Saturday, July 26, 2014

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXIX: Worthwhile

I HAVE THE WHOLE afternoon to myself today, December 22, 2013, after I had a good rest in the morning. That rest was spent reading books about the The Nullarbor, compiled by the Australian Geographic Society, and Rory Stewart’s 2002 journey on foot in Afghanistan which he documented in The Places in Between.

I was really tired last night after a whole day of travel to Guintarcan Island, Cebu and back for a humanitarian mission sponsored by a Danish organization with which trip started at 2:00 AM and ended at 8:30 PM. It was the biggest relief operation I have had led involving two loaded trucks and five small seacrafts that target 2,000 households.

After I have had my lunch at home, I commute my way to Jones Avenue thence to Guadalupe. I intend to launch into another solo walk for the Babag Mountain Range to entertain myself of the joys of walking alone. I also intend to answer the challenge brought forth by a Davao mountaineer belonging to the Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines in Facebook.

To recall, Maximo Lucentales III posted on his wall that he do not mind climbing the same mountain over and over again as against the popular notion of other mountaineers who climb many mountains as they could in a year. I commented that I have done so 68 times climbing Mount Babag in six years and I find it awesome. He replied to get my 69th and make it awesome too.


Inside my bag are ten t-shirts which I thought had seen some good days and now ripe for giving. I also add a number of dried fish from Guintarcan, a kilo of rice, sachets of coffee and a hundred pesos worth of bread. I will play a poor version of Santa Claus to the Roble homestead hoping to make my t-shirts worthwhile for Manwel and his uncles and his male cousins.

When I reach the trailhead at Napo it was already 2:20 PM. I retrieve my AJF Gahum knife from inside the bag and place it hanging by my side before crossing the stream for the trail. I reach the Lower Kahugan Spring at 2:45 PM and place my Nalgene bottle underneath the trickle of water. The natural spring had slowed and only a trickle made it through the PVC trough although a lot of the spring water are wasted passing by another channel.

It is almost late and I may have to hurry to my destination. The sky is beginning to darken as rain clouds pass overhead. I did not bother to fill my bottle at mid-level. I will take a short cut instead of the long route which I always used regularly. The problem with this short cut is that it is very steep and may be considered as “the longest short cut in the Babag Mountains”.


I did arrive at 3:10 PM and the place seem empty. Yapping dogs meet me and I sit on an empty bench quite winded. Tonia Roble came out of the house and she immediately seek Fele and the rest. I place all the t-shirts in array on the back rest of another empty bench. All male of fifteen years and above will have the option to choose one from among the ten now good for the taking.

When Tonia came back, I gave her the dried fish and rice. The bread are shared to everyone in the late afternoon while I enjoyed myself coffee. Then four hikers arrive. The Roble homestead is a natural resting place since it is halfway to Babag Ridge. Besides that, the Roble family could provide refreshment of coconut water upon request. The four guys gladly finished their coconuts before proceeding on their uphill journey.

 
I test the slingshot that a fellow bushcrafter from England had given me. It is made of polished yew wood with rubber tubing and leather. It is very light and the fork is sculpted to make it very ergonomic – easy to the hands. I find its use very satisfactory and I could feel that hitting targets accurately with it are achievable. It arrived in a package together with a World War 2-era Italian Navy utility knife a month ago.

I enjoy the few hours there until it is time to go. Tonia gave me raw cassava tubers and local maize as a gift. My wife would surely be happy with the cassava as it is the “labo” type. I go down the trail and reach the Sapangdaku Creek. Then I continue and reach Napo at 17:000 where I rode a motorcycle bound for Guadalupe. Since there is still light, I finish one small bottle of cold Red Horse before I went home.




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Thursday, July 17, 2014

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXVIII: Christmas United Two

THERE WAS A DRIZZLE when I start a prayer for our journey to the outreach area in Kahugan, Sapangdaku, Cebu City today, December 15, 2013. We will bring Christmas gifts and food for the children of the city highlands which this CHRISTMAS UNITED II is really all about. The place is the Roble homestead, a favorite resting place of hikers and climbers going to Babag Ridge and, we know, the children, along with their parents, are expecting us.

All the items are evenly distributed inside the bags of every would-be Santa Claus and the spirit of charity and love are guiding us as we embark on another quest to lighten up the faces of children and adults alike. I know that it will be a warm day later and this drizzle is nothing but showers of grace released from the heavens. It is a promising day indeed and the train of committed volunteers behind me are eager to make this day into something worthwhile.


When we reach Napo at almost 9:00 AM, all the volunteers take the trail. Christmas United II is an undertaking of all outdoors club and single individuals who come together on their own accord to bring Christmas to children who lived in and among the most inaccessible places in Cebu City. This is the second year that it is organized under the name of Christmas United but actually is the sixth year that this blogger had undertaken which was really the idea behind Christmas U.

When we reach the Lower Kahugan Spring, another group had just concluded their outreach activity there. All the children present here would eventually go with us to higher ground. We proceed, nevertheless, to our destination on the designated three routes after a welcome drink at the natural spring. I top off my bottle after going on empty from Guadalupe to add another kilo to my 15 kilos of load and lead half of the volunteers via Kahugan Trail.


Going with us is a 5-year old volunteer, Jacob Neo. He accompanies his parents, Jhurds and Suzette Neo. His father is a member of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild which is an unyielding supporter of Christmas U. Another 9-year old volunteer went with his parents on the other half of our party on another route which all would converge at the Roble homestead where all the children are waiting.

It is a warm day since it is late and I carry my heavy load upwards a long route. My disposition is light and I shrug off the heat and the difficulties by concentrating on my breathing and the rhythmic pattern of my pace. I lead my party to the branch of the trail where we break off from the main one. This time, it is shady but parts of it are treacherous. All mountain trails are treacherous if you do not pay attention.

I reach the place at last and I am sweating. The others that took the other route had already arrived and they are on the shadiest part which is under the mango tree. The children and the parents are occupying the benches and on the shed. I look for a spot for myself that would not compete space with anyone and I found one under the scant shade of a Jimson weed shrub (Local name: katyubong) with a short log as a seat.

I sit for a while and douse my thirst before retrieving the ingredients for the spaghetti which are four packs of the pasta, two big packs of tomato sauce and a can of meat sauce. Also gathered from the deep void of my bag are a box of orange juices, a kilo of rice and a cheap air pump for a basketball. Glad to have shed all those weights but I need to wait for the rest before proceeding with another task: preparing coffee.


Bunzy Gicale opened Christmas United II and welcomed all the children and their parents whereupon the program immediately started. A boy receive a special gift when it was revealed that it is his birthday today. A special dance number is performed by a group of young girls, probably classmates at the Napo Elementary School. A male volunteer danced with the kids to liven up the number. There were solo song numbers performed by four girls too.

Parlor games begins to claim the rest of the morning directed well by Bunzy with able support from her group of Tribu Wafu Wafa. I see a ball going round a great circle of hands aided by danceable music. The circle gets tight as the minutes go by until one child is left to claim the prize. Same with the “trip to Jerusalem”. For lack of chairs, the volunteers stand as “trunks” to be embraced by a child.


Last of these games is the Santa Claus piñata. It sends a flurry of little hands grabbing a stash of candies streaming to the ground when it got burst open by a wallop of a big stick! After the excitement of the games, the children settled down when they had a plate of spaghetti, a couple of hotdogs, a few pieces of sliced bread and some marshmallows. It is a joy to watch the children, along with their parents, eating the meals distributed to them by the active volunteers.

It is a simple Christmas party which does not come often to the mountains but, through our own collective effort and our own free will, we have brought the spirit of Christmas here. When the meals had been finished, different toys are distributed to the very eager children. Clothes too, slightly used and new, are passed on to the children and the adults. There are smiles on everyone’s faces and I begin to feel tears of joy welling in my eyes.


I do not mind doing this every year and I do not mind concentrating it here in the Babag Mountain Range. If you can replicate this in other places, the more the better. There is no jealousy, there is no competition. There is only a beautiful harmony of the soul with his Creator. Christmas is for the children and for the children in us. Our spiritual maturity can only be grasped if we do good deeds through great sacrifice and self-denial.

Christmas United II is organized under the umbrella of the Free and United Outdoorsmen and participation is purely on voluntary basis only. The pillars of this forum are the Enthusiasts of Cebu Outdoors, Tribu Wafu Wafa, Ewiters, Trans Montis Mountaineers, Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines-Cebu Chapter, Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, Redtrekkers and the Southside Project Adventure.



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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXVII: More Rough Cuts

AFTER A WHOLE MONTH of running relief supplies to the north of Cebu and elsewhere for the communities stricken by the recent onslaught of a super typhoon, the guys deserve a break. Jhurds Neo and Fulbert Navarro need to release some cooped-up stress and the outdoors is the perfect venue for that. As I have done so after relief efforts (the last time walking the trail from Basak, Badian to Mantalongon, Dalaguete solo) I can understand their predicament.

Today, December 8, 2013, I will tow both back to our favorite playing ground at the Babag Mountain Range. Aside them, I will introduce Jerome Tibon, Christopher Laugo and, hold your breath, Laertes Ocampo, to the culture and lifestyle of Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. Laertes is a regular hanger at the Facebook site of Camp Red but just only a few have seen him personally as he had not joined any outdoor sorties of Camp Red – until today.

Jerome had gone on an earlier trip with me on this same place last October 6, 2013 and he is a long-time Australian resident before returning back to Cebu to work in one of the business process outsourcing companies. Christopher, or Toper, is from Ormoc City, one of the very places which Typhoon Yolanda wrought havoc in Leyte. He is in Cebu because he has to do a review for a licensure examination as a mechanical engineer.


Running parallel to our dayhike is the group of Boy Toledo, Ramon Corro, Boy Olmedo and Ernie Salomon – all old men – who will utilize the same place that we will camp at. Although we meet two of them at the parking area of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, I decide that my group at Camp Red leave early and, hopefully, they will come later. We had already stocked ourselves of food ingredients that we will prepare and cook at the Roble family homestead.

Once we reach Napo, Jhurds take the point while I sweep the rear. The Napo Trail is partially wet while the Sapangdaku Creek is full, brisk and clear. It is a beautiful warm day but our pace is slow. I like being at the tail end for there is no pressure and no worries to keep up with the fastest walker. The only worry I will have is watching over the injured, who will surely lag behind and needs to be accompanied. Everyone carried small backpacks while I got the heaviest. Jhurds, Fulbert and I open carry our knives by our sides.


Jerome suffered cramps on his right lower leg but a little trick would ease the pain for a while until the cramps recur and the process is repeated. Once we reach the Lower Kahugan Spring, we top off our bottles and enjoy the cool shades. It is a good place to take rest and cool off for a while before engaging the Kahugan Trail. This route goes to a small community then to Babag Ridge and it ascends gradually.

We follow this route that pass above four hidden waterfalls before breaking off to a branch of a trail leading to the Robles. Some parts are exposed to the sun while the rest are shady. The super typhoon had not left its mark here except altering a few parts of the trail with small landslides and breaking the top halves of bamboos in some isolated areas. A few trees fell but only stumps are left now as the rest of the tree are now converted to charcoal.


We reach the Roble homestead and I instantly boil water for coffee. The Roble couple are present but the children are absent. They might had been part of a train of young boys carrying mangoes on baskets hanging by their foreheads with trumplines which we had met along the trail a while ago. The little house made of bamboo and wood is still standing. The huge tamarind tree tower over it and is unaffected by the recent tempest together with the Java plum tree, the mango trees and them bamboos.

