Tuesday, August 20, 2013
AFTER THE GUINTARCAN ISLAND video shoot have been wrapped up last month, the small production outfit that I am cast with as a co-host, now set their sights on an Aeta village up north in Luzon. This made-for-TV show targetting an international audience is the first of its kind in the Philippines since it will utilize a Filipino as lead cast as well as location shootings are all done here. My co-host is my partner at Snakehawk Wilderness Skills School, William Rhys-Davies.
On the afternoon of May 8, 2013 we left Cebu for the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, formerly Clark Air Force Base. It is my first time to fly through there although I have, a couple of times in 2002, gone there by land. The Cebu Pacific plane touched down at 6:30 PM and we transfer to the Dau Terminal in Mabalacat, Pampanga for our trip to Olongapo City in a Victory Liner.
We arrive at Olongapo and Mylene Castro of the Pastolan Aeta meet us to arrange our journey to her village. We spend the night at her humble home and arrive before midnight. It is a long ride to the village through a long and complex detour caused by the presence of SCTEX. I have never been to an Aeta village before although I met a lot of them in Metro Manila after Mount Pinatubo dislodged them from their homes in 1992.
The following day, May 9, the film crew is hampered by lack of equipment so they went to Pangasinan to purchase a slightly used Canon EOS Video Camera. Rhys-Davies and I spend the whole day in Pastolan and hike the dirt road to Pamulaklakin. Pamulaklakin is an eco-tourism park put up by the Subic Freeport Authority to provide livelihood for the Aetas. The park showcases the best in primitive-living skills of the Aetas and the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail.
Rhys-Davies and the chief elder of the Pastolan Aeta – Dominador “Tata Kasoy” Liwanag – are old friends when the former was a visitor in 2007 and twice in 2009. It was a happy reunion for both when they meet again at Pamulaklakin. Tata Kasoy, despite his 72 years age, is still lithe, agile and strong and he demonstrated this by climbing an upright tree so easily and then jump on the ground from twelve feet up on barefoot.
He is a wonder to watch as he explained to tourists in his pidgin English about how the lowly bamboo can be converted into a survival tool. With great dexterity, Tata Kasoy used his traditional Aeta bolo as if he is using a small knife and carved spoons, drinking jugs, plates and cooking pots with it. Not only that, making fire with two pieces of dry bamboo is just a stroll in the park with him. Done in less than two minutes!
I also get to know Miguel Abraham and the other Aetas and I feel very fortunate for this rare opportunity. We went back to Pastolan to spend another night in Mylene’s house. I observed, as I was walking along the way, the Aeta aboriginal land is lush with three layers of rainforest and it is home to different varieties of flora and fauna which have given the Aeta people sustenance. They are great hunters and could travel in the forest deftly and silently.
While in Pastolan, we visit the house of Tata Kasoy after dinner and he welcomed me and Rhys-Davies inside and we have a long conversation. When it is time to depart, Tata Kasoy accompanied us and bring us to a tour of the whole village. He introduce us to his brothers, his children and grandchildren, his other relatives, the village center and the oldest tree.
On the early morning of May 10, me and Rhys-Davies are invited to hunt with them. I am excited and I bring along my tomahawk, just in case, if the need arises. They were armed with air-powered rifles and bows and arrows. We go down into a stream and up a trail where there is a very tall fig. Hanging like huge black fruits from below the branches and twigs are actually fruit bats sleeping in their hanging-down fashion.
An Aeta with a bow climbed up an adjacent tree to get a good vantage of one fruit bat and, once settled on a high branch, he takes a position to ready his bow and arrow and take aim at the nearest bat. The first arrow got deflected by a twig and missed the bat by inches but the nocturnal creature remain unperturbed. The second one, this time, hit the target true and the bat plummeted to the ground after trying to extricate itself from the protruding shaft sticking in its body.
Another bat was taken down using this method and the Aetas decide to end this hunting foray and we all returned to Pastolan. The Aetas offered one bat to us which I accepted provided I know how to dress it. I tell them I can and they were happy to part it away to me. Me and Rhys-Davies arrive laughing at our base camp with a booty which soon will be food either for lunch or for dinner.
Noontime came, the film crew arrived with their video camera and they decide to change location and want to transfer to the place of Miguel. We proceed to Parapal, Hermosa, Bataan, which also follow a very circuitous and complex route borne out of the SCTEX operation. We arrive in the early afternoon and immediately start shooting the scenes. The routine of talking to the cameras are much easier to do now compared to the last time in Guintarcan. I am now in the groove and retakes are now few.
Miguel prepare to cook rice and cassava in bamboo. Traditional Aeta cooking of rice in bamboo provides a small hole to place water and rice grains and then closed by a lid. After the rice have been cooked, the bamboo is split open with a bolo to get the rice. It is so different from my own system but it is, as well, efficient.
Meanwhile, I start to skin the fruit bat. The camera crew focus on my work as I talk and explain of what I am doing. Rhys-Davies provide me a meter long pointed bamboo stick. The skinned bat will be cooked over an ember. I bury the skin and head underneath a big mango tree and said thank you for the meat it had provided.
A feast commenced when the last food had been cooked. Other Aetas and their neighbors join Miguel and his family to honor our presence and I was humbled. Marlon Diamzon, a minor elder, offered to perform a traditional Aeta war dance for us in traditional Aeta garb with bow and arrow. Marlon gyrated and hopped around a campfire and is documented by the production crew. Rhys-Davies, following a script, joined Marlon around the fire with bow and arrow and it elicit so much laughter among the Aetas.
On Saturday, May 11, shooting start early. Matt Everett, the producer and director, make use of time by doing some script lines that Rhys-Davies and I would talk before the cameras. It took a lot of retakes since sounds from the festivities would interfere with the audio. Miguel has guests today since it is his birthday and the video shooting take a slow drag. People arrive in a jitney and in a van. His neighbors butchered a male goat early in the morning and the place is in a festive mood. When Miguel was done with us, he returned to entertain his guests.
The day’s shooting wrapped up early due to external interference caused by excited voices and loud music. We join the crowd instead and celebrate the occasion by partaking of the meal, talking with the locals and sharing glasses of local brandy. When everyone left, the place return to normal and I help in the cleaning up of the place. Once, when everyone have gone all to sleep, I steal a quick bath without anything on outside where the water are kept and that was my first bath in four days!
May 12, Sunday, shoot starts late. Everett, wanted me and Rhys-Davies to set up traps above the hills where our present base camp is located. He is intent to catch us a live python or a monitor lizard and he is utilizing Miguel for help. While they were all busy making traps, I make my own trap on a wide meadow. It is a cage trap set on the ground with a trigger mechanism. The trigger causes the door to shut when disturbed and imprisons the prey.
Everett include Miguel during the shooting and talk to the camera following on a script provided by Everett. Rhys-Davies and I explain, respectively, to the absent audience how the snares work and what mechanisms are included like a funnel-like contraption that I constructed so a prey would found its way into the cage entrance.
The rest of the day were spent on dialogues and Everett make it work like as if I am better than Rhys-Davies and him better than me and that sort of tug war of dares and counter-dares. After a tiring day, which was interrupted by rain, I sleep early but I wake up at dawn to steal another quick bath.
When May 13 came, the shooting slackened. It is Election Day. People will go today to vote for their senators, house representatives, mayors, vice mayors and city and town councilors in their respective voting precincts. The Aetas are no exception. Nevertheless, we check our traps and snares and we come empty-handed even at the spots where we placed baits.
I came to appreciate a special spot for me up where near the snares are. Every early morning I would squat at a very vegetated area where there is space in the middle. My good knowledge about plants helped me when it comes to find an alternative “wiper”. But I would be cautious each time I approach the place. I keep an eye on snakes or whatever lurking and those “drops” I left the previous days.
