Sunday, March 15, 2009

NAPO TO BABAG TALES XI: The Coconut Ghost Trail

ONE WEEK PASSED by and here I am again this 11th day January 2009 on the trail to Mount Babag, 752 meters above sea level, to eagerly partake of a day-off and go training again with Boy Toledo, Sam Lim and Ernie Salomon. We are, what you call the regulars of this area, the early morning risers of every Sunday, the most committed and active individuals who loved what they're doing and who never cared about the politics of how to walk a trail or where to climb a height.

I am the most veteran of the four and I gave inputs and humor to our weekly undertakings while Boy T takes care of wiping out the integrity and character of a trail with his pair of clumsy boots. Sam, on the other hand, daydreams himself walking and sometimes take hideous snipes at Boy T and anybody he doesn't like and munches his endless hoard of chocolate bars and Ernie, well, he always shows off his weekly lucky “catch” from an ukay-ukay (pre-owned items) stall.

We, the four of us, have become the most well-versed walkers in this part of the world and we found our younger counterparts gasping all their darndest best pursuing us. Every week we changed our pace: from an excruciatingly slow and tarried climb to a crazy and imagined race with a tiger. Our slowest pace is designed to accommodate guests or time it to take lunch at Manwel's Place.

Our regular route is the Napo Main Trail which starts from the first river crossing and ends at the second river crossing and from there, the Butan Trail, which goes upward to the upland community at Sitio Butan. Ernie's Trail then take up the rest of the route passing by Manwel's Place then crossing a brook and then it climbed a steep route directly to Mt. Babag, the old site of the RCPI tower.

We would have not mastered this trail were it not for our young local friend, Manwel Roble. He is the jedi master of this trail and have shown to us the whims and caprices of the whole area as well as its secret chambers of precious liquid. What liquid? To me, it is either drinking water or young coconut water. To Boy T, it is beer – ice-cold beer! And Boy T loved very much the view overlooking Metro Cebu and listening to Papa Joe on an FM station.

The main route is Ernie's Trail and it is there that we suddenly became serious with our “work”. Every week we never deviated from the trail save, perhaps, when we accommodate “fragile” new beginners. The trail is a nice piece of work and we will share it to anybody who is sport enough to test his or her own self.

You know what, my greatest climbs are not found on the slopes of Mounts Apo, Pangasugan or Dulangdulang. It is just here in our own “backyard” and you would see the face of a happy man in me. I wouldn't trade it for no other mountain and I am not kidding. There's too much to explore around here.

Now back to the route, we four left Guadalupe for Napo at eight in the morning after our guests failed to come early. We took it slow and reached Napo an hour later then crossed the river twice before stopping by at Manwel's Place at 10:15 AM. I brought out a Cebuano Bible and the bread I bought for Manwel's family and decided to tarry a while and savored the young coconuts offered to us by Manwel's father.

At 11:15 AM, Vince, Wally and Ariel of came, pale and greatly winded, after hurrying up to catch up with us. We took lunch altogether and bade goodbye to Manwel and his family at 12:00 noon. After an amazing 40 minutes of power climb we reached the tower area and walked the 300 meters to Boy T's favorite store to rest there. I suggested that we stay for just 10 minutes and forego of the beer-drinking session reserved for this occasion as we have to rush to a scheduled Cebu Mountaineering Society meeting later in the day.

During our early sorties here, we used to backtrack to Guadalupe through the Kahugan Trail and since we have discovered a new trail to Kalunasan (which we named No-Santol-Tree Trail) we decided to take another pass at that route. I led the group and applied a torrid pace. I could run the trails again, thanks to the weekly training here, taking short bursts of speed uphill and long bursts downtrail.

It was a beautiful cloudy day devoid of scattered rainshowers and I never heard a thud behind me or maybe I'm just too far away from my nearest pursuer. Running downhill I came to a fork in the trail where a lot of felled trees blocked the route that were not there last week. Some people just wouldn't care about trees anymore and I couldn't blame the poor folks either. Charcoal from wood is their bread and butter. The demand of charcoal is high during December and in January as the Feast of the Sinulog approaches.

Tempted to try a new route, I decided to test this branch of a trail which goes up a hill passing by an eggplant farm then a cassava plantation. It snaked among some solitary mango trees and stunted cogon grass until it vanished for a while and then it picked up again some meters ahead and then vanished again until this trail is found again some distance beyond. It is a ghost trail and it was meant not to be seen or followed. I name this trail the Coconut Ghost Trail in reference to a lone coconut tree growing strangely in a soil where coconuts are not supposed to grow along this phantom-like route.

This trail ended in a makeshift hut that afforded a view of the Napo Main Trail and the river crossing. People would walk the routes below and not notice this structure, or so it seemed. The hut could accommodate three to four persons and two poles are pierced in the ground outside holding horizontally another pole from where a pot would be suspended over a cooking fire. What sort of people are using this hut? It could either be a resting place for a farmer, a rallying point for a hunter or a forward base for red fighters?

An animal trail is located peripheral to the hut leading downhill along a scree slope that is very loose, slippery and quite dangerous if you miss your footing. There are sparse vegetation along this trail and these could not be depended upon for anchor as you go down. One or two guys took a spill just above the hut and the slope and everyone were now very careful with their foot placements.

Finally reaching stable ground below we found another trail fork. We decided to follow the leftmost branch and passed by a family of four gathering firewood. It was already 4:00 PM and I could feel the clouds starting to peel and drop drizzles of water. We pushed on ahead passing by a spring and, finally, the Kalunasan Road. The guys took time for a needed respite while I decided to continue walking along this dirt road and then into the asphalt street leading to Guadalupe.

I was the last to arrive, despite running on some stretch, at the Virgen de Guadalupe Church at 4:45 PM as Boy T, Ernie and Sam rode tandem on a single motorcycle and arrived minutes earlier. CHEATS!!! From there we went to the club meeting on board Boy T's KIA Pride and arrived fifteen past five. Ben Lao met us at the gate and we sucked the welcoming cold beer like a long-lost lover. And from there it was mayhem...

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