Monday, March 20, 2017

INTO THE GREAT OUTDOORS WITH KIDS

THIS IS UNUSUAL. I am in unfamiliar territory.

Mountains and jungles are my usual environments but never thought of this place. Unbelievable!

I have never been known to teach about the outdoors, much less, bushcraft, in a corporate setting.

But I am IN a swanky oasis today, in the middle of the Cebu Business Park. I am in the City Sports Club Cebu.

I am not dreaming. I am here. It is November 19, 2016.

I am sitting near the pool and I am enjoying my meal of rice with beef toppings courtesy of the club.

In two hours I will start my lessons. Everything is ready. I got firewood and kindling. I got the green and the dry bamboos. An animal snare is set.

This is a surprise. I will be with a different crowd.


I teach adults with a sprinkling of adolescents. But not this time.

They are all kids! All thirty-two of them.

I must be dreaming. But this was not Disneyland. I do not see Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck? Oh, God. My knees begun to shake.

I am in front of them. Standing on a stage.

They are sitting with clasped hands on rows of table with good manners all and right conduct.

I wished I am in a Ronald McDonald suit. But I am not.

I looked like the Undertaker with my all-black attire minus the hat and eyeliners.

I got hold of the mic and imitate Peter Pan without success.

A fat beauty says her piece and she stole the show. I do not know where to go.


Got to work on my bag of magic tricks. No. Not yet.

Try telling them a story of dwarfs and giants and walking in a trail like Hansel and Gretel did. Camping in Neverland.

The mic changed hands and I got their ears.

Now the bag is open. Out comes a knife. Nobody touches this thing until I say so. Nobody did. Not part of the plan. Sorry.

I open up a bamboo. Time to show them how to cook rice in it.

We transfer to a place where we make fire and cook our rice. The fire roared to life and everyone poked sticks in the center. “Marshmallow barbecue!”


My fire is almost gone. Got to show them how to make a simple shelter. It was easy and quick.

Show them how the snare works. It caught a stick!

Back to the fire. Place rice inside the hole. Feed more firewood.


Talk. Talk. Talk.

Back to the fire. Rice almost cooked. The fat beauty remained. She is scheming something.

I turned my back. Woosh!

She put out the fire with water and I got a half-cooked rice.

My two hours is finished. Class dismiss!



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First photo courtesy of City Sports Club Cebu

Saturday, March 11, 2017

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XLI: Common Sense

WHEN I CONDUCT OUTDOOR CLASSES involving fewer than seven persons or if I find a few participants who are not athletic enough to withstand the rigors of my best campsites, I turn to the ones that I had chosen before as best for these conditions. Usually, it is either at Camp Xi or on the original site of Camp Damazo where the first Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp was held. Whichever, both are in Cebu and are in proximity to streams where the things needed to run a bushcraft camp are found.

Camps intended for bushcraft are not your ordinary tent-city-camps which you most likely see in massed-climbing-crazy-Philippine-mountains. There is a wide chasm in its choice of location, its design and purpose, its appearance and its occupants. There is no comparison and yet it shares its calling in the outdoors. Mountains bring in people and it is mystery to most because of our human instinct for novelty which satisfies the senses and the feelings and converts it to a rewarding experience.

Rewarding is deemed subjective depending on which ground you are setting afoot. In bushcraft, it is primeval in nature because there never is or was a bald and bland moment. Bushcraft would never use a bald camp nor it is tethered to an inorganic and alien ideology. It relishes at its absence and the want of it, simply because it knows the psychological restraints this Western idea is being imposed on people and their organizations by individuals who knows no better, stunting creative growth by the blind subservience of it.


There is nothing spectacular in bushcraft camps for it lay hidden in forests or what we call as places below treeline. I do not want high exposed places nor would I want a sea of clouds for it is immaterial and just a girl-thing. It is just a fantasy created by tour organizers to make quick money from star-struck tourists and gullible campers looking for romantic flings. Living for the day is the evil thereof and I look forward instead to tomorrow and the days after that which only bushcraft can answer.

I cannot understand why people love to camp on lake beds but I can understand a very few intelligent ones of why they do not. It is beyond necessity and comfort and conventionally-acquired mindsets because it is just common sense. It is not learned in universities and in Google. It is learned by looking but not looking. By looking at places where no one takes a second look. In bushcraft, you can see these small discoveries because you do not stand out. You can learn these things and it becomes a passion.

Little by little, bushcraft is now the haunt of people who, in their better days, chased their passions of peaks, adventures and romance. They were part of that mainstream crowd who flocked the mountains in every chance possible when massed-climbing was then acceptable as it is still now and glorified even more. Why the change of heart? Simple. They have ended their search. It was with them all the time when they were looking for it. It is called Common Sense.

Common sense is not common anymore. You hear of people burning their expensive tents and their eyebrows by cooking inside it. Why? They were camping on bald peaks and it was so windy, so foggy, so rainy and so cold outside and the only sensible place to keep away from those was inside the tent. Then you hear stories of grass fires on campsites. What happened? A smart guy wanted to show off his Boy Scout campfire skills on the wrong place: a bald peak where the wind always lay supreme.

You have these same people walking in one single line following their leader walking on mud and slipping all the time. On the other hand, local people walked on drier ground beside the trail, amused and entertained at their sight, but could not grasp somehow the idea of walking in mud is a hobby. It does not make sense, is it not? Common sense always disappear when obsession and arrogance of interpreting something you cannot fathom (yes, ignorance too) take hold of you.


The surest way to have common sense is when you get married and start a family that all assumptions of your “greatness” are thrown asunder. Take it from me. I have seen them all and they disappeared from the scene forever. What is left of them is that wishful thought of a second coming which they loved to let people know in Facebook. When would that be when you are a potato couch in your profile pictures? You are already an organizer’s nightmare. You have earned enough of common sense, so do not waste it at your one last shot of “greatness”.

As hard as it may seem for a second coming, however, there are a few places in the outdoors where it can become a reality. One of these is glamour camping. You do not have to walk far because you use an SUV. Set up your ancient tent and relive your glory days with your own kind. In the long run, however, it does not make sense. It overshoots the expenses that you have had when you were still lean and strong and free-spending and people for company are getting less and less. And you are still a potato couch in your pictures!

Bushcraft is easy on these kind of people. It does not force you to walk far and it does not drain your pocket. It does not need a lot of people for company. You can be an island of your own, contrary to that cliché of “no man is an island”. You tend to shy away from these colorful-clothed adrenaline-loving folks as you begin to patronize your own favorite places which you kept secret. You can do your own thing far from prying eyes of these naysayers who do not know anything about outdoors common sense.

I brought three guys for a three-day learning camp at the old Camp Damazo last November 12, 2016. Two of them had left their mark in the outdoors as part of that mainstream outdoor culture. They simply have outgrown it and diverted their passions instead to the unspoiled ground called bushcraft. They will cover new ground and programmed their time to attend the BASIC WILDERNESS SURVIVAL COURSE. Few people could appreciate what is bushcraft and their idea of it are narrowed down either on Bear Grylls or with the Aetas which is not even near enough.

It was a short early morning walk to a man-made forest where even old men could thrive. There is a trail that led to a small stream then downstream to the campsite. We claimed the old camp as ours and set up our shelters. A single tent appeared on the widest ground courtesy of Vlad Lumbab, who will share space with his office crew, Michael Sacristan. Another Michael (Schwarz), of German ancestry and an active outdoorsman, set up his wonderful-looking chocolate hammock with matching canopy between two teak trees.


I claimed my own spot in between two trunks for my rust-colored hammock and a light gray canopy. Immediately after that, we start a fire to acquire woodsmoke on our bodies and clothes and to smoke out varmints away. It was very trying on wood that was found half dry but, nevertheless, we did produce its assuring presence. Boiling water for coffee is the first order of the day and with that coffee you can organize things better like starting the first chapter, which is Introduction to Survival.

Everything has its place in the wilderness and in the human psyche once you get past the hurdles of the initial impact or shock. The brain, the nerve center and the processor of all thoughts relating to your appreciation of life, will be harder to please than you would have expected it to be. It would be like installing an anti-virus software into an affected CPU without reformatting its system. The psychology of surviving depends upon your choice of location, your common sense and, take note, oxygen intake.

If you can perceive better than what your panic-induced thoughts dictate you then you are on your way to a better standing. Stay still, close your eyes and breathe deeply, and think! Your first and foremost priority would be water and water is indispensable on that very moment and wherever you may be. Water is oil to a machinery and that is the first of the four hypothetical tanks that you should immediately refill. It is also the first in the hierarchy of needs in a survival situation.

The second need is shelter where you have to take rest and conserve your waning energy, comfortable and safe enough from exposure to wind-chill, rain, wildlife and opportunistic humans. If you have a temporary refuge, nutrition would be your next need and the second hypothetical tank to top off. Food is your source of energy and, probably, will provide you sugar, which is hard to find in the wilderness unless you have good background in plants, and fat which is almost absent in the tropics. Both sugar and fat are what consist of the remaining two hypothetical tanks to fill in.

The hierarchy of needs does not have to follow a prescribed set as long as water is on top of the tier and warmth should also be there after either shelter or food or before each or both. Warmth from a fire during a cold night or from direct sunlight after a downpour are very reassuring and heralds the rising of a confidence to survive and the appreciation of life. Your last need which will complement all your needs during survival is security. Failing to secure one or two needs would bring you back to square one. Living for the day is the evil thereof. Prepare for tomorrow and the days after.

Preparation is part of survival even when it is still not happening. One of the things that a lot of hikers fail to appreciate is a survival kit. To them it is additional weight. They threw caution and good common sense to the wind because it challenges them or they know none. They believe that it will not happen to them because they had carefully planned their trip and studied the weather forecasts. What they do not know is they are in an environment which is difficult to comprehend with an erratic weather system that can not be predicted!

Of course, having a survival kit can not change the conditions of mountains and weather but you would cringe at the thought of having none when you find yourself lost in the dark, hungry and dumb! A survival kit at your reach is better than having none. Now, what consists a survival kit? In this chapter I discuss a subject matter which I have had talked many times to a lot of outdoor clubs and individuals – Customizing Your Survival Kit.


Actually, one can be purchased commercially that is designed for those who wanted to have all they need in a small tin box. It is compact, light and does not take space but despite its contents, you wished it was big enough to fit in with extra food and first aid items. Customizing your survival kit is the best approach and it is easy. Design it to the environment where you are going to and to the type of activity you are participating in. Personal preference is your guide. Redundancy works here like torches and fire tools.

After the two chapters we take a break to prepare food for lunch. The fire had died down and, once again, we revived the campfire which is not always that easy in a very humid environment. But by our own efforts, we were able to give life to one and the participants proceed on the business of cooking their meals. Vlad uses his “fire basket” and it is a very efficient equipment, much like a hobo stove, but square and collapsible. I use my simple folding trivet to hold the pot above the flame instead of a traditional trio of stones.

Rain comes and I hit a dead end. I let the participants take their siesta. The humidity is really oppressive and, besides, there is not much you can do when drops of rain fall down on you and on paper. Not a good time to induce their attention for another lecture. It is really uncomfortable and I have experienced this so many times. Fortunately for me, this was not scheduled for two short days. If it were, I would be stressed out.

An hour of siesta was good and ripe for the resumption of our journey. Water Sanitation and Rehydration takes the next chapter and then navigates to the next which is Knife Care and Safety. Another vital item that people do not always entertain of bringing is the knife. In bushcraft, each individual carries at least three different blades for different kinds of work. A knife is a tool and as long as you do not grow a good set of titanium teeth and fingernails you would need it. If you do carry a knife, you will have to learn all things about the knife, ethics and the law regulating knife carry.

I decide to reschedule the brief chapter of Cold Weather Mechanisms and Heat Retention today instead of tomorrow. We have a lot of things to do tomorrow and also I need us to work on our fire while there is still daylight. That means we have to forage dry firewood which would be rare after that downpour. Satisfied with the stride of five chapters, I call it a day and pursue our bigger tasks for the rest of the day.

When we had eaten dinner, it was time for a Campfire Yarns and Storytelling. The fire burned as it is fed from time to time. The night is cold and the reflection of a rising moon, almost at its full strength, begins to be felt on the sky. Frogs compete with the usual night sounds as the flame flickered and hissed as drops of dew fell from a leaf. A flask of local brandy provided the fuel and as soon as it ran its course it was already half past ten.

The second day (November 13) promises to be a better one. The skies are clear and we will have company. After groping with the business of coaxing a fire to life, drinking coffee becomes part of this ritual. A light breakfast followed and then the chapter on Traditional Land Navigation. Early travellers used the streams as routes and why cannot modern men do the same? On this same manner, they have utilized celestial bodies like the sun, moon and the stars, seriously analyzing terrain and shadows before proceeding, and marking many references.

Company came in the form of the great guys from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild who arrived in the middle of the first lecture for the day. Led by Jhurds Neo and Aljew Frasco, I could not have been more proud. These guys showed that Cebu’s bushcraft community is active and thriving. They had with them guests, some future enthusiasts perhaps, exposing them to the brand of outdoors which this guild is very well versed at.


Next chapter is Foraging and Plant ID. Foraging covers hunting and trapping. A simple bamboo tube perfectly placed can trap a creature on land or in water. Snares are more complex as it employ a spring-and-trigger mechanism activated by the prey. All of these do not work if you do not know how to outwit or lure prey. Identifying a plant for its nutritional value is easy but it is best you suspect each plant. Soon we will be foraging bamboo on another location and I would identify for them wild plants that they need to evade or love.

This hike is part of that chapter. It is now near noon but we will forego of lunch. Fasting to imitate the pangs of hunger is part of psyching up to the real thing. Walking hungry and uncomfortable in an environment where you have no total control of by its unfamiliarity and by adherence to a set of protocols imposed can be very daunting. We arrive at the site where bamboos grow and taught them the finer art of bushcraft with regards to cutting and harvesting, and how to dispose the unused part so it can be used next time.

From this activity, the chapter on Survival Tool Making begins and then Firecraft. Tools made from nature come in handy as it extends the life of your knife with the manufacture of digging sticks, trapping applications, fire-making implements and eating utensils. The Philippines is blessed to have so much bamboo and making a cooking vessel from these to cook something is just natural. We have readied a pot employing my Trailhawk system and another pot system popularized by the Aetas made by the German Michael.

Firecraft is just perfect for this moment. It had not rained and the air is almost dry but I have to digest to them what is this thing called the fire triangle, a tinder, a kindling, and where are the best firewood foraged? On purpose, I let them experience starting a fire with firewood instinctively sourced from where they saw it, mostly from the ground. Unknown to them, good firewood are found where their eyes have missed. A fire would later erupt with none of the difficulties encountered the past one and 1/2 days.

Firecraft lessons navigated from the ferro rod set to the flint-and-steel and to the two friction methods that I often taught – the one employing dry bamboos and the bowdrill. We have not had success with the drill but it smoked with burnt odor and so were lots of sweat. The bamboo snared us great success instead and a wide smile for everyone. After this, we begun the cooking of rice inside the two bamboos and readied for Nocturnal Hunting.

The stream is empty of crabs. We were in a wrong occasion. The moon is at its brightest! I have noticed it last night. I searched for tree snails and I found none either. There is the warty toad that the German found but I would not bet on that as food. Retreating to the camp, we subsist on leftover food from last night. The good thing is the guys from Camp Red had left us enough spirits before they said goodbye for another round of Campfire Yarns and Storytelling. We observe taps at exactly twelve midnight.


The last day – November 14 – promises another good day and the campfire is revived for the last time for coffee. One more chapter to talk about – Outdoors Common Sense – and this is taken as an excerpt from my still-unfinished book ETHICAL BUSHCRAFT. It instills the simple truths of “Blend, Adapt and Improvise”. It zooms in on the choice of colors for clothes and shelter, trail ethics, campsite locations and campfire size, and how you act in case of wildlife encounters which in bushcraft are frequent.

After breaking camp at nine we go back to where we were two days ago. From there, we hired motorcycles to bring us back to Guadalupe and partake of brunch at my favorite spot after every outdoor stint. Vlad and his sidekick, Michael, got each a Seseblade Sinalung knife courtesy of Dr. Arvin Sese, while the German Michael gets a Camp Red patch and a soap-sized beeswax courtesy of Warrior Pilgrimage. Most of all, I am happy to hand them the certificates, which described the sum of good outdoors common sense learned in three days.


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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

VISITING AN OLD FRIEND | OF BOOKS & LIBRARIES

ONCE UPON A TIME IN SOME DARK PLANET of long ago, I was living in a semi-nomadic existence foraging inside garbage cans and the streets for scraps of steel or bronze or copper when I was eleven or twelve. Sometimes I just spirit it away from under the noses of busy machinists and masked welders in their shops. My best friend then was the scrap buyer and it provided me “funds” to buy Coke during recess time in school which was then a luxury. It was wrong but I am not ashamed to tell you about this.


I am the eldest in a brood of four sisters and one brother. We were not rich but we were kind of living a sheltered life. My parents were both cops and both were straight. Everyone could attest to their honesty in their job and they have a name to protect. Discipline in the home was sometimes harsh and, being the eldest, I was given a certain responsibility and the privilege of the cane, painful at first, but you get to like its familiar slap on your behind afterward and you feel better. It adds your resistance to pain which I found useful.

I was the wild kid and I liked the streets better than sitting inside a stuffy classroom. I became street smart and had unknowingly laid the foundations of a future crime boss were it not, on one of my class-cutting excursions together with a classmate, we came to visit a place where there were books everywhere and people were in trance to these. That was in Patria de Cebu, fronting the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, where it housed the temporary home of the Cebu City Library.


Why I was there? It was accidental. Of course, there was a bowling alley and a billiard hall nearby but the usual people I knew were not there so we decided to hang out inside this house of books out of boredom. I checked out some books and I kind of liked a children’s illustrated history book of the United States of America and another illustrated book of classical literature. I really was engrossed in my reading and forgot about everything about the streets when a bell rang.

We followed a queue of people returning the books to a long desk where there was an attendant receiving it. When my turn came, an older woman replaced the attendant and I came face to face – of all people – my own aunt! She was surprised to see me and seemed happy at my sudden interest of books. I was ready to tell a lie if she asked me how I came to be here. She checked at the books I read and gave it back to me and told me to bring it home. It was the start of my long romance with books and it changed my life.


Forty-two years fast forward, I visited the Cebu City Library again at its now-permanent home in a building shared with the Jose Rizal Museum and the Cebu City Historical Affairs Commission along Osmeña Boulevard. I was with my mother and another aunt and it was like seeing an old friend. There are now fewer people than was before. People do not read books nowadays, especially the younger generations. They spend more time in Facebook and the malls. I would not be surprised when books would just be an item in a curio shop.

I love Facebook even though there is no “book” in it. I just supply the book in my profile pictures where I am seen holding a book shielding half of my face, a typical unabashed self-portrait, the most literal expression of Facebook: a Face and a Book. I changed my profile as often as I picked up a book to read. Facebook then becomes my vehicle to spread this advocacy of reading real books, not PDF books! Someday, when all these technology fail, books would be worth more than gold. Shades of Book of Eli, is it not?


Books I read could be spine-tingling novels or a boring scientific research. Reading on paper is so different than reading on a monitor screen. I do not have to explain this in detail but in paper there are no glares. As simple as that. The time-worn pages of a book reflect a character all its own, never mind the DNA of people that stained some pages, but it sure has an aroma all its own, much more so when it just comes off the press.

I have read hundreds of books, sometimes re-reading it more than twice when I liked it very much or there is not much material to read and, each time, I left my mark at anywhere in the last pages: a nickname in long hand, with date and place. I even have my own private library where every book is rubber-stamped under the name of “Warrior Pilgrimage”. I am proud of my book shelf housing a lot of unread and dusty books and novels. I tried to remedy this by reading two books at a time but I am not in a hurry.


As I scanned the books inside the Cebu City Library, I saw a lot of books that grabbed instantly my interest. My aunt is not anymore running the library. She died many years ago. I can not bring some books out like the way I used to do. I guess I have to spend more time in the library, which is good in itself which I will do for as long as the city government will support its operation and existence.

How about you?

When would you rekindle your interest in reading a real book?

When would you visit and support your local library?



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