Wednesday, February 21, 2018

WARRIOR REVIEW: Silangan Predator

THIS IS THE FIRST TRI-ZIP BAG made by a local manufacturer. Silangan Outdoor Equipment, makers of high-quality but very affordable locally-made tents like the Rev 20, the Rev 20 + II, the Eis 8 and the Amiel 5; released its beta batch of this type of bag in the middle of 2014. There is the Kimbara, made for the mainstream crowd, and there is the Predator, a bag that was designed for unconventional outdoorsmen.

Both designs has a capacity of 27 liters, incorporating a triple zipper system for easy packing and access. The Predator comes in earth-toned colors of black, mocha and forest green and is made of synthetic canvass material. What makes it different from the Kimbara is it has MOLLE webbing bar-tacked from the sides to the front, the bottom, and tight webbing loops on the top, which all gave you more options to carry bulkier gear outside.

(MOLLE is short for Modular Lightweight Load-carrying Equipment.)

I happen to possess a Predator for testing, for extreme usage and to find ways to improving its function and look. Mine was bigger – at 32 liters – and I named it as the Predator Z, because it is the only one of its kind and it is for experimentation and abuse. For its size and built, it is very light, tipping the scale at around 650-700 grams. The Predator Z would be exposed to real environment that I am engaged in for years: bushcraft and explorations.

The Predator Z has an external pocket located at its top cover, an external sleeve to accommodate a water bladder, and another external pocket on the bottom to house a rain cover. Internal pockets are two small ones found behind the front; two long ones on each side; a big slip-on behind the back to accommodate an internal frame system or a plastic envelope; and a smaller slip-on, half of the former’s size, for charts and smaller items. 

The shoulder straps are padded, as well as the back of the Predator Z. What it lacked is a padded waist belt, although a one-inch webbing with a PVC skeleton lock took its place. This can be folded and kept inside two small side pockets. The MOLLE webbing crossing the bag surfaces are 0.75 inch wide each. There are five sets of these on the front, two webbing on the bottom and a set of four loops on the top. There are also webbing inside the bag.

Two zippers are enough to open the Predator Z but, accessing things found inside the bottom, you just zip open the third one. This third zipper is secured by two compression belts, which prevent its accidental opening. These three zippers are heavy-duty products made by YKK®. There is a laundry web loop found in between the shoulder straps and another one on the front bottom. In other words, my Predator Z is perfect. Almost.

For a dayhike, the Predator Z is just too big. It could be just about right if yours is 27 liters but mine is 32 liters. The big room tend to cause the top cover to collapse inward and downward since there is no bulk to support it, not a pleasant sight to look at. It may be different in a 27-liter bag since it is narrower and all spaces are filled up or mighty close to it. With a bigger bag with a wider space, tapering the upper part might just prevent this condition to occur.

I brought the Predator Z during my exploration of routes for the Cebu Highlands Trail Project. For one three-day exploration hike, the 32-liter capacity is inadequate but I was able to compensate its lack of space by using the design provided by the MOLLE webbing to attach, all at the same time, external cargo like an IFAK, a survival kit and a pair of sandals. The weight it carried that time were between 15 to 18 kilos.

On that particular extreme activity, the basic waist belt and one of the compression webs came loose from their seams. The shoulder straps worked according to function. The pace was torrid with the last day all downhill. Normally, you would begin to feel the pain on the third day when the shoulder straps would dig in to the tender flesh of your shoulders. I did not feel pain but, I suspect, it could go worse if extended to five days.

Might be because the shoulder pads are generously padded but, remember, I do not have the support of the waist belt when one end came unattached on the second day. Even when it was not damaged, the puny construction of the belt and the lock would not hold the weight of the bag. Generally, my shoulders were carrying the weight the whole time instead of distributing some of it to the waist like all backpacks do.

I was able to improve the Predator Z by replacing the waist belt with one that is two inches wide and, of course, it comes with a bigger lock. I was able to sort out the weight distribution this time as the wider belt tend to be more workable. I had the wide webbing sewn in uninterrupted through the part where it passes through to the other side. It was not cut into two parts but one continuous belt that could hold any weight.

