Wednesday, December 12, 2012
THIS IS MY FIRST TIME to teach bushcraft and survival outside of my home turf in Cebu. The Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines, Inc. (MCAP) hierarchy have tasked me to conduct a bushcraft camp among its members so as to equip them with the necessary skills to complement their outdoor pursuits. MCAP is a fledgling national umbrella organization of individual mountaineers in the Philippines that follow the concept of “old-school mountaineering”.
I am old-school and so are Edwin Gatia and Vicky Evarretta, the MCAP President and Vice President, respectively. Both deferred to follow the present state of mountaineering which hinged more on form and quantity rather than in substance and quality and both do not want MCAP to tarnish its image by dabbling towards capitalistic inclinations which some enterprising mountaineers have taken advantaged of of others. The mountaineering community is in such a state of disarray and rift that it needs an immediate reorientation of its priorities and objectives to achieve unity.
The visionaries of MCAP desires only to unify all Philippine mountaineers by providing them with an organization that seeks to protect its own with above-board transactions, an insurance policy to cover its members from mountain climbing accidents, a cooperative for members and an opportunity to be selected and sponsored in overseas mountaineering expeditions. I have longed to enjoy these privileges when I was then at my prime and I am elated to see that it will soon be a reality.
Anyway, the MCAP Bushcraft Camp commence on September 29, 2012 at Mount Balagbag in Rodriguez, Rizal and will end on October 1. Eighteen MCAP members and other outdoorsmen from different affiliations opt to participate Class 01-2012 by proceeding to the assembly point in Tungko, San Jose del Monte, Bulacan where the party leave for the camp at 1:30 PM. Also coming along are my volunteer staff: Raymund Panganiban who will be the official event photographer and EDC instructor; and Jay Z Jorge who will be the camp ramrod.
It is a Saturday and Super Typhoon “Lawin” was supposed to have left the Philippine area of responsibility many hours ago yet it persistently refused to budge its watery weight and parted scattered heavy rainshowers and thunderclouds. Rivulets of water run along creases on the road as we walk upwards to the camp from the Balagbag Elementary School which attest that the tempest is still here. On the roadside ditch, water roared furiously whose rhythm had methodically pushed my mind to think and seek other last-minute options, just in case.
After an hour of uphill walk, we reach our campsite located inside a private property. The small flat space fronting a small house whose electricity is powered by a tiny solar power facility is squishy and completely immersed in water underneath. We gaze at the higher ground and set up our tents on four small clearings which each could hold three to five tents. I opt to set up a primitive shelter of cheap tarpaulin propped up by a foraged tree trunk in the middle and tied at the four corners with strips of cord from a cotton shirt.
Setting up beside me in an almost similar manner is Melchor Radovan of the Alamid Mountaineers. His is of fine quality rip-stop tarp and pricy-looking flat rope strung from shrub to ground. His tarp is big enough to accommodate five people yet he welcomed me to sleep under his shelter which I oblige and I immediately splay my PVC tarpaulin above the dirt for my own bed space. I decide to make my shelter as a storage area for the rest of my gears which amounted to nothing but just an assortment of borrowed, foraged, improvised and hand-me-down items.
I prepare my dinner while there is still light and make work on the taro sprouts, gumbos and green pepper and stir fry this after cooking milled corn. There are no milled corn sold in Metro Manila marketplaces and I bring my own from Cebu. All the participants, except those few from the Visayas and Mindanao, got fascinated of my milled corn while my “takway” dish elicit a lot of questions from the urbanites.
After supper, some of the participants converge on a tarpaulin awning fronting the house for social time and a getting-to-know-you circle ensued. It happen to be the birthday of Ella de la Cruz and there is a simple celebration ratcheted up by her fellow participants. Soda drinks and wine flowed all around while a full cake is sliced after a candle blow-out rite complete with sparklers. Funny two-liners passed around even while the heavens start to pour another flurry of rain which stopped just as it had started. Boyet Cristobal arrive just in time to enjoy the exchange of jokes and he got a lot of doses of it as well.
Meanwhile, Pastor Reynold Boringot (yes, Virginia he is an evangelist) I learned, had made Mt. Balagbag as a training ground for himself and for MCAP climbers and, not only that, he targetted the children here as recipients of their outreach programs. The recent paint make-over of the libraries of public schools of Rodriguez, Rizal is a testament of MCAP’s willingness to part generously their time, resources and charity in tandem with the National Book Store and KaEskwela Foundation – an NGO. Quite commendable and endearing and should be replicated everywhere.
Mountaineers should give back to the highland residents and indigenous communities in appreciation of the latter’s willingness to have their domain and farming lands accessed and used by the former either as camping grounds or hike trails. I have done a similar program such as those mentioned above in the Babag Mountain Range of Cebu City and how am glad to be with an organization that has a heart.
Lights out is at 10:15 PM and I snuggle into the half-open shelter with nothing but long hike pants, long-sleeved synthetic shirt, socks and bonnet. It began to rain at dawn the following day – September 30 – and I awoke shivering. I try to remedy the situation by curling my body as close as possible and place my bare palms between my inner thighs to preserve body heat. It is a temporary relief which elicit me short stretches of sleep that gets snapped, time and time again, by the cold wind and drops of moisture running down the tarp. Raymund abandoned his tent and joined us and we are now a crowd.
I awoke at 5:30 AM and I see Dr. Randy Castro, Liam Fritz Doños and Benju Pausanos braving the early-morning cold weather and taking bath under the rain. I used to do this in the ‘90s to taunt and challenge fellow mountaineers to wriggle them out of their comfort zones. This time, I am challenged and I change my long pants to shorts and embrace the rain half naked like a child again. The best way to break cold is to treat the wind and the rain as your brothers and embrace the cold.
Today will be the main day of the MCAP Bushcraft Camp and, after breakfast, I may have to walk an hour to a stream where there are groves of bamboo. Bong Magana with friends arrive just in time and set up tents with help from Jay Z and Marc Gana. Shirtless and carrying a machete, I follow Reynold on a dirt road for the stream. Coming along are Dino Sarmiento, Max Tercerus III, John Paul Martires, Ulysses Ibarrola, Joseph Tagle, Boyet, Melchor and Raymund. Guiding us are local grade-schoolers Dagul and Li-it. A steep path go down into the stream with thick jungle.
There are many groves of bamboo but it is of the “bagakay” or “buho” variety (sp. Schizotacyum lima) which is smaller in diameter and thinner in thickness than the usual bamboo that I used to cook with rice or milled corn. But, bushcraft and survival is adaptation and I choose the two biggest poles which I cut into three sets of two unopened segments each. These will be my “cook pots” later. We took a lot of time hunting bamboos and walking forth and back that it is almost 11:00 AM by the time we reach camp.
In a little while, two birds of prey appear and soar above our camp in circles. The raptors are not that far and I could plainly distinguish the length and color pigments of their wing feathers as different from Brahminy kites and I believe these are serpent hawks. I am fortunate to witness their welcoming presence and it is a good omen for me. I hear them calling each other or it may have been a welcome greeting for yours truly - the Trailhawk.
I decide we first prepare and eat lunch before starting the the basics of bushcraft and survival. I work on my last stash of taro sprouts, gumbos and green pepper for my meal. Dino helped me with it by stripping away the thin skin which may contain small amounts of toxin. Jay Z and Bong shared their pork caldereta with me and it is superbly cooked. Outdoorsmen should enjoy the outdoors with good food eaten hot from the cooking fire and not rely so much with canned goods and repacked food eaten cold.
At 1:00 PM, I start the bushcraft camp. Part One is Introduction to Bushcraft and Survival. The participants make use of boulders on a slight rise of a knoll as seats like a crude amphitheater. I explain the idea of bushcraft to them; what are its standard activities; where it is usually done; its relation to the environment; how it affects your psyche; and why should it be taught to mountaineers. After that, I proceed to Part Two which is Survival Tool-Making. I discuss the most basic hand-made tools that a survivor would likely use in his day-to-day chore like foraging sticks, cordage, cooking/dining implements, friction devices, etc.
I included a sub-module about Everyday Carry or EDC which is Part Three of my syllabus. This time, Raymund do the honors of explaining to the participants about the importance of EDC in everyday living, whether you are in the mountains or in your workstation. Raymund is a member of Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and he specializes in EDC which he maintains for himself and, at the same time, give pointers about this kit. From a distance, I see thundercloud looming and coming fast. As I begin to resume my lecture, rain fall hard and everyone go to the safety of the lone house.
For about thirty minutes, we could do nothing but wait for the rain to subside. It is now 3:20 PM when I start Part Four and, this time, it is about Knife Care and Safety. Bushcrafters are proud of their blades and I assume mountaineers do likewise, albeit in a discreet way. The choice of sheaths and the manner of carrying are very important to minimize accidents not only to oneself but also of others. Rain interrupted my lecture and have to transfer into the tight confines of the house to continue my discussion. I talk about the only knife law in the country – Batas Pambansa Bilang 6 – before I finish it with the traditional way of sharpening knives.
As the rain becomes a slight drizzle, the class transfer again outside. The boulders are wet and the ground very muddy and Part Five tackles about Foraging. This is a sticky subject which goes against the tenets of LNT but, then again, when you are on survival mode you withdraw from whatever moral values you may have in order to survive. I give an explanation of what needs to be foraged, collected or hunted in the course of your survival or in your preparation for survival. Foraging in the line of your preparation and being ready amounts to nothing else but just scraps of natural and man-made material. Hunting for food, however, is essential and absolute.
Part Six is next which is Firecraft. I explain to them that you could not achieve fire from friction if you could not even accomplish this with a simple conventional method like lighters and safety matches. Emphasis for this lecture would be more on what type of tinder and kindling and the proper arrangement of your firewood so you could successfully produce a flame. Methods, however, vary according to convenience and efficiency and I am more inclined with the bow-drill method as much better than that of the bamboo saw granting you have determined the perfect combination of wood for this which you could carry as a kit.
The last part of the lecture is Outdoor Cooking and it could either be done in the campsite, along a trail or during survival. Survival cooking means that you would have to forage materials for your cooking vessel, ingredients for food and firewood from the environment. For demonstration, I teach the participants how to prepare a bamboo as a cooking vessel and how to arrange firewood preparatory to making a fire. The air is full of moisture and thick with fog. The ground completely immersed in water and very muddy. Firewood is half-wet yet, with persistence, a fire did start by conventional means and cooking rice inside the bamboo begins.
An hour later, under Kris Shiela Mingi’s and Randy’s watch, the rice is cooked together with instant noodles done in an adjacent segment. Ella and Randy decide to cook rice on another bamboo pot which they did successfully while practicing to light tissue papers with a firesteel set on the side. The rain refused to budge and everyone went on their business of cooking meals for supper. Gene Jesus Arceno and Kris prepare spaghetti while the company of Bong and Jay Z cook pork sinigang and sisig. These people know their cuisine very well and I get to taste some of the finest food done in the outdoors.
After a short lull of washing dishes and groping in the dark for some private moments, all reclaimed their places under the tarp awning. By now, a preview of camp storytelling and yarns – sans a fire – begin to unravel. At 9:00 PM, the nocturnal hunting episode start. It would have been done at the stream where we source our bamboos but it is very far and I cannot assure the safety of everyone for night foraging is a dangerous undertaking. I choose instead a brook beside the road to simulate the idea of nocturnal hunting. There is not much to hunt except for a small fresh-water crab and a field frog. Wild strawberries complement the collection of food though.
It is minutes past ten and we reclaimed once more our seats at the house and continue our storytelling and yarns minus a campfire for we have used up our stash of firewood. This time a glass of local brandy make several rounds around the joyous circle. Jokes and funny two-liners are exchanged among the campers. Camp Red stickers and logo patches, a paracord bracelet and a Warrior Pilgrimage t-shirt are raffled off to the participants. It is raining hard again but we transfer inside the house to continue with our jolly activity. After two hours, the bottles are drained of its content just in time for the rain to stop and we make a beeline back to our respective tents.
Since it is very cold, I unpack the SOL Emergency Bivvy that Jay Z had gifted me during the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp last June and try it for the first time. I slept warmly until I awoke at 3:00 AM of October 1 shivering. It is raining hard and strong winds swept over our campsite. The tarp mat where my feet are is in a pool of water but I am dry, thanks to the bivvy chute. My body is warm but my face is exposed to the wind for I forgot to don on my bonnet; my feet could feel the cold water touching the thin layer of the thermal sack; and my hands touch condensed moisture inside the bivvy. I longed for daylight as I try to sleep out the discomforts.
I wake up at 5:45 AM and the sky is calm. Fog hover on the faraway peaks of the Sierra Madre and over the lower foothills going down to the municipality of Rodriguez, Rizal. A sinister smog hover all over the Greater Manila Area and I could hear the distant hum of a million vehicles running which a local interpreted as a roar of a flooded stream. Today is Monday and people rush to work. Some participants do leave early to avoid the traffic jam. For those who stayed, we have a lot time to pursue.
When breakfast is done, the bushcraft tradition of blade porn is unleashed. There you go brothers. Place your blades and take a shot of it and those of your friends’ knives with your cameras. I see a Ka-Bar, a Smith and Wesson, a Columbia, an Aitor, a Zachary Crockett, Leatherman multi-tools, a SOG, Victorinox Swiss Army knives, native blades, machetes, a tomahawk, a home-made blade, an ax and sickle, even a tiny scalpel by Dr. Remo Tito Aguilar. All are spread on a folding cot – a pageantry of the few who may soon become legion.
The last activity would be to summit Mt. Balagbag (770 meters ASL) and renew our bond with flag and republic. I brought a Philippine Flag for this occasion which Melchor attach to a bamboo pole that I collected yesterday from a stream. The flag dance with the breeze and we all sing the National Anthem which I lead. We then raise right palms and take our oath of allegiance for country and then all shake hands with each other for a successful summit. We go down back and break camp. We say our thanks to Ma’am Lenlen and family for our disturbance and walk to the trailhead.
We transfer from San Jose del Monte to SM Fairview, Quezon City for a post-activity discussion. Stephen Dayandayan is already at the area waiting for us. Stephen would whisk me off later for Camp Crame for some unfinished business and then to the airport. Last September 28, Stephen have fetched me from NAIA Terminal 3 and hosted me at his home in Marikina City. Later on that same day, we go to Camp Crame for an errand by my office to submit documents but we had a lot of misadventures and I failed. But today, I successfully submit these at the last minute after a great trouble of evading traffic.
It was a great and fun weekend with the participants of the MCAP Bushcraft Camp. Despite the rain, the wind and mud, we made ourselves comfortable as possible by cooking great food and making light of the situation. I have given my time generously and imparted special skills for they deserve it. These skills command a high price commercially but Warrior Pilgrimage gave it back at almost no cost at all save for replenishment of my air fare and for the printing of certificates. Looking forward to the next batch.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer
Some photos courtesy of Warren Bulasa, Gene Jesu Arceno, Paul Martires, Jay Z Jorge and Dr. Remo Tito Aguilar