Friday, July 20, 2018

THE TRAILHAWK JOURNEYS: AkyatCon 2.0

UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES MOUNTAINEERS, Inc. introduced AkyatCon in 2016 to the outdoors community. This was a national convention for responsible mountaineering and for the conservation of mountain environments. It is where professional and leisure hikers, local communities, conservation workers, students and academics, national and local government agencies, and other stakeholders share their accomplishments, projects, technology, information, knowledge, and experiences.

The following year – 2017 – the UP Mountaineers celebrated their 40 years as a school-based mountaineering organization, and as an advocate of responsible mountaineering and environmental protection. Running parallel to that was their hosting the second sequel and highly successful AkyatCon, in cooperation with the UP-Diliman Institute of Biology, on the dates of July 28 and 29, 2017, at the Institute of Biology Auditorium, Diliman, Quezon City.

AkyatCon 2.0 featured discussions on mountain biodiversity and conservation, outdoor ethics, mountain-related policies and implementing issues, cultural and gender aspects of mountaineering, explorations and expeditions, emerging/current mountaineering techniques, technologies, issues and trends in mountain sports. UPM aimed in enlightening participants of such topics especially with the growing popularity of mountaineering as a sport and as leisure activity available for everyone who wishes to experience the outdoors.

From out of the blue, I was invited to give a talk about the Cebu Highlands Trail for AkyatCon 2.0, which I accepted. I could not believe it then. No less than the UP Mountaineers extending that invitation to me even when I have not submitted any abstract nor an application. It was beyond my expectations yet I had to honor that and prepared my presentation and sourced funds for my travel to UP-Diliman in the National Capital Region. This was something big which I did not let pass away.

I did not know that the AkyatCon 2.0 organizers have taken an interest in my Thruhike of the CHT – all 400 kilometers and 27 days of that – and it took place on center stage, which is one of several plenary talks scheduled for two days inside the 150-seat auditorium. I added more spice to that by mentioning the explorations of the eight different segments for almost six years and the difficulties of engaging an expedition without support from big corporate names. These were the very ingredients that the CHT came to be.

I forgot to tell you that I am not a mountaineer. I am just an ordinary outdoorsman who walked and ranged mountains as a form of exercise, as recreation and where I earn my keeps. I am a bushcraft enthusiast, a wilderness guide and an experiential educator specializing in the outdoors. The CHT is just a by-product of my creative mind. I just want to inspire people that you can make your dreams come true with hard work, patience, persistence and a dash of audacity.

I arrived at NCR by plane on July 26 in a very dour morning. There was a tropical depression and it was raining hard. I need not worry about AkyatCon 2.0 since it is mostly indoors. I availed of the offer of a mining executive and friend to enjoy the privilege of staying at the Holiday Inn Manila for a day. Yes, for a day, this lowly bushman lived like a king and I took advantage of the uncooperative weather by exploring every nook and cranny of my comfortable kingly chamber.

 
On July 27, I transferred residence to Navotas City. The couple Jay Z and Carla Jorge have hosted me several times when I visit Luzon for my training sorties and I took this opportunity again. Carla is a public teacher while Jay Z takes care of their startup business – Pacing’s House of Barbecue. They are very generous when it came to sampling their menu to me. I could never say no for theirs is the most delicious fare on this side of town. This time, I dined like a king.

Then came the BIG day, July 28. That was my schedule and I was the second speaker. The AkyatCon 2.0 have already started when I arrived and the first of three plenary talks for this day – Eco-Climbing in the Philippines by Anthony Arbias – was now in its infant stage as I settled in one of the cozy seats of the auditorium. Listening to Mr. Arbias, I began to learn many things. AkyatCon 2.0 was a very good event for improving your stock knowledge and I commend UPM for this idea.

My turn came and I talked casually about the CHT without any script. The slides lets you in on the groove naturally. Did you not know that long ago I have this fear of speaking before a crowd? I do not know what happened in between but I found out that I have this natural gift later in life like wine when it goes through its aging process. Yes I was quite aware that I was in a bigger stage. I was in UP-Diliman! Right before me were authorities in their own right, academics and idealistic thinkers. The best in the land.

 
I was given an hour for my discourse and that was fair. I just add incongruencies to elicit laughter so I could steer my presentation back and forth without interrupting the natural rhythm of the slide sequence. Adding icing on the cake, I talked about my recent Camino de Santiago, which overlapped some of the routes of the CHT. Questions came my way but they were the merciful kind and I was able to satisfy people. A token of appreciation, a terracotta plaque designed by Roberto Acosta, was presented to me after my talk.

With my talk over, I went back to the lobby area so I would meet the very people who made possible my participation in AkyatCon 2.0 and they were Leonard “Bunny” Soriano and Jom Daclan, the UPM President. Tope Ordoñez, also of UPM, informed me of a room reserved for me. I returned to the auditorium to listen to the last plenary talk – An Everest Base Camp (EBC) Backpacking Experience by Ed Magdaluyo and Doreen Candelaria.

Lunch got served in the canteen of the Institute of Biology Building for the registrants, organizers and guests. Bottomless coffee was available provided you brought your own cup, this is in line of UPM’s pro-environment advocacy: Green Is Good. UPM was generous of my participation that they had provided me free stay for one night at the UP NISMED Hotel, where I headed that way on foot. The weather was still gloomy and the star gazing session at nighttime was now in peril.

 
In the afternoon, breakout sessions were held. There were three topics each hour and you have to choose one and you have all the four hours of the afternoon to navigate your way from one topic to another. For the first hour alone you have the following subjects to choose: 1) Down-to-Earth Approaches to Light Backpacking; 2) Speed Ascents; and 3) Top of the World: Identifying Factors that Influence a Person to Become a Mountaineer.

For the second hour: 1) Mt. Maranat, Mt. Balagbag, and Oriod: Forest Protection Activities and Rules and Regulations for Hikers; 2) Wildlife Act: Reporting Protocols and Do’s and Dont’s; and 3) Mountains on Hiatus. The third hour was this: 1) On Philippine Caves; 2) Open Source Mapping, GPS and the Mountaineering Community; and 3) Friend or Foe: Introduction to Philippine Snakes for Mountaineers.

For the last hour of the day the talks were: 1) Experiences of a Woman Backpacker Traveling Solo; 2) Bikepacking 101; and 3) Trail Running 101. After the first-day sessions, I walked back to the university hotel in a slight downpour, following a path that passed through their famous botanical garden. Rare trees that I often saw on my ranging were all here and, where a few that I know not its name, it was here with labels. I wished I had more time and better weather to be with these native trees.

Second day, July 29, I checked out of the hotel and went back to the event site. The plenary talks started as scheduled and these were: 1) Accessing the New Adventure Economy as a Tool for Landscape Conservation by JP Alipio; 2) Carrying Capacity and Beyond by Caloy Libosada Jr.; and 3) Best Practices in Mountain Management by Philip Bartilet. When the talks were finished, everyone went out of the auditorium and into an indoor market.

 
The lobby was dedicated for booths and tables displaying branded outdoor bags, apparel, shoes and other items, sold at slashed-down prices, and I took advantage of that by acquiring a pair of Hi-Tec shoes. The crowd had doubled and I began to see familiar faces like Adonis Lloren of Lagataw, who would be giving a talk later in a breakout session; Jay Servano of Silangan Outdoor Equipment, my CHT sponsor; and Marc Gana, whom I mentored in a bushcraft camp at Mt. Balagbag in 2012. Or virtual FB friends like Fred Ochavo, Vernie Villarosa and Jay Plantinos

After lunchbreak, the breakout sessions began where you would have to choose one topic again from among three on the first hour: 1) Useful Plants in the Wild; 2) Impact of Social Media in Mountaineering; and 3) On Biodiversity. The second hour came: 1) From Capitalist to Naturalist; 2) The Tungtong River Conservation Project; and 3) Project AlaGALAan: Proper Etiquettes in the Outdoors.

The last breakout hour sessions were like these: 1) The Sicapoo Exploration; 2) The True Story of Rene, Abel, Kit and Lorna; and 3) The Palanan Co Sierra Madre Trek. Then all the audience returned to the auditorium once again to listen to Carina Dayondon talk about her topic – First Filipina Attempt on the Seven Summits. There was a raffle session after this where the top prize was an Insta360 camera.

It was just unfortunate that the outdoor activities of bird watching and the native tree tour got aborted due to unfavorable weather, along with last night’s star gazing session. On the whole, AkyatCon 2.0 was another success, maybe better than the first, and I wished there would be many sequels to come or maybe they would bring AkyatCon to the rest of the country. In my own little way, I would endorse AkyatCon anytime to as many people as possible. It is a treasure trove of knowledge and a bridge to start new friendships.

Document done LibreOffice 5.3 Writer
Photos 1, 3, 4, 6, 11, 12 & 13 grabbed from AkyatCon 2.0
Photo 5 & 9 courtesy of Jay Plantinos
Photo 8 courtesy of Vernie Villarosa
Photo 10 courtesy of Fred Ochavo

Saturday, July 14, 2018

PINOYAPACHE GOES BACK TO BASICS

I HAVE BEEN CLIMBING MOUNTAINS and hilly regions in the ‘80s here in my country but I do not consider myself a mountaineer. I do not know then that mountaineering clubs were already existing as early as 1970 and these guys have challenged and assaulted remote and difficult mountain ranges. You only know of this from tidbits of information from newspapers and from monthly leisure magazines, usually already so outdated. News travel so slow on those long forgotten era. Pre-Cambrian times.

When mountaineering became popular in the ‘90s, the University of the Philippines Mountaineers formulated the creation of the Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC) as a prerequisite for induction of members into their organization. Later on, it was adopted and shared to the different mountaineering clubs and the National Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines, the forerunner of the MFPI. Before or during that time, I was now a member of the Cebu Mountaineering Society and I have not heard of that. News does travel slow in that era. Jurassic times.

 
Fast forward to Facebook era. People flock to the mountains because their friends posted their exploits in social media and these places are now very accessible because it was pioneered by earlier mountaineers. While it may be good for local tourism, practicing the finer ways of engaging in leisure activities on the mountains are simply lacking and needs proper guidance and education. You see this all the time in social media: accidents, wrong attire, getting lost, rescued, retrieved, hiking on the wrong time, grassfires, unpreparedness, ignorance, garbage here, garbage there, garbage everywhere.

While the main purpose of the BMC before was more on preparedness, health and safety but, this time, the mountaineering community needed to protect the very playgrounds from these hordes of uneducated individuals. And so it became mandatory – with greater emphasis – to inculcate the Principles of the Leave No Trace to the new mountaineers as a side dish to the BMC. No, make that both the main menu. You would have to swallow both as a personal advocacy. It does not stop from there. You will ride the social media phenomena and educate people through there. Not by bashing but by intellect.

People, clubs, organizers and even government agencies are working against time in the hope of reversing a dangerous trend that social media unintentionally provided to a lot of people. One of these organizations is the Climbers League for Ideal Mountaineering and Balanced Environmental Responsiveness or simply known as CLIMBER. It is not a mountaineering club but an advocacy of long-time friends who would like to make the outdoors enjoyable and safe. They are based in the National Capital Region but they could be requested to teach and share BMC and LNT to the rest of the country.

Last July 22 and 23, 2017, CLIMBER came down to Cebu City to bring their knowledge and their resource speakers to educate members of a newly-established mountaineering club of Shearwater Health, a business-process outsourcing company based in the Cebu Business Park. CLIMBER, for most of the time, organize their own BMC in locations around NCR but, sometimes, on a few occasions, conduct BMC and other training on request just like they did in Romblon last 2016. Their instructors are some of the best in their own fields. Let us name them one by one:

 
Regie Pablo. He needs no introduction. Everybody knows who he is. For those who do not know it yet, he is the fourth Filipino to scale Mount Everest. He did it on May 16, 2007 and lost the endmost joint of a thumb for his effort, through frostbite. He is also recognized as the one who inspired the mountaineering community to form the Philippine Everest Expedition Team so it could place our country’s flag on top of the highest peak on Earth, which we did in 2006. He will be handling Introduction to High Altitude Mountaineering.

Erick Suliguin. A product of the earliest BMC batch of CLIMBER, went on to seriously pursue advanced learning in LNT at its Center of Education in the USA and came back to transform CLIMBER into a very credible outdoors learning institution. He is a holder of the LNT Master Educator, a distinction of being the only one among three Filipinos who has this learning to teach LNT here, the two being US-based. His presentation would touch on the Principles of LNT. 

 
Ronald “Fabs” Fabon. One of the most versatile resource speakers for CLIMBER. He could discuss anything relating to mountaineering and the outdoors. His long experience and wide array of skills made him very valuable to the mountaineering community. He had sharpened those skills when he was then a member of the MFPI Educational Committee. He would touch on many topics for this BMC and it is about Planning and Preparation, Gear and Equipment, Map Reading, and Knot Tying.

Ramon “Jay Z” Jorge. With CLIMBER from the very start of its inception. Currently is the administrator of their social media pages and also handles their marketing thrusts. While he has undergone many training, people here in Cebu remembered him only as a participant of the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp in 2012. His pioneering inclusion of survival as a subject in a BMC was revolutionary. He will be discussing Introduction to Survival.

The Boy Scouts Camp in Kalunasan was chosen as the venue. I happened to be there to support CLIMBER, along with the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. There were eleven participants from Shearwater Health and they were augmented by people from Camp Red, to include me. I have never sat in a BMC before and I have no certificate to show that I have participated in one. Maybe this time I will have one to attach and show in my curriculum vitae.

In case you might know, this is one of the ironies of my life because I am often invited as a resource speaker in many BMCs for topics which are not found in their regular lectures. By the way, all the things my peers and I did during those Jurassic times were just common sense and it found its way in the pages of the BMC. I heard it many times from different resource speakers of many BMCs I have been in to. I learned these rudiments informally, long before it was called a BMC, and the CLIMBER event would just formally place an icing on my cake. 

After singing the National Anthem before the Philippine Flag, Jay Z opened the BMC to the participants on the first day, July 22. For a whole day, Fabs began his topics from the pre-climb meeting to choosing equipment to pacing to navigation. After dinner, Regie talked about his experience with the Philippine Everest Expedition Team which brought him to snowy regions, training and acclimatizing himself for the big day in 2006. His success came in 2007 and he did it alone. So ended the first day.

Giving Regie support is his closest friend and fellow Everest expedition team member, Larry “Hillboy” Honoridez, who came while he was in the middle of his topic. Regie and Hillboy talked about old times. Joining him in their circle were Jay Z, Erick, Fabs, Billy Anciro, Randy Salazar, Jonathaniel Apurado and me. The festive company ended only after the first few hours of the next day. I stayed with the participants in the BSP Camp and slept in my hammock.    


The second day, July 23, started after breakfast. Fabs began the part about knot-tying and ropework and culminated with the part about the post-climb meeting. After lunch, Erick took up the cudgels and discussed LNT for a whole afternoon. After dinner, and not part of the program, I found myself talking about the Cebu Highlands Trail so as to inspire the participants. Then Jay Z gets his turn exposing the participants to a survival mindset.

The BMC that CLIMBER introduced to Cebu was the 19th one ever since they existed in 2015 and the first one that I attended as a participant. CLIMBER has taken the right advocacy: Outdoors Education. With their effort, they were able to educate a lot of people relating to the different outdoor hobbies, most notably, of mountaineering. The mountains possess a different environment and unpredictable weather patterns. The BMC guides you to enjoy and cherish these places safely and help in the conservation efforts thru LNT.

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

CAMINO CEBU JOURNAL: Day Ten

DAY TEN :::: AM I IN A DREAM? Today is July 15, 2017 – a Saturday – and, later in the afternoon, the Archdiocesan Shrine of Señor Santiago de Apostol of the Municipality of Compostela, would kick off the novena for the town fiesta which would be celebrated on July 25. What timing? Or that the itinerary for this first-ever pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago is just being true to what it was indicated therein. It is easy to say that but, the truth is, we pushed ourselves hard for eight straight days to reach this threshold. Yesterday’s leisurely pace – Day Nine – was unexpected. A bonus!

We started from the St. James the Apostle Parish in the Municipality of Badian on July 6th and crossed over the high Southern Cebu Mountain Range in 13 bewildering hours for the other side of Cebu, where most of the route of the Camino de Santiago is walked. We stopped and slept in six more parishes located in the most remote places of Cebu and we have their parish seals stamped on our provisional Camino Passports. On one occasion we slept under a covered basketball court which was converted into a chapel, another in a village chief’s home and, last night, in a local resort.

I am the guide for this Camino Cebu, patterned after its most famous ancestor in Spain, a long pilgrimage trail of almost 800 kilometers that St. James the Apostle travelled and it has existed for more than a thousand years. I have dreamed of establishing a Camino here in Cebu long ago but it remains a dream. But when a priest of the Archdiocesan Shrine of Señor Santiago de Apostol of Compostela, Cebu suggested it to me, it became a reality in three months’ time. The Camino Cebu is for those who are underprivileged and who cannot afford the expensive travel to Spain. What you will gain here is the same as what you gained for your soul there. But harder.

I believed I have led the eight pilgrims to walk more than 150 kilometers of rugged highlands terrain under a climate that was already harsh before the advent of global warming. This priest who suggested that Cebu establish a Camino for the poor is Rev. Fr. Scipio “Jojo” Deligero and he is one of the pilgrims. It is ironic. Fr. Jojo disdained walking for he has gout growing in each ankle which is very painful, but he accomplished that distance already in his hobbled pace. In that painful state, he has already performed his sacerdotal duty for his parish. In the Camino? He was simply biblical.

Another pilgrim worth mentioning in length is the incumbent mayor of Compostela. He is the Hon. Joel Quiño. This is his second term. Before he leaves for private life, he would like to see his municipality and his constituents earn the honor of being the pilgrimage destination of the Camino de Santiago of Cebu and for being the namesake of that famous place in Galicia, Spain. He is aware of that and he made himself available for this Camino to experience it, despite all the pressing problems and issues that hound a local executive. He came incognito without a police escort.

There is the couple Jemmelyn and Roderick Montesclaros. Then you have the parish lay ministers, Mizar Bacalla and Roger Montecino, and Alvie Rey Ramirez, a municipal employee, and all are from Compostela. Last is my subaltern, Jonathaniel Apurado. The only non-Catholic among us but he found the Camino a good exercise for the body, the mind, the heart and the spirit. Jon and I are from Cebu City and we are more identified with our Thruhike of the Cebu Highlands Trail, a route that traversed over the mountains from the Santander shoreline to Daanbantayan’s cliffs by the sea, 400 kilometers in 29 days.

All are now wearing the commemorative t-shirts that we carried through the rugged length and the unpredictable weather systems of the Camino. The t-shirts were provided by Bro. Cedee Neo of the Doneo Host Making Community, an ardent supporter of the establishment of the Camino de Santiago in Cebu. His involvement revolves around creating liaisons with the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela and with our own Archdiocese of Cebu, the Philippine Embassy in Spain, in a few offices of the Vatican, even engaging in the Camino Portugues together with his wife, Julie. 

After a breakfast of the last two packs of spicy Korean noodles, a half kilo of rice and the remaining fingers of chorizo Bilbao, we leave Gatubod Spring Resort, found in the village of Basak, at 08:35, and proceed on the last remaining kilometers of the Camino to the town center. We just crossed a dirt road fronting the resort and we are now on the outskirts of another village of Bagalnga. We need to climb up a hill through a trail to reach a big cross that was erected and finished there just recently. In all my travels up and down Cebu, I have not noticed this cross but I saw it yesterday for the very first time.

We passed by a remote abode with a small altar infront. The small earthen image of Señor San Roque is broken but it is vintage. Living there are two elderly sisters, in their late ‘70s, who are both unmarried. Both were deprived of cash doleouts afforded to senior citizens of the municipality since both are not registered voters and they have no birth certificates either. They remembered though that they were baptized in the parish when they were young. Mayor Joel promised both ladies that he will personally have their birth certificates and voter’s registration processed and that they will receive their senior citizen privileges before the year ends. 

As was practiced in all my hikes, Jon and I leave to the elderly ladies some foodstuffs and items which we have reserved for lunch, to include the extra emergency meals good for one day. The rest of the pilgrims did so with their untouched snacks. Mayor Joel left them a little something for their upkeep. Fr. Jojo blessed them and he just opened the floodgates of grace from heaven on the elderly women and on us all. My backpack is strangely light as we proceed to the higher heights where the big cross is located. That goes also for my footfalls. I am excited for this moment spurred on by my act of charity.

Right in front of me is indeed a cross but it is about 30 feet high and the trunk is about 6 feet wide. It is now almost finished except for the landscaping work. I reach it at 09:00. I learned the story from Fr. Jojo of how this cross came to be. This is a by-product – an inspiration – of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem which a well-to-do couple of the neighboring town of Consolacion engaged in many years ago. The husband had an illness and, before he would leave this world, he would first cleanse his soul by doing that pilgrimage with his wife.

When they came back to Cebu the couple planned to dedicate their experience of their Jerusalem visit by building a huge cross in their own place in Consolacion, then in Liloan. They were not able to do that and, finally, settled on a barren hill in Bagalnga, Compostela. Construction of the cross was stalled. In fact, it had even been abandoned for sometime when the wife suffered an illness instead and eventually died. To honor her memory, the husband brought all his energies, resources and time to erect the unfinished project. It became also a monument of love. The surviving husband is Celso Jordan.

At the base of the cross, I placed the pebble that I brought with me from my home in the earliest hours of Day One and the fossilized scallop that I found in Dagatan, Badian, also on that first day. That pebble represented my transgressions and I carried that weight all through the crests and troughs of the Camino Cebu. I took a knee before the cross and prayed for forgiveness. I wept and I felt static electricity run through my whole body, sending all my body hair on tiptoes. It is a very warm day but my sweat was cold, dropping on the concrete footing.

From behind me, I heard the footfalls of the oncoming pilgrims as I remained on one knee. Everyone reverently placed their pebbles on the foot of the cross and began their personal conversations with the Holy Spirit. I even notice roses included as offerings. I slowly back away and leave them in their own privacy. A cloud passes overhead and shaded the whole place. Cool breeze from the far coastlines removed a little of the day’s heat. I walked around the perimeter of the cross and it is well placed. A new landmark for sea travellers.

It is interesting to note that the base of a pillar that propped at its top an iron cross on the route of the Camino Frances became a mound made by pebbles thrown from the many generations of pilgrims. The pilgrims would pick up a pebble on the way and tossed it there and it would soon become a hill. This I read from a Cadoggan travel guide for Northern Spain. Our pebbles would soon start another one here in Cebu, perhaps in the Philippines and, maybe Asia, but it would not be tossed. The triumph of Jesus, represented by a cross, over sins! The Cross of Triumph.

The cross on the hill was the climax of the pilgrimage. What goes after here is another leisurely walk down the lowlands, among communities and into the national highway. We arrive at the Green Lagoon Park, a seaside resort, at 12:30. We rest for a while as we waited for our lunch to be served. From here it would just be a 20-minute walk to the Archdiocesan Shrine of Señor Santiago de Apostol. We arrive there at 13:30 under a pouring rain and we are way too early for the 15:00 Eucharistic Mass which will be celebrated by Rev. Fr. Gonzalo Candado. We spent the time for wash and rest. How I wished we have a large censer.

The celebration of the Holy Mass came at its exact hour, with bells clanging, and we were, at its timely part, received and presented to the whole congregation and community of Compostela. We were given white capes with the Cross of St. James printed in red at the back, locally-sourced scallops signifying our personal pilgrimage and the Certificate of Completion signed by Fr. Candado and Vice Mayor Fe Abing. Among those who witnessed the ceremony were family members and friends of each pilgrim. There was a feast afterward at the rectory and everyone partake of the food and refreshments.

Thus ended the First Pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago in Cebu; in the Year of our Lord, July 15, 2017, at the Archdiocesan Shrine of Señor Santiago de Apostol, Municipality of Compostela, Province of Cebu, Philippines. I heeded the call of St. James the Apostle. So were Fr. Jojo, Mayor Joel, Jem and Roderick, Roger, Mizar, Alvie Rey and Jonathaniel.

Total Distance Walked: 9.93 kilometers.
  Highest Elevation Gained: 772 feet.

THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO IN ITS WHOLE LENGTH
175.18 KILOMETERS


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