Well, the dine shed and the benches are empty and everyone enjoyed the cool assurance brought on by the shades of trees and the whispers of breeze. When coffee had been served, we immediately prepare the ingredients for our lunch. I forage three slender branches for a tripod which the pot will be suspended from. We will utilize the earthen hearth we set up some three months ago and we will cook our food with firewood.


As we were doing this, a group of four hikers came to sit on the farthest benches. The Roble homestead is a favorite stopover for those going to Babag Ridge with the family offering green coconuts for just a few donations to support their children’s education. These hikers are on the way to Babag Ridge and would probably exit to Lower Busay. It is a route favored by conventional backpackers and “corporate mountaineers”.

I still could not comprehend though why they prefer that route when going back to where they came from – which is Napo – or going down to Kalunasan would have been more challenging, promising, practical and economical. Anyway, they silently observe our activities with our knives doing the cutting, slicing, chopping and the center of our conversations. Jhurds, Laertes and Toper proceed to slice vegetables, meat and spice. Fulbert give life to a fire hanging on to half-dry wood as I meticulously suspend the pot with the rice above the tottering flame.


Another group of five hikers came and joined the first group had occupied. Then comes Boy T, Boy O, Ernie and Ramon and they join my group in the shed. They are old-school and they also prepare their food like we at Camp Red do. Conversations gather up from the hilarious to the serious. All shared their sentiments on one individual, all had talked freely of their experiences with relief works in Leyte, Samar and North Cebu and all are expectant of Christmas United II on December 15, 2013.

As we were in the middle of our cooking, another group of four hikers arrive but the earlier ones had already left a few minutes ago and there are ample spaces among the benches. It is really pathetic to see these people going out with just canned goods and pre-cooked meals to subsist on. While we were about to enjoy a feast, these people eat cold rations! This age of “instant everything”, PSPs, tablets and smartphones wreck havoc on old values. They cannot even bring a “closet knife” to open their canned goods. Very pathetic indeed!

I used my AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife, in tandem with my tomahawk, to chop firewood from a seasoned trunk of a Mexican lilac wood. My Victorinox SAK Trailmaster and my small Case XX folder were alternately used to cut and slice vegetables. This same Trailmaster was lent to that group who failed to bring a can opener! Fulbert brandished his Kalahi kukri to open green coconuts and to split dry wood for tinder. Jhurds use his Seseblades NCO knife to slice pork while Laertes has his own-made knives to help him in his cooking.


Food served when lunch do come for our mixed group of bushmen and old men are fried mixed-vegetables, fern tops, horseradish soup, fried pork, grilled pork, raw cucumber, fried taro shoots, bitter gourd with krill and rice. We would have brought milled corn but, mysteriously, stocks of milled corn disappeared from the market at Guadalupe. There is, I guess, a shortage of milled corn when the price of rice shot high in the aftermath of the typhoon since milled corn is affordable. This is a portent of things to come which we at Camp Red had foreseen.

Each group now are to his own circle when the meal was finished. The old men stayed in the shed talking among themselves with shots of Tanduay 5 Years Old Rum to coax life onto their conversations. They like to call their activities as “boozecraft” in a funny reference to bushcraft, which we at Camp Red are notorious of. On the other hand, we occupy the empty benches with conversations centering on knives, guns, Typhoon Yolanda, relief missions, water filters and Christmas United II.

We are the last to leave the place. When 3:00 PM came, we pack our things and go down the trail for Napo. Our packs are lighter and our pace are now swift. All are sweating thoroughly in the late afternoon sky. Along the trail are folks going the other way towards their homes from a whole day of selling their produce and a chance to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God. It is another good day to expose the “rough cuts” into the culture of Camp Red and, eventually, make them an “island of their own” someday.


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