Friday, September 24, 2010


MERELY MY OPINION gets a new blog header. It's more improved and better than the previous one that I have been using since January 2009. Here, try to compare the two below. The new header is above while the old one is below it:

Okay. This present paste-up is composed of sixteen pictures and four graphic buttons. For clarity, each picture tell a story which I am generous to describe here. I will start from the leftmost to the right and swing it in clockwise:

  1. CEBU HERITAGE MONUMENT - Located in the Pari-an district, it is a monument depicting the history of Cebu City from the time of the first coming of the Europeans in 1521 up to the granting of independence from the Americans in 1946.
  2. IMAGE OF THE HOLY CHILD JESUS – A replica of of the Holy Child of Prague, fondly called as the Santo Niño de Cebu. The original statue is shrouded inside the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño and is held in reverence by the whole Cebuano population and throughout the country. Legend says that it is given by Ferdinand Magellan to the wife of Rajah Humabon after a successful baptismal ceremony and was found 21 years later in a burning hut when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi invaded Cebu in 1542.
  3. ROAD SIGN IN GAAS – Credit goes to the owner of the camera from whom this shot is taken – Joy Tongco. The image is shot by PinoyApache after the 19th anniversary climb of the Cebu Mountaineering Society (CeMS) in Mt. Manunggal traversing to Mount Gaas.
  4. BELFRY OF THE OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE DE CEBU – This is the least exposed of images of the Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Cebu and I will give it life here, being the parish that is where all the outdoor activities of all mountaineering groups in Cebu will start. Officially, this is the gateway to Mount Babag.
  5. LAVILLES STREET – A humble memento in honor of my late grandfather, Atty. Gervasio L. Lavilles, formerly of Lambunao, Iloilo, who, as a 12-year old stow-away, rose up from obscurity by becoming a scholar, a lawyer, a newspaper editor up to the time when he became a three-term councilor of the then Municipality of Cebu in 1924-35. He lived out his final years as a Cebu City resident until 1986.
  6. CEBU PROVINCIAL CAPITOL – The seat of government of the Province of Cebu. Built in 1935, it survived the destruction of World War II.
  7. 2ND FREEDOM CLIMB – From left: PinoyApache, Wil Rhys-Davies of Wales, Ernie Salomon and Boy Toledo. It is held in the Babag Mountain Range. Photo courtesy of Randell Savior.
  8. SELF-PORTRAIT – PinoyApache under a power pylon in Bebut's Trail, Guadalupe, Cebu City.
  9. BUSHCRAFT COOKING – One of the activities of Camp Red, the only bushcraft and survival group south of Subic Bay. Picture shows milled corn being cooked in bamboo.
  10. CHEROKEE – My youngest son. Aptly named in honor of a brave and noble people of the eastern woodlands of America. The least I could do to honor a great nation.
  11. CEBUANO FRUITS – Steamed Cavendish banana and green coconuts which is given as refreshments in the trail from Napo to Mount Babag by the Roble family.
  12. KAWASAN FALLS – This is the second cataract of the Kawasan River in Badian of southern Cebu. A very popular destination.
  13. CEBUANO DELICACY – Raw anchovies prepared in spiced vinegar. Photo taken in Argao, Cebu.
  14. MALAPASCUA BEACH – If only you are here. You should be here. Located in the northern tip of Cebu, it could be reached by a regular boat ferry. White pristine sands, perfect diving sites, a home of thresher sharks.

Now, the bottom image on the lower right of my montage. Three are logos and the rest are pictures:

  1. CAMP RED LOGO – A Cebu-based bushcraft and survival group which I help establish in January 2010.
  2. CEBU MOUNTAINEERING SOCIETY LOGO – Founded in 1989 of which I am a member of and as an officer in 2008-09.
  3. TREES FOR LIFE LOGO – I am an environmentalist and I accompany this in all my articles concerning the environment.
  4. I LOVE CEBU BUTTON – I am a true-blue Cebuano by heart, by affinity and by heritage. I promote Cebu through MMO.
  5. A TOMAHAWK – Only a very few keep this. I have two.
  6. A SURVIVAL KNIFE – A standard equipment for bushcrafters and survivalists.

Oh, by the way, Merely My Opinion has also added another niche in its site. This is now a site dedicated also to bushcraft and survival – an interest which I have practiced for many years but keeping it silent so as not to offend others when it came to outdoor ethics. And now that I declare it in the open, I will keep a balance to make my new activity open to both sides.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer

Thursday, September 16, 2010


BUSHCRAFT SKILLS SUNDAY, May 16, 2010. Taking out Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon today to the Roble homestead, just below Mount Babag, for a spoon carving session. Need to teach new tricks to these two old trail dogs about tool making.

I have to change their mindsets and not let them drift back to an interest that only accumulate altitude, distance and expensive gears. I can't even remember there is one here in this country if you believe the UIAA1. You know what I mean.

What I am doing is starting out a new culture about bushcraft and survival here in Cebu and this is more on useful survival skills that do away those gears. This is more on improvisation and adapting to nature and endurance.

Along the way, I searched for things that are essential in bushcraft and survival and mapped this in my mind aided, now and then, by my camera. Though it is still summer but we were blessed with cloudy skies. We arrive very early and, as usual, I bring bread for the kids Manwel, Juliet and Jucel Roble.

I choose a hard driftwood called “lubas”. It is grainy and gnarled and great skill is needed to cut away the wood with just a jungle knife. It will be a hard undertaking but I have to try and impress the duo. I will have my dependable rainbow-colored Mantrack knife as my cutting tool.

Meanwhile, Ernie and Boy T prepared our meal for lunch. I offered my stove and pot to cook the milled corn and we will be eating pork adobao and they watch me while they work. Old men. Yeah, full of wisdom!

The collaged images below tell the whole story of this Camp Red activity -

Right after this event, we take a customary post-activity discussion and rehydration ritual in our watering camp in V. Rama Avenue. Paul Ceniza (Ridge Outdoor Shop) came from Lilo-an just to listen to the tales of Boy T and Ernie.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
JPEG converted images done in Microsoft Powerpoint 2007

1Union of International Alpinists Association. The UIAA describes mountaineering as an activity done 4,000 meters above sea level.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I HAVE BEEN LUSTILY eyeing the trail that lead down into the Buhisan Watershed Area everytime I passed by the Portal on my way to Napo. This trail came into my attention when I discovered a route starting from Guadalupe to Napo in Sapangdaku, all in Cebu City, during an exploration last January 10, 2010 which gave birth to Bebut's Trail.

And so, on May 2, 2010, I gathered enough courage to penetrate the thick jungle that have been acting like a wall to my camera's view finder screen. Ernie Salomon, a fellow bushcrafter, begged to come with me and I welcomed his company and expertise in the bush, as well. We both meet at the front parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu Parish at seven in the morning and took breakfast at the back of the church.

Afterwards, I bought pork meat, soy sauce, spice and 25 pesos worth of bread. I have with me two almost-empty butane cans for my stove, ¾ kilo of milled corn, chart and compass, extra shirt, lighter and safety matches, stainless-steel drinking cup and cooking pot, spoon-fork-knife set and my tomahawk. We will cook lunch in the watershed, God willing.

We tried a new route for the Guadalupe Hills which start from across the churchyard and hoping it will be a better route. It is a good route than the old one after all so, goodbye there “heartbreak ridge”. I passed by the tunnel area and parted the bread for the family of Ricky Flores. Ricky's wife could not hide her satisfaction as a meal for the children just dropped from out of nowhere. Sure, it is good for the heart to share something for those who have less in life.

We arrived at the Portal at nine and I checked my things in my day pack for the little details that I might have missed and, finding none, we went down into the jungle, with me in the lead. The route went down straight crossing into several dry water courses that will come alive during a rain. The ground was dry and leaves crackled as we stepped over it. I saw the remains of what used to be an animal trap and I warned Ernie to be careful else he will be caught into a live one.

