Sunday, August 21, 2016

MAN-SIZED HIKE XVIII: Lutopan to Guadalupe

THE FIRST HALF OF Segment I that I have begun for the Cebu Highlands Trail Project, which is from Lutopan, Toledo City to Guadalupe, Cebu City, would be totally unusable when the projected Mananga Dam would be constructed and operational in the near future. A big chunk of that route would be inundated under a man-made lake since it cross many times the Bonbon River and downstream to the Mananga River and I am planning to revise this route.

So today, January 3, 2016, would be a good time to make this plan a reality. Also, today would be the most perfect day to start my training in preparation for a lot of activities for Year 2016, especially for the last three segments of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project, which I aim to finish this year. I know that many people are following my progress for this particular exploration and it would make them happy if I am in the best of health so I could accomplish more.

My body system has gotten used to treating myself to a hike in the woods every Sunday and I missed three sessions last December due, in part, to a vacation to some place in Mindanao. I also have gotten fat, unable to resist the extravagantly-rich food that the Christmas season usually brought on the tables of many homes and corporate offices. I have gained weight and my body squirmed at the uncomforts it gave of even simple tasks that I usually found easy to accomplish with a leaner body.

When you are fatter than usual, you tend to get lazy. That was what happened when I shook off my pre-set alarm of 04:15 to snooze mode in favor of longer time on the bed which led me to wake up instead at 06:00, quite late already and I will have to suffer for that later. Besides, the wife does not like it at all for all the noise it created every five minutes!

I purposely deny myself of company for this day and I will be in solo flight. I am happy with a crowd and I am most happy if I am alone. You know me, I am unconventional. I am a realist and I do not subscribe of your idea of enjoying the outdoors. There is so much I could accomplish if I am by myself. If I get struck by lightning or by any other means in my wanderings on the mountains, then, so be it, I die a perfect death the outdoorsman's way. Fatalistic, is it not? Maybe. But, remember this, you could even die drowning in a bowl of steaming soup in the comforts of your home.

Anyway, I made it to Lutopan at 08:00 and I am now in the process of looking for a bakeshop to buy bread. I will be on survival hike. My fare would be bread and water. I am bringing my small Lifeguard USA rucksack with the survival kit and a Trangia alcohol burner set - coffee is lovely when outdoors. I have my blades also like the Victorinox SAK Trailmaster, a vintage deer-antler handled Fame knife and the Puffin Magnum spinoff in its handsome leather sheath which I will open carry later.

I start the hike at 08:15 passing by Cantabaco, Camp 8 and Camp 7 (Minglanilla) before taking rest at a store on the corner of Manipis Road and Sinsin-Cantipla Road. It is exactly 10:15, and I just hiked for two hours from Lutopan to here. I may take the opportunity of eating a light brunch instead as the weather is already warm. When I am done, I buy two sachets of brown Kopiko. At 10:30, I start off again. I will be at a cross road going to a place somewhere in Buot-Taup in 45 minutes.

I am testing a TNF trail-running shoes provided for by my sponsor based in the United States, Harold Butanas, as his contribution for the Cebu Highlands Trail Project. It is very light and fits like a glove. Insides are soft but tight for my toes. I would manage the uncomforts, if ever there would be, later on. Breaking this pair for the very first time in a long hike, much of it on unknown territory to me, is essential.

When I reach Odlom, I jog very slowly and very carefully, not to be tempted by gravity. I know that overexertion would take a toll on my physical condition and my stamina later on which I would need very badly since I am an in an exploration. It means that the chances of taking wrong routes and backtracking would be many. I am overweight and I do not want to bring stress to my lower body joints like the ankles, knees and the pelvic area.

The rugged road is now concrete and it goes downhill winding about along solitary houses, which are few and far between. It helped to my cause that the skies darkened and wisps of moisture fell. I reach the crossroad to a gamefowl farm at 11:30 and eat my first bread. It is a nice feeling to just sit again and enjoy the silence and be cooled by a passing breeze.

