Thursday, June 23, 2011
I AM ON THE TRAIL once again on this second day of 2011. I will not be alone but will have with me Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon of Camp Red; Randell Savior, Ian and Tonton Bathan of Tribu Dumagsa; Rowel Seno of Timex Outdoor Club; Dondon of Zubu Ecological Tour Society, Inc.; and Ms. Aisha Ronquillo, the only rose among the thorniest of thorns. Like me, all of them decide to burn whatever party fats they have accumulated during the holiday season.
We all meet at the front parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Cebu Parish at seven in the morning. The weather is perfect. Just clouds, no rain and no sunshine. Maybe Boy T and Ernie prayed for it while they were inside the church. It had been raining the whole night yesterday and it stopped at dawn. We take a quick breakfast at a roadside eatery and secure provisions for our lunch which we will cook and eat atop Babag Ridge. Boy T and I have an almost empty butane can while Ernie have a half-full.
We leave Guadalupe at 8:20 AM for Napo and arrive at the place almost an hour later. Rest period is very brief and we cross the Sapangdaku River to hike on its meandering trail for the Lower Kahugan Spring. The trail is still wet and quite slippery in some places. I lead the party and apply a torrid pace amidst rolling terrain. At the water spring, I take a drink and fill my water bottle and waited for the rest to arrive.
We rested for about fifteen minutes before we proceed to Busay Lut-od Falls via the Kahugan Trail. A fifteen minute walk is all we need and the newcomers – Aisha, Dondon and Tonton – are awed at the spectacle of four high cascades of this fabled waterfalls which they probably have heard. Nearby is a father-daughter tandem gathering charcoal and I parted away two of my four used textbook inside my backpack to the girl. I am so touched by their industry that I prefer to look the other way.
I could sense rain coming and off we climb from the river into the trail above and follow it upward until a scant trail to the right branch from it. This route is a switchback to the Roble homestead where we will make our rehydration stop. Manwel Roble meet me outside his house and, at a signal, he carry bolo and rope and climb the nearest coconut tree. We boil water for coffee until Manwel came back. We opened the green coconuts and satisfy ourselves with its water and the soft meat. Later, Manwel's mother offered us cobs of cooked corn. Once we have satisfied ourselves, we follow Ernie's Trail.
We last took this route in March and that is ten months ago. It had not been used ever since. Once we crossed a small brook, Ernie's Trail is already thick with brush and undergrowth. I am point guy and I use my tracking skills to give life to an already-defunct route. I parted thorny brush and hairy grass and took all the scratches. Ladyfinger ferns adhere to my clothing while prickly brown balls of dried grass flowers found niches between my skin and inner boots.
It is raining. Not hard but of an agonizingly-slow and monotonous kind. Nevertheless, it leaves nasty work on the trail making it slippery and the soil soft giving in to weight. Winds tossed by the cold front make you shiver but I did not mind it. It takes a lot of practice and persistence to arrive at a condition where your body would absorb and adapt to both heat and cold. I just let the rain drain from my t-shirt down to my boots. I am fully wet and so were Ernie and Boy T. Jackets and raincoats are not part of our gears though.
I follow the scant trail by sheer instinct, natural land formations and familiar landmarks. After that brain-wracking interlude, I am now presented with that part of Ernie's Trail where it is most difficult – a 70-degree slope of soft loamy soil that is loose come rain or summer. I maneuvered my boots seeking stable surfaces while my hand locked for anchor and my upper body lurch forward to offset gravity pull. Every five meters present a different set of problem and my job is to keep the trail undisturbed as possible for the comfort and ease of the climbers after me.
I see Aisha going up without complaints with her alpine pole and covered by a TNF jacket. Ernie goad and aid her every now and then. Randell, Rowel and Tonton did well and so were Boy T with his uncooperative left hand and Ian, despite wearing a pair of sandals. Oh, I couldn't find a very cheerful bunch of people under a very inclement weather and a very challenging trail.
By now I am at the end of that most trying part where a big bogo tree grow. After this, Ernie's Trail would traverse following the contour of mountain slope but the bushes are very thick and what used to be a trail is now a thick wall of common floss-flower weeds. I did not go this way as it is very time-consuming parting a path and I don't want to antagonize whatever wildlife lurking therein. Instead, I looked up elsewhere and plan to improvise. During my reconnoitering, I catch a glimpse of a scant trail that lead upward.
I find this trail more of the same of that challenging stretch that I thought ended at that big tree. Whatever this is, this is still Ernie's Trail, extended though with an arduous pitch. Just like the one I just passed a half-hour ago! Evading loose rocks and soil and putting pressure on my upper body, I finally gain an easy slope marked by a mango tree. About 400 meters were added to the length of that tough slope of Ernie's Trail today and far away somewhere is a boom-boom-boom of a baffle speaker!
I look at my body steaming from the exertions in cold weather. My breath puffing out white clouds. I did not wait for them once I reach Babag Ridge and continue on to our lunch area. It is already 1:30 PM and we have still a long way to go. I decide to cook noodle soup for my companions so they could shake off the cold weather. Slowly, they come and the last man arrive at 2:20 PM; by now, everyone are already busy with preparing the meal despite a 21-degree Celsius temperature.
I took charge of cooking milled corn in three pots. Ernie, Tonton and Boy T slice meat, vegetables and spices. Boy T uncork his fresh seaweeds and soak it in vinegar after washing it with hot water, Aisha her marinated pork and Rowel his dried fish. Ernie do the cooking of the viand and there were seven courses by the time we eat lunch at three. Food are chicken sinigang1, pork adobo, stir-fried mixed-vegetables, dried fish fried in tomato sauce, tocino2, seaweeds and raw cucumber. We cook all these with just those three almost-empty butane cans!
By four, we go back to Guadalupe by way of the No-Santol-Tree Trail in Kalunasan. A lot of ground to cover and so little time. The rains have not abated and it is very cold. Aisha and Dondon decide to part company going by the road that lead to Garahe in Upper Busay. NST Trail downhill is very slippery and compounded now by a non-stopping rain and the threat of darkness. I am able to keep my balance well despite walking in limited light. Rowel kept shadowing me from behind until I reach Kalunasan Road at around 5:30 PM. The rest were still far far behind hidden by the hills. I could not see their lights.
I decide to push on to Guadalupe with Rowel on the road and arrive there at 6:30 PM. In a few minutes, the first pair of Randell and Ian arrive on board a motorcycle-for-hire, then Tonton and Ernie and Boy T last. It is a good training for all and I part kind words to Tonton and Ian for persevering the cold without protective jackets and raincoats. Boy T, Ernie and I then spend a few hours at Camp Red's temporary watering hole in Guadalupe and down three one-liter bottles of ice-cold Red Horse beer to douse away our thirst and to replenish lost electrolytes.
Meanwhile, my pair of McKinley hike boots just lost two studs while its leather uppers began to bristle out. Looks like this will be the end of its journey. It have served me faithfully well in going to Mount Babag and back almost every weekend since Boy T gave it to me at Olango Island in May 2008. This pair of shoes, while nominally branded, outlived my pairs of Columbia, Hi-Tec and Halla shoes.
Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
1A tamarind-based soup.
2Meat marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, onion, lime and sugar.