Thursday, November 23, 2017


I FOUND MYSELF STILL awake at midnight in Baguio City. After emptying the last ounces of the last big bottle of Red Horse Extra Strong Beer, me and Michael Schwarz decide to say goodbye to Gary, our host here in the City of Pines. I am tired and sleepy but tried not to think about it. In a little while, we would be in the bus terminal hoping to find brief solace on a trip for Olongapo City.

It is now March 13, 2017 and Micheal has plans for this day and the next few days after that and I will be his guest in his playground somewhere in Zambales. We found a 01:45 bus and, immediately, the soft-cushioned seat of the Victory Liner gave me an idea of what will be my Dreamland Ride hereon. Sleeping while sitting jolt you a few times to consciousness and mild confusion. Curtained windows gave you imaginary privacy.

The bus arrive at 05:45 in Olongapo. We took a hasty breakfast in a fastfood chain and returned to the same bus, which would go north to Pangasinan. By 06:30, we are on the road again. We passed by the last town of Bataan and we are now in Zambales. Never been here before but, new places to see and experience, somehow remove the cobwebs of dull attention that sleepiness impose.

Tired as I was, I could feel the adrenaline rising as sure as the heat rises in rhythm with the orbit of the sun. Outside glare from gaps between curtains began to harass my droopy eyes trying to retrieve what was once known as sleep, even in its imaginary state. After about two hours we stop at a terminal in Botolan and transfer to another bus bound for Masinloc. After a short wait, we left and there is no turning back to sleep.

At Masinloc, we set foot on the town square. It is 10:30. We waited for Jed, an outdoor accomplice of Michael, who arrived a few minutes later. Across us is the Masinloc Mall and the police station and a street going to the public market. We need to buy food ingredients for our meals that would nourish us in the mountains. We will navigate the tight spaces and lanes with our big bags. It becomes an acquired skill when our police deny safekeeping bags while doing our marketing.

From the market, we transferred to the village of Sta. Rita by tricycle. Waiting there is Pips, the last member of Michael’s triumvirate of “lazy campers”. Yes, Pedro, they have a Facebook group called Lazy Campers Bushcraft. They are serious outdoorsmen and they are equally serious in introducing dirt time in Luzon. Recreational bushcraft is more enjoyable than racing with the sun and counting peaks. Like me, these guys practice Zen regularly in the outdoors.

Michael the Prussian Drillmaster is the ringleader. He is a free spirit of the woods and had found his specialty: sharpening edges. He cannot imagine hiking the mountains without his Granfors and his cache of sharp tools. His passion always clashed with the mainstream and he hates sheep. His radical ideas and the dose of temper he dealt with those that do not agree with him somehow got tamed by his girlfriend and a little bit with my guidance.

Jed is a natural bushman. Originally from Cebu, he adapted well with his new home in Zambales. Shy, silent and strong, he could do things on his own and has enough imagination to turn a bland day into an exciting one. Pips is another natural bushman. He is a pure Zambaleño and is a volunteer ecoguide and responder when requested. Influenced by Michael, Pips developed a skill in making bolos on his DIY forge.

I am the pampered guest who is about to witness their playground in the coming days. I need to stretch my time so I could be in another outdoor activity in Antipolo City on March 17 and the trip to Zambales is most welcome. After securing our food good for “one month”, we rode another tricycle and arrive in another village of Bunga. From the community, we hiked for about two kilometers to a campsite in Bunga Creek.

I analyzed the stream’s highest waterline and we choose a campsite on a higher ground. We placed our campfire instead among the rocks near the water’s edge. Under the shade from the fiery sun, the best thing to do is boil water for coffee and talk about things to do for the rest of the day. While the residents of Luzon cooked rice, I, the Visayan, cooked milled corn. Jed almost cried seeing my milled corn since he had not eaten that for ten years! I gave him the ones I cooked and more of that good for ten meals.

Pips and Michael cooked our main fare, a native chicken adobo. Yes, we dined like royalty. After dinner, Michael, Jed and Pips scoured the stream for something edible. I joined them with my generic LED headlamp sputtering to stay bright. I was not successful but the trio got two small shrimps the size of a small finger and promptly dispatch it on an ember. The humidity was so pressing hours before, so I decide to cool down and bathe on a chute of rock where water runs swift and massage your flesh vigorously. 

I slept and shared space under a Deer Creek canvass shelter with Michael. I brought my Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad for this occasion. It was a gift by Michael so it would give me comfort and blissful sleep during my 27-day Thruhike of Cebu early this year which it did. He is happy to know that and I laid it side by side with his own but differently designed Therm-a-Rest. Michael lent me his power storage battery so I could pump direct current into my Cherry Mobile U2. The night was cool and it aided a good night’s sleep.

The second day, March 14, saw Jed cooking his milled corn breakfast paired with egg omelet. Yes we have ours too but with rice. I ran out of water and I used my Lifestraw to suck water from the stream. We start breaking camp. Michael has other plans. When we were all packed, we collect litters left by picnicking locals into our garbage bag. It is Michael’s gesture in paying back a nearby community which uses this stream as their water and food source.

We returned to Sta. Rita riding on an empty three-wheeled hog carrier and crossed a bigger river. After a very soothing cold Red Horse, we proceed to the town center to eat lunch in one of its food stands while waiting for a public jitney that would take us to another location. You get to know the place, they say, when you visit the market or eat their food. I have seen the market yesterday and it is more of the same with other places. One food gets my interest. It has an ingredient from a tree. Perfect!

At 14:00, we leave Masinloc for the hills where I know not. The old jitney brought my eyes to view a beautiful meandering river filled with emerald water and dotted with rocky and sandy beds and embankments. It has beautiful forests all over the river dominated by casuarina trees (Local name: agoho, maribuhok). The tree sometimes get mistaken as a pine tree since it has needles instead of broad leaves and has small pine cones for fruit. It is a hardwood variety though.

After an hour, we arrive at an abandoned mining complex. Used to be operated by Benguet Consolidated Mining Corp., it had seen better days. It even has a small airstrip. Along one side are heavy equipment and machinery parked and stacked neatly. Dilapidated buildings that used to energize this big mine loomed from afar with their smokestacks. A detachment of security guards still manned the facility. A gate ushers us inside and we were required to register our names and purpose. Then the jitney proceed to the township.

Rows of well-kept staff houses are still used as homes by former employees and their families. There are two public schools – one for elementary and one for secondary, a basketball court, a huge Catholic chapel, a couple of convenience stores, a refreshment parlor and an empty community center which may have hosted noisy parties and discos when the mine was at its peak and very profitable. Now, it is almost a ghost town save for the schools which still accept students.

The jitney brought us to an explosives dump. We are on our own now, Michael, Jed, Pips and me. We walk towards that beautiful river in the waning afternoon light. Greeting me is a silent amusement park and empty resort cottages which could have been full during the height of the mine’s productivity. Upstream of me is a span that used to be a low hanging bridge. Steel and cables are twisted beyond repair. A great flood could only cause that and we are just in a tributary.

We cross this stream along a causeway to another bank where the bigger Lawis River is found. We settled on a point where the two streams meet. The river is free flowing and the water is crystal clear that I could see pebbles on its bottom. Sometimes, I could see flashes of silver indicating fish. The beach is sandy and clean and strewn with pebbles. I could just lay flat a ground tarp and Therm-a-Rest and slept under the stars but the sight of that hanging bridge gave me a cold sweat.

I choose a high deck with a roof. The floor is wood and it is empty save for two sets of bench and seats. I would settle here for the night. Brought out my tools, a headlamp, pots, instant coffee and the Swiss Army emergency burner after I had placed the ground tarp and the Therm-a-Rest over it. Prepared also a small lantern and place it for easy access when darkness comes. I go down to the campsite, foraged dry grass and twigs, and started a fire inside my burner. Coffee first for me.

Tempted by the cool water of the river as against the humid air that begins to be felt in the low afternoon, I swam into its depths. I stayed long enough until I felt my body in a shivering stage. Going back to the fireplace, Pips had started a fire on wood supplied by Michael the Prussian. These are dry casuarina wood cut neatly by Michael’s shark-toothed camp saw. Meanwhile, Jed had just butchered two live fowls and start dressing it.

I cooked the rest of our day’s rice in my pot. We have clean piped water provided free from the resort’s reservoir. I believe we will enjoy another feast fit for the royalty in a short while. One free-rein chicken is cooked as soup which we will dine on tonight while the other one is preserved for tomorrow’s meal. The place is deserted and very silent. I just love the ambiance. In the waning light, our campfire emerged as a source for company. 

I woke up very early on the third day, March 15, and it is silent. No voices from the trio. I went down the stairs to and investigate last night’s campfire. The ground is cold. A snore emanated from one of the tents. Bored, I go back to my Therm-a-Rest and chase more sleep. I woke up again just when sunrise had crested over the mountain across me and flood my eyes with golden sunshine. Made some noise chopping wood with my small Knifemaker Camp Knife.

Made another small fire inside the burner for another day of coffee. The camp starts to stir. Two zippers made their long arching runs and out came Pips and then Jed. Michael do not need any. He loves old camp setups like the heavy Deer Creek canvass sheet. All the air in the world. Varmints too. A good fire emerged spurred on by the heat-efficient casuarina. Rice, coffee, sliced gumbo adobo and leftover chicken from last night.

We break camp and followed a path up a slope. It used to be a road but nature reclaimed it. Vegetation is different here. There are fruit-bearing trees, stringy bamboos, grass and more indigenous vegetation. Beside this old road is a raised concrete trough that transfers running water down to the old township. A juvenile monitor lizard escaped as potential food using the trough, nimbly flowing with the swift current.

Rusting sluice valves are placed along the paths of small streams that run down the mountain, crossing the road, and into the main river. These may have been part of a flood control system used by the mine company, diverting excess water to where it is most needed. Michael wanted Jed to cook the preserved chicken wrapped in leaves so I foraged the broad leaves of a parasol-leaf tree (binunga).

I see traces of a horse leaving a shod hoof print on mud that hardened with its signatory droppings. Walking on a warm morning is eased by shady areas and a constant flow of breeze. We may have walked four kilometers and we stopped beside a cashew tree. Not that it is shady, but because it had dropped plenty of ripened fruits on the ground. Jed collect the fruits on the ground and removed the exposed seed from the yellow flesh. He crushed the flesh and a fluid is directed into his mouth. I did the same.

I see recent animal traces which could only be made by a wild boar. The cashew had been its food source. Nice to learn more wildlife habits. Michael saw a good campground across us on a distant riverbank shore and how he wished to be there if only there is a path. It is indeed a perfect place to camp. It is just a matter of finding a path down to the stream from where we stood which is just too steep. I analyzed the terrain and it is an obstacle.

It did not turn out difficult for me though. I did not even exert enough effort. When I saw a bare patch of ground under thick vegetation, I followed it and discovered a staircase hewn out from the bare face of solid rock. When presence of people began to disappear, wildlife used the path down frequently to the stream else vegetation would have been parted. You would not know the presence of this staircase if you do not know traditional navigation.

I went back up and called the trio. Excitement are written all over their faces. There is a wide ledge of solid rock and it have not had a visit of man for so many years. What I found are recent droppings of a happy leopard cat (melò) which may have all this territory to himself and a shrub which bore black berry-like fruit. I followed the invisible paw prints on rock, mere scratches that you can see in a different angle, and it went into a small hole among a jumble of rocks. The awful smell defines its lair.

As I was doing my small discoveries of wildlife, the three found a good place to cross across the wide stream. They were now considering making a camp underneath a copse of casuarinas but I found the ground too soggy. They are on the path of a small stream! I passed by them and drop my bag on the actual place from where I first saw it from across the stream, before I discovered that stairway. It is a raised sandy area and shaded by broad-leafed trees.

The river is so beautiful and clean. Rocks are sun bleached and plenty. Wherever you view it, downstream or upstream, you cannot believe that this is in the Philippines. The former mine administrators rehabilitated and designed a first-world country landscape when they started to stop operations. Casuarina trees project a false pine forest to a naive visitor and it is nice to gaze at. In between these are other trees native to Luzon. I wished they had also planted bamboos.

There is a natural hedge of katmon aso on one side of our camp while a fallen log protected us on the other side. There is a lone tree growing at the edge where sand meets slope and supplied us the shade. Near the log is a ditch that had been carved by running water as it made its way down to the river’s edge. Michael pitched his canvass shelter on the raised sand and I assisted him. The canvass shelter, even if it is dark blue, is a natural.

Jed retrieved yesterday’s dressed chicken and prepared it for cooking. He wrapped it with several layers of binunga leaves and tied it with natural fibers. Then he dug a hole on the ground, placed the wrapped chicken inside and covered the hole with sand. Jed and Pips made a fire over it after we found enough dry firewood. With the same fire, we cooked rice and part of the marinated pork which Pips cooked in oil and will become our spartan meal.

Michael, meanwhile, prepared a tripod. He would use it as a platform to dry the rest of the marinated pork by exposure to the sun and by radiated heat from the campfire. I watched the trio and, at the same time, suggest them with wrong ideas to mislead them. It is cool under the shade while a few meters away, on the bare sand, it is very warm. Over that bare stretch is emerald water, as inviting as ever. I will have that after my tummy gets filled.   

The log, with its dead branches pointing to the skies, are full of cicadas. The same with the green branches drooping to the ground from live trees. These underground residents have reached the end of their 17-year cycle and would soon be mummified to where they were last found. Michael claimed the coolness of the water while Jed and Pips focused their attention on their own shelters. We let the embers burn and fed with a few firewood.

I did a little exploration upstream and found a lot of wildlife activity. Plenty of paw prints on the sand, from a gang of monkeys and individual leopard cats. One even left urine and stained a rock. My tracking skills followed an invisible path which bound from stone to stone and clung on to a low branch which it used to go over thick grass to a rock on a slope. The branch is smoothed by many claws and the debris fell to a bleached rock. 
I went back to the camp fully satisfied with my discoveries but a small stream nearby snared my attention. I go up several small levels of rocks and discovered boar droppings, a week old. I go back when the stream becomes difficult to navigate but the stream would satisfy our water needs should we run out of our supply. Jed and Pips had already joined Michael in the water and are frolicking like children. I took a bathe after they were done.

The disappearing light of the day turned our attention to the campfire. We fed it with more wood and cooked rice and milled corn. We retrieved the dried meat and cooked it in saucy adobo. A full bottle of local brandy fueled the campfire stories. The full moon shone at its brightest and the riverscape is a beautiful sight to behold. On the river’s edge, I expected nocturnal creatures to thrive but I was disappointed. There is something wrong.

On our last day, March 16, I would find out why the river is devoid of other life except a few fish. I saw a school of six fish the size of a child’s palm on the stream’s transparently clear water. Why only fish and just a few? I go back upstream carrying both my AJF Gahum and Mora Companion on my belt. I need to explore more. I got past the stained rock and I am now scrambling over obstacles, stepping over gaps and cross dry watercourses choked with rocks.

Squeezing past a notch, I saw a fruit bat clinging to a wall of rock, its back facing the early sunrise. It had not noticed me and that is strange. It should have flown away but it had not. I looked closely and it is emaciated. Blood dripped from its snout. It is dead. What caused it? Disease? Perhaps. Some parts of the stream, where it is deeper and still, there is presence of algae. The river is healthy and free-flowing yet it had lacked something that may contribute to a healthy ecosystem.

Or there is something that hindered it. Heavy metal? The upper slopes were mined years ago. Who knows what did the miners used to separate the minerals from the rest of the ores. This place is rich in chrome, copper, nickel and gold. It had been extensively mined until such time all the rich veins had been exhausted or that the drop in prices does not justify anymore the expensive maintenance and operation of the mining complex. But they left the land recovering.

I retraced my path and stumbled and fell. Just a split second before I hit ground, I maneuvered my body so my back would take the impact. I fell on a rock and it did not hurt. I listened to my body for a full thirty seconds and I noticed pain on both my shins. Of course, I snagged on a rock and it scratched my shins. Feeling a bit dazed, I stood up and started. Suddenly a snake that I had not noticed came alive just a meter away from me and made its escape. I gave chase with camera but lost it when it swam effortlessly in the stream, crossing on the other side.

When I returned I had a cup of coffee and talked about my encounter with a dead bat and a strange snake. Rice is halfway through its course and everyone waited when it would be cooked. Remember, we buried a full chicken underneath the fireplace. How does it appear and taste takes up space in our thoughts. Finally, the embers are cleared and the chicken wrapped in leaves is retrieved. Who wants sandy chicken?

Document done in LibreOffice 5.3 Writer

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

THE TRAILHAWK JOURNEYS: Baguio Wilderness Survival Class

I HAVE NEVER THOUGHT OF giving a survival training someday for outdoor guys based in Baguio City. Must be because Baguio is the center of the tribal peoples of the Luzon Highlands. I believed that their heritage and culture are still strong that primitive living skills are just second nature for them. Never in my dreams until, one day, a guy named Gary contacted me and we set a schedule of March 11 and 12, 2017 for that.

Going up to Baguio would be a long bus ride from Manila and to Manila – from Cebu – would be 90 minutes by plane or 24 hours by boat. (In the old days and where competition was stiff, it took just 18 hours!) I opt for sea travel to remove the stress of quick transfers that are inherent in airplane travel. I choose March 8 as my departure so I would have enough time to move comfortably about in my journey to Baguio. It was not to be. When passenger sea travel to Manila is a monopoly, it happens. No options.

In the process, my departure for Manila got moved several times and my temper came to its last straw as the frequent rescheduling threatened to jeopardize my training class schedule in Baguio. At the last hour of 21:00 of March 9, the slow boat detached itself from the Port of Cebu and sailed north. The boat arrive the following night (March 10) and it left me the quick transfers that I disdained to happen and the long queue for the ticket and for the bus.

The bus did leave as scheduled at 23:30 of March 10 and I catch sleep as much as I could as it went its way up to Baguio. I arrive at 04:00 of March 11 in Baguio City and it is very cold. I was just wearing a t-shirt and a flimsy long hiking pants. Some passengers went on their way while some opt to stay inside the heated terminal but I just want to stay near a bonfire at the back of the city tourism outpost to wait for Gary.

From the bus terminal I was whisked by Gary, Pandoy and Quintin to Crosby Park in Itogon, Benguet. The facility is owned by Benguet Mining Corporation and it had seen better days. It is located on top of a hill where some of the participants had already set up their shelters since yesterday like Doc Mike, Vera and Loco. As with most of the highlands landscape here, Benguet pine trees dominate the scene.

Still groggy from a lack of sleep and a still missing breakfast, I set up my Silangan Outdoor hammock and an Apexus sheet between two stout pine trees. The Benguet Highlands is perfect hammock country, that is if you can prevent the shivering cold winds crawling on your back. It is still the season of northeast monsoons and the amihan would be carrying the cold winters of Siberia, Japan, Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula to the tropics.

The guys are preparing breakfast. Gary is baking a bread that he would cook Bannock style while Loco has his own idea of bread on a frypan. Any of those are perfect for any empty stomach like mine. I get to eat their unusual but warm bread and it is just as filling as if I am eating traditional Filipino food. Some of the participants arrive with Quintin like Johnson and Kerubin. Another participant, Charleston, arrived later.

I have two previous students present: Pandoy who attended one organized in Montalban last February 2016 and Michael in Cebu on November 2016. The duo are serious blade enthusiasts but have different philosophies with how they treat and use their knives. I would ask them to assist me instead although the number of participants can be managed comfortably by my lone self.

At 09:00 I start the training for the BASIC WILDERNESS SURVIVAL COURSE, an outdoors educational activity designed for tropical wilderness settings of jungles and rugged highlands, which I first offered to the mountaineering community and to emergency responders in October 2013. It is intended as a three-day training but, when clients insist for two days only, I can only yield. Definitely, I would not accept doing it in one day.

The first chapter is Introduction to Survival. Survival situations demand that you stay tough  after the initial impact. Mental stability and toughness are very important characteristics of a survivor. You must develop a survival mindset. Do not engage in prolonged mind games of fantasy and false hopes. You should rein in your mind so you would not release excess adrenaline and cause you more confusions in a very stringent moment.

The best thing to do is stay still and fill up your lungs with oxygene. Your brain needs it most to help you process thoughts. You are now in a high state of agitation and so does your brain. Your brain will be in hyper mode, collating and processing many thoughts all at the same time which is beyond human capacity. We can do so one thought at a time. Just stay still and breathe regularly, supplying your blood system with oxygene.

In the hierarchy of needs and of nutrition in a survival situation, water is always on the top of the scales of both. Rightly so, for we are in the tropics and humidity plays a big role. With that, we surrender perspiration by the acts of our exertions and by what the climatic conditions imposed on us. Along with the lost moisture, is our body heat which we let go without our knowing.

When you stay still in one place, you lessen wastage of moisture and body heat. Then you confine the latter by setting up a shelter (if you still have one) or make one from scratch. That is the second need. The third would be food then warmth. Although food, and even water, would give you warmth, but heat from a naked flame or from the rays of the sun or from a person’s body is solace. Last is security which would complement well with the rest.

Our body has four hypothetical storage tanks that needs to be replenished from time to time during survival. First is constant rehydration that would offset dehydration. Second is food that would give you nutrients, carbohydrates and proteins. Third is sugar which is converted by enzymes for your adrenaline rush. Fourth is fat, hardest to find in the tropics yet are wrapped as tissues in our body.

The topic for the next chapter is about Water Sanitation and Hydration. The first chapter had mentioned the importance of water during survival. Water could be sourced from natural springs, water seeps, man-made water holes, flowing streams, the atmosphere and from plants. It could be refined through boiling, by chemicals, exposure to heat, through filtration and by desalination. It is wise to cache water in your survival camp or just travel early and take advantage of shady places and breeze if you happen to have less.

We move fast to the third chapter which is about Knife Care and Safety. The knife is a tool and should not be used to what it was not designed for like digging latrine holes and as pry bars. It is a vital piece of equipment that should be properly handled and cared for because it is your link to your surviving. In all my trainings, knife etiquette is learned first before you touch a knife.

Besides my rules, there is a knife law that forbids the display, even of concealed carrying, in public places unless you are in a lawful activity, which we are in right now. A knife should be in a sturdy sheath when travelling - for safety - and should be unsheathed when at home to keep it from rust. There are many kinds of knives and it is important that you know the parts, blade shapes, grind styles and the tang designs. You must also learn how to field sharpen a knife.

After the much appreciated instructions about the knife, we move on to Survival Tool Making. Making a tool is essential in survival or even when not in that situation. I showed them the most basic of tools like the digging stick, traps and snares from pieces bamboo that I was able to obtain, and the batoning stick. Since bamboos are rare in the higher elevations, I let each carve a spoon instead from pine wood to practice their dexterity with the knife. I settled for a cup of brewed coffee while supervising their practical exercise.

I was able to finish four chapters in the morning and we have to observe noonbreak. I noticed that it is not that cold today. It is in a warm 24ºC. I boiled water using my Swiss Army Emergency Burner for my Japanese miso soup which would be my simple meal. I am tired and I lacked sleep but this is not the time to show weakness, not while you are working. Outdoors education vis-a-vis survival instructor is now my bread and butter.

Aggravating my physical drain is doing this training for two days instead of the desired three days. You feel the pressure and the instructions are very much compressed, leaving almost out the finer details which could have made the lectures most appetizing, most interesting, as I could insert situations and experiences to the students. Anyway, the hammock is an inviting proposition and I sneaked into its comfortable clasp for a nap.

Refreshed after 90 minutes of siesta, I continued with Notches and Lashes. There are five basic notches that are used regularly in bushcraft. These are applied in shelters and tool making. Again this is an exercise of knife dexterity together with the baton stick which lets me rest for a short while. Lashing a cord to join two sticks or a different object are very important with this process. For this part, I showed them three basic lashes.

We go next to Simple Shelters. Before setting up one, it must be noted that you should be in the safest of places. It should not be near streams, dead trees, trails, water sources and underneath a forest of combustible trees. As you can see, we are in a forest of pines which is a very combustible one but the trees are not so close to each other and allows breeze to move in between. You should take advantage too of early evening thermals.

Simple shelters are essentially man-made or natural. Natural are caves, rock overhangs, tree cavities and underneath fallen trees. Simple shelters could be synthetic ones or made from natural materials or a combination of both. As it is a simple shelter, you could only enjoy it in a very short span of time since your purpose is just to survive from the elements until such time you are rescued or walked your way to civilization.

When you have a shelter, your next step is to find food. The next chapter is Foraging and Plant Identification. Foraging food in the wilderness or on unfamiliar terrain can be very taxing to the mind. When you are stressed and hungry, you tend to remove all caution. Looks can be very deceiving in the tropics like fruits, leaves, nuts, roots, flowers and mushrooms. Likewise, you need to evade harmful plants while travelling your way in a jungle.

Short term food would be grub, tree snails, fresh-water shrimps and crabs and frogs. These can be picked by hand. Cook it if you must to remove parasites and bacteria. Long term food are meat from mammals, fish, birds and reptiles. For that, you must use a weapon, traps and snares. Traps could be anything designed to lure prey into a simple contraption of a hollow bamboo or a dam of rocks. It must work with the terrain, with gravity and the habits of creatures.

Snares are more complex. It has a spring mechanism and a trigger mechanism which would be initiated by the prey. Showed the students a very common snare employing a pressure-trigger mechanism. It could catch anything from birds to goats. Then again, you must use bait so prey would be lured to step on it. A single trap or a single snare would not yield you a catch but a trap line of 20 to 30 snares or traps would after ascertaining where would the prey would most likely pass or visit.

Related to these is the chapter on Food Preservation and Cooking. If you can eat a deer all in one setting, well and good. You are very fortunate to still possess a healthy appetite. Meat rot in a short span of time. During survival, meat can be preserved and its edibility can be extended for a few more hours to several months. You can boil it. You can dry it. You can smoke it. Or you can cook it with its own oil from its fat.

Fish can be preserved by drying and by smoking. Fruits can be digested after a drying session and provide you natural sugar. Common rootcrops, has high starch value, and should be cooked, by all means possible, to remove toxins and poison. Famine rootcrops need to be immersed in running water for five days before cooking. Salt and vinegar are good food preservatives. Vinegar can be sourced from any palm.

Last chapter for the day is Fire, Fuel and Campfire Safety. You cannot make a fire if one or all elements are not present, namely: fuel, heat and air. Lately, they added a fourth element – chemical reaction. Fire-making is 80% common sense, 10% skill and 10% perspiration. We are talking about the friction methods. 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.

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 any lens, reading glasses, water and even ice. 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, which I paired with charclothe, and the ferro rod. I showed them how to make a tinder bundle. 

Showed them 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. It is now late afternoon and dusk is just around the corner. I let others try the bowdrill, the ferro rod, and the flint and steel. All my charclothe are exhausted to smoke and flames. Unfortunately, we cannot do with the bamboos because there are none in our location.

The day ends and the promise of dinner is up in the air. I decide to transfer my hammock to another part as the ones I placed earlier is now exposed to strong winds which I have not felt before. After hitching it up, I turn to cooking milled corn which I brought from Cebu. I was expecting a very cold evening and milled corn would have helped me in staving off cold. The Swiss Army Emergency Burner is very efficient and I just used broken up twigs.

Johnson and Kerubin cooked rice and sardine-laced corned beef on big pots employing a tripod system of cooking they learned from my lectures. The cooking fire simply became a campfire after dinner and is now the center of evening socials. Strong spirits supply the yarns and storytelling into a more animated evening which crept into the early minutes of the second day. By then, my long awaited sleep is now a possibility.

Woke up at 07:30 of March 12, the camp seems deserted. Everyone are still asleep or just remained invisible. As my steps shuffled the soft pine needles, I could hear somebody stirring inside a tent and another a yawn. Slowly, people appear and the bench where the food are placed are now ringed by them. A firebox becomes alive and a kettle is settled over it. A good strong coffee starts the day and soon I get to taste the vegetarian fare made by Vera and Doc Mike as my light breakfast.

The second day start with Customizing the Survival Kit. It is better that survival kits are made from scratch than bought commercially because a survival kit’s size and its components depends 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. The components should include the medical kit, the replenishment pouch, the repair kit and a small knife. It could all be integrated in one container and should be waterproofed. 

Next comes Navigation and Understanding Trails. It is more on traditional navigation which use the natural terrain, shadows and the sky fixtures for travel; avoiding obstacles and exposed areas; and knowing how to identify signs on trails made by both animals and humans. Following that is Understanding Cold Weather. During survival, 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.

The last chapter 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.

We finished the training with a blade porn. It is a traditional bushcraft activity where all edged tools are laid on a ground sheet to inject another round of useful conversations and to encourage closer camaraderie among the participants. Gary then presented me a framed certificate of appreciation signed by, no less, than the Mayor of Baguio City, the Hon. Mauricio G. Domongan. Along with that is a small stainless steel pot, a stainless cup and a small lantern.

From Crosby Park, we went on our separate ways. I am with Gary, Pandoy, Loco and Michael in a car driven by Quintin. We stayed for a while in a bus terminal to send off Pandoy and Loco. Gary invited me and Michael to his home to tidy up. My first bath after three days! We treat ourselves later to a superb dinner of pork ribs in one of Baguio’s more popular diners. We walk back to Gary’s home and spent the rest of the hours on the front steps of the condo talking and devising ways to empty four big bottles of Red Horse Beer.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017


I WAS INVITED TO THE SOFT opening of Camp LOV. I was supposed to be there yesterday but a very important family affair constrained me to stay home-bound. I know that it is a three-day camping activity and, at least, I would be able to attend today, February 25, 2017, its second day. The very, no – make that super, nice couple, Dr. Shawn Espina and Dr. Jacqueline Jabonero-Espina, are expecting me today.

My friends from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild were already there yesterday morning. I also know that Randy Salazar of Philippine Adventure Consultants and Jei Servano of Silangan Outdoor Equipment were also with the pack. I left the city after lunch bound for the southern municipality of Sibonga, 66 kilometers away, by public transport. The town is famous for the Shrine of the Virgin Mary in Lindogon and it attracted pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.

By 14:00, I was already in front of the Nuestra Señora del Pilar Parish, trying to get a clue of how to get a ride to Camp LOV? It is located on the mountain village of Tubod and the best transport there for a peones is by a motorcycle. I was directed by a local to their public market where motorcycles-for-hire dedicated for the mountain villages are parked. There are no public transport except by motorcycles.

I took one and I believed it took us about 40 minutes to reach my destination. The driver asked for P50 but I doubled it and gave another extra for fuel for a very entertaining ride. The driver reminds me of the character who drove Pepe the Mule in the Michael Douglas movie titled “Romancing the Stone”. He talked a lot and point to houses, people, trees and animals as his kin or belonging to his relatives. Despite his humble occupation, he was able to finish three children in college: one of whom became a policeman, another a business manager, and the youngest a nurse. Amazing!

Camp LOV is beside a road or, if I may correct myself, traversed across by a road, halving the property into two parts. On the left, if you happen to come from the public market (to your right by way of Colawin, Argao), is the main structure, farm, animal husbandry and the campsite. On the right is another farm and animal cages and the bunkhouse. All plants and animals are grown and fed organically.

Camp LOV is an experimental combination of organic farming and leisure camping. It would be opened to the public soon and we were all invited there to tour the property and to test its amenities, its food, its ambiance and its hospitality. The road I mentioned is a dirt road opened by the municipal government to give more and better access for farmers and residents to sell their produce. It circuits its way from coastal highway and market to the farms and to another highway that linked Dumanjug, from the west, with Sibonga.

Unfortunately for me, I would not be joining my friends for today and for tomorrow as they will all be going home! They were all waiting for me just to pass me that news. How sad! However, I am used to be with just by myself and would have the advantage of enjoying silence which I always crave. Before they left, we posed for a group photo on the front porch of Camp LOV wearing the Silangan-designed jerseys. The good thing is that the Espina couple, along with their children and three guests, would keep me company.

There is silence indeed as I settled myself in one of the chairs of the lanai. I am following the spectacle of leftovers from my departed friends and some of that are two gallons of unadulterated coconut wine (Local name: tuba lina), which I can never let pass away. Over conversations with Doc Shawn and his guests, I sipped the native concoction, glass after glass, until it was late afternoon. One of the guests decided to stay overnight.

Dinner came and there is enough space around the table in the dining room. Served were organic chicken adobao, upland rice, organic vegetables and farm-produced juice drinks. Illumination over the table came from kerosene-lit storm lamps. Good old country house ambiance. Wood and materials used for the construction of this small farm house were repurposed wood and second-hand accessories and iron grilles.

I may have to tour the whole property first thing in the morning. For now, it is intelligent conversation time at the lanai with Doc Shawn, Doc Jacqui and guest. Our talks wandered through plants, husbanded animals, organic technology, agriculture tourism, distribution, business opportunities and Camp LOV. The second gallon of native wine which I have all to myself, thanks to the host’s generosity, keep me abreast of the subject matters at hand.

As the lanai was getting deserted, two third-generation Silangan hammocks that will be slept in by two sons of the Espina couple claimed their spots on the posts supporting the pergola. My own second-generation Silangan hammock joined theirs. I spent the rest of the night reading a novel, “The Postman”, while sipping dry the last ounces of the “tuba lina”.

I woke up early on the second day, February 26, 2017, and I removed my hammock and stowed it back inside my Silangan Predator Z trizip bag. I had a good night’s sleep and I just burped gas out of my system which smelled fruity like coconut. Farm attendants instantly cleared the lanai table of used cubiertos, drinking glasses and plates and wiped clean the top.

A thermos and empty cups are placed on a small table on the side. I went for it when coffee, fresh milk and brown sugar appeared. Coffee in a clear country air can never be second best. Breakfast is in the air and I can feel it coming when I smelled the aroma of home-brewed chocolate. The table gets populated and the best of countryside organic meal is spread before me. It is a winner for me.

Sticky rice are paired with the chocolate drink, provincial style. Then there is the organic local sausage (chorizo) that is quite saucy and plump, upland rice, braised native pork and grilled blue-fin tuna. With all that food, how can you move and tour the five hectares of land? I do not worry. I can take anything, believe me. I am in my best fighting weight.

Twelve days ago, I just completed a 27-day Thruhike of Cebu from Liloan, Santander to Bulalaque Point, Maya, Daanbantayan. That is a route of 400 kilometers, more or less, traversing along the most mountainous region of this island province. I weighed 212 pounds in the beginning and was left with a light 186 pounds by the time I ended the journey.

Although my abdomen is a bit tight, I begin my tour inside the tiny bathroom of the farmhouse. Floor tiles, bowl, sink, faucets, the small glass window and the narrow door are recycled. It has piped water, by gravity, from an overhead tank. I rather use the standby water inside the big bucket to wash myself to conserve electricity for the water pump.

Inside the farmhouse is a master bedroom. A ladder direct you to a loft where it is used as sleeping places. There is the small living space facing the porch and the road. Adjacent is the dining table and a step away is open air kitchen and sink. There is a narrow stairway going down to another but bigger open-air kitchen, popular among local households as the “dirty kitchen”.

I go back to the lanai and walk towards the open field. This is where my friends camped two nights ago. Further down the slope is a small stream where there are coconuts, mature hambabalod, alom and binunga trees, bamboos and other native variety of vegetation. I follow it upstream and found healthy young mabolo and marang trees. I even found mangrove species of dungon and tabon-tabon recently planted.

There is a copse of mangoes and I found a good hammock camping area. There is a corral underneath the trees which could be a holding area for swamp buffaloes, cows or goats and had not been used for a long time. From here I walk along a field of native beans and an open ground planted with prickly pears. Not farther away are pittayas climbing their way to horizontal bars.

Going to the lanai, there is a little tree nursery. The Espina couple choose their plants well, concentrating more on indigenous trees and rare fruit trees, spices and flowering plants. Even as I scrutinized the plants, a mature kaffir lime tree, bearing fruits, made me shake my head in disbelief. Along the sides of the fence are spices galore, some of which I have not seen before. Then I saw another rare local lime known as biasong bearing fruits also.

As I went outside to the road, rare jade vine flowers hanged and shaded the two SUVs parking from underneath it. I crossed the road to look over the other side of the farm. There are more spices here, different climbing vegetables, different papayas, different bananas and flowering pittayas. There are roses on the slopes and lemoncitos while cows grazed underneath mango trees. Oh man, I got a case of Plant ID Overload.

I see a chicken coop and it is populated by native variety of fowls like the parawan and the jolo and these look very primeval. On another side are ducks and geese, noisy as ever as they can be. I looked at a small man-made pond with greenish content. On closer inspection, it contains tiny plants. Later, according to Doc Shawn, it contained azolla and duck weed. These are used as feeds to the farm animals and are high in protein.

I went back to the farmhouse but there is a structure that I noticed a while ago which I almost missed on my morning tour. I go down the hill and follow a path. Greeting me are turkeys. Beyond it are the centerpiece of this organic farming business: native sows. This breed is getting rarer and rarer as it is permeable to disease. I am glad that Doc Shawn is preserving its lineage by breeding it here. Each sow nurse six piglets in their separate pens.

It was almost 11:00 when I returned to the lanai. The couple were already there along with their children and guest. Their granddaughter had just completed her harvest of the beans and would be one of the dishes that would be served later. I was sweating as it was now warm but, despite that, cool breeze ensures that you do not overheat.

I changed into a dry t-shirt and hydrate cold water from a ewer. What I saw, I talked about it, to the elation of the Espina couple. Establishing Camp LOV was a project that they have planned for a long time and they decided to push it through in small driblets. First, as a hobby, just to satisfy what they learned in seminars and workshops yet it provided them fresh organic food which excess they sold to their network of friends.

Then they have to expand the size when they realized that the produce provided by the existing farm could not cope up with the growing demand for organic vegetables, fruit, meat and other green goods. It had also allowed their farm neighbors additional income gained by working in Camp LOV or by their own effort on their own plots.

Then there is agriculture tourism and the fad of healthy organic food. Camp LOV has the acreage to make it viable and sustainable, and the water sources to make it a year-round affair. Business opportunities treble when people begin to take notice of your amenities and the services that go with it. To make their ideas harmonize with the tourism blueprint of Sibonga, they had met and sat with the municipal officials on many occasions.

It is just a matter of time when the Espina couple would work on the honest inputs that the visitors have suggested. Lunch time came as expected. Pork bean soup, grilled tuna, tuna in brine, processed organic meat, upland rice and farm-fresh juice. The morning meal had not vacated most of the space inside my intestines as the new batch of warm and delicious food begins to fill in the empty spaces.

I am full and feel bloated. There is nothing to do now but wait for our departure from Camp LOV. There are no more native concoctions but there is an empty lounge chair and the unfinished novel. Drowsiness overcame me and I have to give my eyes their deserved rest. It is a long afternoon and we finally departed at five. Dr. Espina made it sure that I bring a gallon of coconut vinegar for the wife.

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