Wednesday, August 7, 2013

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XX: Shelters

I THINK IT WOULD be a very hot day. I could feel it in the air and, what the heck, I am used to warm weather. I am sitting at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in the early morning of May 5, 2013 waiting for the participants of my regular yet free weekend lectures about basic bushcraft. Giving me company are Jhurds Neo and Dominikus Sepe and both seem to be in high spirits while I am suffering from a smoldering fever.


Our lot are slowly being filled up by Ernie Salomon, Glenn Pestaño, JB Albano, Randell Savior, James Cabajar, Eli Bryn Tambiga, Jamiz Combista, Neil Mabini and by the only rose amongst us, Febre Lee Gonzaga. When we had eaten breakfast and secured our food provisions for our noontime meal, we move on to higher ground. The route would be Bebut’s Trail and, part of that stretch, would be “heartbreak ridge”.

I do not have to elaborate where is that but, one thing for sure is, that slope is a maker of character and weans away the wimps from the tough ones. At 8:20 AM, the barren route activates your nostrils to go beyond its rim, your heart pumping blood as you chase the far rise that harbor the first shade. My attention are set on the most rotund – Glenn and Jhurds – and, of course, on Febre Lee.

As we reach the shaded part, the water is a welcome ally. I gurgle as few liquid as possible between my gums and tongue for a cooling effect before swallowing. Darn! It really is hot and I am not feeling well. We push on down and up the trail which is now shaded but the heat is just too much and so tormenting on my pace, on my body and in my thoughts. I am sweating hard and I need to replenish my dwindling supply of drinking water.

Familiar water sources have disappeared and I am forced to walk down the trail into a natural spring which I only heard of from somebody long ago and gambled on it. Amongst boulders, a trickle pour out from a propped steel pipe from underneath a rock. I study the high ground to determine the location of a communal well and also its potability. I top off my bottle and everyone took my cue. Now we are confident to resume our activity.


The plan is to proceed directly to the catchment basin of the Buhisan Watershed Area but the route had been changed on short notice through the suggestion of Randell. We will proceed to the basin instead by way of Camp Damazo which we need to reach by a short-cut on a road. I hate roads for shaded places are less and it is now 10:30 AM; just an hour plus towards noon.

What equilibrium I recovered during rests and rehydration are lost to this road. I looked for the mango tree marking the route to Lensa Trail and I immediately plunge into the bushes and climb up a hill where there is a saddle and the start of that path to Camp Damazo. From the saddle, I follow a low ridge vegetated by teak trees and climb a hill. From there, the route follow upward onto a higher hill, which I love to name as “Boy T’s Hell”, and steeply down into a level ridge.

The teak forest have lost its forest cover due to extreme summer heat and so offer us no respite from the sun. The ground is dry and loose and cause the party many scary slips. Wooden staffs are much in demand here and everyone retrieved whatever rods to hold on to for balance. Some, frustrated by their ineffective shoes, travel down on the seat of their pants.


The path on the level ridge is a dead end but a slope goes down to a stream where Camp Damazo is located. Absence of a trail make the going rough. Wilted vegetation caused by heat along this route make the going rougher still. As was before, a wooden staff would be quite handy for balance and countering gravity. I reach the stream and it is dry. Immediately, I boil water for coffee with my camp stove.

I wait for the others to come down and ask everyone for coffee packs. Unfortunately, the last man down have that darned coffee. Hot coffee under a hot noon sun sounds insane but we need coffee to pep up lost energy to heat and the difficult path. Cannot chew on coffee raw and cannot stir it well with lukewarm water. No other conventional way except to stir and drink it with hot water.

It seems that we do not have the luxury of time to get to the catchment basin before noon and it is already 11:40 AM! I decide we stay at Camp Damazo and prepare our meal. I try to push myself to start the lecture about basic shelters but I really am spent. The morning lecture would have been about man-made shelters but I do not have any zest to pursue it. I let it go and grab my cheap folding shovel instead to dig a water hole upstream.

The dry stream still have wet spots, especially along depressions and there is a sandy ground right below a missing waterfall. I dig a hole on the sand and water spring up briskly to fill it. I line stones inside the hole so sand won’t reclaim it. Set also stones on its bed so silt won’t spoil the water when disturbed. I let it settle down and I lie down; surrendering my body to the welcome coolness of a flat rock. I try to sleep but I cannot. I force my mind to sit still and I found stillness.


It must have been a half hour when I woke up and I go back to the rest. The cooking is almost finished and Ernie made magic of it even under the mercy of the harsh elements. I am eyeing the mixed-vegetable soup beside the pot of milled corn while the rest turn their desire on the pork adobao. Raw cucumber on vinegar is another dish that elicit a second stare not just by me but by everyone. Banana leaves foraged by Eli Bryn make the meal interesting enough and a “boodle fight” ensued.

What precious water we had where surrendered to constant rehydration and through cooking and my water hole come in handy when the time to wash the pots and dining utensils came. All make the beeline to there. It is a happy mix of real outdoorsmen – in the flesh – who welcomed the heat and the lack of comfort where friendly conversations and banter echoed on through the small gorge.

To make light of the moment, Glenn opt to try Jhurd’s small water filter. The water hole will be the source of liquid for this field gear test. I take a video of Glenn talking about the disposable water filter and then dipping the straw into the grayish water. What I have not documented at this moment is that this small life-giving gadget would provide me and others the means to rehydrate in the latter part of the activity.


We leave Camp Damazo and proceed on to the catchment basin via Lensa Trail. However, we break from the trail and engage on a very difficult switchback. The slope is steep and the ground is quite loose. Besides that, you have to watch out for the spines of rattan palms and other vines. This unplanned route ended at the junction of two dried-up streams and have, altogether, denuded me of precious energy which I have carefully nurtured during siesta.

I am really spent and it is a long way to go and it is 2:30 PM, too few daylight hours left. Then I have to teach the guys how to construct a shelter using indigenous materials. I am hoping I could discover a debris shelter left by a hunter and, failing that, I may have to look for a place where there are straight bush poles, crawling bamboos and wide leaves. I found some upland marsh palms but it is inadequate so I drop the idea and proceed on.

We arrive at the catchment basin at around 3:15 PM and it is not steaming hot anymore although my lack of drinking water coupled with nursing a fever make my predicament difficult. I hang on to my last reserves of will power to identify and look for shelter materials and to retrieve these using the last of my of strength. Bushcraft is labor intensive and you have to use a lot of energy to accomplish something which I explained very well to the newcomers.


Before proceeding on with the cutting of shelter materials, I let them all know that constructing a debris shelter is not randomly done. You have to consider first your security by blending in with the surroundings, then protection from the elements by taking advantage of your natural location and, lastly, good drainage. Surely, you do not want yourself sleeping half-submerged with rain runoffs, do you?

I set my shelter on a high ground amongst a dense forest of shrubs and two meters behind a tree trunk. My shelter cannot be observed from across the stream or from the streambed because of the big tree and the tree will bounce back heat into my shelter if ever I will build a fire. The crawling bamboo will provide me lashings once I strip the green skin off it. The shelter is a lean-to type and is the most basic and so easy to build.

When I have finished the demo, we proceed on to the outer fringes of the Buhisan following a dry streambed then switching to another small, but flowing, branch of the stream. 4:30 PM in dense jungle make the hour seem like it is already dusk. Long shadows slowly creep and everyone hurry to escape the fear of being stranded in the woods under darkness. Destination is the Portal, a hub of seven trails located a kilometer away and on higher ground.

Slowly, my strength begin to wilt as I hike the ascending trail. I let Jamiz and Neil overtake me as I need to take brief rests every so often. The forward party pass by the Portal without rest, probably, urged by thirst. I wait for the others at the Portal to see if everyone is alright, especially Jhurds, who seem to be suffering from dehydration. I instructed James, Dominic and Eli Bryn to keep an eye on both Jhurds and Glenn as I try to pursue the forward group.


I catch up with them just below “heartbreak ridge” sitting around an automated water dispenser. I drink cold water that Randell gave me and proceed on to Guadalupe. The rest follow and down we go the lower slope and into a flight of stone steps where it lead to an asphalt road. I pass by a bakery and rehydrate two bottles of cold orange juice, a cold bottle of soda and another cold bottle of water.

I felt I must have been dehydrated so much that my body yearned for more liquid. After I have downed a glass of cold beer at the Red Hours Convenience Store, I opt to quench my thirst some more with a half-liter of flavoured soda water which I mix with generous cubes of ice. The effort only bring a brief respite and after I have slurped on the last drop, I decide I need to leave for home to seek rest.

I will need my body healthy before I travel to Subic Bay three days from now for a video shoot within an Aeta village that a small production outfit will document. I do not want to pass on this chance and so I need to go early and everyone give their best wishes when I leave them. Tomorrow is another day to face.


Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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