Wednesday, November 13, 2013
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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