Saturday, February 23, 2013


Sic vis pacum parabellum
If you want peace, prepare for war. 

This is the route that I used to run twice a week from April 1993 to July 1994 while maintaining my physical conditioning as a former counter-terrorist operative. This routine always starts at 3:00 AM from the corner of GL Lavilles Street and follow MJ Cuenco Avenue to Mabolo then turning left to Juan Luna Avenue, which was known long ago as San Jose de la Montaña.

This street gradually rises and becomes known as Salinas Drive after crossing Archbishop Reyes Avenue; passing by TESDA, Waterfront Hotel and the University of Southern Philippines. It is a good route for it prepared me for the higher elevations up ahead. As I reach JY Square, I turn right taking Veterans Drive passing by PC Hills, Plaza Hotel (now Marco Polo Hotel), Casa Maria and the Maaslom exit of Maria Luisa Estate Park.

The run is gruelling with endless rises that wind slowly up and up. At the lower rises, mountain bikers would overtake me but as the going gets difficult, especially beyond Chateau de Busay, I would overtake these bikers and increase distance from them as I approach Garahe. I would run a bit farther on low gear and stop near the Tagalog family residence to recover my breathing for about two minutes.

From there, I would retrace my route back to JY Square at a high gear. Maintaining a comfortable speed is useless and a pain in the knees. You have to roll with gravity and sprint everytime you negotiate steep road descents. As I reach the end of Veteran’s Drive, I divert to Gorordo Avenue, passing by University of the Philippines, crossing Escario Street and Archbishop Reyes Avenue, then passing Camp Sotero Cabahug before turning left to Gen. Maxilom Avenue and then take a right to MJ Cuenco Avenue.

By 5:00 AM, I am now back at GL Lavilles Street and wind down the activity with brisk walking to V Sotto Street and back three times. Hydration is done at home after the run. Beverage is lime juice left overnight and water. Breakfast are three pieces bread and tea with lime, good enough to sustain me through noon.

Running attire at first is cotton T-shirt, basketball shorts and a pair of high-cut sneakers. Later, I was able to produce a second-hand Adidas running shoes which made my feet comfortable and my running a worthwhile activity where I joined 10-kilometer races and half-marathons to test myself under pressure of time.

When I knew that you could document trails through, a web application that allows you to upload GPS readings or retracing a route by hand and mouse with Google Map technology, I decide to record my old training route for posterity. But there’s more to this route that would perk your interest. To would-be warriors, here it is:

Sometime in the middle of 1993, I see a group of seventeen foreigners and locals walking briskly at the vicinity of the Carmelite Sisters Monastery. Instinctively, I transfer on the other side of the road. I am going to Upper Busay while they were going to Mabolo, perhaps, to the North Reclamation Area. It was 3:15 AM. They were wearing long white robes with turbans and skull caps and carry military-type backpacks.

Obviously, they were of the Islam faith. It is best not to antagonize them by not staring at them. But I have this ability to look without really looking. There are island barriers at Juan Luna Avenue that kept me safe from them and, besides, I believe in my stamina and my legs. From the corner of one eye, I observe as I pass.

Leading the group is a tall man of Arabic features with a long beard. Others were less imposing but there were other Arabs and a sprinkling of other nationalities. I see two Africans; some Pakistanis; and the locals could very well be mistaken as either Indonesians or Malaysians. They were walking two abreast and I thought they were on a pilgrimage to Mecca. But I doubt it.

Fast forward to 2002, right after 9/11. The CIA were able to extract stale intelligence reports from Al Qaeda militants during interrogation at Guantanamo Bay. It was reported that Osama bin Laden and select Al Qaeda operatives passed by Cebu on their way to Afghanistan from a training camp in Mindanao. One of those that was with bin Laden is Ramsa Ahmed Yousef, the author of the first bombing of the World Trade Center.

The report stated that they boarded a cargo ship which was docked at the Cebu International Port. This port is at the North Reclamation Area and this happened in 1993 with which year I saw this group led by an Arab. What coincidence! I unknowingly crossed paths with Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda!

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LVI: The Battle of the Bulge

I CAN FEEL THE ADDED weight and I am not comfortable with it. The month of December had pampered my stomach and intestines so much that my bodily desire to crave for more of the fats and sweets that I have been regulating for the past eleven months had gone out of hand. I have added girth that my favorite pair of Mammut hiking pants is rendered cabinet-bound.

