Wednesday, September 8, 2010

EXPLORING THE WILD SIDE OF BUHISAN

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.

CONCLUSION:

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.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer

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