Monday, December 23, 2013

REVERSING A TREND AT OSMEÑA PEAK

A LOT OF PEOPLE here in Cebu make a big thing out of “climbing” Osmeña Peak. The mountain stands at 1,015 meters above sea level and is, without a doubt, the island province’s highest point. But, by the very location of the trailhead at the Mantalongon Public Market in Dalaguete, it meant, that you would only have to walk about two kilometers and climb just more than a hundred meters. Long ago, there used to be a trail but, now, it had become a concreted road. Then you brag about it in Facebook.

Even I, unknowingly, got into that scene in the 1990s and in the early years of the next decade. I have gone there three times with my old mountaineering club, twice on solo and five more times guiding tourists. The last time I was there was in April 2009 when I was “baby-sitting” thirty-five Boy Scouts from the Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu. At that time, I begin to see a lot of changes within the Mantalongon Valley and on the peak itself.

What makes Osmeña Peak very attractive to people? Well, for one, it is very accessible and you do not need to have a guide if you are smart to know your way. Second, is you get to relish cold weather unusual for a tropical island and a perfect getaway from the summer heat. Third, the view is impressive and I do not need to explain. Fourth, it is a staging area to enjoy the cool waters of Kawasan Falls after a half day of knee-wrenching downhill hike. Lastly, you get a bragging right being on top of Cebu.

Because of all of the above, Osmeña Peak became Cebu’s highest garbage dumping site. Early mountain climbers and hikers left it pristine but the mountain is not their monopoly anymore – me including. A different crowd goes there to compete camping space among the ethical ones and these are the “seasonal climbers” and the “corporate mountaineers”. Both are not well-versed about the principles of the Leave No Trace and impose their will, not just on Osmeña Peak, but on any mountain. Another thorny issue are the mass climbing activities organized by mountaineering clubs who know their LNTs very well.

I ask you now, WHY, despite gaining just about a hundred meters inside of an hour climbing Osmeña Peak, you need to brag this in Facebook or putting an article of your exploits there for a blog? I, myself, have been mulling that question if ever there were blogs and Facebooks ten years ago. I do not want anymore to be part of that crowd who come by way of Mantalongon then leave a day after bound either for Matutinao, for Basak or back to Mantalongon. Very traditional and I need to change that through this article.


I like creative people and I liked to listen of creative exploits especially those done by only a few groups tackling Osmeña Peak on the other side of the shore. I would love to do that and discover the joys and pains of those who came before me and enjoy that trail while it is still there before concrete takes over. I am talking about the route from Osmeña Peak to Basak in Badian, only, I will do it in reverse. That done, I would give meaning why the climbing of Osmeña Peak is a worthwhile endeavour. I would have love to do a survey alone but I am generous this time.

So today, August 4, 2013, in the middle of the foulest of weather, I am leading this reconnoitering climb, guiding my “tourists” Boy Toledo and Ramon Corro. Both are in their late 50s and they are old men by local climbing standards. What I like about old men are that they stick to schedules and they don’t give a damn about the foulest of weathers which younger people have a lot of aversion to and would gladly abort an outdoor activity at the first sign of rain. Or a muddy trail.

Yes it rained hard last night and the following dawn. When my cellphone alarm screamed it is still raining and cold. Boy called me if the activity would push through which I found as a no-brainer. I take my bath and leave the house for the Cebu South Bus Terminal. By 5:00 AM, I am now waiting for my buddies at Seven Eleven. One after the other, they came and we found seat inside a CERES Liner Bus bound for Badian.

Boy and I belonged to the same mountaineering club but he stayed while I quit after 20 years and organized my own club – Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild – the first and the only one its kind in the Philippines. The fact is, I see local mountaineering clubs too tame and too girlish for my whole liking now and I disdain its full adherence to LNT which cripple individual freedom although it is good to have this as a guiding principle to all the lowest mammals – the newbies.

We reach Badian at 9:30 AM and we go to the market to secure our food ingredients for our lunch, which we will cook along the trail. From the market, we transfer to Basak by tricycle. I share my bread with Boy as our breakfast and I down mine with water hoping it will expand in my intestines. Ramon is a corporate executive. He is just new to mountain climbing, in fact, less than a year. Boy had been tutoring him on the light stuffs while I had been exposing him to the real world.


We leave Basak at exactly 10:45 AM at approximately 235 meters elevation. So that leaves us 780 meters more to gain and, at what time, I do not know. I check on my compass since there is no sun to orient myself. Rain is pouring hard and this is very interesting and challenging. Rain sharpens my mind and covers every trace of my passing. The trail is wet, parts of it muddy, most with puddles, but I choose to skirt it by stepping on side vegetation. Limestones are slippery and every rock is an obstacle.

Every uphill rise is height gained and a chance to settle limbs for a minute’s rest. Cold is an unrelenting tormentor. Each moment of brief rest, it seeps through your skin. You move again but never allowing yourself to overstretch else the cold would grab you by the limbs and make you immobile. Your body heat is slowly gnawed by the elements and, when you have less of that, cold could be menacing, especially at the higher elevations where exposure to wind chill is great.

We reach the small village of Malagaring at 11:30 AM. Sure that would be a good place to stop and prepare our meal but I do not follow conventional thoughts that found dependence on the clock. If I do, we will lose momentum to cold. Lunch could be had later behind those mists, possibly, at 1:00 PM and at a place where we are beyond the halfway point. I know where that would be but it is best that I keep this to myself to discipline stomachs of Boy and Ramon and to lessen their expectations.

After Malagaring, the trail follow the contours of a narrow valley which was converted into small farms. We keep to one side until we cross over a ridge and out into another narrow valley. The trail climb up and cross another ridge and back again into the first valley. By now, farms have been few and we pass by a swath of forest where, twenty years ago have been thick. This forest have thinned considerably through the years as people begin to encroach.

The rain have not abated and it is a welcome option than walking under the hot sun. I know this trail. It is really very warm during a normal day except at the forested area and, of course, during a rainy day. Fogs cover the surroundings beyond 30 meters hampering slightly your vision. Few birds are flying although I hear the noises of those who did not. Pacing slowly, done to accommodate Ramon and to prevent accidents, we gain elevation.

I do not have proper breakfast except for a piece of bread which I shared to Boy. Ramon, on the other hand, had prepared for this event and ate his breakfast early at home. I know that a small piece of bread won’t last long but I drank water afterwards to bloat it. Boy did not. While on the halfway point to the village of Patong, Boy slowed down. Ramon backtracked for him and Boy complained that he is hungry.


