Saturday, September 22, 2018

THE TRAILHAWK JOURNEYS: Bukidnon Bushcraft Training

MINDANAO IS UNDER MARTIAL LAW and I do not forget that. There was an urban war in Marawi City fought by the government forces against ISIS which had ended more than a month ago. I travelled a month earlier to Davao City to test the climate of uncertainty painted by media. There was indeed a military presence there, which is fair enough. Would it be okay to travel there again with bladed tools? I have to find that out myself.

You know, I have never taught bushcraft and wilderness survival in Mindanao and I waited for many years for that opportunity until Earl Ryan Janubas and JP Echavez, both of Cagayan de Oro City, organized one for me. Martial Law have curtailed travel of Mindanaoans to their most famous mountain destinations and they needed an alternative outlet for their thirst of adventure. That is when they contacted me.

Going by plane to Mindanao is out of the question for me, although travelling in it with blades is the most convenient. The transfer of the airport location of Cagayan de Oro, in Lumbia, to the Municipality of Laguindingan a few years ago is too far for my own comfort. The boat is my best option even if I have to unload my bladed tools to security for safekeeping while I am in the boat and it would travel with me anyway.

As an outdoors educator and survival instructor, blades play a very important role in all my classes and training instructions. Blades make easy work and these are educational aids and tools. Trusting to my good judgment, I carried some of my best blades with me like the AJF Gahum, Pandoy Pulido Pinahig, Condor Bushlore, Mora Companion, Knifemaker Camp, Seseblade Sinalung, Seseblade Matavia, a Browning and a Victorinox Trailmaster. Coming also is my veteran tomahawk.    

I travelled by boat in the evening of October 29, 2017 bound for Cagayan de Oro. Earl and JP would be expecting my arrival the following day. I arrived in the morning of October 30 and JP came to fetch me and whisked me to Focal Matters, a photography studio located at Capistrano and Yacapin streets where Earl is the resident photographer. After lunch, Earl and I travelled to Libona, Bukidnon on his Honda CG125, along with JP with his motorcycle.

We followed a newly-opened road that go through the backcountry of Indahag and Gango and arrive at Libona at around 15:00. We made a courtesy call to the village head of Poblacion and then to the community leader where we would make our camp for three days. It is in the property of Earl’s brother. We visit it for a brief inspection. It passes by a big pineapple farm and a trail lead to a stream.

Beside the stream is a narrow piece of ground good for eleven tents and some trees could host a few hammock pieces. It had been raining here for the most part of the week and the stream is deep with color associated with floods. I have my concerns but I am hoping that weather will get better. It is sunny and warm but the highlands has a weather of its own. I cannot rely on a weather forecast from a mere phone application.   

Earl and I returned to the town and made it to the house of his brother. We will both sleep there so we could be early to the campsite while JP need to go back to CDO. Bukidnon, by its location in the highlands of Mindanao, always has cold nights. It was colder still when there was a heavy downpour in the middle of the night which did not stop until the earliest hours of dawn. That got me worried about the stream and the campsite.

After breakfast of October 31, Earl and I went back to the campsite at 07:00. The stream have not risen that much. Only the color became more brown and the current more brisk than yesterday. I am assured of a very sunny morning and I hoped that the weather will turn out the better for the rest of the day. We choose this site because of its proximity to a natural spring located across.

I looked for a couple of trees, not far enough from each other and not near enough, and finding one such place, I left my bag. I choose the best location where I would be safe if the stream overflow but near enough to the rest. Open carrying my AJF Gahum, I go back up the slope and looked for a good place to make a latrine. Found one under a copse of cassia trees and dug a hole with a digging stick sharpened by my knife.

Then I foraged materials as educational aid for the outdoors seminar like dry and green bamboos, firewood and dry leaves. After an hour, JP and eleven participants arrived, including two high school students from Xavier University. One participant even brought his two dogs. All set up tents on the grassy ground while two of them found a place for a hammock.

Part of the morning was spent setting up shelters and diverting the flow of the natural spring by a bamboo viaduct, crossing over the stream into our campsite. Dry bamboos are abundant and I do not have to cut poles since there are many left rotting on the ground and a few are left hanging. I choose the clean ones for our improvised water span, propping it high enough from even an increase of a meter of flood.

The BASIC TROPICAL BUSHCRAFT COURSE is almost the same as that of the ones I do and organize in the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp, held in Cebu annually. It always start with Introduction to Bushcraft. The participants learned the terminologies and jargon used in bushcraft; its preferred environment; its own psychology; its methodologies; and its difference from survival and from mainstream activities.

Then next is Ethical Bushcraft. The best practices of leisure bushcraft, using its own principles of Blend, Adapt and Improvise, to lower your obtrusive presence among forests and jungles and increases an individual’s safety and security. It covers trail travel, courtesy to locals, campsite location, fire management and camp hygiene. Ethical Bushcraft is taken from this author’s unfinished book of the same title.

After lunch and siesta, it is the turn for Knife Care and Safety to be discussed. This chapter changes the perspective of the knife into a useful tool instead. The Philippine law on the regulations of carrying a knife – Batas Pambansa Bilang 6 – are explained thoroughly and clearly as well as ethics and safety, care and sharpening, blade shapes, parts and grinds, and the Nessmuk Trio.

At 14:30, this author demonstrate Survival Tool-Making to the participants. This chapter is a practical exercise in knife dexterity and safety; taught them how to carve spoons, jugs and an improvised cooking vessel from a green bamboo pole; and create a digging stick from a thick straight branch. Aside that, this blogger gave them the idea how and where to source cords from nature. Next is Notches. Another knife dexterity session aided, this time, by a baton.

When dusk came, all activities ceased and the participants focused on the preparation of their meals under a slight shower. By 19:30, the campfire is lit and becomes the social center for the Campfire Yarns and Storytelling. This camp tradition does not need great company as long as the train of tales and laughter begins. Sometimes, a moderate round of alcoholic drinks move that into more tales and laughter. Rains came and ended abruptly the night socials.
The second day (November 1) starts with breakfast but after that, all will deny food the rest of the day, not until they have accomplished foraging their own food which comes later in the night. This is to simulate the hunger pangs associated when you are stressed in a survival situation. Everyone steeled themselves for this occasion. The day is warmer than yesterday but the ground is muddy.

The first chapter for this long day is Customizing the Survival Kit. It is better that survival kits are made from scratch than bought commercially because its size and components depend upon the type of the activity you are indulging in and the kind of environment you are going to visit. Your personal preference still matters although redundancy of some functions, like fire tools, luminosity, water collection and cutting devices increases security.

Then I proceed to Foraging and Plant Identification. This author discusses about traps and snares and what are the difference between the two; luring methods and trap lines; and foraging food and non-food. It also identifies which plants are edible, harmful and poisonous. The participants are then shown the different traps and snares that are set up in camp before touring the area around the camp for the common plants growing here.

Hearing distant thunder, I decide to proceed to Fire, Fuel and Campfire Safety. Understanding first how a fire is made is very important. You have to know the three elements of the fire triangle: fuel, heat and air. You cannot produce fire if lacking one element. Conversely, you can put out a fire by removing one. Lately, they added a fourth element – chemical reaction.

Making fire by friction is 80% common sense, 10% skill and 10% perspiration. Your fire can start if you can acquire and identify the right tinder, if you are in a dry place, and if you have the patience. In a very humid location, the presence of moisture in the atmosphere almost always hinder the production of ember needed to start a fire. Most of the time heat is stolen by the cooling effect of watery air.

Aside from friction, there is the conventional method which are matchsticks, lighters, ferro rods, and the flint and steel. Then there is solar magnification which can be done with magnifying lens in a cloudless day. Then you have pressurized air, exemplified by the fire piston. Since I do not have the luxury of time, I limit my demonstrations to the flint and steel, and the ferro rod. I also showed them how to make a tinder bundle. 

Demonstrated how the bow drill method is made and spun. Unfortunately, I could only make thick smoke as sawdust embers refused to light up my tinder due to humid conditions. Dark clouds are now overhead as the thunder gets nearer and nearer. I let others try the bowdrill, the ferro rod, and the flint and steel. The participants properly learned how to use the ferro rods. It ignites easily natural tinder.

By now, wisps of moisture started to drop. I demonstrated how the bamboo-saw method is made and scratched. As with the bow drill, I could only produce smoke. Moisture have penetrated the grains of bamboo. Racing against the rain, I tried again and failed. Four participants tried but in vain. I made another derivative of the bamboo-saw that could be done with two people. Smoke is thick and there is a promise of ember but it lived shortly. Then a strong downpour fell.

For the rest of the afternoon, we could do nothing but stay in our shelters. I could not discuss the rest of the topics and our Nocturnal Hunting is even jeopardized. Owing to circumstances beyond our control, I aborted it and gave a go signal to prepare their food for dinner. In wet conditions, I am able to make fire in my Swiss Army wood burner to boil water first for coffee and then for Japanese seaweed soup.

The heavy downpour caused the stream to overflow on the lowest places of the campsite but it necessitated the transfer of three tents nevertheless to better locations. The water current increased and became very noisy, alarming everybody. For a couple of hours we were awake, watching the stream, until the rains began to slow down. I relax with my watch and half-chased sleep.

In my comfortable hammock, rainwater found its way to my chest. I shifted my body so the drips would not fall on me but a cotton rope I used to tie the hammock with snapped and I fell hard with my hammock on the ground. I re-strung my hammock and my shelter setup hoping to stop the drips. I placed drip cords on the ridgeline of my shelter just like I did before on the ends of my hammock. After I have done so, the drips have stopped.

The last day (November 2), I was surprised to see that the bamboo viaduct have withstood the stream’s rising water last night and still supplied us with an uninterrupted clean water. The water is not cloudy. We prepared breakfast early for I have four more topics to discuss. Yesterday’s muddy ground are smoothed out by water but it is wise not step on the same surfaces.

After breakfast, we break camp and transferred uphill to be away from the din created by chainsaws used by locals who took advantage of a holiday to cut trees. The first one is Understanding Cold Weather. During mountain climbing, exposure to the elements is expected. There are five physical mechanisms that steal away body heat and the things that we should do to keep us constantly warm.

Next is Outdoors Common Sense. This is the subject matter that I based from my yet unpublished book, ETHICAL BUSHCRAFT. It is about trail courtesy and behavior while on the trail; choosing the best campsites; practicing stealth camping; increasing individual safety and security; wildlife encounters; and introduce people the idea of Blend, Adapt and Improvise.

Finally, the topic of Outdoor Cooking and Food Preservation gets its slot. Different ways of preserving meat, fish, vegetable and fruits. Getting equal discussion are the different kinds of fireplaces. After the lectures, author shows how the Trailhawk System of cooking rice in bamboo is done. The participants prepared their meal for lunch and when all got cooked, to include the rice inside the bamboo, we had our meal.

We packed up everything and hiked the three kilometers back to Libona and then to the terminal. From Libona, we rode on tricycles to Manolo Fortich and transferred to a van-for-hire. Destination is Cagayan de Oro City, which we reached at 18:00. We stayed for a while at a local restaurant for dinner and the post-event discussion and socials. I was tired but I was not sleepy. I noticed there was no curfew here but we have to end after midnight.

I found a vacant room at Rosario’s Place for I have a speaking engagement tomorrow evening (November 3) at Viajero Outdoor Centre. Coming here to Cagayan de Oro with a cargo of blades gave me fears of travel restrictions brought about by Martial Law. It turned out well but, going back to Cebu, a security guard made it a little hard for me with his wrong presumptions. Or was he just interested with my properties? My spring-bound lecture handbook made all the explaining for him.

The unpredictable weather of the highlands of Bukidnon is something that I have to give an extra consideration next time. I expected it to behave like all highlands do but I failed to give a thought that Bukidnon is a plateau where rainwater would be collected on a wide area instead of travelling fast and quick to the sea. Here, it accumulates slow and long before going down the different drainage systems.    

It was a productive moment not just for me, but also for my newly-found friends of Mindanao. At last, I was able to introduce bushcraft there and helped them become better outdoorsmen. My trip there would not have been possible without the sudden sparks of creativity by Earl and JP. For their efforts, I part my couple of Seseblades to them, courtesy of Dr. Arvin Sese, whose quality but affordable blades I had endorsed everytime I have training sessions.  

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Saturday, September 15, 2018


REWILDING IS THE RETURN of habitats to its original state, to include the re-introduction of wild animals that were once native there before its disappearance. My version of rewilding is the return of the wilderness into my system. Immersion in a jungle environment, on a place or a camp all to myself, far away from any human company, is my idea of rewilding and I have the perfect place for it – Creek Charlie.

I need to return to the wild alone today, October 27, 2017, and there is no other day. In a few days, I will be sailing to Mindanao so I could teach and share bushcraft skills for the very first time there. Whenever I do that, I always retrieve the essence of the forests, the jungles, the mountains, the streams and all that is in the outdoors for connection, inner strength and a renewed knowledge in woodlore.

I cannot explain that to someone who has a mindset that is so different from mine. I may dress and behave like anyone else but I am not what you think. I am now carrying thoughts borne out of my native origins which I have rediscovered and embraced long ago yet modern enough to write something complex as this article. Yes, Virginia, my philosophy of the world around me is in all my writings.

You know, I have been assimilated unawares to conventional ways but I cannot undo it. I do not hate myself for that nor feel uneasy of all these people around me whose mindsets are mechanically trained since childhood to think and act in a manner and behavior tailored-fit for Western culture. I could do nothing about it and I can live with that but it does not carry an obligation to explain everything to someone who is of not my kind.

However, you may understand me if you follow the gist of this article. So, rewilding is a sort of ritual that I have done countless times, before I proceed to do big tasks ahead. It had helped me release stress while I was in a corporate prison, working my ass off for my masters. Rewilding had enriched my spirit and my life, and lets me retrieve wisdom that are not available in conventional channels. 

Personally, I love solo walks into the mountains. The silence is something that I would not trade for a lively company or the spattering of friendly conversations. My kind of silence is the whisper of wind among leaves, bird songs, the frolic of water in a stream, the buzz of a fleeting bee, even the crackling of dry tinder before a robust flame. I longed for these kind of sounds. Primeval and distant. In silence, these are so sweet to the soul.

I followed a path that I know very well and the chance to tread on bare ground immediately connects me to sacred grounds. I became one with the forest. Unobtrusive in movement and clothes. Silent like a cat. No hurried steps, no pressure of time. Not even the presence of dark clouds overhead could alter my pace. I am that rare someone who found enjoyment in what I do – alone – even walking on the same trails and places.

My Silangan Predator bag swayed as I struggled for balance when a shoe failed to grip softer ground downhill, exposing my presence to whoever may walk this path. But I doubt that. I have still to meet someone who is brave enough to walk trails on a weekday. Alone. Too bad, everyone is a slave to the system and their time is programmed on weekends only. Cannot blame them. Better that way. I can have all the spaces without them. 

The sun warmed up the forest and steam begins to rise. I am sweating even when I am under shady trees. Wild gingers are flowering everywhere, even within the unwelcoming presence of a Burma teak forest. Long ago, our forest managers eat anything fed to them, planting exotic species, never knowing the troubles it brought to native species, insects, birds and soil. This man-made forest is a failed experiment even if the trees grew healthy. 

Creek Alpha is before me and the stream is full and merry. I followed it downstream, careful this time not to leave any trace. Common sense tells me to evade streams but I find good sense of forest people using part of the stream as a route. They know their own places and I am learning from them. I see where they placed foot on rocks and know what are they wearing for their feet. Because of them, Creek Alpha now has a name: Banauan.

I am leaving Banauan Creek and the phony forest and I am now on a trail in an environment that is much wilder. Presence of spiny rattan competes for your special attention apart from the softened trail. This path is one of the wonders of local knowledge. It simply followed a certain contour instead of cutting across a mountain. It benefits well my walk, rising gently to cross a saddle and going down gently to Creek Bravo.

Just like the first stream, Creek Bravo is also energetic and loaded. On a rock is a carcass of a juvenile monitor lizard which died several weeks ago. This particular stream is teeming with rocks of all ages and sizes, broken up by the force of water. Across me are the groves of water bamboos, fully recovering from wanton destruction five years ago. I have planned of reintroducing fresh-water shrimps here but I just could not source live specimen.

After that brief rest, I passed through an alley where “skin snatchers” abound. This trail is thick with rattan palms and their spiny tendrils, slender and barely noticeable, suddenly catches skin or fabric and you have to respect that. You take a few steps back and slowly remove the spiny whip. My copy of the Puffin Magnum knife becomes useful as it cleared a safe path for me.

The trail climbs up towards a ridge, leaving the marshy areas behind for stable ground. The ridge goes up gently but it is blocked by more rattan palms and by the equally thorny vines of the Asiatic bitter yam (kobong), which got cleared by my open-carried knife. At this instance, I carved a digging stick to extract from the ground a rootcrop from the wild yam which I intend to bring home. The thorny vines make a good hedge against intruders.

The trail led to a very beautiful forest. Both sides are steep but it is much vegetated. It goes up and up, but gently. I arrive a small clearing which I know as my dear Camp Damazo. It hosted recently the 7th edition of the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp last June. Twenty-six participants came to learn basic bushcraft here which I first organized in 2011. The PIBC returned here after three years in Sibonga and Liloan.

Settling myself on a cheap laminated nylon sheet, I prepared my Swiss Army wood burner. I intend to boil water for coffee for it is 10:45 anyway. Found dry twigs which I break into short lengths and started a fire by a gas lighter. Placed a cup of water over the rim of the burner and feed more fuel into the burner. Water finally boiled after five minutes and I poured instant coffee. Paired the coffee with bread and enjoyed the moment of silence.   

Camp Damazo has recovered in so short a time, thanks to the rainy season. The campfire area marked by a cairn has settled well and new growths of vegetation begin to reclaim around it. A remnant of a bamboo pot with its lid lies nearby a Moluccan ironwood (ipil) and the stinging tree (alingatong) where a mass of dirt are left by the now missing army of ants after gnawing off clean the leftover rice many months ago.

I looked around the camp area. Madras ginger (galangal) bears little round fruits at the tips of its stems, ripe and drooping to the ground. The yellowish-green fruit became a diet of a passing palm civet (singalong) and left black round scats over a tree root. Tall arbor trees provide second-tier shade and jungle fowls loved to forage there when caterpillars infest the leaves. Much more so with raptors and lesser avian.  

I rest for more than an hour at Camp Damazo. I would have loved to stay here but there is something wilder somewhere over there. I pack my things back inside my bag and proceed to Creek Charlie. It is now 13:00 and, to my estimates, too late to explore more places. But there is a place that I once visited four years ago. I marked that trail but I was wondering what happened of that?

I followed the trail going to Creek Charlie, passing by where an unusually-shaped tree that looked like a brontosaurus, complete with feet, a tail and a long neck. This tree I also discovered four years ago but did not have the courage to approach and take a photo of it. I respect the presence of something other than it. Through the years, I was able to take photos from afar, then point-blank, when I think it is now used to my presence.