After rehydrating, I proceed to the bank of the Bonbon River, passing by the said farm. I am facing the southernmost edge of the Babag Mountain Range and I aim to find a route over the back of its ridge. It looks formidable because it is noontime and I am washed in the full warmth of the sun. I cross the wide stream on barefoot to look for that tempting route and go to a community to ask for directions.

I go back crossing again the same stream and return the TNF pair onto my bare feet. I walk a little and then I feel exhaustion at the extreme warmth of walking along the bare river bank that bounced sunlight. I found a shady spot where there are grass and take rest. I am thirsty. I take my sips carefully, not to be tempted by thirst. I decide to eat two pieces of bread and wash it with water to bloat it inside. By 12:30, I go to the direction of the village of Buot-Taup.

In the village is a hanging bridge, recently constructed, which would cross over the Bonbon River to the other side of the riverbank. There is a dirt road that is ascending. This place is called Samboryo. Why is it called that I may have to know later on? A few locals I asked, shudder at the thought of walking it. There are a few houses along this route and there is a Suzuki Scrum going carefully down the road.

The driver notices my open carried Puffin Magnum and asks me what I am doing here but the difficult road takes back his attention instead. If he was persistent, I would have asked him of the 25 sacks of charcoal on the back of his light pickup. I am on a lawful activity but the driver was not. I presume he is one of those village aldermen trying to exercise their authority over a lone wanderer. Such kind of men discourages local tourism. Ignorance and arrogance are the dumbest mix, don't you think?

The rugged road vanishes when I reach a small community. I refill my water bottle after asking directions. I take a trail that goes up and up. A group of five youths overtake me. They are going to Cabatbatan which I also am going. The old route of Segment I-A passes by Cabatbatan, right after crossing the rivers Bonbon and Mananga twenty-one times. In a post-Mananga Dam scenario that would be impossible. I follow them for as long as I am able and take rest at 13:40 when I could no longer bear it. One piece of bread again washed with water.

So I am onto the best option available when I discovered this route which I would officially name as the Samboryo Trail. I do not have to cross streams from now on except at the Bonbon River by bridge and the Bocawe Creek and Sapangdaku Creek, later on, also by bridge. That means, exposure to sudden flash floods would be removed. And no more wet shoes, socks and feet.

The trail has many branches and I have to be sure which. I used my tracking skills to follow the wake of the five youths. It is difficult as the surfaces are dry and hard packed. Almost always, a fresh dent would emerge from spots where it is partly wet. Besides, upturned pebbles gave me hints and some disturbed vegetation above the ankles kept me updated of their diminishing presence.

I come upon a spot near a farm where the trail vanish and I was already exhausted by the heat, by my weight and by the steep trail, now almost to the brink of becoming drowsy, which is not a good sign. It is 14:00. I may need coffee to pep me up so I could continue on my lone quest. Fighting against fatigue, I am able to set up my Trangia alcohol burner and make it work. The blue flame boils water in my stainless-steel cup quickly and I slurp my coffee like it is the last precious thing in this world.

Getting my act together after a 20-minute rest, I look for the rest of the trail and found that it traverses the middle of the farm. Going past it, takes some amount of strength considering I am utterly exhausted. The coffee and the brief rest gave only a fleeting optimism, my legendary strength seems to have caused little dent whatsoever on the mind partly playing it safe against my wishes.

Closing my eyes as I try to stabilize my breathing, I willed myself to carry myself to that high peak that has been imposing its existence on me as well as on locals. Now I know why they called this place Samboryo? The peak, of course. Mount Samboryo. I follow a path and then I come upon two forks. Which one? I remembered the local whom I conversed earlier along the route who said that once I reach the topmost it would all be easy to Cabatbatan. I choose the leftmost.

I am happy with my progress without anybody from behind me giving pressure or a paper that says where should I be on the dot. Just when I am about to reach the peak, I meet a local who was carrying a rolled rusty roofsheet. I was sitting at that time with my back towards him and who could not be happy at this opportunity? Immediately, I asked him if this was the path to Cabatbatan? No, he says, it is on the other branch. The trail I am on leads to Bocawe.

I am tempted on the prospect of going directly to Bocawe instead of passing by Cabatbatan first but my urge gets blunted when I learned from him that there is no store nor houses along the route. Well, why not take this path on another time where conditions are far more favorable to my liking? Why not indeed? So I follow the advice of the local and walk behind him back to where I was in the middle of regaining my composure.

Thanking the local, I proceed onto the right fork of the trail. There are no more ascents and I could see the Manipis Road on my right just across the chasm. Almost immediately, I could hear voice on a sound system announcing the progress of a basketball game. I look down on my left and I see a deep valley where there is a community. That must be Cabatbatan, I am sure. I slowly follow the steep path down, taking my time as I did when I climbed up to here.

I reach Cabatbatan (and the ongoing basketball game) at 15:30 but I need to pass time to a store that sells cold refreshments to me and my party for so many times in the past. The location of the store had been crucial to the old route since it afforded us something like you would like on a quest at the end of a rainbow. Its location on the new route is still very relevant if I were to choose since it can guarantee us cold refreshments all the time and the old lady there even offers her dirty kitchen and firewood for use during cooking.

I sit down again and, this time, it would be longer because I am buying a big cold bottle of San Miguel Beer. When I got tipsy, I simply munch one bread and it is gone. Had a long chat with the store owner and she happily welcomed recently one group of hikers on their way to Camp 4, Talisay City a few times. No wonder I get so many readers on this blog. They liked to share in the joys of the places that I wrote about. It is like a quest for them too.

I continue on at 16:20 after paying for my beer and saying goodbye to the old lady. I would be walking again on paved concrete. I cross the Bocawe Creek by bridge. This would be the last half of the journey. The endless rises of the road would sap your hopes should you wish to hurry. It is better to take your time since it is now almost dusk and cooler. I reach Bocawe at 17:15 and stop at a store for cold refreshment.

I have to tackle one last stretch of endless rises and, after that, rolling terrain towards Pamutan Junction which I reach at 18:15. By the way, I also carried my Cignus V85 radio and I shoot message over the frequency of Ham Radio Cebu but I got no reply. Checked my Cherry U2 phone but no message either. It would all be downhill from here and I choose to hike on the road without a light. The only time I use a light is when I signal a few motorcycles using the same road.

My plan was to go direct to Guadalupe by trail from Baksan but I am miserable tonight. My toes are in pain. Blisters are starting to develop the insides between toes. My knees ached while my right thigh starts to feel the tell-tale sign of a fledgling cramp. All these pain are but a part of a realm of nerves that the mind is gracious to accept and process. All you need to do is flip a switch and it becomes bearable. So I remained on the road.

Finally, at 19:30, I reach the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Limping to find privacy in the crowded parking lot, I find one at the new but still unopened convent. I sat and do nothing but close my eyes and whisper a prayer of thanks. I could not believe I am here. I count the time I started since morning up to here and it totalled 11 hours and 15 minutes and this was an exploration where I waste time taking wrong routes and retracing paths to start again. Opened my phone and I got a message this time.

Document done in LibreOffice 4.4 Writer

Tuesday, August 16, 2016


THE BOAT THAT I AM boarding is beginning to get full. I hate to travel in a passenger season. Mrs. PinoyApache insists that we should and there is no other time or other way. She would go to her place of childhood to celebrate fiesta in her village and then spend a week there and Christmas. Going with us is our son, Rocky, and grandsons Kurt and Jarod. Good thing, we are travelling light.

Today is December 19, 2015 and the TransAsia boat is scheduled to depart at 19:00 for the Port of Iligan. I looked for our cots but people are already occupying there and feeling comfortable. It is really confusing and chaotic. Some cots are assigned to two persons. Passengers are complaining. To placate us, we were assigned cots with different numbers by the lady purser and then another set of passengers came to claim theirs which we are now starting to feel at home. Shucks!

We were supposed to leave yesterday for the Port of Ozamiz but it was cancelled due to inclement weather and my wife had to arrange, in her typical street smart way, for us to be accommodated with this boat to Iligan. Typhoon Nono is wreaking havoc in Luzon while Tropical Storm Onyok is threatening Mindanao. Because of these two weather disturbances, people are being inconvenienced.

Two personnel from the Philippine Coast Guard assigned to MV TransAsia-8 begins to count passengers before the 19:00 ETD. The boat stalled for more than an hour and a neighboring boat bound for the Port of Cagayan de Oro left its berth. The Coast Guard does another recount. Waiting. It is already 22:30 and our boat had not budged from its berthing space.

Meanwhile, the lady purser is deluged with a crowd of complaining passengers. It was not really her fault though. Some crews reassigned cotless passengers to ones where there are legitimate occupants such as ours without her knowledge and she gets all the blame. I suspect, some crews are very enterprising in passenger seasons. The lady purser did a good job of checking her irritation and seeing to it that all passengers have cots to rest during the trip.

The Coast Guard does another run of counting people using a smartphone application. Ingenious! Later, chance passengers are forcefully sent off the boat. There may have been discrepancies between loading capacity, actual passengers and the travel manifest. In the old manual way of counting, these may have been easier with money talking but, with phone apps, it gets very complicated. The boat finally leave port at 23:30.

I wake up at 05:00 the following day – December 20 – with the boat rolling on the waves amid sea. The southern end of Cebu is still visible while up ahead clouds indicate a land mass. The boat canteen only sells instant noodles and water at a price! Good thing brunch was distributed else it would have been very stressful for us passengers. Once the boat entered Iligan Bay, the rough seas begins to mellow. It slid through Kiwalan Cove and docked at the Port of Iligan at 11:00 and we got off it fifteen minutes later.

We transferred to the terminal and choose an airconditioned bus bound for Pagadian City. It is a nightmare at the terminal as passengers jostled for space to get into the bus door. I forced my way in heaving my Habagat Viajero above my head where I settled at the farthest end of the bus. I see Jarod and my wife and, later, Rocky and Kurt. We stood on the aisle for a long time waiting for the bus to move – about 20 minutes – and when the bus travelled for the Port of Mukas – 130 minutes.

I get to see the rest of the coastal towns and communities of Lanao del Norte which I failed to do so during my stay in Kiwalan when I was a younger man in 1986-87. When the bus stopped at the junction to Mukas, we literally hit the ground running and filled quickly a parked tricycle bound for the port. Everybody were in a hurry and we have to imitate everyone, in “World War Z” fashion.

We settled at the uppermost deck of the “roll on-roll off” vessel as it slowly lurch across the Bay of Panguil at around 15:30 towards the Port of Ozamiz. It was just a 30-minute ride and the stress of travel is beginning to wear off on my entourage when we learned that relatives would pick us up once we are in Ozamiz City.

A red Toyota Avanza arrive with SPO1 Michelle Fosgate driving and her sister Ayen Abuton as companion. We stop for a meal first at the first Jollibee outlet we saw and proceed without much further ado for Barangay DC Mantos, in the town of Mahayag, Zamboanga del Sur. It is already dark when we arrive at out hosts' (Michelle and Ayen) bungalow. A room is assigned to me and my wife while another room for the boys. It was a tiring trip and an early rest is most welcome.

The following day – December 21 – is the eve of the feast of the community of DC Mantos, which was known by its old name of Sicpao. First thing in the morning, Vilma and I visited their family cemetery which is just walking distance. There is a hint of a sunny warm morning, even this early. Some of my wife's relatives came to meet us and we all get updated of events during our absence. The last time I was here was in 2000. Vilma and the boys were here two years ago and their connection here are still current.

The younger ones gets on to ride motorcycles with their younger cousins while I just stayed with my wife and gets a waft of the carabao meat that is now being cooked at the back of the house where there is a dirty kitchen. I understand, there were four swamp buffaloes that were slaughtered at dawn and some of the meat were brought here. I went to check the back if there is anything I could do to help.

I have brought a Leatherman PST and a Victorinox Trailmaster and, maybe I could help. Both have sharp but small stainless-steel blades and I would like to test these blades against the tough meat of the carabao. Across me the helpers found their kitchen knives getting dulled time and again slicing the meat and they were using wrong honing stones, which were the coarse ones. Taught them a better material to sharpen their knives.

I am summoned by a cousin of my wife, Aga Dilao, and I am whisked astride a motorcycle for the direction of the main part of the village into his home. They had prepared carabao food also as their main fare and, oh, how I love carabao food! Another of her cousin, Dandan Apale, and her brother, Jay Mantos, join me. A 750 ml bottle of Tanduay Rum 5 Years is waiting at the side sans ice. This is interesting.

Later, another cousin, Brett Mantos, arrive and, seeing that the bottle is half-ignored, took matters into his hands. He would be the “gunner” and the bottle ran its course quickly than expected. It was served almost full to a glass! Then a small bottle of Chivas Regal gets the same treatment. I need to go back to Camansi immediately and Aga is gracious enough to drive me back.

I am tipsy and I am famished again. My wife provided me the main fare: carabao meat! I got my taste of carabao stew (Local name: bas-oy) and another carabao stew called “linat-ang kabaw”. The former has a bit of a bitter taste on its soup which I liked so much. I willed myself to eat as much as possible. It is not everyday I get to eat carabeef. I am not sleepy but I remembered carabao meat being sliced at the back and I return to help.

In the middle of my task of slicing the meat, both the Leatherman and the Victorinox got blunted and I have to sharpen it against the bottom of a ceramic cup and refined it with the bottom of an empty bottle until such time I have finished my lot. In this comparison, the Victorinox remained superb, by virtue of its longer blade length. It even accidentally cut into the tip of a fingernail which such depth that the other could not.

Finished my task and take a rest reading Staying Safe by Juval Aviv until my eyes get drowsy and I slept. Woke up early evening, in time for dinner. Carabeef. How lovely! There are carabeef soups of “bas-oy” and “linat-an” and then there is carabeef steak. Then carabeef adobo is added to the table.

December 22 – Fiesta Time. I opt to rest and forego breakfast but Mrs. PinoyApache is insistent and I have to rise and take a seat around the dining table. I am in her hometown and I have to tiptoe a lot most of the time. The lady cop, meanwhile – Michelle – who is our host, is going early to assume her duty in faraway Ramon Magsaysay town and that leaves only Ayen to set the house on order with all the kids and the teens.

With almost nothing to do, I decide to visit my brother-in-law – Verio Balat – and see what’s cooking? Some of the carabeef fare are found there and I decide to munch some to pair it with the strong rum. When I think I am a bit tipsy, I return to the bungalow and take a well-deserved rest. I really need this vacation. I have been working hard with my employer for a stressful eight years. After this, I will work for a few days and pass my courtesy resignation. I am done.

I read the book and take lunch and read again. In the waning daylight, I stole a motorcycle and decide to look for an Internet cafe which I found on the next town of Molave. There is so much to do like reading emails and scan my Facebook updates after an absence of five days. Left after two-and-a-half hours and arrived just in time for dinner. Slept early quite full.

The morning after – December 23 – me and wife decide to visit his ailing father. Suffered a stroke years ago and is taken cared of by his other sons. He was not feeling well but was glad that we are here. We go back and I return to my book, then eat lunch, and finish the book in mid-afternoon, which is what I intend to. Now, I could rest my eyes.

Waking up near dusk, my eyes egged for anything to read and my attention is cast on Michelle’s book, 7 Healthy Ways for Healthy Living. I read a few pages when dinner is called. After a few social calls, I return to the latest book and gain insights on how to live simply and healthy, which is very appropriate, considering that I am experiencing right now a good dose of luxuriant food high in fats.

The house is busy today. It should be for everybody since it is Christmas Eve. I go to the back of the house after breakfast to help in the slicing of vegetables with my Victorinox. Ah, another feast in the making. I bet carabeef will be replaced by another set of food. When I am done, my natural instinct lead me back to the book when lunch is called.

Two different dish of fish are the main fare with local pasta on the side. A bowl of carabeef steak – remnants of the last three days of meals – gets its piece of table space which I cannot ignore. The book is a magnet now and ever and I need to finish it before we leave back to Cebu, which would be a day or two after Christmas.

By mid-afternoon, I shift back to the dirty kitchen area to help roast chicken and to rest my eyes from seeing so many letters. Jarod gets his lessons roasting chicken when the urge of reading called my attention. The comforts of a cool bed in a late afternoon rushed me instead to dreamland.

Dinner came and a lot of relatives are coming over for the Christmas Eve supper. The house is full and I have to socialize. I believe, after this meal, we all would go to Tangub City. I do not have an idea yet but people are overly ecstatic at this chance. Two vehicles provided by Vilma’s cousin, Doc Tuesday, and everything is in order.

It is a cool night, as we cruise on an almost empty highway passing by Mahayag, Molave, Tambulig and Bonifacio. After a series of lighted arches, set apart each other by a kilometer and with different themes, we arrive at this small city off the southeastern part of Misamis Occidental. I have never been to Tangub in daylight but, here I am, in the midst of a brightly-lighted city square.

They have a Christmas-themed park stocked with famous landmarks of different countries in almost life-sized replicas bedecked with multi-colored LED lights, flowers and painted in pastel and gaudy. Pagodas stood side-by-side with castles and wonderland which awed child and adult and the not-so-rich and poor alike. Christmas is really for the children and the children once in us.

I wake up to a foggy morning. Christmas Day comes right on schedule here in DC Mantos. I used to enjoy foggy Christmas mornings when I was a child in my dear Cebu but it is all gone now and forgotten. Maybe climate change has got something to do with that. For the whole morning, I greet everybody a Merry Christmas and dole out P50 and P100 bills to child and teen. Me and Vilma visit her father and I press for her right of a property due her which was instantly approved.

The rest of the day crawled lazily as I sulk my eyes reading. By late afternoon, I stole again a motorcycle and proceed to that Internet cafe in Molave and greet people in Facebook. Although there is a festive mood in the air, most people insist in staying indoors while a few walked in groups carrying musical instruments. I go back after more than three hours suffering a seasickness syndrome caused by a slow Internet speed.

I finally finished the second book on December 26. I learned a lot from this book and I may have to apply what I read starting 2016. This book will guide my eating habits and my lifestyle next year since I will be a year older and I have no more regular means of income for I will be jobless. Before lunchtime, we surveyed the area where my wife’s property is located. My eyes are fixed on a lot which is quite advantageous to us.

The last day of our vacation came and some relatives will miss our presence, especially the cousins of our boys. I believed every day and night was a party for them since they were all absent all the time except when they need to take a bath, change clothes and ask for money. We left in the afternoon in the same Toyota Avanza, this time driven by my wife’s younger brother Arnold.

We arrive at the Port of Ozamiz and we carry extra cargo of a sack of rice, another smaller sack of sticky rice and a cartonful of banana to a Cebu-bound ship. All the boys are in and I think it was a wonderful Christmas vacation for all of us. We thank Ayen and Michelle for insisting that we visit them and to everyone down there who entertained us and accommodated us in any way they can. Thank you and God bless!

Document done in LibreOffice 4.4 Writer

Thursday, August 11, 2016

BEBUT’S TRAIL IX: Christmas United Year 4

THIS IS A VERY DIFFERENT morning. I can feel it in my nose. Aha! Yes! It is December 13, 2015 and it is the season of giving. I am the first in the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Then comes the people who lived from faraway Lapulapu City, one after the other. They never failed to amaze me. Richie Quijano, Nyor Pino and Locel Navarro.

As I sat on the front stairs of an unfinished building, the rest came in trickles. Across me, is another group who are on a mission today to Kahugan. They are kindred spirits. In a half hour we will have ours at Baksan. Fritz Jay Hortelano arrive with a plastic bag full of face towels while Justin Abella and Faith Gomez have two big vacuum-packed plastic filled with stuffed toys.

Aljew Frasco and Bonna Canga parked a maroon Toyota pick-up which will be useful transport soon for the volunteers among us. Jhurds Neo also with a Toyota Fortuner that has wife Zette, son Jacob and niece among the passengers and our guest Derek Manuel with wife and daughter. Also arriving is the Neo family's other transport – a Suzuki Every 660 – to be used for this event called Christmas United, which is in its fourth year.

We have held Christmas United in Kahugan for three straight years until we decide to transfer it to Baksan this year. An incident in July had caused our perennial hosts, the Roble Family, to transfer elsewhere. Their place was perfect for our outreach events like Christmas United and another one called Who Put the “N” in Nature, which we hold every May of each year before the opening of classes.

It is really sad on our part because a lot of children there will be deprived of the gifts we bring this December because of the deeds of one resident named Timoteo “Nonoy” Gabasan. He has been responsible in the attempt on the life of Fele Roble and the burning of their house after that. To show our sympathy to the Roble family, we decide to transfer to Baksan, with a heavy heart, until justice will be served on the suspect.

Already at Baksan as our advance party of yesterday are Mark and Mirasol Lepon, Nelson Orozco, Jonathan Apurado, Fritz Bustamante and Nelson Tan. They have stayed at the Ragasajo Homestead where it may well be being prepared for use today. They have carried the bulk of the gifts and some of the food stuffs which we will prepare for the children and, possibly, for their parents too.

The convoy of three vehicles with all volunteers and items aboard leave Guadalupe at almost nine. We reach the trailhead by the road at 09:10 and, slowly, we grab what we can carry with our hands towards the Ragasajo homestead. It is a short walk of undulating terrain but quite shady. An approaching tropical storm called “Nono” is threatening us with a light shower but we remain optimistic that it does not ruin our day.

I believe the children and their supportive parents are waiting for us now. Some of these children, walked with us, expectant of something on this beautiful morning. Two vats of street ice cream are being transferred from the vehicles to the outreach area as well as some of the gifts and the food ingredients that we will prepare and cook today for the children.

Supporting us and relishing to volunteer their time is Atty. Jose Mari Gochangco and his very modest wife-to-be. The guys from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild are very honored by the presence the Gochangco couple and the Manuels. We behaved and watched our language and put our best foot forward. All hands took to their assigned tasks to the letter and most put on an extra effort.

Baby Quia, daughter of Aaron and Ann Jillian Binoya, exercised her social skills as well as her hiking legs as she is totally awestruck in this Christmas affair with so many children around her. Not to be outdone, 7-year old Jacob snared a lot of new friends – young and older – and became part of his fledgling pack. The Ragasajo homestead is a beehive of activities which the following montage shows:

When all the gifts are now in every kid’s safe clutch, when every morsel of food is wiped clean from the plates and the place is swept up of clutter and litter, it is time for us to go. A grateful local, Alex, showed and led us to a route down which would exit nearest to Guadalupe. We follow down a creek and walk the boulder-strewn streambed and its creekside trail.

I say this again: that if you show goodwill, routes which lay unknown will be opened up for you. The route is a lonely one since nobody – not even locals – go there anymore. They opt for the easier Baksan Road and hire a motorcycle when they go to the city center or, if they may have to walk, they go by way of Banika. It is really lonely. Something in the air imply that it is a cursed one.

Alex told tales of how this place became a stronghold of armed radicals in the ‘80s and it had been a battleground as well. There used to be a thriving community here but the residents abandoned their homes to seek peaceful and safer places. We passed by a crumbling hulk of concrete of what used to be a house. On its walls were bullet holes.

We found habitated houses but it is used only as resting places by locals who worked on small farmplots. By late afternoons, it is abandoned for their more secure abodes downstream like a woman with her infant who joined us. But what astonishes me is a good-looking couple who made this cursed place their home and they were not even locals.

We reach Guadalupe at 18:00 and proceed to my new water hole that would ensure me endless ice-cold bottles of beer – Cafe Angelica – which is located at the back of KIA Motors in Gorordo Avenue. There, we celebrate our success with the fourth edition of Christmas United. Despite that, I could not erase the faces of children of Kahugan whom I have known so well and who were deprived of another joyful and unforgettable Christmas because of this rogue named Timoteo “Nonoy” Gabasan.

It breaks my heart. Merry Christmas anyway to you all in Kahugan.

Document done LibreOffice 5.1 Writer