I have advised Boy and Ramon to rehydrate often. Just because it is raining and you do not feel thirsty, you elect to preserve your water untouched. What you do not know is that you are surrendering heat to cold and your body need to maintain temperature by food you ate and water you drank. Boy did not take water and his body used up his eaten small piece of bread quickly. Failing that, it would take a toll on your resistance to cold and fatigue.

I keep Boy’s hopes high by assuring him that Patong is just over a low hill. I could hear dogs barking from afar and I see a family below the narrow valley gathering firewood. Ramon did not abandon Boy and both of them are safe. I would not wait for them but would go on my way, only slower, else I would suffer from the inactivity of waiting. The trail is ascending but not abrupt. I look back and the duo disappear from my view.

I pass by solitary houses until I see a small community. A pig squealed somewhere and I pass by a small patch of corn smothered by something more formidable than wind or water. I could feel the tight squeeze upon my calves. I am amused at the thought of people wrestling a pig in the middle of a corn farm which I have not seen but traces of it tell a story. My thoughts are still good despite not drinking myself a drop since I left the trailhead. I know my body very well and I listen and I push it to its limits and know when to stop.

When I reach the village center, I stop. It is 1:10 PM. I drink two gulps of water and sit for the first time on a wooden bench. Oh God, it is a luxury to just be sitting down again. Thanking silently simple blessings are part of my habit. I get up again and prepare coffee and cook milled corn. I know Boy and Ramon will not arrive in five minutes time and both will be safe in each other’s company even without me. The trail is clear and there are houses they could stop to ask directions for.

While I am in the middle of cooking pork adobo, the squealing pig which I heard a while ago arrive bound above a basket which two locals alternately carried. It is a good-sized pig weighing about 75 kilos and the two men would carry that over a high saddle of the Southern Cebu Mountain Range then going down to the Mantalongon Public Market more than four kilometers away in the rain. What a formidable test of strength and balance for these duo.

Meanwhile, Boy and Ramon arrive more than fifteen minutes since I took refuge in Patong. They had stopped earlier to make coffee on the trail and would have prepared meal on their own when they remembered that I have all of the stuff with me. Boy got revived by coffee and both decide to forget their excruciating conditions to look for me which they did after hearing the squealing pig. Ramon take a reading from his digital altimeter and we are now at 641 meters.

Boy took over the cooking of the pork adobo and then the pork stew with mushrooms. I cook another pot of milled corn. The cooking is excellent and I get myself three servings of the hot soup and leave the pork adobo alone. There was so much food left that we gave it all away to the locals. We pack our bags after cleaning the pots and the utensils and leave Patong at 2:30 PM. By now, the rain had stopped but gusts of wind replace it. Wind chill factor is now discernible here but we ate a good meal and I trust that my partners would make good at the higher elevations.


There are now many houses along the route to Osmeña Peak from Patong. I could not blame people owning a homestead in a land classified as timberland. We are here for recreation and they, on the other hand, eke out a living from an inhospitable land and these mountain ranges are not anymore the monopoly of recreational climbers. They have to live and concrete roads give them easy access to sell their produce to markets and I cannot blame why trails are replaced by concrete. It is a fact of life that change is constantly true to its form.

We reach the high saddle and a road project is ominous. It tiptoed over the ridge and, someday, its train of concrete will flow down the narrow valley of Patong and Malagaring and connect to a road that is coming up from Basak. The road will bring convenience to the life of highland inhabitants and, sadly, it will give up woodlore and primitive-living skills practiced by them. I am saddened but, on the other hand, I am happy for the folks, especially the children. It will create a lot of opportunities for them.

We walk down the fog-shrouded road and looked up at the Peak. It deserves a visit and Ramon will have that honor being his first time. What will make it more sweet for him is that he did not do it from Mantalongon. HE DID IT THE HARD WAY FROM BASAK! Boy accompany him up a trail and both initiate their respective altimeters to read mode. Boy with the analog barometric wristwatch at 1,015 MASL and Ramon by his iPhone 5 digital reader at 1,025 MASL.

When the pair got down, we all cinched our bags for a last push down the road to Mantalongon. The light had faded and soon it would be dark. We reach the Market and it is Angelus time. We hop on motorcycles-for-hire for the highway and completed a trek that would now give Osmeña Peak the respect that it deserve as the “Grandfather Mountain of the South” and it also deserves a space on your Facebook wall granting you tackle it from Basak.

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Monday, December 16, 2013

TACTICAL SECURITY RELIEF WORKS AFTER THE EARTHQUAKE

AFTER THE 7.2 EARTHQUAKE shook the islands of Cebu and Bohol on October 15, 2013, the company where I worked in, authorized me to organize a relief mission to concentrate on the severely damaged areas. My company – Tactical Security Agency, Inc. - employ security guards assigned at the different PhilHealth and Pag-IBIG Fund branches in Bohol. Aside that, a lot of our guards came from these places and it is my task to determine which guard will be given aid.

I decide that we concentrate on the areas between the town of Talibon in the north, then going south to Tagbilaran City, as the very places that will be prioritized for relief goods giving, to include the islands. Approved during the discussion were the procurement of rice, canned goods, instant noodles, biscuits, sugar, milk, chocolate drinks, coffee, salt, “bihon” and dried fish and the people that will comprise the team.



After allocating funds good for twenty-one families of our security guards, the company’s relief mission moved forward. So, on October 26, this blogger commenced to undertake this humanitarian mission alone. I facilitated for the transfer of relief packs for the first batch of nine families from Cebu to the Port of Talibon.


The original plan was to distribute the goods on two company motorcycles to be shipped from Cebu but it was shelved due to safety, less info on road conditions and unreliable supply of gasoline on the affected areas. The PhilHealth office in Talibon then becomes the depot of relief goods intended for the guards who are residents of the towns of Getafe, Buenavista, Talibon, Inabanga, Sagbayan and Carmen.

Then on November 2, this blogger again went on another solo relief operation for the second batch comprising twelve families, with which relief bags I again facilitated for shipping from Cebu to the Port of Tagbilaran. The PhilHealth office in Tagbilaran City was used as the storage area of the relief goods servicing the guards who are residents of Tagbilaran City, Catigbian, Loon, Antequiera and Dauis.


During the two trips I took, I made many guards happy. Not because of the relief packs but because this company took pains to recognize their importance in our policies. We take care of our people and that’s what counts. Our security guards are our frontliners and we never abandon them when SHTF comes so we give back. They are our jewels. It is for this reason that Tactical Security is on top of its game in a very competitive industry.



