Friday, March 22, 2013

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XIX: Snakehawk Wilderness

WIL RHYS-DAVIES AND I had been meeting regularly many times since October when Wil broached the idea of establishing a wilderness skills school here in Cebu, Philippines. This is unfamiliar territory for me but Wil assured me that the playing field now have never been more healthy and very much favorable for us. We, he proceeded on, have wide years of experience together and possess the special skills to make this a reality.

Wil, by the way, is from Wales and had been making a living for forty or more years as an outdoors guide and teacher in the USA, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and here in the Philippines. He has travelled extensively for most of his life through deserts and mountains; jungles and cities; and in cold and desolate places. He loved to visit places astride his touring bike which he referred to as his “asawa” (translation: wife).

I, on the other hand, had been exposed to the outdoors life for the past twenty years as a recreational climber and, recently, as a bushcraft and survival instructor and designing wilderness programs and events. Like Wil, I cut my teeth early in adult life in the mil and had been privileged to have been taught by a veteran grandfather as a little boy and put these to good use to teach people about survival and primitive-living skills.

In the course of those meetings, we were looking for the proper name to carry that wilderness school in the market. I settled for “snakehawk” for a very special reason: When I was teaching in a bushcraft camp in Mount Balagbag, Rizal from September 29 to October 1, 2012, two adult serpent hawks appeared on the second day circling above me and I consider this a really really good omen.

Wil seemed to be happy about the name on the position that he is born under the year of the snake. I have worked under Wil in 2011 for Go Wild Adventures and he is so pleased to offer me a partnership for Snakehawk Wilderness Skills School. My partner will market our school and our offered courses to prospective clients, help me in the design of the training programs through research and do the actual instructions himself.

I, on the other hand, would put on all the necessary contents for the website; create and design the training courses; record and make financial statements; provide graphic designs for presentation slides and give hands-on instructions in the field. Aside that, I would identify and arrange the locations of the bushcraft camps, training facilities and contact persons plus the necessary itineraries and projected expenses.

Snakehawk Wilderness Skills School emerged from the drawing table and offered its first offering to the outdoors community: Basic Jungle Survival Course. The campsite is Camp Damazo and scheduled on January 21, 22 and 23, 2013. Two overseas clients enrolled for this initial training and they were Jon Green of the UK and Chris Perkins from the USA.

The campsite is located in a hidden nook of the Babag Mountain Range in Cebu City and is a small tongue of flat ground wedged amid two small mountain streams with thick jungle all around. Two water holes are dug on the stream bed for our water needs. The area has an abundance of dry wood and these soon will be fodder for our campfire.

First day was used up for discovery hike from trailhead to camp; campsite selection; tents and hammocks; knife safety; camp and personal hygiene; survival psychology; practical fire making and fire safety. Meals were cooked on conventional camp stove and on coals. Taps was at 12:00 midnight after a long fireside conversation.

Second day was another discovery hike into a foraging site and back; plant ID; foraging; survival tool-making; cooking and dining implements from bamboo; fire tinder; bow drill practice; bushcraft cooking techniques; agave plant use demo; snares; water sanitation; trip planning; route cards; and nocturnal hunting. Taps was observed at 9:00 PM.

Third day was a forced evacuation scenario; forced hike from camp to evacuation area; discovery hike from evac to Lanipao; plant ID; cultural introduction; post-activity discussion; and socials.

Jon and Chris had never been in a jungle environment and had never ridden a motorcycle taxi and a public utility jitney. In the course of their learning from Snakehawk, they have learned to appreciate the environment.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

WARRIOR REVIEW: Rivers 3514M Hike Boots

THERE ARE ONLY TWO things that are very valuable to me when I am outdoors: a functional knife and a good pair of shoes. Why the shoes?

Good question. The shoes protect my feet from sharp stones, pebbles and thorns. I cannot travel a good distance without a comfortable pair of shoes. I cannot climb a mountain or run down a trail without a sturdy pair with threaded soles. So now you know why shoes are tops in my list of items.

Used to own good and not-so-good pairs which I acquire either by cash or through hand-me-downs but due to constant use, compounded by heavy loads upon my back, these got damaged. There came a time when my need for a pair of shoes got so very critical that a first cousin in Sydney, Australia came to my aid and promised to gift me a pair.

Last August 4, 2011, that promise became true as it was personally handcarried by Alice Lavilles-Reyes to my waiting hands as we were having a gathering to welcome her and her husband, Ollie. It is a RIVERS 3514M Hike Boots in brown and tan combination. What timing! It came at a time when I really needed a pair of shoes to do a camp assessment at Mount Manunggal, Balamban, Cebu the following day for a wilderness safety seminar.

RIVERS is an Australian brand but their products are assembled and made in China with the materials provided and shipped by the company to their overseas factory. Basically, I don’t patronize goods coming from China due to its inferior quality, poor craftsmanship, the state’s propensity to use slave labor and for a thousand and one political reasons.

I try the fit of the shoes and I instantly liked the feel that I shoved my thousand-and-one-political-reasons down to the backburner. I am consoled though by the thought that the leather, fabric, rubber, glue, thread and the whole design are made in Australia.

So the RIVERS 3514M Hike Boots got its first test at the dirt road going to Mt. Manunggal on August 5. The first thing I noticed about the shoe is that it is very light. The three-tone earth colors appeal quite to me due to its simplicity and would go well with whatever I wear. Besides, I believe I am the only one wearing this brand here which gives a fine accent to my personality.

I begin to feel the quality of its material as I change gaits as often as I could to test its flexibility, comfort and craftsmanship. It fits my Size 9-1/2 feet perfectly as it is a Size 10. I try it on grassy grounds and wet trails and the threads grip the surface well. The real test would be the route going down to Tabunan. Kapiyoan Trail is a good testing ground as it is a steep route with washed out surfaces and an abundance of polished rocks and mossy stones.

I lose a bit of balance as I slip on a steep but slippery part yet I am able to recover without falling down as I start the descent. I was not able to dig a heel onto dirt as it is rounded and angled. I long for those old-school type of soles where it is in right angles and could dig deep into surface and stop your unintentional descent caused by gravity.

I slow my pace a bit and the soles held on the same surfaces until I pass by vegetated areas where presence of exposed roots and broken branches are numerous. Common sense dictates that no amount of good rubber would hold on wet wood especially along the grains so I chose my steps carefully but tried a step or two on bare roots. I use the foot arch but I slip dangerously sideways.

By now, boulders of all sizes begin to appear along the trail. This is the ultimate test. I start testing the grip on different kinds of rock surfaces except that which I find angled and very smooth. It held. I take steps on several rocks and I am satisfied. I used the sole edges on angled rocks and it held after a short slip of about an inch.

I jumped from one stone to another and I get to temporarily develop my confidence in my footing but when it came to a ridged rock my footing slid sideways. I stepped on it using the arch of the shoe which could not get a grip. The same result as when I step on a root earlier.

The sole is foam-injected to make it act like a soft cushion when landing on hard surfaces. The thread is of radial pattern with wave designs. One wave line run from instep to outer-heel tip and this causes slips when you step on rounded surfaces along the arch. I see no good reason why the designers decide to omit threads along the middle of the sole.

By now, I reach a stream. I opt to cross the stream with my boots on. The shoe strings are just too thin to effectively hold the boots together and they tend to slip or loose its tightness when pressure is applied or when it is wet. I may have to replace it with a thicker one from a discarded pair.

I used the same RIVERS 3514M Hike Boots the next day – August 6 – for work. I am amazed that the shoes dried quickly even as I walk a kilometer on an asphalt road that had been made wet by an early morning rain. I even walked intentionally on a wet steel plate tilted at thirty degrees but it held on and I did not feel a tell-tale sign of a slip.

I guess, this pair would serve me well in all my outdoor pursuits like multi-day hikes, crossing streams, running trails, climbing mountains or just teaching people survival skills in a bushcraft camp. I care my RIVERS like a baby and use it, as much as possible, only on the trail. It had seen constant use and work and is a sturdy pair.

But last August 26, 2012 – more than a year since I own these – the soles showed signs that it is going to dismember itself from the upper fabric, so I brought it immediately to a cobbler and have the sole sewn tight to the uppers for good. A gesture that would bring in more miles and years of its life.

Although it lived up below my expectations in a January 13, 2013 exploration of the last wild place of the Babag Mountain Range, Cebu City and, before that, it had taken me to a lot of mileage from Mt. Manunggal to Mantayupan Falls, Barili and walked on the Mananga River from Buot-Taup, Cebu City to Camp 4, Talisay City five times in a span of a year.

The RIVERS 3514M Hike Boots is, definitely, one of the best pair of hiking shoes I ever had. It had chalked up eight cross-country hikes for my Cebu Highlands Trail Project and will be ready when the ninth comes. I would purchase another pair soon as it is listed at an approximate US price of $30.41 which may change anytime but, just the same, it is quite affordable considering that it is within the P1,250-P1,350 range.

I would recommend this hiking shoes anytime for those who are into hiking among mountain trails for extended days and those who are into recreation camping.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

Sunday, March 3, 2013


THERE IS A PLACE on the Babag Mountain Range that have been tingling at the back of my mind for some time ever since I have known of its existence in 2009 through Feleciano Roble. Then on Freedom Climb 2010, I happen to meet five people with hunting rifles along a trail and they were heading to that place. I was totally envious of them.

I have been egging myself to explore that place but each time I entertain thoughts of that it simply gets buried below by my other priorities. I have a day job and I have only three Sundays each month for my family and for my outdoor sorties and lectures which I usually do with the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.

That place is simply hidden from your usual view of the landscape if you happen to walk the Napo Trail, the Kahugan Trail, the Babag East Ridge Pass or even from the Babag Ridge itself. Few people go there, even among locals, and it is a wild place, perhaps, the last wild place of the Babag Mountain Range. I will need to be there before it disappears from illegal logging and bush fires.

On January 13, 2012, I decide that this will be the day of visit. I do not know the route in going there but I know it is south of Kahugan. I will have to ask from the residents and, once done, my trail sense would make the best out of everything. Physically, I am out of shape, a condition that have been dictated by the bounties of December parties, but I am fit to meet the challenge.

Tagging along is Ernie Salomon. He have longed to visit this place when he knew also of its existence and he had been pelting me with repetitive questions of when would I decide to explore this place. Today, I will not deny him that chance and he will later do the cooking while I do the thinking once I face the obstacles.

All hikes going to Mount Babag has its place of start at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. On Sundays, when parishioners stream out of the church it is such a colorful and delightful sight. Outside of the church grounds is a streetside market where uplanders sell their vegetables and fruits to the urban dwellers. At the back are small eateries and family businesses that sell grains and day-to-day needs.

I buy a kilo of milled corn to add to my backpack weight which already is crowded with an Apexus tarpaulin sheet, a 25-foot flat rope, cords, extra shirt, my fire kit, tomahawk, machete, extra shirt, camp stove, isobutane can, spoon-fork set, two cook pots, a stainless-steel cup, my EDC kit and a Nalgene bottle full of drinking water.

Ernie may have carried also his gears, especially ropes, but I am pretty sure that he have with him now one-fourth kilo of pork meat and a half-kilo of chopped vegetables of different varieties which he bought from that street market as ingredients for our meal. After a light breakfast of local pasta, we are now ready to start our journey. We leave at 8:00 AM and hop on hired motorcycles for Napo which we reach after ten minutes.

We then follow and hike the Napo Trail which, incidentally, follow the bends and turns of the Sapangdaku Creek. We arrive at Lower Kahugan Spring after thirty minutes and refilled our water bottles. We tarry a while to enjoy the cool ambiance supplied by the shades of fruit-bearing trees. The weather is hot although it had been raining for the past two days.

I have surprised myself by leading a torrid pace from Napo to the watering area but, I believe, the real physical challenge would come ahead. I look at the ascending Kahugan Trail washed by sunlight and dread at its sight, although it rises gently from the creek and most of it are shaded. The sky is a beautiful blue with spots of cumulus clouds floating like soft puffs of cotton.

Gradually, I become aware that I am quite winded this early as the heat bore upon me and I stop at the first shade I found and hide from the sun as well as catching my breath. I need to change pace and tactics to preserve my strength. I carry a good load as well as the excess weights found in my middle torso and thighs. I wear a cycling shorts this time to protect my inner legs from chafing against my Rohan hike pants.

We arrive at the Kahugan community chapel at 9:00 AM and glad to take a rest afforded by shady trees and by long bamboo benches. Also a good time to rehydrate. As we were sitting idly, a local arrive and join us for a chat. He is going to that place where we are also going to collect bamboo poles together with his neighbor. What coincidence and I am now closer to my quest.

All four of us pass by their community and follow a trail towards a thickly-wooded place. We stop to refill at a spring-fed water pipe and I notice that the water is of the finest quality and very cool. The guy told me that this water comes from a source from up a seep across another mountain ridge a kilometer or more away. He introduce himself as Timoteo Gabisan and he is a source of good information.

A mother of one of the recipients of our recent charity climbs chanced upon me and give me three half-ripe soursops. I could not refuse the offer out of local customs but this heavy fruit would surely add to my burgeoning load. Well, I have to treat this fruit as a training weight instead. I still am struggling to reduce my body mass and this is the perfect opportunity to lose some of it. I give my thanks and proceed on.

We cross a tributary of Sapangdaku Creek marked by a big boulder. He said that four foreigners with a guide once walked the creek upstream last year but retraced their route on the same day. Of course, there are four waterfalls downstream from us and one upstream and they were canyoning and I did not know that until Timoteo spoke. He added that an outdoors group tried to find a route from here to the top of the ridge in the ‘90s and in the last decade but failed. They had with them ropes.

Timoteo warned us to be very watchful of plants that stung the skin when accidentally touched and he pointed to a nearby tree whose leaves looked like tobacco. We call this as the alingatong or the stinging tree, a local equivalent of the poison ivy. Alingatongs abound everywhere here and it blended well with the other bushes especially the saplings.

We cross another stream where thick groves of bamboo grow and this is where we are now on our own. Before parting, Timoteo showed me another trail that branch to the left and instructed me that if ever we backtrack we could take that path and it would lead us to Bocawe then on to Napo, Baksan or Babag Ridge, whichever we chose, and then he provided us sturdy staffs to aid us in our journey.

Be reminded that this place is still a dangerous place as it is wild and quite remote and I intentionally withhold the name of this place and designate it instead as the “Valley of Stinging Trees”. There is no such name on any map and it is just a fictitious label to protect any urbanite wishing to visit this place as they may get lost or they may get hurt.

This is a hidden valley choked by indigenous trees and plants that curve inwards into a cul-de-sac. Birds are numerous. You do not see them but you can hear them plainly and that is why this is a favorite hunting ground for Guadalupe and Kalunasan residents. What trails exist have already been obliterated by thick vegetation. Tracking is a skill that is absent to this generation of would-be adventurers but I am fortunate to have been taught by my late grandfather and I will retrieve again this knowledge.

I follow an almost invisible route and I slip and slip again. The soil is loam immersed by rainwater as the thick foliage prevent rapid evaporation. Thin rays of the sun penetrate the ground and it remained wet when everyplace of a kilometer radius is dry. The staff is a worthy weight on my hand as I use it to dig as anchor to help on my ascent.

I trace a set of footprints left by somebody who may have carried weight as the dent on the ground is deep or it may be that the soil is just too soft. It is indeed so soft that I cannot get a toe hold. Everytime I do, it give way. Perhaps, my weight has something to do with that. I am persistent and I perspire a lot. Both body and mind work together. It’s like playing chess and basketball at the same time.

I need to work the ascending route in five-meter bursts and two-minute rests. This reminds me of Ernie’s Trail on the other side of the range but longer and steeper. There are too few hand holds and you have to scrutinize first with which vegetation to hold else it stings at your skin.

We arrive at a rare part where the route becomes horizontal but I spy movement among the grass and see a six-inch part of a tail gradually disappearing. I froze in my tracks when the snake had a light-brown color which, I know, possibly belonged to a Philippine cobra. With my stick, I disturb the grasses to scare it away and alerted Ernie behind me.

The footprints climb again into a very steep field clearing where there were once erect bananas. Trunks of banana along with their frayed leaves are all over the route which hinder your ascents for the trunks would slide down if held as a hand hold and the leaves are not footing friendly. The leaves could also be a possible hiding place of snakes and cobras. I look at these with dismay and rap my staff hard on the dead trunks and leaves to scare away whatever lurking beneath it.

When I got past that field, I got winded. My abdomen sides where hurting from the exertions. Although painful, I welcome it for it is a sign of progress of my war against my weight gain. I look down as Ernie take his turn and followed suit by knocking his stick on the felled bananas. I lend my hand when Ernie reach the ledge of where I stood.

I estimate we are now at the halfway point of this mountainside. Below is the valley of the stinging trees and I look up at this formidable route and, once again, continue with the assault. Five meters on all fours and two minutes recovery over and over again until I see a rare spot between two trees where we could replenish our strength.

I need to have coffee to perk me up and out goes my stove, fuel and cook pot while Ernie boil the water. We shared two cups each from the steaming coffee and how I am glad that something hot keep my sanity. It is 11:30 AM.

The sky darkened and a slight drizzle fell all over us and the mountainside and valley. Good thing it didn’t rain earlier or it would be a very nasty affair and, possibly, would derail this exploration. Providence have provided me good weather and good fortune in meeting Timoteo with his useful conversations. This light rain ended quickly just as it fell five minutes ago.

After a coffee break of fifteen minutes, I continue the ascent and spot a semblance of an abandoned farm field. Purple and white taro and ginger are overwhelmed by wild vegetation and now a trail could be found. It is not so steep anymore but you have to watch where you step else you slip. When I see a line of of Mexican lilac trees and an occasional horse radish, my hopes rise for, I know, there would surely be a farmer’s hut up ahead.

The trail lead into a copse of pomelo trees and onto a hut, now abandoned and disintegrating. A black water pipe passed high among the branches of Mexican lilacs and I follow the pipe’s downward route. I go down another trail and I see the pipe end propped above an empty five-gallon container. This pipe used to provide water for the farmer and his plants but what made him abandon this place is something I cannot comprehend.

We need to prepare our meal but this is not the place. I guess we need to move on and find that elusive ridge, where hints of it are still absent. The trail weave among mango and jackfruit trees and among ferns and wild giant taro. The terrain above are not that challenging anymore but, I just lost trust on my highly-valued Rivers 3514M hiking boots for the debacles I faced earlier.

I strike southeast instead of plunging head-on towards a peak, preferring to follow the contour of the terrain. I consider mountains and peaks as nothing more than just obstacles of a journey and I do not give value to its scaling unlike most people do who says to everyone that they have “conquered” it.

The trail goes to a field of coconut trees and I just follow where common sense would lead me until I come to a ridge and face a crossroads of two branching paths. Across another ridge on my right is a house. I may have to cross a brook to that house to ask for directions and to prepare our meal. It is 1:45 PM when I reach the house and how I am glad to sit again.

The house seem abandoned yet we were famished and proceed to work in the preparation of our meal. I cook the milled corn on my stove while Ernie cook pork adobao and mixed-vegetable soup on his. By 2:30 PM, we have our very late lunch and the homestead owner arrive and provided us bananas that had ripened on its trunk and which taste bittersweet. It is my first time to try a banana which has high citric value and it supplied good electrolytes to my body which I lost through exertions earlier in the day.

After a long conversation with Julio Caburnay, we leave the rest of the uneaten viands and milled corn as well as more than a half-kilo of uncooked milled corn in exchange for the bananas. Julio is another source of good information and he just gave me ten bananas and the weight added to my backpack with which a previous weight I surrendered after a kilo of milled corn got cooked, the rest given away, and the drinking water which I drank.

I lead on and pass by a place called Liboron. It is a saddle that gives me a good view of Sapangdaku Valley, Kalunasan Hills, Metro Cebu, Mt. Babag, Baksan, Lensa and Patay’ng Yuta. A high hill is infront of me but I follow a very narrow trail that traverse by its shoulder. The ground is very soft and many parts of it are disintegrating and falling down a very steep side. One misstep here and you’re done. 
I raise a leg over a tree root and I step on a slippery ground and I fall sideways. It is so sudden that I overstretched a leg muscle and so I let myself roll but I still managed a self-arrest procedure that allow me to instantly change position with my head towards from where I fell, legs akimbo and arms spread wide with elbows firmly dug on the very steep hillside. I am about some six meters below the trail.

I loosen a grip to test the stability of my position and it is fine. I move an arm and I am still good so I slowly remove my heavy bag. I push the bag upward but I slid down instead so I reposition myself and strengthen my anchors and tried again. A cramped leg limit my mobility so I try to improvise a bit and drag my heavy body up inch by inch while pushing the heavy bag up. This time I make small but painstaking progress until Ernie is able to grab the bag freeing me of that burden.

I rest for about two minutes to recover my wits then I continue on this narrow path with a slight limp. I come upon a wide meadow where there are coconut trees. Coconut husks and shells are scattered all around while a pointed steel husker is standing dangerously upward. This is a strange place and I remembered that this is the place that Timoteo have pointed to me where they source their drinking water. I saw the rock with a crack that he described where water seeped.

I could feel that this used to be a campsite of a different kind of army. It is almost inaccessible save for that narrow (and dangerous) trail but it is a good camping site, nevertheless. I proceed on and follow again that slender route that pass by a crooked coconut tree. Then I see a clearing and it is a road that has just been opened. Concrete foundations for steel pylons are being constructed on the ridges to support electrical-power grid lines coming from Toledo City.

I also heard that there is a trail on this ridge called Tagaytay but I did not know that this trail is slowly vanishing to give way to earth-moving machines. I see a very beautiful trail where the road works ended and I have misgivings why I didn’t explore this path when I had the chance for, very soon, it will disappear to this road which, I believe, start from Bocawe.

The trail is wide and quite stable and it is marked by construction sites every 100 meters. It goes down to the Napo Trail but I believe that there is a path following the downward ridge to the main community of Napo. I will be back for sure taking this path – reverse – to Liboron then to the Valley of Stinging Trees on another route. We arrive at 5:30 PM and we transfer to Guadalupe on board a motorcycle. We celebrate our feat by finishing three big bottles of San Miguel Beer at the Red Hours Convenience Store.

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Friday, March 1, 2013


I ALIGHTED AT the wharf in Larena, Siquijor in the afternoon of May 1, 1984. Inside my head, the Queen's hit “Radio Gaga” kept ringing in my head thanks to my sister's Walkman. I walked a little distance and I saw my neighbor, Allan Salazar, naked to the waist waving at me. He looked like someone who had been born here.

Like me, he is visiting Larena, through the invitation of the Lozano family, to celebrate their town fiesta on May 3. Glad to be away from the packed small outriggered boat that groaned as each wave splashed its deck where, part of me drenched in salt water. Allan is all smiles as he approach me and led me to Maxim Lozano's house.

It's my first time on this island province noted for its tales of witchcraft and black magic. I do not believe in such myth but, anyways, I am quite prepared for any eventualities. Just in case. My grandmother made sure that I bring a crucifix for protection and I laughed at her. Without her watching, I surreptitiously stashed a small silver crux into my wallet.

My head is swinging as Maxim, his mother and his father, Livio, welcomed me. It is 4:00 PM and I was served native delicacies and quite enjoyed the rest of the afternoon as my hunger faded away, my appetite raised up the more with funny tales from Livio. Livio's jokes centered on the colorful folks back in our neighborhood.

It is small-town hospitality at its best. Maxim's older brother and my fraternity brother, Mic, arrived and entertained me. Mic took me on a tour to his cousins Dodong, Jojo, Freddie and Ahmed. They are all big guys and all pack a Colt. 45 (except Ahmed) for they are all Constabulary. They were quite glad to see me come and I ate dinner there.

This brood used to live in the Cebu City neighborhood were I, Maxim, Mic and Allan lived but they have transferred to A. Lopez Street in Labangon some five years ago. Just the same, they are company. I would cast my lot with them anytime in a basketball game and they are all over Larena like folk heroes.

Meanwhile, I slept my first night in the ancestral house of Mic and Maxim. I expected my first encounter with an imaginary night creature but nothing came. Or maybe I'm just too drunk to care. Whatever the outcome, I think any unannounced visitations would have resulted to a very grave result to the visitor. My aura of protection might have taken cared of that. I think so?

In the morning of the second day, everybody were very busy except me and Allan. This is the eve of the fiesta of Larena and the islanders prepare grand grand meals, breakfast through breakfast, just like anywhere in the Philippines. Everybody is welcome to come and go to any house to partake of a meal, humble or grand it may be.

Night came and it is the most important affair of Larena. A beauty pageant was held and a dance concert by the home-grown Etcheverri Band ensued after that. Everyone danced and gyrated to the cool danceable rhythms dished out by the group even with the very funny and own-composed “Ang Budbod sa Tanjay”.

After a bout of early morning hang-over, I finally compelled myself to rise from the bed at almost twelve noon on May 3. The town plaza is crowded with visitors, vendors and townsfolk crisscrossing each other to their own destinations and notions. I ate my second day with full stomach and remained idle after that. The following day is just the same.

On May 5, I tasted island life to the max in Larena. On a white-sand beach, me, Allan and the whole Lozano clan and their visitors dipped hides into the very clear sea waters. Fermented coconut sap, locally known as “tuba” and its other variety, “bahalina”, were served as an intoxicating drink. It is a good alternative from three whole nights of beer!

Everybody waded into the water and, from far-away, somebody stepped into a sea urchin. Everyone, I mean the folks from Larena, came to the rescue and hunted every sea urchin lurking beneath the sea and eat its raw meat. I joined in and Mic and Ahmed showed me how to extract its raw contents from its shell with them lethal thorns and sucked it. It is good learning and somehow it added to my survival knowledge.

Then a fisherman came with a tree-climbing crab, which is known as “tatus” here. Everyone scampered to look for a big pot and one came with a big and empty cooking-oil tin can as an alternative cooking vessel. Ahmed placed the huge crab and a third of water were poured into the square can and secured the top with a piece of plywood and GI wires. A fire was started and we cooked the crustacean.

In a while, pandemonium broke inside the tin can as the water start to boil. The sides of the can exploded in outward dents and small holes as the poor creature inside struggled for its life until it died down. Thinking that the crab is already cooked, everybody waited with baited breath as the wires were unrolled by Ahmed and the plywood removed from the lid. To our dismay, the crab tiptoed in the inch-deep water uncooked, with only the tips of its six appendages showing the red color that indicate as the only part cooked.

Then and there, Ahmed slammed the cover back and added more water. More firewood were added and a big fire consumed the whole lot. The result is the envy of every glutton. The meat is thick, very juicy and of the purest white. The orange-colored fat is very enticing but I wouldn't part with it. (I learned later that it contained Omega-6, a good cholesterol). Overall, it is very very delicious! It is the first, and my only time, to eat a climbing land crab and I am craving for more, if God wills it.

During my time on the beach, Mic, being the most cerebral of the Lozano clan, averred to me that only the uplanders own most of the small fishing boats beached on the shore. I asked him why is that? He gave me a very heady answer: It's because the lowlanders opted to seek their fortune in other places like Cebu and abroad and sold or loaned their properties to their relatives living in the interior. That is a rather sad reality but advantageous to the poor residents.

I embarked on another boat on May 6 for Cebu. The small boat is packed with passengers, baggage and cargoes and everyone is there. Sometime later, an American married to a pretty lass from Siquijor tried to intimidate us by showing his Buck knife after we ogled at her pretty wife. Freddie answered back by casually showing the butt of a Smith and Wesson caliber .44 revolver causing the red-faced foreigner to fold his Buck to its hidden recesses.

We left the passengers' quarter and slept on the empty liferafts at the top deck. Wind chill caused a very cold situation and we used our socks as mittens to give us some semblance comfort so we could sleep comfortably. In the morning we reached Pier 3 and it is home territory again. The waterfront is my playground; as well as that of Allan’s, of Maxim’s and of Mic’s.

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First photo by Kang©francis b i ♣
Second photo by Kamilmaan
Third photo by Stefan Kontradowitz