Tuesday, August 24, 2010
AS I WAS UPLOADING the pictures of my recent day hike down the Upper Kahugan Trail of December 27, 2009, people can't help but notice the bare trail which months ago have been thickly-populated by madre-de-cacao trees locally known as kakawate. These same people are people I know and they belong to local mountaineering groups. They love to pass by this trail going down to Napo then Guadalupe after a day of climbing Mount Babag.
It inspired me as they commented on the present situation of the Upper Kahugan Trail and it gave me a thought of how to revive the tree cover along that route. The idea of tree planting is foremost in my mind but to bring the seedlings to the site where it will be planted demand a lot of people, muscle, logistics and patience.
I will just simplify things and start the tree-planting activity from Ground Zero - at or near the site itself – without having to carry all those plants and soil inside those black little plastic bags from a long walking distance, most of whom are over steep and difficult terrain. The house of Manwel Roble is a perfect place for a seed bank considering its accessibility and in vicinity to the site.
Then I will be choosy with the kind of trees to be planted. I prefer fruit trees. With fruit-bearing trees, at least, the local residents will think twice of cutting the tree down for firewood or for charcoal when he could earn instead from the fruit itself during harvest time. Any tropical-fruit trees, except mango, is most welcome.
Why exclude mango? When you grow and care a mango tree you have to take special care of the buds, the flowers and the fruit by shielding it with different layers of chemical like insecticides and fungicides to protect it from pollinators, worms and fungi. Then you have to use another chemical to induce the flowers to bloom. All these toxic fluid come down and harm the soil and the aquifer. Then there are the pieces of paper.
I have started this seed-collecting activity on my own private capacity on February 28, 2010 by bringing two kilos of lanzones and mangosteen fruit and sharing it to Manwel and his family where the precious seeds were segregated and treated by drying before it is driven into the soil. Although bringing a fruit to their abode is quite heavy, I wouldn't mind, because I could split the result in three ways: (1) the flesh of the fruit will satisfy the children; (2) the seeds will be the core of the seed bank; and (3) it gives me pleasure to share to the mountain folks.
And, somewhere along the way, the Circle of Friends for Enviro Concern, thru Green*Point, lend a hand to make this idea a reality. So, Earth Day came on April 22, 2010 and it fell on a week day which is not possible for a working-class like me. I decided to celebrate Earth Day instead on the 25th, a Sunday, and I posted this in Facebook Events as “Seeds for Earth Day” and invited as many people as my mouse could click.
Assembly area is in the churchyard of Our Lady of Guadalupe de Cebu and several outdoors people came but it was for two different activities. At 7:30 AM, I decided to take a lonely walk up on the road to Napo. Dejected but not hopeless. Anyway, this is an activity of Green*Point and Camp Red, but two of the staunchest supporters for this activity – Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon – were unavailable today after they helped out Jungle Wil guide two high-end guests to Mt. Babag yesterday and are very tired. I guess, I have to do this thing on my own. No excuses. Complete the mission!
Inside my backpack were two kilos of lanzones, a kilo-and-a-half of apple mango, two kilos of chico, two kilos of well-milled corn, a kilo of pork meat, a liter of water, a stainless-steel cooking pot, a stainless-steel cup and plate, camping stove with fuel can, a fork-and-spoon set, a survival knife and my ever trusty tomahawk. I am a bushcrafter and I carry blades all the time and I don't give a damn about LNT1.
I walked part of the way on an empty stomach and stopped for awhile at my favorite eatery where a lady cook good food at a very cheap price. Rested here for about twenty minutes or so before I continued again on my advocacy for the environment. I arrived at Napo at fifteen past eight and stop only to buy a sachet of instant coffee and continue by crossing a dry riverbed where, months ago, used to be full.
The El Niño phenomenon have dried up rivers and creeks in the bosom of the Babag Mountain Range and people have to dig up water holes in the dry river bed to source water but these too slowly disappear with their precious contents. I know, beyond those hills, people are cutting trees in a slash-and-burn method to eke out other means to feed their family after their farms wilted away because of the extreme heat.
That is why I am here and initiate this “Seeds for Earth Day” activity sans fanfare and company to effect a lofty goal which is, to help reforest the hills and to give the mountain folks another alternative to gain an income, that is, if the seeds turn out healthy to bear fruit someday. That is the simple plan. Then I will wait for the rainy season and I will feast and plant trees together with the Robles and other outdoor clubs.
In thirty minutes time I was now at the second river crossing where there is a natural spring that locals source for their drinking water. The natural spring still spewed water at a lesser volume but it could fill your Nalgene bottle in just a matter of three minutes. I drank from the source and refilled my bottle and checked my backpack before starting to climb the hills of Sitio Busan.
I persisted, despite the heat and the weight of my cargo, and arrived at the Roble homestead at 9:44 AM. Just a little over two hours and I am here. My weekend sorties in the hills had made a difference in my pace and my stamina. Wow! You should be envious. I am approaching 50 yet I exude the grit and vitality of a 20-something. My trail running is a side effect of my good physical condition, give or take a pair of arthritic knees, mind you.
I unloaded my cargo and transferred it to a makeshift table. These make a good offering for Mother Earth with all those fruits, raw meat, grain and ube buns. I gave the buns to Jucel, Manwel's 4-year old brother, and the boy seemed to float in Cloud 9. Wow! I feel good with what I have just done. I gave the milled corn and pork to Manwel's mother so they could prepare a meal for lunch and I left the fruits untouched.
I retrieved a cast-away piece of a broken branch that was left uncharred by burning and, with my tomahawk, I chopped away the forked end. More than an inch thick, the wood is a perfect material for a spoon-carving activity that I included in this meaningful event. With the same cutting tool, I sliced off away the thickness and whittled it into shape.
While I was in the middle of my carving session, Ariel Montuerto of the EWIT Mountaineers arrive at about 10:12 AM. He is with four other people and another four guys arrive two minutes later with Paulo Tallo in the lead. They were here for the Seeds for Earth Day! Eric “Ice” Rio, their top hombre, decided not to come but he made it sure that they attend this activity after he made his confirmation to attend. Word of honor are hard to come by these days but EWIT does have IT.
After the introductions and picture-taking, all became still, drowning out their thirst with water or munching on the offered fruit and, at the same time, delicately segregating the precious seeds from the meat. Amidst all these, I pursued on my spoon carving activity that was interrupted a while ago that drew so much interest from them. Pieces and chips of wood are scattered all around in my “work place”.
At twelve noon, lunch is served. All the guys brought packed lunch but they never expected a meal was cooked and readied for them. The viand is pork adobo and I took several servings of that and the milled corn. Everyone took their fill and enjoyed the view of the lower valleys and hills and the circling flight of a Brahminy kite. Afterwards, dessert with the fruits continued.
By 2:30 in the afternoon, the EWIT Mountaineers bade goodbye and climb Mount Babag by way of Ernie's Trail. I appreciate their coming and their involvement with preserving the environment of the trails of Napo to Mt. Babag. At least, I am not alone with this advocacy! I silently prayed and blessed their journey.
After that, I continued in carving my spoon. I gouged out the spoon head where it would hold the soup and scraped off the rough edges and, finally, the spoon became a small ladle or a big spoon or whatever. This is a work of art for me, considering that I did not use special tools except my hatchet, not an ideal tool for carving delicate lines.
Having done that, I bade goodbye to the Roble family at 4:00 PM. Manwel went with me at the place I called “mango avenue” and I set my camera on video mode. Manwel stood aside behind me and record a video of me as I throw my Mantrack knife in the trunk of an ancient mango. He took another video as I throw my tomahawk into the tree. Then, I repaid Manwel with a practical knife-throwing tutorial and he spun the knife true on his second attempt and the next six after that. You could hear the thud of the blade as it dig deep into the trunk.
Bade adios to Manwel again as I went down into the valley. It was almost dark when I arrived at Napo and darker still when I arrived at Guadalupe. I espied Boy T and Ernie in our favorite hang-out a.k.a. “Camp Red” as I rode in a public utility jitney for the downtown area. Getting a chance to rehydrate with cold beer, I abruptly ended my ride and went down and joined the duo. It is a good moment to talk of today's activity and of yesterday's.
It's bushcraft paradise day.
Document done in OpenOffice 3.1 Writer
1The 7 Principles of the Leave No Trace. A must for mountaineers but not for bushcraft and survival practitioners. It forbid you to carry hunting knives and other bladed weapons.
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
Sunday, August 8, 2010
IT IS THE MIDDLE of summer, April 18, 2010. The hillsides are brown and the creeks are dry. Camp Red, meanwhile, is in training mode. The mainstays – Boy Toledo, Ernie Salomon and I – are towing a trio of bushcrafter wanna-bes – Niño Dizon, Dave Uy and Brady Betonio. Tailing along is Wil Davies (aka Jungle Wil) of Jungle Wild Adventures.
The route is Bebut's Trail, a beautiful trail that I have discovered on January 10, 2010 that is perfect for bushcraft and survival activities. Along the route is a war-era tunnel, copses of fruit-bearing and softwood trees that grow along the edges of the Buhisan watershed and the Baksan forest reserve, a peak, a saddle, ridges and down into dried-up creeks that ends at Napo.
We took lunch beside a waterhole of the now-dry Sapangdaku River and the new guys listened earnestly to Jungle Wil, Boy T and Ernie about some bushcraft tips, use of camping equipment and food preparation. After the meal, everybody showed their blades for posterity.
Below are some of the images done in collage to illustrate the flow of the activity:
Finally, Jungle Wil bequeathed his large stainless-steel cup to Camp Red with a simple ceremony. The cup have been to so many campsites like the Himalayas, Patagonia, the Pyrenees, the Mojave Desert, the Appalachians and to so many crags in the UK, the Grand Canyon, the Rockies and in China before making Cebu its final home. Well, Camp Red is proud and honored to keep this “sacred” cup.
Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
Photo collage done in JPEG-converted MS Powerpoint 2007
Sunday, August 1, 2010
I TOOK A DAY off from my weekend trips to the bush today, July 18, 2010. I have to keep a promise I give to my wife, Vilma, a week ago to clean my backyard of an unused structure which have served as my dirty kitchen of long ago for it is in a sorry state and an awful sight to look at. It has to go.
I rose up early at 6:19 AM and turn on the FM radio to listen to the '80s rock classics in NU 107 as I sit and eat a light breakfast of coffee and a sweetened bread. Everybody is up early today except for my eldest, Gringo, who has a cold. Lovella, Cherokee, Kurt, Jarod and Gabriel will be going today to D' Family Park in Talamban for picnic. Chokie and Laila will fetch them later.
Finally, my turn to use the bathroom. I have to go to church today for it is a Sunday. I left at 7:12 AM and walked the distance from my home to the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral – a distance of more than a kilometer. Wow, this is good! I arrive too early for the eight o'clock mass and sit myself comfortably at my favorite niche.
I am very fortunate today as the Holy Mass will be celebrated by nine priests lead by Msgr. Roberto Alesna with guest celebrants Fr. John Iaccono and Fr. John-John Limchua. The Gospel is about Jesus, Mary and Martha. Oh, I wished Vilma is with me today. But she is busy cooking and preparing food for the kids like Martha.
The mass ended at 9:10 AM and I walked back the distance to my home. I feel good today. Hearing a mass is most appropriate with a little sacrifice like walking (as if I am on a pilgrimage) and parting a coin to a hungry child. My heart is light and Vilma is bewildered when she sees me with a big smile. I see the house almost empty.
Dressing up quickly for a demolition job, I place a makeshift ladder near the washing area to access the roof of the unused dirty kitchen. Armed with a claw hammer, I begin to remove mushroom nails one by one from a single sheet so I could transfer from the shaky ladder into a very stable cross beam.
Having done that, it was easy work all the way. I flail away each sheet removed and slide off each wood, protruding nails and all, into a safe area. I still have trust on the beams I made long ago to support my 200-pound weight and so I teether back and forth along the structure like an overgrown primate.
Time to go down to Earth. I stack the wood far to a safe corner. I might need those as my back-up fuel in case the LPG run out its course. The rust-battered roof will be dealt away and will be converted to cash in a junk shop. Probably, the junk roof sheets will be donated to a passing scavenger if Vilma sees that it gets in the way of her laundry area.
Oh, Vilma also instructed me to clear the spreading branches of a tambis (syzygium aqeum/water apple) tree away from a neighbor's roof and to prune away the top half of a jackfruit (artocarpus heterophyllus) tree so its branches could spread horizontally. However, I cut one mango branch that I find very annoying to the other trees and pruned a young durian tree short so I don't have to worry about the spiny fruit falling overhead me in the future. All these done with just a steel-saw blade (without the frame).
In between I coax a fire to life so I could use the wood embers to light up the charcoal. Vilma is treating me with grilled pork meat and she will cook it herself over my prepared fire. It is almost twelve noon. Time to rest and tidy up a bit for lunch. Meanwhile, NU 107 churned up classic after classic on FM and it keeps my juices flowing. Letting loose a bit with an imaginary guitar to shake off the dust and a sore back. Ha ha...
Lunch time over the dining table, Vilma couldn't hide her satisfaction at the amount of work I made. Neither I could hide my satisfaction of the juicy meat served on the table as I dip a piece into vinegar and soy sauce. We eat with our bare hands as all the spoon and fork have been carted off by the picnickers. Gringo seems to be at peace without the young ones running havoc all around.
After a siesta of one hour, I went back outside to clean the debris and unwanted items that were sheltered by the now-demolished dirty kitchen and placed them all inside empty cement sacks. During that clean-up session, I found my lost hatchet head, now very rusty. Yes, this is good.
With my other hatchet, I cut away from the rest of my hardwood cache, a tugas1 handle for my new hunting knife and a narra2 shaft for the lost-and-found hatchet head. These are very hard wood, dry and well-aged, and these need hard work with exceptionally sharp blades and an equally exceptional pair of skillful hands. I have both except the time.
With the same hatchet, I cut away a dangling branch of a fig tree growing just a meter beside my house and let it fall to the creek bed. I needn't worry about the branch obstructing the flow of water for I know it will rain tonight and will be washed away downriver. That the afternoon is so steamy hot is one indicator that it will rain and the other one is that Vilma is having fits of sinus and it never failed me in my predictions.
Sure enough, it rained at eight in the evening while I was already in dreamland and all the kids are safe under the roof.
Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
1Vitex Parviflora Juss.