Saturday, February 22, 2014

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XXIV: Day of the Feathered Ones

I WAKE UP AT SIX in the morning today, September 8, 2013, and, I think, I need to hike the backwoods again alone. I really needed that. I just have had a stressful week and another one looming tomorrow. Solo walks for me are now rare since the time Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild is now an outdoors fixture here in Cebu plus the fact that Snakehawk Wilderness School is beginning to steal away my weekend time.

This is not a planned trip. It is a spontaneous self-eviction from my comfort zone. More of like a rapid deployment exercise than an urge. I will re-visit Camp Damazo and see for myself what is on the other side of that strange trail that I have not had found the time to explore. Today will be the day and that three-year-old question will be unraveled later in the day. Perhaps. Crossed fingers and all.

Now is the time to remove some kinks of my emotions and to exercise that nagging knee. I hurriedly pack the things I need inside my Sandugo Khumbu bag after I took a bath and I am at the street before 6:45 AM. I commute twice from residence to Jones Avenue and thence to Guadalupe. The church is full and I believe that today is a special day for Catholics. I show respect to my faith by genuflecting before the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and uttering “Jesus, Mary, Joseph; I Love You, Save Souls” several times.

After I had a humble breakfast at a sidestreet eatery, I buy raw eggplants, gumbos, bell peppers, an onion and a clove of garlic at the same street for my lunch which I will cook later. I hire a motorcycle to bring me up the trailhead in Baksan. When I got dropped off, I re-fixed my shoelaces, adjusted my operator belt, wear a camouflage hat and sent a final text message to someone that I am hiking solo before turning off the cell phone. I tuck my William Rodgers and sheath inside the bag’s double waist strap – frontiersman style. At exactly 8:00 AM, I start the hike.

I am testing a prototype outdoor pants from Silangan Outdoor Equipment. Silangan is now experimenting the grounds of outdoor apparel production right after their tents became an instant hit among local mountaineers. This pair, colored gray, is currently undergoing a series of tests on the rugged outdoors, which I am good at, and on the streets. I have worn this to match assorted shirt designs and colors even with different polo barongs. It had its initial test during the Outlaw Bushcraft Gathering last week where it was worn three days and three nights straight.

I understand that it had rained regularly here for the past few months and the last time I was here was during the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp in June. The grass have grown long and wet; wild plants are flowering; a lot of bird activity everywhere; mushrooms opening up; the teak forests are healthy and you could tell patches of it at faraway hills with their blooming flowers distinguishable by its light green color. The forest is alive.

I saw something unusual beside a trail and I found a compact disc which has Guitar Rock 1968-1969 printed on it under a Time-Life label. I pick it up and keep it not because I am doing trail maintenance but because I believe that the CD contained the finest collections of songs in the best years of the big-band rock era. If I could only retrieve what’s inside after cleaning it, well, I could then have a gem of a collection. That is if it is not broken.

I pursue on my hike despite the long grass covering Lensa Trail. I may need a wooden staff to beat the grass ahead of me to shoo away whatever lurking beneath. It seems that the trail is cleared of debris and firewood and I have yet to find me a staff when, not ten feet ahead of me, a wild fowl flew suddenly in a trail of feathers when it have known of my presence. I pause for a while to study my situation and to observe the effect of its flight. True enough, a second one erupted ten seconds later from the same ground towards the route of the first.

Beside me is a straight branch of a teak tree and I chop it down immediately with my knife because I really needed it. I clear the leaves and sharpen its bottom and I now have me a walking stick that doubles as a weapon. It is good that, this early, only fowls make their presence felt on the trail and not a formidable creature like a Philippine cobra which, I believe, are still thriving in this locality.

I walk on slowly with the stick probing the ground where my eyes cannot see. There is a fork on the trail that is very deceptive and, I think, I am going the wrong way. I notice it after about three meters so I backtrack and found it. I have to pay attention to the slightest detail else it would be very frustrating, tiring and time-consuming when you get lost; and you would never know what dangers you may encounter in its remotest places when animal life is so active as it is now. Of course, poisonous snakes are always a threat but I worry more of stray bullets from a hunter’s rifle.

I go down a low ridge and up a hill which I loved to call as “Boy T’s Hell”. Three years ago, on this place, Boy Toledo almost fainted of exhaustion and thirst while in an exploration hike with me and Ernie Salomon. We were following a stream looking for a route and changed to higher ground when I saw a grove of bamboo. From there, I follow a trail east and come upon this hill but not after encountering several difficulties associated with jungles.