I used this set-up on another two-day exploration hike carrying about 13 to 15 kilos of weight. A survival kit, an IFAK and a pair of sandals were attached externally. It was a better hike than the previous time when the Predator Z was a raw product. I preferred the Predator Z over another brand in overnight activities and on three-day bushcraft trainings which entail travel. What I cannot place inside, I just attached it outside like a Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad.

The Silangan Predator should have an adjustable two-inch wide waist belt that is not cut into two parts but one continuous length which are connected together by a better PVC lock. The ends holding the two compression webbing that are attached to the seams should be folded double before stitching it to the bag to prevent it from being forcefully detached. The folded ends act as anchors during the pressures of forced compressions.

By the better design of the Predator to carry more items, I recommend that accessory external pouches, external compression belts, elastic cords, rain cover, shoulder attachments for knife or radio and an internal frame system should be manufactured and sold separately. This is to build around it an improved Predator bag system, much like customizing it to the tastes of the customer. To improve its aesthetic value, attach more velcro tapes on the upper part of the Predator.

Presently, Silangan Outdoor Equipment is now focusing on the Kimbara. It is a much sought-after bag by hikers and campers. The Predator production is through personal requests and orders only. Members of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild preferred this backpack over the other as it is very flexible to use and the colors are much to their liking.

Silangan Outdoor Equipment is an independent manufacturer built around 100 percent Filipino capital with office address at Green Meadows Subdivision, Tabunok, City of Talisay, Cebu, Philippines. Their products are all made in Cebu using local labor. You may call or send an SMS to Mr. Jay Serviano at 977-216-6606 for orders and inquiries. You may also contact them on their page in Facebook.

All their products are tested in different locations, environments and activities. They accept suggestions and improvements and also accepts product customization according to the needs of the customer. They are also into production of outdoor apparels, sleeping bags, hammocks, dry bags, purses, pouches, digital printing and corporate giveaways.

Document done in LibreOffice 5.3 Writer

Sunday, February 11, 2018

PURE SURVIVAL CHRONICLES: Joel Costelo and the Band of Brothers

IN THE COURSE OF my life’s journey, I have met many people who were survivors of different mishaps and catastrophes, circumstances and deprivations, wars and conflicts, and they lived to tell their experiences, predicaments and fortunes. While others I came across to, are witnesses of, or have been recipient of tales from these survivors, it still are stories worth telling. I am an eager listener and I always remember the stories very well and added these pieces of information into my “library of self-preservation”. This blog is, in itself, a repository of pure survival tales.

Let me tell you about Afghanistan first. It is a beautiful landlocked country with mixed ethnicity but, unfortunately for its populace, it is in constant turmoil. It had enjoyed peace for just relative short periods of time. Colonial powers have invaded it in the past and there were inter-ethnic wars but the 1970s was the year when the escalation of the problems besetting Afghanistan begun to be felt. The former USSR interfered and invaded the country but the population resisted and fought as one people.

When the Soviets left in 1989, internal disagreements fractured the shaky mujaheddin alliance and, in 1994, the Taliban seized an opportunity. They wrested control of the country and imposed their medieval and brutal ways on the land. Afghanistan became a refuge and a training ground for religious extremists from all over the world symbolized by al Qaeda. The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 were planned from the forbidding mountains and caves of Afghanistan.

The United States and NATO forces struck back and defeated the Taliban regime and its al Qaeda allies in 2002 and began to pacify the country. It became another insurgency problem that the Western allies indirectly inherited from the Russians. The US military were deployed in Afghanistan and saw considerable combat actions. Their mission was to protect and to patrol the remote regions so the incipient Afghan government could function. But the enemy remains entrenched and used violence to influence the civilian populace to their side.

We know that a few servicemen of Filipino ancestry served in Afghanistan but we know less of what units they were fighting under, much more their tales. I was waiting at Ondo Espresso Bar in Gen. Maxilom Avenue, Cebu City when a typical local man in New York Knicks jersey and cargo shorts arrived together with his pretty girlfriend. I got introduced to the man by a common friend and I informed him that it is an honor and a privilege to meet him. This is the veteran and he is not even in his 40s.

I am very fortunate to have this casual interview opportunity with a former US serviceman who had once been a part of the 101st Airborne Division, the famous unit whose exploits are now part of Hollywood lore like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, to name a few. He is Private Joel Costelo. He hailed formerly from Mabolo, Cebu City and once studied in our local university. He emigrated eventually to Queens, NY in 2002. He talked willingly of Afghanistan, his “brothers”, their sacrifices and frustrations, and civilian life.

I enlisted with the 101st and got assigned to Afghanistan in 2009 after training for many months in the US. Although I was trained with the best, there is always a feeling of dread. I have never been in a conflict before and that feeling took most of your waking time thinking about it. In just a few days, I got my first taste of an Aghan welcome committee and then it became regular. They shot at you from nowhere and you shoot back where you thought they fired…  

We do not execute conventional parachute drops anymore like those seen in movies but we trained and deployed quickly from helicopters during big operations like in Black Hawk Down. We did both vehicle and foot patrols, mostly platoon-sized movements, and got into frequent firefights. We were the infantry and we were the frontliners. While at base, we ate like dinosaurs, slept like turtles and we did the dirtiest jobs: latrine duty…

In the 101st, I noticed some Asians. We were very few, maybe less than ten and, I believed, I was the only Bisaya (a Cebuano). I was the smallest guy in my platoon but I carried the same load. Maybe more. But I carried on without complaint, trudging on for 12-15 miles a day over the most rugged terrain, hefting three different weapons and their ammunition, getting harassed, from time to time, by enemy fire.”

The 101st Airborne Division is now known as the 101st Air Assault Division. Its main headquarters is in Fort Campbell, KY but it has forward operating bases in Afghanistan and Iraq. When it was known by the former name, the men behind the “Screaming Eagles” badge had fought in every great battle during and after D-Day, dropping behind enemy lines and disrupting supply arteries. Normandy. Rhineland. Ardennes-Alsace. Germany.

It saw extensive action in Vietnam in 1968 and Desert Storm in 1991. It currently has a small detachment carrying out missions in Somalia. Afghanistan is their largest deployment to date. The bases are located where the thick of the actions are. They interdict insurgent forces streaming from Pakistan, protect vital roads and airports, initiate and construct community projects, and train and support the Afghan National Security Forces during locate-and-destroy patrols.

Pvt. Costelo’s unit is based in FOB Sharana in the Province of Paktika. The province shares a border with Pakistan where Taliban militants maintain strongholds and enjoys protection from their fellow Pashtun tribesmen who, themselves, are fighting against the Pakistani Government. It is a very rugged environment, lawless and bare of trees, with mountains and valleys that could hide an army undetected. Worse, these insurgents know their country very well.

In time, I was assigned as an assistant gunner for the M240B machine gun and, that meant, I have to carry additional ammunition for that. Many months of exposure to hard living, surviving enemy fire and the mild climate of Afghanistan had made my body more strong and much more flexible to do the tasks of an infantryman. My mind had long ago adapted to the regimented life of a soldier but, here, it starts to show stress… 

The enemy uses his terrain very well. He fights his own style of fighting. He chooses his own time and you are there forever in the crosshairs of his sight. You hear the bark of a Dragunov and, a split second later, you felt warm air passing near your skin. The bullet missed you and the ground beside you explodes into dust and fragments of rock threw up on your face, half blinding you and you scamper for cover. You shoot back at empty space…

Living day by day, patrol on to the next patrol, firefight after firefight, had steeled me and my ‘brothers’. We survived because we worked together. We accepted our fate and we had our share of injuries and, soon, death would claim some of ours. It was hard to accept that someone you knew well took a bullet. You seethe with anger and you can do nothing. But that was the easiest part.

