Friday, February 7, 2014
I HAVE A HEAVY backpack today, August 30, 2013, and I see the trail that leads to the campsite in Lower Sayaw, Sibonga, Cebu quite daunting. Although I am blessed with mild weather but it is humid caused by last night’s downpour. It is quarter to nine in the morning and not the best time to start a hike.
I am with Faith and Justine. Both have heavy backpacks as well and both are participants of the first-ever OUTLAW BUSHCRAFT GATHERING of which I, together with Wil Rhys-Davies, have organized under Snakehawk Wilderness School. This activity is the brainchild of Wil. It goes on for three days until September 1 and will be thoroughly different from the bushcraft camps that I myself convene every now and then.
I am sweating, breathing hard and my knees are uncannily so uncooperative today. I stop so often to adjust to the pace of Faith and Justine who both are as much in a difficult bind than me. It is a long way from Napo, Carcar from which we started our uphill walk and trees are a welcome refuge to shield us from the sun’s tormenting rays.
With my hand on an eco bag, I carry a big hard-bound children’s dictionary, vegetables and spices and a kilo of milled corn. As we reach the middle part of the route, I volunteer to carry the two kilos of milled corn that Justine had been lugging so he could free his other hand which had been holding a tent set. Wisps of moisture drop from the sky and cool me a bit but that’s all. It is warm again when it is gone.
After ninety minutes of walking and getting winded of the effort, we reach the shoulder of the hill where the others are now waiting. By now, the camp is only two hundred meters away but it is a far 200 since it is now 10:15 AM. Nevertheless, I push on at a crawling pace and stopping short of our objective to avail of a shade offered by a mango tree growing on a hillside.
Beyond the bend, I see another mango tree and then another and then a tent. Wil meet me and show me the rest of the campsite. The designated camp is empty as all the shelters are erected at a small valley down on the other side of the hill but I need to give the book to the Ramos family first. Then I go down and meet the rest of the guys like Glenn, Jhurds, Aljew, Christopher and Allan.
Wil gave a welcome speech to everyone and talk about campsite selection and safety and personal hygiene. As he was discussing, coffee is served and I drink a cup of it to pep me up after that tiring walk. It is good to just be sitting under a cool shade but there is no breeze here. Since it is almost noontime, everyone gets to work preparing to cook their meals.
I need to secure water first for drinking and washing. Coming with me to the water source are Jhurds, Justine and Faith. When we have returned, they are now in the middle of their lunch. We go back up the hill to prepare also our meals. When we have eaten, the rest are gratefully taking their siesta. It is cooler on the hill and I cannot understand why people camp at that small valley when I did not designate it as a campsite?
But I have an unfinished business and this will be the first activity: Making a tripod seat for the men’s latrine. I rally everyone to come up the hill with me where I stashed the wooden poles and retrieve it. I will need it as the latrine seat. Despite deprived of rest, I make an effort to do this task immediately.
When we had brought the poles to the site, Wil and I proceed to lash a tripod together with cheap paracord. When it was done, I chop a notch on two of the poles where a smaller pole will be lashed horizontally providing as the seat. The tripod seat is then placed above the latrine hole which I have dug twelve days ago (CB 06: Digging Holes).
Wil instructed the male participants to install a tarpaulin sheet all around the latrine in the same manner as that done earlier on the women’s latrine which was secured to six upright poles. When we have finished the latrines, I go back up the hill and begin to set up my own shelter. I need to set up my sleeping quarters before I could claim rest if ever there is one for daylight.
It is just a simple shelter with the longest bamboo pole of a tripod used as a ridge to connect to a jackfruit tree propping the tarpaulin whose four corners are secured by cords and wooden pegs. A used advertisement tarp make up my shelter footprint. The ultimate budget backpacker’s way. Breeze will flow freely to cool the insides.
As I was setting up my shelter, those that had set up tents at the small valley transfer residence nearby Wil’s. They opt to take advantage of shades under the mango trees and the uninterrupted breeze that their former campsite cannot provide. Although the former site is a good place, it is not a safe area since it is a natural drainage and, aside that, it is hot and humid there.
That is why I chose the upper ground as the designated campsite. I could recognize a good campsite when I see one and Wil also could, based upon his wide experience. Although there are coconut trees but these are planted in straight lines and you could set up your shelters in between and not underneath it. You just watch out where you walk though.
The rest of the afternoon are dedicated to conversations and socials. Wil, by his many years at the outdoors, talked about his experiences as a traveller whether it be on a desert, a mountain, on snowed places or even on a city. Conversations such as this are good staples in a campsite, especially in a bushcraft camp, although it is best beside a campfire with coffee or moonshine.
When it is late afternoon, everyone prepared dinner for the first night. Aljew, Allan and Christopher helped themselves to cook their own dinner while Jhurds and Glenn collaborated for their own. Same with Justine and Faith. Wil joined the group of Aljew while I make my own meal of mushrooms that I foraged.
The evening is allotted for Campfire Yarns and Storytelling. Aljew provide the fire while a local moonshine – a coconut wine – appeared to coax the participants into a fluid state of telling tales. Jhurds, Glenn and Wil took turns in doing that while the rest gets entertained. This goes on until the last drop of the “jungle juice” had ran out its course.
On the second day (August 31), the Gathering is dedicated for primitive-living skills. Bamboos – green and mature – are gathered from below the camp after breakfast and tools are made out of the green ones like drinking jugs, spoons, cooking vessels and weapons. Wil showed how the Aeta cook their rice while I showed my own system of cooking anything in it. Both are efficient though if you know how.
The dry bamboos are used as firewood, bows and arrows and a blowgun. Wil is the expert on bows and arrows and he made one for Faith to test on. I made a blowgun from a tube of a sand bamboo with a bamboo dart. Flight is made from the husk of a mature coconut and quite light. I try it against a trunk of jackfruit tree 30 meters away but a crosswind blow it off course else it would have hit target.
From a short pole of a green water bamboo (Local name: butong), I cook rice. From a green tube of a sand bamboo (Local name: bagakay), I experiment the cooking of rice in it. I failed to cook it properly on the latter but I am wiser now and know how to do it next time. We took our meal at 1:00 PM when the rice was cooked inside the bigger bamboo. Then all take time to enjoy siesta.
Next activity is a plant identification tour. It is my specialty but, unfortunately, I cannot be with them since I will rendezvous with Fulbert and Dominic and the owners of Silangan Outdoor Equipment - JR and Rev Cheryl Servano at Candaguit, Sibonga. Silangan Outdoors is one of the sponsors of the Gathering. Wil and I endorse their products when we do outdoor seminars together or separately.
That activity proceed on in my absence but without the plant ID session. When I do arrive back to camp, it is already 7:30 PM. The Serviano couple set up their prototype tent nearby and join the participants in the middle of another Campfire Yarns and Storytelling greased by two gallons of coconut wine. After my own dinner, I join the campfire crowd.
When the native wine is sucked dry, it was replaced by bottles of Tanduay Rum which made the conversations more animated and more amusing. It run from knives to urban legends to witchcraft to ghosts. Scary stories put a lid to the night activity and everyone silently crawled to their respective sleeping quarters including Dom whose legs became rubber that night.
On the third and final day (September 1), I woke up late to find the Servano couple already gone. I had a good night’s sleep. It was cool. After coffee time, I need to take a walk to the main village of Sayao, which is located uphill. A dirt road goes up there winding among farms set in long valleys and among hills. Coming along is Jhurds and Fulbert. I need to tour the house of the village chieftain.
I reach the top of the hill but a route goes down into a small water basin – Lake Sayao. All around it are vegetation and a small shore for people to take a swim or to catch fish. On the side is a waiting shed. Across the shed is a limestone cave. It is said to be deep but I have no appetite for caving right now as I do not have the proper tools.
Going further on, I see a big gate with an elephant fruit tree (Local name: catmon) and a rare black banana (Local name: malumbaga) on its approach. The village headman – Dionisio Navasca – owns the property where we are right now. He was born in Hawaii but returned here to manage his ancestral property. He practiced sustainable living and, without his knowing, prepping. He preserves the landscape and forbids the wanton cutting down of trees, slash-and-burn farming and hunting of wildlife and birds.
I toured the rest of his property and I see a small amphitheatre which is used as a cockfighting arena, stones broken from hills arranged as walls, a big Malay apple tree (Local name: macopa), a chapel that contains the remains of his ancestors and antique statues, a fishpond, farms of different vegetables, a blacksmith shop, fossils, a small hardwood forest, a ham radio station, a lookout deck, ancient millstones, a herd of goats, cows, swamp buffaloes and lots of free-range chicken.
I was surprised to see a huge Philippine ebony tree (Local name: kamagong) here. I instantly recognized it when I walk above a catwalk following the footsteps of Jhurds and Fulbert. Both are awed by it and it is their first time to see this tree, which both did not recognize when they pass beneath it. I smell the leaves as I bury my head amongst it. It is so nice to see one after a very very long time.
One of the things that is worth mentioning are the old stone grinders. One is made for grinding corn and constructed of Mactan stone. The other one is made of basalt rock, made in Negros, designed to grind rice. These were brought by Dionisio’s great grandparents when they left Cebu for Hawaii in 1905 to work on the sugar cane fields there. Dionisio brought it back home for good. I touched the basalt stone and I embrace it close to my heart, tears welling on my eyes.
When we returned to the campsite, I seek the items for giveaways given by our sponsors like the packs of Titay’s Lilo-an Rosquillos to the organizers and participants. Two gift certificates from Vienna Kaffeehaus and another one from St. Mark Hotel are raffled off to two lucky persons which Faith got for a free dinner for two and Allan for a free overnight accommodation and breakfast.
When it is done, I pick up my tomahawk and dagger to start the knife-throwing session. The target is a coconut tree trunk. Gosh, it is hard. My hawk just bounced off it even though the throw caught it true several times. Glenn join me and his hawk caught the trunk on its steely grip at last after several tries. I throw the knife on different distances and on different force but my timing was off, clearly a result of a rusty skill that have seen better days in the past.
When I have had enough of that, I place my tomahawk and all my blades to start the Blade Porn. Everyone followed the gist and laid down their blades. Branded ones are laid side-by-side with locally-made blades, with folders and multi-tool sets baring their teeth. The blade porn is a valued tradition in a bushcraft camp and I do that every now and then, especially during the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp every June 12th.
Afterwards, Glenn called everyone to gather around a sheet of laminated nylon to start the Blanket Trade. He explains to all how it is done. He placed a set of items which I matched with mine and it does not have to be that the items up for trading have the same value. The individual’s preference is taken into consideration but if the initiator of the trading do not “take the bait”, the other would match it up by “sweetening the pot”. In my case, Glenn took a liking to my offer and it is consummated. Then the trade goes on.
Before breaking camp, Glenn offered to have his Benjamin air-powered rifle for testing and firing. Impromptu targets are set infront of a cairn 30 meters away. Fulbert, Justine and Faith fired away at targets from as big as an empty sardine can to as small as bottled-water caps. Then we finally leave with all ten of us inside Aljew’s pickup for the big city.
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