Tuesday, April 1, 2008


I WENT DEEP into southern Cebu last December 29-30, 2007 together with my friends from CeMS (Cebu Mountaineering Society) to observe our traditional year-end climb and trek which we held, this time, at Nug-as, Alcoy.

Nug-as happened to cradle within her confines the last stand of old-growth rainforests in the island province of Cebu, of whose forested mountains, we thought, have been completely obliterated into baldy hills by greedy capitalists of the past.

And within its enclave is the haunt of the endemic bird -- the black shama or siloy -- whose habitat are losing ground elsewhere in the province due to unabated human intrusion and activity. The presence of the black shama in Nug-as have driven many ornithologists and nature conservation groups to conduct scientific observations and to collect data there, as well as to keep track of the bird’s population.

The black shama also added color to the cultural side of the municipality of Alcoy. They have adopted the lowly bird as their emblem wherein a town-wide mardi gras activity is held every August of each year to celebrate the town’s ecological biodiversity, of nature’s kindness and a bountiful harvest for their farms, and is aptly called as the Siloy Festival. (They even snared the first place prize of the Sinulog Grand Mardi Gras held in Cebu City on January 20, 2008!)

This climb (or hike) was my first after so many years of inactivity, marked by a sputtering series of ascents that were few and far between from each other. It has been more than eight years since I last trekked her trails and, I guess, hopefully, this trip would signal my renewed romance of trail hiking and mountain climbing which I have placed in the backburner of my mind owing to the pressing necessity of surviving and feeding a family.

From my dusty storage bin came out my old reliables: a 15-year old Habagat Venado II backpack, a heavy Chinese-made cotton sleeping bag and a pair of Coleman hiking shoes. Old essential equipments that should have rested on their laurels which I am wont to let go. They were my old companions on many trails and campsites of a passing era. They all told great tales of great climbs with me in the past. They have a soul of their own. They are irreplaceable. They reflect my character: old school mountaineering sense.

But before reaching Alcoy, I happen to espy a low-flying Brahminy kite (banog) hovering just about five feet above the ground in Simala, Sibonga as the bus I rode in passed by. The presence of my raptor at low-level flight gave me a hint that there’s gonna be a good weather on our journey today. Call it a hunch, a gut feel. True indeed, it had been raining at Nug-as for a month straight save for our trip today and the morrow after that.

I was with Dr. Abe Manlawe, Daddy Frank Cabigon, Ramon and Ann Vidal with their daughter Sierra, Glenn Domingo, Leo Glenn Lao, Joy Tongco, Grace Ventic, Julienne Rosales, Paeng Jura, Jon Consunji, Rosebelle Daculan, Lilibeth Initan, couple Loklok and Tata Caumeran, Andrew Flores and Jecris. We have guests who went along with us like Nick from Bulacan, Ronald from Consolacion and Doc’s niece, Maricel. A special guest, Eugene Abarquez, MFPI VP for Visayas, went along also.

This bacpacking affair was organized by Batch 2007 of CeMS and is coordinated in tandem with the Barangay Council of Nug-as, who provided us three forest wardens as our guides; and with Mr. Ferdinand “Nanding” Mercado, senior staff of the municipal mayor of Alcoy, who arranged our food, transportation from Poblacion to Nug-as and vice versa and, later, the free use of of the mayor’s own beach resort at Tingko right after the activity.

We started our trek at KMYLB (Kapunungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Yutan-ong Lasang sa Bulalacao) headquarter at 12:00 noon of December 29. Once we got into the treeline, the trails became wet and slippery. On a small clearing under the canopy of trees where two trails forked, we took rest and ate our packed lunch at 1:00 PM.

Thirty minutes later, we proceed on, following the trail by which our guide had been leading us. Along the way, we discovered a live flying lizard nesting her three laid eggs on the trail itself. The mother lizard seemed to be aggressively alert to the sudden presence of “intruders” and kept watch over her unhatched brood while we gave her a wide berth as we passed by her nest, but not after documenting her with several mug shots from our digicams.

One wildlife which was conspicuously absent was the siloy. We asked our guide, Pol, why is that? He informed us that the bird is so shy and would hide at the slightest sound of our movements. He advised us to walk silently and, as if on cue, Ramon took center stage and suggested to us all, with actions to match, that we should start rehearsing the “siloy walk”, which elicited howls of laughter from all of us.

The first time I was here was in August 1999. Here, we walked the trails at Lower Bulalacao. Back then, there were monkeys high up on the trees chattering and eating among themselves unmindful of us humans passing below them. Some of them would drop their morsels of fruit they ate with. Siloy and other avians would dart to and fro from one tree to another. Time have changed all that or, perhaps, this trail at Upper Bulalacao are prone to intrusions by predatory humans, especially the kind who carried a rifle.

Back to the present, I am in the assault group, maybe, four or five persons behind our guide. Now, I get to feel the pace by which the guide exacted upon us. Slowly the old climbing machine in me began to grind its rusty gears to half throttle - just enough to maintain the speed and distance behind Doc.

I carried a heavy weight, not just in my backpack, which is already bursting at the seams, but, on the added weight with which my body have accumulated through all the years of living a sedentary-like lifestyle.

Along the way, I saw several sinkholes beside the snaky trails. Eight years ago, Rosebelle, Ben Lao and me explored one of those in a different area of Nug-as. It was easy going down, but, it was hell coming up on SRT (single-rope technique). You push 8 inches up and the jumars would slip 5-6 inches down unable to grip the rope made very slippery by mud. It sapped all my strength reserves then that I almost fainted on the trail after that.

By 3:00 PM, we finally reached the campsite on the top of Cambudlot peak where a bunkhouse for forest wardens is located. Julienne decided to go home for an urgent need and I was tasked to accompany her safely downhill and ensure that she gets to hop on a habal-habal ride for Poblacion. At the same time, I have to wait the food for dinner that was to be delivered by Nanding.

On the way down, Pol the guide, kept up a torrid pace which I was able to maintain as I was not carrying a backpack. During one of those downhill stretch, I failed to notice a clump of rattan palms growing amidst the trail and I got snagged by the spiny thorns scratching my whole right arm with it.

Nanding arrived just in time at around 6:30 PM with our prepared dinner in three kinds: calderetta, paklay and kilawin; and 150 pieces of rice balls or puso. Loklok and Tata were with Nanding and both of them accompanied me and Pol to bring the food to the campsite. Pablo, Nug-as barangay councilor, went also with us to assess the situation which he was tasked to oversee by their barangay council as chair of the environment committee.

We reached the campsite in less than an hour by way of a shorter route. I noticed the sole of my old Coleman hikers about to split away from the upper fabric that housed my not-entirely-pink pinkies! My shoes seem to say something like an “I-told-you-that-I'm-too-old-for-this-thing” scowl it gave me and I couldn't argue about the thing. I'll have to improvise in the morning to keep my shoes intact (and my sanity!) by the time we go downhill for home.

Dinnertime came and food were served and everyone took his fill of the free meal, courtesy of Batch 2007. I splurged on calderetta, which was excellently done, and the kilawin, sliced and cut in “tanguigue” fashion, which tasted good on the palate. I could have made good use of a drop of strong drink to help digest those solids, but, since there was none opened yet at that hour, I have to contend myself without and, hopefully, my eyes don't get drowsy as it was crispy cold.

Good thing there was a refresher lecture about the Leave No Trace outdoor and backpacking ethics espoused by Glenn L, which made me forget for a while the idea of snuggling inside the warmth of my sleeping bag.

The beckoning comfort of the tent vanished altogether from my mind as an impromptu program was organized and we were divided into three groups to present entertainment numbers and to compete with each other. There are, however, no winners chosen but only one losing group, whose sole “punishment” was to cook breakfast for all participants and guests.

Ultimately, my group collected the ignominy of cooking the breakfast - with wide open arms and equally wide grins!

After that, Eugene played Santa and unpacked his bag to reveal a horde of cellphone holders and coin purses, under the local brand LAKAT®, which were all distributed to us all. Fireworks were released to complement our festive mood that night.

December 30 came at our campsite at Cambudlot and we were greeted by a beautiful view of the lower valleys swaddled in early morning fog. At an affordable height, it bestowed upon the viewer a panoramic sight of the hidden rainforest - still quite unknown to a great majority of Cebuanos!

One landmark that I remembered well was a very tall tree that hosted several nests of the Brahminy kite. Eight years ago, there were three or four kites then soaring around the tree affirming a still thriving biodiversity around Nug-as. Today, that tree still stands, but, it's occupants are there no more! Just like the primates and the siloy they have disappeared from their “homes”.

And we, of that night's losing clowns, started the task of boiling water for coffee and instant noodles, re-heating last night's leftover food and cooking additional breakfast. Everyone chipped in their canned goods and packaged food, albeit, to lighten their backpacks on their downward trek. Others elbowed their way to take over the slicing knife, spatulas and, what else, the task of cooking, which was rightfully ours! Wow, we appreciate their sympathy and helpfulness (lol).

Then someone suggested that the rules for next year should be revised. Instead of just cooking the meals, the losers should also wash the dishes! What say you, Paeng?

There was a slight drizzle as we ate our breakfast. A full arc of a rainbow appeared in the sky. No, two full arcs appeared and...Click! Click!...their images were captured in digital form. Rosebelle, Glenn, Grace, Ann and Jecris made sure of that.

Then time to fold the tents and leave no trace of our passing. I made sure my Colemans would give an optimum performance by binding the soles with an adhesive tape courtesy of Glenn L. At 9:00 AM, down we go in procession-like manner into the Alcoy-Alegria road, that cut a swath of asphalt ribbon to Nug-as in half. We walked a kilometer on the road towards our waiting transportation that would bring us to the lowest side of Alcoy - the beach at Tingko.

Some of us stayed, others went off early for Cebu City. While at the beach we savored the welcome warmth of the sea and refreshed our battered bones. Over bottles of San Miguel Grande and a half-gallon of fermented coconut sap (tuba) we enjoyed the breeze and the view of Alcoy's powdery-white sand beach with its clear-blue water.

Doc, Jon and me tried the small outrigger boat by paddling from shore to a floating hut (lagkaw) anchored to the seabed and around it and back. While Jecris, Andrew, Eugene and Daddy Frank coaxed an ember to life and grilled pork meat on glowing hot charcoal for our lunch.

By 3:00 PM, I bade goodbye to Alcoy one more time and I hope to see more of her secrets soon. I wished her beloved siloy would show on the trail and sing for us her famous melody.

Document done in RoughDraft 3.0, Trebuchet MS font, size 12.


Maria Roselyn C. Jorolan said...

Wow.... i can see you enjoyed your short adventure on our town. ☺☺☺☺ im glad that some people appreciate the beauty of our small town alcoy. Hope to hear more like this ☺☺☺☺
Regards. ��

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