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.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer


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