Monday, February 13, 2017

MAN-SIZED HIKE XXIV: Lake Lanao to Bulalaqui Point

IT IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE CALLED a man-sized hike for it is just a little over seven kilometers in length. The route could not even cross municipal boundaries and is only confined in the Municipality of Daanbantayan. It starts from Lake Lanao going to Maya and up to Cebu’s northernmost tip, Bulalaqui Point. A mere dayhike. This is the same route that was denied me and my Exploration Team last August 20, 2016 during the Segment VII Exploration Hike.

Today – November 3, 2016 – I aim to finish the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT. I am alone. I hope I will not be denied again. I timed this hike when everyone comes back home to Metro Cebu after spending All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day in municipal cemeteries and where I have all the bus to myself. Well, not quite, but I do have an almost empty bus to ride in and it feels better when you have rows of empty seats and silence for company.

It had rained in Cebu City for days, including the whole night, and the forecast for today is not that encouraging. It was raining when the bus left the Cebu North Bus Terminal and it was still raining when the bus stopped at Carmen. As we went far north, the rain seemed to slow down and gone completely in Medellin. The skies are dark gray and quite grave for comfort. I just hope it stays that way for the rest of the day!

I arrive at the bus terminal of Daanbantayan and proceed immediately to the police station to make a courtesy call. Everyone knew me from last time and that is an advantage. But I did make a letter to their superior, the Provincial Police Director, days before so I would not be inconvenienced today. The local police are very accommodating and seemed to know that I am coming. Very good.

From the town, I hired a motorcycle and the driver whisked me to Lanao, the village named after their Lake Lanao, a lake that most people outside Daanbantayan never knew existed. I have known it when I saw an old map and found a hole in northern Cebu. But you will be disappointed. It is better that people not know this existed for you will find no lake. It had been converted into a big rice paddy.

I arrive at Lanao and made a courtesy call to their village head. There was no atmosphere of fear and anxiety when I arrived unlike the first time. The old lady was apologetic about my past troubles. They were just instructed by the mayor to be on the lookout of strangers and suspicious persons. Yup, we fit the description right and we have the name of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT on our jersey uniforms announcing our suspicious presence.

Anyway, after scribbling my name and purpose in their visitor’s log, I went on my way. I followed a dirt road. I see part of the lake on my left and low hills on my right. If I were to choose where I would want to walk, I would opt for the hills. It just happens that I am a stranger here and so I confine my activity on the road for the safety of residents. My presence still invite suspicions even if I have properly checked in with the authorities.

After an hour, I took my chance on a trail when I find that the dirt road starts to be paved in concrete. The brief respite led me to the national highway. I am now in the village of Tapilon and, sooner, I would be in Maya. This road would lead to the Port of Maya, the gateway to Malapascua Island. On my left are small roads. I am curious of where it led to and I have locals who were just as happy to help me.

I found a backroad that led to a nice beach which might be a good place to celebrate after a hikethru. I marked it as Sandoval Beach because a local says so. I still need to walk more so I would know more of the places that I am ignorant of. An arrow on a road sign says Malapascua. I got perplexed. I do not know that there is another wharf. I followed the arrow so I could satisfy my curiosity. It was not difficult to find and I am at a dock under construction.

Looming beside it is a part of the cliff leading to Bulalaqui Point! Questions begot me answers and I am now following a trail which led to a small community of Damba and the same trail veered left to higher ground. A local herder guided me to the flat ridge and showed me the way to Cebu’s northernmost tip. My adrenaline rose at the prospect of finally ending a quest that have had its first steps taken more than five years ago from Lutopan, Toledo City.

The trail led to more higher ground and I stopped at a high location to propagate a VHF signal to a repeater found 136 kilometers away on the Babag Mountain Range of Cebu City. As I opened the Yaesu FT270R portable radio, the frequency was instantly besieged by worthless radio traffic that I have had no time to send an important milestone that would have benefited Ham Radio Cebu and any emergency responder for that matter.

Disappointed, I proceed to Bulalaqui Point. Ahead is a thick forest of pygmy trees and bush. There are trails going left and right but, right now, I just want to be at the tip of Cebu. The tip would be marked by a slice of rock that had fell on the sea eons ago which you could see if you happen to be on a boat bound for or coming from Manila. I followed a very scant trail under a low canopy of foliage.

Then I heard a loud explosion! Showers of water can be heard afterward indicating that the explosives were placed on the sea. Dynamite fishing! I peeked carefully among the foliage and saw a small boat with four people on it. I do not want to be discovered and I do not want also to slip off the cliff. Then another explosion and water spraying back to the sea. Then voices of people as a small boat engine comes alive.

The illegal activity is irrelevant to my activity today. I do not want to derail the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL because I am too nosy. It is not my problem. Let the authorities solve it themselves. Just below me is the rock itself. I am now on Cebu’s “finisterre” or “fin de tierra” or the end of land. I am at Bulalaqui Point! I unfurled the tarpaulin banner and tied it to branches. I would begin a simple celebration to mark a capping off ceremony.

I retrieved my Swiss Army emergency stove from my Lifeguard USA rucksack and begun the process of making a small fire in it with broken-off twigs and crushed dry leaves. I will boil water in a cup and stir instant coffee. When coffee’s ready, I eat a simple meal of two pieces red pie. This is my breakfast and lunch and coffee is great during a windy day with overcast skies.

I took the pebble that I collected at Liloan Point, Santander last August 23, 2016, already labeled and dated, and sealed inside a small plastic and placed it in between a small tree that has two trunks. It shall stay there temporarily until a permanent holder can be acquired housing soon handcarried souvenirs from Cebu’s southern end. As they say, it is a happy ending. Not really. It is just the start of a new trend of adventure tourism. The explosions are an added bonus celebrating the culmination of a pilgrimage.

Now I ask you: Would you consider this as a man-sized hike?

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Monday, February 6, 2017


IT CAME UNEXPECTEDLY! An ugly-looking wall of water coming from upstream rushed and approached our spot in Cotcot River. There was no time to do except extract ourselves immediately from there and run to the nearest high ground. It happened on the night of October 29, 2016 in Mulao, Lilo-an, Cebu. We just have had our supper and we were enjoying relaxing time on our favorite place on the river which we called as the “Jacuzzi”.

The river was already swollen when we came there and was colored brown. Even then it was safe to take a bath. Aljew Frasco and Bona Canga were in the river up to their torso while I, Jhurds Neo, Mark Lepon, Richie Quijano and our local friend named Epang were sitting on the boulders enjoying the night with good conversations fueled by Primero Brandy. My Cherry Mobile U2 phone powered a small booster speaker with bluetooth to liven up the company.

Early in the day, there was a fiesta celebration in the village of Mulao. The former village head invited us to lunch. We did have a good meal and left Mulao for our old camp beside the banks of the Cotcot River. This camp hosted two episodes of the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp in 2015 and just last June. Besides that, we used to do day activities there many times and I did not saw the river at its fiercest appearance yet.

The “Jacuzzi” is the favorite spot of guys from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and it is a “gossip forum” of sort and is usually the place where “malevolent tales” make its way in Facebook. The “Jacuzzi” is like a tub with swirling currents in it that could accommodate five people on the water and double that along its periphery which are the boulders. It is a natural place for outdoor socials and relaxations.

We arrived at the campsite at 16:00 and immediately set up our shelters. Mark and Richie tied their hammocks with canopies under a mango tree. Jhurds set up his simple shelter of a single laminated nylon sheet with a tripod. Aljew did likewise with Bona. Because it had been raining for the whole three days in Cebu City, I decided to bring my red Silangan Rev 20 tent. Epang has his crude shelter of buri palm leaves which we passed by a few minutes ago.

It rained but we deserved another meal, which was dinner, and we cooked it under difficult conditions. A small tarpaulin sheet covered our cooking area which doubled as our dining area later. Despite the rain we were able to forage dry firewood and made a fire from which we cooked our food. I taught these guys the skills and the mindset and the resilience in different PIBCs. I am with the best of them. The “precious jewels”.

The rain fell on our heads and shoulders and we were all wet. It is annoying and cold but we need to have that meal first before changing into dry clothes. Actually we can do something about that by retreating into our shelters and never come out but we are not spoiled brats. We act and behaved as grown-up men ought to be and you could not hear anyone cursing the heaven, the rain and the day. In fact, we made light of it with frequent jokes.

Me and Jhurds fetched water to a natural spring two hundred meters downstream. We would have to cross the river and be on the other side. I walked on bare feet on pebbly ground and on boulders, the water up to our crotches. A tail, which I thought as a snake, turned out to be that of a catfish as it slithered over grassy ground from roiling river to another part that is calm. It was getting dark and we navigated back and forth by the meager lights of our phones.

After dinner, we decide to visit the “Jacuzzi”. We have four unopened bottles of Primero. The rain stopped and what a coincidence! Everything was silent except our voices and laughter and the incessant noise of the now-swift river. I never trust streams and I know its tantrums, so I sat facing upstream. I was holding my stainless-steel cup with the boom box and an opened bottle of brandy beside me. “Ocean Deep” was the song playing on bluetooth.

There was a different sound mixing with the river’s existing noise and it was like a rushing sound of a wall of rain coming to you at a fast pace. I stiffened in my seat and my senses peaked. Epang looked backwards and stood on the boulder. Both Epang and I shouted above the din. Automatically, I picked up bottle and speaker and moved a few steps to the river bank. Mark and Richie did likewise and we created a corridor for Aljew, Bona, Epang and Jhurds to pass unhindered.

Bona slipped but Jhurds and Aljew helped her recover. Already, the rising water swirled around them but they made it to where I stood and we ran quickly to safety. The river overflowed from its seams and ran over the bouldery beach lining it. I still have my cup with brandy still in it but Jhurds’ pair of flip-flops and Mark’s cup got lost during the rush. We talked it over since the only opened bottle still had a half-full and there was no rain.

We opened another bottle and after it was empty, we decided to rest. Everything on me was wet and that includes the shoes and socks. I went into the dry womb of my tent naked and changed into dry clothes inside. The river is at its worst and I just hope it would not overflow the riverbank and flood the campsite. If that would happen, I would abandon what things I could not bring in one scoop. The rushing sound of its current sent shivers on everyone except me. I slept!

At dawn, I heard voices. It was Jhurds calling me that the river had risen. I tried to compare today’s sound to that of last night. Almost the same except that it had rained in the middle of the night until this hour. It would rise with that amount of rainfall. Cotcot River is part of the Central Cebu Protected Landscape. Its watershed is located upstream in the villages of Paril and Lusaran, Cebu City and in Cabasiangan and Ginatilan, Balamban.

When I do rise from my tent, the place where Jhurds and Aljew camped were already abandoned while Mark and Richie had just finished packing their bags. In the clear daylight, the river is a sight to behold. It is like a roaring beast whose power is endless. Returning into my chilly wet pants, t-shirt, socks and shoes, I begun to decamp. In the early morning cold, devoid of even a slurp of hot coffee, I surrendered to the will of the weather without complaint.

The river had claimed the part where Jhurds and Aljew camped last night. Both have not had a good night’s sleep and that includes Bona. Both Richie and Mark may have had a sleepless night also considering they were nearer to them. Epang, may not have also considering that we were all his guests. I slept because I was in the best place. It was warm inside the tent and this was the bestselling tent of Silangan Outdoor Equipment that had taken the outdoor community by storm five years ago. This was my second time to use this.

Anyway, we retraced the path that we made yesterday, now up a hill and under the pouring rain. We came upon a cleared field and it was utterly foolish to walk on there for the ground gave way to our weight and so slippery. We reached Mulao nevertheless and Jhurds, Aljew and Bona made the most of time to reclaim the sleep that was denied them last night by being there earlier. Food from yesterday’s fiesta are served and it is good to eat a hot meal.

Last night was really a close call. We were able to come out of it because me and Epang have considerable knowledge of how streams behaved. He lives here all his life and visits the river to forage food and to fish. I have grown up, played and lived beside a creek in all my life. We treat it with respect.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017


THE LAST GOAT HAS TO GO! It belonged to Ramon Corro. Yes, there were many when Fele and Tonia Roble were still there, along with their children Manwel, Juliet and Josel. Actually, there were fourteen which Boy Toledo, Boy Olmedo and the Roble Family were also part owners. The Roble Family had left the place more than a year ago when Nonoy Gabisan shot Fele in the abdomen and burned their house afterwards. This same criminal killed three of my young turkeys.

All the goats, except Ramon’s, had been sold to shoulder the Roble Family’s relocation to a safe place. Fele survived that attack on his life and is living with one kidney after a successful operation. The lone goat in question is a male, had aged beyond its productive life and incapacitates it to breed and produce offspring while its meat does not have good market value anymore. It is in the care of Roger, Fele’s younger brother. He is busy with his farm and his small business trips and cannot watch over the goat anymore.

There is only one option left: Food. After a long wait, Ramon decides to have it butchered, cook the meat and celebrate a feast. Ramon called me, Boy O and Ernie Salomon that he would like to spend a night at the former place of Fele Roble and feast on his goat the following day. I was more than happy for I have facilitated this outcome, which took a long time to reap. We were all worried too – Ramon, Roger and I – about the goat being stolen and becomes a feast of another person.

Ramon, Boy O, Ernie and I met at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the afternoon of October 15, 2016. We put money on the box first to procure ingredients for dinner, breakfast and for the caldereta menu, rice, bread, 3-in-1 coffee and firewater. We start our hike immediately when we arrived at Napo at 15:30. Only a few hours of daylight left and we hastened our pace overtaking a group of three Girl Scouts still in their uniforms. After 45 minutes, we were already at Lower Kahugan Spring.

The route to the old Roble Homestead is a little steep and we have to race with the night. Remember, we do not sit down when we arrive there. We have to pitch our shelters and prepare dinner. We need to be there in daylight, even if it is just a few minutes of it. I took the lead and got there in 25 minutes. Jerome, son of Zene Roble, came down to meet me. After five minutes of waiting, I decide to tie my Tingguian Tribe Sierra hammock between two trees. Jerome decides to look for the rest.

I had already rigged an overhead canopy when they came. My place is a hundred meters uphill of where they intend to pitch their shelters. There is raincloud and soon it would rain. Wisps of moisture came but I need not worry. What I worry most is the cold wind. When you are in a hammock, wind chill hits your back and vertebrae as if death’s fingers tickle you to a morbid sleep. I brought one side of my canopy low to the ground to block the wind but some found its way.

Jerome used my canopy to rig his hammock beside mine. Good initiative. Ernie cooked a local pasta (pansit) for dinner. The warm food made me feel better. The local brandy that is now starting to orbit around in a cup made me sick. I still have a hangover of last night. I pass the offer this time. I am not in a good equilibrium and I would rest early. Roger and Zene came and they got Ramon’s go signal. Time for me to hit the hammock.

I woke up early the following day – October 16 – and went down to where the aroma of coffee is. I had my slurp and more. Breakfast were chorizo, spiced corned beef and canned tuna. I would not touch the latter. I just want the first two and more of coffee, of course. I am still feeling the sting of the hangover of two nights ago. Even when the sun begins to make a show on the horizon, the hammock seems more inviting than packing so I slept again.

Ramon, Ernie and Boy O had already broke camp and are going uphill with their backpacks to Roger’s place where the goat was butchered last night. Ernie will do wonders of it, I am sure of that. A few minutes later, a lone female hiker passed by as I was in the act of dismantling my wonderful sleeping spot. The guys from Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild would be coming here soon and I will wait for them in ambush.

While waiting, a group of seven hikers came and went on their way to Mount Babag. One of them happily informed me that he reads my articles in this blog and he enjoyed it so much because it is full of useful information. He loved the first-person narratives that he felt that he was in the story. When they left, another group of six came. One of them recognized me and told me that he followed my blog updates.

It took me long to realize that I am a celebrity of sort in my own little monkey kingdom, not because I am a blogger but because people see me doing things they would love to do but cannot or wished to be in my shoes. What you see of me you later read. I walk the talk. I am real. I am not a product of hype. People love that and they can relate with me and that is where it ended. It does not go to my head. I opt to stay grounded.

Even as I deny it, this blog Warrior Pilgrimage was considered for the top spot in the Sports and Recreation Category in the Bloggys 2015 Philippine Blogging Awards and eventually lost to a professional blog with an own domain name. This blog made it to the finals besting more than 60 other blogs even if it is just riding on a free-platform scheme as one of the “People’s Choice”. Ramon Jorge represented me during the awarding in Taguig City last November 2015. It brought me honor and this blog the recognition it deserve.

What do I really blog? Well, I write the activities that had not been done in the Philippines before: Bushcraft and Survival. How many people, do you think, do that seven years ago? None. People are now aware of Philippine-style bushcraft and how it is done because of this blog. People who despise bushcraft before begins to see its better values and made a paradigm shift. More people want to learn and acquire real-world skills that benefit them. Blame this blog for the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp.

I also write mainstream interests like mountain climbing, backpacking and small-scale explorations which I enlarged into the Cebu Highlands Trail Project. I sometimes blog my home life, my commentaries and my memories here. Some gears get reviewed and people gets mentioned, friend or fiend. Even my boring poems, it has its space here. Some stories has sequels like the Man-Sized Hikes, Bushcraft Buhisan, Compleat Bushcraft, Bebut’s Trail and, of course, the Napo to Babag Tales which is now in its 118th episode.

Whoa! I talk too much. I forgot that this article is about the last goat of Ramon. Jerome gets hold of my Mora Companion knife and begins to carve a forked branch into a catapult handle. How wonderful to see Jerome doing that with so much ease and I pity those urban-smart children missing this kind of skills which their grandfathers used to do in their younger days. Blame that to overprotective parents who liked to imitate Western society.

Fourteen hikers came and five of them knew me. They are all friends. I just sat and smiled and nod while they carry on to the next level. They were on training for an out-of-town climb. They choose the best place to train and I appreciate that. The next people coming after them were from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. Good to see Jhurds Neo, Aljew Frasco, Jonathan Apurado and roughcut Jenmar de Leon with guest.

We begin the ascent to Roger’s place where Ramon, Boy and Ernie are now. I am hungry. Along the way, we meet 21 hikers going down the other way. It is a long procession, slow in pace, as the trail is loose and most do not have proper footwear. Once it was our turn to use the trail, there was no looking back. There, inside a big cauldron, is or what used to be Ramon’s last goat. It is now ready for the feast and I am more ready to partake of that. After a prayer before a meal, we commenced.

It was reminiscent of the times at the remote place of Fele and Tonia when we at the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild made it festive every Sunday. The family was more than happy to host us as our presence alone would earn them a little money for the sale of green coconuts, firewood and our disturbance of their solitude. Sadly, unwelcome circumstances caused painful changes. The newly-constructed house bears testimony of how their neighbors envy them of their fortune.

I just hope that what joy we brought to Fele and his family may also be experienced by both Roger and Zene, with or without goats. They persevered on their respective places despite the threats of Nonoy Gabisan and the adverse comments of their neighbors who considered them outsiders. The Roble brood are not original residents here and came to reside here due to the opportunity of earning income picking mangoes and farming on the side.

They were impoverished before but their fortune picked up because the trail to Mt. Babag passed by their places. Hikers found their places as a strategic location to rest and rehydrate. Jerome is in a very happy state, so happy to see me and Jhurds and Ernie. He remembered the fun times he had with Josel when we frequent the latter’s place more than a year ago. I let him use my camera until the battery conked out. It is okay. I loved it because it placed Jerome to tinker with technology.

I have plate after plate of caldereta and rice and how I wished someone brought a strong liquid to aid in digestion. The rest of the meat is divided between Roger and Zene and so was the rest of the food. The useful administration of the goat had left a peace of mind in Roger, Ramon and, to a lesser degree, me. We talked the minutes away until it is time to leave. Jerome will miss us again and he will know not when we will come back. I secretly slipped a hundred peso bill into his hands and it made him forget our leaving for a while.

I will be back, of course, but it will not be in a dizzying recurrence as before. It will now be few and far in between. It would still be one of my playgrounds. I am thinking of reviving the now-unused Ernie’s Trail but to a limited extent concentrating more on bushcraft. Wild and remote places is what I need and so would my adherents. Jerome would be a good guide and I would develop him into a very good one.

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