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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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MALAGARING TRAIL

I HAD BEEN MULLING for quite a while to walk alone the trail to that range of mountains where Osmeña Peak belong. Although I have been doing some solo walks to the peak in the past by way of Dalaguete, but I never have done so from Badian. I almost got there solo last August but two people got wind of my plan and scuttled it. However, today, November 17, 2013, that wish would come true.

Basak, a village in Badian, is an exit point whenever people visit Osmeña Peak (1,015 meters above sea level) from Mantalongon. In going down to Basak, people take the Malagaring Trail. This trail is torture to the knees and the shoes. It is rocky. Some sharp, some sloping and very slippery when wet. Although quite formidable, it is really a beautiful trail offering a breathtaking panorama of the narrow valley, of the coastline and of Badian Island.

I know this route very well but it is strangely unfamiliar when you do a reverse. Only fools would walk it from Basak. I am one of these then for insisting to do this for a second time and, for this occasion, under the unyielding torment of the sun. Why start from Basak when you could cruise easily from Mantalongon? The answer to that, my dear Pedro, are 780 meters worth of elevation gain. If you insist to be called a mountain climber, this is significant in your physical preparations.


I am a bushcrafter but, in the course of my outdoor activities, I climb mountains. Not because it is there but because it is just an obstacle to my route. My walk is the complete opposite of conventional backpackers’ route and my terminus would be at Mantalongon. I may not be the first one to do this alone but I may be the first one to blog this worthy activity and convert it into a trend. It should be documented and shared to all and, hopefully, would bring satisfaction to those who will try.

When I left the terminal bound for Badian at 7:00 AM, this quest is already half done. Even without breakfast, much less a cup of coffee. You know, I harbor grief and pain about the succeeding disasters that have struck our nation and I have gone to the very places where earthquake and storm came to give comfort to the affected. This walk is my way of releasing this melancholic stress; my own defense mechanism. This walk is dedicated to the survivors amongst us.


I am a survivor myself and the chance of being outdoors alone will solidify my existence and my link with Mother Earth. The bus arrive at 10:00 AM and, instantly, I procure the ingredients for my noontime meal at Badian market which I intend to cook along the route. More weight were added to my backpack but it is an essential weight. Before I leave town, I eat a piece of bread. This is my breakfast and I am experimenting how one bread, if bloated with water, would carry me through this journey.

I start my walk at about 10:30 AM after stretching my muscles at the very foot of the flight of stairs going to the Basak Elementary School. I am well-stocked with water this time – 2 liters or 2 kilos – and I am not known to use water excessively just to quench thirst. I know this would be a hot day since I start late but I have no misgivings. This walk is all about me and for the survivors of the recent disasters.


Once I am out of the settlements, I stop underneath a mango tree and retrieved my Puffin Magnum knife and sheath from the bag. I place it beside me hanging from my operator belt. I now carry my knife openly when I am outdoors and it is for a lot of reasons. Long ago, my old club used to discourage us about bringing a knife when climbing mountains yet I always had a small one stashed inside my backpack. I now defy that logic and today I spawned a breed of bladekeepers known as the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.

I carried another blade – a very rare William Rodgers. It is also sheathed and the wooden handle is prominently jutting out from a hole where bag and shoulder strap meet for easy retrieval. A classic Buck 112 folding knife is safely tucked inside my beltline while another classic folder – a Case XX – is inside one pocket. Last, but not the least, is a Victorinox SAK Trailmaster placed inside the zipped pocket of the 40-liter Sandugo Khumbu bag.

I carried a lot, didn’t I? I can afford to carry that weight and these, too, are essential weights. All are given by my benefactors, except for the Buck and the Case which I got from trades. They are all handsome tools and it takes a special kind of person to understand blades and handle it correctly. You should know your knife rights too and, conversely, know the laws that govern the carrying of knives which I teach everytime I convene a bushcraft camp.


The limestone formation gave the Malagaring Trail a character all of its own. The narrow valley floors are tamed by man but the edges are teeming with wild vegetation eager to reclaim what was theirs. Many deep valleys are choked with hardwood trees and bamboos. Although the day is very hot as it is near noon, the shades afforded by trees are very welcome. I follow a beaten trail and onto the heels of two locals with big but empty baskets carried on a trumpline from their foreheads.

I come upon a narrow pass where the two locals rested and they, with due courtesy reserved for visitors, immediately leave and give me space when I take my turn to rest. The view below is just too enchanting; the azure sea of Tañon Strait so inviting. I am thirsty from the initial exertions so I take a sip and let water stay long in my mouth before swallowing.


My camera is busy taking all what I perceive as very significant like landmarks, hardwood trees, rare plants, etc. It is placed inside one of my pant’s pocket for quick retrieval. My dark blue Rohan hiking pants are a sturdy pair, quick drying, with thick fabric but very light. This pair had not failed me in all my outdoor activities. I also wear my old Rivers 3514M hike boots since there are not too many long descents but I am too careful with foot placements since soles are not that thick anymore.

I just follow the trail, guided by memory, onto enchanting places. I say enchanting because I am alone and my thoughts are not disturbed by a company of chatting people and that kept me away of worries by their presence. I am excited to see many bamboos in places where there are no human activity and I entertain the idea at sitting out the rest of the day cutting one pole and prepare my food on bamboo but it is still a long way so I disregard that.

I push on my ascent skirting farms onto long ridges wishing when this would end. Within the forest, I saw the stinging tree (Local name: alingatong). It had not been cut by people even if it is beside the route although its neighbors are slowly felled dramatically widening the trail. I first saw this tree during my first visit in August 1992 coming from an overnight at Osmeña Peak with my old club. It is like seeing an old friend again.


In my relaxed pace I reach the village of Patong at 1:00 PM. I boil water for coffee first before starting to prepare my meal. I cook the milled corn then the viand. It is a concoction of mushroom and mixed vegetables, fried first before turning it into a soup. No MSG. As I am in the middle of this, two locals join me and befriended me. I am offered a glass of fermented coconut wine which I accepted. The single glass became a repetition and my tongue is loosened.

I told them the tale of my experiences shuttling relief goods to Bohol during the aftermath of the 7.2 earthquake and to Northern Cebu days after Super Typhoon Yolanda left. They were greatly affected upon hearing of the plight of their fellow Cebuanos and would have helped if they would have the resources. Although they had not suffered much but they had felt the unusual aftershocks. I shared my meal to them before I left at 2:30 PM.

I pick my way among farms of cabbage, spring onion and vegetable pear which are hacked from rocky terrain. The soil is good with fine climate associated with high elevations. It is now colder but I have just taken a meal even as I am not wearing layers of clothe. As I near the ridge, I meet people going the opposite way. They came from the market in Mantalongon and they are carrying goods which they could not produce from their own farms.


The ridge bless me a view of the high valley of Mantalongon which is Cebu’s former breadbasket. In the old days, all the vegetables that the markets of Carbon and Taboan in Cebu City used to come from here until other places, much nearer to the city, produce their own. I slowly follow the route to the market and I pass by indigenous hardwood species, still untouched and in its blooming splendor like the yakal (English: golden mahogany), the bagras (English: Mindanao gum) and the bagawak (English: starburst).

The afternoon shadows begin to creep but I am on the way to the market which I reach at exactly 5:00 PM. Mantalongon is known for its men who carry their blades openly in public.  I keep mine and walked proudly with it. I get a lot of stares for I am different. Not because I am a stranger but because they are not used to seeing city people with backpacks carrying knives openly. I dare to be different and they better get used to it.

I stay for a while to return my Puffin Magnum and sheath and belt back to my backpack while the William Rodgers stay as its place. It is placed so for quick retrieval should I need it pronto. When I think that I have not sweated much, I replace my shirt with a dry one. I eat one bread from a mobile stall before hiring a motorcycle to take me down the main highway.

The road is good and wide but up ahead are recent landslides caused by the earthquake of October 15, 2013. Rocks of all sizes and dirt would have been all over the road but it was recently cleared. The motorcycle run with a dead engine as it negotiate the descent at moderate speed. When I landed at the highway, a Rough Riders bus came half empty and I can rest now - - - easy.

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