Sunday, July 22, 2012

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XIII: The Search for Camp Damazo

THIS IS AN URGENT outdoors activity: Finding a new route to Camp Damazo.

Camp Damazo is the place where the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp or PIBC will be booked on June 10, 11 and 12, 2012. This Camp Damazo is located somewhere among the most hidden of nooks of the Babag Mountain Range here in Cebu City, Philippines.

In 2011, Camp Damazo was located upon the banks of an unnamed mountain stream where the first PIBC was held. Now it is moved further inland on a high ground. The route to the old Camp Damazo was made possible by following Bebut’s Trail from Guadalupe then taking a switchback to Lensa Trail.

That path demand lots of patience and stamina and exposes people to extreme heat at the dreaded “heartbreak ridge”. For this year’s activity, I may have to reroute the way to Camp Damazo that would be friendly and, at the same time, awesome to the participants of PIBC MMXII.

Coming with me are the “Ramrod” and the “Fixer”. No, they’re not the characters in a Robert Ludlum novel but they are Randell Savior and Ernie Salomon and they are officially appointed as PIBC MMXII staff. Going along to get the early treat of PIBC MMXII as future participants are Silver Cue, Dominikus Sepe and Mr. Bogs.

As Camp Ramrod, Randell will oversee the administration of Camp Damazo like space allocation, hygiene, firewood and water needs. Today, May 20, 2012, I will give Randell the leeway to choose for himself the best route that would suit his idea of optimum adventure. Very well, I will lead him to those places after receiving his gist.

As Camp Fixer, Ernie will do the task of preparing, fixing and cooking for PIBC MMXII participants and staff. Such superb culinary skills done in the setting of the harsh outdoors are rare which Ernie could dish out with competence. Ernie, on loan from the Redtrekkers, will give samples of his menu today.

So, this is an exploration activity and I will lead and go down trails that I have not had the pleasure of walking but had known of its presence. This is traditional land navigation and I will have to utilize a small compass on the handle of my machete which I thought all along as just for display and, therefore, unreliable.

We start from Guadalupe at 7:20 AM climbing over Heartbreak Ridge at a fast pace. It really is fast and unrelenting that I reach the power pylon in just fifteen minutes. It is hot even at that early hour. I pursue the higher ground and stop at the tunnel vent. Somewhere far far behind me is Mr. Bogs who go down on his knees. Dominikus and Silver assisted him.

Meanwhile, we wait for the trio and once we got shade behind our backs, it had made the previous predicament a non-issue. We reach the Portal at 8:30 AM and I am impressed that we really shaved off a lot of time and I am not wrong in choosing the right people with me. We decide to bypass the Portal for that small community where we usually get our water source.

We stay for a half hour making coffee and eating a full plate of ground cassava pudding that a local offered to us. Oh God, it is delicious! It is my first time to eat such native mountain delicacy. We leave for the Portal and follow for a while Freedom Trail before taking that mysterious path that slice down into the jungle fringes of Buhisan.

The path lead to a thick, but very virgin, jungle; a lot of places dark and gloomy populated by huge fig trees, thorny vines, spiny rattan, avian and a few bats that got startled by our passing. This is an environment that I love to study and live off. This is perfect for bushcraft and survival.

I ward off the spiny plants with my wooden staff while I hack at the more threatening ones with my Mantrack machete. It is just a narrow path among a cobweb of thick vegetation that branch into two but I take the rightmost. Following still the path, it turned into a faint parting on the ground that lead into a dry waterway where it follow its course until it ended into a stream.

This stream is so pristine and clear. Moss are all over the stones and on some trunks and branches of trees. This is virgin territory that I could not believe existed in a a fast-developing metro like Cebu. Small fish abound on the stream and, perhaps, fresh-water shrimps and crabs lurking beneath the silt and sandy bottoms.

I look for the continuation of this trail across on the other bank and I do a little exploration while others waited. Randell, on the other hand, with Dominikus, try to look for a way downstream. The path I seek follow another dry waterway that goes uphill but I take a detour and try another faint trail that lead me into a small stream.

The place is so silent except for the hum of cicadas and bird calls. Among the sounds, I thought I heard a scream of a hawk warning me that I am in her territory. Another scream shatter the silence and it is different from the first one and kind of throaty like that of a mammal’s. My hair rise at the excitement that I have just faced and I aim to mark this place for my second return – preferably alone.

Keeping this place a secret, I follow the way downstream to where Randell and Dominikus are waiting. The stream joined with another one and it gets wider. This bigger stream of the two is the ones that I used to explore two years ago and I know where it will flow.

I pass by the bend where Ernie and I used to do bushcraft cooking sessions. That time the stream was dry but now it is full of water filled by a small brook that flow into it. We follow the stream into what used to be a Gabion dam and onto another long bend where flood water could have flowed into a marshy place. Plant types indicate that this is marshland.

From there, the vegetation parted wide as we trod on the catchment basin. This is the heart of the Buhisan Watershed Area and I could see the sky beginning to go cloudy. I see a fig tree up ahead and beside is another mountain stream, but bigger and wider. By now, slight drops of water begin to fall. So what, we are in a rainforest.

We pass by a deep pool of water where children and adolescents take a bath and it is full today. We arrive at a place on the river where two streams converge like a “Y” and where there is a very small waterfall. We rest for a while on the wide shale headrock and rehydrate.

After several poses before a camera, we proceed by taking a trail between the two streams. The ground is marshy but with a lot of huge mahogany trees choked by a colony of rattan palms. As before, I ward off the stingy spines and leaves with my wood staff while those who failed to notice these get snagged.

On our right is the highest waterfall on this side of the Babag Mountain Range. We push on ahead for about two hundred meters and pass by the creek where it would lead to the old site of Camp Damazo. Randell, suggested that we skip this stream and find the second stream after it; the one where we have taken lunch in October 2011.

We found the stream after a tiring walk of over four hundred meters. We arrive at the place and I feel good because, from now on, there will be no more trekking on streams. I never like the idea of walking on streams because it is time consuming, dangerous and you are easily seen by people. Some people here are armed with rifles.

Anyways, I dig a water hole beside the stream as Ernie begins to work on the preparation of the meal. Food would be mixed-vegetable soup, pork adobao, raw cucumber in vinegar and milled corn. The viands will be prepared free of monosodium glutamate. I foraged wild basil and cayenne pepper along the trail and I mix this with the soup giving it a spicy and sweet scent.

Cooking is done by using three camp stoves and an assortment of cooking pots. When it is through, we start eating at 1:00 PM. Washing of dishes and pots comes after and the water hole supply all the washing water.

At 1:15 PM, we start to ascend the high ground for Camp Damazo. We follow Lensa Trail to get there. This is the trail that I discovered in April 2011 when I find the river trekking too constricting for my comfort and dislodged Ernie and another companion who were getting weak with thirst on a stream bed that has lots of water.

On the way, I rearrange dry wood lying on the ground by propping it beside tree trunks with only one end touching the ground. Moisture will accumulate on wood if left lying on the earth and would not burn when you use it for cooking or for a campfire. I will need a lot of firewood for PIBC MMXII and I need it dry.

The good thing about the present location of Camp Damazo is it has a good supply of firewood, it has good security, it cannot contaminate streams, it is near to a natural spring and it is cooler. We located the exact area and it could accommodate ten to fifteen tents spread out in a wide terrain. We were also able to secure locations for latrine.

That sums up the exploration and survey of the route and exact location of the campsite, so we proceed for the exit route which bring us out to the road that lead either way to Pamutan or Sapangdaku. We decide to follow the trail to Lanipao instead.

What used to be a beautiful trail a month ago is now a newly-graded road that is not only ugly but is also a bane to the knees. That trail was a welcome ground with soft grasses and gentle roll of land that is very friendly with your feet and your pace. Now, it is graded mechanically and is too steep for comfort.

We reach Lanipao and douse our thirst with cold soda drinks and beer but I prefer the latter. Then we walk a concrete road down to Napo and waited for available motorcycles to take us further down the road back to Guadalupe. From the church grounds, we transferred to Red Hours Convenience Store and discussions and ideas flowed along with cold beer with the final conclusion: I and my crew are ready for PIBC MMXII.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3
Photos courtesy of Randell Savior

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