Wednesday, April 1, 2009

EXPLORING CARMEN

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...


Document done in OpenOffice 2.1

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