Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXXIII: Pyromaniacs

THE BOAT FROM CAGAYAN de Oro arrived at 06:00 today, February 2, 2014.  I know that the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild are congregating right now at Guadalupe for another outdoors sortie at the Babag Mountain Range.  I have to be there in the fastest time possible as this is an important activity which would not go well with my wife.  She kept complaining that I have no more time in the house except to eat dinner, watch TV, sleep and drink coffee in the morning.


Well, deep inside, she knows that men of my age are prone to heart diseases caused by inactive physical exertions and unhealthy lifestyles.  I know she would agree with my continued absence during weekends as long as I do not go home drunk and cut in noisy.  In a blur, I am out and running to the street carrying the same bag that I used during that travel to northern Mindanao.



I commute twice from home to Jones Avenue to Guadalupe and I notice people with candles on the streets and inside public jitneys.  Of course, it reminded me that today is the Feast of Candles and it marks the end of the Advent of Christmas.  It is the birth anniversary too of my late maternal grandmother, Purificacion, and my late paternal grandmother, Presentacion.  I arrive at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe at 08:30 and I feel that the Camp Red guys are now hitting the trail from Napo to Lower Kahugan Spring.

After eating two moon cakes at a bakery, I hurriedly take a motorcycle ride for Napo.  At around 8:50, I am now hitting the trail myself.  I notice the Sapangdaku Creek very robust and noisy, the result of a typhoon that had passed by a day ago which dumped a great volume of rainwater.  I open carry a Seseblades JEST Bolo for today to test it.  I follow the trail and begin counting the footprints.  Each individual are distinguishable by a different shoe tread but there are just too many, overlapping each other and I have to try.

I was at this act of studying the tracks when Dominic Sepe arrive near a mango tree and we both help each other distinguish the shoe prints.  Here is a Vibram sole and there a running shoe.  No, two people with running shoes!  Quite small, maybe a woman’s, but the imprint is deep, it could be a man’s.  There are a lot of hiking shoe prints, very wide and with deep furrows.  Some smudges, made by locals wearing rubber slippers.  I do not think that all these shoeprints are made by Camp Red people.  Surely, there are other groups of hikers today.

We reach Lower Kahugan Spring and I top off my water bottle.  The stream is flowing freely and it is full.  Gone are the debris and the big stones used as a footpath and replaced by another set of stones, smaller and unstable, that looked like a tiny dam.  I surmise that our guys would take the long Kahugan Trail and so, I decide, we take a shortcut to our destination which is at the Roble homestead.  I follow this route and I see fresh footprints and no Camp Red bushmen would surely walk this very steep path.

When we arrive at our meeting area, the group of Barry Paracuelles and Maria Mahinay are already there.  Two ladies and another guy are with them and I notice Barry and the other guy wearing running shoes and that answers the shoeprints I studied a while ago.  So the Vibram sole must have belonged to Aljew Frasco as what Dominic had suggested.  When the Camp Red group do arrive, Dominic had guessed correctly about Aljew’s shoes, eliciting a smile from him.

I see Jhurds Neo, Christopher Maru, Fulbert Navarro and his girlfriend and the new guys, Jerome Tibon and Tope Laugo.  It is nice to see them again and I believed Jhurds had planned a firecraft activity for today.  I have brought my fire kit, which consists of safety matches, a butane lighter, a ferro rod, fatwood, charclothe and a jumbled mixture of foraged tinder.  I also brought pieces of pyrite which I found in that trip to Mindanao to test it if it could give a good spark if clashed with steel.


By now, the guys are foraging firewood and sticks to make tripods.  Black-soothed cooking pots are familiar fixtures of bushcrafters unlike those of the spotless ones that conventional outdoorsmen carry.  We at Camp Red prefer to cook our food with fire coming from wood instead of canned fuel.  The more we use firewood, the better our skills with making a fire and it does not matter if we use a matchstick or with friction to start it, just as long as it is done the bushman’s way. 

I make the JEST bolo work on the cutting and splitting of wood.  I use a baton on the stoutest wood.  I found the JEST bolo easy to use as long as it stay sharp.  This bolo had been given to me by Dr. Arvin Sese, through Jay Z Jorge, while I was conducting a Basic Wilderness Survival Course in Antipolo, Rizal last October 2013.  It comes with an Igorot-inspired wooden sheath and a webbing belt with clip lock.  I even use it with the pyrites and minute sparks appear. 

When the group of Barry and Maria had left, another group of five hikers came.  It seems, they are part of the first group but this habit of failing to come on time wrecked havoc on someone’s itinerary.  It is not our concern though and it has no effect on our activity.  The fires had now started and the rice is now ready for cooking which Fulbert is now focusing on.  Dominic produce iron grilles and lay it above the surging fire, a prelude to a delicious barbeque.

The pots used for rice are suspended on two tripods from which separate fires blazed below it.  The pyrites were tested on the steels and anyone could choose to keep the pyrites for himself.  I also brought an industrial bearing cap which composition approximate those of a micarta.  It could be sawed into small pieces and filed to proportion as knife scales.  I gave this to Jhurds for his unending knife projects and, hopefully, this piece would provide him satisfaction.

Anyway, a mixed-vegetable soup with oyster sauce is now on its final stage of cooking while the steamed fern tops are now transferred from pot to plate.  The thin strips of pork and beef are giving off smoke and pleasant smell and the gastric juices are beginning to play on our tongues.  It is 12:00 and everyone gets a seat inside the visitors shed as the prayer before a meal is lead by Fulbert.  Refills after refills, the food gets decimated by the hungry band of bushmen without a whimper. 

When we had recovered from that feast, Aljew produced pulp wood and begin carving a spindle and a fireboard; familiar items for a bowdrill.  On the other hand, I go downhill and look for a dry pole of bamboo which I found and cut it to size with the JEST bolo.  I carry it up and keep it near a fire to heat it and then refine it as a fire-making implement.  While Aljew is showing to all how to make a bowdrill set, I show to Jerome and Tope how to make a bamboo-saw set.

The knife, together with the folding saw of either a multi-tool set or a Swiss Army knife, are very essential tools since, without these, it will make this work difficult to perform.  Aside that, you need a lot of patience to make a fire by friction.  It is not done in conventional fashion but through stages.  You have to follow the process slowly and forcefully to achieve an ember.  Presence of smoke is not enough though but persistence will.

Aljew produced a fire with the bowdrill.  The bamboo saw did not although the presence of smoke is one step less to achieve an ember.  Jerome tried to improvise but with no result breaking the bamboo in two.  Christopher, on the other hand, produce fire with the same bowdrill.  Tope took the reins of the bamboo assisted by Fulbert and produce smoke yet the magic ember is missing.  Jhurds, after failing a first and second attempt, achieved success the third time on a bowdrill.  Persistence after patience. 


Fele Roble, a farmer who just observed what everyone did, made a fire using the bowdrill.  It goes to show that the techniques in the bowdrill are easy to do compared with the other methods and that is why when I conduct the yearly Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp, I make it sure that the bowdrill is given a demonstration on the same level as that of our hometown favorite, the bamboo saw.  On the whole, I find preference with the bowdrill as it does not use energy that much.

On the other side of these pyromaniacs, the steel and flint, although more crude than the modern ferro rod, could give off sparks as efficiently as those rods provided you use a charclothe.  The ferro rods, available commercially now through the advent of survival TV shows, produce a lot of sparks that could ignite even a sawdust from a half-dry wood.  It is now the standard equipment for all outdoorsmen, replacing the safety matches and the lighter, since it could be used more than a thousand times, even in wet or cold days, and is much safer.

The tinder could be sourced anywhere or you could make it yourself like the charclothe.  Foraging tinder is the best practice.  You collect and collect until you think you have enough.  Any combination of natural and manufactured tinder is good and would save you from a bad day in the woods.  For insurance, carry rubber strips and thick plastic.  These are good material to kindle a fire under extreme circumstances.  It will never fail!

When it is 16:30, we start to leave the Roble homestead together with a couple of hikers, who had enjoyed our fire session and the powdered corn coffee.  We go by way of the route I took in the morning.  It is not that slippery as the ground is moist.  We reach the stream and walk the trail back to Napo and to the parked red pickup owned by Aljew.  We take a dinner at AA Barbecue Grill, complements of Aljew, and capped the day’s activity with a few rounds of cold San Miguel Pale Pilsen.

To appease my wife, I gave her my Seseblades JEST Bolo.  She knows how to use a blade, she being bred from a prominent homesteading family who pioneered a community in the wilderness of Mindanao.  It all goes well. 

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

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