Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A WATERFRONT INTIMACY

GOLDEN RAYS DANCED on the waves off the waters of Cebu Harbor on an early November morning as the sun, full, soft and reddish-orange, greets the dew that adhered to a rusty hood of a parked antique cargo truck that mimics the sun's image on its tiny blob of liquid and slowly fades away as evaporation began to work, sucking its minute existence by tendrils of heat that reached across a vast expanse of ocean and empty space.


I love this scene just as the sun rises from its bosom and it had turned into an intimate ritual when the sun's still cool presence turns the damp atmosphere of the waterfront area into a sweet-smelling aroma of salt heated just enough to achieve a nice effect upon my senses. The breeze carries away the stale worries of yesterday and brought about with it a fresh promise of new optimism and joy.

Tide currents waltzed its way through eddies and troughs and crests, as foam and flotsam bobbed up and down riding its fluid back, a feast for a teeming life below darting here and there without aim yet so well directed in one route.


Far beyond the buoy's limit, a sail-masted banca glides by with such elan and grace ably steering through a passing ship's wake that announced its arrival with bursts from its bull horn shaking the early morning silence and serene stupor where, suddenly, as if on cue, the berthing area suddenly becomes a beehive of activity and aimless flurry that ends my short early-morning conversations with the sea and sun.

Disappointed, I went back to where I was the last time around hoping that these same interlude with the sun and the sea at break of day would repeat itself the next time I visit, unhindered and uninterrupted by some unwanted decibels and black puffs of acrid pollutants that robbed the cool late dawn air of its clear innocence.

Good Friday came. The buzz wagon didn't arrived that day. So did the buzzers.

Perfect!



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Sunday, September 18, 2016

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XXXVIII: In the Big League

TEACHING BUSHCRAFT AND SURVIVAL is a passion which I love to do. I found pleasure in sharing it to my fellow countrymen and to foreigners alike. Language barriers are not a problem with me and I find it entertaining to see faces of people amused at my thick Cebuano-laced tongue trying to make a conversation in Tagalog or navigating my lecture through its intended course in my coarse English, supplemented with hand gestures to cross the language barrier.

It is good that I have something to read on in almost-perfect English prepared by me, of course, which is now standard matrix to which I conduct these outdoor trainings. In the entire album of my photos, you might see me reading to the participants or discussing something to them while holding stapled sheaves of bond paper. I do not teach in helter-skelter fashion and I do these, instead, in an organized manner.

It is not often I receive foreign guests interested to learn the BASIC TROPICAL BUSHCRAFT COURSE like I did once coming from the UK and the USA. While English may be the preferred international language in business and commerce but it is still Greek to a lot of people specially from the former Eastern bloc countries. I even toyed with the idea of learning basic Russian, if ever these guys come to town. They did come, however.


What came to town instead were five guests from Poland. Surprisingly, they can speak and understand English very well and it made my day. That day is January 13, 2016 and I arrive at their hotel early in the morning to pick them up and whisk them away to the parking lot of Guadalupe church. Another client – a Filipino – arrive to take his place inside the small Suzuki Scrum mini pickup that I hired while I wait for my assistant.

After finishing with my procurement of food ingredients, Ernie Salomon arrive and take his place in the ever tightening room of the small Suzuki. We proceed to Baksan Hills while the driver shift to four-wheel drive as the road go steep. We arrive at the trailhead at around 08:00 and I do my first duty by briefing all my guests of the terrain and the camp rules. I intend to set up our campsite at the old Camp Damazo.

While I have taught outdoor seminars of this same nature many times in the past, I did it part-time since I have a day job. After I have parted with my employer on the last day of 2015, I decide to go full time. This would be my first endeavor as an unemployed. The five from Poland and one Filipino would be my first clients. I am providing them a Silangan Rev 20 tent and three hammocks (Silangan and Tingguian Tribe) for this occasion plus an Apexus fly sheet. Sef Abella, the lone Filipino, has with him a hammock-and-shelter set.

I am left with a cheap laminated-nylon sheet which I intend to use as a ground sheet to sleep upon without an overhead shelter and hope that it never rains. Ernie will not stay overnight but will prepare the meals when I start the lectures. I tied up the hammocks and the fly sheet between four trunks while two Poles set up the tent. The camp ground is dry while Creek Alpha below still has running water which vanish and appear in some places.

Our water supply are composed of bottled water and in Nalgene bottles. I may have to supplement these by sourcing water from the streambed for cooking and washing since what we have are not enough for two days. The jungle is a humid place and it is very warm, especially after a light shower had fallen down. We dug two water holes on the sandy bed and line the insides with stones and let the silt settle down. Meanwhile, I designate the latrine area sixty meters away from our camp.


When I have taken coffee, I begin by introducing myself to the participants, then the Introduction to Bushcraft. Bushcraft is very popular in the northern hemisphere, especially among countries located in temperate zones – which Poland is – and this is a serious activity for them. While bushcraft may be associated or mixed in with survival, I emphasized that bushcraft is really different from survival. While survival is immediate, bushcraft is the preparation thereof.

As they begin to understand that, I proceed to Ethical Bushcraft. When a lot of people begin to practice bushcraft as a leisure weekend activity, expect land owners and park managers to frown upon them, like those happening in the USA and the UK right now. Here in the Philippines, people have not totally grasped the idea of bushcraft yet, but, in time, they will. My introduction of Ethical Bushcraft in all my outdoor seminars is to educate people about the judicious use of forest resources.

Among the most important tools in bushcraft and, to a higher extent, survival, is the knife. Since it cuts through organic material and flesh, education about its proper use is of high importance. The topic of Knife Care and Safety precedes everything before handling a knife or any type of blade. This covers from safety carriage and rest, travelling, blade-handling efficiency, blade designs and grinds, sharpening techniques, courtesy, the Nessmuk trio, even our local knife law, if it helps them.

I would have Survival Tool-Making as the next topic like I did with my previous seminars but I proceed instead to Plant ID and Foraging. This section talks about hunting for food, collecting essential items like tinder, foraging edible plants, making traps and snares, and identifying plants, especially the toxic kind, which the tropics has a lot. Here in the Philippines, edible plants are that many since most of these are introduced from Central and South America by the Spanish and, later, by the Americans.

I will have to engage them in a Discovery Hike so they will encounter some harmful plants like the rattan vines, the stinging nettles and the Asiatic bitter yams on our way to forage a bamboo pole which can only be found at Creek Bravo. The bamboo is essential in tool-making and can be carved easily with a knife according to its use. I found no dried bamboo of the exact size for fire-making and have to make do with a smaller one. It is a thin and flimsy piece.


When I have secured a green bamboo pole and the dry bamboo, we double back to camp for our lunch, since it is almost 13:00 already. Ernie did a good job of the pork adobao and the five Poles found it excellent. We always cook our food without monosodium glutamate (MSG) and their derivatives disguised as “magic mix”. I have influenced Ernie how to cook with the right frame of the mind and, for that, he is now the best outdoors chef in Cebu, even in the entire country, hands down!

After an hour of siesta, we begin Survival Tool-Making. It is about making survival tools for just about anything from digging sticks, cordage, dining and cooking implements, hunting and fishing applications, and others as obscure as the batoning stick. I show to them the idea of a digging stick – taller than me, heavier than usual and flat-edged instead of pointed. Then we proceed with cordage using fibers of plantain. Making it strong by twining three lengths and braiding these together.

To apply what they learned in knife safety on the making of survival tools and to practice their dexterity with a knife, I suggest to them to make spoons and drinking jugs from the green bamboo pole. Before they start that, I teach them how to use a small knife to cut up bamboo with the use of a baton and how to make a cooking vessel from the same bamboo using the Trailhawk System. I choose my William Rodgers knife to do that demo.

While all are busy, I make a pressure-trigger snare from small pieces of bamboo. It may look so complex but, actually, is the most common type that most people use. When I find them in a lull, I lead them to where the snare is located and show them how it works. You may or may not place bait and it works better with heavier fowls like chicken, ducks, turkey and geese. Meanwhile, Ernie has to leave at 15:00 but he marinated the rest of the meat for our supper later.

Time ran its course and, when we sensed that it is already 16:30, we forage more firewood. Sef ably helped me with the fires and the pork barbecue. The Poles are now ready to cook rice on their bamboo pot. I teach them the Trailhawk System for cooking rice which is quite different with how you usually cook it. Dinner came at 19:00 and the rice was perfectly cooked. The bottom of the bamboo did not suffer holes and I am quite satisfied of their job.


The Campfire Yarns and Storytelling begins with knowing each country. The Poles are curious about our close attachment to the Americans and what would I feel about the idea of different price tags for tourists and another for locals? Our fond regard of the USA started when it introduced public education which a former colonizer failed; then we fought with them in Bataan and suffered the same ignominy after defeat. Many of their soldiers voluntarily stayed to resist tyranny. We fought with them again in Korea and in Vietnam even though these were not our war.

My guests have visited Loay, Bohol and Oslob, Cebu and they would proceed to El Nido, Palawan tomorrow. They do not like places which are saturated with tourists and that is why they took a chance with learning bushcraft in a jungle. Double pricing is giving tourism a bad name and I do not like this practice. In fact, a lot of Filipinos do not like it at all and the government should take steps to regulate establishments employing this bad practice. In fact, what price I gave them are similar to what I offer to Filipinos.

Now my turn. I asked them if they know Lech Waleska and St. Karol Wojtyla? All five knows the former but only one knows the latter. I have seen Karol Wojtyla when he came here in 1981 and he was carrying the more popular name of Pope John Paul II. I mentioned the places Pomerania and Gdansk and they describe to me of these places. When they will return to Poland, it would be the start of winter and they would expect below zero temperatures.

I carried a metal flask filled with a specially aged Matador brandy and I shared this to my guest which made our conversations more fluid. All turn in at 21:00 while I stay awake to stand guard and watch over the fire. I am sleeping out but I am protected by a hooded wool sweater. Fortunately, it did not rain. I enjoyed the MP3 music from Cherry Mobile U2 phone tuned low. I believe drowsiness won over me at around 02:00.


I wake up the next day – January 14 – at 05:30 and everybody are still asleep. I use a Trangia alcohol burner to boil water for coffee. After I had coffee I cook an egg omelet with that and slice it equally for 11 sandwiches – two each for the five from Poland, one for Sef and none for me. Also fry 20 pieces of small “lumpia”, grounded meat handrolled with thin flour wrappers.

Breakfast was decimated without a waste and they begin to pack their things and clean up the campsite. They have a plane to catch at 14:00 and I promised to send them off to the airport before 12:00. One guy showed me an unhusked coconut that he found at Bohol and asked me how to open it. I showed him how and I prepared a small cook pot underneath to catch the liquid when the shell is broke. All five of them took turns in sipping the coconut water.

But I have one last topic to talk, which is Firecraft and it is already 09:00. I have to make this quick. Would that be possible? I have to improvise and start off with what makes a fire. I talk about the fire triangle where three elements should be present so fire could start and, conversely, you take away any element from the three and the fire dies. There has been a revision with this and they added another element – chemical reaction – to make it a fire tetrahedron. But I liked to explain it in its old context because it is simpler.

Then I reminded them that the firewood they collected yesterday from the ground were not the best firewood because these absorb moisture from the ground and it hampers the progress of your fire. The best firewood are those that are found hanging or those that do not touch the ground and it is best that you start with pencil-lead sizes, then pencil-wood sizes and, lastly, the thumb sized.

Tinder materials are anything that is light, dry and fluffy. I prepare a tinder bundle, sometimes called a “bird's nest”, and show them how it is done. On the contrary, it is best that you collect different tinder material and store these in a fire kit else you make one yourself. I show them my fire kit and the different tinder I foraged as well as charclothe inside the can that had been used to make these. I show them the original material – pieces of cotton jeans – before these were charred and turned into charcoal clothe.


I start making fire with the easiest which is now very popular because of the advent of survival TV, and that is striking a ferro rod. Taught them two different styles in striking a ferro rod which both participants tried with success on my tinder made from a hair-like fiber of a sugar palm. Showed them also a much older contraption – the flint and steel – which should be paired with charclothe.

Then I proceed to the friction method of making a fire. I have already prepared the one with the flimsy bamboo yesterday. I show them each piece of the bamboo fire-saw and what should you do with it, including its tinder bundle, which I demonstrate in making one. I rub both pieces and it emit smoke until the bottom piece broke caused by the pressure of my weight and the process of rubbing. On the other hand, I find no success with the bowdrill method as the pressure of time is now so greatly felt. I remembered their flight schedule.

I decide to pack my things inside my two bags I used for this occasion: a Sandugo Khumbu 40L and a Lifeguard USA. We retrace the trail that we took yesterday in coming here. We arrive at the road at 10:50 and walk for about a kilometer downhill where the Suzuki Scrum is waiting. We arrive at the departure area of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport at around 12:10 despite encountering traffic caused by the festivities of the coming Sinulog Festival.

We parted and I believed I have entered the portals of the big league reserved only for those who have created their name doing what they loved best. I cannot turn back now and I am made.



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Thursday, September 8, 2016

MAN-SIZED HIKE XIX: Camp 7 to Guadalupe

ONE OF THE REQUIREMENTS into acceptance as a regular member of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild is finishing the Selection Hike. The route is none other than Segment I-A of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project. It starts from Lutopan, Toledo City and ends at Guadalupe, Cebu City. It is about 31 kilometers long and should be finished in under twelve hours. It is not in a straight line nor on flat terrain.

My discovery of this route in February 2011 had inspired me to make this as a yardstick of stamina and endurance for member-applicants and, likewise, it is the seed of inspiration for my Cebu Highlands Trail Project. However, the possibility of the construction (and the eventual operation) of the Mananga Dam forced me to revise the route last January 3, 2016 because a part of that route would eventually be swamped under a man-inspired lake.


Today, January 10, 2016, I am returning, to spur off the new season for Camp Red. The first of these activities would be the Selection Hike. I am with the uninitiated members of Camp Red. They are Aljew Frasco, Nelson Orozco, Mark Lepon, Mirasol Lepon, Christopher Ngosiok, Bim Sauco, Fritz Bustamante and Nelson Tan. Coming along to act as their “big brother” are Jhurds Neo, Dominic Sepe and Jonathan Apurado. We leave Cebu City at 07:30 for Lutopan.

It is a warm morning. We arrive at Lutopan after an hour and Mark, Mirasol and Fritz were already at the market. Fritz just came from Negros Oriental and he aims to walk for work by taking a “short cut” to Cebu City. That would be an epic tale, would it not? Of course, it should be! We buy food ingredients that would be made into a very desirable lunch somewhere between Point A and Point B, and coffee too.

Since it is already very late in the morning and I fear that walking from Lutopan would melt away the enthusiasm of the guys when they are overtaken in darkness halfway along the route, I decide that we “cheat” a little by riding on motorcycles to Camp 7, in Minglanilla, three kilometers away, to make up for the long time wasted waiting for a Ceres Bus at the terminal. I prefer this bus company over the others because it serves better the riding public.

It is my fault though about choosing a bus but it affects little of the strenuous hike this hardy bunch would soon take. From Camp 7, we begin the test at 09:30. The sun is gracious today as it shines its warmth for all the world to relish or to disdain. Whatever, it is still life-giving and I have adapted myself to its tantrums. I am a child of the tropics and of the outdoors and I cannot alter these.


We reach the junction along Manipis Road where another road leads to Sinsin. We are now in the borderline hinterlands of Cebu City. We follow this road and turn at a corner called Odlom, which would lead to Buot-Taup. It is a long downhill walk on a half-finished road that bend and turned on the whims and contours of the terrain. We reach a narrow tributary of the Bonbon River and cross it without trouble. It is now almost noon.

We reach the main square of Buot-Taup and take refreshments at a store. The guys are so excited at the novel sight of a hanging span that cross the Bonbon River over to the other side. When they are finished with their business with the store, all queue to the bridge and it swayed and bounced to the heavy footfalls of eleven burdened individuals. Smiles are written all over their faces like children. I point to a high peak and their smiles turned to frowns.

We follow a trail that is forever ascending and we are glad to have found a grassy ground with shade and take coffee. Just nearby is a water source. Alcohol burners – branded and improvised – are made to work for their money’s worth. It is good to just sit for a while and talk about knives with hot coffee to sip on. Everything is silent except our voices, tainted again and again with a laugh or two.


After that 30-minute break, we proceed for the rest of the trail. It becomes a quest of choosing which one leads to where as my memory of my last week’s passing becomes blurry. Some trails branch off from where I walked and all are beaten trails, hard-packed and stony, and I am in a quandary. Well, I did chose one as it looked familiar and it leads to nowhere. Recovering from that blunder, I learned that I was walking on the right path after all.

We come by a small farm and walk through it and reach a ridge where another trail branched from the other. Both lead to “home ground” of either Cabatbatan or Bukawe. The latter is very enticing to an exploration while the other answers our need for warm food and cold refreshments. The “pot at the end of a rainbow” is in Cabatbatan, provided that the old lady who tends the store is not on a personal errand.

Down we go on a long downhill path, still perfect in its firmness and hold by the absence of water. I do not know how we will fare in here during a rainy day but we wish it would not be else it would be another story. Slowly, we all negotiate the hill safely and all partake of the cold drinks sold by the old lady. We retrieve all the pots and the ingredients for our lunch for there will be cooking. I believe our lunch would be late as it is already 15:30, but it is perfect if you are in Spain.

Our meal came at 17:00 and we devour it quickly for it is excellently done the traditional way with wood for fuel on the old lady’s “dirty kitchen”. The last time I saw it before prayers, it was a stew of diced pork, carrots, potatoes and vegetable pears, unlimited rice and a dish of eggplant salad. Feasts fit for kings indeed. Slowly, we pack up our things, knowing well that we have a long way to go, all of it concrete roads except maybe for short stretches where it is unpaved.


Darkness overtook us at Bukawe and it is cool. Nevertheless, most of us craved something cold which another store provided while it is still early. It is just a short respite for, after here, there will be more roads to walk on and it is always ascending. Darkness mellowed down the landscape to deny these rough breed of bushmen the sight of unending rises which take its toll on your resolve. Then rain fell.

By 19:15, we reach Pamutan Junction. From hereon, it would all be downhill and the pace increases, turning your soles into punching bags from the constant pounding of either hard concrete or from stones on an unpaved one going down Baksan way. Natural night vision is compulsory here and LED lights are relegated as an observation tool only when in doubt. The rain never stopped and it washed away the extra body heat caused by the torrid pace we imposed on ourselves and, of course, man smell.

Once we cross the Sapangdaku spillway, our pace slackened by a notch, knowing fully well that somewhere up ahead would be Guadalupe. My feet, if it could only talk, would have cursed me even when I am using a better fitting Hi-Tec Lima shoes, which I am breaking in for preparation of the continuation of Segment IV of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project. The pair is a gift from the Lavilles Clan of Australia.

I arrive first at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and take a seat and wait for the rest. I am sure they are feeling also the malevolence of their undoing, the throbbing feet, toe blisters, rashes between the inner thighs and genitals, which I now have, plus the results of aging – the swelling of arthritic knees. One by one or in pairs they come. Standing up from my comfort seat to shake hands with them is the manliest thing to do.


The last one to arrive timed at 20:45 or 15 minutes under 12 hours. It would have been less had we not cooked our meal at Cabatbatan but they finished it in style with a feast in between. All have passed the Selection Hike and I welcome them to the fold of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.



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