Tuesday, November 25, 2014


IT IS A BRIGHT SUNNY DAY.  Jerome Tibon drove his KIA Rio on the South Road bound for Sibonga.  I sat beside him while Nelson Orozco and Jhurds Neo sat at the back.  When we passed by Pardo, Fulbert Navarro joined us.  It is just another regular dirt time for us members of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.  Today is March 30, 2014 and, an hour from now, we would be at our campsite.

We arrived at 10:00 but we walked another 200 meters to reach the camp, which is located up a hill.  The breeze is steady and you could feel its coolness when you are under the shade of a tree.  I came here last time in November 2013 during a Spoon Carving session.  Today we are on a Notching class.  Notching, is a bushcraft activity by which you nick a piece of wood to accommodate a cord, a rope or another piece of wood.

There is nothing difficult about it once you pay attention to the instructor, in this case – Glenn Pestaño, and watch how he uses the knife to achieve a notch.  To recall, Notching had been taught first by another of Camp Red’s – Aljew Frasco – by the banks of the Cotcot River, in Lilo-an, last March 9.  Jhurds, Fulbert, Jerome and Nelson were not there the last time and this is the perfect occasion to teach them about Notching.

When we arrive at the campsite, we make a courtesy call to Rufing Ramos and his family.  There, Jhurds unloaded his little gifts for the children while I tour Jerome and Nelson of the herbal plants grown by Rufing on his little garden.  Rufing promised Jerome and Jhurds that he will part some of his Hawaiian green tea to them.  I understand Glenn had procured the free-rein chicken he promised and it is now over the fire for softening.

We proceed back to the campsite and I volunteered to fetch water for the group.  Jhurds, meanwhile, forage three mature slender bamboos for our cooking tripod and a single segment from a bamboo pole for cooking rice inside.  He is testing his Spyderco Forester knife.  When I returned, the fire had already been started while the tripod is now standing above it.  The fire had been made from flint and steel and charclothe.

We immediately filled one blackened pot with rice and another one with milled corn.  These pots are hanged over the fire while the bamboo is propped in between two stones.  We also boiled water for coffee and just let the pot stand near the fire.  While the cooking had been going on, Fulbert and Jhurds started another fire nearby so Jerome’s dried rabbitfish (Local name: danggit) would be fried in oil on a military-issued food tray.

I left them so I could start the cooking of the free-rein chicken.  I retrieved the now-softened meat and transferred it to a large fry pan where cooking oil had now been seasoned with garlic and onions.  When the meat was brownish looking, I pour a little water then the pure coconut milk.  After I bury a lemon grass (tanglad) in the soup, I settled the taste with only a few pinches of salt.  Hmm...delicious!  No MSG please, because it would not help your outdoor culinary skills a lot.

After I had parted a share to the Ramos family, I brought the rest to the hungry guys underneath a mango tree.  All the rice and the milled corn and the fried fish had been cooked while pork meat in barbecue sticks are now in its final stages of cooking.  I foraged a large banana leaf from a small valley and frayed it over a fire.  The rice, the milled corn, the fried fish and the pork are piled over the leaf for a preview of a “boodle fight”.  The chicken soup remained inside its plastic container.

However, before a meal, even how hungry people are, the Camp Red tradition of the blade porn takes precedence.  It is unbelievable how six bushmen could produce twenty-three different blades in a single setting.  I contributed my tomahawk, my William Rodgers bushcraft knife, my AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife, my Buck 112 folding knife, my Victorinox SAK Trailmaster and a local knife that was made in Tobaco, Albay to the fray.

After the meal, Rufing brought a gallon of pure coconut wine (tuba).  It is not frothing and bubbly but it is white and sweet.  This native wine is traditionally mixed with the bark of a mangrove tree (bakhaw) which gave it an orange color but, on this day, it had not.  I drank glass after glass of it but I did not lower my guard.  I have had a colorful history of the wine’s effect while vacationing on an islet off Masbate in 1983. 

Glenn started the lecture about Notching.  He explains to all that notching is actually a very good exercise to hone your dexterity with a knife.  The knife is (as had been for centuries) a companion of a bushcrafter.  It is a very useful tool, without which, it would be very difficult to achieve work in the furtherance of day-to-day survival.  There are many different ways to notch a wood but Glenn would rather tackle the ones that had been effectively taught the last time by Aljew.

The Half Notch can be achieved by cutting a straight angle and then cutting another inclined angle on another point which intersect with the first.  This is used to accommodate a cord or a rope especially when tying to a ground peg or part of a snare mechanism.  The Square Notch is cutting two straight angles on different points and clearing away unwanted wood in between.  This is also used like the Half Notch and it is used, as well, to fit in with another piece of wood.

The Hook Notch is used to hang items like cooking pots.  It can be made by cutting a straight angle on one part and cutting another at an inward angle as if imitating a hook.  The Cross Notch is cutting two straight angles where it crossed each other like an X and clearing away wood at the extremes to fit in another wood which also has a crossed notch.  The Clasp Notch is used to hold an object and two cuts are chopped down from the end of a stick and wood is cleared in between.

All begin to apply of what they just learned from Glenn on their separate sticks.  The minutes drag on as all the blades are now used to cut and notch the sticks.  Jhurds, Fulbert, Jerome and Nelson were able to accomplish these simple tasks and, once done, are now forever ingrained as woodlore knowledge.  Bushcraft is a different lifestyle.  It teaches you skills which can make a big difference when SHTF comes.

As all are quick learners, Fulbert make use of the time to teach Glenn, Jhurds, Jerome and Nelson of basic knots.  These are just simple knots that are applicable in bushcraft like stoppers, splicers, hitches and loops.  Some examples of stoppers are the overhand knot, the slip knot and the figure-of-eight knot.  For the splicers, the examples are the square knot, the double sheetbend and the double fisherman’s knot.

Meanwhile, the few good examples that Fulbert taught of the loops were the double figure-of-eight and the bowline.  Same with the hitches, whose best examples are the timber hitch, the cow hitch, the tautline and the Prussik knot.  Fulbert will be one of the resource speakers of the oncoming Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp this June.  He will discuss Basic Knots and will do a demonstration of the bamboo-saw method for Firecraft.

I decide to go down the hill to cut some tree trunks.  I need to prepare firewood for the PIBC which would be hosted on this place on June 10 to 12, 2014.  I look for certain tree species that are not native of this place like mahogany, white leadtree (ipil-ipil) and Indian mulberry (bangkoro) and are not that thick or mature.  I cut it above belly height so it would recover quickly and more healthy.  I also cut a single pole of a spiny bamboo (kagingkingon).  I make it sure that all the trunks do not touch the ground.  

When we think that it is now a late afternoon, we packed our things and say adios to the Ramos family.  We walked back to where the KIA is parked in the morning, only, this time, Glenn is the additional passenger.  Since some part of the road are not level, me, Jhurds and Glenn had to get out of the car so it could navigate easily.  It was dark when we reach the city and, slowly, one by one, we all go home.  I am the last to go and I gave my thanks to Jerome, who needs to cross the Mactan Channel by a bridge to get home.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

Saturday, November 15, 2014


SEA TRAVEL TO NORTHERN Mindanao and Southern Leyte are cancelled tonight – March 21, 2014 – due to an oncoming tropical depression entering the Philippine Area of Responsibility.  However, my trip to Baybay, Leyte is not cancelled, so I gladly run my Sandugo Khumbu 40L backpack on the rubber conveyor of the x-ray machine before I entered the terminal of the Port of Cebu.

With me are my buddies from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild – Aljew Frasco and Christopher Maru; and old hands from the Cebu Mountaineering Society – Boy Olmedo and Boy Toledo.  We are on a Jungle Environment Hike and Expedition so we could find and create a new route to Mount Pangasugan after some trails had been washed away by Super Typhoon Yolanda last November.

All of us had been to the jungles of Mt. Pangasugan, at one time or another, and had considered this peak as something that had gotten away.  Boy O and me came here with a large party of climbers in 1992 on a different route; Boy T with his club on that same route in 1994; and Aljew and Christopher on a video documentary project here in 2008.  We all failed.  But, this time, we hope, we will bring home the bacon.  Call it the “return of the comeback”. 

Although I had climbed a few minor peaks before I visited Mt. Pangasugan, I consider this mountain very special for me.  For one, it had marked the beginning of my passion for the outdoors and the environment.  Also, it had given me that rare privilege to witness a Philippine eagle in the wild at close range.  In short, Mt. Pangasugan is my benchmark when talking about terrain difficulty and richness of flora and fauna.

Without much funfare, the MV Sacred Star set sail at 21:00 in wet climatic conditions for the Port of Baybay.  We arrive in rainy weather the following day (March 22) at 04:00 and we proceed directly to our host, which is at Cienda.  After a light breakfast and procuring food provisions of two days, we walk to a tree nursery farm of the Leyte Reforestation Project where we register our names and our purpose and getting briefed of the area that we are hiking into.

We are introduced to our guides: Procopio and Ruben.  Ruben is a small fellow approaching 50.  Procopio is the older of the two at 60 years.  He still practices the old way of chewing a concoction of lime, tobacco, betel leaf, cinnamon and a palm nut.  Me and Aljew try this, out of curiosity, but we were warned that this will make you light-headed.  Indeed, it had, but it is as if I had just brushed my teeth after I had gurgled out the ogre-looking liquid.  

We start our journey at 08:20 under a light shower.  Aljew, Christopher and I carried openly our knives by our side like our guides do.  We traverse over rice fields and then engage our first river crossing of the Tubod River.  Current is strong but water is clear enough to see the stones underneath.  I have a heavy load – about 28 kilos.  Once I tripped over a stone and fell, that load becomes close to 40 kilos!  I paid dearly to carry extra with my carelessness.  

I may have to find wooden staffs to aid me, Boy O and Boy T in our river trek.  Ruben the guide, produce two mature bamboo staffs while I picked up a wooden stick for myself along the way.  Aljew and Christopher are both still flexible in their balance, being much younger than us and do not need it.  The sticks would later make a difference on us old citizens, except for Ruben and Procopio, who both are in their natural elements.

Tubod River is wild and brisk marked by uneven levels and different obstacles, which needs to be overcome.  The rocks and boulders are fine with hiking shoes, even with rubber Spartans (local brand of rubber flip flops), but appearance of surfaces can sometimes be deceiving but it is not a hindrance, as it had been for many times in the past, for both Procopio and Ruben, who both walked barefooted. 

All the while, it rained; from light to moderate, back to light to moderate and so on.  My senses peaked another notch.  My observation skills becomes sharp noting regularly for any deviations of water color and ripples of the current.  My eyes scan everything even to the extent of observing the awkward footing of those who are ahead of me.  My skin is constantly feeling wind velocity and rain intensity.  My ears catching every sound.      

As we tackle the river upstream, the riverbanks are now closer and it becomes a gorge.  It is much wilder here, the river more noisy.  Tributaries come from all sides.  Typhoon Yolanda had created a lot of damage on the landscape; uprooting trees and causing landslides; and routing new water channels when the original ones are filled with debris or blocked with huge boulders.

These conditions are a threat to our activity and the longer we stay on the river by the hour the higher the risk.  We reach a huge rock overhang and we decide to rest here from the onslaught of constant rain and from a shivering wind that came upstream. We decide to eat our noontime meal here but, in these conditions, a hot meal is best.  I understand that both Boy O and Boy T brought packed meals but that is not enough.  What about the guides?  

I still do not know yet how far we will walk or how many obstacles we will clamber up and how long we will keep our body heat to resist nature’s pounding.  For the greater interest of this group, being the expedition leader and safety officer, I decide we eat our meal hot and, that means, cooking it in an open fire in spite of this inclement weather.  I would rather sacrifice time for that.  

As was practiced and done by Camp Red in every outdoor activity, Aljew, Christopher and me proceed to forage dry firewood (which is now rare) and produce fire (which is now difficult) then cook rice in two pots hanged on a tripod.  Boy T help with the cooking of a mixed vegetable soup on his camp stove.  Meanwhile, Ruben and Procopio are shivering as they watch our activities.  When lunch is ready, all shared evenly the hot food. 

After the meal, we proceed on to more difficult terrain.  That infamous typhoon obliterated of what used to be a continuous trail going to the Chapel, the LRP Bunk House, the waterfall and to the ridge at Marabon that lead to the summit of Pangasugan.  For that, we are now confined to more river crossings, more daunting obstacles and more risks to flashfloods, landslides and rockfalls.  My dependable Rohan hiking pants opened up on the crotch during a scramble for a foothold.

Facing us is a small cliff.  It marked the joining of two rivers.  The rightmost is the Tubod River while the leftmost is a smaller but turbulent stream.  We follow the rightmost one.  Above this headland is a gang of Philippine macaques (Local name: amo, unggoy) swinging wildly among branches, probably attracted by our cooking.  On my first trip here in the Leyte Cordilleras, I did not see a single monkey but today they are many. 

We proceed on into some of the most dangerous obstacles that Yolanda had left for humans to overcome but we are persistent until we reach the site were there used to be a chapel.  What remained of are four roofless posts.  But behind the ruin is a hidden chamber that house a plaster statue of the Virgin Mary which was not washed by floods.  Ruben says people from San Vicente come here to celebrate Holy Mass to honor her every September 15th.  Amazing!

Procopio announced to us that the bunk house would not be that far, just a little more than an hour of walk – by their standards.  We slip past a cave-like opening among rocks and go into another part of the river where the water is calm but it is almost a dead end save for an opening ten feet above us.  Procopio propped a hardwood log and hacked steps into it so all would climb up the notch.  It is difficult as rubber do not grasp well on wet wood and then balancing your way up with a heavy load on your back.

I weigh about 102 kilos plus an almost 40 kilos of load on my back.  It just amazes many people why I still climb mountains and go on in extended hazardous trips at my age and bulk when most of my peers would rather slouch on their sofas and watch DVD movies.  When I think the obstacles are just too much for me as time goes by, I would just remove my backpack and pass it on to those above of me.  I do this several times because it is better that way but putting it back needs Herculean strength.

I walk up the log with my backpack on because I know it does not break in the middle.  When I climbed up the notch, another much more formidable obstruction faced us.  This is in the form of an old river pass that Yolanda filled with all sorts of debris 20 feet high!  That meant we have to overcome slippery wood that do not work on rubber and where the chances of some debris giving in to weight is high.

Procopio devised another system of poles to act as a bridge from one part of the debris to another higher part.  This would had been madness were it not for the 35-foot utility rope I brought for this hike.  Once the rope had been tied on to the steadiest of logs, one by one, in slow but deliberate progress, we overcome this greatest of obstacles.  Above us are Philippine hornbills (Local: kalaw) flying from tree to tree while a yellow horned toad (Local: baki) waits for prey as it perch on a stone. 

I heard the cry of a boar (Local: baboy ihalas) from about a hundred meters before I see its sign.  The boar burrowed on roots by the riverside and did not notice us until we are so near.  We came downwind and the rain hid our man smell.  The boar must have heard us talking and ran as fast as it could and then belch out a warning whine.  If I were hunting that day, it would had been a good and glorious chase.  Then rain started to fall heavy and we just forded the last of the river crossings.

It is 16:45 when we reach the LRP Bunk House.  It is a wooden structure constructed through funds coming from the German aid agency.  The storm might now be approaching landfall somewhere in Mindanao considering that the weather becomes so grim and discouraging.  We from Camp Red immediately start a fire and started cooking the rice and make ourselves comfortable.  Procopio and Ruben, who both were shivering from cold and exhaustion, gladly welcomed the heat.

We are all exhausted and approaching mild hypothermia but the promise of eating another real hot meal dissipate away the worries and fears, especially to our two guides.  I start slicing the pork meat and the vegetables with my Victorinox SAK Trailmaster.  Boy T volunteered to cook the pork adobo and the mung bean soup.  The hot meals are our saving grace and soon the morale of the men are back despite the leaks on the roof.

We celebrate our success and our good fortune today by drinking local brandy.  We carried the contents of the two bottles here just for this occasion.  We decide not to push through with the hike to the summit tomorrow because of this uncooperative weather.  We were not supposed to be here, in the first place, because of that.  I have arrived at a conclusion, after witnessing close hand, that the topsoil of Leyte are not that stable and are prone to landslides.  We chose to cut our journey to the summit also because of this.

The brandy gave us warmth for the most part and a chance to open up worthy conversations.  I showed my thinning black bonnet which I first brought here in 1992.  It had coaxed up interest when I start the tale of how it had also been with me at Mount Apo, at Mount Dulangdulang, at Camp Damazo and on every worthy peak.  Procopio is a wonderful fellow to be with around a campfire with his good knowledge of woodlore and churns out local names of plants and animals, both familiar and the unheard.  Lights out at midnight. 

I wake up to a distant boom of a falling object.  The ground slightly shook.  Strong gusts of wind carry spray into the insides of the bunk house.  Rain is still heavy.  It is 02:00 of March 23.  Too early to make noise and I sleep back but wake up shivering at 04:30 as the first light of dawn showed on the window.  In a couple of hours we will be packing our things back in our bags.  The rain had not abated ever since.  On the river below is a huge tree.  It was not there yesterday!

After drinking coffee, we prepare the food ingredients for our early lunch.  It seems that the weather had slackened a bit and we have to take advantage of this by leaving at noon.  I help Boy T in the preparation and cooking of escabeche (dried fish cooked in tomatoes) and eggplant strips fried with egg.  Everyone take their fill knowing that these might be their last meal.

We leave the bunk house at 12:00 but we turn back when the Tubod River is unaccommodating.  It is now brown hiding visibility below; it is now ten inches higher; and the current too strong to fend off.  Procopio do not want to entail risks crossing the river at these conditions and everyone agreed.  When all had returned to their places inside the bunk house, I decide to look for firewood.  I use both my AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife and my tomahawk to chop and split firewood. 

For a whole day, the men are in a gloomy state.  Talks of rescue is the main topic and Boy T becomes worried about our diminishing food supply.  I am really not worried about all these.  This is just a temporary inconvenience that only affect our schedule.  For us at Camp Red, survival is our game and we had prepared for situations like this unlike Boy O and Boy T who are more oriented in packaged activities that their club usually undertake.  Although both had attended a bushcraft camp under my tutelage, both did not practice, in their own free time, what they learned.  Lacking that, you lose self-confidence.

I do not worry about food.  There is food for the taking in these dense jungle if you know where to source it.  I have an advantage because of Procopio and Ruben and they could complement my knowledge anytime so the rest could eat.  I have foreseen this delay and I could live with it.  Without everyone knowing, I have two packs of pork and beans and a kilo of deep-fried pork secretly stashed in my backpack.

Rain fall hard again and seem endless and it added to the misery of the men.  I jot down the conditions for this day in my small notebook.  It is getting cold again.  By early evening, the men devoured the leftover food from our lunch.  I open a pack of pork and beans to the fray to perk up the mood.  The last of our procured coffee is gone and everyone settled back to their sleeping spaces.         

At around 22:00, something huge fell nearby our camp.  Constant rain for three days had caused soil to melt and I worry the high ground above where we stayed might slip also.  The bunk house is silent and cold, a far cry from the other night.  We sleep early but I toss and turn on the floor.  It is cold.  Winds seep in the cracks while rain water splatter everywhere.

On the morning of the third day, March 24, our collective effort produce a mixed coffee-and-chocolate drink and a loaf of bread and these becomes our breakfast.  It is a good start.  Surprisingly, the rain had stopped.  The shrill whistle of a Philippine squirrel (Local: kansik) can be heard clearly.  Across us, the hillside is scoured by last night’s landslide.  We cook the last of our rice and intend to eat it somewhere downstream at noon. 

The river is now clear and it subside down to almost the level the first time we trekked it.  We hurdled the first of the several river crossings back to where we came two days ago.  The difficult obstacles, if taken from upstream are easy.  You either have to slide on your butt down the rock or create a route on the steep hillside.  For several occasions, we rather hack away dense jungle than take risk stepping on unseen rocks or logs.  It might be slow progress but it is safer.

Finally, we reach the rock overhang and we decide to eat our meal here.  I retrieve my deep-fried pork and everyone devour it with much enjoyment.  After that, we continue on and reach the tree nursery farm at 15:30.  Immediately, we open cellphones and receive a lot of worried messages from Cebu.  I replied mine that we are all alright and safe.  Well, unknown to us, a search and rescue party would have been organized if we remain unheard of at 15:00 today.

We just crossed 28 times the Tubod River and overcame 25 obstacles on the first day and repeated these today.  We are tired, hungry and cold but we deserve cold beer which immediately appear.  After changing to dry clothes, we leave Cienda for the port area to secure boat tickets and to eat a good supper.  I bring six Philippine ginseng plants and cinnamon barks which Procopio foraged for me.

As the motorcycle I am on cruise the Pan-Philippine Highway, I see from a distance, Mt. Pangasugan, dark and foreboding.  On the foreground are six egrets flying in a V formation.  Three more joined in mid-flight.  I have learned long ago that there is more to a mountain than just bagging peaks.  I have always considered this mountain as a friend and it showed me its power and its gentleness.  

We leave Baybay at 20:00 for Cebu on board MV Rosalia.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

Monday, November 10, 2014


HAVE YOU EVER gone to the town of Tuburan?  In the map of Cebu, Tuburan is located at the northwest side of the island, 89 kilometers by road from Cebu City.  By its remote location, it has retained the biggest land area among the municipalities, almost nosing out the Queen City of the South.

It is bounded by another remote town – Tabuelan – on the north; along the east by Danao City, Carmen, Catmon and Sogod; and by Asturias at the south.  Tuburan is facing Tañon Strait on its western frontier and across it is Negros Island where a regular sea route bring people across and back.

Tuburan do have huge open spaces if you peep from a window of your car or a bus and you will be amazed at how such land with great bounties remain laid-back and tormented to move forward in agonizingly slow motion towards progress.  The age-old encomienda system instituted by the Spanish in our archipelago still remained here, although they now took on the form of landed political families.

I first came here in April 1982, a teenager on the look-out for adventure, astride atop a roof of a truck from Carbon travelling in the night with two other guys my age.  The truck took a northerly route, which meant we all have to pass by the dreaded cliff-side road of Eme, somewhere in the hills of Borbon, where we exit at Tabuelan, then to the few welcoming lights in the poblacion of Tuburan.

On my subsequent trips there, I saw firsthand in daylight, the condition of the roads and I shudder at the dust and the potholes that is home of torpid brown-liquid that became missiles and splash at you from nowhere when ran over by another speeding bus and it is such a mess.  I pity the children and the poor folks as they line beside the road on their journey to school and market and back cursed by these uncomfortable conditions.

I noticed large patches of empty arable spaces left unplowed as if the soil froze in time.  Land that should have been used to benefit the many, sadly, it had lain idle, to the designs and whims then of the few.  As these were not enough, summons of trespassing and theft were regularly served by the police at the behest of the powerful few against those who tilled the land for their survival.

The hinterlands then have become the source of strength of the landless farmers and migrant workers and so have welcomed a home-grown militancy which later embraced an armed struggle of liberation from poverty and from an abusive upper class.  I have seen how power at the hands of the few have stunted the life of the many in the early '80s everywhere and that is why Tuburan had become one of the many forbidden places then.

The landlord-tenant system under that despicable Spanish model of long ago have found appeal with the generations of mestizos and mixed-blood population and they revel at the idea of having this and that lineage as if they themselves totally understood the primary motive why their ancestors cast their fortune in a strange tropical land?  It is greed, my dear Pedro, it is greed.   

In fairness to Spain of today, which is a very democratic and just country, those of their predecessors were mesmerized by tales of gold.  I don't know of how many native civilizations and ways of life were indiscriminately destroyed because some of their ancestors followed their insatiable greed for riches and land and the indigenes had stood in their way to justify their places in society?

I don't know, still, of how many lives were laid waste by these so-called conquistadores in the name of evangelization?  I bet if you have heard of Montezuma and the rest of the Aztecs?  Of Tupac Amaru and the rest of the Incas?  Here in our shores, you might have read in our history books of Pedro Dagohoy and his 100-year rebellion against Spain in Bohol?  Different peoples yet they shared the same predicament against old Spain.

I have a pint of Western blood in my veins by virtue of having a Spanish immigrant’s son for a grandfather and I disdain it even though it is Basque, themselves a people who suffered social inequity.  Deep in the recesses of my genes, I know, are ill traits which are alien to the behaviour and characteristics of the natives of the land they claimed.  In fact, the US of A now accepts to the crooked ways of their forefathers by reverting lands back to the American Indians!

Looking back to the '80s on the highway of Tuburan, commuters are subjected to several layers of military checkpoints and I went with the flow of the crowd going down from and up again to the bus.  It was such a tiring maneuver yet the lower class are so honest that they return to their former places.  Oh, by the way, those that were the object of the military's mission were, in their own perverted sense and right, conduct their own screens on the road.  Tit for tat, if you may.

Years passed by, and I'm right on the highway again bound for Tuburan.  Those conditions I have mentioned above are not anymore in vogue yet I am completely sure that the remnants of these struggles of the proletariat somewhere in the hills are not gone.  I am riding a private vehicle this time and we cruise on a paved highway, yet, a few potholes, disturb my thoughts.

It is alright.  At least, there is now a semblance of progress.  How many years have gone by?  Almost thirty?  Ah, yes!  There is the Suroy-suroy Sugbu[1].  Is it not the school-buildings and village halls get a splash of new paint because the governor's party passed by?  The district hospital is open in a business-like manner and people are getting treated.  Not a bad thing if you compare it to long ago.

The new generation of residents have taken good strides to promote Tuburan to the rest of Cebu and the world.  It is a place that is unique, in the sense that it has its own history, culture and produce, distinctly of its own.  I have good memories of Tuburan too even though I am not a resident and it has a place in my heart.   

NOTE:  This article was written right after my brief visit sometime in 2010 and had lain unpublished after a computer got corrupted.  After recovery of this article, I decide to publish this.

Document done in OpenOffice 2.1 Writer
First photo courtesy of www.pinoychurches.blogspot.com
Second photo and map courtesy of www.tuburancebu.gov.ph
 Third photo courtesy of www.mcjobz.blogspot.com

[1]A tourism program of the Province of Cebu designed to attract tourists to the towns.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XXV: Clueless and Downright Dangerous

IT IS A STRANGE “Heartbreak Ridge” walk today, March 16, 2014.  It is not that “heartbreaking” yet since it is still 06:55 and the dampness caused by that three-hour early morning rain had turned the route up the hill very inviting.  The ground is soft and the grass stalks bowed to the weight of dew.  The sky cloudy but air is very clear as we gain height.

With me are Aljew Frasco, Christopher Maru and Jhurds Neo.  We are all with the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and we are following a grandmother with her granddaughter who, I assumed, just came from attending the Holy Mass at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.  It is Sunday and hill folks always wear their most festive clothes regardless of their circumstance on this day of the Lord.

My kind of Sunday is leading men into the wildest of jungles of the Babag Mountain Range where few local folks even go.  I am taking them on a jungle environment simulation training at the Buhisan Watershed Area.  This would be our final preparation before embarking next Friday for Mount Pangasugan in Leyte.  The jungles of Pangasugan are very thick and the Buhisan is the perfect place to simulate it and to hone survival skills.

My route today will be from Guadalupe to Buhisan; thence to Camp Damazo; then Lanipao to Napo and back to Guadalupe.  It is a route that is very economical, very practical, moderately difficult yet specked with hidden dangers.  Since the route will pass by streams, I have to watch out for poisonous snakes.  The jungles here also offer interesting plants that sting your skin or snag your clothes with sharp spines.

I have a heavy backpack for this occasion.  It weigh 18 kilos, to include 3.5 liters water.  This is nothing.  It will shoot up to 25 kilos (or more) when I will take Mt. Pangasugan.  I open carry my AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife inside a leather sheath by the time I reach Heartbreak Ridge.  The rest also open carry theirs.  Jhurds with his Spyderco Forester; Christopher with a KaBar Kukri; and Aljew with his Perlman.  Blades are part of Camp Red lifestyle and, for that, we take paths less taken.

Bebut’s Trail is one of those paths.  It is raining lightly when we reach a war-time tunnel vent along the ridge.  We push on towards the hill and then go down a gentle path where there is a copse of star apple trees.  The trees are bearing ripe fruits, green and purple, and the branches are sagging low for easy picking.  We bring eight fruits for dessert.

Later, we come upon ancient mango, tamarind and Chinese laurel (Local name: bugnay) trees; fruiting Spanish plum (Local: sinegwelas), breadfruit (Local: kulo) and soursop (Local: tsiko karabaw) trees.  Dew had transferred to my Silangan Outdoors hiking pants and, that means, water will soon creep into my underwear, then my inner thighs will start to chafe.

When we reach The Portal, I chose Lensa Trail.  The Portal is a hub of seven trails and there used to be a live mahogany tree but the tops had been cut off and the tree is mysteriously dead.  A small scrap of plywood is nailed into it marking it as another “Corner”.  I do not like what is in my mind right now.  I have a hunch that Buhisan will soon be off limits to people.  I cannot blame the watershed administrators.  Illegal logging and poaching of wildlife are very rampant here.        

I immediately leave the place.  Lensa Trail is now thick with vegetation.  The sky is still cloudy, the jungle gloomy.  The last time I pass by this part of Buhisan was on June 10, 2012 during the start of the second Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp.  I just hope the trail had not been altered by landslides as what happened in different places after the recent 7.2 earthquake and by Typhoon Yolanda.  

I see the old trail sign and I believe I am onto the true path that lead to a stream.  Trail visibility is almost obscured now by thick vegetation and a lot of side trails are now appearing where, before, were absent.  Some trees had fallen down and hacked to pieces leaving so much debris and these blocked the route on several points obliterating visibility.  Worse, jungle canopy had sagged making erect walking rare.  I have to stoop or crouch to attain progress.  

I have to read the terrain to guess where the rest of the trail would be.  My tracking skills brought me success.  Almost but not all the time, especially when I face a crossroad of three or more trails and all of these go downhill.  Crossroads like this are so few before but it was easy to read it then unlike today where I saw a lot.  A missed guess would bring you far from your intended destination and I do not like that.  I have to be careful and sure.  

I see faint smudges on the ground and these belonged to an unidentified person which are many days old but these are everywhere which confused me a little bit.  Then I get to read the mind of the owner of those footprints and then it becomes easy after that.  I get to have good progress until another part of the route is partly blocked by a sagging canopy.  I have to hack it with my AJF Gahum and it takes time.  

A lot of these vegetation are thorny vines which is shared by the equally spiny rattan palms.  Some side trails offer a promise but quite daunting just the same.  One side path even have a trail sign left by a local to mark it as a snared area.  I have now come upon the gist of the path following the faint smudges until it disappeared.  By now a path caused by water is my only option and I follow it knowing it would bring me to a stream.

I see the stream and I feel relieved.  Slowly, the rest follow the path I trailblazed for them and all make it safely to the stream.  This is not the same stream I took during PIBC 2012 but this is near to that and I believe, if my memory serves me right, that this is the first of the many small streams here that I explored some years back.  When I walk downstream and go past a rock, my estimate is right.  So this is Banica Creek after all.

The water is surprisingly clear, the boulders are mossy.  No man has set foot here for more than a day.  The rain of early morning had fed this stream almost full and small fish are swimming in it.  I do not like to walk on streams for I am taught to evade these places but I have to gamble sometimes and peak up my senses a bit for I do not like myself and my companions at the receiving end of a wayward bullet from a hunting rifle.

Along the way I see a tiny bright green snake coiling on a branch and it slither away when it notice me coming.  It is the venomous kind.  The one you need to evade.  I look back and tell everyone to keep their eyes open and look before they touch on anything.  We are not in a hurry though and we do not want to be careless at the same time. 

The stream wind down into a larger channel until water disappeared from view.  I walk on toward a flat ground and follow a path through vegetation associated with fresh-water marshlands.  When the streams overflow this place becomes inundated with water.  This is part of the catchment basin of the Buhisan.  It is gloomy here as tree canopies are close among each other.

We reach an open field and the guys are happy to be warmed by the sun again and gives an impression that they need coffee.  It is 10:30.  We might as well prepare our meal here.  We are on Lensa Creek and this is the main stream that supplies water to the Buhisan Dam and part of Metro Cebu.  This is one of the tamer side of the Buhisan where you would likely see people.  Lensa Creek is absent of water but I know that there is an underground stream beneath our feet.  You just have to dig a few feet.

So I fill my black-bottomed pot with rice and water and start slicing the eggplants and gumbos on another black pot.  Aljew, Jhurds and Christopher forage firewood and tinder.  Aljew and Jhurds help each other in starting a fire and, once it roared to life, I place the pots near it.  Christopher did likewise with a stainless-steel ewer converted into a pot.  

Bushcraft are full of improvisations, especially here at Camp Red.  We had ditched away long ago the camping stoves and those immaculately clean pots!  We now veer away from gears, clothes and activities that follow the gist of the conventional and the corporate.  For that, we are disdained and maligned because we are so different in our approach and philosophy but we know better than they.

Aljew and Christopher prop up a tripod to aid in our cooking.  A horizontal bar is tied onto the two standing sticks and the pots are hanged from it by hooked branches.  Ingenious!  Again, adaptation and improvisation are second nature to Camp Red.  It keeps on evolving in every activity fusing the traditional and the new ideas that produce good results.  I relish at this occasion on how fast Aljew, Jhurds and Christopher are able to adopt bushcraft as a lifestyle.

After enjoying coffee, I start frying garlic and onions in oil.  Shreds of pork meat are added to it then the sliced mixed vegetables.  I pour water and let it steep before adding Malabar nightshades.  Salt is added for taste and the rest is for the right frame of the mind to distinguish.  Jhurds produce marinated pork meat which are skewered on slender bamboo sticks and roast it on an open fire.  When all is done, we eat lunch.

Coming from upstream, hikers appear.  Ah, it is the group of Ed Dablo, Yuri Postrero and Sien Alfanta and they are seven in number, to include two minors.  They had camped overnight here and are going home towards the Buhisan Dam exit.  I am not surprised to see them here and I believed they are responsible enough about safety and hygiene.  They know their LNT well and they know that Buhisan is a protected area.

After awhile I heard voices from behind me.  Four young males.  They are wearing shorts and running shoes.  Only one has a small backpack and all carry just one small bottle of water each which are now half-full.  They say they came from Haclupan in Talisay City and would go to the waterfall and then exit to Banawa but that is a long way and they are wearing the wrong attire!  Hmmm.  Would-be trail runners.  How strange to see them here?

Just when we are about to leave our campsite, the four returned.  They do not know the way.  I cannot just tell them directions and leave them to their fate here.  This place is dangerous and you would get lost if you do not know the many trails crossing each other here.  They did not do some thinking.  These four clueless young men are very irresponsible!    

However, it is still my responsibility to guide people safely out of here since it is my fault for bringing people here in the past and these people I brought here bring others and so on and so forth.  This confusion originated squarely on me but it is not good not to respect the wilderness by going in foolishly without a guide.  What they did is downright dangerous!

I do not want to subscribe to the idea of other people to introduce trail running right here in the heart of the Buhisan Watershed Area for the reason that it is a protected area.  This is the source of potable water for the poorest of Metro Cebu residents and your sweat, your saliva, your garbage and your urine despoils it no matter how well you know your LNT.  People are only good when someone is looking.  Yes, the few people visit here, the better the quality of water in the streams be.

It is not also safe here.  The Buhisan is hunting ground for predators and humans.  Presence of so many people alter the hunting habits of these predators and foragers and these will turn aggressive once these consider you as threat to their source of food.  Presence of so many people increases also the chance of somebody getting hit by a wayward bullet as it did when the dam area was a favorite camping ground for many outdoor clubs in the early ‘90s.  After a couple of hikers got hit, they begun to skirt away the Buhisan for a long time.
Then there is also the matter about criminality.  The Buhisan is still home to a few lawless elements who took refuge there.  They roam anonymously and blend in the jungle waiting for an opportunity to take gain.  These four clueless runners are perfect target for they are no threat and they have expensive-looking shoes.  

I assure the four runners that I will lead them to safety but they would have to walk.  We carry heavy bags and we are not young anymore.  We walk upstream and I see three stones.  It is a standard trail sign denoting danger.  Danger of what?  These might have confused the runners to turn back and ask for our assistance.  Of course, they should, with or without those stones, because the Buhisan had never been converted into a racing track yet.  Not in this lifetime!

I show everyone how to properly use rocks as a trail sign.  I remove the rocks after that and, later, I see another set of three rocks.  It is not a trail sign anymore but an individual showing how good he is in balancing rocks!  Funny.  I leave it alone as a monument of stupidity.  There is no sense in placing danger trail signs where there is none else it sends the wrong signal like these four clueless runners had.

We progress slowly crossing the creek several times among stones keeping our shoes dry as possible to prevent slips.  Then I see a snake, from a good ten feet away, starting to move out of the water and into the bank until it went missing.  It is about three feet long with a light-colored belly, a dark-green back and a black stripe running from neck to tail.  Although snakes are supposed to be molting and indisposed on a full moon, which yesterday was, but it seems that those I have seen today were not affected.   

The waterfall is up ahead but I keep to my route and found the campsite of Sien, Yuri and Ed which is located on the inner part of a headland.  I see traces of a small campfire, which is good.  That means they are thinking.  I also found the route where they came from yesterday.  Adventurous blokes and I liked that except that they are camping on a trail.

We go down the headland and lead all to the headrock of the waterfall.  It is a good twenty-foot drop from the top.  Then I continue on my hike upstream.  Up ahead would be Creek Alpha and it would lead to the old Camp Damazo, the site of PIBC 2011.  But it is a revered place for bushcrafters and bringing four clueless runners to its discovery and then return to visit it with more of the clueless corporate kind is out of the question.  It is sacrilege!

Immediately, I changed course and take another tributary that I have had not found the time to explore.  This will mess things up a little for me but it would surely peak up the adrenaline of the four clueless runners and mess a good part of their future plans.  It is a narrow stream but on some parts running water could be seen while on some it is nothing but dry sand.  It is choked with thick vegetation.  

I face a dry waterfall, twelve feet high, but I overcome this by climbing up a side wall of loose granite and scree.  Jhurds discover a tiny scorpion when he dislodge a slab of rock but he chose to ignore it and go on his way.  The rest follow me and we all walk upstream for some time until I have to chose between two streams.  I chose the smaller one and clamber up the bank into a tree that had fell down recently.  It is very humid here!  

The vegetation up here had changed and teak trees dominate the landscape.  The sun’s rays becomes focused as tree cover is now sparse.  I need to get to a high ground that looks familiar.  Aljew lead the way while I struggled behind.  There is nothing to grab at with except yucca while the soil is loose.  I have to overcome this steep terrain so I could orient myself of my location.  I may also need a simple compass for that which Aljew provided me.

Once I know where north is, I begin to work on the route.  I choose south and come upon Starbucks Ridge, home territory for me, and, up ahead, would be the small community of Baksan.  Once I reach a saddle, temperature suddenly fall down by a degree.  I feel it immediately!  On the one side is a hot afternoon sun which I am about to leave and on the other side is a shadowed terrain with breeze coming from the east!

I go down the path and the four clueless runners becomes alive with laughter.  Suddenly they know how to talk after giving me “silent treatment”.  We come upon the community and follow the route that lead to the road.  On the road, we take a rest and devour the sweet star-apple fruits.  I let the four clueless runners go on their way and they promise me that they will return to the route we had taken.  Oh, hell.  Have it your way.  I have enough of your kind.  It is 16:00.

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