I followed the trail bending and winding its way into the jungle and I saw several disturbances like an unearthed pebble caused by a shoe, broken twigs, leaves out of shape and lots of shoe prints on the earth. Possibly, there may have been people passing here recently in the opposite direction coming from below us and they have grabbed onto the branches and leaves for support.

I crossed over a dry brook where the trail pass by a large tree and crossed another dry brook and down into a place where two creeks meet, a place where there is a large rock where another large piece of it split years ago causing a concave depression on to the one left standing. It is a perfect bushcraft lab good for one. Water could be sourced from the dry creeks once it is filled during the rainy season. I know there are hibernating catfish and fresh-water shrimps from below the creek bed waiting for just the right time to surface.

A dry brook from across the large split rock fall four feet into the bigger creek causing a slight hole into where the water will fall and it is there where I will catch my food. It is a natural hole that will become a small pool populated soon by shrimps and land crabs and will attract predators like monitor lizards, pythons and palm civets.

In the meantime, the trail ended onto this place and I have to follow the dry creek downstream as my only option and it is not a pleasant idea walking along a creek or a stream bed. Meanwhile, my eyes scanned the green curtains on both sides for a break where there might be a hidden trail somewhere but I failed to find one and I have to contend myself as a walking “target” for imaginary bushwhackers.

Finally, I found a trail but it is a short one and ended into another place where two dry creeks converge into a bigger stream. Damn! Another stream bed to walk on and I saw two small stones piled over a rock to mark a route. Hmmm. Somebody or some people were here and, judging from the fresh tracks they left along the trail awhile ago, it must be one to two days old.

I walked on and found another trail above the creek and it followed the stream like a bee to a pollen until we reached a flat and wide expanse of land where head-high shrubs and tall trees grow. Here I could see the blue sky in a wide arc especially in the wide stream bed. The hair at the back of my neck stood as I feel someone is watching over us. This is a bird-hunting area. I just hope that this somebody is not looking at me in the cross-hairs of his scope.

I immediately leave the exposed area to a covered terrain and rested for a while and talked to Ernie about the possibility of getting hit by a crossfire from a hunting rifle if, and when, we walked into a sighted target or prey from far beyond. I remembered two guys in two separate incidents got hit camping near the dam site of the Buhisan Watershed Area in the '90s and after that people began to evade Buhisan for fear of getting shot.

I also remembered one night in 1993 when I was camping alone near the dam site, two people with a fire torch were looking for something in the forest. It dawned on me, at that time, that I was the one they were looking for, for they were looking at the place where a person last saw me unpacking my things from my backpack. Fortunately for me, I decided at the last instant to sleep on a hammock instead of inside a comfortable tent. I hitched my hammock up high in a large acacia tree and secured all my things above the ground, thus leaving no trace of my presence.

Buhisan is a dangerous place and is a safe haven to people running from the law. Although there is a law against bird hunting, nobody is enforcing it here. Worse, there are no forest wardens to look after the trees that are slowly being cut in the fringes and in the catchment basin itself. Buhisan is a man-made forest designed to support a watershed so it could provide drinking water for Cebu City residents in the 1920s until today although it could only provide a little over 15% of piped water to the present population.

In a while, I saw two men with hunting rifles moving about in the distance. Analyzing at the unknown hazards, we decided to camp out in the middle of the basin and prepared our lunch as it is already 11:30 AM. I unpacked my pork meat, milled corn, cooking pot and camping stove and heated water for the grain while Ernie sliced the onions, garlic and the pork into small cubes and marinated it in soy sauce and lime. I stood guard and practiced throwing my tomahawk on to a tree trunk.

At 15 past twelve noon, we ate lunch and finished off the last of the meals. We were that hungry! Ernie hinted how he missed a cold bottle of orange soda. Now, that makes two of us very thirsty. It is steaming hot in here and I decided to look for a huge shade where I could cool down and take a brief siesta.

I lay in the ground and listened to the earth throb with life. Above me, a cacophony of bird sounds lend a playful note to my ears and I feel drowsy and was about to wink an eye when I heard distant voices coming from the dam site. I saw another group of three men, each with scoped hunting rifles, going on their way to the catchment basin. They talked briefly with Ernie as they passed by and they were unaware of my presence for I was perfectly hidden even from Ernie himself.

We decided to leave the basin at 2:00 PM and cut short our exploration by going to the dam area where the trees and the ground are more tame and more familiar. I picked up three cut pieces of straight branches that were left in the ground by a wood gatherer. They make good material for my arrows that I will manufacture soon. The man-made lake is dry and devoid of life. When it is full, it is a large pond full of mudfish, tortoise, toads, frogs and fresh-water crabs.

We walked at the fringes of the lake and into the old man-made forest of mahogany, acacia and sargo seiz trees whose spaces among them have been hastily patched up by thorny rattan palms - the only plant strong enough to resist the unkind leaves of the mahogany tree. Saw a family of four eating a late lunch in the coolest shade of the forest before we meet again another group of three men armed with sets of rifle and scope and I thought I recognized the leader as someone who have had brushes with the law in the past.

We got out of the watershed and walked a little over the concrete road when a vacant motorcycle-for-hire offered us a seat which we gladly took and I thought again of that cold orange soda suggested by Ernie a long ways ago. It has become a realistic target.


THE BUHISAN WATERSHED AREA is a protected zone under the protection of the Cebu Landscape Protection Act of 2008 authored by Honorable Eduardo Gullas of the First District of Cebu Province. Even so, people refused to observe a clear respect to the laws of the land and to the authorities through willful destruction of trees and wildlife feigning no other means of income and ignorance as a reason.

Granting by that premise, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in cooperation with the Metropolitan Cebu Water District (MCWD) should fork out funds to secure the watershed area from questionable intrusions and visitations with sturdy fences and patrolled now and then by armed forest guards to discourage the wanton felling and desecration of trees, the possession of hunting rifles within and the use of these weapons to hunt and kill birds and wildlife.

While it is not yet in the drawing board and, while the watershed is not off-limits yet to hikers and weekend campers, I think those that frequent the place should police their own ranks and limit the participation to not more than five persons so as to remove the disturbance made by the impact of hiking boots treading everywhere and to diminish the impact of introducing human wastes into the very ground where a part of Cebu's population source their drinking water.

Also, it is advised that visitors should wear bright and visible-colored clothing for easy recognizance by a hunter lying in wait from afar to preclude of being shot accidentally. It is always a risk when entering the watershed and the entering party should see to it that they make known their presence and they expect such risks.

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010


I LEFT THE OFFICE in Mandaue City at ten thirty in the evening of April 30, 2010. I will take an overnight trip far north to Daanbantayan and, from there, cross over to Malapascua Island early in the morning to retrieve a package and bring it back to the mainland.

I will not be alone. Eddie Alberca will be with me and he will drive the Toyota Revo over two small cities and nine towns, a distance of roughly 138 kilometers, more or less. The Revo's fuel tank is three-fourths full and the astern and flank windows are taped with the election posters of Tito Sotto – a senatorial candidate for the May 10 election which are a few days away and we are Vic and Joey. (Just joking).

By the time we got past Danao City, the North Hagnaya Road becomes a challenge for a sleep deprived driver. Although well-paved, the lighting leaves a lot to be desired especially at the stretch between Carmen and Catmon. The highway is built on the cliffside where the Camotes Sea is ever patient in waiting to catch a seaward fall.

The sky is cloudy, depriving us full moonshine and what few lights illuminating in the dark, becomes a blur, as Eddie stepped on the gas hard to reach our first destination before three in the morning then sleep three more hours before crossing to the island. That is the plan and, as each and every plan, it could stick or it could change.

After an hour, we are still in Catmon and nearing Sogod town but with much safer road conditions. By the time we reached the village of Damolog we switched to the highway that climbed over the Panugnawan Hills in Tabogon where the dreaded Eme Cliff is located although not as threatening as before because of aggressive road widening efforts by the DPWH.

The sudden late night shower presented another problem with Eddie as the now-wet downward turns made the road slippery. We are now in the middle of our destination and Eddie was very careful to the obstacles we traversed and negotiate but, by the time he is on a flat grade, he set hard the pedal and accelerated the Revo to 200-220 Kph!

We reached Bogo City at around twelve thirty midnight and made a brief stop to refuel and for some well-deserved midnight snacks to pep up ourselves against Lady Starlight. Then we hit the road again and the AUV screeched its wheels as it made a speedy right turn to the junction were Bogo, San Remigio and Medillin meet.

In Cebu, the only (and almost) straight roads that ran for several kilometers are found only in Tuburan and in Medellin. And Medellin is the longest of the two and we were now cruising at top speed here. We reached the Daanbantayan District Hospital at 2:15 AM and decided to end our journey for the night. I gave Eddie the whole Revo compartment while I looked somewhere flat to lay down.

I found one under the awning palm leaves of a young coconut tree where there is a work bench in which there are recent dry wood shavings accumulating underneath it. I spread the shavings evenly and placed my light sleeping bag over it. A folded vinyl tarp is ready beside me, just in case it rained. Meanwhile, a large bat screeched overhead and flew away, probably disturbed over my unwelcome company.

I woke to a beautiful dawn of May 1, 2010. I looked at my cellphone clock and it says 5:15 AM. Washed my face and body with a wet face towel near a water tap. Eddie did likewise and he complained something like mosquitoes throwing him off into fits of discomfort last night. I thought he used the Revo's aircon?

We left the hospital at six and proceeded to Maya Wharf – the gateway to Malapascua Island, to Kawayan in Biliran Province and to some small islets. Eddie and I had been here in June and then me with Patrick in October, both last year (2009). I always looked forward to eating in a hole-in-the-wall joint here that specializes cooking freshly-caught bounties of the sea. The old lady instantly recognized us and provided a table and seats and free servings of the bottom end of a cooked milled corn.

In the wok where two steaming big pots. Eddie grabbed open the first lid and he was all smiles. We just had a treat of a rare seashell, locally known as tipay  or Mother of Pearl oysters (Pinctada Maxima), sliced up in small cubes and cooked with a thick sauce concoction. Very juicy! In another is a soup from a fresh anduhaw fish. A little girl passes by to sell a large bowl of fresh shrimps and we paid it outright for our own exclusive consumption. The dear old lady even offered to cook the shrimps for us free. Wow! What a treat indeed!

After that sumptuous breakfast, the dear old lady, again, offered to sell and cook for us her cache of a large but fresh squid kept inside her ice cooler as our food for lunch if ever we would come back by noon. A big YES was our reply. And, as before, we paid for that without any hitches. I will have that squid by noon, I promised myself, but, first, I have to finish our work.

The boat that is to ferry us to the island is moored amid sea. In going there we have to ride a small boat that is steered by pushing a long pole to the sea bottom and it cost ten pesos a ride. Once on the boat, we sat on the lee side where we would be away from the waves. The boat captain charge fifty pesos per trip per passenger and there were many passengers and tourists – local and foreign – on board.

The waves were choppy but there were no large swells. Saw a sea gull dive and splash down into the water and coming up with a fishtail caught in its beak. Did the feat over and over again until my attention is caught by a large sentinel rock in between mainland Cebu and Malapascua hosting a lone beach house. Looks abandoned and, perhaps, left by the owner to deteriorate. The islet is bare of vegetation and I am absolutely sure that there is no water source except ferried from the mainland.

The boat slowed down as it got past an imaginary line marked by a floating buoy. The skipper steered the wheel left and right as it followed an invisible channel blocked here and there by anchored boats of the same design – with outriggers and painted white. As the engine is shut off the polemen started their work pushing and grunting. A water splashed and down goes the the anchor on the starboard side as the front pole man tried to push back hard to slow down the boat's approach to the pristine shoreline.

Just before the prow touched sand, I was now up and running on the beach. Old habits die hard, don't they? I couldn't believe I could still do this with a pair of arthritic knees and approaching middle age. It's just a fluke maybe with the soft pearly white sand cushioning the impact of my landing. Maybe? But, I don't care. I am in MALAPASCUA.

I walked the beautiful beach line carrying my camera with Eddie behind me. Rows of this same outriggered boats are secured along the beach with nylon ropes which I have to pass over or under it. Meanwhile corralled beach houses faced parallel with the shoreline as a five-meter easement is implemented by the island-village authorities giving access for everyone – poor fisher folks or rich resort owners – to the sea.

Due to the presence of these pricey resorts, food and water costs have risen as well. A tube of ice costs five pesos and a ganta of rice is sold at ninety pesos! This is too much for the tourists and visitors and how much more for the local folks. Nevertheless, this is much cheaper compared to, say, Boracay. The good thing about Malapascua is, it ain't crowded and sewage is almost absent in the water.

Malapascua has excellent dive spots. Thresher sharks abound here in sheer numbers. The deeps here is their haven. The first time I was here, I ate a freshly-caught juvenile thresher shark cooked in coconut-milk soup and it was excellently done. All fishes and seashells are cooked and eaten here fresh from the sea for electricity is a rare commodity here. Power is switched on only at six in the evening and shut off at 10 PM.

Shouldering the package on my right shoulder whose weight, I estimate, to be about 12 to 15 kilos, I went back to where I came from over unstable soft sand where my shoes were buried under the added weight. I climbed to a waiting boat and glad to set down my cargo on the deck and enjoy the fresh breeze cooling away my heated up body. The boat filled quickly with tourists and visitors and cargoes.

In a while, the pole guys started their work and the boat retreated away from the shore and took a reverse right turn then the skipper's mate pulled out a cord from below deck and the engine coughed to life. It is business time to cross the channel once again back to the mainland. Two other boats left the shore one after the other tagging behind us while another boat coming the opposite way passed by us.

As the boat slowly approached the unfinished quay of Maya, pushed and counter-pushed by all these polemen, I instantly remembered about the waiting squid whose chopped up meat is cooked in its black splendor. Impelled by this thought, I forgot, then and there, that I have arthritic knees and I also forgot that I am approaching middle age. I jumped from the prow into a huge boulder that served as a rampart for the quay even as the guy lines have not yet been secured to the missing bollards. This is no fluke, I assure you. This is an old habit that refused to die.

I walked briskly up the slope into the Toyota Revo parked right across the kitsch eatery where we did our breakfast hours ago. Eddie came after me gasping for breath and sweating profusely. I left the package secured inside the Revo while Eddie turned on the engine and cooled himself with the built-in aircon. I walked across and went inside and examined the pot where the squid is cooked. The dear old lady upon noticing our presence have re-heated the food in its – you're right – black splendor.

We left Maya Wharf an hour-and-a-half later after consuming a flat bottle of Generoso Brandy mixed with Cobra Energy Drink. I laughed at my reddish face in the mirror resulting from that mixed drink yet I am quite sober and the Revo spurted down the highway and, for the first time since last night, I could see the landscapes clearly. The camera came in handy and I picked my shots at great speed. The result speaks for itself that the camera is drunk!

At Catmon we looked for a gallon of a locally-fermented alcoholic drink made from the sap of coconut and found one after considerable search all over the town. This drink is called tuba and I am buying it to drink and celebrate a safe trip. But I cannot consume one gallon even with Eddie and Patrick helping me but I could age the rest and convert it to vinegar.

Finally, we arrived at Mandaue City at three thirty in the afternoon. I filled Patrick with lots of stories especially with the food trips we had in Maya Wharf and Patrick knows I am not talking about a yarn. He just promised me that he will look forward to another trip there which he did on June 11, 2010 and after that, it was his turn to bloat me up with his tales of the food trips.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer