Tuesday, October 2, 2012

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LIV: Bushcraft Cooking Workshop

THERE IS AN ONGOING climate disturbance inside the Philippine area of responsibility and I am unperturbed. I never am and never had been. So this day – July 29, 2012 – and those other sunny days, I treat it just the same. I do not want the weather a hindrance on all my outdoor pursuits and I consider that Camp Red be an all-weather all-terrain group as well and I want it prepared before any unforeseen tragedies – man-made or not.

As usual, we assemble at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. Early birds Mr. Bogs and Jon Ducay (aka Krabby Krabs) are already there when I arrive at 6:30 AM. Later, Glenn Abapo, Nyor Pino, Ernie Salomon and Dominikus Sepe came one after the other. We take our usual breakfast and share a small amount for our food provisions which we intend to cook at the Roble homestead.

By the way, today I will teach the rest how to make and use the ordinary bamboo as a cooking vessel. This is another Grassroots Bushcraft Teaching Series which will touch on bushcraft cooking. Aside from them bamboos, I might experiment later with banana leaves and coconuts as a “pot”, the weather willing.

We start from Guadalupe an hour behind schedule and decide to walk the road going to Napo instead of riding on motorcycles-for-hire which we have now become accustomed to. We reach the trailhead at 8:45 AM but the weather is cool and windy. Overhead are dark clouds racing with the wind and droplets of rain fall on us as we walk on the trail leading to the Lower Kahugan Spring.

We reach the spring after thirty-two minutes; too fast for the average 45 minutes we did in the past. I am not surprised. I have with me younger sets of legs and I am a fast pacer myself. A little while, Edwina Intud and Eli Bryn Tambiga arrive and they must have a set of winged feet each considering that both attended a road run event which I passed by some two hours ago. Both showed commendable spirit and persistence.

I fill my empty Nalgene and drink half a liter. I am quite worried about dehydration since I have not had a drink of water by the time I woke up until now. I also slept late at 2:30 AM because there was a party at my office last night and I drank lots and lots of hard alcoholic drink. I am light-headed when I start to walk the steep trail to the Roble homestead and I make it sure that Edwina knows my condition since she is a nurse connected with the Philippine National Red Cross.

We all arrive at the Roble family’s abode at around fifteen after ten. All were exhausted and steaming from the exertion of climbing up a steep knoll found above the Sapangdaku River. We were partially drenched from sweat and from a slight shower that overtook us along the Kahugan Trail. At the back of my mind, I am quite worried because the dark sky is threatening this event with deluge and the wind is like an enraged tiger from its cage.

Immediately, I set to work hurriedly on the bamboos by cutting it up from the rest of the pole with my tomahawk. Everybody watched as I open up holes on one bamboo with two whole segments with Nyor’s steel-handled hatchet batoned by a piece of heavy branch and on another bamboo with same two segments by the same axe. As I am doing that, I explain to the participants the techniques in cutting up a lid for your pot from nature.

After working on the bamboos, I begin to scrounge and forage firewood. The rest of the guys help me with it and we were able to compile a good pile enough to cook four pots. The strong gusts are a bit of a challenge with me but I am undaunted. I have enough tinder – natural and synthetic; three matches; a lighter; and a firesteel set. I am confident that nature will work for me.

I will use the natural contour of the terrain and I found a big hole that was used as a water catchment basin by Fele Roble sometime ago. It is now empty and dry and I will do my cooking there. I pile the small branches first along with pieces of pine wood and place sawdust and a kapok tinder underneath and, with a fire steel, the tinder caught the sparks and a flame erupted but it could not produce enough heat and got snuffed out by the strong gusts of wind.

I use PLAN B: matchsticks and paper. Two tries by the match to transfer flame to a piece of paper failed but on the third try the paper receive it and I place it underneath my wood where sawdust and pine wood sustain this fire until it engulfed the bigger pieces of wood and a hearth is born. Hurriedly, I prop two old bamboos to anchor the two green bamboos above my fire and place stakes beside my “pots” so it won’t roll over.

I pour water into the two empty but opened bamboo chambers and stoke more firewood to hasten the water to boil. Once it boiled, I pour a half kilo of milled corn on one bamboo and another half kilo of rice into the other. This is my first time to cook rice into bamboo and I employ my own technique which is quite different than those used by the Aeta and other aboriginal peoples of Southeast Asia.

Two months from now, I will go to Manila to convene a bushcraft camp among members of the Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines. Unfortunately, milled corn is not the staple diet of people from Luzon. It is rice and I am experimenting today how to do this in a bamboo in the most practical and easiest way which I am doing now.

The wind tormented my fire and this would make my cooking of milled corn and rice finish longer and then I have to cook mixed-vegetable soup in these same bamboos after that and I have not had that luxury of time. I request Ernie to start his own fire and he could borrow instead a conventional pot from Fele for this purpose. Ernie encountered the same problem about the gusts.

I finished my cooking at 12:30 noon and I quickly filled an empty chamber of one bamboo with water to start another cooking with milled corn while there is still fire and there are more wood to burn. Meanwhile Ernie started now to cook the second viand: pork adobo. By the time my wristwatch point to 1:15 PM, our late lunch ensued. Afterward, Fele and Manwel provided us green coconuts as dessert.

Since we are already delayed by an hour, I opt not to enjoy siesta and experimented instead by cooking on an empty coconut. The earthen hearth has still heat when I touch the ashes and it may harbor a hidden ember or two so I collect three even-sized stones and prop up my coconut pot over the ashes and place kindling in between. The gusts of wind made my work easy as it put a flame to life.

I pour water on the coconut’s hole and place more wood to keep the fire going. I used up my last cache of wood as the coconut’s husk is too thick as it is green and Ernie help me with it by gathering more firewood from his left-over cooking. I use a papaya leaf stalk to blow the fire alive every now and then as the wood is not of good quality and some are half wet. The papaya stalk is tubular and you could use it as a blowgun or as an improvised snorkel.

By now, Ernie joined me inside the hole as we take turns in keeping the flame alive with teary eyes caused by thick white smoke. When I notice a slight hint of steam coming out of the hole, I channel rice grains into it with the use of a bird-of-paradise leaf and I stir the rice with its stalk. I plug the hole with the leaf and wait.

Getting fed up by thick smoke making my eyes watery, I suck the water from inside the coconut chamber so to lessen its level and to cook the rice quicker and I get a bit of a success there leaving the finishing touches to Ernie. I stretch myself over an unfinished bench and tried my best to rest my eyes and sleep for a while.

Every now and then, the wind rattle a piece of a roof sheet of the Roble house and I am getting worried if it comes loose and fly at me. I never had that sleep. I listen to the stories of the rest of they guys while feigning sleep then Ernie jumped out from the hole and said something unintelligible. I found the reason: the fire burned through the coconut’s bottom and spill the rice gruel into the earth.

Ha...ha...good try! Ernie stoked too much fire and the gruel is wasted. Anyway, that’s the part of experiments; of trial and error. Hopefully, next time will be a success. I am sure of that. I examine the tree nursery that I have created in January. It is poorly maintained and the seedlings died. I brought several avocado seeds given by Gerard Ysmael. It is the sweet variety and I give it to Fele to replace the dead seedlings.

It is 4:30 PM and we leave the Roble family for Napo. We walk downhill at a fast pace, never entertaining the idea of stops and rests. We arrive at Napo at around 5:00 PM and waited for the motorcycles to bring us back to Guadalupe.

Once in Guadalupe, we transfer to the Red Hours Convenience Store and talk of the day’s activity and of the next planned events. The bushcraft cooking workshop proved successful in a limited way as the weather proved tormenting to our cooking fires. One more thing, I am now confident to teach bushcraft cooking anywhere in the Philippines and in any conditions.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3

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