Sunday, August 15, 2010


IT HAD BEEN A long time since I last climbed Osmeña Peak. When talking of Osmeña Peak, part of the package is taking a long trek direct to the Kawasan River in Badian or go on a stop point in Basak, also in Badian, and take a long ride to Matutinao where there is Kawasan Falls, if you follow upriver; and a good white-sand beach, if you prefer to stay on sea level.

Osmeña Peak is the highest point of the island province of Cebu rising at a height of 1,015+ meters above sea level. It is best accessed from Mantalongon, in Dalaguete, where it could be reached in less than an hour. I know of some who climb O-Peak by way of Basak and it offer a challenging route. I would take that route anytime if I have a chance.

Lately, on April 21, 2010, I got the chance to shake hands again with my Grandfather Mountain of the South. I am not alone this time but I am with Glen Lao and Rene Anduyan and, in between us, are thirty-four Boy Scouts from the Sacred Heart School which we baby-sit time and time again during the whole trip that start from Mantalungon at 1:00 PM.

Midway along the route to the peak, I chopped a lot of firewood to fuel the wok where our food for dinner and breakfast will be cooked in which a local was hired to do the task. We left all our food provisions with the cook after re-filling our water from a concrete spring box and followed the upward trail to the ridge that led us to the wide camping areas at around 3:30 PM.

It is now a different camping area. There are now barbed-wire fences, concrete shelters, a steel gate and, the one I don't like most, a high-altitude garbage dumping site! There are bottles and broken glass everywhere and an accident is bound to happen here anytime anyday. Some people conveniently throw their garbage down into the sinkholes and it is a mess. I collected whatever broken glass I could find and broke it into smaller pieces until they are crushed into powder - - almost.

Two campsites were designated but I opted to look for my own spot on an area where there are sharp rocks everywhere. I used my bushcraft sense to look for a good sleeping ground and my eyes found one rare sandy place good enough to fit my width and half my height. With that taken, I started to ascend Osmeña Peak at 5:00 PM with my camera and waited for sundown.

After supper, I decided to snake down the trail without a light and into my Korean-made sleeping bag, that I used for the first time and much better and lighter than my heavy wool-lined Chinese mummy sack. I am sleeping out without a tent and I protected the lower part of my sleeping bag by stuffing it inside a big garbage bag improving its insulation from the cold.

My camp is a hundred meters away from the higher of the two campsites and it guarded the northern approach of the camp. At 8:00 PM, the skies were very clear and I could see all my friends twinkling above me. The Milky Way is milky as ever and I am quite warm inside my sleep bag but not for long when, at midnight, I was awakened by the wind in high gear and I am enveloped in fog. The garbage bag covering the lower body helped a lot and, hey, I could move better with my new sleeping bag!

The wake-up call is now sounded and everyone in the two campsites start to rouse and move about and lights began to bob in and out of the fog in the dawn of April 22. Voices of these excited kids gave me warmth as I remembered my first foggy dawn in Camp Marina thirty-five years ago. It is still 4:00 AM and I am not about to go out of my cocoon yet. Not until breakfast time.

It was already 6:15 AM when I left Osmeña Peak for the nth time. God knows of how many times I've been here. The last time I was here was in March 2001 - the day I guided an Australian aboriginal-rights activist and his cousin and it was a long time ago. I remembered too that I did a solo climb here (twice) and camped at the peak itself and then hiked downhill into a long valley down to Badian.

I am doing rear-guard sweep to the boys ahead of me and I make most of the time shooting pictures of everything except the mayhem of the activity. Although this is supposed to be a mountaineering event but I see it with a bushcrafter's eye. I took note of the trees, the shrubs, the trail, the landmarks, the old and new tracks, traces of fire and cooking, even the angle of the shadows. My senses were alert in every change of the wind direction and of the natural sounds.

We reach Patong in 45 minutes and the boys were very enthusiastic about their new-found adventure. To remember, these boys grow up in a very sheltered world with a very protective set of affluent parents. The world they know is their home, their school and the malls. A very superficial world unlike the present environment where they are in right now where they get to witness hardship and poverty of people living in the mountains and that is good. They will be molded into better and responsible adults someday.

A half-hour later, we followed the long valley into one of the best trails of Cebu. It is a long route that follow along the contour of the valley into forests, patch farms, sentinel rocks and a good view of the sea. We rested at Malagaring at 9:00 AM and it is a time to rehydrate and hide from the probing rays of the sun. In another half-hour, we will be in the last stretch of our route to Basak.

We arrive at the school in Basak at ten and we waited for, maybe, an hour for our transportation to Poblacion. The boys were thankful of the gracious resting time after a long walk while I looked for something native like a glass bowl of a locally-fermented drink called “tuba”. I found one above a trail and it is so fresh! My thirst vanished and it's better than all those soda-cum-energy drinks. It gave back the strength to my ancient knees. Ho! Ho!

By noon we occupied the whole local eatery in the town center and prepared our gears for loading into public utility midgets a.k.a “multicabs” for the direction of Matutinao. Damn, I hate these multicabs! It is 1:30 PM when the boys witnessed their first real waterfalls in Kawasan River and they were awed at the sight of the first cataract and the second one where they do the swimming and frolicking.

I would have loved taking a bath in the lower levels of Kawasan but I would rather walk upriver over slippery trails and rickety bamboo footbridges just to take a dip at the source itself as I have done so since 1992! From a single burst of a huge volume of water, the natural spring scattered in a wide arc after an earthquake in 1998. Still it gives a good massage on my back and an “old friend” - a local version of the poison ivy known as the “alingatong” - still stand guard over the source.

The locals have befriended me up here and I am treated like a local hero after I saved the life of a local boy when a piece of broken glass thrown into the river severed the inner arteries of the right ankle. Instantly, I carried the boy in my arms running down the whole length of the trail from the source into the highway, then into a bus and, finally, the district hospital. The boy would have expired due to loss of blood and, thankfully, I was there at the right moment.

There's a lot of good memories for me in the Source and I will always go there whenever I could. I have camped there many times with my mountaineer-friends and have shared the small sandy area with my wife and my eldest son (then 5-years old) on another year. I could still see the notch of the tree scarred with the edges of my tomahawk and my Garand bayonet crossing each other during a throwing demo to the locals in 2001. Basing from the height of the tree where I saw it hit years ago, it grew to about 18 inches now.

I am saddened though that fresh-water shrimps that used to thrive here in the Source are now gone because of over-poaching. On the other hand, fresh-water crab population are not that healthy anymore. I used to catch one or two shrimps or crabs here for food and happily get rid of my canned goods to the locals. Those were the good old days and it was a rare privilege to eat what the locals also eat.

By 4:30 PM, we left the river for the beach at the back of the school in Matutinao. Dinner is eaten back at the town center and we left our backpacks at the beach but, once back, the boys have a sit-in with Scoutmaster Glenn giving last-minute instructions. After 2-3 hours of their scouting rituals, the boys set up their tents while I choose a good sleeping spot.

I found one under an old talisay tree whose foliage are thick enough to thwart a sudden onslaught of summer rain. Another talisay tree, of smaller trunk, leaned almost ground-level to the north giving me protection on my left side while I dragged a big driftwood to shield me on my right side. In between my feet and the trunk of the bigger tree, I will build my campfire.

I gathered wood debris and kindling and built the shape of my would-be campfire. Using my gathered tinder which I kept dry for the whole time, I put a small flame to life after I struck a lone matchstick. It is a natural feeling to have fire for company and mine is small but it gives off heat through radiation and convection. A lot of warmth bounced off the tree trunk and from the driftwood into me and a little of this is wasted.

I enjoyed the warmth and watched the surf hit the breakers as I sang to myself the songs that my grandfather used to sing. I feed the fire from time to time until I almost used up all my reserves and, by then, it is already 2:00 AM and I could feel the pebbles in my eyes begin to roll around and I tilt over and cover my face with a camouflaged mesh cloth and the wood smoke are all over me keeping off the mosquitoes away.

Document done in OpenOffice 3.1 Writer


Amadeo said...

It was interesting to learn about this peak. We have Osmena roots, my maternal grandmother was an Osmena and a close relative of the late Sergio, Sr.

It is the highest peak in Cebu, you say? Will ask about it when I make a return trip.

PinoyApache said...

My grandfather used to serve Sergio Jr. as his personal secretary until Martial Law. The name "Merely My Opinion" is taken from grandpa's newspaper column in the late '50s early '60s.

The peak's name is appropriate for a man of such reputation being the "Grand Old Man of Cebu".