Wednesday, November 26, 2008


My first Sony® experience is with my younger sister's Walkman®. Whenever I would travel in the countryside I would borrow it from her. If she refused I would sneak it out without her knowing. In time, her Walkman would be my constant companion on the road.

Riding in buses in rural Philippines during the early '80s is not your idea of an ordinary and comfortable ride like we used to enjoy today. The roads then were unpaved and dusty and full of holes turning your travel into one long torturous moment marked by bouncy jolts and creaky springy sounds. People would cram into whatever space available making even the act of breathing a difficult undertaking. It's agonizingly hot in summer and muddy during rainy seasons.

Aside from that, it was the time when the country was ruled by a dictatorship and it is very common for the bus you're riding in would go through several layers of military checkpoints. It was so taxing climbing in and out of the bus amidst the shouts and threats of soldiers. Sometimes, their enemy would imitate them and it made the whole trip a harrowing experience. The only good thing about it, is people would remember where they sat or stood by the time when we climb back inside the bus.

My sister's Walkman® made all the difference in all my constant travels during that time. With its patented noise-reducing earpieces it shut out the babel of voices around me. The soothing sounds of Simon & Garfunkel and America, greatly enhanced by Sony sound technology, hummed in my ears turning my travel into a wonderful and seamless pursuit.

It definitely gave significance in my life just like Sony’s World’s First Noise Canceling Headphones that made a whole lot of difference to this present generation.

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Monday, November 17, 2008


I HAVE A NEW FRIEND. He may be about 12 or 13 years old and a sixth grader of Napo Elementary School, located in Sapangdaku, a mountain barangay of Cebu City. Everyday he wakes up at four of dawn to help his mother prepare breakfast and packed lunch for him and his younger sister. At half-light of 5:00 AM, he and his sister starts to go down the trail for Napo and reaches their school several minutes past six. Then they go home after five in the afternoon and reach their home in darkness at almost seven in the evening.

They do that five times a week of each month for nine months of a year and repeats the process until they have graduated from elementary. It is different though when it is raining in their area. They reach their destinations late and sometimes they skip their classes if the weather is found unfavorable for them.

In my new friend's case, hopefully, he will be graduating in March or April next year- 2009. I asked him where would he study high school after graduating? He shrugged his shoulders and, courageously holding back tears, he told me that his parents could not support his studies and it all depended upon his father if he could earn enough income from his farming. I was moved and I wished at that moment I am Bill Gates or John Gokongwei. But I am not.

For your information, my friend's house is located on a hill between the trailhead in Napo and the tower area in Mount Babag. It is in the middle of nowhere and nobody's going there except they and us backpackers. But only few city-dwellers have traveled by my friend's house for the trail that passed by there is not known yet to most of our weekend-strutting kind. The trail also happens to be the most challenging and most difficult trail around here. It is different from the numerous trails that criss-crossed at the back of the Guadalupe church.

Ernie Salomon led me and Boy Toledo to this trail and I named that trail “Ernie's Trail”. It is marked by very steep ascents and quite slippery when it is raining. I have made this trail as a training area and to keep fit everytime there is a lull in our mountaineering activities. Now, back to my friend. I would like to help him in my own little way by endorsing him in my weblog and other sites where, hopefully, like-minded individuals would extend their generosity to give my friend an opportunity to make a difference in his life.

In my friend's case, he do have a name and a face. His name is -


A face:

And a contact number:


It's a SMART number and SMART has a strong presence there being one of the relay steel towers found atop Mt. Babag. Call or text him. If you want him to respond immediately, pass a load to him through SMART Load or PasaLoad. If you prefer the latter, well and good. Just type his mobile number in your keypad, and a space and the amount (2, 5 or 10) you intended to pass (ex. 09285821157 10) and “Send” it to 808. Better yet, copy his number and save it in your cellphone directory and share it with others.

You see, everytime we climb Mt. Babag, Manwel would lend his knowledge and familiarity with the terrain and partly guide us. In return, we would give him a little amount. Or, at times, we would bring bread or snacks for them to eat. Or, sometimes, we gave away some canned goods, discarded textbooks and reading materials, used shoes and clothes. So, in this context, I would appreciate it if we give something back to our less-privileged brothers like Manwel here by hiring them as our “official” trail guides everytime we visit their area and give them something in return for their labor even if WE already know the way. For sure, we have other Manwels in our mind.

Right now, we'll start from here. Let's help Manwel.

God bless you all!

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Saturday, November 8, 2008


ON AUGUST 23, 2008, Cebu Mountaineering Society or CeMS celebrated its 19th anniversary by climbing Mt. Manunggal from its traditional starting point – in Tagba-o. There were fifteen of us that tackled her trails: Lilibeth Initan, Andrew Flores, Boy Toledo, Joy Tongco, Dennis Legaspi, Glenn Lao, Jon Consunji, Sam Lim and me plus member-applicants Canqui Potamio, Ernie Salomon, guests Nathan Cannen, Myla Ipil and Harold Alcontin of, and another guest, Blessie Alano of the Cuernos de Negros Mountaineering Club.

Actually, we started from another point farther away from the customary jump-off area and crossed the river that divides Cebu City from Balamban town on that sunny Saturday morning then resting for a while to gawk at the pools and rock formations of Pandong Bato. After that, we climbed about 500 meters uphill and rested beside a tributary of the Lusaran River. Some of us walked a hundred meters upriver to marvel at a part of this river branch that passed through a cave-like formation called Guimbuthan.

Satisfied with the sight, we proceeded another hundred meters to eat lunch underneath a house that stood partially with stilts to shed us from the noontime rain. After a good filling, we then begun the second stretch of the uphill trail that passed beneath Mount Mit-ol. From open spaces and farms the trail led us to thickly vegetated areas and unto a forested area populated by endemic trees that earlier loose chainsaws have failed to cut.

It was a good trail but slippery on some places where it passed little creeks, brooklets and spring runoffs. We rested on flat surfaces to recover our breathing as the sun shone again to whittle away the moist and the dew that the earlier rains have brought. We passed by upland farm communities, crossing raging little streams, and delighting at the new sights that this stretch of trail offered.

By two in the afternoon we reached an unpaved road just below the shoulders of Mount Mauyog and it rained again. We stayed for a while until the rain passed away and then, slowly and grudgingly, we followed the road upward to where it would lead us to – in Mount Manunggal. There were, I counted, fourteen uphill stretches from the moment we crossed the river in Tagba-o up to Mt. Manunggal, just like the 14 stations of the cross!

Exhausted and drenched twice during the very long trail that we walked and traversed at, majority of us decided to sleep it out under the roof of an abandoned concrete structure while Lilibeth, Joy and Andrew pitched tents at the CeMS traditional camping area to relive the good old days and to give meaning of this celebratory activity. Later, couple Loklok and Tata Caumeran came and gave company to the sentimentalists. It was windy and cold and it rained again in the night.

Waking to a glorious sunrise on the second day, August 24, we broke camp at 8:00 AM and parted ways with Dennis, Glenn L, Canqui, Harold the “GPS Man” and Blessie who all decided to cut short their trip that day while the rest of us went on as planned – tackling the Manunggal to Gaas route. We went downhill passing by upland farms, abaca plantations and grass and bushes. Some stretches of the trail were quite steep and so slippery, thus, very dangerous.

We passed by many tributaries, headwaters, spring runoffs and water sources that supply Bangbang River and rested awhile at Kapiyo-an to escape the mid-morning sun. From there, we went down and took lunch beside Bangbang River where, after an hour, crossed its wide course and climbed uphill for Inalad. Reaching Inalad we finally stepped on the concrete road of the transcentral highway where Boy T, Sam, Nathan, Myla, Loklok, Tata and Ernie opted to go home early.

Lilibeth, Joy, Andrew, Jon and me walked a kilometer into Gaas and then climbed the weekend abode of the couple Ramon and Ann Vidal – the Sierra Tree Farm. It rained again as we arrived and we were joined there by Daddy Frank Cabigon and, later, by Dr. Abe Manlawe, Julienne Rosales, Grace Ventic, Joel Cariño and Eugene Abarquez of USC-M and Jecris Dayondon and all were treated to a sumptuous dinner by Ramon and Ann.

Later, there was a very belated induction of the set of officers for the year 2008 and an CeMS Execom meeting after that. With that finished, ten of us made ourselves comfortable inside the newly-constructed glass-and-concrete extension of the old structure. With the glass shutting out the penetrating cold brought about by the sudden drop in temperature caused by rains we slept comfortably even with the loud snore emitted by one exhausted mountaineer.

We woke up to a foggy morning and hustled ourselves preparing breakfast. I tried tinkering the coffee espresso maker to an undesired result eliciting laughter from Ramon. Again, as was last night's, breakfast were served free and everyone took his fill, especially me, who concentrated on last night's leftover – a native lechon manok. Nobody touched the birdy for it was tough and hard to chew at and I am glad and thankful for my Creator that He gave me a set of strong ivory incisors and molars.

At 9:00 AM, we went down and met with a group of the newly-created Gaas eco-tour guides that were trained by Ramon days before. We played the role of “tourists” and “clients” and we were assigned to three groups of these neophyte eco-tour guides and led us to the different trails in and around Gaas which ended at Gaas Cave. After the demonstration we were given a free hand to assess and evaluate their performance. All passed our test!

We ended our activity after lunch and left Gaas one more time bound for Metro Cebu and I could feel Mt. Manunggal beaming in the distance, her health recovering from a long-drawn stupor that had held her since the time a road was opened along her broad shoulders that obliterated her remoteness from city dwellers. I have kissed upon her hallowed ground once more and I left her in good spirits hoping to come back and visit her again soon in the new route.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

OLANGO: My Island in the Sun

OLANGO ISLAND HAD been humming in my consciousness for so many years. I have read and listened to so many tales about her and it gave me some misgivings why I haven't yet ventured beyond the back side of Mactan Island before the year 2008. That honor went to my “old” colleagues in Cebu Mountaineering Society or CeMS and they crossed the Olango Channel to and fro with such regularity as if the island itself sits on dry land.

My time to set foot on this mythical island of my mind came last May 3 and 4 when CeMS decided to organize and hold the Basic Mountaineering Course (BMC) refresher sandwiched with the Leave No Trace (LNT) Seven Principles at Bak-oy Beach in Barangay Tingo in a property owned by the family of CeMS member Joy Tongco. I was with 32 others for two days and one night there, some of them first-timers on the me.

We crossed the channel in the morning from Punta Engaño Wharf, beside the renowned (and pink-washed) Hilton Hotel, on board a motorized outrigger seacraft which directly ferried us to Bak-oy beach. The waves were slightly rough owing to a squall generated by a passing tropical depression. Every newcomer were very excited and drooled on the idea of bird-watching on its southern tidal flats or of tasting their fresh bounties caught from its depths.

The latter seemed to be more feasible (and palatable) as on the night of the first day all the seminar participants were served with the very fresh and delicious sa-ang shells cooked in the traditional manner – the island way – by boiling it in sea water. The other island delicacy, scallops, were also caught fresh, cooked and boiled, and it tasted unexpectedly sweet to my tongue and retained an aroma that is very pleasing. Dipped with native coconut vinegar and soy sauce spiced with onions and tomatoes both seashells exuded tastes beyond what our senses could imagine er...taste.

When we arrived on the first day it was raining and we held our outdoors-related BMC indoors and twenty-six of us crammed inside a beach house built to accommodate six persons at the most. Early dawn of May 4, Dr. Abe Manlawe and me led eight others and sweated it out by running the five-kilometer stretch of the fine cemented road from Tingo to Santa Rosa in roughly 30 minutes of time. We ran the same route back to where we came from and all exulted enjoying the pure air of the island as we neared the finish line.

After the road run I felt that I have to cool my body. Discarding everything except my black Bike cycling shorts I immersed into the welcoming coolness of the sea and swam and dove down into its shallow depths. There's plenty of unhindered water space around Olango and they're very pristine, exceptionally clear and totally free! I took my time well until it was time for me to do the honors of lecturing the participants.

We left for home after lunch on the second day with the same seacraft we boarded in coming. The sun stung on our skin as we sat on the craft's deck and maneuvered ourselves around the small boat to be away from the exposed side and into what shaded area the craft could offer but that doesn't dampen our hopes of looking forward to another opportunity to set foot on her powdery white beaches again.

In my case, I went there again on August 10, on the invitations of Joy. Ooowww, Daddy Frank Cabigon, Andrew Flores, Grace Ventic and friends from the University of San Carlos Mountaineers (USC-M) were already there the day before and only Jon Consunji went with me in crossing the channel for Olango. The occasion this time was to celebrate fiesta in Barangay Tingo in honor of their patron – Saint Filomena. Later, Loklok and Tata Caumeran arrived together with the Tinago Bicycle Club.

Jon and I boarded a slow-moving barge, the M/V Sta. Catalina, from Punta Engaño and arrived at Barangay Sta. Rosa after 10:00 AM. We rode a tricycle for Tingo enough to witness a race between two speeding small motorized outriggers. There were many revelers, visitors, vendors and candle dancers converging in Barangay Tingo as one house competed against one another with the most number of visitors or having the noisiest stereo player.

It was a very sunny morning. The heat of the sun were felt by everyone but it never discouraged the fiesta revelers one bit and that includes me. Stringed flyers bearing commercial names ruffled and danced in the breeze overhead as a bonanza of colors mixed and mingled below. The sound of parade drums echoed in the distance as shouts of playful children elicit your attention.

As with my previous visit, I was treated again to a lunch of sa-ang and scallop sea shells. Do you know that Joy's family ordered, collected and cooked 4,000 of these as the main cog of their food servings? Lechon baboy, bam-i, sweet and sour pork, humba, pork estofado and fried pork ribs complemented the sentimental favorites as well as an array of sliced cantaloupe, pineapple and water melon, skewered marshmallows and melted chocolate cascading from a miniature fountain.

I helped myself with several servings of sa-ang shells and scallops and tempted myself to bring some for home but it was just wishful thinking. Anyway, the opportunity of eating this gastronomic treat is quite rare in my own standpoint, so I took the chance of filling myself to the brim and it was good enough for me to skip supper altogether by the time I reached home.

By 1:30 PM, we all bade goodbye to Joy and her family. There was a CeMS meeting that afternoon and it was definite that we have to go back to Cebu. From Tingo we walked a kilometer into Barangay Baring where watercrafts for hire were waiting. We hopped unto one “parked” boat and off we went for Mactan Island then for mainland Cebu. The sea was very calm and from a distance I could still hear the fading rhythms of the drums of Tingo. I wonder where did they get their supply of fresh water?

I would love to go back to Olango Island someday on another date and purpose. CeMS have chosen and made this island close to their heart borne out of their social commitment and responsibility in protecting the environment. For those who don't know it yet, CeMS is a regular participant in the annual “Scubasurero” affair in Olango by cleaning the coastlines and mangrove areas free of garbage.

CeMS have, in the past, joined in bird-banding activities at the Olango Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary and have gratified themselves by dining at the famed floating restaurants of Caw-oy. Those were the days when the oldsters – Daddy Frank, Doc Abe, Rex Vecina, Matt and Ben Lao, Bebut Estillore, Cla-cla Delgra, Tony Cabigon, Lilibeth Initan, Dennis Legaspi and the late Sir Joe Avellanosa – tasted island life to the fullest in the cabanas of Olango.

I would like to try those also, probably, doing the extra mile by crossing the underwater isthmus for Pangan-an shoal in the months to come. They had not been to that place before. It is an exotic place where the sky meets the sea and the sand for miles around without a hindrance save for a lone cabana that is the center of activity of faraway fishermen who shared their catch for a price of a song. A place where time stops for a while and the sea current freeze to a standstill during a low tide. A good time for crossing on dry ground for the unheard of shoal.


Sunrise on Bohol island as seen from Olango

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