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Monday, December 9, 2013

COMPLEAT BUSHCRAFT IV: Campsite Hunting

I HAVE BEEN LOOKING for a place that has a good carrying capacity which could not create environmental concerns in the event Snakehawk Wilderness School starts to accept extended activities on a regular basis. Although the Buhisan Watershed Area and among its fringes is a very perfect site, I could not help it when my activities use up forest resources like bamboos (which is very rare there) and would defeat my own preservation effort.

You see, my partner – William “Jungle Wil” Rhys-Davies – is working full-time to get Snakehawk forward. I have never seen him so dead serious so I suggest a place down south to get Snakehawk over the horizon. I have been to Lower Sayaw, Sibonga last April to scout the area for its resources and to assess its carrying capacity should Snakehawk pushes to host a great number of clients. It was during the time when we were negotiating with a maritime school to equip their students the necessary survival lessons.


Jungle Wil need to visit the place ASAP and I arranged Glenn Pestaño to accompany us there. This is the favourite haunt of Glenn and he knows the locals there very well and so, on July 21, 2013, we meet at the front of the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish in Pardo, Cebu City to board a bus bound for Carcar. In less than 90 minutes, we were dropped at Ocaña, where there is a road going to Napo. From there, we ford a stream and follow a dirt road going uphill.

In less than an hour, we reach the house of our host: Rufing Ramos. We unpack our things to change into dry clothes since we were sweating quite a lot from the uphill walk. Last night it was raining very hard in the city and it stopped at dawn. When I woke up that early morning, it was still raining but I ignored the weather as I am an amphibian. By the time we start the hike, the sun shone.

I tour Jungle Wil around the house of the Ramos family and showed him the different fruit trees and herbal plants grown by Rufing. Then we move to an open meadow on a hill and showed him the campsite which could accommodate more than twenty tents. We follow a path down into a very small valley where there is a dry small brook and show him three different types of bamboo growing.


Further up another hill is another path which goes down to a natural spring that feeds an irrigation canal for a small rice field. The waterway would be perfect for nocturnal hunting as it might be teeming with rice frogs, fresh-water crabs and, possibly, shrimps during night. Along the way is a perfect trail to teach people plant identification and a sort of a “discovery hike”.

We return and I see Rufing setting up two snares with a pressure-trigger mechanism nearby his house. This kind of snare is designed for fowls and birds and he funnel his intended prey by blocking all the spaces in between except through the snares. Hopefully, what would be caught by the snares would be lunch and he did not even bother to place bait.

As we were talking and having coffee, an unmistakable cry of a fowl came from where the snares are located and we proceed immediately to investigate. Indeed, a rooster was caught with one foot raised up high by the cord attached to a branch that served as a spring mecahnism and we have now food. Rufing’s wife dispatched the chicken in the kitchen along with the two kilos of rice which we brought.

Sure enough, we have our lunch at 1:00 PM. The chicken was not tender but it is tasty as it was free-rein. I keep going back to the pots for refills of rice and soup. I see Jungle Wil enjoying very well the food with his old canteen cup. While resting after the meal, Glenn arrive with a gallon of frothing jungle juice. It is not sweet but it is fresh nonetheless.


I go down to another steep valley where groves of spiny bamboos grow. I need to retrieve a short dry pole, a remnant of the ones I cut last April, for use as a trap. This pole would be utilized as demo for a scheduled activity. I return to the house to work on it when Rufing notice fungus growing on the rim and on the insides. I am always wary of mushrooms and fungus because I have limited memories of it but Rufing assured me that it is edible and tasty.

Rufing showed me to a place where a lot of it can be found. It grows on decaying and burnt wood and, indeed, there are a lot of it growing. I ask Rufing what name do they used for the fungus and he said that they call it as “kwakdok” and it sounds funny because it rhymes with “quack doc”. Anyway, we harvested a lot of it and I get to fill a half-full inside a plastic bag. Rufing even taught me how to prepare it before cooking.

Well, after that useful time of foraging, we both go back to the house and proceed to work on the bamboo pole and help finish the coconut wine. When it is about 4:00 PM, we decide to go down back to where we came from in the morning. We got into a snag with a group of old villagers wanting to know more of us and our purpose. Here, we get to drink hard liquor as a matter of respect and concoct alibis so we could leave.

When we thought we are free of them, we again are delayed by another group of drunken, but younger, people on the farther stretch of the road. Here, we have to use all our cunning to get rid of them because, it seemed the glasses of strong drinks are plenty and it is getting dark. When we had finally been freed of “social impediments”, it was already dark by the time we reach the highway.


We leave Carcar at 7:00 PM and reach the big city at 8:15 PM, thanks, in part, to a flying public utility jitney disguising as a bus! I did get home in one piece but I was subjected to bouts of fear on the highway.


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Sunday, December 1, 2013

THE DAY THE EARTH WENT WILD

IT IS THE FEAST OF Sacrifice for the faithfuls of Islam – Eid’l Adha – and it is a bright sunny day. It is October 15, 2013 and it is a legal holiday here in the Philippines and it made many people happy, especially children for there are no classes. My wife did not bother to wake me up early that morning. When I do rise from the bed it was almost 8:00 AM.

I enjoy the day as if it is a Sunday and, as usual, I drink a glass of water coming from the tap before going to the bath. My wife and grandson Jarod are watching TV and I join them in the living room. It is 8:20 AM. Suddenly, without warning, I felt the unmistakable shake of the ground coming from an oncoming earthquake before it begins to accelerate.

I immediately stood up to take shelter under the stairs. The stairs, along with the doorway, are my assigned refuge areas should an earthquake hit Cebu. The stairway is made of steel anchored on a landing three-feet high with the highest step welded to six-inch wide steel purlins and attached to three angle-bar trusses. My wife, together with Jarod, ran towards the doorway.

As me and my wife were shouting for the rest of our household, who all were still asleep upstairs, to evacuate the house, she automatically switch off the main electrical switch while I hold the TV set from falling down and lean my body weight towards my book shelf to keep it from falling. It is like wrestling a brute animal. The earthquake is persistent but I did not give an inch, no matter what, and no book fell.

One by one, Lovella, Gringo, Rocky, Kurt and Gabriel stream down the stairs for the outdoors. I admit I got goose bumps when the quake rose in intensity with such magnitude that had never ever been in my memory. I wished it would stop but it seemed to shake itself forever. The pandemonium caused was like a thousand 18-wheeler loaded trucks running full-speed on a rough road beside your house.

When I think that the shaking of my house was too much and too long, I unashamedly shout to Providence begging the earthquake to stop and my plea was heard or so it seemed. It stopped. Silence. I see my wife crying by the doorway. The rest of my household were on the footbridge and are quite shocked but okay. I trust on that bridge since I know how it was built and how thick the steel bars used.

I go back the house and check on the damage. I see no major cracks on the walls on ground level then I run up the stairs. When I am at the second floor, a strong aftershock hit my house again and I see my firewall swaying east and west. Amazingly, this house is so resilient. During its construction, all the beams, posts and frames are made of steel. I know very well that steel is very flexible unlike concrete.

All the bottles are down but no breakage, especially my Yellow Tail Shiraz and Johnnie Walker Black, which were placed above the ref and fell to the floor but, miraculously, remained intact. Another aftershock came, this time swift, brief and strong. I quickly filled a Nalgene bottle with cold water and went out with it together with my cellphone, my William Rodgers knife and the Cignus V85 VHF/UHF radio.

Once I rejoined my family on the bridge, some of my neighbors are already there. I turn on the radio and scan the different channels. I monitor each and caught some important communications like one individual’s observation of bubbles coming from the depths of the harbor waters at the waterfront, another’s alarming report on the damage of the Cebu South Bus Terminal and another report on a fire in Duljo-Fatima.


I sent text messages to my Camp Red network for the epicenter of the earthquake since I have no Internet connectivity in my home. I got replies and all tell that it is a 7.2 magnitude on the Richter Scale and its center is two kilometers south of Carmen, Bohol. Holy Toledo! I cannot believe it. I noticed the black creek beside my house shaken from its murky stupor.

My estimate was that it was a 6.6 but later reports says it was a 6.8 that hit Cebu. I check the outer walls of my house and along its foundations like the creek retaining wall and the bridge itself where we took our refuge. I check for tell-tale signs of dust and I found plenty on the bottom of my firewall since the outer part is unfinished. That is the weakest part of my house and I will retrofit it once I have a budget.

Aftershock after aftershock, we all stayed on the bridge and when the tremors are not that intense anymore, I visit the backstreet where most of my neighbors lived. All stayed outside and I have never seen so many neighbors! There seemed to be no major damage on their homes and other structures so I go back to the bridge and inspect the wall of a public school for tell-tale signs.

I walk past the school onto the main thoroughfare and looked for structural cracks on the old MJ Cuenco Bridge but I see it had not sagged in the middle nor the problematic soil erosion on one of the foundations where a warehouse is presently built was disturbed. A lot of people are on the street though and too few vehicles.

I go back to the rallying point and we all decide to go back inside the house but two successive aftershocks cause all to go back outside. Another calm interlude and we all found ourselves back inside. When another tremor came, all refused to budge anymore because they could now discern the difference in intensity.

When I think everyone is calm and confident, I leave the house astride a company motorcycle to make a tour of the city and of the offices where the company I worked for are servicing. I pass by GMC Building near Plaza Independencia and it was all rubble on their front parking lot as a parapet fell from its facade. Detritus on the bases of buildings tell of damage overhead and a good sign to evade those areas.

I proceed to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño but it was cordoned off. I continue on foot and take pictures of the severe damage of its belfry. Across this holy place is a commercial building where its top annex serving as a penthouse, collapsed. Two blocks away, the steel tower of the 14-storey Century Hotel is bent at the half.

I arrive at the Cebu South Bus Terminal and the covered interiors are now off-limits to people. A lot of the acoustic boards that cover the ceilings, to include its metal holders, collapsed and fell to the floor. A row of fluorescent lighting units are suspended by their wires after the boards fell and a lot of glass blocks on the entrance and exit facades are crushed and splintered.

From downtown, I cruise for the uptown area and arrive at the Cebu Provincial Capitol, the seat of government of the Province of Cebu. There were a lot of structural cracks on the old building but the greatest damage is from its annex building where a slab of concrete fell on the parking lot infront of the post office. Moreover, the ceiling panels of the Vice Governor’s Office have collapsed to the floor.

I move on next to the Capitol Central Hotel, Leadamorphosis BPO, Escario Building, Cebu Grand Hotel, KIA-Gorordo before making a coffee stop at the Pag-IBIG Fund in Cebu Business Park. From there, I motor on to Sky Rise 1 and Sky Rise 2 at the Cebu IT Park and continue on to the Banilad Town Center. I park momentarily to take a walk to the nearby Gaisano Country Mall, where a big slab of concrete supporting an access stairway broke and fell to pieces.

After that I go to the office to monitor the damage online before leaving at 6:00 PM for home. In all that time, there were already several strong aftershocks and my wife had been texting me to come home as it is already dusk. I returned the motorcycle to its parking area in my neighborhood and everyone are staying outdoors afraid of being caught inside in darkness during strong aftershocks.

My presence brought back assurance of safety to my household as they were held hostage to anxiety and fear when darkness fell. I feel the warmth of homelife beginning to glow as everyone are present and engage in conversations. Calamities such as these brought us more closer as we tuned in to primetime news. Dinner is served and I assume my position as the house patriarch.


The island province of Bohol was the most affected area. 17th and 18th Century Catholic churches, most of these heritage sites and natural treasures, were not spared. The old structures crumbled like sandcastles and the grandeur of yesteryears vanished along with it. I am quite sure that there would be a lot of casualties in Bohol as there were in Cebu.

It was the strongest earthquake I have experienced yet, surpassing the 5.6 magnitude that shook Negros Oriental last year which unleashed a grand tsunami scare in Cebu. Before that, it was a 4.5 in 1989 with epicenter at Southern Leyte. Cebu may be protected by other islands from tsunamis, but it is not anymore immune from big tremors. I am quite alarmed that crust movements are getting uncomfortably intense and so close.

That recent quake lasted THIRTY-TWO SECONDS. If that would go one minute, I am very sure that there would be a lot of old and recent structures tumbling down along with a high casualty rate. I would have survived, of course, underneath my steel staircase even with falling debris but the cost of repairing the damage would have been appalling but not insurmountable.

Always always ALWAYS designate a refuge spot inside your house. That spot is, by your own judgment, the safest place to weather a strong quake. If that cannot be possibly available, prepare an escape route and practice it by memory. That route should take you away from standing structures like unfinished firewalls, electric posts, water tanks, high fences and glass-paneled high-rises. You must also avoid standing below cliffs and coconuts.

Almost always, electrical power will stop and cellular communications will bog down in the first ten minutes. Use the hand held radio, if you have one, to monitor communication traffic and to inquire information. If you do not have two-way radio, use an old-school transistor radio instead and tune in to AM channels. Through these, you will dispel uncertainty and panic among your family and your neighbors.

If you had prepared yourself well from disasters, you and your family would survive the first three days. This time frame is very critical since help would usually come, at the most, 72 hours after the initial impact. Within this span, you and your family will subsist on food and water you stocked prior to disasters. I would encourage people to start learning about prepping and urban survival.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXIII: Wilderness Emergency Preparedness

OPPORTUNITIES TO LEARN outdoor skills are very rare here in the Philippines, much more so in Cebu, as these are confined to alternative schools of learning, which are very expensive, and from the military, if you happen to be one. Free learning are even rarer. If you are a protege of a good teacher or a descendant of one then you are assured. If not, there is You Tube and other do-good websites. However, there are some individuals who share their time and knowledge without monetary considerations.

I teach a lot of people and I am not alone when it comes to sharing. We all know that the very respectable and very capable Dr. Ted Esguerra of the Philippine Everest Expedition Team had been making the rounds in Metro Manila and Luzon teaching emergency preparedness and wilderness first aid almost gratis and how everyone in Cebu would wish that Everest Doc would come down here and share his knowledge to us.

Much as we would like it, there is another one though that could do that part and he is a true-blue Cebuano; a native son of Mandaue carrying an illustrious surname that is connected with that city. He is no other than Shio Cortes. A trained paramedic with more than twenty years of experience. He honed his skills early when he was with the Emergency Rescue Unit Foundation (ERUF) and expanded it even more during his tenure with the Central Visayas Search and Rescue (CEVSAR).


He went as far as Guinsaugon, St. Bernard, Leyte with his team of paramedics and conducted countless rescue and retrieval operations elsewhere in the Visayas. Presently he is contracted by the United Nations for water search, rescue and retrieval work and trainings at the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have met him once during Camp Red’s EDC Parley in January after showing interest in what we do: Bushcraft and Survival.

Today, July 13, 2013, Shio will teach a free class on Wilderness Emergency Preparedness to fellow Cebuanos. Since it is an outdoors-oriented activity, I arranged it be held at the Roble homestead in Sapangdaku, Cebu City. It is a perfect venue since there is a good clearing with a number of bamboo benches under shady areas. Mango trees growing there could be utilized for ropeworks demo like single-rope technique.

All meet at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at 7:00 AM. When we think that we have a lot of interested participants, we move out for Napo on board three vehicles each driven by Xerxes Alcordo, Ramon Corro and Aljew Frasco. A total of twenty-seven people came aside from Mr. Cortes and this blogger. We walk trails, cross streams and climb steep ground until all arrive safely at the Roble homestead.


We choose a shady place underneath a mango tree with bamboo benches. All participants take their spots and make themselves comfortable as possible. After a short introduction and prayer, Mr. Cortes started the outdoors seminar through the discussion of personal safety, the proper skills, adequate knowledge, appropriate attitude and equipment reliability.

He remind everyone that the responder must utilize whatever material and supply on hand depending on common sense and practicing this at home will increase your preparation should you encounter one outdoors. Legally, a rescuer is always liable and should never take unnecessary risks or perform any medical procedures unless it is absolutely necessary.

He goes on to the next chapter which is the Primary Assessment and Survey. It is summarized as the 3 ABCs of Emergency where:

    A is Assess (scene assessment), Airway (ensure an open airway) and Alertness;
    B is Barriers (gloves and masks), Breathing (check breathing) and Bleeding; and
    C is CPR, Cervical Spine (immobilize) and Cover (maintain temperature).


This is followed by the Secondary Assessment and Survey and it may commence once the rescuer sees no immediate life-threatening problems beginning with a Head-to-Toe Examination to look for signs of swelling, deformities and pain. Then check SAMPLE which is an acronym for Signs and Symptoms; Allergies; Medications; Pre-Existing Medical History; Last Meal Eaten; and Events. Then assign a Team Leader for an effective Emergency Management.

Mr. Cortes went on to remind all that the feeling of being in the outdoors is a trend which is something new to venture and, therefore, a very dangerous idea. Some find a peer’s story and experience very compelling and lures them to try the outdoors in an instant without preparing themselves. Most outdoor accidents happen because of poor judgment. People often forget what nature can do to them and fail to anticipate how things can really go wrong out there in the wild. Obtaining proper training, however, ensure an individual’s success.

As part of preparation, you should have a survival kit with you. Some maintain an EDC Kit or a Bug-out Bag and it should fit to the individual’s requirement according to the kind of journey or the type of environment he or she intends to venture out. Adding a personal utility rope, a personal Prussik set, extra carabiners and a hasty utility strap would increase functionality and flexibility.


Since ropes will soon become part of your kit, it is best that you are knowledgeable about basic knots. These come in either as stopper knots (overhand, figure-of-8); loop knots (bowline, double figure-of-8); load knots (Prussik, timber hitch, munter hitch, Kleimheist); and splice knots (square, sheet bend). For emergency harnesses, you may have three options to choose: Hasty pelvic diaper, Hasty chest harness and the Swiss seat.

After lunchtime, the lecture proceed on to Self Rescue Skills. It is a very technical discussion that allows proper presence of mind in relation to the angle of the cliff and the load tension of the rope. Under such circumstances, self-belay techniques are confined to the Dulfersitz technique, which require a low to medium angle of not less than 45 degrees; the carabiner rappel; the munter hitch set up; and the rope wrap. Also, Prussik friction hitches are used in Single Rope Climbing or Rapid Haul.

The last part of the lecture is Patient Packaging. Everyone is reminded that the patient should be kept as comfortable as possible as he or she may be still in a state of shock and quite disoriented. The patient’s body temperature should be preserved and there should be few disturbance or movement on the affected part.


For that matter, there are, at least, three ways to carry a patient. First is the Buddy Rescue which could be done either in Man Under Technique or Utility Backpack Technique. Then there is the Hasty Harness Technique which are appropriate with either the Hasty Harness Belay Set Up (for lowering and raising) or the Hasty Harness Drag. Then last is the Improvised Litters and Stretchers. This could be done with apparel or equipment makeshifts, tarpaulins or ground sheets and with the Daisy-Chain Package.

In all the discussions, Mr. Cortes was able to explain to the participants about Wilderness Emergency Preparedness with such versatility and authority and have unselfishly used his experience and his equipment, particularly his supply of sanitized medical apparatus, for that matter. This blog, being one of the organizers, together with Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, appreciates very much for the time that Mr. Cortes had given to his fellow outdoorsmen and, for that, we are quite indebted.


Special thanks to Maria Iza Mahinay for becoming a willing “patient” and getting wrapped up and packaged. Another thank you each to Mr. Alcordo, Mr. Corro and Mr. Frasco for providing vehicles for this activity. Lastly, our thank yous to the Roble family for generously giving us the space to conduct our lectures, firewood for our cooking and the green coconuts which made the place a natural resting area of local and foreign backpackers.

This outdoors lesson has equipped the participants the needed knowledge to make all their outdoors activity a much safer endeavor. I may someday meet some of them along the trail and that would make me feel secure knowing they are around.


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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A DRRM BAYANIHAN FORUM FOR CEBU & THE REST OF THE VISAYAS

THE INTENSITY OF DISASTERS that have hit the Philippines had never been so alarmingly high and threatening. Unexpected heavy rains produced so much damage to property and agriculture and caused unnecessary loss of lives. Areas which had never before been inundated by these natural onslaughts are now part of the swath of destruction that had, in the past, affected our eastern seaboard only. Weather patterns are now very unpredictable, all because of this climate change.

Our usual response are reactive. We mobilize only during and after a disaster. For that matter, it is too late and too little. National emergency response teams and volunteer organizations are stretched to the limit offering what is available and where it is most accessible. There are only a few dedicated teams on stand-by and most of these are located only in Metro Manila and the rest of the country are left to fend for themselves. When that happens, the government are forced to spend more.


In order to preempt such daunting challenges, the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Reservist and Retiree Affairs (J9), Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) decided to formulate a program that will organize, train and integrate Disaster Risk and Reduction Management (DRRM) Companies into the AFP Reserve Force. One of its objectives is to put up 137 DRRM Companies in three years (2013-2016) in all fifteen regions nationwide.

It will be proactive and that will be its primary function since it will be an on-site unit which will spearhead Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation that will work closely with Local Government Units (LGU) and the local populace. When called upon during disasters and calamities, it will be a reliable First Responder Group. As such, these units will become the AFP’s force multipliers to assist the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and their respective LGUs in their DRRM Operations and Programs.


Last October 12, 2013, this blogger was invited by CPT JOSE GOCHANGCO, JAGS (Res) to attend a DRRM Bayanihan Forum which was hosted by the 5th Technical and Administrative Brigade - Visayas (Reserve), AFP Central Command at the Sacred Heart Center in Cebu City. I represent the mountain-outdoors sector and my club – Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. Aside mine, other sectors were represented like the medical and legal professions, the Coast Guard Auxiliary (PCGA), the Air Force rescue unit (505 SAR), the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP), volunteer rescue groups, the Army reservists (RCDU) and representatives of LGUs from the Western Visayas Region.

Guest of honor and speaker is MAJ GEN MARLOU SALAZAR AFP, DCS J9. He is the brains behind this program and he gave a presentation of how this will work out. He wanted Cebu to be the first in the Visayas and Mindanao to organize a DRRM Company and another Civil Medical Operations (CMO) Company as they just did recently in Metro Manila. I rose to the challenge by concurring with Jack Janson, the Training Director of the Central Visayas Search and Rescue Unit (CEVSAR), to organize a DRRM Company amongst ourselves.

Part of the package in organizing a DRRM/CMO Company is that each member will have the option to become an AFP Reservist – a citizen soldier – and a chance to be commissioned in the reserve force if ever he/she complies with certain requirements set by J9, AFP. A member can then avail of a series of cross-trainings like Health and Emergency Management (Dept. of Health), Water SAR (Navy/Coast Guard), Collapsed Building SAR (BFP), Air Deployment SAR (Air Force), Hazard Area Mapping (Dept. of Energy and Natural Resources), Mountain and Difficult Area Operations (Army) and the Incident Command System.


Although a DRRM/CMO Company source their own equipment and materials by themselves or through donors, the OCD and the LGU will provide travel and mittimus expenses to and fro the affected areas. These companies, by purpose, are purely voluntary and it will not be taken against an individual should he/she decide not to go on a deployment. By being “territorial”, deployment time will be swift and would not have to go a long bureaucratic process by which the old system works.

I have committed myself and Camp Red to form a company among other outdoors enthusiasts together with CEVSAR. Dominic Sepe and Eli Bryn Tambiga, also of Camp Red, attended this occasion and will be the first of the personnel, together with Jack of CEVSAR, to compose one of the many DRRM/CMO companies for Cebu. I am eyeing to hook up with the PCGA, the BFP and ham radio clubs. Before this forum had been conceptualized, I had already initiated the training/seminar of Camp Red and other outdoors groups about wilderness emergency preparedness, acute mountain sickness, ham radio operations, land navigation, primitive-living skills, stamina build-up, etc.


It is about time that we all work together to prepare for and mitigate risks concerning disasters before it is too late to act. The ugly presence of climate change is real and it had distorted greatly our weather patterns and the volume of rainfall. Nature’s wrath is an act of Providence and there is nothing we can do about it but we could adapt and improvise and make something out of that. We have to reformat our way of thinking and the programs presented during the DRRM Bayanihan Forum are solutions worthy of trying.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XXIII: An Experimental Tour

WHEN A TOUR AGENCY took interest of what I do in the mountains here, I immediately refer them to William “Jungle Wil” Rhys-Davies, my partner at Snakehawk Wilderness Skills School. He is my marketing director and I am just the lowly mechanic. I just do the dirty stuff, the down-to-the-knee work; while he, does the finesse side of things. Go ask him if he still has business cards left.

Seriously, the Cebu Trip Tours wanted to expand their tours through Cebu’s backwoods and the idea of a peep into a survival activity by their clients would do well with their business. Jun Barretto, the owner, gave me a call one day and we met and he explained to me the details of what he has in his mind. I promised him I would look into it and I nudge Jungle Wil right away to arrange anything they want to know of what we could offer.


That done, we set July 6, 2013 as the date to test this backwoods tour in the Buhisan Watershed Area near where the dam is located. The Buhisan is the perfect place to do this as it is a thickly wooded area with beautiful trails shaded by a forest of mahogany trees. It is a day activity and, if we are lucky, we might find a rare bamboo thicket, harvest a pole and then cook rice and vegetable stew in it. That if we are lucky.

Through my recommendation which Jungle Wil liked and which Jun appreciated very much, he arranged that all his staff join and experience the “Discovery Tour” which I just designed in the back of my head. Anything could happen, give or take a few or all of the items on the itinerary but it does not matter to Jungle Wil and me as we are flexible enough to put aces on the table where there are none.


Truth to say, we have more than sixty years of outdoors experience between us and this experimental day tour is one of those times where our creativeness pops out like second nature. Although I have been to the Buhisan a lot of times, this is the tamer side which I do not visit often. Sure, there are trails but which one to take and I need to know who is with me so I could assess what measure of difficulty that I could force out of their sweat glands.

It is always second nature, my friend. So we got Jun and his wife, their nine staff – all ladies – and their lone driver. Jungle Wil also invited Paul Thomas, a native English speaker and instructor, to study the viability of teaching English to his clients in an outdoor setting. Last, but not the least, JR Serviano of Silangan Outdoor Equipment sent his representative to give a demo of their products.


Silangan Outdoor Equipment, by the way, is one of Snakehawk Wilderness’ valued partners. It is a wholly Filipino-owned company that manufactures high-quality but quite affordable tents, sleeping bags, rain jackets, fly sheets, hammocks and other outdoor accessories while giving employment to local sewers. Aside that, they are now into outdoor wear where a prototype hiking shorts is now under the crucible of tests by Jungle Wil.

Cebu Trip Tours provided one their own fleet of 10-seater vans from their office at the Persimmon at Mabolo to the Buhisan. We all arrive at 9:00 AM after a visit to the market in Labangon in between. I start the tour by giving the history of the Buhisan Dam and what were the kind of trees planted here to support the watershed.


Along the trail, I give the names of the most common trees growing here (mahogany, teak and arbor); the types of plant to evade (rattan and the stinging tree); and the invisible but very audible avian presence (kingfisher, bankiyod, tamsi and the wild fowl). Everyone is encouraged to take pictures of anything to foster their knowledge.

During rest stops, Jungle Wil would take over and talk about outdoors safety and wilderness emergency preparedness; the need to rehydrate regularly; proper clothing; the important tools and gears; and how to process information useful to an outdoors activity. On another setting, Jungle Wil digest the fine points of selecting a good campsite and choosing a good spot for a campfire.


I take them to a deep part of the forest where the trail vanish. Too few people visit this place since it is choked with spiny rattan vines. However, keen observation point me to a path which cannot be read by an untrained eye and I see a trace of where a hunter had stayed last night. A logical spot since across, divided by a stream, is a place where there is a wild rooster crowing.

We all returned to where we had started and it is already 11:00 AM. I retrieve all the food ingredients from the van and start preparing the meal. I cook milled corn and rice on separate pots and another pot for chicken sinigang. JR’s man help me with fetching the water and, later, the cooking of pork meat on glowing charcoal. Since Jungle Wil is busy with the group, I cooked his meal which is a stew of chopped carrots, radish and garlic; sliced tomatoes and cabbage leaves; and seasoned by onions and garlic in an Army canteen cup.


While I am doing my thing with the stoves and pots, Jungle Wil gets the group busy by engaging them in classic team building and group dynamic activities. I snatch a quick look when I can and it was fun. When everyone settled down, Jungle Wil demonstrated how to construct a simple shelter by installing a Silangan hammock between two trees underneath a fly sheet. Lunch is served at 1:30 PM and it was an excellent meal that gets two or three servings by some.

Sadly, a grove of bamboo on this side of the Buhisan is very rare. There are only a very few places where it grow here but those are on the wildest side which is a bit far. I was not able to give them a demo about how to cook something in a bamboo pot but I give them something to keep busy: Making fire by friction on two mature pieces of bamboo which I prepared and brought for this occasion.


It is hard work even when it smoked so thick yet the magic was not there. Even when the width of an inch-wide bamboo was reduced to a half-inch. Even when the face of one bamboo was littered with blackened troughs from left to right. Even when the tinder was showered with minute embers. Even when the main bamboo split apart to the sheer weight of the force it received.

It was fun and Jun and his staff at Cebu Trip Tours now have an idea how to make their backwoods tour a reality. I promised them more places to discover and put it to good use; more quality outdoor seminars; and a chance to bring clients where none had done before.


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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

MAN-SIZED HIKE IX: Sinsin to Guadalupe

I HAVE CROSSED CEBU on this route five times. Today, June 30, 2013, I aim for my sixth. This formidable stretch of rugged terrain saps my strength, tenderizes my foot soles, numbs my knees and exposes my being to a thousand and one worries in 12 hours of walk. Today is no different than the previous hikes here except that another Low Pressure Area is threatening this activity. I have seen worse and I am ready for any rain or heavy rain.

I could not say no to people who have been fascinated of my unusual activities, particularly this route, which is really Segment 1-A of my Cebu Highlands Trail Project. Yes, Pedro, this is requested by popular demand! I have counted nineteen people, aside me, “going” to this event in Facebook and 26 others who are “maybe” going. I really do not trust that application but, I have a gut feeling that there will be many compared from the last time. 
 

That last time was last March 24, 2013 and there were fourteen others going with me. That last time took the zest out of me for I surrendered to the demands of pain and graciously accepted the easy walk on the last stretch down to the Sapangdaku Spillway. I hate walking on roads but I ran out of options as I struggled with my painful feet soles in darkness. I begin to question my steely resolve but it is better that I keep that to myself at that time.

There is one lesson learned when I travel from Cebu City to Lutopan: The bus waste a lot of precious time from my itinerary by silly-dragging itself on the highway from the bus terminal to the corner of the Uling Road! Another lesson is also learned: Motorcycle operators taking you from Lutopan to the jump-off point in Camp 7 charge you than what others pay because you are not from their locality and they enjoy that all the time. Dickheads!

Today, I modified the itinerary. I will take a public jitney instead from Cebu City to Tabunok and, from there, ride another jitney for Camp 7. I not only shortened the time of travel but I have also ensured that those motorcycles-for-hire in Lutopan do not get a single centavo from my party - never again! - and I am now beginning to see the full truth of my schedules.

We leave from Citilink at 5:00 AM with most of the early risers to Tabunok to meet the earliest of the birds there: Boy Toledo, Ernie Salomon and Ramon Corro. These three are old guys and what I like about old guys is they stick to schedules with an hour to spare. We arrive at the old market after thirty minutes and meet the advance party. Everything seems to be alright except the vacuum felt in our tummy. We looked for breakfast and settled at Andok’s.

By now, Silver Cueva, Randell Savior, Patrick Henry Calzada, Antonette Bautista, Dominic Sepe, Maria Iza Mahinay and JB Albano joined our numbers. Aside from Boy T, Ernie and Ramon, those that waited at Citilink and commuted with me to Tabunok were Boy Olmedo, Neil Mabini, Nyor Pino, Jingaling Campomanes, Eli Bryn Tambiga, Jamiz Combista, Kulas Damaso, Mayo Leo Carillo and Bogs Belga. That is a lot of people – twenty – including me.


What have I done? Yes, this is a recreational activity but I got some reservations on the physical conditioning of some goers and I worry that the long line of twenty people will be stretched longer once the enthusiasm loses its sheen before we even reach the halfway point. By that time, it will be steep, hard and, sooner, dark.

We ride on a very roomy public utility jitney which was originally destined to leave at 1:00 PM. The PUJ leave its piece of road at 8:00 AM by virtue of our sizable number and a chance to return to its original place and time with which once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity the driver could not refuse. The PUJ looks like a bus and it looked like some kind of bus that ply the roads of the ‘80s. It maneuvered well the narrow stretches of the Manipis Road which it is famous for and reach the Sinsin Junction.

It did not rain despite the ominous presence of rain clouds and I am pleased to brief all the hikers on the jump-off site. We hit the route at exactly 8:45 AM, already delayed by thirty minutes which, I know, I could overcome easily and tweak my itinerary by test of speed that I could pursue once we reach Odlom and by a very favorable weather. I am very pleased indeed.

Once I reach the river bank, the water have not risen high nor it is of turbid brown. A smile crossed my face that the previous day’s rain have not moved the Bonbon River a bit. The water is cool once I set a dry shoe below the surface but it never gets past my knee even along troughs. Satisfied with what I wished for, I set on downstream, unmindful of two Air Force Huey birds hovering above us.

We reach the place where we used to do our noontime meals at 10:00 AM and I am just too early there or I am just too damn fast. Nevertheless, it is a good place stocked with piped spring water for cooking and washing and I decide we prepare a meal for lunch. Early lunch, I mean. Everyone then retrieve their stoves and cook pots and the food ingredients which we distributed for everybody.

Milled corn and rice were cooked along with chicken sinigang, pork adobao and raw cucumber which Ernie expertly prepared. When the pots are emptied and scrubbed and the stoves are folded back inside their cases, it is time to finish the business of crossing rivers again which the Bonbon will relinquish to the Mananga River downstream of us. It is 12:00 noon and I am ahead of schedule and I feel good.


It did not take that long when I reach Camp 4 at 1:30 PM where the trailhead to the Cabatbatan Trail is located and where the halfway point of our journey starts. Yes, this is the last half but this is also the most demanding stretch. The path to Cabatbatan is intimidating and unrelenting; a string of steps up a steep slope of the southernmost part of the Babag Mountain Range. It is best to remove water from your shoes and socks before assaulting.

As expected, the line stretched and the other half of my party arrived fifteen minutes later. At 2:00 PM, we start the assault. My feet soles which were immersed earlier in water for hours and stepped on too many pebbles and uneven ground along the river bed and banks begin to scream as it step on even the slightest protrusion of ground along that unforgiving stretch of upward walk.

My eyes blinked and my resolve is again tested but I dismissed all the uncomforts that begin to steal my attention. I control my pace to accommodate the untested ones and knowing full well that I also gave myself a good reprieve. The pain disappear when I do that but when I push myself hard, its as if I am in a grinding machine. Better go slow but I have an appointment to catch up and that is the 7:30 PM ETA at Guadalupe.

It is this stretch where the chaff is separated from the grain. The group is torn in half: The fittest eleven behind me and the weaker eight farther away! But, the good thing is, a small store is found at the end of this trail and this is the only place where you could reward yourself with a cold drink and replenish well-used electrolytes.

I reach the store in 45 minutes and the storefront becomes a beehive of activity. Softdrink bottles were quickly emptied and another set of just-opened ones are tilted bottoms up. I opt for a big bottle of cold pale pilsen and shared it with Randell, Kulas and Nyor. By now the stragglers arrive composed of five struggling hikers but under the watchful eyes of Eli Bryn, JB and Dominic. Even when it is beyond my attention, I have people at the tail to do the work for me. Thanks guys!


After rehydrating, it is time to move again and a lot of it concreted or pebbled road. Although I hated concrete, dirt roads threatened my feet soles now. I chose where I step and it is alright while there is still light. Downhill on an unpaved road will be torture to my feet so I go slow when I can and that put a lot of strain on my knees. Running is out of the question. I am not Superman anymore.

The road from Cabatbatan to Bocawe to the Pamutan Junction is winding, long and ascending. Each rise you see ahead will sink your heart and you could only hope that, after each rise, you will be rewarded with a comfortable plane which is almost nonexistent save for a few short stretches. After an hour-and-a-half of battle, we arrive at the junction at 4:40 PM. The earliest I came here in my five previous hikes is 5:30 PM during my third try.

When I think that I have rested enough, we decide not to wait for the second group of nine people. They are safe now and that they are on the road that we have passed by 90 minutes ago. We push on down the road to Baksan and, this time, it is unpaved and it will be dark soon which do not augur well for my feet. Mayo put on a torrid pace and forced all to speed up. Tears of pain begin to well up in my eyes as I struggle to keep up.

The good thing about today is we are too fast and too early for our appointed times of arrival at the different rest stops. When I reach Baksan, I stop to regroup what was left of my group of twenty. For purposes of cutting time and shortening the route, I included Bebut’s Trail. I used this trail on the third and fourth time of this route and it served its purpose well. Today is my first time to walk it with daylight to spare.


I lead and I do it slow and methodical-like. Pain on my soles have increased as the uneven terrain probed me underneath while putting tender foot after the other. Pride set aside my access to a LED torch even when the shadows start to swallow visibility. The monotony of walking in controlled pace at downhill turns numbed the ligaments along my knees. It increased its pain and pressure when I go down “Heartbreak Ridge”. In the faint light, the pain is snapped out from the brain yet the eyes never lie.

I reach the stone steps in the half-light and soon I will be in “friendly territory” and cold refreshments. I reach the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at 5:50 PM. I just shave an hour and 40 minutes from my original ETD and so are the ten people with me. Meanwhile, we wait for the nine at the Red Hours Convenience Store and so they came at 8:00 PM. They were true to the itinerary.

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