Tuesday, March 8, 2011

NOCTURNAL HUNTING IN ARGAO

IT IS RAINING when we pass by Naga town at one in the afternoon of October 2, 2010. I am sitting beside Boy Toledo inside his KIA Pride, him driving, while Ernie Salomon is at the back. We just left an awfully-hot Cebu City an hour ago bound for Argao – 67 kilometers down south.

We are Camp Red and we will embark on another bushcraft and survival activity, this time, hunting for fresh-water shrimps and crabs, elvers and edible frogs upon a free-flowing stream somewhere in Argao. I carried materials, for this occasion, for construction of a scoop net and, of course, my Habagat Viajero where all my outdoor amenities are stowed.

Boy drove the car in a slow carefree pace and we lagged one hour for that from our itinerary. We reach the place at three and made a call to the village headman, where we exhibit our intention. We were received warmly by the locals and were showed a good campsite and both Boy and Ernie pitched their tents while I decide to sleep under the stars.

Meanwhile, I unpack my bag, unroll my sleep sack and make my scoop net with discarded GI wires, rusty welding rods, net bag and a short stick. Before we arrive, we made a stop-over in Argao Public Market and buy vegetables, pork meat, canned sardines, cooking oil, vinegar, soy sauce and a kilo of milled corn for our dinner and breakfast.

Ernie prepared the vegetables and pork for dinner while I took care of the milled corn. Jerry Alberca, our guide, came with his sturdy-looking scoop net, Petromax, catch container and a 32-inch long single-blade sword, locally known as a “pinoti”, made from a stainless-steel propeller shaft of a motor boat.

Jerry always carry the sword during his hunt for fresh-water shrimps to protect himself from snakes, especially the big ones which stay at the river bed to hunt for food. Boy, Ernie and I put on headlamps after dinner and take a few sips of a local version of “J&B”1 to steel ourselves. I strapped my Mantrack survival knife on my body for my protection.

Both Ernie and Boy wear their hike shoes while I opted to wear my veteran flip-flops just like Jerry. These Spartan slippers have been with me in Gaas and Nug-as in 2007, Dulangdulang and Manunggal in 2008, Carmen and Babag in 2009 and Mauyog in January. We leave at eight in the evening and hike down the road past a culvert where a path lead to the creek.

I followed Jerry to a very muddy trail as a motorcycle breeze past overhead. It had been raining several hours ago at this place and the creek is on a high roll. The current is strong and the creek bank is full but the water is very clear. A pebble crab lay inert in the creek bed along our path and Jerry nudged it with his slipper and the crab tried to escape but it run into the net instead. The first catch!

Jerry's Petromax made the creek look like day in the night and water creatures are attracted to it and freeze in our path. Jerry crouch a bit and and his right hand poised for a strike like a snake, his object of attention - an edible frog on a creek bank. In a flash, the frog is already in the grip of Jerry's palm and dropped the quarry into the catch container, which I carried.

My turn to catch a frog and I caught one but the amphibian is just too slippery and escaped from my grip. The second and third one were not so successful and they became addition to our slowly-increasing catch. Our first catch of river shrimp came right after we squeezed through a concrete culvert. Jerry did the the trick just like he did to the crab.

The shrimps were the hardest to catch and they blend very well to the silt and mud. Their pair of eyes, turning red when reflected by light, were a dead give-away of their presence. A feint from a foot and a flick of the scoop net, Jerry deftly catch shrimps after they are spooked and leap away to their fate, but not almost. They're too agile to catch.

Along the way, juvenile snakes lay motionless in the creek bed waiting for prey. In an unnatural light setting, you might step on them by mistake as you fail to discern them from afar. The first encounter made us very cautious next time and cast a suspicious glance what lies underneath every debris and boulder and murky water.

Most of the creek bed is stable as we go upriver and evaded deep pools. Twice, we waded into knee-deep mud, just the same, I refused to take off my slippers, ancient as they were, but they give off a superb performance that evening, their thongs never parting away from the soles.

Several deciduous and coconut trees fell into the creek during the rain of last night and at noon. A whole grove of bamboo slid off its roots during a minor landslide and blocked the creek. We climbed over a very slippery high bank and went down into another. I parted my crude scoop net to Ernie so I could free my other hand for my camera – a Sony DSC-W220 model.

We evaded several hanging vines and blocking branches from the falling trees and carefully step onto stable boulders and sandy shores. We tried a branch off this creek and caught a large shrimp having a pair of long pincers. Jerry didn't use a net this time and caught it with his one hand while the other held the Petromax.

We retraced our path and returned to the main waterway. We came across a fairly large portion of still water but nothing moved from its depths. Jerry went past a sandy bed and failed to notice another large shrimp as the crustacean maneuvered sideways exposing its back to me. I imitated Jerry and caught the shrimp with my hand, the long pincers jutting out of my curled thumb.

We arrive at the water source of the villagers and it is caught inside a concrete spring box and piped out. I am thirsty and take a drink from an overflow pipe. Ernie and Boy did the same. Then we push on until we arrive at a small waterfall which the locals call as “kawasan”. In the half-light, we decide not to wade on the deep pool which, according to Jerry, is over two meters deep and populated by large eels and pythons.

We ended our nocturnal hunting at the foot of the waterfall and Jerry lead us to a route that ended at the village hall. I segregated the shrimps, crabs and frogs. We intend to cook all. The shrimp would be the easiest for we already prepared the ingredients. The frogs are a bit of complicated to process while most of the crabs are the inedible type, locally known as “cagang” and “suga-suga”. We decided to set loose the crabs and frogs.

It rained hard but some of the villagers went to the school building where we do the cooking and quite curious of our catch. Some even brought with them leftover servings of rice to add to our limited supply. I counted seventeen fresh-water shrimps caught, quite small by local standards, but enough for our consumption. Ernie prepared a sinigang stew and we encouraged the villagers to taste the soup which all partake.

Our conversations with the locals were lively, aided by “J&B”, as the night wore on. The rains abated only after an hour and the residents make a beeline for the exit. Ernie and Boy did likewise. I occupied the concrete floor with my half-wet sleeping bag and release all my cares to the mercy of a quiet night.

The morning after, we took a bathe at the communal spring box. The couple Eddie and Riza Alberca invited us into their humble abode to a steamy breakfast of free-rein chicken soup and milled corn and then watch an action DVD where Jerry did the honors of filling up the rotating glasses with freshly-collected coconut wine, locally known as “tuba”.

We leave at ten in the morning and arrive in Cebu City. We take a lunch of bull's cock stew, known as “Soup No. 5” or “lansiao”, in Pardo then pass the time away in Guadalupe and finish one flat bottle of local brandy mixed with energy drink and ice before committing ourselves to attend the monthly meeting of the Cebu Mountaineering Society in F. Ramos Street. Boy T and Ernie behaved this time and the day closed out in a good mood.



Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
Collage in MS Powerpoint 2007 converted to JPEG

1Acronym for “Jaz Cola” and “bahal”. Jaz® Cola is a locally-made soda drink. Bahal is a stale version of a fermented coconut sap which has a tangy taste and strong alcohol content. The soda drink is mixed with the local wine to make it more tasteful to the mouth.

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