Friday, September 23, 2011


IT WILL BE A SUPER hot day today. This is a Friday, April 9, 2011, the anniversary of the Fall of Bataan. I will not be commemorating our heroes today but I will facilitate a training program for a supercharged group of mountain climbers preparing for a Lenten climb to Mount Pulag in Benguet.

The route will be one-half of the Freedom Trail, the full stretch of Kilat Trail, a small part of Lensa Trail and the remaining arc of Bebut's Trail. These trails will conspire today to give optimum adrenaline rush for thirteen members from Tribu Dumagsa led by the couple Randell and Marjorie Savior.

Last Sunday, April 3, two Camp Red volunteers led the Tribu Dumagsa climbers to a gruelling endurance training to Mount Babag via the difficult Ernie's Trail and back to Guadalupe by way of the No-Santol-Tree Trail. This time, I will lead the whole group, including the two volunteers and another two neophytes from Camp Red.

I designed the route and I will lay emphasis today on speed and some bushcraft sense like basic navigation. Two of these trails are incomplete and need some more exploration. It will be as it may – unexplored – to give accent to the activity and to perk up the participants' interest. Along the way, I will explain to the backpackers the origin of such place names and some useful plants.

It is 7:30 AM when we leave the Tisa Public Market for the trailhead at Tisa Hills and some thirty minutes behind schedule on the itinerary which will adjourn at Guadalupe come 6:30 PM. Leading the pack, I study the lay of the terrain in trying to connect Freedom Trail with Kilat Trail. The ground is dry and the traction is good.

Up ahead is a huge mango tree. A rare occurrence among very bald hills. I notice the participants, including my own Camp Red, drinking too much fluid without regard to their water reserve. Although it is hot, but it is still a long way. I reminded them to ration their water intake and teach them how to conserve water by taking a small sip, gurgle just a bit to cool the gums and tongue and then swallow without wasting one drop. Simple.

The trail I followed began to lose itself among thick shrubs and I'm in a quandary of where to find alternate routes to Kilat Spring. After regrouping along the hot spine of Banawa Hills, I move on to the leftmost branch of Freedom Trail and it led to a copse of star apple trees where residents were busy picking the fruits. Up ahead is another lone mango tree, which is my reference of the way to Kilat Spring and so damn near!

I went down to the trail, which is now under forest cover and, finally, reach the natural spring and the participants douse their thirst away and filled up empty water containers. Meanwhile, one Camp Red volunteer and five others failed to see my trail sign and were denied of this opportunity to rehydrate and the generous refills. Aside that, they suffered by walking the whole stretch of the ridge which is exposed to the sun! Lesson: Do not tarry along the trail and take extra-long rests!

By 10:00 AM, we leave Kilat for the Portal, a place that is a hub of seven trails. Already there is the almost-lost group and they were boiling water for coffee. It's good to know that they are alright. After the coffee break, it's time to move again. Our next destination would be Starbucks Hill and I decide we cook lunch there as we are behind schedule already and we have adequate water. I follow, once again, Freedom Trail.

It should be hot in here but the rays of the sun were denied by the forest along the fringes of the Buhisan Watershed Area. We stopped and take a rest on another wide clearing marked by a trio of big boulders stacked on one another. This is another spot where five trails meet. In a little while, we will be moving again.

The route is steep this time until we approach a ridge and, infront of me, is the fabled Starbucks Hill. It used to be just an unnamed hill on the topo map with a number and I named it after we brewed coffee on its peak on a January 24, 2010 exploration. We climb the hill and we have to half-crawl below shrubs whose branches intertwined and form an arch above the route.

Once we reach the peak, debris are found everywhere. We walked down to a ridge where there is a huge tamarind tree offering shade amidst cool breeze. A welcome interlude after a very humid walk along the forest. We set down and retrieved camp stoves, cook sets, meat, milled corn, vegetables, spices and anything worthy for stomach and conversation.

Everyone jostled for prime space but the shade is wide enough to accommodate eighteen souls even with a wide berth given to the “kitchen”. Four pots were dedicated to the cooking of milled corn topped with gumbo; a pot for stir-fried mixed-vegetable soup; another pot for pork adobao; and skillets for chorizo, anchovy paste with tomatoes, dried anchovies fried in oil and sliced raw cucumber.

We eat lunch at 1:00 PM and take a very brief siesta before I proceed again to the rest of the ridge where Freedom Trail pass. Standing on another clearing where four trails meet, I point to the group of a formidable peak two kilometers away and everyone were unsure if they could climb the mountain and finish the activity before dark.

Unknown to them, the target hill is well camouflaged by an optical illusion and have blended well with the background which is the high peak. We cross the man-made forest of teak trees of Baksan and climbed unto the low hill then cross a saddle before stopping at another much-higher hill. The party came to a standstill as the trail ended abruptly. A hundred-fifty meters below us is a creek singing its song and I need to go down there.

Using my bushcraft sense, I reconnoiter down the hill following the only gentle slope that protrude like a tongue into a small valley. A safe landing for me on the creek bed and for others too, twenty minutes later. By now, we are on an unnamed creek and I am now looking for a trailsign on a big tree which I last saw on May 27. Failing there, I reminded the participants to walk carefully along the creek to prevent injury and to observe environmental ethics as we are now on a vital watershed.

Buhisan is where part of Metropolitan Cebu Water District's supply of drinkable water is sourced at. I led the way weaving among boulders and stepping on stones on the creekbed and exiting a waterfall that led into another big branch of the creek. Another waterfall up ahead and we bypass it through a route in between two creeks that joined in a Y shape to become a bigger creek. Going down to the catchment basin, we pass by a mixed-gender group of teenagers taking a bath at a small pool.

Along the way, I picked up and carried broken pieces of glass and some whole bottles and plastic bags into my backpack. What I cannot carry, I place these in deep cracks on inaccessible rocks. As a youth, I once stepped on a glass jar hidden in grass lacerating three large arteries inside my ankle and almost claimed my life through loss of blood. Broken-glass retrieval and removal anywhere is an advocacy of mine.

Up ahead some boys were splitting dry logs with just wood adzes and stone. Very primitive and very bushcrafty. The ladies in our group gifted them with biscuits and some left-over food.

Somewhere far, seven pieces of tree trunks where hastily abandoned by two adults upon seeing our coming. Illegal logging is rampant here despite its being tagged as a protected watershed area and the MCWD, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Cebu City government and the Philippine National Police could do nothing. Nothing have happened ever since I began to blog and upload pictures of cut trees in Buhisan.

I skirted the catchment basin and reminded everyone to be on visible distance with each other as the day already catch long shadows in the forest and I don't want to be encumbered by long delays brought on by missing people. We followed Kilat Creek upstream and almost missed my natural landmark of a huge stone split in half. Actually, I missed the stone and was in the middle of hacking a route among impenetrable bamboo groves until a quick glimpse from behind made me backtrack from that tiresome activity.

From the stone, I follow the now dimly-lit trail, striking straight to higher ground in lesser time as possible as it is now 5:00 PM. Exhausted, I waited for one volunteer and tasked him to take care of the rest of the group while I continued on my way in looking for a path that would take us to Freedom Trail. After 15 minutes, I found it and I followed this route to the Portal and consumed my last drop of water and waited for the others.

After thirty minutes, they came. From hereon, we will be walking to Guadalupe via Bebut's Trail. I pass by low hanging branches of star apple trees with some ripe fruits. I helped myself with three and it filled my now-empty stomach giving me electrolytes and nutrients to finish the journey in full steam. I pass by the tunnel vent and showed some Tribu Dumagsa people why there is a hole on the ground.

Heartbreak Ridge at a late hour is peopled by youths of all ages and gender. Some are playing basketball or volleyball; five boys climb a steel electric pylon; two sets of boys were trying hard to raise their kites above ground while the girls were sitting on the ground eating snack food and chatting. The grass have withered to brown color and most of it got engulfed by brush fire of yesterday.

A few more steps and I would be on hard ground again. I reach the south gate of the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Cebu Parish at exactly 6:20 PM and doused my thirst with one cold bottle of softdrink from a bakery and others did likewise. One CR volunteer come last at 6:38 and that closes the training session. A moment later, we transfer to our favorite place near Villa Fatima and eat dinner, drink cold beer and talk of our recent activity.

The training sessions would, hopefully, help Tribu Dumagsa attain their objective at Mt. Pulag. Two straight weekends of training on pure mountain trails have elevated their endurance and their resistance to heat and fatigue. Their leg ligaments and sense of balance and outdoors awareness have also been strengthened and boosted. Most of all, they are wiser now about water conservation and that would be tested on the bald ridges of Mt. Pulag

                                                                                             Document done in OpenOffice 3.3 Writer

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I AM A GUNLESS SOCIETY advocate but, at the same time, I teach people how to use guns. I may sound like an oxymoron and that I am. If you have another word for it, you may call me such. I don't care.

I have gun skills that have lain inert for some time and that skill is going to be used in the furtherance of my advocacy. The time has come for it to be imparted to other people provided that the principles of a gunless society are also discussed before the actual basic firing is even started so the participants could recognize the destructive power of guns.

An opportunity knocked on April 3, 2011. Security officers and office staff of a well-known local security agency availed of my services to conduct a Basic Gun Safety and Firearms Proficiency Training in a remote firing range south of Cebu City. I introduced the participants to the most fundamental points of gun safety; identification of basic gun parts and its main accessory – the cartridge round; general gun terms; the laws that regulate its proliferation; and the main government agencies tasked to enforce gun laws and its regulation, licensing and permits.

Then my lecture moved on to the “dominant hand and the dominant eye” principle; the different shooting stance; proper sight adjustment; breathing techniques; and how or when to squeeze the trigger. At the firing range, I assumed the role of range warden and refreshed the firers the basic gun-safety rules before the first participant came forward to grip a gun.

The course I designed is so simple and very basic and applies to both male and female. Five rounds for a firing stance at 10 meters distance with weak hand supporting dominant hand shooting a caliber .38 revolver; another five rounds for a firing stance at 5 meters distance with only the dominant hand firing a revolver. Same styles are repeated, this time with a 9-millimeter pistol at five rounds each.

Revolvers used were an Armscor 220, a Rexio Jaguar and a WORLD-MPC Lapulapu; 9-mm pistols were an Armscor GI 1911 and a FEG Kassnar. Ammo fired were reloads from a firearms trading store located in Salinas Drive, Cebu City. All five female and nine male fired twenty rounds each for both types of gun or ammunition. The activity ended at 4:30 PM after all nine male firers fired two buckshot rounds each from an Armscor Buddy 20 pump-action shotgun from 7 meters distance.

I also have my day testing all the firearms on use to include a palm-sized single-action RG caliber .22 revolver, a BUL Cherokee 9-mm pistol and a Colt Mark IV caliber .45 pistol. For a scale of one to five, I rate the following according to its easy operation and feel, mechanism design, recoil and target consistency:

      Armscor 220, Caliber .38, Revolver, Philippines 3.5
      Rexio Jaguar, Caliber .38, Revolver, Argentina 2.0
      WORLD-MPC Lapulapu, Caliber .38, Revolver, Phils. 0.5
      RG, Caliber .22, Revolver, Germany 0.5
      Armscor GI 1911, 9-mm, Pistol, Philippines 3.8
      FEG Kassnar, 9-mm, Pistol, Hungary 4.5
      BUL Cherokee, 9-mm, Pistol, Israel 5.0
      Colt Mark IV, Caliber .45, Pistol, USA 5.0
      Armscor Buddy 20, 12-gauge, Shotgun, Philippines 4.5

However, the rounds used during testing (except for the shotgun) were reloads and old ammo stock and that make operation of the above firearms very complicated and subjecting these to extreme mechanical vulnerabilities beyond what most are designed for.

It feels good to fire a gun again and I noticed that the holes I make on the cardboard targets are tight as was the time I last leave them many years ago. Some habits die hard so they say. I must admit it has stayed except the guns. I don't own one.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011


MY BUHISAN EXPLORATION is a work in progress. City people like me depended too much navigating by foot on rivers and dry ravines for want of more knowledge of its hidden trails among thick jungle. You must remember that Buhisan is a watershed area and a considerable part of Metro Cebu's drinking water supply is sourced from there. So, the chance of pissing around and leaving human waste within that place is a big possibility.

It is for that reason that I refuse to bring a big party of outdoors people even if they are well-acquainted with the principles of the Leave No Trace. You cannot stop body necessity especially when you are on the throes of stomach trouble. Get what I mean? (I have to accept these facts even if I am not a staunch advocate of LNT. But that is common sense, isn't so?)

But there is an exception: Take the high ground!

On March 27, 2011, I commenced another exploratory hike among its secretive trails. I am with two old tenderfoots. We start from Guadalupe by way of Bebut's Trail. We passed by “Heartbreak Ridge” and I see an improvement of its appearance. The ugly garbage dumpsite have been removed by the Solid Waste Disposal Unit of the Department of Public Services after Mayor Mike Rama acted on my January 9, 2011 hike photos uploaded in Facebook. However, some garbage are re-appearing.

Along the way, we met three Danes out on an early morning hike near the war-time tunnel vent. We exchanged pleasantries and they knew of the Danes that we brought on an eco-tour hike to the hidden waterfalls of Kahugan and on an island tour somewhere on the northern tip of Cebu. They went on their way to Guadalupe while we have a long way to go and it will take a whole day to finish our purpose.

We stopped by the Portal1 to slurp coffee under a morning shower and went down afterwards a seldom-used route among thick jungle growth to Kilat Creek. We passed by the huge rock that split in two many years ago. I lead the way and the two followed. As trail master, it is my task to clear the route of blocking debris and vegetation so the next man behind me will not be inconvenienced; identify loose and slippery rocks; and to watch out for everyone's safety and that means looking out for lurking snakes.

Finally, after weeks of rain, Kilat Creek is running with clear water again. It is a fragile ecosystem and minute traces of life are appearing in and along the water route. As much as I like the now-living appearance of dry creek beds, I disdain to walk about it. For one, I hate being caught on low ground by people with rifles above me and, two, I don't want to spoil the ground with my passing. Even if you caution others to leave a small impact with their feet, city people are always careless and don't know the ways of the forest.

My eyes searched everything all around as I walk almost never missing a detail. Poisonous snakes and stingy plants are my priority and then there are gun-toting people to watch out to. You'll never know you might accidentally step into the crosshairs of their rifle sight the moment when they are on the verge of shooting a bird on the ground. It is very important then to look for traces of men like a footprint or a cigarette butt to awaken you that someone's been here before you.

Kilat Creek is now joined by a muddy creek that effuse brownish particles on the former and then another clear one up ahead where we used to spend lunch and siesta. The sound of water pervaded in my consciousness until a time when the creek took its destined path and vanished from my sight when I followed a trail into the catchment basin. For a half hour, I have missed that sound even when I arrive at a wide wash. I walk upriver enjoying the open spaces after being constricted by jungle growth.

By the shade of an old banyan tree, I saw water from up ahead stopping in its tracks on the sandy bed. I follow the water upstream and it is full. There were many deep pools and the river is gregarious. But I could not believe how this surging river kneel down at the mercy of a mere banyan tree!

We stop at a large pool among a jumble of granite rocks and prepared our lunch. We boil water for our seaweeds, cook milled corn, stir-fry a mixed-vegetable soup and sautee dried fish on a single camp stove in the process leaving us with just a pint of water each for drinking water and we don't know yet of how far we will travel.

A moment later, kids from Buhisan arrive to take a bath at the pool. They were bringing along green bananas, firewood and a large cauldron. One of the boys start a fire from a stone hearth and boil the banana while the rest cavort on the pool. Lying on the ground are, I counted, fifty-six pieces of empty shells of edible tree snail which have been feasted on by people a day or two ago. A hunter with a scoped rifle passed by looking for his nephews. Passing by from the other direction were two men and five little boys carrying firewood balanced atop their heads.

We shared our meal to the bathing kids and we all eat lunch together vigorously. All the food were wiped out clean from the pots. Siesta time came and I recline on a huge rock as another party of much-older boys arrived. They were the hunter's nephews and they were already here since yesterday. So that answers the empty shells.

They spend weekends hunting fruit bats, wild roosters, tree snails, river crabs, pythons, monitor lizards and palm civets. They don't bring gears except old flashlights and a rifle. They source drinking water from a burrowed river bed steeping the water until it is clear and cook food with firewood and banana leaf. They are a different breed of bushcrafters and they are damn good and they are kindred.

Leaving the pool to the newcomers, we walk further upstream until we reach a confluence of two rivers. Which way to go? I gamble instead on the trail found in the middle aided by my compass which point north. I observed the route superb; forested with huge trees although we get ourselves entangled by pesky rattan palms. The path led to a high waterfall and we enjoy this rare moment in Buhisan standing on the granite headrock under which the water cascade down into ripples that contain a deep pool. From there, we follow the river until it found another branch and I choose to travel on the tamer of the two. Ten meters up ahead, a rooster flew from river bed to tree bursting in a flurry of wing beats and floating feathers.

More upstream walk made one guy tired and thirsty although water could be had by the mere picking. All the while I climb the steep riverbanks from time to time to observe of any traces of people activity. If there is or was, there surely would be a trail. For a good two kilometers there were none! Reaching another waterfall, I took time to take a picture but my Sony DSC-W220 camera slipped from my hand and fell into the river. Instantly, I jumped into water and retrieved my camera and removed right away the battery so it won't get shorted. For a long time, I have kept my shoes dry but, this time, I have to sacrifice comfort to save an electronic equipment.

Having enough of river trekking, I espied a rare grove of bamboo. Bamboo meant people. Bamboo provide housing materials or livelihood for people living nearby. True to my instinct, a trail is found, at last. (Good judgment!) It lead to higher ground and into a junction of clear paths that go west, north and east. I chose the east trail so I could cut distance between us and Guadalupe. From afar I could hear several wild roosters crowing.

The route goes down and up and joined another trail until it went down into a river and cross it and up again into a ridge then down again into another creek. The water here is so clear and so serene. From one end up to my farthest vision, water cascade down into a zigzag pattern on the rock and on another it dropped into a sheer precipice.

All the while I was looking for the remainder of the trail but it ended abruptly on the creek and that left me puzzled. Somehow I get to find a slight trace of a path above the waterfall only to find it gone fifty meters ahead and I'm not going back and take a chance to pass by that narrow path above the waterfall. It is SO scary!

Now I am left in a quandary of how to bring a partially invalid man up a safe refuge of a sparse copse of teak trees located a hundred meters above us. He is a stroke survivor and his movement is hampered by his left hand which could hold but difficult to unlock and a left foot that cause him clumsy spills. Above is loose loamy soil and below us is the precipice. We have a rope but, in between that copse and us, there is nothing to anchor at.

I change places with the lethargic guy instead and push his butt up, at the same time I have to keep myself from sliding down. The old guy broke a lot of small tree saplings caused by his vise grip-like left hand which could have been enough to give balance to me and the other guy.

Once, we reach the first sturdy tree, I waited for the healthier of the two to accompany the weaker one before I proceed on my own to tackle another tree and another, using each tree as a spring board to cut the gap from the other. I reach the top of the hill and take a rest sitting on a felled tree. I shared the last ounce of my water to the weak guy before proceeding to follow the ridgeline where I find a trail that brought me to the top of a much higher hill. At the peak I get to see the man-made forest of Baksan, of Mount Lanipao and of Starbucks Hill.

After a kilometer of following the teak-lined trail I found myself again on the ridgeline where Freedom Trail is found. I waited for both guys before deciding to go down one more time, this time, into a rough road. Followed the road down I found a small hut that sell cold soda drinks. I opted for a 750-ml bottle and drank half of it leaving the other half to my companions. Proceeding on, we reached the spillway of Sapangdaku River and walked the paved road back to Guadalupe. From Guadalupe we proceed to “Camp Red” and concluded our exploration with a post-activity discussion and rehydrate with one-liter bottles of strong beer where Jerome Tan joined later.


THE DISCOVERY OF TRAILS on a high ground in the Buhisan Watershed Area is the best alternative to the usual walk of taking the streams as a primary route for weekend outdoors activity. This discovery of this hidden trail also opens up the possibility of bringing in of a larger party of people to the fabled forest, that is known by its older name as Lensa. On this premise, the trails that I have documented and those that I will soon establish here shall be now known as Lensa Trail.

Tribu Dumagsa have tasked me to lead them on a training climb before they embark on a difficult route to Mount Pulag come April 20, 2011. Lensa Trail would complement well with Freedom Trail and it is by these routes that I will bring Tribu Dumagsa climbers to develop their endurance and teach them traditional land navigation through thick jungle and river. Freedom Trail will start from Tisa and will pass by Kilat Spring then on to the fringes of Buhisan and Baksan. From there, a little part of Lensa Trail will be the final route where the participants will go.

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1A crossroads of seven trails. Locals call this as “ang puertahan”, which meant as the portal, the gate or the door in English.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

POEM #5: Monkey Trails of Talinis

Scrambling over, crawling under.
      This is how I described of
      the winding trail that leads,
      to the sheer wilderness, 
      that abound Mount Talinis1.

Slippery trails, heavy backpacks.
      Straining through jungle haze,
      heavy rains kept me in a daze,
      trying hard to keep the pace,
      cold numbing all my senses.

      A signboard on a tree declares,
      lapping on the edge of a trail,
      mixed now with mud and mire,
      unclear to the naked eye.  

Blackened tree stumps, decay.
      Sulfur lake in Ka-ipuhan2 lay naked,
      on whose place death waited,
      where a river invites peril,
      to an unsuspecting wayfarer.

Shivering hands, chattering teeth.
      Fog now starts to envelop my tent,
      swept down by the south wind,
      painting a bleak image,
      on my campsite by Na-ilig3 lake.

1The highest peak of the Cuernos de Negros mountain range located in the province of Negros Oriental in Central Philippines and rises to a height of about 6,425 feet above sea level.
2A sulfur lake having an area of about half a hectare. It has a running river passing through it but somehow made undrinkable due to a high sulfur content. Blackened three stumps and rotting carcasses of animals and birds adorn its, otherwise, bare surroundings.
3One of two big lakes (the other Lake Yagumyum) nestling on the shoulders of Mount Talinis.