I am up on the peak and I inhale deep. The weather is good, very cloudy, but I do not discount rain. I am not worried getting wet, in fact, I welcome it. At least, in rain I could cover all the smells I carry or produce and it hides my presence. Nearby, a wild hen make its presence felt by announcing its territory. I smiled inwardly that they are getting bolder today or maybe their population are thriving.

I go down and follow a ridge and, somewhere there, would be the tree which I marked to lead me to a better way down the stream. I could hear the water rippling and so wonderful to the ears as I slowly watch everything in stride. I saw the tree and found another tree that would be the springboard to a narrow gully where the slope begins to go gentle. I notice that the twenty-five pairs of feet of last June’s PIBC have created a temporary path from tree to gully and I follow it easily.

I reach the stream (Creek Alpha) after one hour. I take time to savor the open space and the soothing rhythm of water running down briskly among rocky channels. The place have not been visited lately and traces of human feet are absent as seen on the moss that grew on the rocks. I study a small tributary closely as a possible continuation of the trail found on the other side of the bank where I came from. I see a hint but, that would be on another trip.

I follow the water downstream, careful not to disturb moss and leveling each deep indenture caused by my own careless steps on sand or by my weight. I always look back, very careful not to leave tracks else, I feel, I am not doing it right. I am very particular of this and I am proud and confident to walk where I please because I want to leave as little trace of my passing unless I leave prints for a purpose.

I found the other end of the trail beside a tree with an X and climb up a short slope where the main route is found. I pass by the old campsite of PIBC 2011 and it is slowly recovering its vegetation. I push on following the path which, I know, will lead me to the second stream. I reach that stream (Creek Bravo) at 9:15 AM. There are no signs of surface water but there is one invisible stream underneath me. This is the only place here where groves of water bamboo (Local name: butong) are found.

After this, my next destination is Camp Damazo and it would be a little hard. I will be hiking up a ridge and I will be passing a lot of rattan palms growing along the route. When I reached the ridge, I pause to recover my breath. I did not touch my water but I could have that luxury when I reach the campsite. Perhaps. But it is not a hot day and rehydration is not critical since I just walk on a very comfortable pace.

I walk on steady inclines and wary of them rattan leaves as it try to reach your shirt, bag and skin. I found one whole plant blocking the path but I found a short detour and reclaimed the trail. Along the trail are young coffee seedlings planted just recently. Well, that would create a coffee industry someday here and, perhaps, Malayan palm civets would sweeten the pot for that. Who knows?

On a small clearing I see remains of a fire, empty coffee sachets and feathers. I believe someone had caught a wild fowl, as I examined the feathers closely, and cooked some of its meat here. How did the hunter catch it? I see two young branches of a Mexican lilac tree (Local name: kakawate, madre de cacao) getting bent out of place supporting two banana leaves, now frayed and dry, as roofing of a crude shelter. Obviously, someone must have camped here and stayed beneath it waiting for his prey but where would the hunter have guessed the prey would be?

I looked around and above and I see a tall arbor tree stripped of its leaves by caterpillars. You could barely see the top as it is covered by lower leaves of other trees and common sense dictates that whatever was there at the top could also barely see the hunter below. It is plain obvious that the fowl had been foraging on caterpillars when shot by the hunter and the rest is history. Smart.

I take some feathers with me for my arrow projects and proceed on to Camp Damazo. The “gate posts” give me a hint that I am near. So, I am here again and it is like a homecoming. The fire ring beside the tall Moluccan ironwood tree (Local name: ipil) is still there as well as its “guardian”, the stingy stinging tree (Local name: alingatong). The place is a natural campsite since it has a wide clearing and made wider still during two occasions of the PIBC with a water source nearby.

I relish at this occasion and at the thought of being the one who found this site. I stayed for a while and reminisced of the people I brought here who learned, through me, about bushcraft and survival. I have a lot of converts but few are jewels. These special kind practiced what they learned and slowly made a name for themselves. PIBC is an annual affair for everyone who wanted to learn primitive-living techniques and wilderness survival skills and this is the place where they started.

I look all around and young coffee trees began to reclaim their designated spots due to constant rain and few human activities. I say goodbye to Camp Damazo at 10:00 AM and proceed on to the stream (Creek Charlie) that nourished a lot of people on the night of June 11, 2013. This stream is a free-flowing stream with a lot of boulders and very primeval. Too few people come here and it is populated by thousands of fresh-water crabs during nighttime.

Before I reach the stream, a black shama (Local name: siloy) gave off its very distinct melody. It is an endemic bird and very shy. It usually live and nest in groves of bamboo but its habitat had been slowly encroached by humans until it disappeared from the lowlands and had become rare. I have not seen an adult bird but probably have seen a fleeting glimpse of it while on flight. Ironically, it was not here in Cebu but in Bataan. Besides the black shama, I have also heard cuckoos, native pigeons and a wild rooster crowing.

I arrive at Creek Charlie and do a little investigation on the river bed, especially upstream. I am armed with a small ballpein hammer and a concrete nail and I hope to chip off chunks of a big slab of quartzite partly buried in sand. But I found one small slab instead mixed with other stones and break it into three pieces then wash it on the stream and let it dry. Satisfied with that, I climb up the bank and prepare my food ingredients for my meal.

While doing that, I treat myself to jazz music coming from my newly-acquired CIGNUS V85 Dual-Band Portable Radio set which could also get an FM signal. I set the channel at 89.9 kHz and it set my mood right. Like the Silangan outdoor pants, I am also testing my new radio. I am still learning how to manipulate all the buttons and I just prepare this radio unit just in case I will pass the Class D Amateur Radio Examination next week.

I start my mushroom-and-vegetables meal when I think the food is cool enough to eat. Fortunately for me, I am the only one who liked my cooking. The gumbos are a bit crunchy and I liked that. The milled corn is perfectly cooked but, if I could only have the luxury of time, I would have cooked all of these inside of bamboo poles and on a fire given off by firewood. Anyway, good music made my dining great.

I return to the creek to wash the pots on the small cascading water. As I was doing so, some brown butterflies are attracted to what I wore. Maybe the smell of laundry soap has got to do with that. What if these were hornets instead of butterflies? Anyway, I got startled by one butterfly on my shoulder when I saw it in the corner of my eye and thought the brown mass was a feral creature stalking behind me. Just an imagination.

When I got the stones, I start to pack my bag and retrace my path and looked for the branch of the trail that had been on my attention. It is 12:00 noon. As I go there, a strange tree grew in a dim part of the forest. I had not noticed it before. The trunk resembled the shape of a sitting giraffe complete with a long neck and two legs. I am tempted to go near it to take a picture but it is best to leave some things alone.

When I thought I have found the trail fork, I go further back, almost to where Camp Damazo is. Then I slowly walk again to the trail fork and follow the one that is most visible going up. I follow the path but it just disappeared when I reach a big upland marsh palm (Local name: saksak). I cannot go forward for it is choked by a lot of thorny vines and rattan palms. If that was not enough, the sky went dark. Rain is ominous.

So I backtrack, hoping I have miscalculated and taken the wrong path and go back to the creek. As I was walking, I see a shiny black bird, perching on a low branch inside the part where I also saw the “giraffe tree” before. It stared at me, unbelief written in its eyes, that I have come so uncomfortably close. Then it flew. Obviously, it was a black shama! It is my first time to see it face to face.

From the creek, I retrace the trail again and again until I have no recourse but to end this little exploration as the weather seem to be becoming uncooperative. It is getting dark and I do not have the appetite to go probing in half-light. I go back near Camp Damazo and take the exit route towards Baksan Road. I will be passing a natural spring and two small creeks and then a steep path. Then the sky parted and the sun returned.

While I am in the middle of that route, I stop to enjoy the spectacle of two birds of prey gliding above and among a copse of trees. Then, another one joined the two and I could not help it but be happy. These are graceful birds and so different in the way they fly. It is not everyday you see three eagles. You know what, today’s walk have blessed me with a lot of bird activity. It seemed that the forest had given me a big welcome.

Just when I am about to proceed, a fourth eagle appeared to join the three. All float in circles and dive in and out of the trees and everything is silent all around. I am blessed with this rare moment seeing all those four raptors. I believed I stayed for more than fifteen minutes just watching this rare activity. Then all stop when the biggest one fly high going west and the other three fly after the leader.

I reach the road and take a rest, enjoying the sight of sweat dripping to the ground. I take two swigs of water and rest some more, letting my body cool. Yonder is a path beside the road going down to Lanipao and it is now easy. Somewhere in that little community is a small store selling cold beer and I liked that idea very much.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer


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