Saturday, October 25, 2014


IT WAS A SOMBER EVE before the feast of the Sinulog.  I am sitting on a steel bench inside the Cebu Country Club in the early evening of January 18, 2014, my attention is on the picket line of displaced caddies, nursing their placards and their unsteady future along the sidewalks outside the exclusive golf course.  I am personally supervising my wards enforcing the club’s policies and help maintain peace and order here after yesterday’s tension.

Gliding unhampered now are Cebu’s elite and expatriates with their flashy cars and expensive SUVs making their way among the open parking slots.  Tonight is the awarding ceremony of the prestigious Coral Invitational Golf Tournament which had ran for two weeks and was unexpectedly terminated on the last day when the caddies blocked access to the golf club.  That picket line is now gone after a peaceful dispersal and negotiation.

The parking lot is full but, as minutes tick by into hours, it had thinned slowly, allowing me to ease my watch.  Some of my wards are astride these battery-powered golf carts, doing their rounds of patrolling the fairways, invisible from view, right here on the parking lot.  They came to pick up their packed meals that the club provided free to the security detachment, which gradually increased since January 5, because of the caddies’ forced strike.  

It would be good for me to take a ride on one of those golf carts and do a night survey on the farthest reaches of this 18-hole golf course.  The night is cold.  Winds stirred by a tropical depression off Surigao made it colder still, adding to the cold that the northeast monsoon winds usually bring in from Siberia at this time of year and I had enough of it on the parking benches, even with my thick Alburqani jacket.  I need to stretch my legs and the fairways is a good option.      

I had never done a thorough survey of the golf course in daylight but I had conducted inspection on some parts of its protective fences from the outside.  The golf course is 55-plus hectares in land area with the main part of its lot belonging to Kasambagan, Cebu City where it is accessible at its main entrance located along the busy Governor Mariano Cuenco Avenue.  The rest of it is within Subangdaku, Mandaue City.  

The Mahiga Creek partly runs through the fairways and becomes part of its boundary with Gentle Breeze Subdivision.  The golf course is bounded by several plush subdivisions, high-end condominium projects, an international school, a heavy equipment yard, a furniture factory, warehouses, commercial buildings, a spa, a temple, a techno bar and some individual residential structures.  

Cebu Country Club used to be part of the Banilad Friar Lands which had been expropriated by the Americans after the Spanish-American War of 1898 and sold to a private individual named Luis Cabrera.  It was a choice lot then considering that it is on a high ground surrounded by marshy areas, places where the Mahiga Creek used to fill in when it overflowed.  It is a pleasant rolling terrain conducive for ranching, farming and recreation like horseback riding.  It changed ownership and it belonged to the golf club now.

A subordinate offered to drive the golf cart for me and tour me around the fairways.  It is a perfect moment to check the guards stationed along the perimeter and to stir them from their ennui caused by this cold night.  Another golf cart with two armed guards offered to provide escort.  As soon as we left the bright lights of the clubhouse’s greenfront, it is dark.  The golf carts do not have lights and I use the hand-held LED torch issued to each cart for navigation along the concreted cartways.  

The path weaved among the greens, the sand traps and the putt mounds.  Rows of pine trees (Local name: maribohok) lend an air of coolness, its needles whistled when stirred by the cold night breeze.  Growing also here are mahogany, eucalyptus, gmelina, India berry, ashoka, acacia, rosewood (narra), Mindanao gum (bagras), sweet tamarind (kamantsile), Malabar almond (talisay) and other trees which I could not identify due to darkness.  I saw an ancient strangling-fig tree (balete) standing mighty and proud – a source of imaginary fear.

We pass by several ponds, part of the design and obstacle for struggling golfers.  The ponds contained carps and tilapia and forgotten golf balls.  I saw toads hopping on the grass and I believed I saw fleetingly of what looked like a molted skin of a snake snagged underbrush.  Then the path wind beside the concrete fence lighted by nearby houses until we reach a break in the fence and a foot path lead to a solitary house which the club left alone as it is standing on a small creek easement, considered government land.    

It is silent save for crickets and the ripples of water.  We made a detour and resume the path that follow the course of the Mahiga until we cross a small bridge and continue on to the bank across us where a small man-made lake is located.  A palm tree is half-submerged in water, a victim of Typhoon Yolanda.  Nearby is a pen for domesticated ducks.  These are released during daytime but are driven back into the cage before dusk.  A canal feeds the lake with water and, for the fishes, morsels of food coming from the clubhouse.

The fairways are off limits to enterprising outsiders, who enter surreptitiously to collect stray balls and sell these to members.  It is also forbidden for anyone to catch ducks and fish.  Hunting of birds and other wildlife are not allowed.  Long ago, there used to be marshlands nearby and had been the roosting and feeding grounds of migratory birds but it is gone now and these birds alter their habits to the present ponds.  Although sometimes a nuisance for golfers, the club let it be.  Two guards are stationed here with a golf cart for mobility.

Driving on, we proceed and the carts easily maneuvered about between mounds and among a copse of mango trees.  We stop by a closed restaurant in the middle of the greens where two shotgun-wielding guards are stationed and a cart parked alongside.  Nearby is a coop for Guinea fowls.  Just like the ducks, it is freed at daytime and herded back before nighttime.  These fowls are utilized by the guards as a natural alarm system.

We leave that station and I saw a lot of debris arranged on the side of the fence.  These are broken branches or remnants of some of the surviving trees growing on the fairways which were downed by Yolanda’s 215 KPH winds.  In a little while, we will be back to the clubhouse but the cart failed to accelerate on a high grade and conked out.  We changed carts with our escorts and the driver maneuvered into the front driveway where I alighted.

The Cebu Country Club is a verdant island in a very crowded metropolis of concrete and steel that has diminishing green spaces.  It nurtured a micro ecosystem that had developed through the years under the noses of the very people who made the fairways their playground and of another set of people who made the golf club their livelihood.  The caddies, the gardeners and the security guards may have noticed plant and animal life in their midst but their knowledge are limited.  However, a survivalist sees everything.

An abandoned fairways is a safe refuge of a surviving individual if ever SHTF comes to Cebu in a magnitude comparable to that of Tacloban City after the onslaught of Tropical Cyclone Haiyan and could sustain a small community of survivors in the long run.  The soil is clay loam underneath Bermuda grass and a thin layer of sand.  Water can be sourced underneath the ground while rain water can be collected on the existing ponds or channeled to a future reservoir.  

The ponds can be enlarged and converted into small-sized rice fields; the open fields can be planted with corn, rootcrops, vegetables and fruit trees.  The ducks and Guinea fowls may have been bred there for a purpose by the club and can provide regular nutrition.  Drinkable water can be had from even a shallow well if you know where to find it although it had to be treated well since golf courses are known to use abundant fertilizers to keep their grass perpetually green.  Firewood are plenty.  

The creek and the ponds are a magnet for migratory birds and these are another source of protein.  Flowering plants growing along the periphery of the fence should be left alone and these attract pollinators and supply beehives of nectar.  Stones can be placed in warm open areas to lure small mammals and reptiles by its excreted mineral salts.  Pygmy coconuts may have to be grown to supply oil, fuel, food and vinegar.  Other bamboo varieties can be introduced to provide housing materials, fuel and food.

The golf club’s location is, without a doubt, conducive for conversion into a survivor’s redoubt.  It can be protected against intruders since it has an existing fence and it is on high ground overlooking east with the Mahiga Creek partly functioning as a moat.  Rooftops of houses along the fence can be used as observation posts and, possibly, sniper nests.  The weak spots along the fences can be plugged by propagating spiny bamboos (kagingkingon), bougainvillea and rattan palms.

There are endless possibilities by which you could harness the fairways to your advantage.  I doubt if club members have not noticed this, especially those who are into prepping.  I understand it is a rich boys club but when SHTF comes, it would be abandoned, I am sure of that, because the property is collectively owned under a corporation.  No individual owns 51 percent of the stocks.  Not even 10 percent.  Besides, they have their own private properties and businesses to take care of and this is the least of their worries.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

COMPLEAT BUSHCRAFT XI: A Notching Class by the River

AFTER SIX SUNDAYS OF training among the trails of the Babag Mountain Range, the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild shift to low gear and return to the banks of the Cotcot River in Lilo-an on March 9, 2014 for another grassroots bushcraft session. Today, Aljew Frasco will be our gracious host again and he will, this time, do a demonstration and lecture about Notching.

Notching, for those who are not familiar with the word, is actually a carpentry function wherein wood is notched or chiseled away to accommodate another wood in order to create a sturdy connection or union. In carpentry, the tools used are a wooden mallet, a saw and a chisel. In bushcraft, we use just the knife and a piece of wood for batoning.

Anyway, Glenn Pestaño, Nyor Pino, Kulas Damaso, Dominic Sepe and Tope Laugo showed interest and proceed to our meeting place in Mandaue City. We leave at 07:30 and conveyed by public utility jitney for Lilo-an. Christopher Maru met us and we proceed to Aljew’s house for coffee. We chip in money to buy for us the ingredients for our food which we will cook later.

When we had that, we all hop in the Toyota double-cab pickup which Aljew drove from the highway into the village of Mulao. The road is narrow and curving and slowly climb up through lush hillsides dotted with houses in between. The Cotcot River divides Lilo-an from Compostela and both towns have two villages bearing the same names like Mulao and Cabadiangan.

We pass by our old campsite and proceed on farther until the road dip down a river ford. Aljew park the pickup beside an artesian well and we open carry our knives. We walk beside the stream and cross it whenever we have to. We did cross on two points and, up ahead, downstream, I see a ruckus of swifts flying pell-mell above something which could only mean one thing: food.

I had not noticed that there were three egrets on the stream bed and they flew when they notice us from afar and joined the swifts, circling and catching thermals to gain altitude. From out of nowhere, a Philippine hawk dived from treetop level and attempt to catch one of the egrets but the egret made evasive action and then all the birds flee when we are near. Only the hawk remained, unperturbed of our presence and quite confident of its mastery of the skies.

I study the stream to look for something that had caused the birds to go frenzy. I see tiny frogs, a few days older than tadpoles, hopping all around. I see the unmistakable prints of the egrets on the sandy banks but I see no signs of dismembered frogs, which could only mean another thing: there is another source of food that is much palatable to their liking.

I look mid-stream and see a river goby (Local name: bul-a nga bakiki) floating belly up. Then more dead fish downstream. Some people could have used either poison or electricity to catch fish. I did not notice people near this part of the stream and, probably, they could have passed by here hours ago. I cross a stream and I see empty plastic packs which bear the word “Bayer”, a brand that is synonymous with fertilizer and toxic chemicals.

I see a coconut palm and a short piece of a bamboo pole which has a notch lying on the ground. Nearby is a natural rock formation that resembled like that of a bowl with a substance mixing with the water from the stream still in it. I begin to make sense of the clutter and recreate the scene.

A man have used the coco palm to shield himself from the sun with the bamboo propping it up so it would stand erect. It is beside the stream and I see the residue of the chemicals adhering on the rocks. The rock formation was used by the person in washing or mixing the chemical with water and the runoff went to the stream poisoning the fish. He did the unintentional poisoning yesterday morning.

That answers the mystery of the fishkill. We take a high ground and follow a trail until it take us back to the stream. We cross it and approach a copse of mango trees. It is a good place to make a camp since it is shady. As it is already 10:30, it would be a good time to prepare our meal. All over are dry firewood and some stones.

Everyone go to work on the sticks and the fire. Pots of rice are now hanged over two fires while chicken and pork are getting sliced and processed. A metal ewer starts to boil water and soon we will enjoy coffee. Conversations, the serious and the not-so-serious, roll out eliciting heady replies or a laugh. A wooden tripod is propped up to aid in cooking.

When the meal is about to be served, it is placed on a big banana leaf typical of “boodle fight” fashion, popularized by the Philippine military. But, before that, the blade porn, then the prayer before meal. Everyone is hungry and the meal is a worthy challenger to the men’s appetite. After that, the hawk return to the river circling over us many times.

The lecture proper start right after the pots and the cooking utensils are cleaned. Aljew start the discussion about Notching. He emphasized the importance of a knife and a heavy stick to achieve a notch. Aside that, the work should be carried out on a durable surface like a rock or a log and one should be in a very comfortable position.

He start with the most simple of all, which is the Half Notch. The Half Notch is used to accommodate a rope or a cord to be wound around near the end of a stick like a ground peg to hold a corner of a tent or a part of snare mechanism. The knife cuts straight on one part while the other part is cut in an angle that intersect the former. Excess wood are cleared away.

Then there is the Square Notch. This can also be used in conjunction with ropes or cords but it is designed for quick jointing with another piece of wood. The knife is cut straight on two parts while wood is chipped off in between and cleared.

The Hook Notch. This is used mostly to hang items like cooking pots. It does not provide a stable joint and can be removed easily and transferred anywhere anytime. The knife cuts straight on one part while cutting another part is done inward that imitate a hook. The notch is then cleared of unwanted wood.

The Cross Notch. It would provide the most stable joint to another wood provided that a cord or a rope be bound on both. The knife is cut straight twice crossing each other. Only wood found outside of the cross, which are at the outward extremes, are removed and cleared.

Then the last is the Clasp Notch. It joins another wood or another material at its end. Perfect for clasping a ladle, a spear point, an obsidian cutting instrument, etc. Make this union sturdy by binding it with a cord. The knife is slowly chopped on one part at the end of a stick and repeat this on an adjacent part. Wood is removed in between and cleared.

If you have a small folding saw, courtesy of either a Swiss Army Knife or a multitool set (ex. Leatherman, Gerber, SOG), then your notching job will be easy and would disregard the use of a baton. The saw will cut the wood while the small knife would be confined to whittling and clearing of excess wood.

Aljew had discussed Notching thoroughly and clearly. When the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp will be convened this June, he will be one of the instructors. He had proven himself to be one of the best products of the PIBC which he participated in 2013. He had accumulated knowledge through his research and study and by his intelligent approach.

After the discussion, everyone do as Aljew had taught. Each individual choose a stick by which this little-known craft will be put to work. The stick will then becomes the canvass by which these strange outdoorsmen would put their art on to. It is a wonderful afternoon as the sound of wood hitting knife reverberated on the river bank.

Everyone, committed to give his best and finished the task. Aljew is satisfied with the result and a smile crossed his face. Then everyone cleared the campsite as the things are packed inside their bags. We go by the same route back to where we came from in the morning. We reach a condemned hanging bridge and I am amused of how three old women balance among stones as they cross the Cotcot River.

We reach Liloan at 17:00 and we stay for a while to market food. I accompany Christopher at the seafront in the hope of meeting fishermen but I see children instead scooping buckets of puffer fish (Local: burereng). This is a different variety from the toxic kind (Local: butete) but they look the same unless you touch the texture of their skin or examine the teeth.

We bought two kilos of these as Christopher facilitated the cooking to his relatives. It is cooked in vinegar and tamarind leaves. We proceed to the public market and secure pork meat and fresh herring (Local: mangsi) and some vegetables.

Dinner is superb. Grilled pork and raw fish are served plus the puffer fish on a separate dish. I challenged everyone not to eat the puffer fish should they found me foaming in the mouth afterwards. It never came and all slowly picked the feared fish.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I FAILED TO WAKE UP to my preset alarm of 04:45 on March 2, 2014 and, when I did woke up, it is already 06:45! I read an SMS message and they are all waiting for me at Guadalupe. I have a training hike today for the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. I hurriedly take a bath and snatch things into a recent acquisition - a Habagat Mercury - for this day’s activity.

It is not a backpack but a large utility-type bag with a single adjustable sling to ride on one shoulder. I stuff three cooking pots into the main compartment, as well as a 1.5 liter French Army canteen set with water, a trauma kit, my fire kit, my AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife, a stainless-steel cup, spoon-fork set, a 410 ml. can of deep-fried pork shreds and an extra dry shirt.

Inside the pockets are another 1-liter water bottle, my William Rodgers Bushcraft Knife, my Victorinox SAK Trailmaster, my Kodak camera, a bunch of keys, a Mörser nailcutter, a Rui Xing Police LED torch, an aluminum card case, a belt, a military meshed veil and an MP3 player. All weighed a total of eight kilos.

I reach the assembly area at around 08:00 and everyone is ready to go. There is Jhurds Neo, Aljew Frasco, Christoper Maru, Kulas Damaso, Nyor Pino and Mark Lepon. The ingredients for our noontime meal are already packed inside their bags. Aljew gave us all a lift inside his Toyota Lite Ace van as it cruise past the narrow mountain road into Arcos.

From there, we will walk down to Napo. It is 08:25 when we start to hit the trail that followed the bends and turns of the Sapangdaku Creek. It is a very warm day and there are no good reasons in pushing hard to make up for our rather late start. I believe a lot of hikers are ahead of us and a lot more coming but we will be taking another route. Manggapares Trail is exclusive, for the moment, for Camp Red only.

We got there at 09:15 and I blinked at the distance to the first of the seven steel towers erected in array at the spine of Tagaytay Ridge. It will be a long long day. The sun will be unforgiving at the exposed heights as it does even now along this covered trail where I stood. Slowly, we approach the lower slopes. The moist from the ground had disappeared as summer is near.

While on the middle of it, we spend a short moment to rest where, before, was deemed unnecessary. We pushed slowly after that and the sun begins to cast its hot rays when tree cover had thinned. The ground where the first tower stood is awash in full sunshine and I am breathing hard as I look for a little shade to recover myself from the exertion. One by one, they come.

My eyes are cast to the second tower, standing 200 meters away. The route will pass a low saddle where felled wood sometimes block the route aside from thick bushes that almost obliterated the ground where the path is found. I cut away branches that block the way, especially those that has menacing thorns, with my AJF Gahum.

As with every Camp Red activity, we always open carry our knives by our sides like Aljew with his Fallkniven, Christopher with his Ka-Bar Kukri, Jhurds with his Condor Bushcraft Knife and Nyor with his Seseblades NCO. My AJF Gahum – with its handsome leather sheath – hang by my side and shares the belt with the big water canteen set which I acquired from a French rescue technician during the relief frenzy that was Typhoon Yolanda’s.

It is a slow pace getting to the second tower and, once reached, the third one is waiting, but higher and steeper. As the ground is devoid of moist, the soil is loose, making an ascent a very tiring activity, especially with my pair of old Rivers 3514M Hike Boots that had seen some good days and had lost most of its teeth. The meshed veil protected my face and neck from the sun while my arms welcomed sunrays.

I use my hands to achieve height and, once there, I stay under the shade of a copse of Mexican lilac trees (Local name: madre de cacao, kakawate). I sit for the first time, just enjoying the freshness of the breeze and the water from the canteen that weighs like lead at my side. I notice Jhurds is not in good shape today. No matter, we need to tackle this ridge and take rest up ahead.

The single strap of the Habagat Mercury places a strain on my left shoulder. The uneven weight causes a new muscle group to develop at my back whereby it puts pressure on my left lung. Breathing becomes painful in my left lung as it cannot expand totally. I may have to transfer the strap to the other shoulder once we start walking again.

When I think everyone had rested, we go for the fourth tower. The approach to it is barren and, coupled with the sun, torturous. It is loose ground again and I need my hands to keep me grounded and stable until I am able to overcome the slope. An unfinished road makes the walk easier now but that only means that there are few trees to shield us from the sun.

Up ahead is an abandoned Mitsubishi backhoe and another abandoned cement mixer. These are the landmarks which give a hint that we will soon change route. Liboron Trail is on a slope below and, this time, we will avail of forest cover. The terrain will now also be rolling and mild save for a few difficulties which a very narrow path above a steep slope always offer.

We pass by a hidden meadow, wide and lush with coconuts and ankle-high grass. It would have been a perfect bushcraft campsite if only it has a water source. I will look into this place more in the future and I might discover a hidden brook or spring somewhere near. We cross this and proceed to thick forest again until we reach a saddle.

I let everyone rest here and I learn that it is already 12:55. I saw a hole in the ground used as a hearth like that of a Dakota fire hole. Ingenious locals. Anyway, time may have been the reason why my stomach acted strangely. Facing me is a low hill, barren of trees but full of noontime sunshine. Formidable but not insurmountable.

We climb it over and down into long grasses and groves of bamboo and straight into a lone mango tree where there is a dry brook below. We cross that going up another hill where a garden and some huts are located. We reach the high ground at 13:15 and we settle down and take time to prepare and cook our food.

I prop up a tripod bound with vines while Aljew tease a flint spark into fire. A blackened pot hang from the tripod over the fire to start the cooking of colored rice while a stainless steel ewer is filled with water and made to stand beside a roaring fire. Another tripod set is propped up by Aljew to hang another black-bottomed pot to boil and soften mung bean soup.

As this is going on, Kulas, Nyor, Jhurds and Mark prepare the other ingredients. They slice the onions, garlic, tomatoes and pork meat. Christopher mix black coffee with boiling water in the ewer. Empty cups are hurriedly filled while brown sugar are available for sweetening. Coffee had never have tasted this good on this very warm day! I add another cup for myself.

Kulas prepare the pork adobo while Christopher start with the mung bean soup. I forage more firewood to feed to the cooking. Jhurds supply us music from his Samsung cellphone and his hilarious tales. The rest watch the cooking and join in the conversations, turning this sleepy place into a noisy lair. Kulas produce a big banana leaf and transfer all the cooked rice from the pot; a prelude to a boodle fight.

The pork adobo and the beef jerky are laid on top of the rice while the steaming mung bean soup get a lot of stares. Before the meal is going to be snatched by everyone, the bushcraft tradition of blade porn begins at the side at the instance of Jhurds, then the prayer before meals which I lead. Everyone either filled their plates, cups or pot lids for the rice and mung beans. Then more refills until only the rice is left.

I left the cooked rice, a piece of beef jerky, some pork adobo, a token of fish paste (Local name: ginamos) and a small can of tuna flakes to the owner of the place as appreciation for bearing with our noisy presence. In return, he give me eight very sweet bananas, organically grown and ripened, which all devour with gusto!

We leave at 15:00 for Babag Ridge. It is another uphill walk through a forested area where vegetation begins to choke on the trail. I walk deliberately slow to allow anything that may be lurking beneath what my eyes cannot see enough time to move away. The bushes are now shoulder height and, beyond my reach, are birds singing at the treetops in the middle of the afternoon.

I hear again the unmistakable song of the black shama (Local name: siloy). It is just nearby but invisible to observation. When it sees that we are uncomfortably close, it moves away and continue in its singing from afar. The Manggapares Trail ends when it meets the Babag Trail. This trail is really an old path that follow the ridgeline of the Babag Mountain Range.

I see the telltale sign of a motorcycle wheel on the debris-strewn, but firm, dry ground. The rider had braked suddenly on a steep part where the result of its action caused dirt and debris to be mowed forward while skid marks, almost invisible to the untrained eye, trailed after it. So, they must had moved the obstacles away. The tracks are very recent, a few hours old.

The rattan palms are healthy as ever and one plant have almost claimed the trail. You have to stoop down clear away from the spines else it snag on your clothes, bag or skin. I wonder how an Enduro rider would come out unscathed even with all his protective gear. A trunk that had blocked the path had been moved aside and I return it back to the middle of the trail.

It is a beautiful late afternoon, still bright and sunny, on a trail that exudes a mystical aura. This path tells a lot of stories if it could only talk but hints suggest that it kept a lot of history. I switch to a branch of a trail and show them again the cave that had been used by Cebuano guerrillas during the resistance against the Japanese in the early years of World War II and by the Japanese themselves bracing against a large American force during liberation.

The re-piled stones stood in mute testimony of the ferocity of that conflict which took many lives on both sides. We walk on and arrive at an open space that had served as a favorite camping area until the time fences had been erected by property owners to block off-road motorcycles access to their properties. I would have disliked the actions of these land owners but their reasons are largely justifiable.

The new path is marked by my own trail sign and I follow it to a woody area then down into a gully and up again to a hill where it give in to more ascents until it reconnects to the old route. I rest on a long bench and waited for the others to arrive. They came, quite winded of the effort, and douse water into their parched throats. It is 15:35 and I did not know that we walk that fast or we just keep on walking without rest until now.

After a short rest, we proceed on to Mount Babag. Some hikers had reached the ridge and are showing off their prowess by posing before a camera. They were mesmerized by our strange and unconventional sight with hanging knives by our sides. We pass by them and take a short cut to a road that lead to a store selling the only cold drinks in these parts.

Jhurds is suffering from hypoglycemia and it is imperative that sugared drinks like carbonated soda be given to him so he could recover. Three big bottles of cold Coca Cola are shared to all while I opt to have the coldest San Miguel Beer Grande for myself and Nyor!

After disposing thoroughly of the liquids, we go back to Mt. Babag and start our downward journey to Sapangdaku Creek. This is quite challenging on my part since I chose to wear my old pair of shoes. The soil is loose caused by absence of rain for the past two weeks and so I use my hands for anchor and balance as well as using my long experience in the outdoors. It is not unusual that my progress would imitate that of a wave surfer in my effort to brake from a downward pull.

Along the way, I met another group of hikers going to Babag Ridge and another group that has just recovered the true route after losing their way among thick vegetation. Quite amusing but, seriously, you do not roam the mountains without a guide. I reach the Upper Kahugan Spring and help myself to its cool runoff and so do the rest. It is almost sundown now and the Roble homestead is down ahead.

We reach it after with daylights to spare. We take rest here and are offered green coconuts which we accept with gusto! We pay for that afterwards and go on our way to the shortest route to Sapangdaku Creek. It is steep and the soil loose and darkness overtook us. We reach Napo at 18:15 and we walk some more over the road to be at the place where our vehicle is parked.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014


GOING UP TO MOUNT BABAG again today, February 16, 2014. It is just another training hike for stamina buildup. The route would be from Napo to Babag Ridge then back to Napo in a “rosary loop”. There is nothing new except that there are three new people going with the bushmen of Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. Some rough cuts, I would say.

It is a day activity with different elevation changes; a knee breaker on one stretch. Maricel, Mark and Nelson are public-school teachers. They believed that joining Camp Red activities would provide them additional knowledge and skills in the furtherance of teaching scouting to their students. A wise decision! But, before engaging them with the real thing, it is but proper to expose them slowly to our brand of outdoor culture first.

Our inclination to open carry our knives in all our activities might turn off some people. A lot of people do not know the very wisdom why we carry our knives outdoors and they do not know the manner in which how we use it. Maricel, Nelson and Mark will soon learn why Camp Red people loved to use, own, carry, collect and manufacture knives.

So after seeing them at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, together with Dominic, Kulas, Faith, Justine, Bogs and Tope, we leave for Napo at 07:45 on motorcycles. When we arrive there, we immediately hit the trail. The Sapangdaku Creek is full and robust; the morning is very mild; with the ground showing moist after last night’s light downpour.

Today, for a change, I am bringing my newly-acquired Chipaway Cutlery Bowie Knife. I will test it but first I will have to open carry it and get used with its weight on my side while walking. It comes in a handsome leather sheath dyed brown. Another knife, a William Rodgers, protrude at the back of my Sandugo Khumbu. It had already accomplished of what I liked in a knife and it goes where I go.

After 35 minutes of walking, we have reached the trailhead of a connecting route to Manggapares Trail. Manggapares is a path that trudge on the ridgeline of Tagaytay. It can be reached by walking uphill for about 200 meters. The first steel tower loom ahead and it projects a promise of a few minutes rest to recover our labored breathing. The cool breeze did not fail to come and it cooled our sweating bodies.

We walk to the second tower passing by a charcoal camp and felled trunks that host a healthy environment of edible wood mushrooms (Local name: kwakdok). I forage some for keeps and instructed everyone what it looked like and how to collect it. The route to the second tower is almost obliterated now by vegetation even though I passed here recently three times in a row since December 29, 2013.

In the tropics you could walk on any vegetation anywhere and see it recover quickly from a day if it is a wet season to a week if it is a dry season unlike in the temperate zone where the plant ecology is so fragile owing to less sunlight days. The Leave No Trace is really designed for the upper north and lower south hemisphere countries and in deserts but it can be used only as a guidance in a tropical setting.

We at Camp Red understand LNT but we do not follow it word for word as what other outdoor clubs are doing. We know what we are doing and we know better our environment because we stay close to the ground and study everything unlike conventional outdoorsmen who just pass by in a hurry for pleasure, exercise and feeling good. Besides that, we blend in with the mountains. Flashy metrosexual clothes are not in our war chest.

The third tower is a harder walk because the sun is in full blast this time. A row of Mexican lilac trees (Local: madre de cacao or kakawate) offer shade where there is unobstructed breeze. Water is essential but not necessarily splurging on it. You have to control your urge for water by just sipping a little and let it stay for about ten seconds in your mouth. The purpose really is to cool your tongue, the gums and mouth cavity.

I show Mark, Nelson and Maricel of the best firewood to use. It is not dead branches lying on the ground but those that are hanging or still part of a live tree. The recent typhoon have littered the route with falling trees, broken branches and eye pokers – a whole set of dry twigs. Here, I begin to work on the trail by snapping off branches and twigs that block passage and removing heavy branches that are hanging precariously.

Manggapares Trail is a very beautiful trail good for uphill hiking and it is seldom used by the local inhabitants. Nobody uses this route except us at Camp Red and those that we bring. It is essential in me then to do trail maintenance to keep it safe and navigable. There used to be a copse of citrus trees here but only one tree is left standing now. We move on for the next tower.

We reach it but it is unfinished. By its very location the posts are far from each other. I have to use both hands to reach part of it and then balance on a narrow ground between two holes to reach another part. The road starting from Bocawe ends here. It is unpaved and not maintained. Furrows caused by rainwater carry topsoil downhill as wild vegetation begins to creep in on their former territory.

The backhoe and the cement mixer are still here left to fend for itself against the elements, the crawling plants and them “cannibals”. It is now easy walk but I am not asking for it. I walk where I choose to and I do not mind the angle or the type of ground as long as my feet are comfortable inside their shoes. Proper and comfortable footwear then are very important when you hike on rugged terrain like the mountains.

We reach the fifth tower and beyond it are the sixth and the seventh. After that last tower at Tagaytay Ridge is Mount Liboron. I have not scaled that peak and I do not find good reason why should I climb it. It is just an obstacle. Its importance is its being a landmark. I opt not to hike towards the last two towers and take another route below the highest ridge. This is Liboron Trail. It is narrow, the ground is soft, and it is a wild path.

Locals are beginning to tame this wild place. I see a large Java plum tree (Local: lomboy or duhat) and a couple of Mexican lilac trees being cut down that would soon be converted into charcoal. I just cannot find good sense why the farmer did not take advantage of the trees that were felled by the typhoon, which are numerous here, and resort instead to cutting live ones. Tsk! Tsk! What a waste!

On the other hand, I see three-foot poles of Mexican lilac being planted straight on the ground. Part of a hillyland reforestation project. It is a good idea planting trees this way with a species that had adapted well with our land that does not threaten or compete with indigenous species. It grows fast and gives nitrogen to the soil allowing neighboring plants to thrive. Seasoned stumps make good firewood, charcoal and wooden handles for tools and knives.

I have to take a lot of detours, going around both uprooted and chopped trees. We reach the hidden meadow. It had to have a source of water somewhere if I were to recall the story that a local at Kahugan had told me a year ago (NBT 57: The Last Wild Place). I may have to look again on this place in the future and do some exploration. Prospect is high to convert this as a place for the next Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp once water will be found.

We proceed on until we reach a saddle and take rest. I look back and show Justine, Faith and Dominic of the route we took last December (NBT 70: Manggapares Trail). It is thick jungle and a bit of scary! I tried to be adventurous that time and we suffered with our itinerary. We face the path uphill where a lone mango tree is found and walk towards it. Soon we will reach the halfway point and our meal rest.

I forage three poles and a long vine as I slowly approach another mango tree. Above us is the garden abode of Julio Caburnay and we reach it at 11:00. Julio had been so kind to accommodate me and my party into his property many times that I make it a point to give something extra for his upkeep. He is minding his little farm and he had already stashed dry firewood. Everyone take whatever vacant space available and begin to boil water for coffee on portable stoves.

I make a tripod of the three poles by binding it with the vine. This same vine would hold the cooking pot from where it will be suspended over the fire. Nelson, Mark and Tope watch intently of this cooking arrangement and I explain to them of its advantage. The tripod make a stable footing on any uneven ground and gives a lot of space to push firewood underneath the pot which a traditional trio of stones could not. The vine is just an alternative to a rope.

Since there are a lot of firewood, it was not difficult to make fire. I cook a colored rice over it. Meanwhile, Dominic took charge of the viands. He will be cooking mung bean soup and pork adobo on butane fuel. He will get a lot of help from Justine, Faith, Maricel, Kulas and Bogs. Flavoring to achieve good taste on the soup came from shreds of dried pork that Bogs provided. It was the best mung bean soup I have eaten beating my wife’s own by a snout!

Tope experimented in making charclothe on the leftover coals. He cajoled the flame back to life by pushing more wood. Shreds of clothe are placed inside a small can which is tightly shut. A tiny hole allows oxygen to escape so clothe burns itself slowly. I leave a kilo of brown rice, some cooking oil and soy sauce and six sachets of instant coffee to Julio as a token of thanks.

After a good rest and a very delicious meal, we leave the place at 13:28, taking the remainder of Manggapares Trail towards the ridgeline of the Babag Mountain Range. The route snake above the ridge into another forested area. The grasses are now long, the bushes begins to extend its reach on the middle of the trail. It is quiet here. No sounds of birds. Just the rustling caused by our passing.

The newcomers had proven themselves during that steady ascent and are now privileged to walk with me at Babag Trail and the rest of the route. This is an old trail where only a few hikers use but I intend to make it as a training ground now. I walk slowly, quite wary of broken branches snagged overhead and them rattan spines. Debris caused by the typhoon littered the ground. I intend not to do trail maintenance here to make life difficult for off-road motorcycle riders, which visit here noisily from time to time.

The trail is on the ridgeline but thick vegetation kept us from the view on both sides of the mountain range. We proceed on and show the newcomers of an old tunnel used by the Japanese during the last war. Further on is a popular old campsite that had been forgotten because of barbed-wire fences erected by property owners to discourage motorcycles. It has a good view of the Bonbon River Valley and faraway Cantipla Ridge.

When we got past the fences we walk towards the vicinity of Mount Babag. From here, it is all downhill. Another test of strength and control of balance. The ground held fast as it is partly moist. A group of seven hikers came up the trail. Some corporate type with wrong footwear. We reach Upper Kahugan Spring and rehydrate before proceeding to the East Ridge Pass.

Along the way we meet Aljew and Christopher. Both were supposed to be on this hike but someone’s alarm did not function and both missed the ETD. They join us and now we are twelve people fighting gravity. Another group of six people are resting on a ridge taking pictures among themselves. We pass by them and go on our way until we reach the Roble homestead. All the benches are full of hikers – the corporate generic kind.

Three groups are already there and we are the fourth. Their eyes widened when they see knives on Aljew, on Christopher and on me hanging by our sides. It is as if we just committed a sacrilegious offense. I know these kind the moment my eyes acknowledge their presence. It is a pity that these people stuck to a foreign ideology without even understanding the whole concept of and the spirit behind LNT.

Anyway, we ignore them and sit among stones and pieces of wood. I learned that Nelson and Justine had been limping due to cramps while Maricel hobbled on a busted shoe. Brave effort and the day’s activity is almost at its finish. When the group of hikers had left, we claimed the empty benches and enjoy water from young coconuts.

It is 15:45 when we left the Roble family and go on down a shortcut to Kahugan Trail. The route is steep but no one spilled, not even with Maricel who changed her shoes into flip-flops. We reach Napo but we have to walk 400 meters more to Arkos where Aljew had parked his Toyota Lite Ace. We reach Guadalupe but we transfer instead to Francisca Village in Banawa. Jhurds, another of Camp Red, hosted a simple dinner for us and a good swim of cold beer!

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer