Wednesday, October 1, 2014

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LXXIV: The Rosary Loop

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

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