Anyway, Miguel returned after lunch time, frustrated at the long lines in his precinct, unable to vote, and quite hungry. When noon came, he decide to go home. Everett asked him if he could demonstrate to the camera and to the absent audience about traditional Aeta way of bow making. From a dry bamboo, he carve a three-foot long stick which will serve as bow and an arrow.
Using a banana trunk as target, Miguel deftly shot at it accurately time and time again. Me and Rhys-Davies take the cue of Miguel and produce our own bows. I break my first when I strung tight my bow string and almost snap my second. Rhys-Davies is quite good with bows and I am a far second to him during our test with shooting arrows. Rhys-Davies smirk at my skill with the bow and arrow and it was awkward on my part to be on the losing end.
The next day, after a visit to my favorite spot, (May 14) we left base camp to hike towards a river. There had been numerous sightings of monitor lizards there some days ago and we need to catch it. Miguel installed two snare devices at two different places. These are short bamboo poles opened on one end with a small hole above to hold the trigger mechanism. Miguel placed bait at the endmost part and we returned to base.
On the other hand, Everett need to film a real but very dangerous activity: Honey gathering. Miguel lead us to the house of Marlon. Marlon volunteered to hunt the honey which would be sourced in the forest two kilometers away. The honey is found near the top of an old santol tree (sp. Sandoticum koetjapi) which is thirty feet tall.
We were prepared for this activity. Miguel brought a mosquito net to protect Everett, Rhys-Davies and Prem Ananda, the cameraman, against the hornets should these fly berserk when their hive is disturbed. Me, on the other hand, wear a long-sleeved shirt, a sniper meshclothe and bonnet and spray myself with citronella because I want to be in the thick of the action.
Miguel and two other Aetas forage banana trunks, mature bamboos, a long wooden pole, dry leaves and some vines while Marlon climbed the santol tree. They wrap the pole with dry leaves and cover it with pieces of the banana trunk which were secured with vine cordage. They make a fire on a clump of dry leaves and once done they transfer the flame to the wrapped pole which was tied with a nylon rope on one forked end.
When smoke begins to appear, Marlon drag the rope and the wrapped pole up. By now, the hornets stream down from their hive when these got wind of our presence. Woodsmoke make them frenzy and I notice some were all around us but I covered my smell with that of smoke so I was left alone. I move slowly not to attract the hornets else they would notice me. Miguel and the other two Aetas move closer to the fire when more hornets are noticed.
Marlon place the wrapped pole underneath the hive and that’s when the hornets became more aggressive. I looked up at Marlon alone near the hive with the hornets all around and picking on him. I am afraid if he could not withstand the attacks and might cause him to fall down but I prayed that he will be safe. The full force of the hornets are all on us so I move slowly towards where Miguel is.
Then Marlon throw the other end of the nylon rope and asked for the plastic bucket. I tied the rope to the bucket and Marlon drag it up. Marlon break the hive with the pole and it split causing small pieces of honeycomb to fall down and drops of pure honey dripping. The rest of the hive and the precious honey were placed inside the bucket and slowly go down towards us as Marlon released the rope little by little.
When that secured, I could see that the hornets lose their battle and began disappearing. All these were recorded by Everett and Ananda in their safe comforts of the mosquito net almost without retakes. Marlon suffered a lot but he did not wince or let go of his grip on the tree branch. He is a true Aeta warrior and he showed the stuff of what he is made of and I have my great respect for him.
We all went back to the road that lead us to the village of Parapal. Along the way, we pass by the house of Marlon and we were welcomed to grab a meal. Marlon divided the honey amongst us. I am given a good share for my “ground support” and for braving the hornets with him. I am honored by that gesture. Ultimately, I transfer the honey into a glass jar and bring it back to Cebu as a bounty and as part of my natural food supplement.
Before the honey was pillaged, Rhys-Davies and me had a talk with the absent audience following, of course, the script provided by Everett. During the heat of the attack of hornets, Rhys-Davies covered the details well which Everett could not do so otherwise on me, Marlon and Miguel. It was quite impossible for Everett for any close-up shoots on the activity of honey hunting.
When we do arrive at Miguel’s house, we were quite spent for the day’s different activities but Everett need to do one more thing to close the day. He needs to shoot me and Rhys-Davies dressing rice-field frogs. Smaller than a bull frog, these have long limbs and quite slimy. These were acquired through another Aeta when our snares failed to produce results.
Rhys-Davies dress the three frogs with my William Rodgers knife and, with the same knife, I dress three frogs myself. At this moment, I am quite irritated why Rhys-Davies refused to use the blades of his Swiss Army Knife and his Leatherman and then it came to a point where I am made to do a very nasty thing on an already decapitated frog which I absolutely protested. Man may have dominion over animals and plants but not to the extent of using these as tools to show how barbaric we are.
Everett did not pursue that last scene and, instead, use Rhys-Davies to explain my walk-out from the set. I am tired and I lost appetite on what could have been a savory meal of frogs which Miguel prepared. It rained and I believe my body and mind need a rest that early to relieve my stress. As before, I wake up in the middle of the night and take a bath naked in the dark.
May 15 is the last day of our shooting. We each have round-trip tickets and we will stick to schedule. However, there is one more sequence to do. Rhys-Davies and me fulfilled that with a lot of retakes since the script is quite long. Then it is time pack our things and leave Miguel and his family and the rest of the Aetas, to include those in Pastolan. I am saddened to part company with them for I have developed good rapport with them.
We leave after lunch and reach the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport at 3:30 PM. Our flight schedule is 6:00 PM but is delayed and is re-scheduled for 7:30 PM. Nevertheless, we depart for Cebu. My honey is safe inside my bag along with my tomahawk and my knives. Almost left is the bamboo arrow given to me by Nestor but I insisted despite the protestations of a Cebu Pacific staff as it is harmless without a bow and quietly safe as part of a check-in baggage.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
I DO NOT LIKE to ride in mini-buses. For many reasons. These are notorious for extremely tight seat spaces, meth-laced drivers, overspeeding and collisions. Lots and lots of collisions and quite nasty! I could be too general but, hey, this is the Philippines. Impressions always come true.
As much as possible, I will ignore riding a mini-bus even with the prodding of a friend. Just like today, July 21, 2013, I let two mini-buses pass by while I and my friends were waiting infront of the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish in Pardo, Cebu City on the early morning. I don’t mind missing a few minutes just as long as I am cozy and so I opt for the Ceres Bus instead which have wide bodies and comfortable seats. We were then going to Carcar for a visit.
Mini-buses, my dear Virginia, are actually Public Utility Jitney (PUJ) on steroids. These are not considered a bus by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). These look like regular buses but do not be misled. These have designated route numbers which are painted on their front, back and sides which the whole of Cebu is adapting since 1978 and that is a dead give-away that these really are PUJs.
Route numbering improves the public transport system and prevents PUJs to operate beyond their designated routes and for “trip-cutting” as these will be identified outright by traffic policemen and its auxiliaries. Also, it gives convenience to commuters with poor eyesight as they have only to read the numbers instead of the full Monty. Below are the common and most used route numbers and their respective routes:
CEBU CITY AND SUBURBS
01 – Pier Area to Urgello-Private and vice versa
03 – Downtown to Mabolo and vice versa
04 – Downtown to Lahug and vice versa
06 – Downtown to Guadalupe and vice versa
07 – Downtown to Banawa-Englis and vice versa
08 – Downtown to Tagunol and vice versa
09 – Downtown to Basak and vice versa
10 – Downtown to Pardo-Bulacao and vice versa
11 – Downtown to Inayawan and vice versa
12 – Downtown to Labangon-Tisa and vice vera
13 – Downtown to Talamban and vice versa
CEBU CITY AND NEIGHBORING CITIES AND TOWNS
20 – Cebu to Mandaue and vice versa
21 – Cebu to Mandaue-Estancia and vice versa
22 – Cebu to Mandaue-Ouano and vice versa
23 – Cebu to Mactan Island and vice versa
24 – Cebu to Consolacion and vice versa
25 – Cebu to Liloan and vice versa
26 – Cebu to Compostela and vice versa
27 – Cebu to Danao and vice versa
28 – Cebu to Carmen and vice versa
41 – Cebu to Talisay and vice versa
42 – Cebu to Talisay-Tabunok and vice versa
43 – Cebu to Minglanilla and vice versa
44 – Cebu to Naga and vice versa
45 – Cebu to San Fernando and vice versa
46 – Cebu to Carcar and vice versa
47 – Cebu to Sibonga and vice versa
I was able to ride one at around 7:15 PM when I thought it was a yellow Ceres Bus since it is also yellow. It was dark and quite late already if you are in the countryside. I just stepped into a mini-bus and I could not believe it and I grudgingly take an empty seat behind the driver. Mini-bus construction and seat arrangements follow the blueprint of a standard bus and that is where space congestion, uncomfortable seating and great inconvenience of a commuter starts.
Although I have the seat to myself, my legs do not fit in to that very narrow leg space. I sat with my back propped to the open window with my spine painfully pressed against the bottom part. While all were facing to the front, I was facing sideways to my right and, somehow, I know I need to transfer to another seat or someone else will do that for me when the mini-bus starts filling up with people. The conductor did.
I sat on the front seat, which someone shared for me, right across Mr. Driver. Then it rained. The water poured outside of the windshield and I have never seen water so thick streaming down hard as if we are just parking. Mind you, the mini-bus was running and the water should have parted or have streamed away by the dynamics of a moving body of solid mass. But it did not. Credit this to an imperfect design as it is a locally-assembled vehicle or just an improvement from an original surplus.
From my side, it was zero visibility but, thank God, the driver’s side has a functioning wiper. When we got past of Carcar the rain stopped and then the driver took control of the highway. The road in the province is dark and a lot of motorcycles use the road. I could barely distinguish a motorcycle’s presence except for that small red glow on their tail which really is a dot from where I sat. I also drive a motorcycle and I shivered at what I saw.
Then Mr. Driver started using the horn. It seemed like the horn was erroneously placed as the sound seemed to be directed to the insides of the bus instead of the outside which, by the proximate location of my seat, was annoyingly loud! Mr. Driver then begins to press hard on the accelerator and he honked here and honked there and seemed intent to shoo away his road competitors for space.
Everytime he is behind a motorcycle, a tricycle, a bus or any vehicle, he honk and honk and honk until it will give him space. Those that do not, he overtake to the left or to the right, never minding the tight squeeze he is in with his horn blasting all the time. The mini-bus travel so fast on the dark highway and I begin to look for a seat belt which I do not found. The windshield is wide and I fear that when he applies a brake or collide with another, it would hurtle me forward past the glass and open space so I wedge a foot infront of the bus console to prevent myself from being thrown if he has to brake hard.
Mr. Driver almost hit a lady on a motorcycle while doing his zigzag pattern and I stared at him for so long intending to bark a complaint but I withheld it at the last second. I stared at the road and the vehicles and back at him a lot of times to get his attention out of the corner of his eye but Mr. Driver either ignored me or maybe high on amps. One time, with his noisy horn, he almost hit a parked pedal-powered cart and I could see the facial features of the owner turn to white even in dim conditions.
When it approached Tabunok, I thought he would slow down, but he kept on speeding and honking up the flyover and down towards Bulacao then Cebu City. Since it was a Sunday, there were no traffic people manning the streets. The mini-bus swerve left and right and, once, cross an intersection at Tres de Abril Street, disregarding the red light which already blinked when the mini-bus was some 50 meters away yet.
The mini-bus ply the Cebu City-Sibonga route and its route number is 47. I tried to photograph the driver surreptitiously without a flash but the image is dim so I alighted when it arrive at the Cebu South Bus Terminal and use a flash on the back of the mini-bus where the plate number is and on the side where the route and route number are painted. Here it is:
I hope the owner of this mini-bus take action on their very very reckless driver and apply for a regular bus franchise instead and get rid of their mini-bus (and those ill-disciplined drivers) as it is not a very safe public transport and does not conform to safety and comfort standards. I hope the LTFRB make good of their boast to disenfranchise all buses and mini-buses that are made in the year 2007 and below.
I hope also that the LTFRB and the Land Transportation Office (LTO) would happen to read this article and take action. This mini-bus or PUJ bears a plate number GXR-964 with a Cebu City to Sibonga and vice versa route. This writer’s scary ride driven by this very very reckless driver occur on July 21, 2013, Sunday, between the time of around 7:15 PM and 8:00 PM, more or less.
I do not like to ride a mini-bus and I was forced to take one out of circumstances beyond my control. If I knew it was a mini-bus, I would have persevered and waited for a regular bus. How many lives have been wasted caused by mini-buses? The vehicle could not have been possible for past road accidents as there is a driver steering it. True. But the tightness of the spaces inside the mini-bus and its lack of safety standards aggravated these incidents and I do not want to be a part of that. I take my chance instead to sidestep riding in one or evading them if I happen to use the same road they are using. Travel smartly.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
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.
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Thursday, August 1, 2013
I HAVE BEEN INVITED several times by Chad Bacolod of the Enthusiasts of Cebu Outdoors or ECO to try and visit Mount Naopa in Naga, Cebu but programmed commitments have not been so kind and accommodating with my weekend schedules. I have tried many times to engage on it but backed out on the same occasions at the ninth hour, ruefully, perverting my promises into wishful thoughts.
Chad, ever persistent and unswerving, tagged my present participation and cooperation into an inescapable corner where, after fits of dilly-dallying, I finally lurched forward in slow motion. Yes, finally, I did put on a credible semblance of seriousness to come to Naopa on the evening of April 27, 2013 this, after punching out my DTR card at 5:01 PM and speed-warped myself home for a quick shower and an equally quick supper.
I have never been to the campsite of Mt. Naopa, let alone along its environs, but it would be quite a challenge indeed to find it in the dark. Alone. Let us see but the full moon is just a day old and will be very cooperative according to the calendar. Good timing of schedule there, Chad.
I rode a Multicab aka “public utility midget” bound for Naga at Citilink and tried to squeeze my bulk into the seat and tiptoe my feet to give space to passing passengers dragging themselves in and out of this abnormally small vehicle converted into a jitney. It is always torture for me when I rode in one and I could get no comfort from it. It is just that I have a schedule to pull off and so forced to ride this sardine can!
I disembark at Tungkop, Minglanilla at 7:40 PM and how I am glad to stretch again my body whole. I arranged for a motorcycle to ferry me to the trailhead beside a chapel in Cogon. I do not know the place and I place all my trust to the driver to bring me there pronto! Over a serpentine road full of ascents and potholes, the motorcycle ran in spurts and sometimes middle chassis kissed ground. Not once but thrice. Ouch!
It was a ride full of whispered prayers as the bends would skid the wheels sideways inches away from deep chasms while the engine pumped hard negotiating a steep gradient white smoke trailing us. What made it worse is that only a few lights illuminate the way as the motorcycle’s scant headlight parted a small path in darkness offering me slight consolation.
When the motorcycle stopped at a chapel, I assume this marks the spot but it is dark. Good thing for me is that I still have a dozen cellphone loads to make a dozen text messages and a good signal with four bars guaranteed. The moon had not risen yet so I make use of my new Rui Xing Police LED Torch. At an alleged 1500 lumen, this made in China ripoff can give off a bright light indeed and that is when I saw the path.
When I reached a crossroad of trails under a mango tree, I took the leftmost and follow this for all I care without using my flashlight. I saw bright lights on a ridge and signalled them with my torch. Lights blinked and messages exchanged: I am on the right path. Okay.
I scanned the vegetation for edible tree snails but I am unsuccessful with my night hunt and so I turned off the torch and walked with my night vision. After a while, the bright moon showed up smiling. The details of the terrain are much clearer now and I begin to chose a route towards the ridge.
I am sweating now and I gasped for air in a hot summer night as the steep trail begin to challenge my balance and footing. I pass by a small community and people do not notice me. Not even a dog. It is better that way. It would have been different if I was walking with a light on.
Another steep trail and I meet Chad and another guy. It is good and reassuring to see them. Cannot deny Chad of his bragging rights now. Whoa, good to go, Chad! PinoyApache is here!
Two more guys met me along the trail and their headlights bobbed in darkness while I prefer to use my night vision over their unbelief at my refusal to use a torch. I reach the campsite and there were a lot of campers and an array of tents fixed in a long row. I believed, a small party have already begun and I picked up a full gallon of a not-so-fresh coconut wine minus its bubbly splendor.
I chose my spot well away from the main camp. I will not be needing overhead cover but will sleep out instead on cheap tarpaulin splayed on the ground. I see familiar faces like Eli Bryn, Kulas, Marü, Aideen and Maria Iza and I also get to know “friends” in Facebook like Neil, Yuri, Harold, Sien and Ed and an array of new acquaintances.
Meanwhile, some of the campers came over and gave me company. Happy conversations flowed as the native wine made its presence felt. I show them how to make fire with firesteel and kapok tuft. It was almost 2:00 AM when the vibrant company shifted place and abandoned me to chase sleep.
I woke up at 5:30 AM the next day, April 28, and a long line had already started up the path to the summit of Naopa. After answering my call of nature, I followed suit. According to Chad, Mt. Naopa is 1,736 feet above sea level and is higher than the much popular Magduk Peak. At the summit, the sun is glowing in its golden splendor a little over the horizon, a perfect recipe for a camera shot.
We must have been twelve or fourteen people pressed on a small space of the peak and, after a group shoot, I decide to descend the tricky trail to give them more elbow room. Slowly, I work myself down the shoulder and into the saddle.
In a few minutes from now, people will start dismantling their tents. I don’t have to dismantle anything and that is the advantage of light backpacking. While people were doing that, JR Serviano of Silangan Outdoor Equipment arrived alone. He was sweating but the early morning hike did him a lot of good.
Silangan manufactures good quality standalone tents at very affordable prices. I have seen their Rev 20 models and they were up to par with imported ones, if not, better. The first time I saw these tents were during the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp in 2012.
But the best test that the Rev 20 got which I witnessed was during a survival skills training I have done for the Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines at Mount Balagbag in Rizal. The occupant of the tent (Maximus Tercerus) remained dry and comfortable while the rest suffered in wet and cold conditions brought on by three days and two nights of September rain.
Anyway, JR tested his new product – a pair of hiking shorts. Borne of superior design, I don’t think this pair of shorts is good only for a certain activity. This short pants is superb for ALL activities like mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking, trail running, even malling with family. For the price of one, you can use this anywhere and it does not have a name yet. How I wish JR would make this as the Trailhawk model.
After a group photo session on an exposed ridge, we make a beeline for an oasis of coconut trees and lots of shade. The land caretaker brought down a number of coconuts of which natural liquid we drank and white meat we ate. We paid for those and climbed back over a saddle and down into the valley.
Motorcycles-for-hire whisked us all away to the highway and I bade farewell to Chad and his ECO partners. A KMK Bus arrived and I board it along with Eli Bryn, Kulas and those who make Cebu City their home. I alighted at MJ Cuenco Avenue and I make my way home at 10:45 AM where the wife prepared a broth of beef.
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