Thursday, January 23, 2014


THE OUTLAW BUSHCRAFT GATHERING is fast approaching and there are many things to do with so little time and, for that, I am quite worried because I am part of the organizing. This gathering is really a convention of a small group of unconventional outdoorsmen who will show and demonstrate their crafts with each other and before other individuals who are beginning to be fascinated with what really bushcraft and survival is all about?  

I am on an urgent mode and I will go to Sibonga today, August 18, 2013, to do these things in a blur and one of these is digging two latrine holes for the participants of The Gathering.  A hole is easy to make with pick and shovel or with an iron rod but I have to walk the talk and, that is, to do that task with a digging stick.  Yes, I will do that in the most traditional way possible using wood.  

As you can see, I have taught people how to make digging sticks during the three years that I convened the annual Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp and I will prove why a wooden stick could do that task equally well as opposed to the conventional notion of using modern tools.  A stout stick will then have to be secured on the area and it will mean that I will have to chop a live tree.  What will make it harder is that one of my hands is hurting.   

I hurt it yesterday after a pistol jammed several times due to oversized brass shells on a number of ammunition and I have to extract it in the safest and most professional way possible.  This happened at a firing range somewhere in Metro Cebu while assisting in the Basic Gun Safety and Firearms Proficiency Training of ten security personnel from Sky Rise 1 and Sky Rise 2.

My hand is swelling between thumb and forefinger and I need something to remedy this quickly.  Of course, I drank lots of water that day to keep me hydrated and get the blood circulating.  My problem then that day is how to protect the part of the hand from getting disturbed when I carry on the work of digging holes today?  That answer had already been a part of the solution from the start: Cotton gloves.  

Yes, of course, I was already mulling the thought of buying a pair of hand gloves before I touched a gun that day.  It just clicked through right away and I immediately bought two pairs after I saw the swelling and while there was still light that day before hardware stores close shop.  That done, I made myself ready for the undertaking of today. 

I wake up early to the designated area at Guadalupe and I see Ernie Salomon already ahead of me.  Later, Ramon Corro arrive on his blue Ford Ranger.  Ramon will be using the truck to get us to the campsite of the scheduled Gathering, which would be held soon on the last week of August.  We leave at 6:45 AM for Natalio Bacalso Avenue then head south.

At Pardo, we pick up Wil Rhys-Davies, my business partner at Snakehawk Wilderness School and the other organizer of The Gathering.  After him, we pass by Glenn Pestaño who had been waiting at Bulacao with his equipment.  Glenn is also part of the organizing and he is instrumental in doing the negotiations with the owner of the property where The Gathering will be, the tourism department of the Municipality of Sibonga, the village of Sayaw and the local police.

When we reach Candaguit in Sibonga, we negotiate the road to Mangyan thence to Sayaw.  It is uphill and some short stretches of it are steep.  We pass by a small waterfall just beside a road and the source to it just after a bend of the road.  Amidst that, a small farm of terraced rice plots get irrigated by the natural spring.

We arrive at Lower Sayaw at 9:30 AM and we proceed on foot to the house of Rufino Ramos.  Rufino is the owner of the lot for The Gathering and I have met him a couple of times in April and last July.  Today, he is nowhere but his wife is there as well as the rest of his family.  I come bearing books for the children and how they are glad to have books to keep and read in their home!  I promised them I will bring some more.

We boil water for coffee and, after that, I tour Ramon and Ernie to the camp site.  It is on top of a low hill with mango, jackfruit and coconut trees on to one side where it is part of a meadow and a steep sloping brushland off the other.  In between are several rock cairns arranged for future use.  We go down the hill and survey the place below where there is a dry brook.

Wil and I survey this place for a possible place to erect our latrines.  I found a spot for the males where there are guava bushes of shoulder height and another spot across a dry watercourse behind a grove of spiny bamboo for the females.  That taken, I looked for a stout pole among a sparse forest of mixed vegetation.  

Well, there may be a lot of straight live poles good enough for the taking but I will choose wisely.  I need a healthy one and it better be an exotic kind.  No need to ruin the growth of young trees just because I need one or two poles.  Sometimes you had to have a certain level of common sense to distinguish what needs to use and what not and that is where plant identification becomes a factor.  Without that, you either are just another wood gatherer or an LNT lunatic.

By the way, I will be leading a discovery hike in and around The Gathering on the second day and I will be discussing Plant ID while on the move.  We return to the house and prepare our noon meal.  Glenn had been on an errand to find Rufino and to look for two free-rein chicken and had not yet returned.

When the promised chicken had not materialized as of 11:00 AM, Ernie and Ramon, together with Rufino’s wife, sourced canned meat and eggs from a small store in the locality.  In a while both returned and Ernie prepare the ingredients which we had bought from a roadside market a couple of hours ago in Ocaña, Carcar plus the canned meat and eggs.

When the food is about to be served, Glenn arrive with two gallons of fresh coconut wine still in its bubbly splendor!  Just about time and the wine is so sweet when I tasted it.  The food are mixed-vegetable soup, meatloaf in eggs, raw cucumber and milled corn.  The weather is great and cloudy and we eat to our heart’s delight.

When the last of the food were consumed, everyone gets to drink the native wine except Ernie.  He says he have had bad memories of it.  Wil enjoyed the strong liquid and gets high with his tales.  I suggest to all that we return to the site where the latrine holes will be dug.  I carry my locally-made Puffin Magnum knife in a belt sheath and my William Rodgers bushcraft knife, also inside its sheath, and stuck to the same belt.      

Without much further ado, I chop a thick pole from a white leadtree (Local name: ipil-ipil, biyatelis) using my Puffin Magnum knife.  Like it or not, this is an invasive species and it grows fast to the detriment of indigenous plants.  It had adapted well with our terrain and clime and it has its good uses as well.  For the locals, it is just another fodder for their cooking fire so no bleeding hearts there you LNT metrosexuals.

It is an erect pole whose straightness was caused by its proximity with tall trees. Likewise, its primary branch is straight as well.  With that I could make three poles and tie it all together at one end and it will stand erect to provide a stable tripod for those who would want to use the latrine after you have lashed a horizontal “seat” right across it.  But, first things first, I need the bottom part of a pole as my digging stick.

When the upper trunk fell, I drag it from the streambed into the upper bank.  It is heavy but my grip is good and my hands are well protected by my gloves.  I cut off the foliage and then proceed to divide the pole at three parts with the bottom part getting my approval as my crude tool.  I then chop off the bottom end slantingly along two faces making it look like a giant flathead screwdriver. 

The weight of the pole is heavy as it is 6 feet and 4 inches high and 2.5 to 3 inches thick.  With that, I have a digging stick that could do more work than a pointed iron rod or a combination of pick and shovel.  It pierces the earth deep and breaks it out with very good leverage, the flat chisel tip doing the work of a shovel.  

Ramon offered to test his made-in-China folding-shovel-and-spike combo to clean the hole of soil after digging it with the pole but it broke in two pieces instead.  Ernie did the cleaning of the hole and I provide him with a coconut shell after that and it did the job well that the iron shovel failed to do.  The hole is eight inches deep, six inches wide and three feet long.

After I finished the “men’s room”, I proceed to the other side and start the earth-breaking work for the “ladies' room”.  We discussed about the contrasting ergonomics that a lady would prefer should they use an outdoors latrine and it would be quite awkward and too “violent” to force them to try one that men can only adopt in our very shameful fashion.  

So it came to be that I found an abandoned millstone with a hole in the center.  The millstone would then become the “seat” provided that I enlarge the hole and gouge a trough on the surface from hole to outer rim with a pointed iron rod.  Quite perfect indeed and the latrine hole is of the same dimension as that of the previous one.  All it needs now are four poles as posts and a sheet of cheap tarpaulin to hide the ladies.

For all these efforts of cutting poles with a knife, dragging and carrying the poles over one shoulder on a steep trail and using one heavy pole to break up the ground, I begin to feel young again as all my bone joints, muscles and ligaments are put to good use.  It is better than exercising inside a gym doing the monotonous regimen, inhaling the same stale air over and over again, even inhaling the not-so-nice elements that comes with it.  

Here, at the outdoors, the air is always fresh with a good dose of sunshine and heat to make you sweat a lot.  Then you get to use a lot of logic and observation skills while working with your hands.  You will feel freedom as you have never felt before and a lot of self-gratification comes forth from the things you do which you thought you do not have the time, the strength and the skill.

Primitive-living skills, especially those practiced by the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, are not for the faint-hearted.  It is labor intensive, making good use of the muscles and bones for strength and power as well as the brains for wit and cunning like the ones I  just did.  Adding to that, is the pride and confidence to use that skill and our tools, especially the blades, to everyone’s advantage after a good dose of improvisation and adaptation.

If you want to call yourself a man and a woman with a streak of strong independence, be at The Gathering, at the PIBC or with Camp Red and learn bushcraft and survival from the masters.  If you want to increase your chances of survival in a SHTF situation, you have come to the right place.  Be that and be all you can be.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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