Saturday, July 25, 2009


I CALL HIM MAGUA. Magua is the character played by Wes Studi in the movie The Last of the Mohicans. We all know, from the movie, that Magua is a vicious and scheming leader of a faction of the Huron Indians who were the main enemies of the Mohican people and who met his end from the hands of Chingachgook, the father of Uncas, whom he slew earlier.

Hmmm, so much for that, anyway, the Magua I averred to is no other than my good friend – Julio Florentino Estillore III – fondly known as Bebut.

Okay! Right now, his face is flushed red and I bet he's clutching his computer mouse with such force that the gadget seemed to implode in his right hand as he read this article. No offense meant, but Bebut is the nicest guy around I met. You go ask Nonoy Edillor or Daddy Frank Cabigon. They will vouch for the tenacity and temerity of his hardheadedness. Haha....hoho....heheh. I'm rolling all over the floor right now laughing my heart out.

Jeez...the guy is an enigma even to himself! I gonna hand him that. But there is something in him that made him stand out from the others. He is a mule-headed son of Dagohoy. Sorry, 'bout that Magz. Hehehe. Together with Tony Cabigon, Dennis Legaspi, Atong Genato and Patrick Young we were, what you call the stray bullets of the early Cebu Mountaineering Society's fold of “young” members. From 1992 to 1997 we all shared tent space and cooking stove and all in between – including the proverbial rounds of the beer mug.

I tell you, nobody dared to question his dictatorial suggestions and commands. But I did. And so were Tony and Dennis and Patrick and Atong. I guess, he could not tell the one from the other. Or is he color blind or slightly deaf? Or maybe he is just half-dazed and developed a sense of taste for Tanduay Rum 5 Years that made him stoop low when we override him. Linking us to his favorite drink sure have a hypnotic effect upon him, we being his regular drinking companions. I guess.

Seriously speaking, I have been sharing the trail with Bebut for a long spell and it is common knowledge to anybody here at CeMS that we raced with each other and each time he end up second best. Yeah, that's true. C'mon Magz, be one of the guys. Don't say no when everybody said yes. Did I hear a YES? Right. We both were natural racers on the trail, we being disciples of the late Sir Joe Avellanosa. I may have the advantage of speed and strength over Bebut, but there's one virtue where he excelled – going the extra mile.

You know what, if there's anyone who will volunteer to backtrack and rescue somebody left behind, it is no other than Bebut. He will bring you back in one piece and carry ten 80-liter backpacks if need be, even your whole house. He could endure anything and anyone and stay late until the whole bottle runs its course and go empty. He LEADS and I will go where he will lead. Sadly, like me, we laid low from CeMS in the late '90s and pursue other personal interests.

Then I heard rumours about Bebut answering the Call.

He visited me in August 2002 and he confirmed the rumour. He is going to be a novitiate of the Order of Saint Benedict (OSB) and will go to the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay City, Bukidnon. I could only afford a smile. Inside I felt elated knowing that there's someone who will fight for me upstairs. And he is very tenacious when he sits his mind on to something. That was the last time I saw of him and I missed him for a long long time.

Then I tracked him in his Friendster account and from there we exchanged emails and text messages and we met again in October 2008 at SM City. Over lunch we talked of many things, people and events that we missed. He is now a holy man and I could not entice or subject him to temptation of the worldly things that we used to do like drinking. I feel awkward facing my good friend who reminded me that he don't do those kind of things anymore. With a wink.

Oh, I almost forgot. He also called me Magua. Yes. Tit-for-tat. The Magua name doesn't fit to my good friend now that he is wearing a cassock. No matter, Bebut still deserve the name and it doesn't sting anymore to both of us. Call that “terms of endearment”. He, along with Dennis and Claribel Delgra, happen to be the godparents of my youngest son, Cherokee.

Bebut with 4-month old Cherokee

He is now back at the monastery in Bukidnon after taking a one-year leave. He will be celebrating his birthday come July 27.


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Thursday, July 16, 2009


How my Venado Survived Mount Dulangdulang Traverse to Mount Kitanglad

AFTER MY INITIATION with extreme adventure at the now-legendary trek of the Cebu Mountaineering Society on the trails of Mount Pangasugan in Baybay, Leyte in August 1992 I began to feel the inadequacy of my cheap converted day pack. It was just too small for my frame, too frail for my speed and too tight on storage space. Whereas, at that time, my fellow mountaineers carried on their backs bigger backpacks suited for this outdoor sport.

Common among them is the Habagat Venado II which has three compression straps on each side and an adjustable top cover and insures eighty liters of storage space. I liked this sack from all the rest because of its simplicity and tri-color combinations dominated by black. They were, at that time, cutting edge. And they were very sturdy. As far as I can remember Bebut Estillore and Dennis Legaspi carried Venados on their backs at Pangasugan but Patrick Young owned the loudest color – fuschia!

I get to own a Venado when Lilibeth Initan decided to sell hers for 900 pesos in December 1992. She snared my Venado as a door prize courtesy of the Habagat Outdoor Shop and tested this for the first time during the MFPI Mid-Year Climb in Silay City, Negros Occidental in October 1992. She thought it was just too big and too heavy for her so she decided to dispose of this and I was able to get hold of it only after a drinking ceremony which was insisted by Bebut with backing from Patrick and Tony Cabigon. Drunkards...!!!

I carried my Venado for the first time at Mount Janagdan in Leyte on January 1993. Wow, it was a luxury to carry all your belongings inside of a bag without lashing anything outside and it looked aerodynamic, provided a neoprene earth pad is placed inside to act as a hard layer between the bag's fabric and the items stowed inside. The pad then acts as an insulator and a shock absorber to protect your things. I liked the feel of the pack behind me and I climbed with much vigor and with more enthusiasm. It's as if the backpack and I are one machine.

Then I made it very personal by stitching patches of an air force chevron and a special forces skull-and-dagger logo on the sides of the top cover. Later, I added logos of Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, a shooting association, MFPI, Cebu Province and a cloth replica of an Alaska plate number on the front body. With those attachments, people wouldn't miss that it's my backpack. I wore it proudly in all the mountain ranges of the Philippines like the Cuernos de Negros, the Malindang, the Kitanglad, Mount Apo, etc. in the early and middle '90s.

As it aged due to wear and tear, both the upper shoulder strap attachments tore loose on different occasions and I attached these back with bolts and nuts that I brought along for such emergencies. The main fabric are marked with two jagged holes left by rodents and the two flat aluminum support bars protrude from its hiding places. The lower compartment zipper have long lost its viscosity while the zipper for the top cover pocket is in need of a replacement. All in all, the Venado survived all those years even when I decided to make a comeback in 2008.

My ancient Venado and the equally ancient me embarked on another epic climb at the mountain ranges of Mount Dulangdulang traverse to Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon on June 2008. Both mountains are the second and fourth highest peaks in the country and the former is reputed for its unforgivable terrain, frigid clime and for its great moss forest. Along the trail are many felled tree trunks, big protruding roots and blocking branches and lots and lots of backpack snatchers. Me and my bag were up to the challenge even though I find myself crawling on all fours many times over and three close calls! The Venado withstood a thousand certified shoulder strap busters along the way.

After Dulangdulang, I contemplated to “retire” the Venado to preserve its sanity and give its earned rest. I have proven to the world that a local product could compete itself against a throng of branded gears – authentic, bootleg or pre-owned – when it came to durability and longevity. For a good reason, I patronize Philippine-made products because I love my country and help the thousands of workers and their families through the sale of these outdoor gears.

Even as I shop for a replacement, I brought the Venado again to an exploration hike and climb in the vast mid-north area of Carmen, Cebu last January 2009 – virgin ground for our kind and it still gave a powerful performance despite its age. Other times, I trained with my Venado trail running in between Napo and Mount Babag. For me, this is the best backpack I ever tried.

In the age of light backpacking, the pack looked cumbersome and huge. For the faint-hearted, the bag is a “truck”. The Venado reflects my character: old school. The good old days are tucked in every iota of its strand of fabric and thread; old dust and mud still adhere to all its microscopic ridges and gullies. Only the strong still carry it on its back, without excuses, welcoming the jerk of its weight as it slid through your arms and settle itself snugly at the collar bones. The click sound of the hip lock assures me that I'm ready to defy any new ideas about its extinction.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009


THE 7 PRINCIPLES OF the Leave No Trace have taken the mountaineering and outdoor community here in the Philippines by storm and they have adopted these, to the letter, as their guiding maxims. Well, that is good. I myself would happily endorse it...if you are Caucasian or a westerner or just a plain urban creature who suddenly is fascinated by the outdoors.

Yes, why not? Don't westerners are pampered too much by their societies and don't they throw waste a hundred cubic times more than their southern neighbors? Don't their countries contribute greatly to the thinning of the ozone layer? Of global warming?

For me, I have some reservations about this LNT. It is just another ideology of a dominant western culture imposed on third world countries in a global-wide reach. These western countries SHOULD practice LNT by all means for theirs is a fragile ecosystem. Remember, they have lesser plant species inside of a square kilometer than those from the tropics. That is where the idea of LNT was born. I think.

The earth is shrinking – age wise – and it has been almost sucked dry by man's greed and left to fend for itself. Industrialized countries led by the United States and by the European Union have been slowly cutting it to size and it came to a point that their own kind developed an advocacy to protect the environment and organized conscience groups to counter their own excesses.

They have identified areas that are prone to pressures from man with his unquenchable thirst for more natural resources and unabated development. These areas are found in highland forests, grasslands and water systems. They are the last frontier of wilderness and the free outdoors. This is where the idea of LNT was born. I am most certain of this.

The Philippines doesn't need LNT. So does Guatemala or Madagascar or tiny Cook Island. What we need is to educate new people and that is taken cared of already by the Basic Tropical Mountaineering Course. Why impose a western ideology upon our members that is designed for temperate settings when we can fend off for ourselves with our own native version and common sense?

Of course, there is some sense in LNT. It is not found in the words and paragraphs. It is in the spirit of these principles. And these will vary according to regions. But, please, don't make these as a rigid system.

For simplicity, the following will apply anywhere:

Take nothing but pictures,

Leave nothing but footprints,

Kill nothing but time;

and, if I may add -

Gather nothing but memories.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

NAPO TO BABAG TALES XV: Endurance Training

THE FORTHCOMING TRIP to Mount Talinis in Negros Oriental on April 3 to 6, 2009 goaded the Cebu Mountaineering Society to consider training at the trails of Napo and Mount Babag, here in Cebu City's own backyard which they scheduled on March 8, 15 and 29. They tapped me and Boy Toledo to do the honors of preparing the itinerary of the training climb.

Good morning Philippines! Wake up!” These words screamed in my cellphone screen, a text message coming from Boy Toledo. It was 4:30 AM, March 8, 2009. This will be the second day of preparation training for the participants of the Mount Talinis climb come April. The day before this, there was a speed time trial at the Cebu City Sports Complex oval – a four-kilometer run and walk.

Grudgingly, I went downstairs and grabbed a towel for a bath. Afterwards, I arranged all the things I need for this day and flopped them inside my day pack. I brought with me seven used text books, intending to distribute those in the places where I will pass by. These would be my training load in lieu of the three liters of water which everyone will carry today.

I went outside and waited for Boy T who called me a while ago that we go together to Guadalupe and attend a Holy Mass. He arrived twenty minutes later with his car and off we went to the Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu. It was a concelebrated Mass and we sat on the pews before it started. After almost an hour, I went outside the church leaving Boy T behind, bought a 50-peso worth of bread and went straight to our meeting place at the back of the church.

Already at the eatery were the first couple of Cebu mountaineering, Ramon and Ann Vidal of TWO Sandals fame; Boy Olmedo, the current CeMS president; Jecris Dayondon, his vice; Ernie Salomon, a member aspirant and the oldest participant, Daddy Frank Cabigon. They were all eating breakfast. I joined with them and ate two cinnamon bread from a nearby bakery as my breakfast and bought rice and eggplant omelet as my pack lunch.

Boy T came after me and the last to come was Lilibeth Initan, past president and chair of the powerful MEMCOM. I was designated the trailmaster for this training with Boy T acting as my assistant. Checking all the things we need we left at 7:40 AM. As usual, we followed our warm-up walk from Guadalupe to Napo. We felt the summer heat at this early hour of the day as we walked the winding asphalt road.

Forty-five minutes later, we reached Napo and rested for a while before crossing the Guadalupe-Sapangdaku River and followed the Napo Main Trail for our first stop – the spring area. Another forty-five minutes we reached our destination and took a 15-minute rest while I filled my drinking bottle full from a nearby spring. I designate Boy T to take the lead while I decided to backstop the party.

After crossing another river crossing, we followed the Busan Trail passing by a steep flower farm and into an upland community in Sitio Busan. I passed by a hut and I saw through a window a boy grinding a pint of corn ears to bits using a stone-wheel grinder. Curious, I stayed for a while and observed the workings of this ancient contraption wherein I recorded a one-minute video.

Up ahead, Daddy Frank failed to see and evade a low hanging branch and got hit in the process causing a cut on his left forehead along the hairline. Fortunately for him, he was wearing a ball cap but the impact was just too strong enough to cause a 1.5 centimeter-long cut and the crew of Jecris and Ernie were able to administer quick first aid remedy leaving Daddy Frank looking like an aged Axel Rose with a stars and stripes bandanna tied over his head.

After these, we continued on our way passing along an avenue of ancient mango trees that grew along the trail. Here and there were the myriad low-hanging fruits, the famous Guadalupe mangoes, all encased with paper wrappings to protect it from fruit-boring worms and invisible insects.

Looking forward ahead, I could see the Vidal couple taking it easy while Daddy Frank walked as if nothing had happened. Jecris was sweating hard and Boy O kept following Boy T and Ernie who were leading the group. Madame Lilibeth, meanwhile, showed a big smile despite the stinging heat. Slowly but surely, they arrived at Manwel Roble's place. They were already resting on the long bamboo benches when I arrived. We took just forty-five minutes for the effort. Amazing!

From my backpack, I let out my big plastic bag of bread which I bought in Guadalupe. Jocel, Manwel's young brother, jumped up and down upon seeing the bread and grinning from ear to ear. We rested for a full hour here, glad to quench our thirst with the fresh young coconut water which Manwel and his father gathered. I counted sixteen fruits that were consumed by the whole voracious lot in us. We thanked them after this and we left cash that each one of us heartily gave.

At 11:30 AM, we bade goodbye to Manwel and his family and we begun to tackle the highlight of this training at Ernie's Trail. The oldsters took it in stride as Boy T, himself an oldster but getting younger and better after every visit here, led the assault. The trail is in perfect shape during the onset of summer with very few slippery spots. It was a good pace.

We finally reached the ridge at around 12:20 noon and rested for a while at two parallel bamboo benches located along the trail. From there we walked the ridge road past the shoulders of Mt. Babag into a store overlooking the metropolis. We ate our lunch there and, afterwards, Daddy Frank, Boy T, Ernie and me downed three one-liter bottles of San Miguel Beer Grande. When Boy T's precious liquid began to empty we left the store at two.

We descended for the Kahugan Trail and the dry summer left the gravelly topsoil very loose especially on the long stretch from the ridge to the river and from an upland community up to San Roque Chapel. We took it slow afraid to let our rumps kiss the ground during a spill and we were able to make it to the chapel safely. Meanwhile, I unloaded my used textbooks and gave these to the children living among the houses we passed by.

I rested for a short while at the chapel and then I sprinted downhill for the river crossing followed by Boy T. Like the me of old, I free-wheeled and jumped over obstacles instead of braking and slowing. These inspired by my book-giving and Ramon's comment of the whole trail package as a “five-star base training site'. It was, in fact, redemption for Boy T when he worked for the conversion of these trails as a training area for CeMS.

I know a good trail when I see one and Ramon only affirmed my previous observations. It is for this reason that I have developed a great affection for the trail, the place, the people and the whole countryside. It's as if I am one of the locals and I have adapted well with the environment.

I don't find this a boring thing though when I go there every weekend. Aside from the constant dose of physical exercise I make many children happy with my gifts that cheer up my heart to full proportions. And THAT gave me a happy and healthy disposition in life.

For Boy T, he has been a source of inspiration for some locals who are victims of stroke. It gave them hope seeing a stroke survivor passing by their locality carrying a heavy backpack and climb Babag Range every weekend. Someday, they hope they may follow Boy T's trail to recovery.

Slowly, the others arrived at the river crossing at 3:30 PM and after a twenty-minute rest we followed the winding and rolling trail for Napo and arrived there at 4:15 PM. Then we finished that day's activity with a slow walk down for Guadalupe.

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