Friday, January 22, 2010

NAPO TO BABAG TALES XXV: Freewalking Alone

I STARED AT THE far expanse of the metropolis and all its neighboring islands as I stood on the ridge of the Babag Mountain Range. It's just another regular Sunday for me hiking alone on the trails. It is September 6, 2009 and this is my twenty-fifth session here. Oh, I just arrived yesterday from Iloilo, crossing two bodies of water – the Guimaras and Tañon straits – and a whole day of travelling by bus over the great Panay plateau, the Negros central highlands and the Naga-Uling Road.

I should have rested this day but I have not. I have begun to develop a craving for Mt. Babag and I would miss her trails even for just one weekend. My self-imposed commitment to attain stamina have not wavered one bit. The trails in Sapangdaku and Kalunasan and, to a greater extent, the so-called Freedom Trail from Tisa over Toong and Baksan, is a perfect avenue for that.

And you may wonder why all my mountaineering-related activities are confined within the Babag Mountain Range? FYI, Guadalupe, from where I start my walk, is only two jitney rides away from home at Php6.50 a ride and that translate to only twenty-six pesos back and forth. Yes, a mere Php26.00 for the price of exercising your hobby to the max. Just a set of loose change in your pocket that you are ready to happily part with. A great bargain!

I am not a creature of comfort though and walking on the same trail doesn't matter to me either as long as it is realistic and attainable for my small budget alloted for leisure and exercise. I do not yearn anymore a once-a-month activity in faraway exotic places that doesn't sit well in my running a household in these difficult times. What I do need is a very good alternative that is conveniently located where I could repeat the process over and over and over...

Anyway, the weather is perfect for today. I did start at eight and found myself a small eatery in between Guadalupe and Napo and the lady cook there sold her food and rice at a much much cheaper price than what I paid for in the eateries of Guadalupe. I ate with gusto at the well-cooked meal and, after paying, I continued on my journey to Napo. Really, it is a cloudy morning and the breeze breathed in my face and hair. It is so refreshing even as I sweat.

I am alone today. I set my normal pace and, here I am, running in short bursts up a trail once my trail boots kissed the dirt trails. I am not here for a leisure walk but on a year-long intense training. I ran downhill when I could and shaved a little time. Long lines of “small people1” crossed the trails and I carefully placed my steps not to disturb them. I carried a training load of about ten kilos and forbid myself a drink save at the spring, at Manwel Roble's place and on Babag Ridge during my lunch.

The best time to drink would be at Manwel's place. Not water in my bottle but water from young coconuts. Manwel's father prepared four opened coconuts and I helped myself with three. Afterwards, five hikers arrived and I shared the last of the coconut to them. Then we parted ways at 10:30 AM. They took the Babag East Ridge Pass while I went to the very steep Ernie's Trail.

Ernie's Trail is thick with vegetation today and it had not been used since June 21, 2009 - the day when I last passed by there. Otherwise, the trail is in good condition and I sweat hard trying to climb on all fours or keeping myself on balance with the heavy load on my back. The cool breeze soothed my body well and my hawk feathers on my head danced. The bamboo groves creaked and swayed as its leaves exulted at the rubbing they got from the wind

I arrived at Babag Ridge at 11:15 AM, just five meters behind the five hikers who went on an easier route. We took lunch together on a small store offering a good view of Metro Cebu. After the meal, I stood and looked at Metro Cebu at a high vantage. Then I took a rest and slept for thirty minutes and then went on my way back to Napo via Kahugan Trail.

It would have been a perfect day for me except along the trail where a hillside have been cleared of madre de cacao trees that have have grown thick. Tree limbs were cut into pieces ready to become another batch of commercial charcoal. I couldn't understand why low-level village authorities like barangay captains remained blind to these activities. I couldn't even understand the Environment and Natural Resources department so inutile in enforcing national laws. I left dismayed and nurtured a growing contempt for these lazy bureaucrats.

Again, as I have done months before, I ran in Kahugan. I put to good use my anger here. Kahugan is devoid of people after noontime. The trail is wide and winding along the river on a rolling terrain that is perfect for a good downhill run. I let gravity dictate my pace and my quick reflexes evaded obstacles and tight bends and I sweat so hard even as my hawk feathers trailed after me. My backpack moved from side to side but I tightened the locks placing the weight closer to my body. I moved in long strides until I reached the river.

I panted but I felt good and I took a deserving drink from a spring and then went on my way for Napo. I relaxed my pace knowing I burned a lot of calories walking and climbing the whole morning and running for a full 3-4 minutes in the afternoon gulping clean air and enjoying the sights. You couldn't experience these kind running inside an oval track or sweating on a treadmill machine inside of a sweat gym. My track and gym is the outdoors and it is FREE!

I reached Napo at two then I took a relaxing walk down the road for Guadalupe. The sun still refused to show his face and the wind have been following me ever since morning. It took me just less than thirty minutes to reach Guadalupe and that surprised me even as I was just on a “slow” walk. Hiking and climbing on a very cool Sunday and delivering a plastic bag full of bread to a poor family is an exceptional combination that is both good for your body and your spirit. I just did.


Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer.

1Black ants.

Friday, January 15, 2010

OPINION REVIEW: Mantrack Jungle Knife

I AM A COLLECTOR of knives and other bladed weapons. No, I don't display my collections. I used these to test its limit and even carry these most of the time for my protection. One of those that I collect is a MANTRACK survival knife. An old friend gave this to me in 2004 during the time of the last years of my self-styled “warrior pilgrimage”.
The whole material is made of cold steel and anodized in different colors like a rainbow. The blade outline has an uncanny resemblance to a K-BAR sans its classic handle. It has five square notches on its back edge designed to break light to medium-gauge wires. An olive green-colored lanyard used to be wound around the knife tang in the absence of a handle, by design, but I removed this instead. I believe the knife is better off without it.

A pair of hand guards protrude from across the middle section while two round holes are bored at the end of the tang which were designed to hold down and secure the lanyard. Overall, it has a good balance and feel and could be slipped anywhere I choose. The knife has an olive green-colored cloth sheath with a thin strip of black cloth stitched at the edges. Like the lanyard, it is better off without it.

I have tested the MANTRACK in skinning and slicing chicken meat, chopping firewood, scraping tendrils, breaking off GI wires, paring fruits and knife throwing. The knife could either be thrown held from the blade or from the tang/handle. I have brought the MANTRACK in Mount Dulangdulang, Bukidnon in June 2008; in an exploration hike in the mid-north area of Carmen, Cebu in January 2009; in solo night treks to Mount Babag in Cebu City this year and as an ordinary commuter in public jitneys.

Right now, I'm looking around my house where I slipped my MANTRACK.

       LENGTH : 10.75 inches. 275 millimeters.

       WIDTH : 1.5 inches. 37 millimeters.

       BLADE : 6.25 inches. 160 millimeters.

Friday, January 8, 2010


I HAVE BEEN LOOKING forward for a long time to travel the whole island of Cebu in a long and continuous journey. When I was a young man and plenty of time then, that was more than twenty-five years ago, I used to go out to the far reaches of the province to the north and into the south, yet I was not able to complete that dream trip.

Then on June 28 and 29, 2009, my life-long dream of going on a circumferential trip were fulfilled when my employer tasked me, along with Omar Pace and Eddie Alberca, to distribute packages to all the district hospitals and properties of the Cebu Provincial Government.

We started from Bakilid, Mandaue City on June 28 at five in the morning on board a Mitsubishi Delica. Eddie was designated as driver, Omar as back-up driver and navigator while me, acted as logistics man, recorder, part-time navigator and unofficial historian and I took a seat at the most spacious and most comfortable part of the vehicle.

The opportunity gave me a high-spirited yawn when I settled at the back as Eddie steered the wheel for the South Road Properties and good open spaces that gave me a luxuriant view of the Babag Mountain Range and the Mactan Channel. I did not have a proper camera with me so I have to settle with a cell phone camera of a lower pixel and took a shot of a sunrise at sea and a cloud rising over Babag.

The south coastal road took us to the belly of Talisay City; we exited at Linao and arrived at our first stopping area in Minglanilla District Hospital at 5:53 AM. Fifteen minutes later, we were on our way for the land of chicharon, bocarillo and ampao. In a blur, we passed by Minglanilla proper, Naga, San Fernando and, finally, Carcar, where the J.M. Paras Memorial Hospital is located.

We left Carcar at 6:55 AM and passed by Sibonga until we arrived at our next stopping area in Argao District Hospital at 7:27 AM. After our business there, we took a filling breakfast at eight in Carmen's Carenderia. Eddie stepped on the gas pedal the moment we left Argao to propel us for the next engagement in a short time as possible. Goodbye torta lovers!

The weather was perfect. Very sunny and, oh yes, the highway is in the best condition. It snaked along seaside cliffs and near shorelines as we passed by the towns of Dalaguete, Alcoy and Boljoon. This is one of the most pleasant stretch of beautiful coastal areas that are very familiar to me.

White powdery beaches line the shores while clear blue-green sea sparkled on a high tide. Beautiful tiny Sumilon Island simmered in the distance. I bickered, in jest, at Eddie to halt the vehicle to take a quick dip! In the end, the saner part of me won. I have a job to finish this day and we have a long way to go up to the north. By 9:12 AM, we reached the district hospital in Oslob.

Afterwards, at 9:33 AM, we left Oslob for Santander. At Santander we stopped by at Mayor Wilson Wenceslao's convenience store and bought for ourselves bottles of mineral water and energy drinks. Omar relieved Eddie at the wheel and we went around the southernmost tip of Cebu at Bato in Santander before going up to Samboan, Ginatilan then in Malabuyoc, where we arrived at the M.J. Cuenco Memorial Hospital at 10:44 AM, located on the seafront and right across the town parish.

We left Malabuyoc at 11:04 AM as Omar exerted pressure on the pedal and the Delica sped like a crazy rocket. I miss this Sunday's Mass and I have to content myself singing the Our Father. We passed by Alegria then in Matutinao, the first barangay in Badian. Oh, Matutinao. How many times have I been there? I love to camp at the end of the river – at the source itself – and caress my back with the large spring. I saved a life of a youngster there and I'm well remembered by the folks.

We reached Badian proper and drove up a hill to where the district hospital is located. We arrived at 11:40 AM. We stayed for twenty-two minutes and I took the opportunity to stretch my legs at the front lawn of the Santiago de Apostol Parish. I took a shot of the old church. We then left Badian for Barili.

Along the way, we passed by the beautiful southwestern towns of Ronda, Alegria, Moalboal and Dumanjug. We arrived at the Barili District Hospital at 12:43 noon and, thirty minutes later, we took a very late lunch at Shamrock Bakery and Restaurant. After the quick meal, we directly went up to the Farmer's Training Center in Boloc-boloc, Barili and we arrived there at 2:23 PM.

At 2:48 PM, we left the training center and proceeded for Pinamungajan town. Eddie now was back on the wheel. We took a detour and went up the Carcar-Barili Road going to the direction of Carcar. We reached a junction just ahead of Mantalungon and took the road left to Aloguinsan. The road to Aloguinsan was the loneliest stretch of road I have ever seen in Cebu and it passed on a very mountainous terrain.

We reached Aloguinsan and passed the sleepy town for Pinamungajan, where we arrived at J.M. Borromeo District Hospital at 3:50 PM. Ten minutes passed by, and we went on our journey north to the next stop in Balamban. We made a brief stopover at Toledo City though for refueling before resuming our journey.

We arrived at the Balamban District Hospital at 4:54 PM and took a quick rest and a little refreshment. We left Balamban at 5:15 PM bound for Tuburan. The sun started to set on the horizon and Tuburan is still a long way – about 30 kilometers. We passed by Asturias and a great distance separate the two until at 5:53 PM we arrived at the Tuburan District Hospital.

We left Tuburan at 6:06 PM for Daanbantayan – another long distance. Along the way we passed by the municipalities of Tabuelan, San Remigio, Bogo and Medellin. At the coast of Tabuelan going to San Remigio, I saw a very lonely sunset in my whole life. A teenaged boy sat on the plank of a bridge gazing at the spectacle. I stopped the vehicle and took a hurried shot of the scene.

At the junction of San Remigio, Bogo and Medellin, we stopped and eat a full dinner. After the meal, we proceeded to Daanbantayan and arrived at their district hospital at 8:20 PM. It had started to rain hard and we stayed for the night, the three of us, inside the van, at the hospital's parking area and slept soundly. The rain fell and it never stopped until around 2:00 AM.

We woke up in the early morning of June 29. We decided to start early for the port of Maya and left Daanbantayan District Hospital at 6:50 AM. We intend to cross over the sea to Malapascua Island to deliver four packages. While waiting for the first boat trip, we took a hearty breakfast of linarang pakol, tinuwa'ng malabunok and squid broth – all freshly caught.

Eddie and me decided to go to Malapascua instead while Omar will stay behind to watch the van. We arrived at the island at 8:45 AM and we were met by out host at the reception area. The island is a sunbather's and diver's paradise and is famous for its thresher sharks that are found within its depths. Although smaller than Boracay Island, it has powdery white sand beaches and clear blue-green water that would rival the over-congested resort.

We were treated to a stew of juvenile thresher sharks cooked in coconut milk by our host which were caught by net the night before. We obliged the tempting offer and took a second breakfast. It was my first time to step on Malapascua. We ended our visit at Malapascua and left at twelve noon. We both arrived at Maya Port at 12:49 and we sped towards Hagnaya Port in San Remigio to rendezvous with another contact from Bantayan Island who crossed over to pick up his package.

We arrived at the Hagnaya wharf at 1:22 PM and took lunch there. Fully refreshed, we resumed our trip bound for Sogod at 1:58 PM. We passed by Bogo and Tabogon via the once-dangerous Ime Road and arrived at the district hospital located in Damolog, Sogod at 2:34 PM. Omar had a brief reunion with his daughter who is undergoing internship at the J.B. Dosado Memorial Hospital. We then left at 3:08 PM for our last engagement – Danao City.

Now that the Delica is several kilos lighter, it sped over Sogod proper, Catmon, and Carmen along a cliffside highway. The familiar places brought me pleasant memories of my past. Oh, how I wished Eddie would not step on the gas too hard. We sped away and overtook as many vehicles as possible until we reached the Danao District Hospital at 3:32 PM. We rested awhile until it was time to go for our last stretch and left at 4:16 PM.

Finally, we arrived at Mandaue City at 5:11 PM. We were all tired but not exhausted. I finally make true my dream of traveling the whole island of Cebu to the south, west, north and east with an island-hopping segment in Malapascua. On the whole, we churned out 480 kilometers, more or less, over two days and I see another sequel of this in the future.

The office staff clapped their hands upon seeing us and our vigor came back where, eventually, we stayed for a couple of hours to check on the logistics for tomorrow's activity. I was the last to check out at eight and brought a pack of pintos to my wife and kids.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer.

Friday, January 1, 2010


IT HAD BEEN A year already when I first climbed Mount Babag by way of Ernie's Trail, a steep and challenging route named after my climbing buddy – Ernie Salomon. That was on August 17, 2008. Since then I have climbed her twenty-three times alone or with a group. I aim to complete a full year cycle by climbing her again on August 23, 2009. This would be my twenty-fourth incursion there.

I brought two hawk feathers for this occasion to celebrate the passing of a year the old way. Two feathers for Courage and Generosity. The hawk feathers will now be a regular fixture in my head band everytime I climb Mt. Babag as it had been a regular fixture in my South African veldt hat that I carried on my head during major climbs. The feathers will dance with the breeze along with me.

Boy Toledo, another of my climbing buddy, completed one year yesterday on August 22. He have climbed the Babag Mountain Range many times more than I. Boy T is a stroke survivor. He now make things happen for him and of others. He climb here every weekend and you are cordially invited to chase him up a trail.

Those previous weekend hikes brought me to a lone house on a hill that became a refuge, a well-deserved stop-over, enroute to Mt. Babag. In it lived a family of four who are generous of their space and of their young coconuts. Ha ha, I paid for those. In return I brought them gifts, food, used clothes and books for the kids. I even nurtured a 13-year old boy, Manwel Roble, as a future mountain guide in this area. Others followed my trail and parted their charity to the Roble family.

In that sunny Sunday morning, I ate just two cinnamon bread for my breakfast and left Guadalupe at 7:15 AM. I brought a 17-meter kernmantle rope as my weight load and an extra dry shirt but I forgot to bring my Nalgene bottle and that deprived me of water intake. The only watering area for me between Guadalupe and Mt. Babag would be at the river crossing where there is a natural spring and at that house on the hill. I walked on, reaching Napo forty-six minutes later.

Resting for a few minutes, I continued on my journey by crossing a river and, forty-one minutes after, I arrived at the spring and drank. I tarried a while there enjoying the cool shade and the silence. The moment I will leave this comfortable refuge, the sun's hot rays will be upon me again. But I'm used to the heat. My body have developed acceptance (or resistance) to it. I have received this fate living near the equator and I have accepted to hike without hats, sunglasses and those greasy sunblock creams.

It is still 9:30 AM when I got caught in the middle of Busan Trail under the mercy of the sun. I ran in short bursts uphill and it felt good. I perspired more than what I have swallowed and I felt the tiredness of my body as I gasped for breath and rested more often. My breakfast were inadequate and my body took its toll. God, it is hot and I thanked my reddened eyes for spotting the crest of the great tamarind tree that marked the house on the hill. I am now very near for the next stop-over.

My throat is parched dry and I'm dying for a drink when I got there. I waited for Manwel to arrive. He is servicing yet the Ewit Mountaineers who have stayed overnight at Manwel's Peak above us and isn't available. Meanwhile, his mother offered to slay and cook one free-rein chicken for me. I told her that I have a packed lunch with me. Nevertheless, it was the wish of his husband and I could do nothing but be swayed over by the opportunity of eating native chicken again.

I reclined on the cool bamboo bench under a duhat tree and slept for an hour until a nudge from Manwel woke me up for a well-deserved lunch. My thirst already gone, I slurped the hot soup seasoned by lemon grass and bunched-onion leaves. Ahh...heaven. I ate on their dining table together with Manwel, his mother, his siblings Juliet and Jucel, and his uncle and aunt. We talked as we ate. I took several servings of rice to accompany the choice cuts reserved for me.

After the meal, Manwel climbed a coconut tree and collected five young coconuts. How in heaven could I consume five coconuts? Manwel opened three fruits for me and I drank its sweet liquid. The rest of the coconuts, well, I reserved it for my wife and placed it in the bottom of my backpack to bring it home. I slept again slapped by the cool breeze. It was already one after noon when I decided to move on. I have a very full stomach and I think I could not make it to the summit of Mt. Babag in such a bloated condition.

I decided to follow Jucel, Juliet and Manwel instead down a short-cut route for the Kahugan Trail. For the moment, the downhill hike is a better alternative to digest my food in a moderate pace. It was hot and we snaked among tamarind, mango, santol and other endemic trees as well as groves of bamboo. The Kahugan Trail were as wide as ever but I did not run the trail this day. My feet - the toes - are hurting. I bade goodbye to the Roble children and followed the downhill route.

I arrived at the river crossing where there is a spring and drank the cool water. After a 10-minute interval, I am off again on my way to Napo. The main trail is of rolling terrain and I met just a few locals going in the opposite direction. It is ten past two in the afternoon when I arrived at Napo and drowned my thirst with a bottle of soda drink. I stayed maybe twenty minutes on the newly-constructed community bamboo benches beside the river.

Passing by were three youths on a hunting spree for catfish. They were armed with minute spears and one of the boys carried their prize. I went down and took pictures of their catch. Wow, it was wonderful to see the river coming alive during the rains and giving up more bounty. The river packed a lot of water today and I saw small fishes upriver frolicking in great numbers. A cycle of rebirth have just started.

Leaving Napo again, I started for Guadalupe on a hot 2:30 PM sun bouncing its arrows upon the concrete and asphalt pavements. At this hour, the shadows are sparse and far between each other. My feet soles ached walking on the hot surface and I find remedy walking on weeds growing on the curbs and pebbles and dirt accumulating on the street. At least, the temperature there are a degree or two lower. My shoulders are numbed by the added weight on my back but I have to go on.

Finally, I have reached the end of my journey of a year. A full circle has been completed. Twenty-four episodes in twelve months that makes it two climbs per month on average. Not bad for a forty-ish guy – an old man, if you may – who have developed the courage to defy the monotony of the same trail for a year. In these same trails, I have accomplished another virtue far more valuable than all the others – generosity.

I brought two hawk feathers for this occasion to celebrate a new life the old way. Two feathers for Wisdom and Perseverance. The hawk feathers will now be a regular fixture in my head band everytime I climb Mt. Babag as it had been a regular fixture in my South African veldt hat that I carried on my head during major climbs. The feathers will dance with the breeze along with me.

I am now a part of the mountains and forests. I have gone native.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer.