Monday, April 23, 2012

MAN-SIZED HIKE SERIES: Lutopan to Guadalupe IV

THIS LONG DAY HIKE today on February 12, 2012 is not for the faint-hearted.  For one, it is 36-40 kilometers long.  Second, it comes at a time when there is a weather disturbance advisory released by the weather bureau.  Third, the Mananga River might not be generous this time.  Fourth, we will be under darkness for two hours during the last stretch.

This will be my fourth repeat of the Lutopan, Toledo City to Guadalupe, Cebu City route.  It is cross country walk traversing at Cebu Island’s widest breadth.  This is an activity of Camp Red, a Philippine bushcraft and survival guild of which I belong.  Fellow bushman, Jhurds Neo, will attempt his second while Randell Savior and Ouch Melbourne, their first.

Also coming are Boy Toledo and Ernie Salomon of the Redtrekkers and they will be trying to complete their third.  Dominikus Sepe, a freelance outdoorsman looking to find a niche, is also trying his first time.  I will lead this party and all have known beforehand, that they will be in for a wet long drag. 

As leader, their safety is my primary concern and I have already arranged all my options should I find the weather and river very uncooperative.  That means the march would go on regardless of the tantrums of nature unlike most clubs that I know of who abort their activities at the first signs of slight rain.  Planning is essential here and the capacity to interpret climate patterns.

Modesty aside, I have gained enough experience and knowledge when it comes to understanding a river and the weather by natural means.  Only a very few could do this unscientifically and most of them belong to the indigenous people.  True, I am an urban creature but I have indigenous blood which I intend to keep with pride.    My forebears were until they were forced to walk the white man’s road during colonization.

It was already raining the night before and I was not worried.  I live near a creek and that creek is my indicator if the weather is bad or worse.  Once I woke up at 3:00 AM, the creek gave me a bit of good news:  the weather is wet but not that bad!  

Rising from the comforts of a warm bed to face the cold and wet weather in the early morning can only be done by individuals made of harder stuff.  These six people that I am with are certainly made of stern matter.  That I am sure of.  I cannot be sure though of what word that will be used to describe the one leading them.

At 4:00 AM, I am now at the Cebu South Bus Terminal.  It is still raining and it is still dark by the time 5:30 AM have arrived.  One by one, the guys arrived.  One.  Two.  Four.  Six.  The Corominas Bus leave the terminal at 6:30 AM.  Based on my itinerary, we were supposed to leave at five.  Now we are one hour-and-a-half behind schedule.

We arrive at Lutopan and I found fogs at the mountain tops.  It is 8:00 AM and it is cold.  A northeast wind and drizzle are responsible for that.  We pool money to buy food provisions for lunch.  Camp Red bushmen always cook during meal stops and enjoy food fresh from the cooking fire whether it is an overnighter or a mere day hike. 

To gain time, I decide that we hire motorcycles to take us to Camp 7, a part of Minglanilla town, from where we start our cross-country day hike.  Officially, we start 8:30 AM; a far cry from the 7:00 AM on the itinerary.  We reach the village of Sinsin after walking the Manipis Road.  At Sinsin, I start briefing these six brave souls and let them know what’s in my mind but, far far away to the west, thick clouds began to bulge up.

From there, we follow a ridge road under construction to Odlom where a steep unpaved road goes down deep into Buot-Taup, a village nestled at the banks of Bonbon River.  The river is noisy today and is brown but I am not worried.  I just saw a young hawk gliding up above me when I took rest on a place where a trail branched off from the road.  Native Americans consider seeing a bird of prey good omen.  Same with me.  Especially on a journey. 

Here is trivia:  When I was with the force doing a difficult solo mission in Davao in 1995, a Philippine eagle appeared to me circling the sky while I was travelling in the highlands of Bukidnon.  Instantly,  I developed a gut feeling that my assignment would turn out okay and so it was.  The newspaper headlines of that day screamed of my accomplishment. 

Anyway, I cross the river first and the current is much stronger than what I have expected.  My feet is carried everytime I raise it inches above the river bed.  At the middle of the river, the water level rise nine inches above my knees.  It is much deeper than I thought or knew of.  It used to be below my knees during normal times. 

Notwithstanding, I have crossed much swift rivers before like the Daraitan River in Rizal and the Lawayan River in Misamis Occidental.  The former I crossed three times in two days in 1989 and almost claimed me on the first day.  It was my first real river crossing and I became wise after that.  Such painful experiences educate you and make you better.

We cross the Bonbon several times until it flowed into the bigger Mananga River.  The current turbulence increased as where the depths.  I begin to worry about them deep craters that illegal quarrying have done on the Mananga as it is difficult to see what’s below the surface because of its brown effluence.  So far, I eluded it by observing the swirls.

We reach the meal stop point at exactly 11:00 AM and I could not believe we just sheared  off a big chunk of time from our travel plan.  We were supposed to be there at 11:30 AM.  Anyhow, we retrieve our cook sets and burners, meat, vegetables, milled corn and other ingredients.  I boil water for coffee as Ernie do the honors of cooking the three sets of viand:  pork adobao, pork sinigang and a modified version of pork and beans.

Randell and me help in cooking the milled corn spread out inside three cooking pots.  A water source is available nearby.   We need the meat and the milled corn to give us more body heat to stave off the cold resulting from wading the river every now and then.  I must have counted nine crossings and it is a perfect recipe for hypothermia.

We stayed at the place too long and were now fifteen minutes late from our schedule.  We leave for Camp 4.  Among islands of rocks along the river, I could see the signs that the stream have lowered an inch from its previous level in a matter of one hour, more or less.  The sound of raging water are not much noisy anymore and I thank my young hawk of his presence hours ago.

Three hundred meters away, I thought I saw two women about to cross a junction where the Bocawe Creek meets the Mananga.  The bend of the stream removed my chance to actually see them cross as I walk towards that spot.  I observe the riverbank across so I could ascertain where they have forded and I found none.  Strange?  I cross and I see a tell-tale mark that I am in the vicinity of a crater but, too late, the ground gave in and I fell into a hole, chest-deep.  My camera got immersed in water and that ended my shooting spree.  Shucks! 

Along the way, I see father and two little daughters fishing with a throw net.  Inside the catch bin are a number catfish and tilapia and a couple of fresh-water shrimps.  Walking yonder on is another father with two little sons with their catch of big catfish hanging on their bamboo fishing pole.

We cross for the last time the Mananga River and rest among a jumble of boulders and wring away water from our boots and socks.  We need to remove useless weight and small pebbles from inside our shoes before tackling the trail found at the southernmost end of the Babag Mountain Range.  This is a tough trail, steep and long.

Behind me are Jhurds, Ouch and Dom.  Way way below them is Boy and Ernie with Randell backstopping.  Jhurds have shown improvement from the last time he climb this undulating and almost cruel stretch last September 25, 2011.  This trail lead to a place called Cabatbatan and, doing so, we have to cross again the upper Bocawe Creek twice.

Once we arrive in Cabatbatan, the boys make a beeline to the only store that sells cold drinks between Sinsin and Bocawe.  Now that brings back the color to their faces.  We overstayed our purpose and that defeats our frequent race against our schedule.  We have to make do 15 minutes late when we leave for Bocawe and Pamutan Junction.

I take a short cut to chop off time but the rest failed to see my sign and took a longer route instead.  As I was waiting for their arrival, my attention was focused on two strange-looking fowls foraging on the Bocawe Creek.  They seem wild and have long beaks and white streaks on their faces.  I thought they were guinea fowls because of its color similarity but they were not.  They were very agile and lack the puff of red flesh on their faces which guineas have. 

Ultimately, I forgot about the others and I discovered that they were already ahead of me so I walk uphill at full speed and overtook all, one by one.  While huffing and puffing along a never-ending steep road, a good-sized hawk appeared on my left gliding and circling above a valley.  I raise and wave my hand to acknowledge my presence.  It circled one more time before disappearing below the valley.

By now, we were able to recover our time advantage when we arrive at the road junction thirty minutes ahead and able to maintain it once we reach another stop point in Baksan.  It is already dark and everyone donned their headlights, including my old-fashioned flashlight which I attach to a paracord headband. 

We will take Bebut’s Trail this time going to Guadalupe.  For the early stages of this last stretch of route, I choose to use my natural night vision.  I am able to follow the faint path through a brook and over steep trails going up and down.  Obviously, it had been raining here minutes ago as the path is muddy and slippery.  I slip several times but balance myself well to prevent falling.

When I found the trail obscured by thick vegetation, I decide to turn on my light else I might step on a reticulated python which is very common here.  The switch is defective and I have to slap it several times so it would work.  I find its location on my head very annoying and decide to carry it with either hand.  Finally, I fall after a slip.

It is stressful hiking on a trail in the dark.  The brain sends signal to raise your adrenaline level when it receives stimulus from the eyes about a dark environment.  It gives signals to the heart to pump more blood and so we breathe faster because the more blood pumped the more oxygene the body need.  Basically, the brain controls all body functions and you should know its nature.  I have lived with it and I know how not to push hard during a night trek.

Behind me are voices of panting men mustered by their brains to keep pace with me when I am just taking a stroll.  I laugh about this thought.  I bring them to the top of a hill and show them the glinting lights of Cebu City and it released all their anxieties.  The trail here is all downhill now and it is just a matter of minutes when we would reach Guadalupe.

Randell and I arrive at the south gate of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at 7:45 PM.  Boy closed the activity at 7:51 PM by arriving last yet we are nine minutes ahead of schedule.  Not bad.  Now, time to ingratiate ourselves with cold bottles of beer at our favorite watering hole at Summer Kyla. 

My cheers to this bunch of hardy men.  They have not questioned my decisions and they are rewarded with an unforgettable moment that no outdoor clubs could offer.  They were in a high mood despite the aches that each one felt in their bodies.  They truly are made of sterner stuff to engage in and complete a man-sized day hike under the threat of a Low Pressure Area and under twelve hours.  Not bad indeed!

Document done in Libre Office 3.3

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