Sunday, May 24, 2015

BIRD WATCHING AND MORE

A COMPANY-SPONSORED OUTING is always an essential part in developing and strengthening the camaraderie of its employees. Not only that, it helps to release work-related stress among its employees, especially if it is done outdoors like beaches and mountain resorts. It might integrate team-building seminars but it is much better if the employees are free to do their own thing absent of the shackles of its corporate masters.

Nature heals. I am a believer of that and I, a weekend outdoorsman, have regularly felt nature’s power over an individual. The mountains, the trees, the rivers, the birds, the sands, the seas, the air and everything in it conspire in that healing process. All are part of one large organism called Mother Earth. It breathes. It throbs with life. It worships the one true Creator – the God of Zion, of Islam, of Christians, of Buddhists, of Hindus, and of the many divergent indigenous people.

Today, October 4, 2014, I am in a private resort owned by a retired general in Matutinao, Badian, Cebu. I am with twelve of my officemates of Tactical Security Agency for a company outing. The resort is on the vicinity of the mouth of the Matutinao River. I have the option to bathe in either sea or river or brackish water; lukewarm or cold. It is raining and the tide is low. Not a fine moment to cavort with nature yet.


The travel from Mandaue City in the early morning had been smooth, the weather cloudy. Two vehicles are used: the Toyota Hilux and a Suzuki Scrum. I am riding the latter. After a stop-over at Carcar to load our order of roasted pork (Local name: inasal), we proceed to Badian via Barili. It starts to rain lightly when we arrive at Matutinao at 10:15 and I begun to chop half of the the roasted pork into small pieces with my Trailhawk Cleaver while the place is still peaceful.

The rest begins to fill up the closed cottages and cook rice in electric cooker and by firewood. The Toyota arrived at 11:00 and they had bought pork meat and fresh fish at Moalboal to back up our roasted pork. Since all were hungry, we decide to start our late brunch on the inasal leaving the meat and the fish uncooked and condemned as fodder for supper instead. The inasal is limitless and filled up everyone quickly, this despite the absence of condiments.

The first of the many bottles of brandy is opened but some of us preferred coconut wine (tuba) which had been offered for sale along the road. I very well know (and trusted) that this variety of local wines sold in southern towns are pure and freshly harvested from its source. One of us quickly dispatch a local to procure three gallons. On the other hand, two of my officemates with the Toyota was sent forth to look for a videoke machine for rent as our form of entertainment.


When the tuba came, I relish at its sweetness and declined, time and time again, the glasses of brandy which came my way. Everybody sang to their heart’s content while I enjoyed the company of funny tales and non-work-related conversations. Although it is raining lightly, it had not dampened our spirits and some even went out to the beach and took a bath in the middle of the afternoon.

I opt to stay dry and when the sky cleared at 16:00, I slowly set up my Silangan “stealth” hammock between two trunks of Gmelina trees with a matching Apexus taffeta sheet as an overhead shelter which is secured to the ground with cords and wooden stakes. Glass after glass of the organic wine had left me drowsy and tipsy and I walked to the lounge chairs placed on the beachfront. The sounds of the onrushing waves have soothed my mind and I lose awareness.


I woke up in darkness. It is 20:30 and the singing voice behind the microphone of the videoke showed signs that it had a drink too many. Only a few had stayed awake although it is still not late. I join the small company and eat a full dinner. The fish had been cooked on charcoal while the rest had been prepared raw with vinegar (kinilaw). The pork meat had also been cooked the same way with the fish but it is chopped in cubes. The inasal are plenty while some are cooked with vinegar (paksiw).

I washed again my food with the local wine until I am alone with the videoke machine. The last of my awake officemates turned in at 23:00 and I am now the sole steward of the microphone. Eventually, I got tired of singing and programmed the songs instead with MP3 versions and toned down the volume. I choose soothing songs relevant to this late hour. A hundred songs which, I believed, would last through dawn. I slept at last on my hammock at 02:15.


I woke up at 07:30 the following day, October 5. The water had risen and everyone are on the water. Ate my breakfast of soup from freshly-caught fish alone and washed it with local wine again when I noticed two new gallons are on the table. Some of the guys left the water to steel themselves with either tuba or brandy and picked food to chew about. Conversations opened up complemented with hearty laughs. The high tide had beckoned me to take a swim and I left the group for the beach.

I crossed the river mouth going across to a gravelly beach where some mangroves grew. I walked on the beach past the back of a public school and into an old Malabar almond tree (magtalisay). I touched the lower trunk. This is where the heat bounced off from my small campfire on the night of April 23, 2009 and the very place where I sang the songs that my late grandfather had taught me. That night, I was transformed from a leisure hiker into a more useful outdoorsman. Before leaving, I gave thanks to the tree.

I walked near a sandbar protruding out to the sea. I sat on the pebbly bottom with the rest of my body above the surface. I just sat motionless, enjoying the sun at my back, the waves lapping at my knees and on my tummy. A small fish dart between my legs and swam to the shore’s edge. I followed it with my eyes but lost it. I changed to a prone position and slowly crawled towards the sandbar, just enough to keep my chin above water.


I saw a bird on the sandbar. It stared at me and so I froze. I am about eight meters away from the bird. For about 30 seconds, the bird observed me until it sees me harmless and decides to hop and walk around the sandbar looking for something on the ground. It had a long beak, so it must be a marine bird but it is small with short legs. The wings, tail and head are dark while its undersides are light colored. My memory about this bird begins to work and, I think, this is a common kingfisher (tikarol).

It feeds on something from the ground. It hopped and ran all around the small confines of the sandbar. The sunlight caught a flash of its food at its beak from my low angle of sight. It must have plenty of food on that small island as it peck again and again from something moving on the ground, its tail wagging up and down, a sure sign that it is a happy and contented bird until an unexpected arrival of another bird on a nearby mangrove tree caused it to shriek and dragged a wing on the ground as if shielding from an attacker.

The new arrival – a gray wagtail (bangkiyod) – just watched the kingfisher from below its perch. It then flew away. It may have planned to fed on the same food as that of the kingfisher’s but being late at the party caused it to look for another place to feed itself. I am interested with the kingfisher’s diet and I am also interested to read its track on that small sandbar, especially at that spot where it was spooked and had almost gone to flight.


I have enough of bird watching and I will invade the sandbar for study. Before I went, I take note of the most prominent trees in the vicinity. One is a tall mangrove about 15 meters away and another is a leafy Malabar almond tree across the estuary. These are the most likely trees that a bird would fly to should it be threatened by my presence. The kingfisher chose the Malabar almond tree but it skimmed the water’s surface first before changing angle in a wide arc to the safety of the leaves.

With the sun across me, it was not difficult to find the food that the kingfisher had fed itself to contentment. These are arthropods (hipan-hipan) and it begins to populate the drier ground of the sandbar after being displaced by the approach of tide. Their silvery backs flashed in the glorious sunlight but I cannot find the tracks of the kingfisher, especially at the spot where it dragged its wings. The sandbar is not made of pure sand but just a hump of small pebbles mixed with a bit of grainy sand.

Failing that, I walked to the mangrove tree where the gray wagtail perched. I saw the broken branch where it stood for a moment. The outer end showed signs of use and smoothed than the rest of the branch. I looked for a similar branch and I also found where a bird would always perch. I smiled contentedly of these small discoveries. People do not take notice of these things, of slight differences, of reading nature from its palm up.


With a wet hand, I touch a leaf of the mangrove, leaving a wet imprint of my thumb. Similarly, with a wet forearm, I brushed another leaf with it. The wet imprints caused by my hairy forearms on a leaf adhered. I observed my actions on both leaves for 15 seconds, then 30 seconds and then for a minute. The moisture evaporated but the imprints remained. I went back to the sandbar to look for the tracks. I studied it more closely, lying prone at lower angles, but found no traces. Disappointed, I go back to the leaves.

After five minutes, the imprints on the leaves stayed. At a different angle of light it cannot be seen but when you shift at another angle, it is very visible. Satisfied with my study, I cross the estuary back to the resort. I believed I need more drinks and more food to keep my brain working in order to answer the mystery of the kingfisher. The current on the river mouth can be seen by the eyes. The differing temperatures between salty and fresh water can be felt by skin. I swam from halfway to the shore.

After more than an hour, I go back to the sandbar. I finally found the spot where the kingfisher was antagonized by the presence of another bird. Its wings dragged small pebbles loose and the claws scratched the gravelly sand caused by shifting of its weight. I am able to read this only when seen from a new angle and it had given me a sort of a personal victory. Aside that, I saw a recent foot print of a man, at least of size 8. Invisible on a semi-hard surface unless you see it with a different set of eyes.

I walked to the mangroves. My imprints on the leaves stayed. Subtle things can never be noticed by ordinary people and be seen with an ordinary frame of mind. Even with me, trained in the woods at an early age (although for a short time only), there still are things that I cannot catch attention immediately. It slips from my grasp – my memory – and I could not imagine I sometimes walked like a sheep. So unknowing like the rest. So innocent. So full of meat.

I cross once again the river and touched base on shore. My officemates are preparing our lunch and of leaving. Some of them dress up, packing things, running over again in their minds details that might had been overlooked. I take it slow so I would not be distracted by my ongoing connection with nature. I talked to them of the plants when they asked for a name and I loved to share what I learned.

The rest of the morning dragged by until lunch came. We said thanks to our graceful host and leave something for their caretaker’s upkeep. The two vehicles slowly retrace the path to the highway. On convoy, going to Alegria, we returned the videoke machine and made a detour back to Badian. At Barili, rain overtook us. It is a slow ride, visibility impaired by rain on an accident-prone highway bound for Carcar.

Rain stopped at San Fernando but it returned at full intensity in Minglanilla. A flooded highway along Linao gripped traffic to a standstill. Vehicle and motorcycle engines conked out causing more problems to traffic. We decide to park our vehicles at KIA Motors Service Center while the floodwaters are still high and the rain unforgiving. After 90 minutes, the floods subside and traffic begins to flow. We reach Mandaue City at 16:30. I did not stay long. I have a long way to go on a motorcycle under overcast clouds which still pour wispy drops of rain.

That opportunity to wind myself (or perhaps, for my office mates too) closer to nature had opened up windows of some unused knowledge that I had learned so long ago into practice. I was like a child again, reminiscing of lessons taught to me. This time I had retrieved this aspect and it will be used and, ultimately, shared to a few useful outdoorsmen. Because of a company-sponsored outing done without the shackles of its corporate masters.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXXXIII: A Birthday, a Feast and Lots of Footprints

I WENT AS FAST AS I could to Guadalupe today, September 29, 2014. It is now 10:15 and quite late for a morning walk from Napo to the Roble homestead. No, it would not be a walk but a race against noon. I would not have been here were it not for a special occasion of which I am invited. Today is the birthday of Fele Roble, Manwel’s father.

Already hours ahead of me are Boy Toledo and Jhurds Neo. Both had sent me SMS yesterday of their availability for today. I believe more are going there. Anyway, I had taken a light breakfast near the Ayala flyover more than an hour ago after a rare Sunday inspection on my wards at the Pag-IBIG Fund Corporate Tower in the Cebu Business Park.


When I reached Napo, I put on my Chipaway Cutlery Bowie Knife, intending to open carry it to the Roble homestead. I drape my meshed shawl on my neck to shield me later from the onslaughts of the sun, which is nearing its zenith as well as its intensity. The Sapangdaku Creek is full and its water swirled and laughed at the bounty heaped by many days of rain in the valleys and hills of the Babag Mountain Range.

The ground is wet, parts of it muddy. In fact, a lot of soles are printed on trail surfaces. Leaving a shoe print is not wrong nor it violates a Leave No Trace Principle but, here at the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, we take it to a higher level. Leaving a print on a wet ground is like leaving a thumbprint on glass; more of like introducing your personality to another person. What you leave behind could tell about you which you had never known yet.


I have something in mind today. I would take photographs of as many footprints as my camera battery would allow me and make a database about it. From there, I would let people guess and choose from the album of prints for a particular picture of a rubber sole. They would also guess the foot size, gender, build and other details like what caused a shoe to dig deep into the ground? They would have to create a story basing on the set of tracks they see.

I am not frustrated of my insane pursuit as the ground gave me many shoe prints to photograph which even a blind man could follow easily in the dark. My eyes were focused on the trail, especially at its wettest and muddiest part where I get to “know” of a lot of clumsy individuals. Most just superimposed their tracks of another while some make a half circle trying to evade the mud – too late and too soon.


As I was doing that a lone hiker joined me on the trail. He could either be amused at my activity or was just ashamed to ask. I do not know since he is behind me. When you do not ask, you would never elicit an answer from me, otherwise, do not wait for that chance wherein you would have to pay me to get one. Nevertheless, he enjoyed my tales of the outdoors and the special and uncanny features of the places where we passed.

We reach Lower Kahugan Spring and we take a short rest while waiting for my bottle to get filled by the natural spring. We resumed our walk and I follow a new route which had recently been opened to the mountain folks but only a few outsiders had known. On it are more shoe prints but, at least, these belonged to friends. Nature had worked in my favor of this so-called deduction process.

The heavy 5.11 Tactical Pants I wear today becomes a drag as the terrain gradient begins to demand more effort of self to attain progress. The bottles of vodka and lime juice inside the Silangan Predator Z backpack also begins to be felt on my shoulders. This business of hiking mountainous terrain could never be understood by sedentary urban folks yet, here I am, always complaining against myself why I am doing this, promising (and breaking), time and time again, never to engage on this again.


It never was easy to fool a person but I seemed to be enjoying this on myself. The brunt of the sun added to this stalemate of a promise and a renege but I am already on a spot called the “point of no return”. The wristwatch, an instrument that promotes the Western idea of time, begins to grab me by the neck and imposes on me to make more effort. I have to be there not later than noon because I had promised myself so.

At precisely 12:00, I reach the Roble homestead but my struggle to be here in so short a time had taken the fight out of me. I sat on the bamboo bench, catching wind, ignoring an invite of a sumptuous meal. Too soon. Too soon. Everybody had already settled on the blank spaces in between, especially Jhurds, Dominik Sepe, Mark Lepon and Maricel, who found a spot at a mango tree on a platform built above the ground.


Boy T, Boy Olmedo, Ernie Salomon and Ramon Corro are on the visitor’s shed, already in the middle of a round of the first bottle of local brandy. I ignore these spectacles and concentrate to listen instead to my body talking. When I have settled, I begin to take fill my plate with milled corn, goat stew (calderetta), free-rein chicken (estofado) and diced pork (menudo). The food are meant for everybody. It is celebration time.

After I had taken my fill of the feast, I join the group on the visitor’s shed. Boy T is on a debate against the rest, defending his privilege to enjoy the outdoors with a little mix of liquor but the rest found on the other part of the shed are against it. I added my voice to defend Boy T but the rest, in jest, rebuke Boy T with a “board resolution” passed by the “Board of Directors” disallowing him to enjoy this privilege. I could only shake my head and smiled in agreement.

After I had disentangled myself from the raucous crowd in the shed, I make busy with my camera again taking photographs of rubber soles to add to my database album. From these soles, I would challenge my adherents to identify the footprints in which it was made. Well, that is advanced trailcraft for you and it would certainly add to your knowledge and, perhaps, you might even use this skill in another situation. Who knows?

Anyway, by 14:30, we leave the Roble homestead. Boy T cut short his drinking binge in accord with the “board resolution” and everybody is happy. Laughing. Sweat begins to bleed from our skin as the afternoon sun creates a very humid condition. We arrive at Napo at 15:15 and wait for our ride back to Guadalupe. We got that and continue our celebration at Boy T’s favorite watering hole in M. Velez Street.


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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

COMPLEAT BUSHCRAFT XVIII: Glenn’s Thanksgiving

WHEN GLENN PESTAÑO OFFERED to provide a free-rein chicken for a meal if we come to Sayao, Sibonga, Cebu on Sunday, September 21, 2014, I did not hesitate. I volunteered to come and I do not care if I am just alone or with a thousand. I will come on my own free accord, of course, with that promise of a delicious meal.

I arrive at the 7Eleven store across the Cebu South Bus Terminal and was in the middle of my light breakfast of fig pies when Mark Lepon arrive. Mark had been very consistent with his appearance and participation upon the activities of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. For three straight times, he was there and now, the fourth.

We board a Ceres Bus bound for the south. It left the terminal at 07:00 and we disembark at 08:40 when the bus reach Ocaña, Carcar. We chip in money between ourselves and bought a kilo of rice, some vegetables, cooking oil and vinegar. From there we transfer to Napo, where we cross a stream and walk towards Sayao by way of an unpaved road that ascend and wind into hilly terrain.


It is a warm morning but I am used to this situation. My body and my mindset had adapted well to this weekend hiking regimen among rugged woodlands in sunny and rainy weather. Gone are the painful muscle pains that had hounded me days after such walks in the outdoors. I believed I had achieved my goal of equaling my fitness of 25 summers ago, maybe even more. Before gaining that, it took me five years of hard work going back to square one.

Although I do not indulge anymore in non-stopping trail runs but I had regained my burst of speeds on short distances, my endurance, my wind and my second wind. Aside that, I had gained a lot of insight and wisdom. So to speak, I am in the best years of my life, or, for that matter, health, enjoying what I do, albeit in my middle years. Age does not matter, I just shifted my paradigm. It takes sparks of creativity to enjoy life more.

I am under the sparse shade of a coconut tree, waiting for Mark who had been struggling under the heat of the sun and with the weight of his bag. His water bottle is very accessible and he could rehydrate himself anytime. My bottle is inside my Silangan Predator Z backpack and my idea of rehydration are done in small sips, very few and far between. Water discipline is an art. I had learned it young under the aegis of my grandpa.


The AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife danced proudly by my side for every stride of my leg. It is open carried, its weight a safe assurance for an equally proud owner. Mark, presently, a rough cut, but, soon, a rare jewel, carried openly his Seseblades NCO knife. We, at Camp Red, prefer local blades because, we know, it could perform better in the tropics than imported ones.

We pass by a community and I saw Glenn and our host, Rufino Ramos. Both were there to acquire that promised free-rein chicken and another desirable treat – an unadulterated white coconut wine (Local: tuba). When we had the items, we resumed our walk towards the hill. Glenn is carrying an air-powered rifle. He says he is celebrating his promotion in his work and this simple offer of free-rein chicken meal is his own version of thanksgiving.

We stop by a shady place underneath two large mango trees. Instantly, I retrieve my AJF Folding Trivet and my black-bottomed pots and set up a fireplace. We need to enjoy coffee. I forage dry tinder and firewood while Mark uses his stash of charclothe to start a fire with a ferro rod from Glenn. While waiting for the water to boil, Glenn fine-tuned his air rifle and set up his sight on an empty vitamin container. Mark test the feel of the rifle and fired shot after shot. Then the coffee is ready.


Rufino took charge of cooking the chicken while I will cook the kilo of rice. Mark has a newly-acquired Victorinox SAK Officer and he had been asking me about its authenticity during our hike. While it looked authentic enough, I advised him to get a second opinion from Glenn. Glenn is a knife collector, especially branded ones. One of those he collects is the Swiss Army Knife. Mark got a real deal indeed!

The coconut wine is very sweet and I could not say no to several successive shots in a few minute intervals. I cook our rice on my biggest pot, then I start to make bamboo pop guns (Local: lut-hang) for my grandsons. I cut the small bamboo tubes with the folding saw of my Victorinox SAK Trailmaster. The saw design of the SAK is superb, as always, and made short work of the two-week old bamboos, which are now beginning to harden. The bamboo rods used to pop out “bullets”, I shape with my AJF Gahum knife.

When I had finished, our simple meal of chicken soup commenced. Since we are just four people, we eat to our heart’s desire. The soup, always so distinctly-flavored and very much savored when native chicken is the dish. The meat is succulently seasoned to the taste buds when its tenderness are just enough and not much. You do not need any taste enhancers when you cook soup on a native variety, believe me.

A branch of a mango stray low and I punch my AJF Gahum tip down, then my William Rodgers bushcraft knife, my Trailmaster, my Trailhawk cleaver and my Buck 112 folding knife. Glenn did likewise with his own array of knives and a blade porn begins. Mark joined the fray with his own and then cameras get busy. Rufino decides to show me wild plants which they used as home remedies for common ailments.


Glenn, Rufino and Mark take a route going somewhere to shoot targets while I stayed to enjoy little pleasures with the native wine. The afternoon hours drag slowly underneath the place of the shady mango tree. The place is just perfect to spend a Sunday, a good spot to release all the stress accumulated from being a slave to time, money and from people that we called as our “boss”.

By 15:00, Mark and I leave Sayao. Rufino and Glenn accompany us to a trail leading to Calangyawon. It pass by farms and individual thatched houses, a cotton shrub, groves of bamboo, dry brooks and a small community. From a distance, I could see a small lake, perfectly covered by trees all around. Motorcycles for hire are waiting for passengers when we arrive. Me and Mark hop on separate motorcycles and it goes down to Ocaña.


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