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

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