchant to search because they do not know how. They like easy ones.

The path is steep and slippery. Blame that to my now toothless 5.11 expedition shoes made worse by rain falling down and getting soaked right up to my skin. The path disappears but I know where it goes and it led to a small cassava farm. Who would have thought people would plant something here unless there is a house nearby. More walking led me to loose earth being dug up. I thought it at first as another charcoal-making devise but I am wrong. It came from a hole in the ground. Treasure hunters?

It is deep enough but what could be hidden there? There is a horizontal shaft but I have no appetite to find ghosts in tight places. There must be somebody or some nearby house to engage in this earth-moving stuff. I look at the other side of the path – it is well used. I follow it and it goes upward until I reach the peak. There is a cairn but behind it is an even bigger hole. This is big. What could goad some people to dig big holes above a peak? I take a pinch of earth dug from the hole and it says nothing. Not even a hint of copper or iron. Yamashita again? Come on, give me a break!


We rest here for a while and analyze everything. If it is an enlarged cave then there must be something down there. There could be people hiding from sunlight, I mean from the law. It could be a “safe house”. I do not want to poke my nose on other people's business just as long as they leave mine. I am alright with that. Somehow, I have to continue my exploration of this route. A slight shower begins to pour and that spurred me to move on.

It is a well-used route. Meaning, people that worked on the small cassava field or of the enlargement works on the two tunnels came from here or passed by this stretch. Then a house. The same house which I passed by on September 14, 2014 (BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN 29: The Last Visit) during my relentless pursuit of re-discovering Starbucks Hill. I am perplexed at this discovery of the same house. Good thing it is occupied this time and I have answers to my questions.

One of the answers lead me to decide to cut this nascent exploration short, which means, we have to go down the hill, pass by a community and take the road back to Guadalupe. We reach the road alright but we have to take shelter at an abandoned structure to sit out the heavy rain and lightning that was now hurled from the skies. It is 12:30 and it might do us good to make hot coffee and eat the rest of our bread. Kids came and we parted most of the bread to them. I believe they needed it more than we do.

We continue on our way down when the lightning stopped to the creek spillway and reach Guadalupe at 14:00. My feet are now beginning to complain of the 5.11 shoes that I have been so proud to own and use in most of my adventure time starting January. It had seen good days even in such a short time but it has to remain with me until such time that I have not found the means for its replacement or its “retirement”. But the meat of the day's disappointment was really the boo-boo I made.


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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XXXV: A Family Affair

I RARELY HIKE ON a weekday for I have a day job, unless, of course, if a guest requests me. I have done that on a few occasions and today, August 4, 2015, is one of those days. I would never say no on a good offer and never says no as well if it interests me at all even without getting paid for services rendered. I do part-time wilderness guiding – not mountain guiding.

However, neither of those conditions have forced me to be absent from my workstation today. It is for a different reason and I considered it as urgent. Relatives from Guam whom I have not known or seen in person since existing in this world came to visit their Cebu connection. My family put on their best foot forward and accommodated our visiting relatives.


With me is my second cousin, Neil, and his eldest daughter, Cami – my niece. They carried the same surname as I have and it is a good moment to establish good bonding time. I would never say no to them and never would say no to occasions such as this. Not even Super Typhoon Hanna, which just entered the Philippines, because I have committed this day for a hike in the woods.

We used my brother's red Suzuki Scrum to transport us to Guadalupe so I could buy food ingredients for our meal later on and then going to the trailhead in Baksan. The ground is wet since it rained early dawn precipitated by the coming of the storm. Surely, there would be a lot of slippery spots. Times like these make me very careful, not for myself but for those coming with me. The tempo of the walk is deliberate and slow.

When in that pace, I could see everything and I could talk a lot to my guests. I always talk about the plants because those are the very first things you will always notice and then the insects and animals. Next would be the names of places and the woodlores. Keeping guests entertained and informed is what distinguishes true outdoorsmen from another set of “outdoorsmen”.

The stream is clear and swiftly weaves among its chosen channels where it had carved for many years. The sky is cloudy with wefts of sunlight escaping from among its most porous parts. There is an ominous silence save for the cicadas (Local name: gangis). Old folks say that when these are noisy, expect no rain to fall. I half-believe that but, just the same, it is entertaining to the ears of guests if you tell these half-beliefs to them. Now that is woodlore.


Underneath the tall canopies of trees, the jungle is very dim. I follow the trail as we ascend the stream bank. We would be walking now on higher ground. The path is not ascending but it follow the contours of a mountain and Neil begins to ask how do I keep myself from straying. I do not in my turf. I mark a few trailsigns though where there are crossroads. I point to one and he understands.

The richness of the vegetation enlivens father and daughter as I name each plant which have uses and each plant which they would have to give a wide berth. Rattan is one and a stinging nettle (daw-daw) another one. Both grow low to people's height and touching each would cause you either cuts or skin irritations. Pace is controlled. I picked up a straight stick on the ground and passed it to Cami as a walking staff. I can see she walks better with it.

We go down another stream and we rest here. However, I have to do something. I have to climb a high bank where groves of water bamboo grow. I have to find a dry piece of bamboo pole. There were a lot of discarded poles left by forest gatherers a year ago which I kept off the ground hoping it would be useful someday. I found one and carry it down. I would use this later for an impromptu firecraft session.

We now ascend a trail to the ridge. I show them another plant that is harmful to a touch if you go careless and this is the Asiatic bitter yam (kobong). The path is lined with rattan but my eyes also scanned what is above us. Dead branches are also my concern. You would not know when it would fall down, would we? I take time with my pace so as not to overwork Cami and Neil.


I arrive at Camp Damazo and inform both father and daughter that we will stay here for a while. I need to boil water for coffee but I have to leave them so I would get water from a natural spring which would not be far. There would be mosquitoes and ants when they sense our presence. It would go away when you have a fire but we have no fire yet. I have an alternative though so I pluck leaves from a common floss plant (hagonoy) and teach how it is used.

I rigged my Silangan hammock – the ones with a mosquito net – should mosquitoes becomes unruly. I laid a laminated nylon sheet on the ground for Cami and Neil to sit on and got all the pots and bottles out. I prepare a tripod of sticks that I will later use in cooking our meal. It is 09:15 and we are early. The cicadas are noisy as ever. I left them bringing along two empty water bottles and my empty Zebra pot.

I go back to the camp and produce a Trangia alcohol stove and start heating another pot after I transfer contents from the Zebra. Then I get my fire kit. It is just an assortment of “garbage” that ordinary people stepped over or walked past without any idea what it is and are its uses. When you are into bushcraft, these things matter.

I show Cami how to work out a spark from a ferro rod. She tried once, again and again and it did not spark. She tried it forcefully and small sparks came. I show how it is properly done then Cami worked it like magic. Now time to choose firewood. I tell here that the best firewood are not picked up from the ground but those that are above the ground and these are small. I told her a story about fire made by a Native American and the ones by a white American and she chuckled.

The process of obtaining dry twigs and small branches begins and then converting it into pieces which are very easy for a nascent flame to feed on. Neil produce some tinder by scraping knife on a mature bamboo surface and form it into a loose ball where Cami directed the sparks of the ferro. Meanwhile, the water boiled above the Trangia and I mix instant coffee on a metal cup for Neil and Cami to savor on. I pour mine on a metal dish and enjoyed coffee that way.


Showed my best tinders for Neil and Cami to ogle upon: a tuft of kapok, shrivelled Spanish moss, coconut husk fibers and hair-like sugar-palm fibers. For me, they are my time-tested tinders that could catch sparks. And then there is the charclothe. Stored it all dry to through many layers of plastic aside from the green Triton dry bag.

I left Cami to practice with the ferro rod while Neil coached her. I prepare the rice inside the Zebra, for any moment we will start the cooking. A smile crossed Cami's face as she worked an ember on a charclothe and blow it on a nest of mixed tinder. There goes a thick smoke and a small flame. Quickly, it is placed underneath a teepee of twigs. The Zebra with the rice is now hanged from the tripod with a special hook.

I could now start slicing the pork meat, onions, garlic and those long green peppers. I show them the trees around Camp Damazo while waiting for the rice to get thoroughly cooked. I have trust on the Zebra as it is really an efficient pot. Neil looked up at a huge tree and asked for its name. Moluccan ironwood (ipil). Beside it is a small tree but you better keep a wary eye on it because it is the stinging tree (alingatong). It is harmless since the foliage are now a bit high.

I replace the Zebra with the already cooked rice with a battered pot with cooking oil in it. The fire is fed with more wood as the tell-tale pops of the cooking oil approaching boiling point is heard. I pour the sliced garlic, then all the sliced onions. Stirred it until onion gets soft. Two-thirds of the sliced green pepper are mixed to the aromatic concoction. A few minutes after, the sliced meat are dropped and stirred. Then I add soy sauce.

Neil and I talked about knives and he brought along the ones I have given him – a prized ginunting from Albay and a small Seseblades sinalung. He collects knives and he preferred Philippine traditional blades. He is with the US Air Force and travels with his unit anywhere. On the other hand, Cami is an accomplished sport dancer. She had snared top honors in international dance competitions in Barcelona, Rome and Las Vegas.

I go back to my cooking and poked the meat texture. A few more minutes and it should be done. Now the meat is tender, I pour the last of the green pepper as garnish and drop a few black pepper powder into it and left it to the fire for a full minute. The pork adobao is now ready for eating along with the rice and we eat in silence which is broken, time and time again, by conversations. I make a pair of bamboo chopsticks each for father and daughter while I settle for a fork when I notice I failed to bring a spoon.

The pots were literally cleaned off of their contents. It was a good meal considering we have limited comfort and too few hours to get a good opportunity of cooking from a very threatening sky. The slightly-spicy pork adobao was appreciated very much by Neil and Cami. It was cooked with the right frame of the mind. I place water on the pots, cups, metal dishes and, for a purpose, leave it be for a while.

From a piece of mature bamboo that I foraged earlier, I split it into two parts. I will show Cami how to make fire by rubbing two pieces of bamboo together. Although air is humid and misty and the bamboo is partly wet, I will try to show to Cami how this works. The most important thing is teaching Cami the process of making the bamboo into a fire tool. First, make a notch on one piece then scrape its hard skin back and forth for tinder.

The other piece would be the “saw”. I smoothed one edge so it would fit on the notch of the other. Place the tinder bundle on the inside of the notched piece and keep it in place with a thin bamboo strip. Either you place the notched piece on the ground where it gets rubbed by the other or you place edged piece below the notched piece where it gets rubbed. Showed her how it is done. After several drops of sweat rolled from my forehead, I got smoke. Then thick smoke. And that is all. No fire. I am exhausted. Skin of one finger brushed against ground. Pain!

It was a nice try despite drops of sweat and dew over the primitive fire tool and Cami is delighted at the sight of the real thing which she probably had seen many times in the Internet. She tried the native contraption but one bamboo piece broke in two. I would have made another piece and try it one more time but the sky says no. Drops of light rain are beginning to fall over the forest canopies. I pack the things into my Lifeguard USA rucksack and take the exit route.

The rain is for real now and no half-beliefs about cicadas could stop it. It made the ground more dangerous but, as always, I take charge of the pace. The route climb up a steep stretch and I have to wait for father and daughter to catch up and let them take rest. We have a luxury of time. Cloudy skies made the lighting dim as if to give impression that it is late and would have made another impression on the brain to dictate the body to release adrenaline so we would increase our pace.

We reach the road at 14:15 but across us is a trail to Lanipao and it is all downhill and easy. This time the rain fell at a greater intensity. The trail became a small stream and I have to check always my back trail for telltale signs of rushing water which are most probable in mountainous areas especially if there is an occurrence of a landslide. We trod on the side of the path instead where there are grasses.

We stop for a while at a place where there are midget coconut trees. Neil needs a coconut palm. He is onto something. I choose a healthy frond. Neil split the palm into two and counted something like fourteen midribs each piece. We carried the leaves to Lanipao then to Napo. The rain had not abated and the Sapangdaku Creek had risen a little and can still be forded by using a technique which I learned and developed on my own.

We walk on the asphalt road to where the Suzuki Scrum would rendezvous us. It arrived at the right time on the road corner leading to Baksan but we are now going to Guadalupe this time. We are all wet to the skin but it does not matter. The Suzuki proceed to Mandaue City to drop both Neil and Cami at their hotel. Neil talked of giving me a surprise with the coconut fronds when we meet again in a few days. Cami is elated at the chance to hike in my hidden jungle which she captured all with her camera.

It was a good time to know my relatives from Guam and them about me. Even more than what they knew me doing all these things in Facebook. I am what I am and I am proud to be a relative.


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Saturday, April 16, 2016

THE 1ST CEBU SEARCH AND RESCUE SUMMIT

A SEARCH AND RESCUE Summit had never been organized and presented in Cebu before until July 29, 2015 came. Two days after that, July 31, it was deemed a success! Credit that to the hardworking men and women of the Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO-Cebu), led by its department head, Baltazar Tribunalo Jr., and by its operations chief, Dennis Cortes.

We all know that all the finest private and volunteer emergency response teams (ERT) and emergency medical teams (EMT) of Cebu converged on the parade ground of the AFP Central Command Headquarters, Camp Lapulapu, Cebu City in the morning of that first day in full force and in their finest attire and equipment. These include guest responders from Quezon City (UP Mountaineers), from Bohol (TARSIER 117) and from Olongapo City (Sta. Rita FRADRU), with special appearance of news TV personality, Paolo Bediones of Rescue 5, lending active support.

Attending also are the LDRRMOs from Daanbantayan down to Santander and the satellite islands of Bantayan, Mactan and the Camotes; and the CDRRMOs of Cebu, Danao, Talisay, Naga, Bogo, Mandaue, Toledo and Lapulapu. For three days, no eyes blinked as everyone participated and witnessed every scenario they could join, touched and haggled every item displayed they could hold, and attended every mini-clinic each participating organization could muster.

This blogger, who had built a reputation for introducing bushcraft and survival as an outdoor leisure activity in the Philippines, was invited along with the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild to this summit, not a mean feat, considering that I and Camp Red are not emergency responders. Our presence and participation is anchored through our availability to train and impart ERTs/EMTs and the LDRRMOs our wilderness survival skills which would benefit them in difficult terrain, situations and time.

Gracing the first day and the opening of the 1st SAR Summit is the Honorable Hilario Davide III, the Cebu Provincial Governor, after a short introduction by Mr. Tribunalo and the overview of the idea of the SAR Summit by Mr. Cortes. “Interoperability Camaraderie and Unity” is the theme of the event for which the goal really is to unite all the different ERTs/EMTs to one protocol in responding to emergencies. In the next three days this scheme would be tested.

FIRST DAY – JULY 29, 2015
CAMP LAPULAPU, CEBU CITY


SCENARIO 1: Collapsed Structure Search and Rescue

Mr. Cortes of PDRRMO-Cebu briefed the mixed group of participants coming from different ERTs and LDRRMOs to respond to and extricate two unconscious “victims” trapped inside a collapsed building after an “earthquake”.

SCENARIO 2: Confined Space Breaching and Extraction

The 53rd Engineering Battalion of the Philippine Army briefed another mixed group of participants from the different ERTs and LDRRMOs in breaching a building structure composed of different materials using industrial-grade power tools.

CLINIC 1: Orientation to Bombs and Explosives

A Bomb Technician belonging to the Explosives Ordnance Disposal Team of the Philippine Army discusses about bombs, explosives and its paraphernalia; the chemical compositions of explosives; the Improvised Explosive Devices; and the safety protocols in responding to or encountering suspected bombs.

CLINIC 2: Wilderness First Aid

Christopher Ngosiok of Camp Red discusses the limitations of responding to emergencies in difficult terrain and explains the different techniques, through improvisations, to address the injuries sustained by a victim in that situation.


SECOND DAY – JULY 30, 2015
BOY SCOUTS OF THE PHILIPPINES CAMP, CEBU CITY

SCENARIO 1: Mountain Search and Rescue

Members of the UP Mountaineers briefed a mixed group of participants coming from different ERTs and LDRRMOs to respond to and extricate two missing “victims” found on two different locations of a deep ravine.

CLINIC 1: Land Navigation and Terrain Analysis

The Army's 5th Special Forces Company conducted a brief lecture on map reading, direction finding and grid coordinates.

CLINIC 2: Single Rope Technique

Members from WERUC demonstrated how SRT works and how it could be incorporated into rescue operations.

CLINIC 3: Low Angle Rescue

Lead responders from the Central Visayas Search and Rescue (CEVSAR) showed the many different techniques in low-angle rescue and safe extraction of victims.

CLINIC 4: Orientation to Amateur Radio

Jet Manuel of Ham Radio Cebu discuss a brief orientation on the laws that guide radio use in the Philippines and the simple ways to operate a radio transceiver and the protocols of communications.


Each participating ERT/EMT, volunteer, partner organization, vendor and exhibitor were allocated a tent on the second day. Camp Red was supposed to conduct a mini-clinic on this date but I decide to forego it since the volume of people coming in to visit our tent was extraordinary and there was a very effective yet interactive sharing of information to the visitors by those who manned the display table.


DAY 3 – JULY 31, 2015
SOUTH ROAD PROPERTIES, CEBU CITY

SCENARIO 1: Hazardous Materials and Vehicle Rescue

Lead agency is the Special Rescue Unit of the Bureau of Fire Protection-Region 7 who responded to a “vehicular collision” of a tanker which caused leak of an unknown kind of hazardous material and the extrication of two unconscious “victims” from the scene of incident. A showcase of HAZMAT equipment designed for responding in that kind of situation.


SCENARIO 2: Water Search and Rescue

The Philippine Coast Guard and the PNP Maritime Group-7 invited and briefed a mixed group of participants coming from the different ERTs and LDRRMOs in rescuing “survivors” from a “sunken ship” at the entrance to the Mactan Channel on two rubber rescue boats.

SCENARIO 4: High Angle Rescue

The Philippine National Red Cross, UP Mountaineers, TARSIER 117, Sta. Rita FRADRU and highly-experienced individuals (Randy Salazar and Chico Estrera) pooled together their skills and knowledge to brief a mixed group of ERTs and LDRRMOs in responding to two unconscious “victims” during an ongoing “fire incident” and extricating them from the rooftop of a multi-storey building.

CLINIC 1: Incident Command System

The Office of Civil Defense-Region 7 gave a summarized discussion about the ICS to all the participants.

CLINIC 2: Vehicle Extraction

Mr. Cortes demonstrated the tools and techniques to extract an unconscious “victim” from inside a vehicle. CDRRMO-Danao provided their hydraulic tools for this occasion with which crews from different ERTs and LDRRMOs tested. Same with the battery-operated tools provided by CDRRMO-Naga.


It is wise to note that ambulances from the participating ERTs, EMTs and LDRRMOs were extensively used during each scenario. The “victims” were immediately transferred from the SAR scenarios to waiting ambulances and the EMTs performed accordingly by applying life-support systems and moving the “patients” to safe zones. Also in good stead are the ACER guys who gave constant real-time communications to ICS on all the scenarios, clinics and on invisible grounds where they are stationed.

Ultimately, the 1st SAR Summit held here in Cebu was a tough act to follow and it was successful, in the sense, that egos were kept behind where it would have thrown a monkey wrench on the whole event. The intention was to foster camaraderie and familiarity among the different ERTs and EMTs who, I believe, have their own set of values, or rules to be exact, to follow. Having done that, the summit achieved unity and harmony. Interoperability would just be a few steps away.


Kudos then to the successful bid of the Cebu Provincial Government to achieve this as well as to the staff of PDRRMO-Cebu. For those who attended the summit, it was very engaging and quite helpful on their part as each were exposed to the different levels and disciplines of search and rescue. For the LDRRMOs, it is high time that their respective LGUs commit a respectable budget to run this department efficiently as envisioned in Republic Act 10121.



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