Monday, November 22, 2010


IT HAD BEEN raining very hard last night but it had not dampened the spirit of an impending Russian invasion today, June 26, 2010, along the trails of Napo to Mount Babag. As I sit on a concrete plant box in the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu, a big Hyundai Starex arrive with a miniature flag of the Russian Federation attached at the back windshield.

I waited for an emissary and out goes a Welshman and good friend, Wil Davies (a.ka. Jungle Wil) of the Jungle Wild Adventures. He have with him guests who are all Russian nationals: Nikita, Yuriy and Kristina. I have with me Ernie Salomon, Glen Domingo and Boy Toledo who are all ardent bushcrafters. I don't have any idea how to speak Russian, but, by God, they speak good English!

After an introduction by Jungle Wil, we Filipinos invited them all to a typical simple breakfast loved by the masses – pancit – inside a typical local carenderia at the back of the church. We snared the three vacant tables amongst ourselves and our guests manage to work themselves well into a very Filipino dining set-up to the amusement of the locals.

After the meal, Ernie pursued his task of buying our food provisions for lunch like chicken meat, milled corn and other ingredients. Milled corn? I understand two of the Russians have been long-time residents of Cebu, being married to Filipinas, and I wonder if they have tasted and eaten a very Cebuano staple like milled corn. We have to try if they like it. Just for once.

Off we go to Napo following the concrete-and-asphalt road to gradually stretch our cold muscles into a well-heated machine and be ready by the time we climb the Babag Mountain Range. This is a ritual that we have practiced to prevent muscle injuries and we make it sure that all our activities are within our control – cramped muscles and all. So, riding motorcycles-for-hire to Napo is out of the question. Especially, with conventional guests.

Walking along with Nikita and JW, I get to hear them exchanging mental notes of their observations about the road, the attitude of locals and the hygiene. Yuriy meanwhile showed Kristina an ordinary plant that closes its leaves when touched and even go far by giving the name of the plant as makahiya. We arrive at 8:20 AM in Napo and enjoy a brief rest.

It's my first time to be with Russian nationals. They used to be known as Soviet Russians and it was in another era. I believe Nikita and Yuriy are old enough to live under the old system of government but they prefer not to talk of the past and converse instead of the sudden prosperity of their countrymen after the collapse of communism. Kristina just shrugged about history and gets to enjoy the outdoors.

The Sapangdaku River is alive again nourished by last night's rain after a long cycle of summer marked by extreme heat and dried up creek beds. Many farms have suffered during that rain-less interlude and now I see people's enthusiasm to working on their fields returning. I have witnessed that suffering and I suffered myself for I am already a part of this place. My heart is somewhere here.

We arrive at the Roble homestead at ten past ten. Immediately, Ernie, Boy T, Glen D and me worked on our carried food and cooking stoves. Chopping meat and spices here, boiling water for coffee there and so on. The place became a beehive of activity accompanied by swarms of wasp whose hive might have been disturbed. It was all around us and I saw the culprit – fresh honey collected inside a flat bottle of rum!

Fele Roble have taken fresh honey from below and it was for this reason that wasps are very agitated. One wasp landed just below my armpit and left a sting to my consternation as I was finishing the last of my coffee. JW got one on the ankle too. A bottle of honey is offered to me by Fele's wife but I politely declined. I prefer she sell it so they could earn an extra income.

Yuriy, silent yet very observant, went inside their house and retrieved the bottle of honey and paid it discreetly. Wise move Kasparov. Lunch is served at eleven thirty. Food prepared were chicken soup sinigang, steamed seaweeds and, of course, milled corn. Nikita and Kristina tasted the meal and took serving after serving while Yuriy decide not to eat. He tickled a broken guitar though to life and sing a traditional Russian folk song.

The rhythm of the song, although very simple, is very pleasant to hear. It is a rare privilege to hear one. Honestly, yes. After the meal, it was Kristina's turn to sing another song. Strikingly beautiful. Very Russian.

We leave at one in the afternoon minus Nikita, Yuriy and JW. Nikita develop muscle cramps on his calves a while ago before our long rest for lunch and could not commit himself to climb the steep trail. Yuriy and JW decided to accompany him with Ernie as the guide. Kristina brave the challenge in climbing Mount Babag and is the only sole Russian left to carry the flag for her country.

I lead the pack and graciously surrendered it to Glen D after getting swamped by fatigue when Kristina exerted a great pressure on my pace. Glen D later realized of this trap and gave the baton to Boy T who is clueless as ever as both he and Kristina disappear into the upper reaches of the trail. I may have underestimated Boy T's stamina as I saw him keeping pace with the very strong Kristina.

Glen D and I reach the ridge at two and walk the few distance to a store overlooking Metro Cebu. Boy T was already holding a glass of cold beer as we arrived. A big bottle of San Miguel Beer is waiting for us. Meanwhile, the Starex would make a big loop from Guadalupe to Babag Ridge to fetch us. It arrive at almost three and all of us went in and be glad to be reunited with Nikita, Yuri, JW and Ernie.

As we reach JY Square, the Russians parted from our party and went on their way while JW and Glen D take different taxis. Boy T, Ernie and me decide to finish our rehydration session at our favorite watering hole in V. Rama Street along with Jerome, Boy T's former office mate. We spend the rest of the day downing five big bottles of Red Horse Extra Strong Beer amid a good selection of '80s classics.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer

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