I am not superstitious and do not believe in those “third eye” tales, but I am convinced of the presence of these rarely-seen elements. I have seen and encountered many of these kind, even at closer range possible, yet I do not show fear and I let them be as they are. When you are a renewed Roman Catholic you would understand and be aware of their presence but it does not mean that you are impervious from harm.

Vegetation near it was being cleared and a hunter’s shed is being built near the trail, already shriveled, exposing horizontal wood beams that had once supported a roof of abaca leaves and walls of galangal leaves. I looked around where the hunter might have set his sights and I settled on thick debris that was supported by tree branches of the brontosaur tree and its neighbors. It could host a nest, an arboreal hiding place of wildlife.

I could only shake my head. Why would I trouble myself waiting for a prey in an uncomfortable location so I could get off a shot when I could do better with indigenous methods, with myself comfortably waiting in the confines of my home? I would not have to alter the surroundings. The only alteration I make is introducing a cord and using a young sprout to bend to my whim. 

Creek Charlie, I discovered, is part of the right fork of the bigger Lensa Creek that supplied water to the catchment basins, marshes, the man-made lake and, ultimately, to the MCWD consumers. This is a stream of primeval proportions. The rocks are bigger, water fall in cascades. You get caught in a flashflood here and you are dead. It is never a good idea to use this as a route but I know of a trail across me.

It is steep and follow a very narrow ridge, steep on both sides with one side on a deep ravine. The soil on this ridge is soft and it is not good to bring a lot of people here, especially people who do not carry the same mindset as mine. I crossed over another ridge, which can be reached by a short leap. The trail suddenly dies out and I am facing three possibilities, once upon a time paths before these were choked by vegetation.

I choose the marked trail and passed by a hole filled with very clear water coming from a spring. I did not see this before. The jungle is unfolding and showing me things that were denied to me last time. Must be because I am very patient or was it my awe and reverence for this place? I passed by the first of two bamboo groves. Poles are left by a forest dweller on the ground but I place it standing up beside a trunk. I might use this someday.

I am going to my sacred place in a jungle where it faced a distant lone mountain and the rising of the sun. I have bamboos to make a shelter – a sweat lodge – where I can do meditations in the future and be away from the complexities of urban living. It is there among giant figs (tibig and talo-ot) with buttress roots as tall as a man. Then I saw movement. Timid, confident and unafraid. Brown fur and a thick tail. Squirrel?

The Philippine squirrel (kangsi) is a very elusive rodent that is common in Palawan. But on my visit to Mount Pangasugan in Leyte last March 2014, my guide showed me a live one staying inert on a branch from a distance of about 50 meters. I could only see a brown smudge among the greens but its shrill whistle pierced the early morning air. You would think that the noise they made were done by birds.

I believed Cebu was part of its habitat when it was still all forest and too few people claiming farm patches. In case you do not know, there is a place in Sapangdaku Creek and everywhere in Cebu that are called Kangsi or Kansi. Nobody remembers why it is called that but I know why? The creature I saw disappeared among the roots and I found holes underneath it, the entrances are well used, indicating a healthy family.

Yes the forest is unfolding and showing me its hidden features. I am quite satisfied of my finds that I did not tarry long. I found my sacred place and the second bamboo is still untouched by humans. I go back to where I came from and crossed Creek Charlie once more. I take another trail to drink from a natural spring called Karamon. I crossed the headwaters of Creek Bravo and Banauan Creek towards a mountain road.

Across me is a trail that goes to Lanipao. It goes lazily downhill to the Lanipao Rainforest Spring Resort, Cabins Resort and a store that sells cold soft drinks. Walking on, I found another recreation center – Motmot Spring Resort – that was not here last June. Not only was the forest unfolding its secrets to me, it also include this road to Napo. So much for mysteries. Ha!

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

MAN-SIZED HIKES XXVI: Lutopan-Tubod-South Poblacion

ONE OF THE BEST TRAINING route for stamina and endurance which I first tried in August 2012 for the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. It follows Segment II of the Cebu Highlands Trail, coming from Lutopan, Toledo City but it veers down the coast once you reach Tubod, San Fernando. I miscalculated its length though, based on an estimate, and measured it at around 31 kilometers. Actually, I found out later that it is more than 41 kilometers.

The Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild has a few requirements for membership and one of these is called the Selection Hike. It is a cross-country day hike that needs to be finished in under twelve hours. This present long day hike is the first time that I would implement strict time pressure. Although, this is a guild activity, I considered many non-applicants to join so local residents would get used to our presence and activity.

Thirty-six signified their intention online but only twenty-eight committed individuals arrived at the assembly place at 7Eleven, across the Cebu South Bus Terminal, at 05:00 of October 8, 2017. We board a bus bound for Toledo City and arrive at 07:00 at the outskirts of Lutopan, now known as Don Andres Soriano. Across the highway is the village of Bunga and there is a road which, many years ago were mere paths of residents.

At 07:10, the Selection Hike begun. The day is starting to go warm but it is nothing. Adrenaline is on our side. We passed by Bunga, some upland rice farms and Lake Poog. Due to an unusual number of participants, six Camp Red regulars accompanied me. They are Jhurds Neo, Aljew Frasco, Jonathaniel Apurado, Justin Apurado, Christopher Ngosiok and Jingaling Campomanes. Half of them have been here.

Six of the participants are members of the triathlon team of the Municipality of Liloan and I expect a torrid pace, which I do not want to happen. Although we are under time pressure, this is not a race, and I have to curtail the speed that would accommodate the slowest. Besides that, I am not that young anymore and I need reserves of energy during the last stretch, which would be to the coastal highway.

We go down the valley of Lamac, in Pinamungahan, and reach its market at 10:00. Here, participants and veterans take time to rest, rehydrate and take snacks. After 15 minutes, we continue and crossed a spillway to another village of Sibago. The valley is humid and it begins to take its toll on some of the participants. Rest spaces under any shade are most welcome as the pebbled road begins to create pressure to the soles. 

Going out of Sibago is climbing up a trail that is bare and rocky. Except for three of my wards, the rest do not know that there is a store selling cold softdrinks and I relied on that presence so I could have a modicum of control for the weaker hikers. The triathlon team is still strong, much more so with marathoner Eduardo Eduria, the most senior among us yet possesses the greatest stamina.

We overcome a hill and we are on to a road that is the boundary of Pinamungahan and San Fernando. Just a few meters is the store and how everyone loved to just sit and relax and eat bread, energy bar or good old raisins and peanuts paired with cold softdrinks. I did not allow a long break this time like we used to in the early selection hikes where we cook food with real fire. I, myself, has bread as my meal. 

We have an hour of break and that is part of the time needed to finish this test in under 12 hours. We arrive here at 11:30 and, by 12:30, we proceed on our quest. We will be treading this time on a dirt trail that was carved by sleds of many generations of swamp buffaloes, which I loved to call as the “Carabao Highway”. It is a scenic trail that passes on a single ridge of mountains that goes north and south and is found exactly in the middle of Cebu.

This is my sixth time to walk this beautiful trail and the last time was leading eight pilgrims during Cebu’s first Camino de Santiago last July 2017. It was raining then and the path was muddy, slippery and nasty. I thought I heard thunder from afar and I looked back to see dark clouds northeast of us. We are walking south and making distance from it. Suddenly, the afternoon air is cooling down. Breeze blow from our back and it is so soothing.

We arrive at a concrete marker. It is square with the names of the places at each face. This is where the most scenic spots can be seen. You would not see the sea on each side of the island from here but the valleys of Magsico and Anislag are a dramatic sight. We have passed the part where the trail is carved a meter deep by the sleds and the ground from hereon are hard sod. It is now 14:30 and there is a threat of thunderstorm behind us.

We reach the village of Tubod after 25 minutes. This is the midpoint of our Selection Hike and there is a good water source here which comes deep from the ground. We only halted for a while to top off water bottles and then we proceed down the road to the direction of the coastal highway. We stop by a store to rehydrate on cold softdrinks for about 10 minutes but we were off again, spurred on with beating the 12-hour limit.

The road goes down until we arrive at a bridge and this is now the difficult phase. It goes uphill and uphill. Road rises, which you thought was the end of it but, once over the top, you see more. Hiking from Lutopan to Tubod was hard already and you expect to claim the reward of your troubles by following the last half of the journey in splendor. This was not to be and two of the participants decide to end their journey. They thought this was picnic.

Those who persevered would discover that, right after the endless road rises, are another endless downhill stretches. Our foot soles are now tender to the constant pounding on hard surface like pavements of asphalt and concrete. I would prefer walking on the side of the roads where there are grasses but underneath it are hidden pebbles which would be painful when stepped upon, a concession you receive when you wear light hiking shoes.

I arrive at the village of Magsico after a series of horseshoe bends. There is a store that I knew from last time to enjoy cold softdrinks because we will have a long way to go and too few daylight hours left. It is now 16:30 and I am worried about the rest for they begin to feel pain. There will be more downhill stretches beyond here although not that steep anymore. The hard part here is that it is a broken road strewn with holes and pebbles.

When some of the participants arrived, I resumed towards our destination for the day. Twelve came with me while the other thirteen needed a breather. The line stretched long this time. Pain on the soles and knees, fatigue and humidity were the culprits. This time, pain on the weight of the backpacks came bearing on our shoulders. The contents inside the bag are just water, extra t-shirt, a knife and a first aid kit. Gravity multiplied the weight.

We passed by the village of Tabionan at dusk. Pebbles are all over the road while asphalt pavements stubborn enough to withstand rain and heavy vehicles remained, creating a patchwork of lunar-like landscape. You have to find the best spots to step on and you need light. I do not have to use one since all behind me started to light their way. Motorcycles passed by leaving trails of dust and annoying muffler roar.

You cannot always walk on the best places because these are marked by motorcycle drivers, locals who knows every inch of the road and they always travel at full speed. They cannot brake and wait for you to step aside. If they do, they would steer wildly sideways. Most of the time, they do not honk their horns and, sometimes, their motorcycle headlight is not functioning. You can see their narrow well-beaten paths on both sides.

You cannot walk at the outermost, on the shoulders, and you certainly cannot walk on the middle. You walk single file and warn each other of oncoming motorcycles and step aside together. You stay alert and keep conversations and jokes to a minimum. Silence, borne out of coping pain, step after step, becomes mandatory. You go slow or fast, pain is still there. Then you see light coming from a cement factory and your morale goes high.

There are two cement plants in San Fernando and the one operated by Taiheiyo Cement Corp. is the one where we are bound to. The visible light comes from its smoke stack but it is still three kilometers away. I see a light behind me in a long line bobbing left and right and I thought I saw a few walking lights some 300 meters away. That is a good sign. We will overcome pain and we will reach our destination safely. 
I arrive first at South Poblacion, San Fernando with Eduardo Eduria, Maria Theresa Lanit, Jenmar de Leon and the Liloan Triathlon Team and they all made it in 11 hours and 37 minutes. Next to come are Rany San Juan, Rodel Arnejo and Christopher Ngosiok at 11:38. Coming too at 11:39 are Locel Navarro and Justin Apurado. Then you have Mark Moniva, Joy Delantar and two guests at 11:44. Randy Salazar nipped the bud at 11:59 for that 41.64 kilometers of happy torture.

For those who did not make it, there is always a next time and it would not be here, thankfully. Honestly, I cannot do this all the time. I had a hard time up there. My age caught up with me. Besides, I was nursing a pinched nerve in my lower vertebrae and, although pain was tolerable, it was annoying. It limited my movement and I have to think about it all the time, keeping in mind not to over exert.  

Document done in LibreOffice 5.3 Writer
Some photos by Christopher Ngosiok