The Wazi Khah region of Paktika Province hosts numerous mountain passes that were used as avenues of travel by nomadic tribesmen from Pakistan into Afghanistan and vice versa since the time of Alexander the Great. It is there where Pvt. Costelo and his “band of brothers” were operating. The insurgents are known to blend with the local population since most, or all of them, are related by blood, by tribal laws and by religion.

Islam is misunderstood by most but, actually, it is a religion of peace which has its patriarch as Abraham, like Hebrew and Christianity. It is the second biggest religion in the world and their Holy Q’uran states that every worthy Muslim welcomes strangers as friends, even those of different faiths. Teachers who were converted to the Wahabbi line of thought, thinks otherwise, and poisoned the minds of the young and the gullible.

Paktika is populated mainly by the Pashtun, although nomadic tribes make their livelihood there. Because of the constant turmoil, illiteracy is high. What education they get are from the madrasahs – the religious schools – and are taught the wrong interpretation of Islam. The Taliban came from this movement of religious schools fed by false teachers with hatred and violence. The presence of foreign al Qaeda fighters only emboldened them. 

Because of my adaptability to learn new languages like Pashtun and Farsi, I got assigned as interpreter for my team. We have our official ANSF interpreter and I am always beside him. I earned a sort of privilege where my commanding officers would look the other way if I committed infractions. That privilege also required me to add another weight to my load – the HIIDE camera or the Handheld Interagency Identification Detection Equipment…

One infraction I committed was getting injured during an ambush. I was reprimanded for not using a seat belt. Another time, was bringing live prisoners to Bagram Air Base because no FOB would accept them. Another one was treating a mortally wounded Afghan without surgical gloves. The most serious one which almost placed me on court martial was uploading photos in Facebook when I found a rare internet signal…

In my conversations with village elders, they would ask me if I am American or Hazara. Hazara is another tribe from Bamiyan Province who were descendants of Mongols. They would not believe I am American. Then I would tell them I am Filipino and they believe me. They would add that they have seen Filipinos passing by their villages. I do not think there were overseas Filipino workers in Afghanistan, except maybe aid workers. Then it came to my mind that the Abu Sayyaf of Southern Philippines has its origins from here.

Haj Abdurazzak Janjalani, a Filipino Islamic scholar, was a product of such madrasahs. He fought in Afghanistan as a mujaheddin alongside Osama bin Laden against Soviet occupation. He was one of the many Filipinos who answered the call of Jihad – holy war – and learned new tactics, which they used against their countrymen when they returned home. Eventually, he became the leader of the notorious Abu Sayyaf which he founded. He died in 1998 during a clash with the Philippine military.

Foreign jihadists led by bin Laden influenced the young Afghans to embrace Wahabbi extremism. They sent them to Pakistan and returned as “freedom fighters”, totally injecting them with poisonous and dangerous doctrines into their minds. The elders are subjected to threats or violence and leadership control of the villages are usurped by the Taliban. Some villages resisted but the Taliban would use their full force on the hapless civilians.

The continued presence and unabated movements of insurgents in the countrysides are a threat to peace, reconstruction and development. The International Security Assistance Force also helped in the counterinsurgency mission of Afghanistan, totally separate in scope from Operation Enduring Freedom, where the 101st AAD is operating under. Real-time intelligence were used to monitor movements and presence of insurgents and the acquisition of such were basis for operational missions to suppress these forces.

On one such patrol, we walked for days to search our quarry. It was the last day of our patrol when we climbed a high peak and, seeing the beauty of the countryside, we took a group picture. Right after putting the camera back, we were suddenly under fire from a large force. We were very exposed and there was no cover and concealment except for a few head-sized rocks. We used the rocks to cover our heads and wished bullets would not hit the rest of our bodies…

In that firefight, we cannot move and maneuver. We stayed where we lay or crouch. It was late afternoon. Soon dusk would come. In my high state of excitement I had to answer the urge to take a leak. I took a piss lying down, the spout of liquid arching over on to one side causing annoyance from my ‘brothers’ as a few drops touched their uniforms. They were too serious. I laughed so hard that the volume of fire from the enemy increased…

Our chance to get out alive from the ambush was darkness but we cannot do that without support. We had communicated to our HQ earlier our location and those of the enemy. We were completely surrounded. A fighter bomber arrived and rendered the landscape around us into a very fiery and wondrous sight. The harassment stopped and we navigated in darkness along the gullies using night vision goggles.

Village visits were common and the individual soldier behaved as he must professionally. The units are briefed in cultural sensitivity, religious tolerance and so many rules to remember and comply. The use of force on civilians were deemed forbidden and prisoners were to be treated humanely as possible. The battle for the hearts and minds were as applicable as ever. This was not a war against a people but a war against ideology, much more sinister and dangerous than communism.

These insurgents do not follow rules. The only rule they follow is the law of violence. These are half-literate men that do not know kindness, humility, forgiveness, love, charity and hope. Theirs is a world of constant desperation and violent changes. They lived like animals and accept death as “martyrs” of their faith, an illusory idea which true believers of Islam do not condole, for these wayward men did not follow the teachings of the Prophet.

I cannot forget when I was using the HIIDE on a village elder. Suddenly blood splashed on my face and on my uniform. I was stunned for a moment as the old man fell to the ground with opened entrails. Bursts of gunfire erupted everywhere and I dived for cover. I fired at I thought the enemy were and then I saw the old man still alive and pleading for help. Shouldering my carbine, I dragged the injured man to safety and applied pressure to the wound but the intestines they fell outside…

I saw my officer down with a wound on a leg and he was firing back. A ‘brother’ reminded me to leave the injured civilian alone and focus on the enemy. They were very near and I could see their faces. I thought I hit some but in the confusion of battle you cannot count it as yours. Somebody must have hit them. The best thing to do is to keep yourself and your ‘brothers’ alive. After more than an hour, the last shots were heard. The dead enemies were lined on the ground. A few prisoners were handcuffed…

The eyes of the mortally-wounded elder haunt me always in my memory. I do not know what happened to him after that. He was transferred to a military ambulance and taken away. I could have done more for him but we were under pressure. I have to contribute firepower for my team else we would all be annihilated, including the civilians. But this was not the worst I encountered. This was one of the easy part.

The 101st AAD is a very cohesive unit. More like a single organism instead of as a fighting unit composed of different individuals and characters. The movie Band of Brothers showed why they operate with such efficiency for a large unit. These guys trained, dined, fought, slept, laughed, suffered and consoled each other and together in the confines of barracks life and on the battlefields. They are the modern Spartans.

But behind that facade of invincibility are men who are susceptible to inner struggles and domestic problems. These soldiers gave up the comforts of their homes, the support of spouses and families, the cozy old life, a rosy future because they value more their service to country and flag. They know the outcomes of their choices and they would rather stand up for their beliefs than rant excuses in social media. They sacrificed everything for a vague future.

The hardest part really was containing your emotions and the solitude. I dreamed of getting a bullet for myself to shorten my tour. We did what we were ordered to even in the most volatile situations because it was the rightful thing to do. It was a miracle I made it home alive in 2014. Back there in Afghanistan, we were not earning much for what we did so the rest of us Americans could enjoy freedom and our way of life. Lazy people on government welfare lived much better than us and they are the ones complaining. It is unfair for those who served overseas…

I have a ‘brother’ who has no home and no more family to return to. His wife ran off with another guy, taking all his money and his son. Another of my ‘brother’ gets a video from a friend and sees his wife having sex with another man. What would you do if you were in the same room with them? It is hard, man. Very hard. The complex of emotions, coupled with the stress of battle, are almost unbearable. You may be able to control them for now but it will have an effect on you later on…

After my tour, I found it hard to fit back to the old civilian life. The 101st was my home and my family and I liked it there. I missed the action. Is there something wrong with me or is it just a withdrawal mechanism of my body with all those stress and emotions that I underwent for five years beginning to simmer down from my system? I do not know but I yearned for conflicts. When I learned that Marawi City was taken over by foreign and local ISIS militants, my urge to be there was overwhelming.

Private citizen Joel Costelo was divorced by his wife after his discharge from the Army. He is currently taking up law enforcement studies in the US so he could work as a policeman someday. He visits Cebu now and then so he could be with his future wife. He is on vacation and taking up film production in a local film academy here. He found the outdoors a good therapy to lessen the volatile memories of Afghanistan.

101st Airborne Division Motto: Rendezvous With Destiny

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All photos courtesy of Joel Costelo

Thursday, February 1, 2018


DID YOU NOT KNOW that one my dreams is to walk the whole length of the Camino de Santiago from Irun to Compostela, Spain by way of the coastline of the Bay of Biscay and Cantabria? I know it is impossible. I do not have the means but I could walk my own Camino here and my eyes were trained then to the Municipality of Badian where the St. James the Apostle Parish is located. The journey would have started from either the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral or the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño. That was in 2012. Big dreams!

These dreams are but a by-product of imaginative minds aiming to surpass the limitations of a present disposition, of everyday ordinariness and of other people’s expectations of you. These dreams seem to defy the impossible and became spark plugs of your passions. But not all dreams are like that. They came from out of nowhere. Mysterious in origin. Just seeds of inspiration planted by some divine will. These kind take time to bear fruit but, once it does, there is no stopping that.

The Camino de Santiago does not need introduction. Everybody knows that but a few could afford the international travel, for it is in Spain, and you spend in euros (which would be roughly 58 pesos per 1) once you are there for food and lodgings. There are over 88 million Roman Catholics in the Philippines, majority of them poor, and why would they be deprived of that once-in-a-lifetime chance to practice their faith in the form of a long pilgrimage? Why not a Camino here?

That was what I was dreaming of to find an answer? But the answers are not mine to give. It is from somewhere else. Answers that answered a question to a question which is part of a big puzzle. This puzzle has many pieces and I am just the first piece, because I am the one telling you this story. But when one part of a puzzle fits in with mine, it cannot be stopped. It moves forward like opening a book, page after page. Or an overflowing stream where rivulets became mighty rivers. Unstoppable!

One day, a friend notified me if I am available for a meeting and he said the magic word:  CAMINO! It is the morning of March 27, 2017. I am standing on the corner of GL Lavilles Street and MJ Cuenco Avenue, Cebu City and a Toyota Grandia stopped infront of me. A glass window gets lowered and there is Jhurds Neo and Jonathaniel Apurado. A slide door opened for me and I am welcomed inside. More pieces of the puzzle. Sitting and smiling are Jhurds’ parents, Cedee and Julie Neo. We are going to the Municipality of Compostela.

The pious couple has a ministry – Doneo Host Making – baking altar bread or host. DHM distributes these for parishes and Eucharistic Celebrations within the Archdiocese of Cebu and outside. Bro Cedee told me of a conversation he had with the parish priest in our very own Compostela. The priest had somehow heard of people walking the whole length of Cebu recently and he would like to know who these people were because he is planning of introducing the Camino de Santiago here? The puzzle began to emerge here. Hmmm…?

The priest was asking that question to the right person and it was the first time they met. I was the one who hiked through Cebu from Santander to Daanbantayan and Jon was with me. It was walked in 27 days between January and February. Jhurds was handling communications for us. The puzzle begins to take shape. We all arrive at the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. James the Apostle in the Municipality of Compostela and meet Fr. Scipio Deligero or Fr. Jojo. With him is Vice Mayor Fe Abing.

Fr. Jojo, wanted to establish the Camino de Santiago here in the Archdiocese of Cebu and asked me if it was feasible for anyone to do a pilgrimage from the Municipality of Badian to here. I informed the good priest that I had planned a pilgrimage route from Cebu City to Badian years ago but Fr. Jojo explained to me that, although the parish in Badian might be older, but the one in Compostela is bigger, being an archdiocesan shrine. And it is in the town with a namesake of the town in Spain. I could not disagree more.  

