Tuesday, December 16, 2014

CONVERSATIONS WITH THE BAJAUS

I WALK OUT FROM my house at 04:00, April 28, 2014, into the back streets until I reach Plaza Independencia.  I have a backpack with me stuffed with clothes good for five days, fully waterproofed inside a 30-liter Triton dry bag.  I will be part of a small production outfit that would do a documentary about indigenous fishing of the Bajau people who lived in Bato, Leyte.



Yes, we will be at sea most of the time on small outriggered boats.  Matt Everett, from England, is the producer and director.  It has been his passion to make videos about the indigenous people in the Philippines.  He has completed a short documentary about the Matigsalug tribe of Mindanao which was shown last year during an indie film festival here in Cebu.  He also did a made-for-cable TV reality video about the Aeta people which I had a  substantial role on screen.

For this project, however, I am the interpreter.  I will do the interviews behind the camera while the interviewee gets to answer or narrate on camera.  The Cebuano dialect will be used during the conversations and, hopefully, English subtitles would be added during the editing.  Coming also are Paul Blackmore, from Ireland, who will be Matt’s second-in-command and cameraman, and Silke de Vos, of Germany and long-time Philippine resident, takes care of underwater shoots. 

Supporting the video crew is Angel Gumere, Matt’s personal assistant; Australian John Creane; and Renzy Gumere.  Matt hired an outriggered boat belonging to the Sama Bajau Community Tribal Association, based in Mambaling, Cebu City.  We embark on the small boat at the coastal road near the Malacañang sa Sugbu, a short walk from Fort San Pedro.  This artificial coastline, a by-product of reclamation work, had been used as a beach by people from the poorest quarter of the city last Easter Sunday.


We leave Cebu at 06:50 cruising past the two bridges of Mactan Channel, winding out of Punta Engaño into open water north of Bohol.  It is a very sunny weather, the sea very flat, the wind only a whisper.  We arrive at the Bajau village of Dolho in Bato, Leyte at 13:00.  Their houses occupy dry land on stilts.  A lot of boats are either beached or raised on platforms undergoing repairs.  Some of the boats are anchored offshore.

The beach is crowded as well as the houses and it would not be a good idea to spend nights there, so we transferred instead to the center of town.  We found two vacant rooms of a pension house that could accommodate us and our equipment before taking our only meal of the day at 16:00.  By 18:00, we go back to the village to start our work.  My skill as interpreter would be tested that night on a set of questions which Matt prepared but I added some of my own, based on my broad knowledge of local ways.

Jerry Balansi, 49 years old, a Bajau born in Zamboanga and one of the very few who converted to the Christian faith, volunteered to be interviewed in behalf of his people.  He is a registered voter in Isabel, Leyte and had finished Grade 5 in Cebu City.  He says that his family came from Zamboanga and migrated to Cebu because of strife and piracy.  They searched for good fishing grounds and came upon Bantayan Island where diving with the use of an air compressor is rampant.


Later they were hired by a Chinese businessman to spear for good-sized groupers (Local name: suno, pugapo) and monocled breams (Local: gapasgapas) in Palawan.  It was a good time for them then yet it did not last long and they were forced to go back to Bantayan.  Compressor diving was already prohibited and many of their former fishing grounds were converted to fish sanctuaries and they were chased away until they arrive at Bato, Leyte.  

They found the local community receptive and the fishing grounds very rich.  Compressor diving was allowed until such time that it was prohibited there.  But enforcement is very lax so they continued with what they do best: spear fishing using the air compressor.  Other people believed that they used poison and other prohibited methods but it is not so.  The truth is, they do not want to antagonize law enforcement agencies and government officials by fishing the wrong way.


He says that he is not an elder but the village chief is a cousin of his.  Another branch of the tribe lives across an estuary and headed by another chief.  They still practice their tribal customs but the younger generations do not want to learn preferring instead their desire for alcoholic drinks.  A tribal priest still performs rituals and weddings but his sons are not interested.  There is also a healer among them but he might be the last in their village.   

I asked him how many have had accidents during compressor diving?  He named two and both cannot walk anymore.  One is in Surigao while the other one is in Isabel.  Another diver got stung by a poisonous fish, but he was able to recover.  Although sharks are always a threat, he could recall only one being attacked and had survived.  Jerry himself was threatened by a tiger shark in Palawan when it made a pass at him but he faced the predator and it swam away.

When the interview on Jerry was concluded, a Bajau climbed the stilt house where we were in and proudly showed two large groupers.  The Bajau says that he caught these with a hook and line.  How incredible!  I know, for sure, how difficult it is to pull a grouper to the surface when it swallows bait and retreat into its hole.  I have done this many times in 1986 when I fished at the Visayan Sea and it was not even a tenth of the size he is showing!  It takes skill to hold breath in depths of 10 feet or more to wriggle it out of its hole. 


The next day, April 29, 2014, we wake up early and go back to the village.  Everybody is already up.  The children milled around us and the crew are busy with the kids.  I focus my attention instead at a Bajau bending the prow of a boat with a couple of C-clamps and a hand saw.  Each time he ran a shallow cut with the saw on the wood running the length of the prow, he turn tight the clamp screw, wood would bend slightly and then held steady by a copper nail.  He repeated the process on the rest of the wood until it follows the shape of a banana.

Today, we hired two compressor divers and a couple of free divers with another boat.  We will be making a video shoot at a reef bank near Dawahon Island.  Along the way, the Bajaus caught a garfish with a spear on the surface and proudly showed it to us.  It happened so fast when their boat was at half-speed passing by a spot where a flock of terns flew close to the surface in circles.  A subtle splash in the water and a flash of silver and, voila, they have food. 

When we reach a good spot, Silke goes first into the water in her scuba gear and her underwater camera.  The divers prepare their gears.  They use flippers made of plywood or PVC and rubber and they are very adept at navigating the depths using these.  Their spear guns are made of wood, rubber and pieces of metal with the spear coming from a spoke of an umbrella.  They use regular dive masks.  The long compressor hose which they breathe from are coiled around their torso with the end held by their jaws.      


The divers would not have to spear fish but will just show for this documentary video of how deep and how long they would stay underwater and in what manner by which they would dive to the bottom and float back to the surface.  For Silke, it would be a new experience which she had not had witnessed in all her years of diving here and abroad.  She holds an international license of Master Diver and is an instructor where she teaches basic diving at Amontillado Beach and Diving Resort in Dauin, Negros Oriental.

After about 15 minutes, the Bajau divers returned to the surface.  Fifteen minutes more and Silke appeared with her underwater camera.  She showed me her dive computer which registered a depth of 24 meters from which she and the Bajau divers were but it was the rapid way the divers floating back to the surface that alarmed her.  The Bajau divers were doing what everyone in the scuba diving profession would not:  accelerating faster than your air bubbles!

She explained to me about the procedures of safety diving and how long should one stay underwater when breathing pressurized air.  I begin to understand her concern and she would talk to me more of it once we are on dry land as the sound of boat engines begin to drown out our conversations.  We transferred to a shallow depth where corals and fishes could be seen below.  This time, the free divers would show their stuff. 


Two young Bajaus, Tyson Bangcongan and Pooms Aslani, came with us from Cebu.  Both are 19 years old.  Both were born at the Bajau community of Mambaling.  They learned free diving while young at Cebu Harbor.  Coins would be tossed by boat passengers and the Bajaus are known to dive after it and retrieve it even though how murky the waters are.  It is entertainment for passengers but it is a hard way to earn a living for the Bajaus.  

Tyson and Pooms make ready their home-made flippers, masks and spear guns while Silke takes another dive on a second oxygen tank with her camera.  The divers appear over and over at the surface with small coral fishes skewered on their spears.  They prefer the short spear guns since they would shoot the fishes at short range.  Tyson was able to stay and hold his breath for 33 seconds at fifteen meters depth, at one time, surfacing with a speared garfish.

We leave Dawahon Reef, going back to the Bajau village.  From there, we go back to the hotel and take a bath before going out to take our only meal of the day at four.  We go back to the village to do an interview shoot on one of the Bajau compressor divers.  Sound conditions were not conducive and we ran out of daylight time and we go back to the hotel to take a well-deserved rest.  At 20:00, we visit the town’s “baywalk” area and talk about our next day’s plan over glasses of cold beer.  

On April 30, 2014, we wake up early so Matt could shoot sunrise over the village using the timer to run for an hour.  After that, we begin the interview on one of the compressor divers yesterday, Dulhussein Jumaldi.  He is 38 years old and is a registered voter of Bato.  He says he used to be a free diver.  When his band went to Bantayan Island, local fishermen there were able get a lot of catch using the air compressors which they could not accomplish by just holding their breathe.  At Bantayan, he learned compressor diving.


They usually dive during nighttime.  The fish are not so active and it is easy to shoot these with a spear.  They could swim close to their prey and then shoot it.  The spear guns they use during nighttime are short unlike in daytime where they use the longer spear guns.  He explains that long spear guns are used to take down fish from a long distance and it shoots faster, taking a prey by surprise.  The shorter ones, on the other hand, do not need accuracy as it shoots fish at short distances.  All spears are connected to their guns with a long nylon cord.

Preparations before going out to see sea is very crucial to a Bajau diver, according to Dulhussein.  First, he has to take a long rest and must refrain from drinking alcoholic drinks 24 hours before he dives.  Second, he must check that his equipment, to include the boat engine and the air compressor, are in good order.  Third, he must have ample fuel for the boat engine.  Fourth, he prays and asks protection from his god and from the spirits.  Last, he must have a good meal before setting out to sea.

We take a break after the interview with Dulhussein and return to the hotel to take a meal.  We go back again to the village to pursue on our interview on a man who had survived a shark attack in Zamboanga.  Matt is so excited to learn from the man and we caught him gouging wood from a boat keel.  He is Uladji Lampinigan.  He does not know his age but it would be somewhere between 60 to 65 years old.  He used to be a free diver but now he makes boats.

Uladji, narrated that he was diving at 25 meters deep holding his breath.  His concentration was on the lookout for fish and failed to notice a shark from behind him.  It jolted him when he felt something tearing at his back.  He tried to evade and he was able to move sidewards as the jaws of death clinched at his left shoulder.  He wriggled and he was able to break free.  He tugged on a rope and his companions pulled him to safety.  Ugly scars remain to remind him of his close encounter with death.

Matt needs to do one more interview for this day.  He asks me if it would be possible to ask a tribal priest.  I am able to convince Jerry’s older brother, Capulisan Balansi and I am also able to ask a favor if he could demonstrate a tribal ritual which is still part of their culture.  That done, we wait for several hours to produce the needed items for a spiritual rite which had been practiced by their ancestors before the advent of Islam in Southeast Asia and is passed to the succeeding generations.

Capulisan, cannot ascertain his actual age but he would be around 60 to 65 years old.  He is a well-travelled Bajau and a real badass when it comes to free diving.  He says he was born in Basilan and his family travelled across the Zamboanga Peninsula for a year.  That time, compressor diving and makeshift flippers were not yet invented.  They would dive at depths of 30-40 meters and hold breathe for more than a minute and they could swim fast without using flippers.


He says his family crossed the sea to Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental and stayed there for half a year before taking root in Cebu.  With Cebu as base, they go diving for fish at Bantayan Island, at the coastal towns of Masbate, reaching as far as Gigantes Island, then to the islands of Sicogon, Calagnaan and Semirara in the Visayan Sea, and on the coasts of Southern Leyte, Dinagat Island and Surigao del Norte.  Eventually, they settled in Bato.

According to him, he was appointed by their elders to be their tribal priest.  He learned the Bajau tribal rituals from the elders and, since he has no formal religious education, taught himself prayers in Islam and was able to marry couples, pray for the dead or ask blessings from the spirits this way, combining Islam with Bajau customs.  The items that Capulisan wanted to procure had arrived and the women had processed the food that are part of this.

The food and the items would have to be brought offshore.  Capulisan’s own boat was used for this ritual which is really appealing the spirits of the wind and the sea for blessings of good harvests and for protection.  The boat is filled full to the brim as Capulisan, Jerry, another elder, his son, Matt, Paul, Silke and me rode it beyond the wharf of Bato.  Capulisan prayed to the spirits and released the offered food and items to the care of the sea.     

All the people in the village appreciate our gesture of initiating this rare ritual and for providing the offering which, to them, is already a luxury.  They are, by their own beliefs, now assured of the blessings of the spirits.  Satisfied with our day’s coverage, we go back to town with our equipment and take a bath at the hotel.  We get ourselves a good good dinner at Bato’s baywalk area after which we wash it with cold beer.  We slept early.

On the fourth day, May 1, we begin to pack our things.  We would leave Bato but we will do a last shoot at the floating huts of Dawahon Reef on the way to Cebu.  Matt needs to know the life on the seaweed farms which he wants included on his documentary.  We saw, from a distance, water rising high above a group of small boats then we heard, three seconds later, the unmistakable sound of an explosion – dynamite fishing!  Then four more spouts of water then four explosions.  Matt wanted to go that way but I forbid him.  

We choose one such hut and asked permission to come aboard and to interview a seaweed farmer, Victor Torreon.  He is 51 years old and a resident of Dawahon Island.  He had been farming seaweed for a long time and, he says, when not farming they catch fish using nets and sold it as dried fish.  The hut, which they use as a resting and storage place (Local: kamalig), had been destroyed by strong typhoons and rebuilt many times.  They culture the Espinossum carageenan (Local: guso) only and sell it to Cebu.  When we left at 13:00, Victor and his nephew continue weaving nets.

The sea is very calm as we travel back to Cebu but current is very strong since low tide is starting to move water from the inland seas out to the Pacific.  We pass by Caubian Island and then into the Camotes Sea.  Ebbing water exposes a very long sandbar.  Footprints from an absent fisherman are all over it and a live hook and line are left.  The afternoon sun is beginning to get soft as the horizon of Cebu is getting nearer and nearer.  

When we got past Punta Engaño, the boat has to stop at the north entrance to Mactan Channel so Matt could shoot Silke talk of her opinion on the Bajau way of diving with an air compressor machine.  Sequence has to be restarted over and over again when channel current either move the boat closer to the shore where voices of people could be heard or when an airplane arrive and depart from the Mactan Cebu International Airport.  

Matt wrapped up the project after a rare uninterrupted sequence and go back to where we came from four days ago, which is at the coastal road near the Malacañang sa Sugbu.  It is 19:00 and I got invited by Matt, Angel and Paul for a dinner at the Texas Rex Bar-B-Cue Restaurant in Mandaue City.  I am tired but I am rich with the experience of working with a film crew and with the Bajaus.

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

COMPLEAT BUSHCRAFT XIII: Tides Turning

I HAVE WANTED TO do another nocturnal hunting session in Argao for the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.  The area is just perfect for training on this matter but, due to some external complications, I have no other recourse but to shelve this project.  I decide to transfer this activity to Lilo-an instead.  


We converge at our meeting place in Mandaue City after lunchtime on April 12, 2014.  It is a rainy day but, I pray, this will not last.  Coming for this occasion are Jhurds, Glenn, Dominic, Justine, Faith, Jerome and Nelson.  Majority of the guys ride on Jerome’s KIA Rio while Jhurds, Dom and me decide to commute to Lilo-an on a north-bound public jitney.


Aljew is our gracious host for this occasion.  After a light breakfast of special bread baked from the ovens of Titay’s Bakery paired with coffee, we proceed to our campsite.  We need not walk far for it is along the shoreline of Lilo-an.  Christopher guide us all there.  I assess the area and I choose an unused lot which used to be a beach resort.

It is 16:00 and soon it will be dark.  There is a drizzle and strong gusts of wind spurred on by a slow moving typhoon that weakened into a low pressure area.  I did not expect this kind of weather at this time.  Everyone make do of the situation and according to the available materials found and foraged in the area.  It is a test of how people will think and adapt.  


Jhurds use a wooden tripod to prop a wooden ridge to a frangipani tree (Local name: kalatsutse) for his laminated nylon sheet as his shelter.  Nelson used a detached door as his bed space and place it beside a low concrete wall.  The wall will act as windbreaker as well as a possible bulwark for his shelter should it rain.  Jerome set his black taffeta sheet in a crawl space of an improvised table underneath a Malabar almond tree (Local: talisay).  

Dom tied his hammock inside an abandoned bunkhouse while Glenn used the same structure for his bedding.  Justine and Faith shared one free-standing tent.  Me?  I just sleep outdoors.  My bed is a detached door placed over a makeshift ladder propped over one log.  Another detached screen door is left as a windbreaker.  My Apexus taffeta sheet is on standby should it rain.  I will just have to wrap myself with it.


After I have secured my bed, I go on the business of foraging wood for our fire.  Finding dry wood is not a problem since there are a lot of scraps of lumber as well as dry kindling.  Starting a fire is a problem though as strong gusts of wind snuff everything out we dished.  Jhurds help me in starting the fire and we are able to produce one and kept it protected by using the low concrete wall as a windbreaker.

We first cook rice – two pots – on a tripod and, as Christopher returned from the public market, we grill pork meat over another fire that Jerome and Nelson had given life.  The weather is still uncooperative.  Huge waves spurred on by strong gusts of wind make the sea cloudy with silt.  Low tide was noticed at around 16:00 but it is now 18:00 and the promise of foraging on the seashore is discouraging.


We focus on our dinner instead and I know there are hungry stomachs among us.  Grilled pork answered that yearning and, as everyone settled around the fire, a bottle of local brandy begins to take shape and make its presence felt.  Slowly, the tide turned and it goes high and deep enough to take a dip.  A cloudy full moon illuminates the seascape and I take my chance to immerse in the warm water at 21:00.  Glenn join me.

Aljew arrive from a party and join the campfire crowd.  Allan Aguipo also came.  A second bottle replaces the first and more conversations are fed into the circle.  I begin to feel tipsy.  As the clock approach the first few hours of the next day, I retreat to my bed, intending to wake up at 04:30 and set my alarm.  The alarm came and passed unnoticed.  


I wake up when my eyelids felt light in the sky.  It is 05:30 and I missed the nocturnal hunting!  Christopher, Jhurds, Allan, Jerome and Nelson were on to it and they caught different sea shells and a few tiger fish (Local: buga-ong) which they all cook in one pot as soup.  Lying on top of an iron grill are Indian mackerel (Local: anduhaw), cooked above coal embers.

We eat our breakfast as the tide begins to turn again into high water.  The grilled mackerel meat is fresh while the soup is sweet.  After the meal, we celebrate our being here by starting the blade porn.  The blade porn is a bushcraft tradition which Camp Red had adapted, wherein it showcases the knives and hatchets of each individual and, by itself, spurs on intelligent conversations and jolly camaraderie exemplified by our skill with the catapults.


Breaking of camp proceed thereafter as we get on to the business of packing our things back into our bags.  We walk to our host’s residence and stay for a while to be feted with lunch, cold beer and watch live the rematch of Manny Pacquiao against Tim Bradley.  Our Filipino champion controlled the match convincingly and lopsidedly as he gets the nod of all the three judges. 

As the euphoria of Pacquiao’s win died down, Aljew decide to do a little exploration on a hidden enclave on the hills of Lilo-an.  We were all invited and a red pickup was used in reaching the area, which pass by an empty ammunition dump dug from a hillside by the Japanese forces during World War 2.  We walk when the truck could not proceed.  


A creek ran through the place.  There is a small waterfall that splash to a pond and a man is taking a bath on top of the rock.  We proceed on upstream and pass by a natural spring.  Water spew out from a piece of bamboo and drop in driblets to a plastic gallon.  Up ahead, a good 500 meters away, is a dried-up high waterfall.  Any place along the creek is a good site for a bushcraft camp by its proximity to a water source and lots of bamboo.

We go back to town and said our goodbyes to Aljew and Christopher.  It is already 16:00 and we have a long ways to go.  We commute back to Mandaue City and then to our respective homes.  I got home at 19:00 and I am tired.


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Monday, December 1, 2014

A JOURNEY OF THE SOUL

IT IS 16:50 OF APRIL 17, 2014 – a Holy Thursday – when I start my solo walk to Mount Manunggal.  The van dropped me at the Transcentral Highway which I rode at the Citilink more than an hour ago.  I go on a half-day of work for this occasion so I could engage on my personal sojourn of righting my soul before my Maker and this year’s Lent is the most profound time for this.


Mt. Manunggal will just be a place where I will spend the first night and the jumpoff point where this penitence hike will start.  From there, I would walk on trails and some roads, cross rivers and valleys, climb mountains and saddles, and rest wherever my feet would take me.  I would follow the route I blazed with five others more than a year ago ending at Guadalupe on the third night.  Maybe.

That time we were many and I was fully provisioned.  This time, I am alone.  I would be fasting during daytime and will try to overcome the obstacles with less.  I would eat my food during darkness, cooked in primitive fashion without the convenience of a modern gadget like a stove.  I have to ration my two liters of water from two bottles for drinking and cooking only and the pots would be cleaned when there would be spare water.

As I walk on the dirt road to my first campsite of the first night, I silently utter a prayer for blessings, strength, protection and guidance for this journey of the soul.  Hanging by my side openly is my Chipaway Cutlery Bowie knife.  The shadows are getting long and soon it would be darkness.  There is a slight drizzle and it is cold.  I pick up a green bamboo pole and carry it with either hands.  It is 18:20 when I reach the place called the “parking area”. 

There is an unused structure undergoing a painting job.  While it is closed, its frontage is sheltered and a better alternative than camping near the Magsaysay Monument under the grip of gusty winds and a slight shower.  Here, I could sleep off the ground using the scaffolding and platforms made by workers as my cot and there are scraps of partly-moist coconut lumber that I could use as firewood.  Comfort with less can be achieved by using your common sense instead of being hooked closely with gears and then feeling sentimental about it. 


While I am occupied with my things, I feel something eerie as the hair on my back stood on its edge.  I look behind and I see a big black dog standing a few meters away from me.  I do not like surprises at this hour.  I imitate the menacing growl of an angry dog and the creature walked away.  I cannot explain how it suddenly appeared without being noticed by my five senses.  It took a “sixth sense” to do that for me.  How strange?

I make a tripod of sticks and forage firewood, splitting this with my tomahawk.  When, after a considerable bout of blowing a flame to life on moist wood, I cook milled corn in a pot suspended from the tripod.  Leaving that I prepare the viand.  I fry garlic and onions in oil and add a few wood mushrooms (Local name: kwakdok).  I pour half of my supply of mixed vegetables into the pot and stir it.  I pour water and let it boil then I just add salt.

I begin my simple dinner after a prayer.  I just eat half of the one-fourth kilo of the milled corn I cooked tonight.  I set aside the rest for breakfast tomorrow.  The sliced vegetables are crunchy and I liked that.  The soup gives warmth inside me.  It is raining lightly and it is very dark save for the glow of my LED torch.  Soon I will rest on the bed I made but, first, I will pray the five decades of the rosary. 


I split more wood after the prayers so I could use it for tomorrow’s breakfast and feed some to the fire for the rest of the night.  Fog enveloped me and it is cold.  I retreat to my bed.  I tossed and turned trying to chase sleep.  I hear a lot of strange noises.  There are, I believe, a lot of lost souls here on Mt. Manunggal.  For the rest of the night, I am on a “conscious sleep” until a man on a motorcycle pass by at 05:20 of the next day.

I hurriedly rekindle the flame of last night with so much difficulty until I get a flickering finger.  I boil water for coffee and then fry strips of eggplant smeared with egg.  I am not able to cook three-fourths of the sliced eggplant as the flame died on its own despite a considerable amount of time blowing it alive.  I leave it be, eat my light breakfast, break camp and leave at 06:50 for Inalad.  It is now Good Friday (April 18).

I pass by the Magsaysay Monument where the park caretaker, Leopoldo Bonghanoy, and his family lived.  I proceed immediately to a trail after acquiring water but I was warned that vegetation had claimed the path.  The heavy clouds of last night begins to evaporate and a promise of warmth begins to trickle in as my hike shoes pursues to negotiate some of the trickiest stretch of the trail going down to the valley of the Bangbang River.


The Bonghanoys have used part of this land where I traversed as a farm and pasture but, beyond it, thick vegetation obscures the trail.  It passes by woodlands, grass and brush and steep soft ground.  Nobody had used this route for a long time.  I should know because the feast commemorating the death anniversary of the late President Ramon Magsaysay was held just last month and there are no traces of footprints where there are supposed to be.

I forage Indian rhododendron leaves (Local: yagumyum) for cleaning the pots to save my supply of water and cut a forked branch from a Mexican lilac tree (Local: kakawate) as my staff.  The stick is most welcome, aiding my balance and getting the load off my ancient knees.  While I pass by thick grass, something big moved underneath and I jumped off the trail.  It is a rather large python and it got me excited!  I move away as fast as I could.  No hero stuff.  No pictures this time.

Winded, I continue on but my senses now are on a high notch and so is my pace.  The staff becomes a liability when the trail narrowed and it saps my strength carrying it.  It is seven feet long, the forked end snag on vegetation.  It can play its part though as my “cross”.  I step on a wet limestone and I fall on my butt.  Got to be careful next time.  Then I walk on another steep but soft ground and the stick becomes relevant again.

I cross several brooks until I reach the edge of a mountain settlement.  When you are among people again, paths crisscross each other and it temporarily disorient you for a while like I do until I get to follow the ones I remembered.  There are no more clouds and it is very warm.  The coolness of the higher elevation on an early morning was temporary and now this is reality.

When my right foot got buried in soft mud while crossing a brook, I used a lot of strength to get it off.  When I pulled it out, I staggered exhausted.  I rest for a while sitting on a rock contemplating if this personal mission is really worth it.  I am tempted to drink a good amount of water but I stop myself of that idea.  I soak my military-type meshed shawl with water from the brook and wipe my face with it.  Wow, the water is cool!


The blue house, now long abandoned, is a landmark and that is where I am going.  I will not be going downhill but up.  With enough courage, I push myself up on my feet knowing that I am now engaging in a very difficult battle against my mind.  I should be able to reach Inalad before 12:00 else a delay would mean that I am not up to the challenge.

This is so different than the last time.  My pace is a drag instead of a steady gait.  My bag weighs like lead as I approach the upward trail.  Is it pride that pushes me on?  Bravado?  Pride may have something to do with it especially when you announce this journey in public on Facebook.  But when you are a man you stand by what you said.  I am committed to finish this, unless a voice upstairs says otherwise.  So commitment is the right word.

I finally reach the blue house.  Why the owners abandon this big structure is beyond me?  Anyway, I could rest for a while here.  It is now 09:20 and I need to recoup my energy.  I feel a burning hunger inside me.  I cannot spare anything to chew on but I have coffee.  Immediately I make fire using dry pieces of bamboo and crushed dry palm leaves so I could boil water in my stainless steel cup the hard way.

After I had taken coffee, my confidence returned.  I stash pieces of the dried bamboo and dried leaves in a plastic bag so I could use this as fire kindling later tonight.  It had been raining days before, which is quite rare during this season, and I am not sure if I could find dry wood just like last night’s.  I drink a good amount of water too because at Inalad, I could have more of this.

I go down the steep trail following it into a valley.  The Bangbang River curl and cut across the land and it gives life to the farms.  By now, there are houses and one of these sells bread.  I buy one piece of bread and nibble it slowly while washing each swallow with water.  It is a hot day and sitting under a scant shade is already very welcome for me.  Before I go, I buy one more piece intending to consume it at Inalad.   


I cross Bangbang River on bare feet.  The staff had served its purpose well and I planted it on the river bank.  From hereon, it will all be uphill walk.  The sun will be at my back.  That piece of bread I had eaten some minutes ago will be my only hope.  I cross a small stream and pass by farms.  Shades are now few.  I closed my mind from the heat and the monotony of breathing takes over my attention.   

Slowly, in my laboured steps up a trail, I gain elevation and diminish the distance between me and Inalad.  At 11:50, I reach the saddle of Inalad.  This is the boundary between Cebu City, Toledo City and Balamban.  The Transcentral Highway pass by here and it is also a farmer’s market.  A lot of stores are open for business.  Cold soda drinks and hot food are available but I want none of it even though my body craved for it. 

I sit down on a cool place and close my eyes.  People ask me many questions.  I honestly answer all.  When I am alone, I close my eyes again.  I make the sign of the cross and pray.  Three hours from now, Jesus will be crucified.  Before He will leave this world, I confess all my sins to Him like the thief at Calvary who asked of forgiveness.  I am a great sinner myself and I spill tears while I am in the middle of my prayer.

I feel His presence and I tremble in awe.  I have discerned that this is the highlight of this personal quest and I am “released” of whatever troubles I may want to seek for myself on this journey.  After I had said the prayer and opened my eyes, I prepare myself for the rest of this day’s trek by securing water for my empty bottles. 

I see a coffee-vending machine across the street and I put a coin into the slot and take the filled cup.  I will need coffee to pair to the bread I bought at Bangbang River hours ago.  After that coffee break, I close my eyes and take rest for a half hour.  By 13:00, I cross the Transcentral Highway into a part of Toledo City. 

I follow a dirt road under the heat of the sun.  The shawl partly cover my face but I remove it everytime I meet people to give a smile, to nod or say a greeting.  I am going to the village of Tongkay.  This place is nestled in another valley with a river running across it.  There are some houses along the road and foot travel is sparse at this time of day.


It is 13:35 when I reach the village and I sit on the shade of a small store listening to a radio program about the Seven Last Words of Christ.  I am all ears to a long oratory describing the part where Jesus was heard to have said “I am thirsty”.  After 20 minutes, I walk to a public school where there is a ford at the back.  I cross the river stepping among stones and climb up a long ridge.  The trail is in good condition, very shady on some long stretches.

But I am already very tired.  The steep slope add to my misery.  I can feel a tell-tale sign of a heartburn and that is a bad omen.  I take it easy, careful not to push myself hard.  I will rest and pitch my shelter once I will reach my campsite.  I found it at exactly 15:00 after a long uphill struggle.  I relish at the idea of finding this place during Segment 1B of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project in October 2012. 

It is the only level ground around here that could accommodate more than five tents.  It is shady with lots of dry wood.  I opt to pitch my shelter at the place where I place it the last time I was here but, first, I will have to make a tripod, forage dry firewood, make fire and drink coffee.  Ah, coffee always tastes good when you are thirsty, cold or tired, even on a very warm sunny day!    

When my fire and coffee are now secured, I make my bedding.  I place leaves on the ground as a cushion.  Then I look for a straight pole and place it on the whole length of my planned shelter.  You know why I do this?  I will make it sure that I will not roll over.  I will also make sure that my body will be confined to just one place and save my body heat in the process.  Then I place a used advertisement tarpaulin over it as my shelter footprint.

I tie one end of a flat rope to a tree while tying the other end to two trees in a Y-fashion.  This becomes the ridge for my Apexus taffeta sheet in which the corners are secured by notched wooden stakes that I carved with my William Rodgers bushcraft knife.  When that is done, I make a seat made of cut poles across the fire and burying stakes so it would not roll forward and backwards.  

I cook a small amount of milled corn then next is the viand, which is similar in preparation as that of last night.  I have a lot of daylight hours to do all these things and I feel relaxed doing all.  I listen and watch many birds.  There is an abundance of bird life here.  One wild hen even made its presence felt by calling for a mate which two roosters answered from afar. 

I waited for dusk before I start my simple dinner.  After the meal, I wipe the rhododendron leaves on the insides of the pots to remove grease.  I prepare more firewood to keep the flame burning and ward off mosquitoes, ants and other insects.  I retrieve the rosary and pray the five decades aloud.  I watch the valley below even as I prayed and the folks there are having some sort of a religious activity.

I check my watch when I lay down on my bed.  It is 18:30 and too early to sleep.  The place is warm.  Credit that to the thermals that rise from the valley floor during evening.  I did not know that I slept well until I am awakened by gusts of wind at 23:30.  Well, that is good.  I switch on my light and I see a spider under the shelter some inches away from my face.  I remove it with a quick flick of my hand.

I listen to the night sounds but I feel nothing unusual here.  Not even mosquitoes.  I go back to another “conscious sleep” for the rest of the night.  When light begins to catch on the dawn sky, I rose from bed to answer the call of nature.  Today is Black Saturday (April 19).  It had not rained last night despite the presence of storm clouds from the southwest yesterday.


The call of a palm civet pierce the early morning silence.  The cat is just a hundred meters above my location.  It is very vulnerable at this hour since it had spent its waking hours during nighttime foraging food but I am not on a hunt today.  Probably, it had been attracted to the scent of my last nights’ cooking and of the leaves I wiped in my pottery with.

I begin again the process of making a fire and of preparing my breakfast.  When the flame flickered and danced, I boil water for coffee first.  Next I cook milled corn and, later, fry strips of eggplant in oil.  The same routines, very simple, practical and nourishing.  When I have finished breakfast, I break camp.

I leave the tripod standing.  It is my gift for any local who might visit this place.  Not the contraption, but the idea.  This system is way much better than the trio of stones that we are used to doing when we cook our food.  I let the leaves be on the ground, for soon, these will decompose.  I put out the fire thoroughly before I leave at 07:00 for higher ground.

I pray and ask again His guidance of whether He would want me to continue on my journey to Guadalupe or not?  It needs to be felt and discerned not by sitting but by doing the hike later.  If I think that it is pointless going on, I will cut the journey.  If the body is still willing, then I will push on.  It depends.   

I follow the path but I was misled by another one going up a farm.  I step on the rows of soft burrowed earth using it as steps but the effort is very strenuous.  I changed strategy and assault the steep slope in a zigzag pattern until I am at the high saddle of the mountain.  Oh God, when will this end?  I gulp mouthfuls of air into my lungs as I lean down forward and drink my last drops of water.

Across me is the peak of Mt. Tongkay.  I follow the back of the ridge and climb the peak and go down on the other side into another long ridge going to Mount Etwi.  Below this second peak is a spring where I could refill my now-empty bottles.  I drink like a dog and soak my shawl and press it above my head.  Driblets of water run down my face and it is so cool.

Soon, I will be at Maraag.  I follow the path and meet people and creature.  The long ridge of Cantipla covered the sun at this time while I am walking.  My steps are unsure, my knees wobbly, my gaze unsteady.  Just when I reach the last rise, something switched off.  I pause to gather my strength.  This is not good but there is a road ahead.  And a store that sells cold drinks.

I opt to buy a sachet of powdered orange juice and let it shake in my full Nalgene.  One bread is enough for me.  The juice quickly work on my thirst where water failed but it will just be temporary.  It could not provide a solution to a deprived body should I choose to cross the much wider Bonbon River valley and then climb up the Babag Mountain Range into Guadalupe.  It simply is not realistic on this very warm morning as I calculate all the risks and possibilities.

The road north leads to the Transcentral Highway and I may have to follow it.  It is far but I had already accomplished my purpose and this is a graceful exit.  A ride down to Cebu City is all I need.   I arrive at JY Square at 10:30 and a woman asks me five pesos so she could go home to Mindanao.  I am puzzled but, nevertheless, I gave her the equal amount in loose change. 

I got His message.  The coins’ weight were of the same weight that my spirit – a weightless matter – had been carrying all these years and I had just relinquished it happily away.  Alleluia!

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer