Saturday, July 23, 2011


CAMP RED, FOR A change, went on a guided eco-tour of fourteen social educators from Denmark on February 5, 2011 at the foothills of the Babag Mountain Range, Cebu City. There were fourteen of them; I am the pointman; Boy Toledo as lead man and Ernie Salomon bringing up the tail. Wil Rhys-Davies of lights up the party in the middle with anecdotes and short tales.

Along the way, I introduced the visitors to the different tropical trees and plants, its names and its uses. They were shocked to see very dense vegetation in such small country like Barangay Sapangdaku which they found lacking in their home country. They were very elated crossing rivers and game enough to tackle steep trails.

They bathed under a hidden waterfalls of Busay Lut-od; drank the natural spring in Lower Kahugan and, later, slurped on the green coconuts at the Roble homestead. They enjoyed so much the sights of flower farms; awed at the strange structures of our native houses made of bamboo and wood; and got introduced to Filipino cooking. They even used the native outhouse of the Robles.

In between, I inserted bushcraft cooking and they were amazed at the simple bamboo being used as a pot to cook milled corn. The skies cooperated and give out a very perfect weather even as Father Sun refused to show his face. Below are the sets of collage showing the activity in its most vivid moments. Enjoy!

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
JPEG-generated images from MS Powerpoint 2003

Friday, July 15, 2011


I AM OFF AGAIN for Manila. Prepared hard myself to have a “conscious” sleep so I wouldn't oversleep, of course, and miss my 5:00 AM flight. It had been raining for the past six days and I don't see any reason this weather would slack for a day or two and that makes me somewhat worried in the back of my mind. One thing that assures me though is when it is raining in Manila it is hot in Cebu and when it is hot in Manila it rains in Cebu!

Leave my home at 2:30 AM for the Mactan-Cebu International Airport on January 27, 2011 under a steady drizzle and I don my windbreaker because it is cold. The taxi take me there in less than an hour and I have a lot of time. Now my eyes badly need a shutdown as I sit inside the airport terminal doing nothing and just waiting for the gate to open.

A half-hour before departure, I follow a long queue of passengers and boarded a Philippine Air Lines Airbus A330 connected to a boarding tube. I squeeze myself on a cold seat nearest the starboard window and I imagine closing my eyes. I got jolted to reality when the steel bird got airborne.

Outside it is dark and I got lost in my thoughts and hum myself of some forgotten tune until another jolt from thermals beneath make my neck crane to a twilight horizon. Oh, it's a start of another day of work. I hate myself thinking about it. I'd rather have this plane take a quick U-turn to Cebu and forget about the stress I'm about to face later and the following days thereafter.

Take a taxi to Paco and the driver charge me four-fifty pesos and what a way to begin the day! Ninoy Aquino International Airport to Paco is less than ten kilometers and I am made to pay for an amount that is congruent to a 20-kilometer distance and I can't even see the stinking taximeter! No time to argue. Don't need a headache at this early time.

I will go to Camp Crame later in the day to answer an errand but, first, I gotta settle down to find a place to sleep during night. My itinerary demand two days and one night at the least. My best option would be to become a freeboarder under the benevolence of my wife's relatives just as I have done the previous trip in June 2009. Anyways, I get a welcome reception and eat a quick but hearty breakfast.

First thing to do is to retrace my usual route. Up ahead I espy the UN Avenue station and waited for my train to arrive that would take me to EDSA. As it came, it swallowed what few people loitering nearby, including myself, into its still-spacious vowel until the LRT became the MRT at its EDSA terminus and, this time, a mass of people converge going north and south.

I drop by the Santolan station and walk the few steps to Camp Crame, the home of the Philippine National Police, and automatically my object of attention is the Firearms and Explosives Division. Some new firearm purchases need to be processed and licensed and for a whole day I become an on-the-job trainee as a fixer. The place is like a market and people are dealing and haggling on imaginary guns drawn in brochures and saliva-soaked words.

Later in the afternoon, my papers hit a snag after a breeze in the morning. The FED is reinventing itself and is streamlining its system in accord with ISO 9001:2008 certification. Well and good. But I still see so many shady characters inside the building like vultures waiting for something to jump on. I shudder at this notion and got lost in translation as my Tagalog is quite inadequate to maintain a smooth conversation with Luzon natives.

Meanwhile, I burn Cebu with outgoing calls for some documents at that late hour that I need for tomorrow. Need it fast. I begin to sense my frailty at this moment and I feel a little old. I go back to my billeting place a little bit worried but, after a healthy all-vegetable dinner, the worries left. The Internet put some nails to that!

The second day (January 28) see me facing the same wall as yesterday as I find my way through the labyrinth of bureaucracy. The documents have not arrived in the morning and today is Friday. Meaning, no papers can be processed until Monday. Another thing. Since today is a Friday, all personnel are leaving the office early for the parade ground and the flag retreat. Shucks!

Definitely, today is not the day of my breakthrough. I sulk myself inside St. Joseph's Chapel and get on with a positive outlook. At the last hour, my documents from Cebu finally crossed over the electronic highway and that make my purpose worthwhile and for just a short while. My planned flight for today is out of the window and I have to make my last shot on Monday, I guess.

As I walk to the gate, I saw the most popular item inside the camp that is making a lot of attention long ago from media and Greenpeace. I am talking about the electric-powered public jitney ferrying people around the camp for free! Although, I am on the verge of defeat, seeing the electric car itself sends me a bolt of energy and joy. Taking pictures of the vehicle became my instant obsession.

On the way to the apartment in Paco, I buy a battery charger for my Motorola V3. I don't have one and I need one, especially now that the cellphone went dead. I pass by a small truck selling fresh vegetables and fruits and I mingle with old matrons and Manileñas haggling with the lone vendor and I bring food provisions good for several meals for my gracious hosts.

Saturday (January 29) is a day reserved as holy for Seventh-Day Adventists which, my hosts are. While they are away on worship service, I stay at the house and read a book about John F. Kennedy. I am supposed to be in Cebu today and join Camp Red in Mount Babag. Unfinished work make that impossible. I finish the book in the afternoon and start on another – The Man Who Swam the Amazon - by ultra-marathon swimmer Martin Strel.

Sunday (January 30) comes and I take a stroll after lunch. No, I don't go to a mall but I visit instead the Manila Adventist Medical Center. You see, I have something that I crave for which the Adventists only produce and sell. It is their cinnamon loaf bread. I buy three loaves plus two cans of glutein. Along the way, I also bring along another plastic bag of fresh vegetables. Finish the second book by nighttime.

In the morning of Monday (January 31), I book a plane ticket from Zest Air which has the only plane to leave Manila for Cebu at 7:00 PM. Then I go back to Camp Crame to continue my work. All my efforts went for naught as the slow bureaucratic process broke me an arm and I raise my other arm in surrender. I manage to leave the papers to someone whom I trust before exiting at 3:30 PM.

As I begin to leave, I became curious of a school of gobies frolicking in a small heavily-silted canal just across FED in Camp Crame. How they got there, beats the hell out of me. The canal is fed by clear water, probably from a leaking pipe and it is on a high ground. I could not imagine how a species of fresh-water fish could survive the extensive modernization and pollution of Metro Manila.

Anyway, I need to be on the road to NAIA before five else you get caught in its legendary traffic. Made my thanks to my generous hosts before saying adieu. My Habagat Viajero is heavy. Inside are four loaves of cinnamon bread that I am bringing for my family and for my officemates. They all love the bread, thanks to the SDA bakers.

I arrive at the domestic airport at 5:45 PM and promptly subject myself and my bag to xray machine and searches before joining a long line to a counter. Another security barrier is breezed through before I could seat on the passenger terminal. An announcement came on the speaker informing the Cebu flight delayed and reset to 9:30 PM. That's alright but I'm hungry.

I wolf a huge siopao1 as I waited for my plane and, later, the gate opens to the tarmac. I sit near the portside window of the Airbus A319 and listen to the hum of the engines as the plane is hurriedly refuelled. Once it got airborne, it squeezed through a lot of air pockets shaking and rocking the fuselage and the engines roared as it levied for more elevation.

The sound of the machine is so disturbing and it quite alarmed me. Used to work on engines and I know a part is worn by the sound of it. I may be wrong and I hope I am. An hour later, the wheels touch the runway and it is not a pleasant landing. It is still raining in Cebu and too few taxis for so many passengers making a beeline. I gamble on a colorum2 and I arrive safely home at around eleven. Cherokee, my youngest, is still up tinkering a lappy and his eyes brightened when I showed him the cinnamon bread.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer

1Chinese bread stuffed with meat, chopped boiled eggs and other ingredients.
2An unregistered and unmarked automobile.

Friday, July 8, 2011


A PROMISE OF A fine sunny weather came to present me in the early morning of January 9, 2011. A little window of just a day is what I need right now from a week of a monotonous drizzle that bring cold temperatures during late afternoons and nighttime. Boy Toledo is so restless today and he fetched me near my home in his car and off we go to Guadalupe.

We found the assembly area empty and, after almost an hour of waiting, we decide to take breakfast at the back of the church. Then we buy just a little provision for lunch for just the two of us when Tonton Bathan of Tribu Dumagsa came just in time when we were about to depart. Tonton, by the way, came with us during a cold-weather training in Mount Babag a week ago and began to like our cheap-budget outdoor exercise. His mindset meshed with ours and so we are now a crowd.

I will be bringing Boy T to Kilat Spring today. But first we will have to tackle Bebut's Trail which will pass by the dreaded Heartbreak Ridge. This ridge is the backbone of Guadalupe Hills and it is most harsh at nine in the morning, like we are doing now, because it is a bald hill devoid of tree cover. I know of four people who backtrack from here and another four who almost gave up.

Sadly, this place became a convenient garbage dumpsite for an informal settlers' colony nearby and some structures are beginning to encroach upon this route. Amidst all that, the ridge is shrouded with short green grass and groups of common-floss flower weed. A switchback route will shield you though from the hot probing rays of the sun and passes nearby a wartime tunnel entrance.

The humble abode of Ricky Flores and his family are now abandoned and left to the elements. I am just saddened about the fate of the children. I just brought bread for them. Meanwhile, we pass by a another small hut and part the bread to another family where there are small children. This is the beauty of each and every journey I take in the hills: to make people forget hardship for a while and elicit a smile.

We start to climb up the apex of a hill and found rest under a tipolo1 tree where we were in good company with four farmers who took a moment's time to converse with us. One farmer narrated of a now-dead coconut tree that was struck by lightning a month ago and how he survived a minor burn after being thrown meters away. Nevertheless, it is always a good opportunity to talk with simple folks.

The trail is slippery because it had rained last night. Exposed roots are sure ankle breakers if you step along the grain and that elicit caution from me and the others. Never be in a hurry unless you are very flexible motor-wise. Eye-to-muscle connection is most important if you know your body very well and, if not, be slow. Nothing is lost with being last. Bush hiking is not a race but a battle of wits.

By 9:45 AM, we were at the Portal. Referred to by the locals as “puertahan” or “pultahan”, this is a crossroad of seven trails. This is the hub, so to speak, and the trails are the spokes. This is also where we took rest and make coffee. I retrieved my hidden bagakay2 cane from under a mango trunk which is very lethal against snakes. The trail to Kilat are full of surprises. I encountered two snakes, a monitor lizard and a palm civet the last time I explored the route.

Kilat Trail is now thick with weeds and bushes due to the recent rains. Few people pass by here and so few disturbances are felt except around a felled tree. Boy T counted twelve stumps of fully-grown tree, whose felled trunks are either left to rot or to be retrieved later in small parts by illegal loggers. It follow the fringes of the Buhisan Watershed Area and is so dense of vegetation.

We arrive at Kilat Spring at 10:30 AM. A half-hour too early. Water gush forth from a tap which comes from a concrete spring box and a mother and her two children are washing clothes. We decide to prepare lunch. I do the cooking of the milled corn while Tonton helped Boy T with the cooking of the seaweeds and pork. As we were in the middle of our cooking, the heavens begin to growl and dark clouds accumulate overhead.

It rained when we start our lunch. It is eleven o'clock. Boy T cursed me for not bringing a bottle of our favorite alcoholic drink after eating our meal because we have a surplus of time. Poor Boy T. Somebody should tell him that drinking liquor is banned inside and within a protected area. I am not a lover of rules but, at least, I have an excuse of not having to carry unwanted weight. There you go.

There are too many seaweeds and milled corn left and we gave it to the woman who is still washing laundry and her two children who both were now taking a bath. Two men arrive from below and another from above. The last man have two dogs with him and one dog instinctively climb a high stump of a burnt-out tree. A good dog. It perched above and stood as sentry for his master.

Meanwhile, I watch at my sorry pair of McKinley hike boots. This will be its last trip. It had served me well despite its imperfections. It got mangled during a cold-weather climb to Mount Babag last week by way of Ernie's Trail. It lost two studs for the shoelaces and the thin leather uppers bristle out and the original owner – Boy T – gave a nod of approval. It had been given to me by him in Olango Island in May 2008 but it had outlived three pairs of branded shoes during the same period!

After washing our cook sets and utensils, we slowly retrace our route and came upon a deceptive clearing where you would lost your way. I forgot to mark our way and so suffered the fate of walking around in circles. The third trail I tried took me to the true path. During my wayward traipse, I notice a lot of traps placed along the trails, perhaps, to snare small mammals and monitors.

We found the Portal after that and rested for a very brief period to sip water then we go right back to Bebut's Trail for Heartbreak Ridge. Along the way, I slip on smooth limestone and almost fell on the tunnel vent. Fortunately for me, nobody have seen this awkward spill but I was shaken by the fact that it would have been a sure embarrassment if my fat butt got stuck in that hole. I sit for a long minute until Boy T arrive.

The upper ridge offer a good view. Not steep, but I did not pursue my habit of running downhill this time. A spill near that vent gave me a lesson to watch my step. After pursuing rest at Guadalupe, we three decide to spend time at Summer Kyla, the new Camp Red watering hole, to talk of the just-concluded activity and to rehydrate lost energy and body electrolytes.

Ernie Salomon joined us and I am glad that he was able to borrow me a spare pair of sandals. Most appreciated. After downing six big bottles of Red Horse beer, Tonton parted company while the three of us joined a meeting of the Cebu Mountaineering Society somewhere in F. Ramos Street. This time, we behaved like schoolboys.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer

1Artocarpus blancoi. A tree related to breadfruit, jackfruit and breadnut.
2Schizostacyum lima. A kind of bamboo.

Friday, July 1, 2011


I HAVE NEVER BEEN to Bantayan Island. But I'm going to change all that tomorrow, January 4, 2011. I will cross the Bantayan Channel come rain or shine. I leave Mandaue City at 9:50 PM. Eddie Alberca is with me and he will drive the Suzuki Every 220 for me. Our first destination would be Bogo and I'm sure the multicab will run like a rocket tonight.

...rain or shine.

I begin to ponder on the possibility of crossing to Bantayan when I pass by the seaside road approaching Mitsumi in Danao City. The crests of endless waves are bedecked with white foam and the seas are really really rough tonight. The cold front from the north brought forth icy winds and agonizingly-slow constant drizzle. It had been like that since New Year's Day and I was drenched to the toes, one time, when I climbed Mount Babag on January 2. Raining the whole day making trails slippery and soft and, yes, the cold wind.

Eddie made good work of the multicab running at 100 Kph as the Cebu North Road is almost abandoned. Blame that to the weather. Okay, we will sleep tonight at Bogo and I bring with me my sleeping bag and other little comforts inside my Habagat Viajero. I wear a windbreaker and tune the built-in MP3 of my Nokia 2700 to entertain us during our travel.

After an hour, we were now in Maca-as, Catmon, still a lot of dark kilometers of highway to cover. After a while, stars begin to appear in the moonless sky as the multicab fly by past hilly Eme, Sogod. They were so clear and the timing of the song “Underneath the Milky Way” by The Church playing on my MP3 is most appropriate.

At twenty minutes before midnight, we reach our billeting place in Bogo. We buy local brandy and mixed it with soda energy drink to celebrate an early arrival and sleep could come later. The first boat trip to Bantayan from Hagnaya Wharf in San Remigio is at 5:00 AM, so I set my alarm to 3:30 AM. It was the time when I lay for just a few seconds that my alarm screamed its existence. Shucks! I shut-off the alarm and resume my sleep when Eddie shook me later. 4:30 AM!

Eddie stepped on the gas for Hagnaya and I saw him holding back vomit and sweating cold. Poor Eddie! On the other hand, it serves him right. We arrive fifteen minutes later. At Hagnaya, we leave the 'cab on paid parking and slurped hot coffee. We fear that all boat trips would be cancelled by the Coast Guard as what happened to the 5:00 AM schedule adding us to an increasing number of dismayed passengers.

We persevered and we found ourselves sitting inside the upper cabin of M/V Island Ferry V and the small launch leave the mainland at 6:30 AM. After channeling through Hagnaya Bay, the boat got itself tossed and bounced on open sea. The boat shuddered five times hit by the huge waves and, once, empty air pass below keel. Eddie could not hold it any longer and disappeared aft and released his troubles to the sea. Meanwhile, I prepare myself for my own bouncy ordeal.

After an hour-and-a-half, the ferry settled on the wharf of Santa Fe and we rush out to look for transpo to Bantayan town. My whole body is in great quivers and carry a big-sized chunk of headache that I don't get to appreciate the first-time-visitor-scenes unfolding before me. I need a breakfast. Badly! We look something fishy and soupy and search for it in and around the public market and found one near the beach.

We opted for danggit1 soup and linarang pagi2 plus two servings each of milled corn. After that, my intestines got itself sorted right and I'm back to normal and carry out the business of why I am here. I pass by the edifice of the coral-stoned Saint Paul Catholic church and take two hurried shots. So, this is the only parish in the world that could celebrate fiesta on a Good Friday.

For just a little over two hours we are on our way again to Santa Fe and there are a lot of passengers queuing for a boat back to the mainland. The boat we rode in coming over here just left and we settled in a bigger M/V Super Shuttle Ferry 23. This one is much better and much roomier. I enjoyed the trip seating on my plastic bucket seat. The tossing subsided as the boat enter Hagnaya Bay and it is already 2:30 PM when it toss out the mooring lines.

We have to proceed to Bogo and, then, to Tabogon after Hagnaya and too little time left. Eddie and I decide to forget lunch for a while and hurriedly retrieve the multicab from its parking bay and speed to Bogo. We arrive at quarter to three and proceed with our work. It is already 3:30 PM when we leave Bogo for Tabogon taking a left turn where an ancient acacia stood. This particular road is the only stretch of Cebu that I have not been into, to include the town of Tabogon.

It is raining again and the multicab negotiate the asphalt highway fairly. It is a good road and it run in bends and loops and the scene remind me of rural areas I've seen in the early '80s. I begin to love this stretch especially at the part in Kal-anan. By 4:30 PM, we were already on the steps of our last stop and, after this, I could have that lunch. Maybe but where? Porquois pas?

As me and Eddie again take to the road, I notice a very long and high concrete fence under construction. This is in Tagnucan, Tabogon. I can't understand a single individual or family snaring the long strip of seashore for almost three kilometers just to themselves to the exclusion and detriment of the original residents and fishermen thus denying them access to the sea where they depend their livelihood on. What brazen display of GREED! And I just lost my appetite.

We pass by Borbon. I see many concrete fences here just like the ones I passed by in Tabogon. One prominent family even emblazoned their commercial emblem on the gate. I have no beef about all these fencing and securing properties. They could do that on mountaintops to give them more privacy just like Hitler did in Berchtesgaden. Why along the sea? To cavort and giggle on beaches while a thousand hungry stomachs misses a free opportunity of meal when they find their access to the sea barred? That's just isn't morally right, paesano.

At 6:00 PM I finally have my late late lunch in Bawo, Sogod. This time, I eat long green peppers, my favorite, which this commodity I found wanting during a very filling breakfast in Bantayan. After the meal, we go directly to Mandaue and arrive at 7:50 AM. I still feel the rocking of the boat in my system and those ugly fences are difficult to erase from my mind.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer

1Rabbit fish.
2Tamarind-based soup of manta ray.