Wednesday, November 6, 2013
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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