The result of a hundred table feasts had made me uneasy and I have to push away the nagging feeling of just being lazy and being near the kitchen all the time where my wife cooks tasty concoctions. Got to say NO today – December 30, 2012 – and prepare myself for battle for the year 2013.

I have got to train again this early before it is too late and I set my sights to my ever wondrous Mount Babag where, I believe, is sufficient to give me this challenge. Others got wind of my plan (and predicament) and make themselves available. So, I will share the trail today with Randell Savior, Dominikus Sepe, Ernie Salomon, Wil Rhys-Davies and Mr. Bogs.

When I arrive at the church grounds of Guadalupe, Ernie and Mr. Bogs were already there. Then my cellphone got busy telling me to wait for a Dom, a Jungle Wil and a Randell. Okay. Fine. Whatever.

I carry a 40-liter Sandugo Khumbu bag and it has a stove, fuel can, a small pot, a skillet, a stainless steel cup, spoon-fork set, an extra shirt, my EDC, my tomahawk and my fire kit (just in case). I feel that the whole weight is inadequate for training so I buy a kilo of rice and two kilos of pork meat.

The added three kilos will be my training weight and I don’t need to share it to the rest and I will dispose of these when I reach the abode of the Roble family as my post-Christmas gift to them. I also buy fifty-pesos worth of bread for Manwel, Juliet and Josel. It is good for the heart and the spirit to share something and do exercise on the side.

Would I need to eat breakfast before I start the hike to Napo? The better of me got the good answer and it says NO. It is already 8:10 AM when we all walk the asphalt road to the highlands of Cebu City. The weather is fine although it would be hot pretty soon when the heat would dissipate away the early morning clouds that hover over the mountain ridges.

When was the last time I walk this road? Ah, I remember. I was alone when I walk here to the Roble homestead last January 29, 2012. I was bringing seeds for planting then. Today, I still bring seeds. I have with me five nuts of the tabon-tabon tree (sp. Atuna racemosa). This is a native of Mindanao Island and it is used in processing raw fish as a dish.

Anyway, I practice my scant English with Wil who never leave my side until we reach Napo. From there we cross the Sapangdaku Creek and follow it upstream by walking on the trail high above its banks. It rained yesterday but the ground is firm although a few muddy spots are present which we simply walk around or step over.

It is almost ten when we all arrive at Lower Kahugan Spring. I add another kilo to my back by filling my one-liter Nalgene bottle full. Now they were discussing which way to go but I tell them that I am on training and would rather take the hardest route which is the one that passes over a flower farm and which is facing directly the sun. What bravado! Let us see.

From the creek I lead the way and when I reach a mango tree my resolve begin to wilt. I gasp for air while my “love handles” weigh now like elephants. A tell-tale cramp on my left upper thigh poke my senses. Recovering my tattered sense of pride, I block those that have plans to overtake me and pushed myself up the hill and that danged shade-less flower farm.

Inhaling deep I begin crossing the exposed hillside and glad to have reach a shady part and, this time, I let the others go past me. Above me are more flower farms and I am now more comfortable with my pace with nobody behind me. I am the last to reach the big mango tree where houses are found underneath and I relish the coolness of the place.

I would have stayed long but Jungle Wil do not like that idea and I need to wake up from my stupor. Well, got to push my sorry ass now and save me some semblance of dignity. Obviously, I got the heaviest backpack and what made it worse is I carry a lot of unwanted bulges in my waist now and this is a serious battle. Yeah. I am serious!

My going is slow and I can see the others moving far ahead. When I reach a lot of shaded areas, my disposition is improving a little. I do not have to chase the air for my nose and the tell-tale cramp begins to disappear. From time to time, I see Mr. Bogs ahead in the same predicament as mine but I try not to notice so he would not force himself to work double.

Finally, over the horizon, I see the big tamarind tree. Underneath it is the Roble homestead and my friends should be there by now making coffee. The last stretch would be hot so I conserve my strength for this moment. It is now or never and I give my one last good puff of rested breath and I am there after a great effort of ignoring pain, heat and weight.

I got hold of the bench post and how I am glad that the nearest bench is empty. It is shaded and the bamboo seats are very cool and I immediately let go of my backpack as I momentarily closed my eyes to savor at this luxury. Wow, I could go on like this and not move but I need to retrieve the goods that I intend to give to the Roble family.

Yes, I got it and I bring the rice, the meat and the bread to the house and give it to Fele. His wife just arrive from their farm up another ridge and she showed a smile of gratitude and thanks. That’s all I need to keep my spirit moving and it’s a good feeling. Now, time to get my steel cup for that steaming coffee.

Ernie begins his magic on the cooking while Randell, Dom and Bogs take care of the milled corn. Me and Wil are engaged in a long conversation about the possibility of putting up a wilderness skills school. The green coconuts arrive and so is Manwel. Ernie is able to finish the mixed-vegetable soup and pork adobo and we progress to eating these as our much-awaited lunch.

After an hour of rest and pleasant conversations, we bade goodbye to the Roble family and proceed to Babag Ridge. Jungle Wil lead the way while I follow him. We are now climbing the Babag East Ridge Pass. It seem that I recovered my rhythm. Blame that to the lighter weight although I get to carry eight cobs of corn that Fele’s wife gave me.

The progress to reach the ridge take more than an hour. I am a bit disturbed that there are now barbed-wire fences where there were none the last time I climbed here. A no entry signage is now found on the short cut route to Manwel’s Peak. People are now getting greedy, I guess, and they are falsely claiming land where, I know, are classified as timberland.

We walk the Babag Ridge Road under the noontime heat but it is cooler here since it is above 600 meters above sea level. By the time I see a landmark where the trail to Kalunasan start, we separate from the road. I lead while others follow. I see the steep trail being furrowed in the middle caused by motorcycles. Water runoffs from rain made it deep and it is an ugly sight.

Down and down we go over very slippery terrain and polished stones and into scattered copse of southern mahogany trees. Here and there are mango trees and flower farms. This is the No-Santol-Tree Trail which I found and explored in 2009. The last time I used this path was during the Night Navigation Training on April 5, 2012 which ended on the early hours of the following day – April 6.

After more than an hour of walking, we reach the Kalunasan Circumferential Road and we walk south towards Napo. It is 4:00 PM and I am satisfied with my effort today in battling myself of those unwanted bulges. We take motorcyles-for-hire back to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and then transfer to the Red Hours Convenience Store for our customary post-activity discussions.

What a day and I just wish it could go on like this everyday but I cannot since I am free only on just a couple of Sundays every month. Nevertheless, it’s a good start and I feel good now. My limbs are working fine and I feel a sense of a looseness now. I think I am ready for 2013 and that project that Jungle Wil proposed to me.

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

POEM #8: Crossing Bantayan Channel

Just a speck on a map
is an island on the Visayan sea;
I cross the channel on a trimaran
guiding a group of Danes and friends.

Swollen waves, white-crested;
shook the small craft splashing spray.
I hold on to the mast and gripped a cam;
assuring my guests that it is alright to shoot pics.

A half-hour seemed eternity
as the boat struggled in mid-stream;
all are wet except our gears under a tarp;
ashen-faced and cold, perhaps, murmuring a prayer.

A half-hour more and it is shore.
The determined skipper ably steered
his boat through huge waves as it rocked.
Oh, what skill; now, spurred on by all eyes on him.

The last of the nautical miles
came fast as the last of giant swells
loosen its grip upon the hapless outriggers
gifting us pristine white sand and a preview of paradise.

A virgin island lay bare;
a prize for anyone with a stout heart
to cross rough seas on a northeast monsoon
with just a prayer, a paper sail and a banana in hand.

Friday, February 1, 2013

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LV: Christmas United

WHEN I STARTED MY weekend pursuits to the Babag Mountain Range by way of Napo in 2008, I document each and every activity in this personal blog to provide information for everyone who have access to the Internet. Each and every sortie tells a different story, present different characters or explain a distinct situation and there had been fifty-four Napo to Babag Tales as was last posted.

Some of my most important posts are those concerning charity works. It is always good to give something to your fellowmen, isn’t it? It is even more good if you share it among the inhabitants of a mountain. The distance, the ascents, the extra loads and the exertion purifies your spirit. The harder the effort – the heavier your load - the lighter your disposition. It is a pilgrimage of the heart; of the soul.

 As I said before in a previous post, “exercise and charity do blend together and each one goad the other and it produce a perfect combination that erases the most tiring trail into one that is well received after waiting restlessly for a week. Lightness borne of a good deed then springs from the heart and into your footfalls making the most difficult climb effortless and a longing to repeat the process over and over again in the shortest time available even walking on the same monotonous trails...”.

I do charity when I get a chance to visit the mountains and it doesn’t have to be in December, the season of giving. But during Christmas, it will be grand. Legions of outdoor enthusiasts and well-meaning individuals will come bearing gifts for the children of the city highlands. These people are not supposed to be there and somewhere else partying but they choose to be there and they had given time and effort on their own free will.

Today – December 16, 2012 – is one those occasions when free outdoorsmen band together to bring goodwill among the mountain folks. On short notice, the organizers meet on three occasions to keep this event rolling and so Christmas United is born. This event will now become the fifty-fifth saga of the Napo to Babag Tales.

All participants meet at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the morning and conspicuously standing out are three bales of rubber flip-flops donated by Plantation Bay Resort. All the toys, food ingredients and slippers were distributed among the gift-bearers and Providence smiled and accorded us pleasant weather for this day.

Upon arrival at Napo, all will have to walk and follow a serpentine dirt path with a heavy load upon their backs then cross streams before tackling an ascending trail towards the site shaded by an ancient tamarind tree, a big Java plum tree, mango trees and some groves of bamboo. All are equal to the challenge especially one stout-hearted participant who took matter unto his shoulders a bale of rubber slippers.

Ernie Salomon of Camp Red is tasked to prepare and cook the delight of upland children: spaghetti and hotdogs. Food ingredients are unloaded at his behest while a cooking fire is started and fed by firewood on an earthen hearth underneath the tamarind tree. A big cauldron is utilized for this occasion and this is where Ernie’s skill would shine.

Others make themselves busy by unpacking their loads and segregating these and grouped into one loot bag for each child. This task is now the domain of the couple Randell and Marjorie Savior of Tribu Dumagsa. Assisting them are female participants and guests coming from Outdoorsman’s Hub, Sugbo Outdoor Club, Primary Mountaineers and other freelance outdoor groups.

JB “Badburner” Albano is the emcee by popular demand and Christmas United got its steam going. This is the same JB who anchored a concert-for-a-cause last year that turned him into a celebrity among his peers. Bonny Ann Gicale help and relieve JB from the mic, especially, during the parlor games.

The children are served with spaghetti, hotdogs and marshmallows and they refill their plates as many times as they wished. On the side, the guys grill marinated pork meat for the noontime meal of the gift-bearers. Everyone who has a camera, document the whole activity and they were everywhere on any angle and light.

After lunch, the parlor games started and a “trip to Jerusalem” ensued. One girl wooed the gift-bearers with the popular Tagalog song titled “Pusong Bato” (translation: Heart of Stone). For her effort, she was able to receive special gifts courtesy of this event’s sponsors.

Then the loot bag are released and a long line of children in their best dress and face move about to receive theirs. Then the mothers also got theirs and more when the rubber slippers were distributed. A lot of those who came got, at least, three pairs while those who were bold enough got more than that. Even the gift-bearers themselves bring home a pair or two and that includes me.

As the activity was about to end, a lot of the guys proceed to the heights of Mount Babag while those who stayed longer prefer to backtrack to Napo. We leave at 4:00 PM and reach Napo at 5:15 PM. Camp Red decide to spend the rest of the day at the Red Hours Convenience Store in M. Velez Street for a post-activity discussion and assessment.

Christmas United was a success and the name will stay for many sequels to come and as long as there are gracious gift-bearers and donors. We, the organizers, will institutionalize this activity for it brought goodwill and understanding between highland residents and city dwellers and removed any animosity and prejudices that both harbor through the years by isolation of the former from the latter.

This good activity will bring closer both, especially the children, who will forever benefit from this. It never had been like this until the mountain trails, long a domain of the highland dwellers, became available to the outdoorsmen. The Babag Mountain Range belongs to all and it is part and parcel of our heritage as Cebuanos.

I remembered the first outreach activity I had in this part of the Babag mountains in December 2008. I came bearing gifts for my first recipient – the Roble family – and I was with Dr. Abe Manlawe, Glen Domingo, Boy Toledo, and Ernie Salomon. That was my ninth climb of Mt. Babag but I did not wrote about this but have mentioned it in an essay called “Moving Mountains, Touching Lives”.

Through the years, many people and many groups conduct their own, guided by this online journal. Little by little, the unity of purpose begin to take shape until such time that the Who Put the “N” in Nature realized of bringing together the finest groups and individuals for a good cause. And after that, it is history!

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