Saturday, November 1, 2014
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.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer