Tuesday, June 22, 2010

BEBUT'S TRAIL IV: Solo Mission

I AM ALONE today, February 28, 2010. I am going to the house of my young friend, Manwel Roble, above Napo but below Mount Babag to deliver two kilos of sweet and delicious fruits – the mangosteen and the lanzones. I have a purpose with the seeds of the fruit and it is for a noble cause. I aim to reforest the bare Upper Kahugan Trail whose madre de cacao trees where cut wholesale. Manwel and his family will nurture the seeds to life and their place will become a seed bank. This is the first of the many seeds that I will bring. Others will take my cue and bring their own seeds.

I start from Sandayong at the back of Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu Parish after a humble breakfast of monggo beans and pancit. It is 7:30 AM and I know it will be very hot later in the day. Aside from the two kilos of fruit, I also brought my Bulin camping stove and fuel can with adaptor, a Peak 1 spoon-fork-knife set, a small stainless-steel pot and cup, my Nalgene water bottle with content, a half-kilo of well-milled corn, plastic food containers, an extra dry shirt and my little Mantrack machete. All these placed inside my 35-liter Baikal backpack and is a bit heavy.

I have no camera to shoot pictures but will rely only on my Motorola V3i cellphone instead. This will be my fourth pass in Bebut's Trail since I discovered it on January 10, 2010 along with Nathan Cannen but it will be my first on solo. The route of the trail will make a long half circle passing by a part of Guadalupe and Banawa Hills, the Buhisan Watershed Area, the Baksan Forest Reserve, Mount Lanipao (310+ masl), Arcos Hills, Sapangdaku River before reaching Napo. From Napo, I will walk another long trail before I climb again to a knoll where a great tamarind tree stood that guarded the Roble homestead.

This will not be easy and there are many branch trails along the way that may distract you. The temptation to explore is ever-present along Bebut's Trail since this route is virgin ground for our kind. After climbing the 120-odd steps of concrete and rock hewn out of a hillside, I make use of my cellphone and took pictures of the natural contours, endemic trees and other plant life that will catch my fancy. My pace will be light and easy and I need not worry whom to watch over. There will be no noisy companions either like Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon.

It is a hot morning and I sweated hard as I climbed over the back of the Guadalupe Hills into a steel power pylon and, in the distance, I thought I saw black clouds massing behind the Babag Mountain Range and I dismissed it as nothing but a false pretext of rain. Summer is here and weather watchers have announced a month ago that there will be severe droughts brought by the El Niño phenomenon. I continued on and followed the trail that I established many weeks ago. I enjoyed the sights and the smell of the earth.

Along the way, I am amazed by the silence of the morning. I would have thought I would meet a few people but I am disappointed for the people I meet along Bebut's Trail left a bad taste to my consternation. People were in a frenzy collecting firewood! The slash-and-burn method are viciously applied and I see everywhere traces of fire that blackened the earth. There were, at the most, sixteen people people I saw carrying firewood and that does not count the numbers yesterday and the week before today!

A cool breeze swept over the the trail as I rested for a while in Nathan's Garden and the whole place became alive as birds from all around, sensing of an oncoming rain, raised a cacophony of sounds. Could there be rain today? I asked. I could sense the Archdiocese of Cebu's oratio imperata at work now or, possibly, the rain dance of an indigenous medicine man from across a sea stirred the clouds to life. There is a promise of rain today and I could not believe it as a tiny speck of water landed on my arm. And then more.

I walk on and reach The Portal at exactly nine. I took a rest and then it started to rain lightly. I hurriedly stowed my cellphone into my backpack and unfold the rain flysheet. The Portal is a crossroad of sort where six trails crossed each other and I took the route that will take me deep into Baksan forest and then into Lanipao, skirting the very tempting trail to the Buhisan Watershed Area. I picked up a short rod to aid my balance along a trail that is surreptitiously slippery in some parts, which I know, for it is part of Freedom Trail where I passed twice on rainy occasions.

The trail followed the contour of the terrain on my right and it gave me better convenience for I am left-handed and I could use my stick effortlessly. I did slip once when I thought a pack of dry teak leaves rested on solid ground but gave away before my weight. Good thing nobody witnessed my brief moment of clumsiness. It happen sometimes. Even to a trailmaster. Anyway, rain make a lot of people happy, much more so with trees and plants and birds. It made me happy too, for along the route, there were many small bush fires that got doused. Embers hissed as raindrops fell all over them.

After an hour of travel under the forest, I came to another crossroad where five trails meet where there used to be a tamarind tree. The tree is now reduced to a stump and it is just been cut recently as the core is still soft. In these places, the tamarind tree is a landmark and a marker of trails. I cannot comprehend why people cut this tree for firewood. A route lead to a small community in Sitio Calumboyan where I am familiar of, but another trail which I marked two weeks ago as a possible place to venture to and explore pass by over a high peak.

I need to explore another possible trail and I climbed the high peak and it offered a good view of the Buhisan Watershed Area as well as the Baksan Forest Reserve. Over here, I could see over the saddle of Mt. Lanipao and Arcos Hills into a great distance a tamarind tree that marked Manwel's place. I estimated this unnamed peak as over 300 meters above sea level. A lone talo-ot tree grow over its crown and I just hope that it won't fell victim to these mindless zombies cutting trees all over the mountains.

I went down the other side of the peak and the trail followed the contour of the ridge marked by a series of tamarind trees in between. I passed by a neat pile of firewood whose wood used to belong to a teak tree. Then the trail went down into a great forest of teak trees and up into a dirt road. I followed the road west and went into the saddle I saw a while ago and followed another trail that will bring me down into Arcos Hills.

The trail above the ridge of Arcos is still in a sorry state as cutting of trees is still rampant. Here and there are charcoal-making holes unearthed of their product – commercial charcoal. These people never give a damn to any tree even a fruit-bearing one. I passed by an abandoned campsite of charcoal makers where a tree trunk of a jackfruit tree is left lying on the ground. An awful lot of firewood is lying everywhere. It is a hot day indeed and I feel my temper rising. There is much nothing I can do but write about this and take pictures of the carnage hoping it will be read by a “green” bureaucrat.

I went on and greeted every tree left standing as a “brother” or as an “old friend” and patted their rough trunks, thankful of the shade they gave to a lone hiker traveling on a hot day. You would not lose your way here, just follow the trail where there are tamarind trees and it will lead you to the place where you would want to go, in my case, to Napo. The route went down and down and the rod is very useful. Balance is crucial here and it lessened my dependence of my aching old knees.

I finally reached the bank of the Lanipao Creek which would lead to Sapangdaku River. The Lanipao is dry and that make predators thirsty or hungry and they maybe lurking somewhere among the rocks or under a shade. And my stick is still very handy and I never discarded it as I trudged the almost-empty Sapangdaku River. Not until I reached Napo. The Sapangdaku is getting suffocated by garbage and waste coming from the residents of Napo and from the Napo Elementary School. Teachers here make good role models for children in how they discard their garbage: into the river!

On the bridge where the school is connected with the main community I rested here and savor the cool breeze. I boiled water on my small cooking pot and poured my corn grits and stirred it until it hardened and simmered it for about five minutes after which I boiled water on my steel cup and cooked my beef noodles. It is 11:20 AM and I am forty minutes early. Took my time and rested for a while after eating lunch.

Left Napo at 12:15 for the river and crossed the Sapangdaku without difficulty for it is almost bare of water. Although I am already very tired, I persevered. When I reached the second river crossing, the natural spring have not wavered a bit. I refilled my bottle and drank from her precious liquid. Despite the drought, she is still here. I took a twenty minute rest here under the shade of bamboos, star apple, tipolo and santol trees. It is so cool and I'm tempted to remain inert but I have a commitment to fulfill.

So, I slowly carried myself up a steep flower farm devoid of tree cover. It is one o'clock in the afternoon and it is biting hot. I breathed heavily and, once I found my rhythm, I am now fine. Father Endurance have been very elusive to me for many weeks, but, this time, I held his hand and I never let go. I think I could make it to Manwel's house today and the mango trees along the trail is a great help to shade me from the sun. I sweated hard but I never took a good look at my water. I'm still training myself of water discipline and it's a never-ending battle.

Finally, finally, I arrived at the house on the hill. The children are not here. It is only Manwel's mother, an uncle and an aunt plus two resting locals who were with me a while ago in the river. I am tired and I leaned my hands on the bamboo seat and rested while standing body bent forward. After five minutes, I sat on the bench and drank like a horse. I dig my hands inside my backpack and retrieve my mangosteen and lanzones for the children and gave it to Manwel's mother plus four durian seeds for sowing.

The two locals continued their homeward journey and I have the place all to myself now as I brought out my gears from my bag and set up my camping stove. Getting my pack of coffee, I boiled water on my cup. I slurped the hot liquid and took time until I got drowsy and took a nap. I woke up a half-hour later and prepared for my departure. Refreshed and well-rested, I backtracked to where I came from and crossed a river and another one until I reached Napo. I completed my first mission and there will be more journeys like these in the weeks to come.

Happy freewalking day!!!

Pictures taken with a Motorola V3i
Document done in OpenOffice 3.1

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


THIS BLOGGER REPRESENTED this personal blog - Merely My Opinion - and its niche in the recent 1st Cebu Blog Camp 2010 being held in CAP Arts Center, Osmeña Boulevard, Cebu City on May 22, 2010. I get the chance to meet online blogger friends offline like Estan Cabigas, Xerxes Bernadez, Ka Bino Guerrero, etc., and it was a very great fellowship of website owners, SEO gurus, techies and advertisers.

I registered online at the last hour and I came late and checked in at 9:15 AM. I snared my seat at the back near the entrance and glad to make good use of a day of a leave of absence intended for a postponed outdoor activity. With a Kodak camera, I was able to take shots of the venue, the activity and the personalities like Google's Ms. Aileen Apolo, Mr. Winston Ng of Ng Khai Corp., Ms. Janet Toral, Mr. Brad Graham of Graham Maclang, Mr. Steve Koch and Mr. Jayvee Fernandez of A Bugged Life (.com).

Basically, this article is a photoblog and the pictures themselves tell a thousand words good enough for a story. Feel free to scroll down:

Document done in OpenOffice 3.1 Writer
Photos taken with Kodak C713 EasyShare camera

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


A WEEK AFTER my exploration of an unnamed trail on January 10, 2010, I invited Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon to assess for themselves this newly-discovered route. Nathan Cannen, who went with me on that day as my official photographer, invited Myla Ipil. The trio are eager to try the trail and my flu is not a hindrance to deny them this privilege.

As always, we start from the back of the Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu Parish and it is a Sunday, January 24, 2010. After breakfast, we abruptly broke away from the asphalt road in Sandayong and climbed, I counted, 132 steps of concrete and rock hewn-out of a hillside.

It's gonna be a hot day today, but away to the eastern horizon, there's a promise of rain. Black rain clouds bulged itself away from the stranglehold off Mactan Island and released water gaining acceleration as cold air pushed away warm air. Rain came running and getting louder as it came nearer. I could do nothing but steel myself against the slap of the cold wind and water upon my ailing body...

I screamed on the top of a ridge knowing that my voice would not be heard by my closest trailer who struggled a hundred meters below me. The rain drenched us all atop the back ridges of the bald Guadalupe Hills. I have, long ago, prepared my body from sudden changes of clime even when I am sick and I shrugged the discomforts away as if I am a rock.

I led them down a very vegetated side trail that skipped going over the top of the bare hill then up again passing by a small farm. Few trees still linger here like a trio of tipolo trees, a duhat tree, a jackfruit tree and a hardwood tree called tugas, this despite the field clearing by absent inhabitants using the slash-and-burn method.

As we went deeper into the trail, the route were now lined with vegetation again. I passed by several fruitless coconut trees and, here and there, were wild papayas, several varieties of Philippine hardwood, duhat trees, star apple trees, tipolo and breadfruit trees and a cineguelas tree.

Slowly, I brought them to a flat clearing where there were star apple trees and a long ago fallen tree in the middle that makes a perfect prop for a lean-to shelter. Three blackened stones told me that it had hosted a cooking fire recently. As I gawk above at the branches of the star apple trees, they were in the prime of their fruiting season. The fruits, ripe and violet, are ready for the picking unless you have a very long arm.

Without a long stick, I opted to throw a very short but stout rod at the nearest branch and managed to bring down to earth three round bounties. Myla picked the first honor of choosing the biggest fruit while Boy T picked the second and Nathan shared the third fruit to me. Man...it is SWEET! Poor Ernie, Boy T gave him the fruit peelings as his share eliciting a laugh from everyone.

At a hundred yards, we came to an area where ancient mango, star apple and tamarind trees grow. Their trunks where huge and their branches were higher than everyone of their kind. This is a place of great shade and peace as if you are in a garden and this is the place I called “Nathan's Garden”. Saw two Philippine pigeons flying away as we approached the place.

Catching the hint that the place is populated by ancient trees, Boy T became an instant historian and shared his knowledge about the source of the local word “mampor”, which is actually a street slang used to define a thing, a dress style or a person as ancient or old. According to him, a sage told him many years ago that the “mampor” word derived from the name of a very famous and sagacious sailor in the 19th century that endeared well to the local population, Captain Vincent Monfort.

So much for that, we arrived at a small remote community and rested for a while and boiled water for coffee. We stayed maybe for almost an hour before proceeding again and crossed the Baksan-Pamutan Road into Lanipao where there is a saddle that host a trail into Arcos Hills and down into Napo.

Along the ridges of Arcos Hills are, to our dismay, a neglected turf home to rampant cutting of trees and shrubs aided, here and there, by man-made bushfire. Teak, gmelina and even fruit trees are blatantly cut into small pieces and then buried under a thin layer of dirt and converted into commercial charcoal by a slow-burning flame. The ridge is marked by blackened earth and unearthed fire holes ringed by charcoal dust.

It is hot and we found consolation on the few trees left offering shade. I just hope these lovely tamarind trees that were planted by the older generations to mark the routes are left alone. The trail lead down into lower hills until it brought us down into Lanipao Creek that streamed down to join the bigger Sapangdaku River. The Lanipao is now empty and the width of the Sapangdaku is beginning to shrink as rains are now few.

We followed the Sapangdaku amidst the leaping and crossing and arrived in Napo at thirty past twelve. During our early days when we climbed down from Mount Babag we always travel down to Guadalupe from Napo on foot. At those times, the asphalt-and-concrete road wouldn't be so hot anymore to your feet in late afternoons. But, today, exhausted by the five-hour hike, walking in the middle of noon on the hard surface is suicide.

We arrived at Guadalupe in faster time thanks to the crazy-running motorcycles-for-hire and decide to cool down in our favorite hang-out nearby Fatima Village along V. Rama Avenue. Over the fifth bottle of these one-liter Red Horse Extra Strong Beer, Ernie casually gave name to the place as Camp Red. Boy T found it perfect while I questioned the significance of the name.

Anyhow, the insistent duo propelled me to promise them in creating a group account for Camp Red in Facebook with our own set of philosophy and vision. The duo even have the gall to have me design a logo for Camp Red according to their specs. However, I told them pointblank that Camp Red should not be just a place but a hub for outdoor activities like bushcraft and survival.

I explained to them the idea of bushcraft and survival and the significance of being the first organized group to practice this craft, not only in Cebu, but, probably in the whole country if you set aside the Jungle Environment Training School or JETS in Subic, which is a survival school. The duo were intrigued and I captured their attention and the drinking session stretched for a couple of hours.

Whatever the result of this special request plus my vision of a working group concentrated for bushcraft and survival, I just hope that these two have the same industry to surf the 'net to appreciate my work and become my first students for bushcraft and survival.

It was a good work-out and I feel privileged and fortunate to be a leading catalyst in organizing a bushcraft and survival group here in Cebu.

Document done in OpenOffice 3.1 Writer

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

OPINION REVIEW: Baikal 35-Liter Backpack

I FOUND MYSELF RESTLESS on April 12, 2009 and I decided to visit my good friend, Ernie Salomon, in Guadalupe, Cebu City. We both were having a rare day-off from our weekly training climbs in Mount Babag, a height which is better accessed from Guadalupe and then from Napo in Sapangdaku.

It was a fine day devoid of rain and he offered me, over glasses of cold beer, his black Baikal backpack for four hundred bucks. “Got bills to pay,” he says. Hmmm...the bag looks cool enough to me and I hadn't seen one carrying this kind - - - SINCE. I liked the idea of just me carrying a Baikal. The black color is a cinch for me and we both consummated the deal. It was a done deal. A heaven-sent bargain.

I saw the Baikal for the very first time when Ernie carried this on his back during our third session from Napo to Mt. Babag on October 1, 2008. He says he found and bought this for only four-fifty from a pre-owned stall in Colon and I envy the guy for his persistence. I even took a photo of this on that date.

On May 10, 2009, I donned the Baikal for the very first time on the trail and I find it superb. It fits my body frame very well and could stand all the heavy jerks and movements I impose on myself like trail running.

My Baikal has a 35-liter storage space on its main room, a secondary compartment and a third pocket and all are secured by dual zippers. The synthetic fabric is durable-looking and I have trust on those skins. An arched carry handle is located at the top and, to me, I find this unnecessary due to its weight.

The shoulder straps are three inches wide at its widest complemented with HDPE hardware add-ons and a pair of thumb straps with the Baikal name printed on it. Slip pockets made of light mesh fabric are located on the left, the right and front. The front slip pocket, however, have two compression straps to securely hold things placed inside.

Padded back supports are located in the lumbar area and the in-between-the-shoulder-blades part to give maximum comfort to the carrier. In between these two is a floating synthetic nylon mesh that is designed to wick away moisture and give breathing space to the back of the carrier.

Compression straps are found on each side of the pack to adjust room space and at the same time securely hold a medium-sized item that may be placed at the side slip pockets. The trusty straps can be lengthily adjusted by patented Life Guard® ladder locks while the Baikal name is prominently emblazoned on the buckle of the waist strap HDPE lock.

Deep inside the main compartment is a zippered pocket reserved for placing a water bladder to supply your liquid requirements while at the bottom of the bag is another zippered pocket containing a light-blue rain fly. It can be quickly retrieved out when you use it to cover the whole bag during a rain and can be easily stowed back after use.

A thin PVC board and two flat steel rods are incorporated inside the back to give it a rigid look. The backpack is second-hand, at least, it is original and I find just one minor kink that doesn't affect my performance and the pack. I didn't have to bargain, threaten and cajole anyone for it. It is a standout.

Well, I just found a perfect backpack.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer.