Monday, May 25, 2009

NAPO TO BABAG TALES XIII: Trail Running in Kahugan

IT HAD BEEN RAINING FOR three days and three nights and on the fourth day, today, February 15, 2009, which is a Sunday, left-over gray clouds from last night's were still on the horizon in the half-light of 5:00 AM as I waited for Boy Toledo near my home in M.J. Cuenco, Cebu City. Boy T's KIA Pride arrived minutes later and I hopped inside. Our destination - Guadalupe.


Again, as was last week, we heard a Holy Mass at the parish of the Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu at six. After an hour, we went to our usual meeting place at the back of the church to eat breakfast and to buy pork meat, seaweeds (guso), spices and other ingredients intending to prepare and cook all these for our lunch scheduled in Manwel Roble's place.

Aside those, I carried three kilos of rice in my day pack and added a kilo of uncooked sea shells and fifty-peso worth of bread making my pack bulky and heavy. Early morning fog were already enveloping the hills around Guadalupe but we were ready for any barrage of rain this day. In short, our training will proceed come rain or shine!


We waited an hour for Ernie Salomon and Sam Lim and of others but all failed to come so we started our warm-up walk, just the two of us, from Guadalupe to Napo at exactly eight. The air was cool and the sun finally showed up pushing away a rapidly disintegrating raincloud by its heat. Vapor and mist rose among the surrounding landscape creating a shield to protect our crown and shoulders from the rays of the sun.


We understood why the others did not make it today. Cebu was lashed by a typhoon for three straight days and they might have anticipated the storm would overstay its course. The city streets were flooded and the temperature dropped last night but Boy T and me were more resolute: we intend to use the weather disturbance and do our training at a higher level.


We expect slippery trails this day which we did by the time we crossed the first river crossing and took on the Napo Main Trail. We took it easy and met many local people getting snagged by the muddy terrain. We reached the second river crossing and stopped to rest while I filled my water bottle from a nearby spring. Overhead, I saw two tots peering over a window from afar and I signaled them to come down and get the pack of crackers I placed on a big boulder.


We left the place and we started ascending the Busan Trail and from a distance I saw a little girl retrieve her prize on top of the boulder and she smiled and waved a hand as soon as she saw me smiling and waving down at her. Reaching Sitio Busan I unloaded the rest of my crackers to the children and they were all smiles as they shared and munched their presents. Oh, I loved moments like these and that made me come back over and over again here.


Under a heavy load yet possessed now with a light heart, I run uphill in short bursts. I gasped for oxygen as I rested and waited for Boy T to come nearer and run again, then rest, then wait, and so on until we reached Manwel's place at 10:30 AM. Then we began to work our packs and unload our cargoes.

Boy T started working on the pork meat, the seaweeds, the spices and all in between with Manwel and his uncle as his assistants while I gave away the presents of bread to Manwel's siblings and the uncooked sea shells for their dinner. I also unpacked and brought out the rice I carried to be cooked in the earthen hearth of their humble abode.


As early as 11:20 AM, Boy T was to able finish the job of cooking all the pork in adobo fashion and his seaweeds were prepared steamed and washed in vinegar with thinly-sliced iba giving accent to the dish. It was superbly done! I didn't know that Boy T is such a good cook and he was in control of the area around the cooking fire despite a handicap.


Disregarding spoon, fork and cutting knife, we all ate with great relish the prepared lunch with our bare hands dabbing the adobo on the mixture of well-seasoned vinegar and seaweed juice. The rice, steaming hot, were cooked in a perfect state such as only wood fuel could carve. We all took turns reaching and filling our plates around the dining table where the meal were spread before us.


Afterwards, young coconut water flowed freely, courtesy of Manwel's father, and we washed away our food inside our tummies with the refreshing liquid. We scraped the soft white meat from the fruit and munched its sweet essence to our delight. We then took a nap on the long bamboo benches and rested for a full hour.

At exactly one in the afternoon, we bade goodbye to Manwel and his family and started for the ascent by way of Ernie's Trail, a hard and direct route to Mount Babag, whose 752 meter peak hosted an assortment of imposing steel towers of commercial telecommunication stations. We found the trail unexpectedly perfect and with just a few slippery spots. It was now thickly grown with vegetation underfoot due to the constant rains.


Somewhere along the steep trail I saw a yagumyum shrub common in the slopes of Cuernos de Negros growing here, of whose leaves we used to remove grease from plates and pans, and an edible land snail, locally known as karakol, traveling along an ancient mango branch. Amid a cacophony of bird sounds, I saw a brahminy kite hovering in the distance in its spiral flight.


After 45 minutes of huffing and puffing, we reached Mt. Babag and we walked another 300 meters on a dirt road and we rested at our favorite store overlooking the city. We each downed a bottle of San Miguel Beer Grande before turning back to Mt. Babag to start our descent for Napo at 3:30 PM on another route – the Kahugan Trail.

The last time we passed by here was on December 14, 2008 and the trail was still in good condition and excellent to travel. Half-running and half-braking, Boy T and I made a good pace and crossed the uppermost part of the Guadalupe-Sapangdaku River.


From there we followed the snaking trail among groves of caimito, jackfruit and breadfruit trees and climbed a short stretch of uphill slope that traverse a ridge before going down again to a forest of madre de cacao trees, then amongst an upland community. This stretch is partly scree slope and is slippery with or without a rain. A trio of tamarind trees marked the end of this stretch or the beginning whichever you may start at.


Pushing on we reached the community chapel at fifteen past three and took a quick rest there where the wide trails of Kahugan start after here, rolling and hilly, and a perfect area for trail running. I tried the trail and I coasted along in break-neck speed followed by Boy T. I slowed down along curvy and bending points, on difficult terrain or among grounds with protruding roots and loose debris. Rivulets of sweat flood down on my shirt from this exertion making it a mass of brine-soaked fabric. Likewise, Boy T.

It was an amazing 40 minutes of downhill travel to Napo from Babag Ridge which we could have taken two hours, at the most, by just walking but we could still slice down time travel if we could spend some more weeks here. We reached Guadalupe at 5:10 PM and Boy T made sure I make it home early he offered to be my chauffeur. We have concluded again another perfect day!


Happy free-walking day, my friends...


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Thursday, May 21, 2009

A EUROPEAN UNION-STYLE MARDI GRAS

I HAVE RECEIVED a forwarded email from Greenpeace International last year and I was appalled by the pictures showing a community of supposed-to-be civilized Caucasians doing a mindless and bloody orgy upon a herd of harmless Calderon dolphins – a kind of intelligent dolphin that has a habit of approaching people out of sheer curiosity.

This happened in the Faeroe Islands, which is part of Denmark, of all places. Yes, Virginia, it's IN the European Union. They are embarking on a rite of adulthood called Moz, a ritual that is ancient as it is barbaric. Indeed, it is barbarism of the highest kind against a docile species of marine mammals.

Adulthood? What kind of adulthood? Is that how they bred their children? Exposing them to gory violence every year and reaching a climax wherein they themselves (the children) will enter that cycle. And in a grander scale? With consent from the government? Don't tell me that this is a cultural thing? A sort of a bloody mardi gras?

You sneered at third world country practices because, to your perception, they are primitive and barbaric, yet you yourselves do ghastly and indecent things in your own backyard? What makes you different from your poor neighbors in the arid south EU?


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Pictures courtesy of www.lail-alsahara.com.


Monday, May 11, 2009

MOVING MOUNTAINS, TOUCHING LIVES


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FOR SO MANY years, I have climbed the highest mountains of my life. I have been to places where few eyes have seen and to niches where only eagles dare. I would love to feed my ego by just being there and impel my adrenaline rush to soaring heights. This same ego would love to bask in the limelight by the mere acquisition of mountain gears and equipment, knowing all would be a repository of pleasant conversations.
Yet, for all it's worth, there was something amiss despite all those heroic photographs found in my silverfish-infested album and in the end I find it so superficial and almost worthless. Nada! I was looking instead for that something which have evaded me for so long.
Of course, they were there in the communities and on the trails we passed by during our mountaineering sorties and, sometimes, we choose to ignore them hoping we will forget their existence as days go by. But it won't simply leave away for they are always THERE. They are our brothers these underprivileged children we found living among the valleys and hillocks of our playgrounds.
Yes, they are the half-naked children that ogle at our bright-colored and expensive clothes behind half-opened windows and cracks of their rag-tag huts everytime we passed by. And from their facial expressions you could elicit the kind of life they live, their acceptance of their fate without the blessings of metropolitan comfort and conveniences we so often have ignored as nothing but ordinary.
A lot of them have not seen the insides of a classroom or known the intricacies of pronouncing a vowel. For those who do have to walk an hour to a half-day to study and their chances of learning are dimmed by the more pressing necessity of surviving and supporting their families foraging for food and farming. Only a very very few would find the ladder of success the very hard way.
I have seen these and I have finally faced the end of my search: whether as an adrenaline-loving climber or as a responsible and humane individual. I opted for the latter. I will give as long as I have the heart to give, this inspired by Mother Teresa's “if giving is not allowed...give anyway” line. I now climb mainly for a cause and I'm here to stay for good. Yes, there is so much more you can do besides carrying a heavy pack up a steep incline and take pictures.
I started the last half of 2008 my very own kind of social action here in Cebu City's own backyard. The opening of a new trail from Napo in Sapangdaku to Mount Babag on August 17 led me to Manwel Roble, my very first recipient of these charity climbs I'm organizing. Manwel, automatically would receive some token from Boy Toledo, Ernie Salomon and me each time we climb Mt. Babag on a day trek. More, if there are others coming with us. He would act as our official mountain guide. For info, we climb Mt. Babag twice or thrice monthly.
Most of our kind will pass by a place only once and would shudder at the thought of going back for reasons ranging from a less-challenging and boring terrain or of an unforgettable and frightening experience. Driven by our desire to make the most of our weekend free time and in between a lull in our monthly club-sponsored climbs, we exult at the chance of sweating it out and, at the same time, to touch lives brought about by sharing charity to the less privileged.
Exercise and charity do blend together and each one goad the other and it produce a perfect combination that erases the most boring trail into one that is well received after waiting restlessly for a week. Lightness borne of a good deed then springs from the heart and into your footfalls making the most difficult climb effortless and a longing to repeat the process over and over again in the shortest time available even walking on the same monotonous trails.
Someone used to say that we pass by this world but once. Yup, I have one short life to spend in this lifetime and will make the most of it by touching many lives as possible with some good deed. It would have been easier if these lives I touched are just around the block, but, no, I do it the hard way among the mountain folk. Sacrificing time and giving a hard effort to help the poor is as good as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land or kissing the hand of the Holy Pope. It is a sacred undertaking that is well received upstairs.
Practice climbing with a kind and loving heart. Share...

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Friday, May 1, 2009

CATCHING A TIGER, WRESTLING A SERPENT


IT WAS ON THE EVE of April Fool's Day that Tactical Security Agency and Detective Agency, Inc. finally marched their troops on the historic compound of the Cebu Provincial Capitol after months of anxiety and preparations and despite rumours of a second-rate agency being awarded instead the security contract and will take over the hard won areas which, in the first place, were legally Tactical Security's after a result of a bidding battle where they won fair and square. And cemented by the signing of the deed of contract by the lady governor herself – Her Excellency Gwendolyn Garcia.

It was a momentous occasion when the keys of the Capitol, the Cebu International Convention Center (CICC), the Cebu South Bus Terminal and the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) – big edifices that each deploy thirty or more guards plus small detachments spread over the length and breadth of province-owned properties in Metro Cebu – where surrendered to Tactical Security from losing holdover, Spectrum Security Agency, a worthy opponent that differed so much in style from another losing agency who used all maneuverings to steal this prized trophy without success.

Tactical Security have been equal to the task of taking the cudgels of watchkeeping the properties and persons of the Cebu Provincial Government by deploying high-quality security personnel equipped with brand-new Armscor 12-gauge shotguns, Tokarev 9-mm pistols, Armscor caliber .38 revolvers, Kenwood and HYT UHF bandwidth portable radios, halogen searchlights, hand-carried metal detectors and other specialized security gadgets. A radio-repeater station with base was ordered and installed to provide real-time and uninterrupted communication system between the different detachments and the agency headquarters.
The security officers and staff worked hard days before this event. An event of such magnitude which has no parallel in Tactical Security's history and existence. It was a classic team effort that brought people to many places in Cebu, in Manila and in Davao to culminate in timely fashion the takeover ceremony at the appointed time. It was a perfect operation orchestrated by no less than the general manager himself, Mr. Joseph Alquizola, and ably supported by the board of directors: Mr. Regan King, Mr. Wilson Ong and Mr. Richard King.

In all, 146 security guards were deployed, utilized and/or became new members of Tactical Security's expanding family for this single day. Running alongside with this great achievement, is the taking over of the regional office of the Home Development and Mutual Fund-7 (HDMF-7), also known as the Pag-IBIG Fund, headquartered at the Cebu Business Park, and its satellite office in Dumaguete City – all employing a total of fifteen guards.
At the end of the day, Tactical Security have redeemed its stature as a worthy and top-notch security agency that it so enjoyed in its early years, days when good professional people were running the agency and dictated the character and reputation of Tactical Security into what it is now, over some period of humps and bumps and low ebbs of its existence.

Kudos then to the new breed of professionals running Tactical Security: Mr. Jing de Egurrola, Mr. Omar Pace, Mr. Joe Patrick Uy, Ms. Marylou Cagang, Mr. Noel Ronquillo, Ms. Tellie Aguilar, Mr. Eddie Alberca, Ms. Grace Villar, Mr. Fernando Ypil, Mr. Al Albaciete, Ms. Liza Sesante and Mr. Robert Unabia for their tireless effort and for defying the odds by wrestling the serpent in order to catch a tiger.
For your security needs, we do things the TACTICAL way!

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