Monday, December 5, 2011
THIS IS THE THIRD TIME that I will be leading men from Lutopan, Toledo City to Guadalupe, Cebu City. This is a cross-country activity over the widest part of Cebu and it will be 36-40 kilometers long and following mainly the Mananga River of over, probably, twelve hours of hiking.
This is the route that I have discovered on February 20, 2011 and which I repeated with six others on April 23. This day in August 25 is different from the first and second episode. First, because it comes at a time when there is a tropical cyclone – Typhoon Ramon – entering the Philippine area of responsibility.
And secondly, this is the initial event for the newly-refurbished Camp Red1 and the young bloods will be attempting for the first time this man-sized hike with me. Four of the guys have not been on to this kind of activity before and that is a situation that I will give consideration to.
Aside me, guest Jerry Pescadero of ALPS-M have certain experience to approximate mine while the rest are still newbies when you are talking about a long-range day hike. Glenn Pestaño, Raymund Panganiban and Jhurds Neo carry extra weight while Jon Ducay is slight of build but he carries a heavy camera.
I am looking out for the well-being of my party at a time when weather and clime are its worst. My experience and aptitude will be tested once again and, just like before with my other activities, I will tow the party to safety and exhilaration. I have seen this thing before but this is different. I will be the ones who will be excited at this prospect at the end of the trail.
Yes, did I mention a trail? Hopefully, I will name this route soon. What name? That will be the privilege of the discoverer. But, first things first.
I arrive at the assembly area at 4:00 AM. I am a proponent of the “new” Filipino time and I need to be at the place an hour ahead. One by one, the participants arrive until we decide to board a bus for Lutopan at 6:30 AM.
What bad luck! This is the same bus that I have ridden twice before on this trip! The kung fu movie on the small screen and the 20 KPH drag are its trademark. Besides that, it keeps on picking up passengers along the way until people are found on the roofs for lack of standing space inside. Fortunately for me, I chose the front seat and I was not inconvenienced.
We arrive at the Lutopan Public Market at 8:00 AM and we immediately find something to eat for breakfast. After that, we pool money to buy food provisions for lunch. It is a long way and we are already behind schedule so we decide to hire motorcycles-for-hire to close the gap.
We arrive at Camp 7, a mountain village of Minglanilla, and walk our way to Sinsin, a mountain village of Cebu City, via this tree-lined stretch of the Manipis Road. It is very peaceful and the boys are quite excited about the prospect of cutting across the wide breadth of Cebu island.
When we arrive at Sinsin, I brief them about the route and the weather situation. I did not raise their hopes but give them a realistic alternative in case the Mananga River becomes a life-threatening beast. I designated the different escape routes and evacuation areas and everybody agreed to follow my decisions, come what may.
Our next destination would be Buot-Taup, another out-of-the-way village of Cebu City that is found by the banks of the Bonbon and the Mananga. We follow the unpaved road and several runners on training pass by us as we take a right turn on another (but very rough) road that goes down and down.
The road surface is blistered by the recent rains. Deep furrows were dug by water and several stones were unearthed and caused ordinary walking a very exciting activity instead. I don't mind these but I thought about those runners. What if they run here? I'm tempted to run but the better of me objected. I don't want the guys behind me to feel “abandoned”.
Even so, Jerry followed me like a shadow and I have to slow down a couple of times to give the other guys time to catch up. Up ahead is a small stream that pass under the road. There is a switchback trail there that goes all the way to the Mananga River. Jerry and I waited for the others here and it is 10:15 AM.
Walking now in single file, we reach the river and it is not swollen nor it is in brown color. Fine, but I wouldn't trust appearances. Rivers are very deceptive. At any instant, water will surge at you from out of nowhere even on a hot day! I have seen it happen many times.
We walk downstream, crossing several fords. My senses, however, are attuned to the slightest change of sound or current or water level of the river and I keep looking back trying to assure myself that it is alright. The weather is very cloudy but without no trace of rain and quite breezy. A perfect weather!
Then I sense something wrong about the riverscape. Wide craters are found everywhere hiding those sinister shovels and big sand strainers within. Quarrying of sand, gravel and stones are very blatant here and nobody is enforcing environmental laws. A group of three men even have the gall to prop up a 20-foot mountain of sand in the middle of the riverbed!
But the biggest harm to the environment comes from the riverbank-clearing operations of these cockroaches. They are not contented anymore quarrying on the riverbed and have concentrated their illegal work on the banks and hillsides, dislocating and uprooting a number of fully-grown trees and coconuts. Not only that, the river becomes hazardous to human travel because of potential landslides.
This is a problem that needs to be solved fast by the government. The increase in population have taken its toll on the river. Aside from quarrying, human waste and household sewage threatened the life-giving attribute of the Mananga. Then there is the local candle-nut industry whose residues are thrown on the river and it stinks.
We reach a place where there is a water source at 11:15 AM and opt to rest there and do cooking. I'm glad that my companions are all mangeurs de lard and that simplify my menu: pork adobo. It is alright as long as I don't use MSG and those “ginisa mix” on my food. For flavoring, I would rely more on soy sauce and cane vinegar and enhance the taste with green pepper. Aside that, I also cook milled corn on an almost-empty butane tank.
After a very brief siesta, we move once again for our destination. It is 1:00 PM and we have not reached yet the halfway point. Up ahead is Camp 4, a village which is part of Talisay City. I need to reach there before three so I hasten our pace disregarding the scenery for speed. I arrive at 2:20 PM.
At a jumble of large stones underneath an acacia tree, I prepared myself for a change of terrain and scenery by wringing my new Rivers hike boots and my pair of wet socks of water. This place is the halfway point and it stands on the southern edge of the Babag Mountain Range. From hereon, we will be treading on home ground – Cebu City.
But we need to negotiate Cabatbatan Trail so that's why I am ridding myself of excess weight like water on my shoes and socks. It's also the best time to examine each and everyone's feet condition, especially Glenn. He is not wearing a proper pair of shoes for heavy-duty walking and I know our feet have suffered much getting wet walking on the Mananga and inviting lots of sand and tiny pebbles inside.
Exhausted yet excited, the guys seem to get well with and among themselves. Despite having an average weight of 85 kilos, they paced faster than the previous two groups that I have had the honor to lead here. Cabatbatan Trail will change all that as the route start from river level and just climb and climb steeply for about five hundred meters until you reach a ridge.
I lead the climb while Jerry, Jon, Raymund, Jhurds and Glenn follow me in that order. Your rhythm will change complexion here and so will your skin tone. Breathing is very important here and it should be done in consonance with your footsteps so you will maintain your bearing and focus.
This trail is very unkind to burly guys as well as to those that have evaded exercise for so long. By purpose, I make a slow stride to accommodate even contestants for The Biggest Loser2 and constantly keep my eye on those that are lagging far behind. I am kind today and I make several stops so everyone could recover their breath.
I need not worry about Raymund, Jhurds and Glenn and the rest of the team for, at the end of this trail, there is a store that sell the only cold drinks between Sinsin and a small community in Bocawe five kilometers ahead. Just the mere mention of it will raise everyone's hope and they will hasten their pace. You will see!
After crossing the last of the Bocawe Creek, I lead them to the store but it is closed. Everyone were dismayed. I just need to raise their hopes a little bit further to offset their thirst and their fatigue especially now that the path we will be following keeps on ascending and ascending although it is a road. Half of it are unpaved and half are concreted but this is home ground and somewhere over every rise lay a little assurance.
When everyone douse their thirst in Bocawe, it is already 4:30 PM. We need to tackle the last rise before taking another rest at Pamutan where there is a lone police outpost. We arrive at the road junction and, this time, we will walk the rest of the distance downhill. It starts to get dark and everyone retrieve their head lamps.
I also retrieve my small old-school flashlight which I lash to a head band made of cord but I prefer my natural night vision for my navigation. When we arrive at Baksan, we abandon the road and use the trail to cut distance between here and Guadalupe. I find no difficulty finding my way around among trails and I look back at the rest of the pack and they're quite excited with their lights bobbing in the dark.
Along the trail, a black object cross my path. Locals use black PVC pipes to divert water from natural springs into their homes but I doubt that the black straight thing is a water pipe. It's just too thick. I switch on my light and I discover a good-sized python travelling in slow-motion unmindful of my close presence. I call Glenn to share with what I just found and leave them all behind.
From my forward position, I could hear agitated voices from behind me and some hurried footsteps. Hahaha. Encountering wildlife at close range is ordinary with bushcraft and survival. It's either the creature escape or it becomes part of your diet. At this time, I am not interested and the snake is free to go.
After a half-hour among the forest trail, the ridge becomes clear and my eyes feasted on the sparkle and glimmer of the metropolitan lights at a different angle. This is my first time to see this spectacle at this point of view and it is beautiful. I needn't need of my flashlight anymore as the city lights reflect on the thick clouds overhead illuminating the path in an eery red tinge.
We finally arrive at Guadalupe at 6:30 PM. The boys were spent out with the long hike and, one by one, they disappear until only Jhurds and me were left to talk about the just-concluded event. These are good guys and some of them will be the new nucleus of Camp Red. I have finally found the right people and the possibilities hereon are endless.
Document done in Libre Office 3
1An Cebu-based outdoor group which specializes in bushcraft & survival.
2A reality-TV show about a weight-reducing contest.