Monday, April 20, 2009

NAPO TO BABAG TALES XII: Massacre at the No-Santol-Tree Trail

THE PROMISE OF CLIMBING again on February 8, 2009 on my favorite trail and training area in between Guadalupe and the Babag Mountain Range is always in the back of my mind. This mindset operate in clockwork unison with either Boy Toledo or Ernie Salomon, for whom this trail was named. It's either Mt. Babag or Mt. Babag and there are no other alternatives if endurance build-up training is concerned that is easy in your pocket and so so so accessible! No other area has this advantage.

With the impending participation of the Cebu Mountaineering Society's “grand old man” – Daddy Frank Cabigon – who, at 77 years old, is still going at it which never ceased to amaze me and that might have brought excitement to Boy T who rang and roused me from my well-deserved sleep at 4:20 AM, ten minutes before my own pre-set alarm could even scream. Oh, Boy T just stole ten minutes of my charging time. Grrrrrr!

Forty-five minutes later, Boy T with his KIA Pride were already parked near my home and I hopped in and we proceeded for Guadalupe. It was way too early and we decided to attend the first Holy Mass at the Virgen de Guadalupe Parish at six. A good time to kick-start a trek on a Sunday. A shower of blessings asked for a safe journey.

After the Mass, Daddy Frank and Ernie were already there at our designated meeting place at the back of the church plus Boy Olmedo the current CeMS president, Grace Ventic and guest Joel Cariño of the USC Mountaineers. We left at 7:40 AM when there were no late participants coming and started our warm-up walk ritual from Guadalupe to Napo in Sapangdaku under a light shower.

We arrived an hour later at Napo and then went on our way to the trails for Mt. Babag at nine. We crossed the first river crossing and took an easy pace on the meandering trails along the Guadalupe-Sapangdaku River before crossing another ford of the river. There is a spring located here and it is a perfect resting and watering area for the local inhabitants. I collected drinking water on my Nalgene bottle, so placing a kilo of weight on my day pack.

From the river, the ascent to Babag started here at Busan Trail passing first a steep farm then on an upland community in Sitio Busan. Boy T took the lead here followed by Ernie, then me, then Daddy Frank and Boy O and then Grace and Joel. I carried a camera and recorded the event intending to upload these in our Multiply site.

Boy T adjusted his pace to accommodate Daddy Frank, who, by now, got winded of the effort of tackling the steep trails. It was a sunny morning and the heat of the sun bored upon our shoulders and backs. Daddy Frank showed some sport and appeared to take it in stride with Boy O never leaving his side.

By 10:30 AM, we were able to reach the place of our young friend, Manwel Roble. We took our lunch there and partake of the young coconuts offered by Manwel's father for us. On the long bamboo benches, we reclined and talked of many trivial things over a great view of a part of the metropolis. We were exchanging jokes but the meaner ones were reserved for Boy T. Haha...Daddy Frank made sure of that to our delight!

After this ennui, we proceeded for Mt. Babag via Ernie's Trail. The trails this time were much steeper, more slippery and more challenging. Even as we exerted our darndest here, it is compensated by the thick foliage covering us from the probing rays of the sun. Boy T, Ernie and me loved coming here every weekend and the opportunity to don the backpack along here (and the resulting exertions) made us more fit and strong.

We reached the summit at 12:30 noon and we rested at a store 300 meters away. About an hour later Daddy Frank, Boy O, Grace and Joel parted ways from us with them hiking the Babag Ridge Road exiting to Garaje in Busay while Boy T, Ernie and me went downhill for Kalunasan by way of the No-Santol-Tree Trail.

Midway to Kalunasan, we encountered along the trail four stumps of newly-cut tamarind trees; their trunks, limbs and branches strewn about in broad daylight; their leaves and fruit withering under the heat of the sun. The trees were there standing the last time we passed by last January 11 and they were situated imposingly along the trail and were bearing many fruit as the trees were still in their prime. They gave a bountiful shade shedding a traveler from the heat by a wide stretch.

I could not comprehend how some people lost some sense of decency and concern for the trees and the environment and the future of their children. Inside of me, my rage began to swell. So was Boy T, who kept egging me to talk to the authorities about this dastardly act! I took my camera and took pictures, my heart aching inside, not liking of the sight unfolding before me.

We were aware of the rampant cutting of trees in these areas we considered as our training ground. Nearby here and across hills were cleared fields that used to be covered by thick vegetations, their landscape pockmarked forever by black residues of charcoal. The cut wood are placed inside a hole, then covered by a thin layer of dirt and burned in an agonizingly slow manner turning it into commercial charcoal.

As we were walking and talking with each other to let out steam, we chanced upon a sole farmer gathering freshly-dug charcoal from the earth. I unburdened all my frustrations before the poor guy and I regret it afterwards. Walking on we were overtaken by a 14-year old boy carrying a sack of charcoal slung around his forehead. Despite the load, the boy moved fast but he said a certain “Floro” will pay him ten pesos for the effort.

Finally, we reached the dirt road of Kalunasan and we saw five sacks stacked beside a hut. I unpacked three crackers and gave it to the tired boy and two small tots playing nearby whose parents were not around. We followed the road down to Guadalupe and concluded our activity for the day but not after I promised Boy T that I will write this incident in my personal blog.

Happy free-walking day!

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Saturday, April 11, 2009


THE LAST TIME I have been to in Metro Manila was in March 2006. That was three years ago. Now, I get the chance to visit her again on March 24 and 25, 2009 afforded by my employers to process the licenses of the new firearms of Tactical Security and Detective Agency, Inc. This time I get to travel by air, round trip, thru Philippine Air Lines.

I left home at seven in the morning of March 24 to travel by taxi to the domestic departure area of the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) and gave myself in to the tiers of security arrangements - five layers – before boarding my scheduled 9:45 AM flight. The post 9/11 blues forced me to remove my Hi-Tec shoes and I did not hesitate there for I wore a new pair of socks. Heheheh...

MCIA Terminal

I took pictures of the waiting lounge area and within and around the plane while it was still allowed. The wide-bodied Airbus A300 plane lifted off the MCIA tarmac slightly delayed at 10:00 AM and I felt the familiar sensation I experienced during my childhood years riding in ferris wheels. From beyond my window the ground below me became a blur and slowly the houses and buildings became smaller and smaller as the plane rose up in elevation.

View from the Airbus

And within the plane

The plane circled around and the whole profile of the City of Lapulapu looked glorious at a higher altitude and the fine hues of white, blue and green were very invigorating to the eyes where the land embraced the sea on the shorelines. The slender Punta Engaño Peninsula pointed like a finger to the sea and it was so beautiful and I was tempted to take a shot with my digital camera but prudence took hold of me not to when I remembered an early announcement that all electronic gadgets be switched off while in flight.

We passed by over Carmen town and I could see the snaky dirt road stabbing through Cebu's mid-north area where I passed by last January on foot in a club-sponsored mountaineering expedition. From beyond the sea the islands of Bantayan, Guintarcan, Malapascua and other smaller islands where like untouched refuge of paradise. At 32,000 feet, the outline of the Cataingan Peninsula of Masbate could be seen clearly.

NAIA Terminal 2

Over sips of tea with crackers I enjoyed the breathless sight of the endless blue of the sparkling sea and of the sky and up ahead approaching were the cloud-shrouded landmass of Luzon. Slowly, dipping in altitude, the plane began to shake and vibrate as it passed through thick clouds and pockets of air knocked the plane's fuselage and wings.

As the curtain of clouds began to part, we were now overhead the Southern Tagalog Region and I could see below the five of the seven small lakes of San Pablo City and then the dark-lead water of the bigger Laguna de Bay. The plane passed by a wide expanse of plain dotted here and there with communities, concrete roads and buildings and more houses and more high-rise condos until it sped in a blur as it touched down the tarmac of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Driver Tanny, met me at the arrival area and I hopped on in his driven Mitsubishi L300 and we took lunch somewhere in Parañaque City. We continued on our way after that and I directed him to bring me first to BF Homes, specifically in the home of a second cousin, Sol Mendoza, the better half of DOTC Secretary Larry Mendoza. I unloaded my things with intention to stay for the night since I have a limited budget and staying in a hotel or an inn in Metro Manila for just a night is so expensive nowadays.

Inside Camp Crame

Athletic Tuesday

Then we sped over from Sucat to the south highway and then at EDSA with an overheating L300 radiator dancing in tandem to the 36-degree centigrade heat felt on the streets. Gosh, it was hot! Amazingly, the vehicle never conked out and, nevertheless, we arrived safely inside Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

I went directly to the Civil Security Group (CSG) building to endorse the agency firearm application papers for processing. There I met, face to face, Chief Superintendent Ireno Bacolod and we conversed comfortably in Cebuano dialect. PO3 Flora Ocampo of the Office of the CSG Director facilitated the papers afterward.

Sunset over Taguig

It was already five in the afternoon when I went out of the camp with Tanny but the sun still hung high in the horizon and there were still available light all around. We took the C5 Road to evade the legendary traffic at EDSA at that hour and passed by the cities of Pasig and Taguig before turning left to the south highway in Bicutan. Tanny dropped me at Sucat and I took a tricycle for my sleeping quarters deep in BF Homes.

At the Mendoza home I met old colleagues SPO4 Jack Jakosalem, SPO1 Louie Rabajante, SPO2 Derick Lacambra and PO3 Vener Lacambra; old reliables of the protection security team for the Mendoza family. Nephew (now Batangas congressman) Dongdong Mendoza was not around and so was his dad. Feeling drowsy, I slept while watching Totoy Bato on GMA-7.

In the morning, I left BF Homes after breakfast at seven carrying my baggage for Camp Crame to continue processing the firearms license and at the same time be ready for boarding for my return flight to Cebu. I commuted to Crame by jeep and by bus and reached my destination at nine as Tanny was unavailable due to an errand from my boss. Just like yesterday, the streets were extremely hot.

St. Joseph Chapel

PNP National Headquarters

Alas, all the computer servers at the police camp were down since yesterday and I was not able to complete my processing but I left the licensing fees in the care of PO3 Ocampo and went out to attend a noontime Holy Mass at the Saint Joseph Chapel inside the camp. Afterwards, I ate lunch and left Camp Crame once again for NAIA Terminal 2 at exactly three in the afternoon.

It took me almost two full hours to reach the airport as the taxi I rode in got snagged by the horrendous traffic at EDSA and at the MIA Road. At 5:15 PM, I checked in at the departure area and have myself searched by hand and by electronic means. At exactly 5:45 PM, PAL flight 863 left NAIA for Cebu. The turbine engines picked up speed as it began to move forward its upward thrust. Amidst the roar, the Airbus became airborne and floated gracefully.

Mall of Asia Globe

It sliced itself upward among a thick wall of clouds and the plane jarred and bounced against air pockets. Far to the west the horizon was sliced by the golden orange glow of a setting sun in between a dark brown mass below and a fainting blue streak above it. It was a cinematic sight and, again, I felt the urge to unpack my camera but backed down at the last minute. Frustrated, I took a pocketbook and consumed a few pages before stowing it back.

Then the cabin announced that we were now approaching MCIA and I could see from afar the bright lights of Metro Cebu. The lights from below blinked and glowed as if imitating a moving mass of fire and lava as the plane circled around Mactan Island and slowly diving in altitude and then the sudden roar of the engines automatically switched off the cabin lights signaling the start of its landing. As the rubber wheels screeched when it kissed the runway, brakes were applied reducing the blur of speed into a manageable level until it taxi its way and stopped just in time for a passage tube adhere its edges over the fuselage door.

Back again in my homeground at seven in the evening, I tarried long enough in the arrival area to see who's who among my co-passengers and I spotted three or four familiar faces and I decided to hail a cab instead and bring me home to my waiting family. They were all there. And I dined with them.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009


CARMEN TOWN, LOCATED in the mid-north area of Cebu Province had long been the stranglehold of communist insurgents for many years due to neglect of the government in the past to provide the basic necessities, roads and other developments that would have eased the inhabitants from extreme economic hardships. When you talk of Carmen you get the idea of lawlessness and uncharted territory.

So on January 24 and 25, 2009, the Cebu Mountaineering Society (CeMS) composed of Boy Olmedo, Boy Toledo, Sam Lim, Ernie Salomon and me, embarked on an exploration hike in and around the mountain ranges of Carmen. We five met at the North Atrium in MC Briones Highway, Mandaue City at 6:00 AM and proceeded first to Danao City, 27 kilometers north, to fetch Norwin Laurito, my contact with our guides.

From Danao we rode a multicab for Carmen and from the market we hired motorcycles-for-hire for Lower Natimaoan to meet our guides, Titing and Agustin. Norwin also went with us. I carried my Habagat Venado II and inside were my sleeping bag, extra clothes, canned goods, five liters of water and a kilo-and-a-half of rice. My trailmates were carrying very light backpacks. Wow!

We started at 9:00 AM following the the farm-to-market road passing by Upper Natimaoan, Palinpinon, Balaw, Siotes up to Taguimi. Along the way people would ogle at us for a very long time, especially at a tabo – a marketplace where local folks would meet to sell their goods and vegetables to merchants. Everywhere we went they would always asked us of our destination and purpose and where we came from.

Once, we met a crowd of mourners following a coffin borne on the shoulders of twelve men. They came from Taguimi to bury their dead in Poblacion on foot – a distance of roughly thirty kilometers!

It seemed they harbored suspicions of outsiders due to the many years of being “visited” by left-leaning organizations that took advantage of their situation or being subjected to harassments by the military when being linked harboring support to the former. They are poor folks and most of them, I guess, could hardly read. I could surmise that they have been neglected for many many years and I pity their little children who have to do hard labor to help their parents earn a hard income or forage for food.

As we arrived by the tabo in Taguimi all eyes were on us. We ignored them. A man approached me and asked if we were bringing a metal detector. What metal...? I ignored his question. We went to a chapel and there were no people there. We rested there and took our lunch.

Another man arrived and he identified himself to us and asked us many questions which we found irrelevant to our activity. They suspected us of being prospectors or treasure hunters and that made us laugh and that put an icebreaker to a progressing tension that we felt by the time we set foot here in these areas.

We left the place and backtracked a little and found a good camping site – a hill where there are coconut trees. We pitched our tents there and some children visited us curious of our attires and gears. I named this hill Castro Hill (height: 681 meters) in reference to two boys surnamed Castro who were very playful and friendly. We welcomed them and gave them food to eat and I recorded a two-minute video of their gymnastic abilities.

Meanwhile, Titing, Agustin and Norwin looked for chicken to buy and came back with a live one plus three pocket-sized bottles of Tanduay 65 Rhum. Another acquaintance of theirs, Denden, tagged along. They made short work of the bird with my Mantrack jungle knife and cooked it barbecue style on an open fire. We, likewise, cooked rice and noodles on our camping stoves.

Once in a while, I would get busy with my camera and took shots of the surrounding ranges and the sunset. It's a big country out here. A Brahminy kite appeared below my vantage point and I was awed by the grace it circled spiraling down to catch its imagined prey.

After the cooking, we arranged the food on green banana leaves in “boodle-fight” fashion and started our supper after a short prayer. Everyone took his fill of the rubbery-hard chicken and that made us feel good in the insides but not upon our gums. Afterwards we settled down and sat together and started digesting the food with sips of the concoction wrought by Boy T: Tanduay + Nestea + 500-ml. water. I sipped five glasses and then I called it a night.

It was dark around in these places during the night as there were no electricity. What lights we could see were found in far-off distances, from a passing airplane, from stars in a clear cloudless sky and from fireflies. As the fogs were beginning to envelop the campsite at 7:30 PM, I decided to worm my way inside my tent. I felt glad I brought my old sleeping bag and slept soundly alone.

Morning came, and it was a foggy one. From breaks in the fog I espied a Brahminy kite rising and circling eager to catch his early worm. We ate a rationed breakfast as the last of the rice I brought were all consumed. I was the only one who brought rice while the others did not for they were adherents of light backpacking. My kilo-and-a-half of rice were all shared to nine people spread over two meals!

Our breakfast were overloaded with noodles and sardines. I ate a little intending to part my share to our guides. Gosh, I could not sacrifice food for comfort and I could not believe my trailmates were not bringing rice! This is supposed to be an exploration trek and they should know this being mountaineers for a long time.

At nine sharp we descended from down the hill – our campsite – towards a valley. It was a beautiful trail downhill along a ridge and swarms of swallow were all around as a small dog kept following Sam, obviously liking the taste and the aroma of the parmesan cheese it snatched away from his tent last night. Haha! Poor Sam. We were aiming for the high peak of Lantawan.

Then we came upon the riverside community of Ticlab and crossed the river twice. It was on this crossing that Boy T lose his footing on a rock which were placed midstream as footpaths and I hurriedly took a shot of this incident with my camera. Gotcha! I promised Boy T that I will upload this in our Multiply site and he can complain later to the website administrator. Harharharhar.....

From the riverbed we followed a trail upward towards a hill and from there we wind and snaked amongst thickets and plain open spaces carpeted with carabao grass. There are pockets of forests here and there and there are swaths of field cleared by the burn-and-slash method, notoriously known locally as kaingin.

We climbed on another hill and crossed little mountain streams into a public primary school in Amancion. Then it begun to rain hard. The trails were very slippery and very hard to navigate. My backpack, now lighter as all my food and water were disposed of became heavy again.

We decided to divert our destination to Caorasan as the rains would surely delay our schedule due to a slowdown of our pace caused by the now difficult trail. And from there to Siotes. We slugged our way slowly and now the cold began to sap our strength and our energy reserves. Remember, we ate just a little breakfast. Our guides suffered and slowed down their pace. I felt hunger pangs but I never complained.

Over the trail Norwin slumped and cried in pain to cramps in his front thigh muscles. I administered first aid remedy and three times more along these trails he slumped again and each time I made his condition better with leg presses to allow blood circulation. The guides complained now of hunger and as I overtook Boy O, Boy T, Sam and Ernie I pleaded to them to part their trail food, yet, they too, have none to give.

One of the guides climbed instead a pomelo tree and brought down three half-raw fruits which we hurriedly peeled and ate its juicy rind. Oh, that made my stomach better. For a while. I don't know about my guides. My climbing companions were not eating the fruit and maybe they were alright.

The trail where we passed by became busy as mountain folks overtook us and others went on the opposite direction. Despite the narrowness of the route, trail courtesy was practiced by me and I don't know of the others, they were far ahead from my group.

Once, I passed by three boys aged between 8 to 10 years old huffing and puffing up a steep trail that was made difficult by the rains. They were carrying, slung around their foreheads, a sack each of coconut shells which they would sell at a peso per kilo. According to Titing, who grew up in these areas, usually they would carry twenty kilos. But I doubt that.

Since it was raining the load they're carrying could balloon to, let's say, 25 kilos. What a hard way to earn money and I promised them a treat of bread and softdrinks if ever we would meet again at Siotes. I bade them farewell as I felt the agony of their situation.

At this stretch Titing, Agustin, Norwin and I slowed down our pace as hunger pangs hit us again as we climbed a steep route. I never left Norwin knowing that his leg spasm would relapse every now and then and there won't be anyone to do the trick of easing the pain.

Denden, on the other hand, led Boy O, Boy T, Sam and Ernie closer to Caorasan.

We passed by the house of Titing's uncle and they invited us in to partake of their humble meal of steamed taro and finely-grated raw papaya washed in vinegar. I took a bite of the taro and I liked the taste and took another bite and another which eased temporarily the hunger I felt inside. I chewed a fingerful of the grated papaya and it was spicy hot and I liked the warmth it gave inside my tummy. After that, I took a quick nap sitting down.

Waking up after a few minutes, we resumed our walk and now reached the old Caorasan site. There was a chapel here, a dirt basketball court there and a community spring where women and children were washing clothes and taking a bath. The trail became a road packed with igneous rocks and then into two parallel concrete routes where only motorcycles pass.

Extracting the last of our strength we were able to reach Siotes, thirty minutes behind Boy O and company, and doused my throat with two bottles of cold softdrinks and voraciously eat four plastic packs of red pie bread, commonly known as burikat. Meanwhile, Norwin, Titing and Agustin ate their bread and drank their softdrinks which I bought for them.

After that, Boy T hopped on a vacant motorcycle-for-hire and went downhill for Carmen, then Boy O followed suit. Norwin and the guides walked with Sam, Ernie and me until we reached Palinpinon where we were able to ride this mode of transportation and bade goodbye to them.

At the marketplace in Carmen, Boy T and Boy O where nowhere to be found and we deduced they might have gone home early, especially Boy T, who had made known earlier that he will have an appointment at 9:00 PM in Lapulapu City. We decided to walk to the bus terminal and witnessed a Sinulog festival there on a smaller scale.

A red bus passed by and we three climbed aboard and took our time knowing we have opened up a trail that, for years, have been forbidden to outsiders. In the back of my mind, I still have the image of the three boys carrying three heavy sacks of coconut shells and I have misgivings why I did not wait for them at Siotes. In the meantime, I am planning a comeback...

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