The church in our own Compostela was established on July 21, 1865 by Fr. Manuel Alonso, an Agustinian Recollect. He brought an image of St. James the Apostle from his native Spain when he came over to las Islas Filipinas and became its first parish priest and was the one who initiated the construction of this structure. On July 24, 2007, Ricardo Cardinal Vidal declared the church as an archdiocesan shrine in honor of Señor Santiago de Compostela. It just had its 150th founding celebration last 2016.

The original statue of St. James the Apostle that Fr. Alonso brought is housed inside a small attic of the church’s facade. It can be seen from a small round window from the pavement. It can be accessed from the roof which can only be reached by climbing a ladder. It had been visited by a church worker many years ago and Fr. Jojo wanted to know the condition of the image and what is its construction. I volunteered to do that task because, I believed, that being there in that tight hole with the relic would make my purpose meaningful.

I climbed first the wide awning that sheltered the front entrance of the church with the adjustable ladder. I walked on a ledge that connect to the main structure where there is another ledge that also led to another steep ledge. I held on to both edges of the ledge as I slowly climb up the angle to a small door. The door is closed with a 4-inch nail bent to keep it shut. I do not have a pair of pliers but I have a Victorinox Ranger. I will use its flat screwdriver as a pry bar, come what may.

Slowly, and without exerting too much pressure, I was able to unbend a little the nail. I tried many times until I could twist the nail away with my thumb and I got it opened. To go further inside where the statue is, I have to crawl down a very narrow hole and, once I was in, I found the attic just big enough for St. James and me. The apostle is riding a horse, left hand holding the bridle while the right is raised and held a sword. A classic image of the saint as depicted in legendary reconquista tales except that the sword has a missing blade. Saint and horse are made of plaster. It is in good condition except that it is dusty.

The glass window is thick with dust and needs cleaning. I could see the town the way St. James would have seen it every day, from this imposing vantage. Only few mortals saw it and I am very fortunate to have answered the call. The pieces of the puzzle begins to unravel beautifully as I returned to the convent where the rest were. Lunch gets served. Fr. Jojo not only wanted to have the Camino realized, he also wanted to take part on it. Bro Ced jest him about it but Fr. Jojo was serious. He admitted though that he found it hard to walk up and down the stairs of the pastoral office.

On the dining table, Fr. Jojo and Bro Ced talked seriously about this project. Bro Ced would even go voluntarily to Spain and Rome, on short notice, to have the Camino realized here. He would just have to ask permission from Bishop Jose Palma first. Now the puzzle is swaying and weaving to more possibilities and this was not mere circumstances but something unexplainable that is beyond understanding. The hand of God is upon us and I felt goose bumps.

Fr. Jojo mentions a well-to-do couple from the Municipality of Consolacion who made a pilgrimage to Compostela, Spain. The husband had an illness and, before he would leave this world, he would first cleanse his soul by walking the Camino. When they came back to Cebu the couple planned to dedicate their experience of the Camino by building a huge cross in their own place. They were not able to do that and, finally, settled on a barren hill in the Municipality of 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. I have not known the presence of the giant cross nor seen it until Fr. Jojo told us about it. It was amazing. Another piece of the puzzle.

The Camino from Badian to Compostela, from St. James Parish to the Archdiocesan Shrine of St. James, is perfect. I would see to it that the cross would be part of the route. I have read from a Cadoggan travel guide of Northern Spain, about a giant cross on the original Camino. Pilgrims would pick up a stone along the way and leave it on the foot of the cross. The stones piled up over a thousand years of the Camino’s existence and is now a few feet short of the horizontal bar. It became a hill.

The good priest further states that another church which is dedicated in honor of St. James the Apostle is found in the Municipality of Sogod. I cannot include this church in the Camino from the south but I could add another Camino coming in from the north. It would be better if there are two Caminos for Cebu. One long route over the mountains and one short route along the coast.

It is up to Fr. Jojo to make the Camino de Santiago in Cebu realized but it will also depend on the result of Bro Cedee’s pilgrimage to Spain on the Camino itself. My purpose is already set and determined. I will make the route and I will lead the first pilgrims should the Camino becomes ready. God gives favor to those whom he sees righteousness in their hearts. God chose Cebu since 1521 yet. It is long overdue.

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