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.
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1A tamarind-based soup.
2Meat marinated in soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, onion, lime and sugar.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
ONCE UPON A TIME in Banilad, Cebu City in September 2009, I meet two foreigners inside the Gustavian Restaurant. Both were very amiable and they look like veterans of sleeping more than a thousand nights under the stars. One is an American who goes by the name of Thomas Moore and the other is Welsh, William Rhys-Davies. Both are old-school outdoorsmen in the purest sense of the word.
Over swigs of beer, we were talking about Cochise's stronghold in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. Tom has a famous blog, I suppose, and it is titled Tomahawks Adventure and Travel. The “Pathfinder” and “Tomahawk” are his handles in the 'net. On the other hand, Wil is into adventure tours and outdoor-sport education and he prefers to be known as “Jungle Wil” and has a nasty former nom de guerre - “Cochiserattlesnake”. Ouch!
Without farther much ado, they have read my personal blog and arranged for this meeting in the Tap Room of the Gustav. They were interested into spending some time in our local mountains and we set a schedule after that but, Super-Typhoon Ondoy came and washed away our day. It was the only time I saw Tom in person before he embarked on his never-ending adventures in the States and elsewhere which are well-documented. Wil, he stayed long enough and climbed with me to Mount Babag in early October 2009 before going up to southern China.
These two middle-aged guys love what they're doing and that gave me some hope and a ton of inspiration. They are bushcrafters and they ache to practice their survival skills in the tropics. I live in the tropics and why can't I be like them? Too bad, I spend too much time on a hobby that teaches you nothing but gain high elevations and acquire expensive gears! These two guys convinced me right then and there to shift to bushcraft and survival and it is so familiar. Skills I neglected for so many years. Oh, Jesus, I hope I am not late.
I commenced by convincing my backpacking buddies Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon and they were able to grasp the full meaning of this new hobby only after three trips into a trail I discovered, explored and designed for this kind of activity. It is a path less travelled and quite unknown to the backpacking community of Cebu. After that, they dictated to me of the most desirable name for a group to anchor behind local bushcrafting and so, Camp Red was born on January 24, 2010 complete with their idea of the group emblem.
The idea of bushcraft and survival is of a different level compared with other outdoor hobbies like backpacking and/or mountain climbing which are very popular here in the Philippines. The latter are quite bitchy about the environment and are more of sophistication and style whereas bushcraft and survival is more of knowledge, improvisation and plain common sense. However, bushcraft and survival is not very gung-ho about Leave No Trace. Bushcraft people find this very impractical, cumbersome and quite amusing.
Anyway, Tom and I exchange comments in between our blogs and in our Facebook accounts from time to time; while Wil come to Cebu every often and engage backbreaking bush hikes with the younger ones and down bottles of beer with the rest of the Camp Red circle. Ultimately, Camp Red became an identity of its own chosen craft and hobby; a trailblazer for bushcraft and survival here in Cebu and the rest of the Philippines south of Subic Bay. Thanks, in part, to Tom and Wil.
Tom travelled all over the states on a shoestring budget and it is so common for him to stand by a roadside and hitch rides to his chosen destination or do “dumpster diving” in the desert. He tried to hike his way to the tip of South America but his gears were stolen in transit. He loves Mexican food and drink gallons of coffee. Last heard of him, he was in Thailand; but, lately, he is now back in the States. He would have crossed over to Cebu from the Malay Peninsula, North Borneo and Mindanao when he ran out of greenbacks and decide to try his chance for a TV show in Discovery Channel.
Wil, meanwhile, does a dribble between Hong Kong and Cebu. Wil is a teacher and he uses his wide outdoor experience to teach people about wilderness first aid, camp management, trail preservation, ropesmanship, rock climbing, etc. He used to be part-owner of a Sri Lankan resto in Hong Kong and then with Jungle Wild Adventure Tours but now he concentrates his work on Bushcraft Asia(.com). Wil loves to sit at a sari-sari1 store and greets everyone as if they are long-lost relatives.
By the way, Tom and Wil added some more of their survival skills from our very own Aeta brothers in the jungles of Pampanga. They spent a rainy week in the Pastolan Aeta village of Tata Kasoy and they have endeared themselves to the natives and their culture and have spent time, effort and blog space to put up funds for the Pastolan Aetas. Wil also have shown support for Camp Red by bringing in people to learn bushcraft and survival in Cebu.
Camp Red is not only a bushcraft and survival guild but it is a social group dedicated to preserving the environment through sustained photo documentation and reporting of illegal logging; and a proponent of practical tree planting activities. It is also a hub for budget backpackers and is an adventure partner to Green*Point/Circle of Friends, EWIT Mountaineers, Tribu Dumagsa, Cebu Mountaineering Society, Tribu Lapukon and Zubu Eco-Tourism Society. Camp Red is the fruit of my aspirations without being wrenched inutile by worthless rules.
After a year, Camp Red have stoked the fires of interest over many individuals but Camp Red is not keen about quantity unlike most outdoor clubs. To be honest, bushcraft and survival anchor its philosophy on a single person's common sense that would aid on that individual's (or a group's) survival. Camp Red's activities are tailored for a single individual instead of as a group. So, don't be surprised if I walk the trails on my own and never ever label it as extreme. That is bushcraft and survival and you don't need a group to practice it. Camp Red is just a means for these kind of skills and like-minded individuals.
There were many many skills I gained in the course of my life's journey; I used what is relevant in practical situations and took the rest for granted. Never have I known that the majority of these crafts which have lain idle would be worth a dozen-fold in bushcraft and survival. I have finally found what's really in my heart and I enjoyed all the things I do outdoors. This is also a worthwhile attempt to teach people how to use their wits while in the wild outdoors.
Oh, before I go, don't be fooled by those popular survival videos aired on cable TV. They are all scripted and are money-making productions. I have not watched one segment; the Tomahawk disdained it; and Jungle Wil doesn't care a bit. The best way to learn bushcraft and survival is to be by yourself in the bush. You are your own teacher.
“Chance favors the prepared mind”.
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1Local small convenience stores.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
I WOKE UP WITH a fierce hangover of last night's party as my Motorola V3 screamed its existence at 5:00 AM of December 19, 2010. Nevertheless, I scrambled up from a drunkard's bed and settled myself in the bathroom for a quick cold washover. Expertly, I dash back and forth the width and length of my house and up and down my stairs and round up the things I need today.
This is the most important day in the lives of the children of a mountain village of Kahugan and they do not know that yet. Not until we are on that place that is home of the Roble family. I am part of this magnificent array of angels disguised as mountain climbers, backpackers and crazy bushcrafters. I believe in what we are doing today and I find it glorious and greater than climbing the Everest itself. This is good stuff that is well-received from the Big Guy upstairs!
From my side, I carry twenty-five used textbooks inside of a huge carton. Aside that, I have two kilos of rice, a kilo of pork belly, a half-kilo of brown sugar and bread as my Christmas gift to the Roble family and another kilo of milled corn for our lunch. This is heavy, man, but my heart is light and I carry these easily on swift wings of goodwill and commitment.
The progenitor of this activity – Marco Albeza a.k.a. The Professor – came with his platoon of MathEd students of the University of San Carlos and his supportive friend. This is a continuing saga of their outreach program that started in August and they bring with them pairs of slippers, pencils, notebooks, writing pads, food for cooking, canned goods, biscuits, candies, chocolates and their mathematical skills for the children.
The full force of the Tribe of Dumagsa of Randel and Marjorie Savior came with their own special gifts for the children. Rowel Seno of Timex Outdoor Club arrive with big wrapped gifts. Ernie Salomon and Boy Toledo of Camp Red and Ariel Montuerto of EWIT Mountaineers share their time and presence; Vince “The Bytebandit” Delicano of the Cebu Mountaineering Society his shooting lens; and Jerry Pescadero of Alps Mountaineers his Hersheys.
Not coming but willing to share something for Christmas for the kids, Aisha Ronquillo of EWIT, handed out her bundles of joy at the front lawn of the Our Lady of Guadalupe of Cebu Parish which we appreciated greatly and personally carry to the hills. After a quick breakfast and buying of provisions, we move out for Napo in pairs aboard motorcycles-for-hire to cut short our travel time since it is almost late in the morning.
From Napo we cross the Sapangdaku River and tour the meandering trail that line above its banks. I sweated hard carrying the books above my right shoulder and transferring to my left to ease the other and vice versa. This is hard work really but, I know, I will be redeemed many times over for my labor. Ernie is behind me; Paterno – a local boy and a cousin of Manwel Roble; another local boy; and far far behind – Boy T. I could hear Boy T's voice crackle over the small radio transceiver that Ernie carried.
Reaching the Lower Kahugan Spring, I replenish my small supply of drinking water and drink my thirst out to wild abandon! The damn hangover is still with me despite the exertions. I feel groggy and disoriented. My knees buckle under the weight of the books and tried to stabilize my balance with sheer will power and endurance that I develop hiking and running these trails here. Less than an hour to go but the trail will be steep this time. Oh, I love this part!
I lead the way to another route to the Robles. Trailing along is Ernie, Rowel, Boy T, Vince, Randel, Marj, Ian, Auxyne Nillas and Glenn Tampus. Good thing the trail is pretty covered and, as I reach the main route, I overtake the remainder of Marco's stout-hearted students. They were panting hard but they showed heart and sheer elation are written all over their faces!
We reach finally the place marked by an ancient tamarind tree. A work of miracle will start commencing right here on this spot. By now, children are already at their places while the Professor bark out last-minute instructions to his pupils. Instantly, in clockwork precision, the students became teachers to the children, imparting a revolutionary way of teaching mathematics to the latter. Very moving. And beautiful. Honestly, I shed a tear of joy or two, my eyes camouflaged very well by the smoke of my cooking fire.
As this is going on, I give a demonstration to the visitors of how to make bamboo as a cooking pot and how to cook milled corn inside it. The ground is wet, but I cover it with leaf from a wild giant taro. After considerable work with the fire upon a partially-wet firewood, I got it going and feed more wood. The bamboo is filled half-full of water and I waited until it is hot enough. I pour a half-kilo of milled corn and and stir it with my new snake-like spoon carved from a mangrove root.
All eyes and all types of camera were on my demo but my eyes were on the activity concentrated on the children. I steal a camera shot every now and then when I slack my bushcraft cooking. Children where grouped in trees as they answered the math exams and they were all very serious and learned fast. The rest of the visitors were also busy doing their cooking. Standard staple is milled corn. Everybody will eat the food fresh from the fire.
Ernie and Ariel slice the vegetables and spices; Boy T start boiling water for coffee; Randel and his “tribe” trying out their camp stoves and learning how to cook milled corn in conventional pots; Vince steal a shot here and there; Rowel help me collect firewood; and Jerry, well, he enjoyed the company. Marco supervised the cooking of boiled mung bean soup, chicken caldereta and pancit bam-e while Ernie stir and fry a mixed vegetable soup; Randel and Marj cook chili-laced pork adobo and marinated pork belly.
Lunch were served to the children first. Each student became foster parent to three kids and feed them personally. This will create a bond and amongst themselves: child to “parent” and child to child. Real parents of these children came to see this rare spectacle and they were very amused and gave support to their children and to the activity. After the plates were emptied everyone are entitled for a generous refill. Marco's pupils enjoyed the lunch prepared and served for them as well as our portion on the other table.
The giving of gifts came and every child present went home with a plastic bagful of goodies. These after they were caroled by the students. Meanwhile, the milled corn cooked inside of bamboo in extraordinary fashion, vanish and did not last a long time. It is meant to be, I guessed.
We leave at three in the afternoon but not after leaving a number of canned goods for the Roble family. We all follow single file another trail guided for us by Paterno into the fabled hidden falls of Kahugan which the locals fondly call as Busay Lut-od, which is meant really as cascading waterfalls in the English language. The ecstasy elicited in the viewing of the seldom-seen waterfalls is one way of repaying the students for their voluntary work.
We reach Guadalupe at five and shake each other's hand for a job well done and simple greetings of Merry Christmas. Then I, Boy T and Ernie finish the day at our favorite watering hole and talk of the just-concluded activity which is one of our very memorable effort.
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Photos courtesy of Glenn Tampus and the Bytebandit of www.openclimbcebu.com
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
THE TWO O'CLOCK ALARM in the morning of November 27, 2010 went by unnoticed until Eddie Alberca shake my slumber with an incessant ringing of my cellphone at 4:30 AM. In one swift move I am already in my office in Mandaue by 5:15 AM.
The veteran multicab is ready and the package is already fixed inside my green Habagat Viajero as I settled in the front seat beside Eddie who will do the honors of driving the small vehicle. We start at 5:30 PM. Destination: Malapascua Island.
This will be my third trip to the island located just off the northernmost tip of Cebu; the last time, an overnight trip on April 30. And this is my third time too with Eddie driving. This time, we won't be sleeping in Daanbantayan like the two previous trips.
Eddie stepped hard on the pedal and the multicab sped off like a road devil. We pass by Consolacion, Liloan, Compostela and Danao City in a blur before slowing it down in Carmen when the rains fell. The highway starting from Carmen up to Bogo is the noisiest highway. You know why? The concrete is built in sections of an average of 2.5 by 2.5 meters and one is not on level with the other and the wheel make a sound as it pass by it at high speed.
A very disconcerting monotony. Ignoring the noise, the peripheries of the highway is so pleasant in the early morning light. You wouldn't find pure innocence in any other hour of the day. The green countryside is so soothing to the eyes, the smell of grass and saline wind mixing in the breeze is so invigorating. Reminds me of my youth. So nostalgic!
Once we arrive at the wharf of Maya – the gate way to Malapascua – I look for my favorite hole-in-the-wall eatery. It is the feast day of the village of Maya and my favorite cook is absent running errands for a prominent family but she cooked and left her patronizers tasty menu like katambak1 fish stew and a thresher-shark tamarind-based soup. The oversized Indonesian pepper made the eating a memorable one, you know what I mean.
At nine, the pumpboat for Malapascua leave. I enjoyed the time doing videos about life in the little boats before it leave. Tourists should know that it will cost you fifty pesos going to and fro to the pristine island; none if you are booked into one of the dive resorts like the Sea Explorers. The small boats, locally known as tunda, those that will take you from shore to boat and vice versa, is only ten pesos but none if you are booked.
Me and Eddie arrive at ten in the morning in the very white beach of Malapascua after transferring from pumpboat to tunda and shore during a low tide. The tide plains are wide but the exposed sea bottom is firm and I jump over narrow water runoffs until we top over the soft sand for the direction of the Sea Explorers Dive Shop and Resort and deliver the package.
We stayed for about an hour and I take the liberty to observe a group of locals building a huge wooden boat. Very interesting. Boat-building, the primitive way, is a skill that has lost its aura with the present generation. Saw two men cutting lengthwise a 40-foot plank with just a hand saw. After taking good pictures I, once again, leave the island for the mainland via the tunda and pumpboat and on to another tunda.
We both go back to the eatery which we have taken breakfast a while ago. This time, two vendors were passing by selling freshly-caught shellfish at five pesos each. The seashells were of different varieties ranging from winghorns to young giant Pacific clams to convoluted ones and they were all large, which is a bargain in itself.
We paid for twenty pieces of those, cooked ten and stowed the rest for dinner later. Since the storekeeper is absent, we boil the ten shellfish ourselves over a primitive hearth powered by firewood. We stoke an ember to life after considerable blowing aided by small wood debris as tinder.
We eat the cooked seashells dipped in vinegar and soy sauce mixture, spiced hot by the huge Indonesian pepper. We tarry for a while until it is 2:30 PM and time to go back to Mandaue City. We pass by the straightest highway in Cebu Province – about three kilometers or more – in Medellin and trod on the noisiest – about sixty kilometers – from Bogo to Tabogon to Borbon to Sogod to Catmon and to Carmen!
It is 5:30 PM when we arrive at the office. Brought my officemates bibingka2 from Catmon while I parted half of my seashells to colleague Joe Patrick Uy. It is a long day and I refresh myself by steaming my share of the seashells as I return home. This will give me strength to tackle a mountain tomorrow.
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