Sunday, December 20, 2015
“I DO NOT KNOW WHAT lay awaits me. I only know that I must be brave...” This line from the theme song of the movie High Noon kept ringing in my head as I begin to start on my solo exploration from Hagnaya Bay to Bogo Bay on this 28th day of April 2015. I just checked out from the San Remigio Cultural Center and Leisure at 04:00 and I am walking down the road to Hagnaya Port in darkness.
I had arrived at the Municipality of San Remigio yesterday morning and I had met Mr. Niño Ybañez, the town’s public information officer. We discussed about my Dayhagon Canal Adventure and I promised him that there would be good publicity afterwards when I post this in Facebook and here in Warrior Pilgrimage. It may be not much but, just the same, it would generate interest on the Dayhagon Canal and people would use San Remigio as the jump-off point.
Hagnaya Port, the gateway to Bantayan Island and the Province of Masbate, had expanded its size since I visited it the first time in 1983. That time, it was just a finger of concrete over shallow waters. Now the port had reclaimed water east of it and will do so in the coming years. I stood on its farthest edge and gazed at the shoreline from where I plan to walk. A local instructed me to walk an unpaved road following the shoreline to a place before the village of Argawanon and start my journey instead from there.
I followed the instructions to the letter wearing a bright-orange PAC Outdoor Gear float vest. I may have looked like a Martian with a Petzl Elite headlamp ringed on my forehead while a desert camo hat sits uneasily over my head. I am carrying my Sandugo Khumbu 40L backpack with a 30-liter Triton dry bag hiding a Silangan hammock, an extra shirt, a medical kit, a 10-meter 7mm paracord, a Leatherman S2 Juice, a Victorinox SAK Trailmaster and a LuminAid inflatable solar-powered emergency lantern fully inflated.
I am ready for sloshing in waist-high water and have worn my black Mammut Schoeller quick-dry hike pants and my sturdy Columbia Coremic Ridge 2 shoes. In the front pocket of the float vest is my Cherry Mobile U2 phone, a whistle, an ID card and my Canon IXUS camera. Hanging from my neck is my Suuntu A-30 compass. My general direction would be east. The sun and the shore would guide me, the compass just a fail-proof back-up.
I reach the spot and I follow a path lined by mahogany trees which goes down to the shore of Hagnaya Bay. Healthy mangroves are growing thick and wild and, where land meets sea, swampy. I step only on hard surface like stones, wood and on thins trips of sandy ground. It is a tiny wilderness frequented only by fishermen, whose small boats are secured safely within the small forest to shelter it from inclement weather.
The swamp floor are littered by debris carried by high tides and by wind and by another debris dumped by humans. I followed the coastline and sometimes wished that I chose higher ground for parts of the route I had chosen are difficult to navigate. My bag gets snagged by branches, I have to select the ground where I would tread and I have to watch out for those harmful plants.
Almost always, I retreat to the safety of higher ground when progress is hampered by impenetrable vegetation. Mangrove roots make foot space rare and travelling through it is quite tricky. When I unknowingly disturbed a wasp’s nest, I decide that plunging into thick vegetation is not practical and exposes me to more danger. I did not know of the hive’s presence until one stung my left bicep. I froze and backtracked very very slow to keep me off their radar.
I cross the first of the many water channels found between fish ponds, salt plains, islands of mangroves and mud flats. The play of tides caused these channels as it penetrates into lower inland plains and created a delta. My shoes sink deep into mud in midstream as I cross the channel but my eight-foot walking stick is a welcome ally. It helped me probe the depth of water as well as a reliable aid for balance.
I climb up and walk on the first of the many dirt embankments protecting fish ponds from high tide and surf. I walk on the narrow dirt causeways with the bay water on my left and the ponds on my right. Right where there are sluice gates, I would go down the pond and cross to the other side. Then another water channel and on to another fish pond.
I had calculated my exploration would time with a very low water rise during tides. Low tide was 0.33 meter at 01:16 and high tide would be 0.76 meter at 08:56 and I would just have to contend with a rise of just 0.43 meter in between the hours. It is a good window of opportunity to tackle this route, especially at the channels and the mud flats, for this would be inundated with water if ever high tide would reach by even just a meter.
I meet only a few people to ask directions on this intricate maze of mud-lined channels and steep dikes. One of those whom I met are a couple of old women. They gather shellfish for a living. They offered me a ride on their old canoe but it defeats my purpose and I politely declined it. I would rather be wet and struggling on my own accord and this lent my unusual journey a color all its own. However, they point to a place where there is shallow water to cross.
I follow a narrow finger of land going to a forest of breast-high mangroves. The leaves part to reveal more muddy floors. I changed routes as often as I can to take on firmer ground. I am successful until I come upon another finger of land that led me to nowhere but deeper channels. I tried to brave the divide but once I sank deeper up to my waist I gave up that idea. These are the very places where quicksands are possible. I backtracked and tried other routes until I am on to another embankment.
This time I am gazing down on a salt plain. I could hear the faint sounds of running motorcycles. About a kilometer away are two radio transmitter towers. A message alert tone from my mobile phone halt me in my dizzying task of gaining on the Dayhagon Bridge, a significant feature of the route that would mark the halfway point of this adventure. It is a message from Johnas Obinas. I replied that I would be approaching the Dayhagon Bridge at any moment.
I re-assess my position and plan a better route by referring to my compass. I got past the salt plains and I see a glimpse of solid concrete washed in sunshine a half kilometer away, perhaps it is the bridge. By now the body of water is narrowing and the coastal side of Medellin are no more than a slingshot throw away from me. I am now on the Dayhagon Canal proper and I see two elder women crossing the canal up to their knees and a dog after them up to its flanks.
I walk the bank of the Dayhagon until I can see Johnas standing and weaving his arms at me on the middle of the bridge. I reach the span at 07:53 and maneuver myself to climb up on it. It is good to see Johnas again. He is one of the few who learned bushcraft from me and he is assigned in Medellin as a jail officer. I think I need a break as he is bent on treating me to a free breakfast. He whisk me away to Don Pedro Rodriguez on his Skygo motorcycle.
For a good 30 minutes I get to relax and eat inside a local restaurant. We go back to the bridge and we parted. It is now 08:35 and still is the best time to resume a journey. I will now be walking on the side of Bogo City. I retrieve my walking stick and go down the bridge into a tree-lined path. I go down a channel and cross it and then cross another waterway after climbing up a small island in between.
After that, I begin to traverse the first of the many private properties. I had completely evaded private lands while walking the shorelines of San Remigio but, here, I have almost no options. Fences above fishpond dikes keep away people but there are gaps where one could pass. Strips of mangroves lined the dikes and most of the dikes are built right up to the water’s edge.
I walk above the dikes and it is easy navigating the Dayhagon Canal here than the ones at San Remigio. I met some fishermen sitting on the embankments with fishing rods pointing on the canal while one guy took chances on ankle-high waters of a fish pond. Muddied people work on the dikes plugging holes and they ignored me. It is a big fishpond and I enjoy the walk even though the heat of the sun begins to make its presence felt.
I have thought long ago that the Dayhagon Canal was a fresh-water creek whose source I could not determine everytime I go north passing by the Dayhagon Bridge. I did not even know that it is called Dayhagon until I studied Cebu using Google Map. I found something unusual on the land feature between Hagnaya Bay and Bogo Bay. There is a very narrow body of water traversing on the narrowest part of a neck of land that made the northernmost part of Cebu look like an island.
The creek that I once had thought is a canal after all. It crossed from one body of sea to another and had separated the land north where Medellin and Daanbantayan are found from the rest of Cebu. In fact, the man-made canal looks like a neckline. Who were the people who built this canal? Why? When?
I do not know the history and the reason why the Spaniards built this canal. From what I perceived, the Dayhagon used to be an isthmus connecting the northernmost part of Cebu to the rest of the island. Economic considerations when demand for sugar became high in the middle to the later years of the 19th century might have been the prime reason why this canal was built.
Sugar canes from the haciendas of Bogo, Tabogon, Borbon and Sogod may have found its way to the then town of Bogo. The lack of a deep-water port forced it to travel by land to Hagnaya Port which would had been time-consuming considering that there were no developed horizontal infrastructures at that time. The isthmus might had been so low at some places that it is cheaper to build a canal than building a road.
The canal might have made possible the transporting of sugar canes easily to Hagnaya from the depots as Hagnaya is much convenient for a boat to dock coming in by way of or out towards Negros where the much bigger plantations of sugar canes are found. That was before the Industrial Revolution, the steam engine and the locomotive found its way to Asia and las islas Filipinas.
I have come upon to the endmost part of the big fishpond and gaze across an estuary to an open field that had recently been harvested of sugar canes. I walk along the dike looking for a good place to cross this small stream. Children had just came out of that stream with a good number of catch. I cross on the other side and squeeze into a barbed wire fence.
The wide plain had been burned off to prepare for another cycle of planting sugar canes. The fire had reached a buffer zone of wild vegetation growing between the farm and the mangroves. I walk along the edges of this narrow wilderness, my observation is at a peak since this is a favorite hunting ground for all kinds of snakes and I do not want to be surprised. I open carry a Mora Companion knife though and it satisfies my requirement of security.
The path weave along the edges of another farm located on a gentle hill where there are dried cogon grass. A quail flew away upon my coming and a lot of flying it did to keep its distance. Typhoon Haiyan had left many scars on the land and felled many big trees, the spread roots providing sturdy windbreaks for the next storms. The canal begins to widen and I am now gazing at the waters of Bogo Bay.
I walk an open field of scorched grass, cracked soil, termite mounds and an abandoned house. Not far is a small community on a finger of land reaching out to the sea. It is a fishing community and a lot of small boats are kept on dry land. Strong breeze are all over here and it cooled my now very warm body. Across the bay is Medellin where there is a golf course.
I follow the shore southeast to a thick forest of mangrove where there is a tiny stream. I can see the Polambato Wharf a kilometer away but going directly by shore is impossible now as a cock farm nearby is fencing off access to the sea with high nets. I cannot pass by but have to take another route out instead into dry ground, farms and more felled trees that became shelters for cows and swamp buffaloes.
I reach an unpaved road and leave my walking stick among bundled firewood of same size and height. It is now 10:00 and it is very warm. I am not surprised by people raising an eyebrow when they see me passing by. Do not I look like a Martian? Anyway, I reach a small store on the Bogo-Polambato Wharf Road to take cold refreshment and eat a banana I saved for this occasion.
After having an amusing conversation with three elderly women, I rode a tricycle bound for the bus terminal of Bogo City. It is almost 11:00 and I might as well eat lunch on one of the small restaurants in the terminal. I would have wanted to make a courtesy call to the city’s tourism officer and its police station but I looked like a muddy Martian even without the float vest. I am not appropriately dressed and nobody would take me seriously.
I do not profess to be the first person to have walked through the Dayhagon Canal from Hagnaya Bay to Bogo Bay. There may have been older adventurers before me and, of course, fishermen and seasonal workers of sugar farms, who might have traversed it on foot in the course of their finding a living and were not known for those efforts for it could not have been part of their priorities and plans or that they do not have the means to “broadcast” it in popular media as I do presently with Facebook.
Only the Municipality of Medellin had included the Dayhagon Canal on their tourism program but it is done with kayaks and native canoes. See their website here. My visit of the whole length of the Dayhagon Canal, to include parts of Hagnaya Bay and Bogo Bay, is a testament that it could be done by foot, provided that it is timed at low seawater levels. Since it passes through a lot of water, however low it may be, flotation devices and safety equipment are a must.
For sure, there would be others after me and will make San Remigio as a springboard of their own adventures. The Cebu Highlands Trail, which I am in the midst of establishing a route from northern tip to southern tip or vice versa, will be passing by the Dayhagon Bridge, without a doubt. Because of this, the Dayhagon Canal would be an ideal side trip, as well as other nearby places that will surely attract local and international visitors.
My solo traverse of the Dayhagon Canal would not had been possible of the following whom I owed a great debt of gratitude. The Municipality of San Remigio, thru its Public Information Officer, Mr. Niño Ybañez, for providing me free overnight accommodation at their San Remigio Cultural Center and Recreation. Likewise, the staff of their hotel for providing me excellent service.
The police stations of Bogo City, Medellin and San Remigio for ensuring security of the route incognito. JO1 Johnas Obinas, the Community Relations Officer of the Medellin Municipal Jail, for that well-deserved breakfast and it came at the right time and place. PAC Outdoor Gear and their great guys – Mr. Anthony Espinosa and Mr. Carlo Genova, for loaning me one of their reliable float vest from their shop.
Mr. Glen Domingo of Portland, Oregon, USA, for providing me an excellent compass – a Suuntu A-30. It is a fail-proof piece of navigational equipment that had been handy during the most difficult part of the hike. Finally, to the warm people of San Remigio and Bogo City whom I have met and conversed with – THANK YOU!
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Monday, December 14, 2015
AS I HAD PROMISED to myself and to all those that are following my Facebook updates, that I should spend all my Sundays in a month outdoors and, should there be five Sundays of a month, then I go out five times. It is not difficult. In fact, it is a no-brainer. I still believe that I can enjoy quality outdoors even if I have been to a place a thousand times. What do you think?
It is just a matter of practicality, a different perspective and less of daydreaming. I do not make my life difficult. I gladly adapt to a very favorable location which our friends in Metro Manila can not. Over there, they may climb their nearest mountains but they have to travel far and they have to spend more time, money and effort. Here in Cebu, we could easily pick any route and place as easily as one would change numbers of a mobile phone.
The presence of the Babag Mountain Range is a blessing to us Cebu residents. Not only would it protect us from typhoons passing over on the other side of the island, it is a mountain range where there are so many features. You name it. It has solitary peaks. It has ridges for a three-peak traverse, even a 5-peak, if you use your imagination. It has waterfalls. It has forests and pockets of jungle. It has clean streams. What is more important is it is all FREE!
You go to any place and, most likely, you will have to pay usage fees, entrance fees, guide fees, porterage fees, parking fees and etcetera and you get what you pay, even less than what you would expect. You rant in Facebook because you were not issued receipts or the fees exacted were much higher than what was agreed and even the guides do not know the places. It sucks but you go back again and again and you rant and rant and rant where, supposedly, you had learned from the first encounter or from someone else’s rant.
Make your life simple. Make use of what you have or the place most accessible to your weekend pursuits. Make use of only yourself or with a few friends. The less the better. More people would mean more noise and the line stretches far. More people means higher chances of accidents and you cannot go intimate with nature. More people also means ignoring the sanctity of mountains and all your shoes leave a mark on every blade of grass while converting a muddy trail into a primitive water slide.
Stay humble. Dress simply. Color of your attire says so much of you. Nod your head or give a greeting to any local you meet. Show a smile. Make them locals important by engaging them in conversations if you happen to share a shade under a tree. Ask before you shoot pictures. Share your chocolate bar or biscuit to a child. Be attentive. They have priority over a trail. Give way. Remember, we are just visiting.
Come to this mountain with an open mind. Leave your worries behind. Travel light. Even some great things you learned in a university classroom or of complex problems you inherited in a corporate boardroom are unwanted luggage here. Seek solitude and dump technology for it does not work all the time here. Develop your own philosophies in life in the company of nature’s soothing sounds. Place your heart close to the ground.
Do not hurry. Do not be consumed about time. On the other hand, relish every moment with your camera. Stop often and be connected with nature. Understand the tale of each insect, bird, plant or stream as you move by and, who knows, you may get answers from them of life’s most perplexing troubles. God moves in mysterious ways from those who calls out His Name.
I may sound poetic here but nature had made the best out of people. The mountains heal. It is your ticket to regain your self-worth and your re-acceptance with society or with your relations. It is not done overnight nor it is a scientific process. Your frequent participation in the celebration of life among mountains is a testament of your maturity. Wisdom are inherited everywhere there and it makes you more human.
The mountains never failed to lure me back to its bosom. How about you? Come out often else it will be off-limits someday. Remember this: Land developers, big business and the government always win over environmentalists and small farmers. Most of the time. The Babag Mountain Range may not be like what you enjoy today in 10 to 15 years time. I do not know but it is a disconcerting trend which the greedy always win.
It is a sad idea and I can live with that, although with a heavy heart. While it is still blissfully free, I visit her again on this 26th day of April 2015. Going along with me is Ernie Salomon, old man he is but the best outdoors cook in Cebu, hands down. It is a warm day but it is not a problem. I just want myself to be ready and stay fit when two big adventures would get hold of me next week.
Tomorrow, I would go to northern Cebu so I would engage on a solo on this island's swampy isthmus which no outdoorsman had done before. Then on Friday, I will be with the Exploration Team of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project for a long hike in the southernmost part. Both activities would be very demanding physically and psychologically but just a Sunday visit to the Babag Mountain Range can make a big difference on my preparations.
The weather is fine today. I follow Ernie as I focus more in releasing all the stress I have accumulated while planning and preparing the details of that two big events I mentioned and of my day job. Today I just go with the flow of Ernie's pace. I throw a lot of jokes at the old man, getting some in return. I know the trail like it is the back of my hand. We did not rest until we reach Lower Kahugan Spring.
Then something very loathsome comes into my view. The pump tender guy of last week. I never forgot him. He never listened to me. He threw his empty chemical packaging back into the stream, along with empty fertilizer bottles, that I had collected in his behalf. He cannot escape now unlike the last time where he was not at the scene. He is the perfect audience for a piece of my mind.
I take a picture of him and I proceed to “Chapter One”. I raised my voice above the din that the pump produced and I think I was spectacular there. He was trembling and pitiful. He begins clearing every waste he has strewn this morning. He has nowhere to go and I pointed to him more packaging he hid underneath vegetation and he picked that up too and pile it in one place away from the stream.
Then I remind him that I complained about him last week to the auxiliary police of Sapangdaku and that I will effect a citizen's arrest on him should I find his rubbish again when I come back in the afternoon. I am dead serious. Before leaving, I reminded him who I was and he stared unsteadily as I look at him in the eye. I have no business anymore here and it is time to go up to the Roble homestead.
Ernie is laughing as the level of the route begins to go steep. The guy that I had scolded seemed to him to have pissed in his pants. Funny. I did not notice that. We squeeze into a bitter gourd farm before going on to more steep terrain. We arrive at the Roble homestead and we take rest for a while. I have a small cargo which would be useful to Fele Roble. It is a small hand-cranked drill. It will be useful boring holes on their unfinished house.
Ernie gets busy making a fire while I fetch water for the pot. Need to boil water for coffee. I got my coffee and another serving. I believe Ernie is fixing something fit for this day. I cook rice while he pursues the viand. I cook a lot of rice so I could include the Roble family into our meal. The cooking took early to finish and we are on to an early meal as well. Pansit, a local noodle version, is the food and it is wonderfully done.
Green coconuts appear and I open one with a different technique. Instead of chopping off the bottom with a big blade like we used to do, I pierced the top with the smaller Seseblade NCO knife and remove the unwanted part. It is a neat square hole. Skills with a knife are very important in bushcraft. You learn it by transforming this instrument instead into a useful tool. That way, you will appreciate better your knife.
I enjoy seeing Josel and his cousin firing at will with my Canon Ixus camera at just about anything. Afterwards, I begin to pack my things into my bag. Fele's wife, Tonia, gave me a flat bottle containing pure honey which Fele had helped collect from a big beehive a few days ago. It is so sweet! I thank them and bade them goodbye. No need to overexert. I have to remind myself that I have to rise up early tomorrow so an equally early departure is essential for today.
I pass by Lower Kahugan Spring. The drums, the water pump and the pumpman are not there anymore. The place is cleaned up. I look under the weeds and bushes. I found no empty fertilizer packaging. No empty plastic bottles for chemicals. Well, at least the lesson of “Chapter One” was plain understandable.
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Tuesday, December 8, 2015
THE ROBLE FAMILY WILL get a real surprise today, April 19, 2015. Their house, which had been battered by strong typhoons Yolanda and Ruby and brought to a death kneel by Seniang, is now standing up again at its old site. What it lacked are concrete foundations and the roof. There was a wave of concern and sadness among local outdoorsmen that a fund-raising campaign had made its way in different sites of Facebook which resulted to the construction of a new house.
Wood that had been sourced locally became the frame of the house. We saw it stood at its former place when we had visited it last March 29, 2015. The wooden posts were still suspended over holes which were prepared for the pouring of concrete as foundations, which cement sacks had not yet arrived then. We had carried a few pieces of coconut lumber, some used plyboard, a pair of light GI beams and some sheets of plaited bamboo on February 15, 2015 at their place.
Jhurds Neo, elected president of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, is the workhorse behind this project. He facilitated and exerted great effort that the Roble family will get a new home. His persistence brought hope to the Roble family and made possible for the procurement of badly-needed housing materials and getting it sent to the place either on his own or with help from the bushmen of Camp Red. That help came in droves though.
After meeting at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, we motor to Napo, where eight sheets of corrugated GI roof are waiting, courtesy of Jhurds’ industry. We tied each sheet into a tight roll and carry it with one hand to the Roble homestead. It is light and could be transferred from one hand to the other easily. You have to watch and worry your neck though because one edge is exposed. We carried it safely with gloves to prevent injury.
We reach Lower Kahugan Spring and I see locals installing a portable water pump to suck water from two big PVC barrels whose water were taken from the Sapangdaku Creek and mixed with chemical. These chemical-laced water are sprayed on mango trees to induce more flowers and to kill insects. I noticed that empty packs of chemicals were irresponsibly thrown on the stream. I remind the pump tender guy about the need to transfer the empty packs to dry ground so it will not pollute the stream.
When nothing happened, I take matters into my own hands, literally, and personally transferred the empty packs to dry land from the creek. I remind them also to take care of the natural spring near them as it is the only water source around here that is relied by inhabitants as it had been many times in the past. I am very particular about the potability of water around here because people living here had not yet been properly educated about hygiene.
Anyway, we resume our journey. Determined to get there at the Roble family’s abode are Jhurds, Ernie Salomon, Jerome Tibon, Eli Tambiga with friend Abigail, Justin Abella, Faith Gomez, Dominik Sepe, Mayo Leo Carrillo, Jingaling Campomanes, Bogs Belga, Mark and Mirasol Lepon, Justin Apurado, Rommel Mesias, Nelson Tan and Richie Quijano. It is very warm. The rolled roof sheets, at first very light, had weighed like lead as the terrain becomes ascending.
Our arrival surprised the Roble family as they do not have an inkling of our coming. Fele and Tonia are all smiles. The cement had been delivered a few days ago and it had been poured into the base of posts and the rest made into hollow blocks. The roof sheets would make possible the habitation of their new house, perhaps, but the prospect of it is now a possibility. One by one, I removed the cords that tied the sheets and lay it flat over the other on the floor of the new house.
I am happy to see that the female turkey I brought here is laying eight eggs inside a makeshift shelter where it is now nesting. The male is quite healthy standing guard outside, tail feathers spread out. It had recovered well from its injury. Meanwhile, the bushmen fanned out to forage firewood for soon we will get another taste of heaven. The pots are readied and the food ingredients laid on a table.
Coffee is the first commodity that is prized by everyone and, after the water barely boiled, sachets of it are dropped into cups. As always, coffee outdoors is perfect. The ladies begins to decimate the vegetables and meat in neat lines with their Mora knives. Of course, this is under the direction of Ernie who, I believe, will take matters into his hand all the business of cooking.
Wood smoke is sweet to my senses and I just love it. The guys have learned to love it as well as it is an ever-present thing in bushcraft. Firewood are split by big blades or by smaller ones with a stick as baton. Manual labor is a challenge in tropic heat yet mild enough under the shades of mango and Java plum trees. The guys thrive on it, sweat dripping on their foreheads and arms and remedied by a wipe from a sweat-soaked shirt.
When not at the tasks at hand, they are busy comparing notes about blades and gears. They are serious but, most often, a hearty laugh breaks the dreariness. Three guys laid their Mora on the table and the rest present their own, starting a for-Scandinavians-only knife porn, which include a Hüntafors and a Bahco. Jhurds gave me his surplus US military canvass duffel bag which I appreciate so well.
Rommel starts to kindle a fire using a water bottle and all eyes and taunts are on him when the cloudy skies tease him. Mark did likewise with a small magnifying lens of his small Swiss Army compass, eliciting the same taunts. The Roble kids are busy with their hunt of green coconuts which are abundant in their abode. Ernie gets the ladle and gets busy with the cooking.
Finally, lunch is served. Everyone circled around the table as Rommel lead the prayer. Food on hand are a bowl full of mountain-cooked chopsuey, grilled chicken wings and pork, and a side dish of raw cucumber in vinegar. Rice completes the menu and, silently, the guys picked their food with spoons, forks or chopsticks. Some made a refill while a couple made a third run.
After the meal, the guys relaxed a bit but there are announcements to be made. Dominik updates the group of our project – the Who Put the “N” in Nature IV – which will be divided into two parts. The first would be the collection drive of school supplies and the second would be the outreach proper. The Roble homestead is the ideal place of this outreach as it had been for three previous occasions starting 2012.
The place where the collection would be will be decided by its availability. Previously, we held it at a restobar in Lahug and, hopefully, would still be but we have not reserved our event yet and there is a chance that we will not be accommodated. Dom have other places in mind and, the good thing is, three of the four musical bands he approached have confirmed its participation. I believe there would be many children this year than last year.
Then it is my turn. This is about the overtures that a Singaporean TV production company had proffered to Camp Red. They are interested to come to Cebu to do a Photo Face-Off episode here with our own bushmen providing the backdrop and subject. A reality show, it demands that we do our stuff oblivious of their presence after taking them to a very secluded place, which we have lots of.
Everyone is excited at these prospects whichever it may be. Inspired and emboldened by those, the full force of the blade porn is unleashed. Fele helped us accomplish that by providing a log and a plank to set the blades upright. These bushmen, even the women, carry multiple blades for just a day activity. One by one, the blades are exposed into the open where it is pierced into wood.
Hatchets, machetes, woodlores, folders, Scandinavians, local and imported brands, begins to decorate the wood. Some crazy guys even placed their paracord bracelets to add to these lunacy which only bushmen understood. The blade porn is the exclamation point of our day on the mountains. The activity that places a seal to all our activities. Slowly, we clear the logs of blades and bade goodbye to the Roble family. The family are hopeful that they will, someday, live again in a real house.
I pass by the place where a man was seen mixing the chemicals in the morning. I see that my sound counsel to dispose properly his wastes had been ignored. Empty plastic bottles and empty plastic packaging are left on the stream. I cannot stomach imagining an innocent child who would use the same bottle as container for his drinking water. The empty plastic packaging had been covered and hidden underneath weeds. Downstream of me are river crabs turning red, cooked by the strong chemicals. My anger begins to boil.
I collected all the toxic materials and placed it inside two plastic bags and I brought it to Napo. I advise all to proceed directly to Guadalupe while I would have to settle this first at the village hall of Sapangdaku. Jhurds accompany me to report this violation against the environment. The auxiliary police heard my complaint and recorded it in their log book. I want this incident be brought to the attention of their village council.
I do not care if small businesses might be affected by my intervention. They had been doing that for a long time and it is time that they know their practices are wrong. They had given a bad name to the place and to the famous mangoes of Guadalupe that Guimaras had overtaken us in quality. Customers are also now beginning to be more concerned of where their money spent go and they prefer goods or products that gives them a clean conscience.
I have always been a staunch advocate for the environment and, sometimes, taking it to the extreme. Facebook and other social networking sites are helpful tools but people misused it and that makes them, most often, very irritating and defeats their purpose. On the other hand, actual confrontations are natural and, most likely, you will be exposed to threat or harm and, in rare instances, losing a job.
I did my part today in protecting the environment by informing and involving authorities. It is a small gesture but it creates real and hard awareness on the part of the village council and for those who may read this article. But it is harder on my part since I will be creating future antagonists as much as you would have done by just sitting and tinkering with a keyboard. But I am satisfied with this, the same as you would have also by just reading this.
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Tuesday, December 1, 2015
FINDING A GOOD CAMPSITE for the 2015 edition of the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp is a priority for me. I remembered in 2012 where I have done it solo in the Babag Mountain Range of Cebu City just a few weeks before that year’s very impressive PIBC. It always brings out the best in me. It takes skill to identify a good campsite, especially for bushcraft use.
A bushcraft camp is so different from a camp used mostly by mainstream outdoor activities. A bushcraft camp does not grow on bald peaks nor on exposed places and does not need a sea of clouds. It stays below treeline where it blends with vegetation and does not desire to be so colorful. An ideal bushcraft camp have to have access to a stream and bamboos. A clean water source is only a bonus since bushcraft could use any water it obtains.
The PIBC is transferring to the hilly areas of the Municipality of Lilo-an, Cebu and I had considered three different sites there. All three places had been visited by me and it has the features and criteria to host a bushcraft camp. However, the PIBC is a big event and this year’s PIBC, I believe, would be participated by many people, not to mention the different PIBC alumni who would volunteer their time to support their new brethren.
It is because of this that I am a bit challenged. These three different places are not that big in terms of camp size, good enough to accommodate more than 30 individual shelters, and the sustainability of a water source to supply drinking water to a good number of people that would swell to around 40. That is a lot and water is very vital as well as security. I need to look and find that camp.
Today, April 11, 2015, I am going to Lilo-an. Coming along is Jhurds Neo, the President of Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. Automatically, he will sit in the PIBC as the Camp Ramrod – that is the camp administrator in layman’s term. We meet at Mandaue City at 14:00 and commuted in a public utility midget AKA the Multicab. Oh God, I hate that vehicle and I still patronize it. Oh dear!
Anyway, we arrive at 15:15 in Lilo-an and proceed on the business of procuring the food ingredients for our meals at the public market. Both me and Jhurds intend to stay overnight so we will cook and eat dinner tonight and breakfast for tomorrow. Once we have the items, we hired two motorcycles to bring us to the trailhead. I intend to start at the hanging bridge at the village of Mulao but my driver dropped me at the wrong place. Jhurds followed suit.
Upon inquiry with a local, we are a long ways off. We are at Cabadiangan and we will have to walk to a spillway from whence Mulao will start. If we walk fast, it would take us 90 minutes to reach the village hall of Mulao. We start on the road which begins to ascend once we got past the spillway. The road going to Mulao is adorned with garbage bins colored brightly and ornamental plants lining the sides.
We reach the village hall and register our names. We also get to pay a visitor’s fee of ten pesos each since the village had identified certain features of their place as tourist spots. The Cotcot River runs along the village and this same river is the boundary between Lilo-an and another town, Compostela. The river has huge granite rocks and water-polished boulders choking the river and two of these have names – Malingin and Arko’ng Bato.
We go down a path to Cotcot River and reach our old camping site where a lone acacia tree grow. I know there is no water source here but I heard that there is one near Arko’ng Bato and we will have to find it in the failing light. We reach the big boulder on a difficult route and it is already 18:00. It is almost darkness and shadows have claimed the banks where there are vegetation – the likely places where a natural spring would occur.
We are on a wide shelf of granite and we decide to set up camp there. We have water for cooking and drinking and we will use the stream for washing. Immediately, I forage dry driftwood which are plenty on the other side of the bank and that means I have to jump and balance over menacing rocks which would have been slippery and dangerous should it were wet. Warm days made it more acceptable to rubber though.
Once I got firewood, I return to the shelf and break the smaller ones by hand, the bigger ones with my AJF Gahum knife. Jhurds collect four stones of equal size and begins making a fire. I pull out my consortium of black pots and begins to slice 250 grams pork meat, peeled three potatoes, cut 20 green pepper, crush garlic and chop an onion with my Mora Companion knife. I enjoyed coffee first before I start to cook the pork adobao and boiled the potatoes. Jhurds, meanwhile, prepared the cooking of rice.
On an iron grille supported by the four stones, three pots are simultaneously placed over a fire, each having its contents cooked. We eat dinner at 20:00 under the clear starry sky with the frolic of the stream water supplying us music of nature. It is dark but we have small LED lights and a LuminAid solar-powered emergency inflatable lantern to light the place. The granite below us is still warm and this would help in our sleep later.
After that good meal, Jhurds wash the pots downstream. I stand guard with a light on him. It is so silent save for the swirling sounds of the river, the hum of crickets and the calls of geckos. Once in a while, a commercial plane would buzz overhead and pierce the harmony of the night with its engine. I see the familiar geometry in the sky that tell tales of mythical creatures and superhumans.
We enjoy the ambiance of the place so much that we spent the evening hours in conversations until it surprised us that it is already 23:00. We sleep on our respective hammocks which we use instead as ground sheet and bedding. The shelf is so wide that it removes away your fear of falling on the river while asleep. The smooth rock is warm which would be very helpful when the temperature would dip low during early dawn.
I wake up from time to time to check on our positions in relation to the river’s edge. We did not slide contrary to my fears. A last quarter moon crosses overhead and paints a silvery light on the riverscape. My brain react to the light with dread as if it is daylight. Everything is silent except the usual natural sounds. My fingertips are feeling the bite of the cold and I place hands on the part of my body where it is most warm.
I wake up when the first rays of light touched the highest mountains. I take a leak on the other bank and came back with an armful of firewood. My search for the natural spring is certainly not here and could be upstream. I do not know but it is best if I prepare our breakfast. I break two eggs and stir it briskly on a skillet after I sprinkled salt. I slice three eggplants into thin strips and drop all to the stirred eggs. I also peeled and sliced three potatoes.
Jhurds start the fire where the separate pots for the potatoes and rice are cooked. I place the skillet over the fire and begin frying the eggplant chips with oil. We eat our breakfast at 07:00 and then we start washing our pots. We notice a lot of dead river mudskippers and fresh-water shrimps. The shrimps turned red and I begin to suspect chemicals although I see traces of a poison plant pounded on a rock. I am confused since poison plants do not turn shrimps into red ones, a condition caused only by exposure to heat or strong medicine.
Cotcot River is sick and so polluted with chemicals and I see to it that my pots are thoroughly washed with strong detergents once I got home. The Municipality of Liloan should know about this so preventive measures would not kill the river in the future. I believe people fish for subsistence and wash their clothes here and exposure to chemicals would surely cause health problems for them.
We leave Arko’ng Bato at 08:30 going on a quest to find that natural spring. We meet a local fisherman carrying a sack. We inform him of the dead fishes and shrimps in the river and he showed me a good-sized catfish and a foot-long fresh-water eel. He found these already dead and would have brought these home as food when he noticed our great concern. He left the catfish and eel on a rock and I gave him our uncooked rice, eggplant and egg. Then we found the natural spring that we had been looking since yesterday.
It is surrounded by a spiny bamboo grove (Local name: kagingkingon), a Malabar almond tree (magtalisay) and an elephant apple tree (katmon). The spring gushed forth from the ground where a bamboo trough is placed. Nearby are several natural springs which were not used and the runoff caused a small marshy area. Across the spring is a river pond where bathing is possible and downstream small waterfalls and jacuzzi-like channels.
Satisfied with our find, I taste the water and I notice it has its own distinct taste. Could be from granite. Anyway, a good water source gives the possibility of hosting more people for the PIBC, which I feared would come. We walk on upstream and begin the next phase of finding a good campsite which could accommodate many light shelters, tents or hammocks. We found a good spot where there are several mango trees and a few groves of spiny bamboos in the vicinity.
The spot looks familiar. This is the same place where Aljew Frasco had taught Notching on the rest of Camp Red last March 9, 2014 (CB 11: A Notching class by the Riverside). Then the old hanging bridge linking Mulao of Liloan to the Mulao of Compostela would not be far. The same bridge that we were supposed to get dropped yesterday were it not for my driver’s judgment error. I am bestowed with good fortune today and I am happy that my expectations had turned out right the way it should be.
I know the route now to the hanging bridge but we take a shortcut instead to farms and over a low hill to get there instead of following the river. We reach the bridge at 10:20 and both of us deserve rest and a bottle of cold soda drinks each. After that, we begin another uphill walk on a road which has no trees to shade us. It is concrete and it took us over an hour of walking to reach a road corner where another road goes down to the same road where walked yesterday.
Then the “cavalry” arrived in the form of a red Toyota 2003 pickup driven by Christopher Maru and we were “rescued”. Christopher is Camp Red and had participated the PIBC in 2013 together with Aljew. We reach the town center of Lilo-an before noon and take lunch at open eateries near the municipal hall. Then I make it sure that we will not commute by riding in a public utility midget AKA the Multicab. Our mission is accomplished.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2015
PHILIPPINE HISTORY BOOKS gave a hazy account of the circumstances leading to the death of Andres Bonifacio. He died not from the wounds by the very people he was fighting against but by his own people. History is written by those who benefit from the system fostered by economics, politics or by conflict or by a combination of all. But, do you really know who Andres Bonifacio was before his death?
Bonifacio came from a poor family and, like most Filipinos of that time, has no formal education. The Spanish colonizers deemed it right not to educate the natives for their own good so as to ensure their control of the economy by keeping the most desirable lands for themselves and to assure their places and privileges in society. Bonifacio learned to read and write in his own home, safe enough to be spied upon by anybody.
His industry and good common sense brought him to decent positions in an international trading house where no pure-blood Filipino had been. He taught himself bookkeeping which appeased his masters and learned foreign languages, aside from Chinese and Spanish, which gave him a rare privilege to hobnob foreign traders, businessmen, guests and dignitaries. He could understand and converse a little French and, probably too, of a little English.
He was known to keep many books, to include French and English titles, and from among these, he may have read of the French Revolution, the taking of the Bastille, of George Washington and the American Revolution. For low-caste Filipinos, access to books are hard to come by and, if ever they are fortunate enough to possess one, it would be indecipherable by virtue of their illiteracy. Possession of books not approved by authorities at that time subject one to severe punishment, public humiliation, dispossession or death.
Bonifacio was just an ordinary man yet he has leadership skills excellent enough to lead men of even greater standing than he, organize an effective resistance against the oppressors through many successes in armed engagements and gained a lot of adherents for the Katipunan because of his willingness to lead his men on the frontlines. He was a man of action and emphasized that by tearing down his personal document which gave him access to travel to his place of work and to exercise his occupation.
His renown and accomplishments have parallel similarity to that of Scotland's greatest hero – William Wallace. They both were of the common class, fought with a blade and went down in history succumbing to the intrigues, ambitions and betrayals perpetrated by the upper class of the very people that each championed. Bonifacio, together with his brothers, were murdered and his wife raped and history was written by those who benefited from this dark chapter.
On November 28, 29 and 30, 2015, the Warrior Pilgrimage Blog and the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild honors his memory as a true hero of the people by holding the first-ever BONIFACIO DAY SPECIAL BUSHCRAFT CAMP. It would be held at Camp Damazo, somewhere among the hidden jungles of the Babag Mountain Range, Cebu City. It is a three-day wilderness skills training akin to the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp.
This writer convenes this special bushcraft camp for the benefit of those that failed to participate the recent PIBC MMXV and that the long weekend which culminate to the commemoration of Bonifacio Day may well be a good excuse. For the first time, seven minors would be participating. It is a great privilege to impart real-world skills to young people considering that most of them are wired to the electric outlet resulting to that phenomenon called nature-deficit disorder. They would join twelve others.
First day would start with a long Discovery Hike from the assembly area in Guadalupe to Camp Damazo passing by grasslands, forests and jungle streams. Upon setting up of camp, lectures will immediately start. Introduction to Bushcraft, Ethical Bushcraft and Knife Care and Safety would take much of the day until dusk falls where a campfire would be lit up. Aljew Frasco (2013) and Mark Lepon (2015) will assist me during the instructions.
Second day shall be devoted for Survival Tool-Making, Shelter, Plant ID and Foraging, Firecraft and Outdoor Cooking. All, including the camp staff, shall experience the angst of a person in a survival situation by fasting and all shall take feast on the results of their Nocturnal Hunting. Campfire Yarns and Storytelling shall commence to enhance more camaraderie.
Third day will be an occasion for the observance of Bonifacio Day thru the singing of the national anthem and followed by pledging of allegiance to flag and country. Then the bushcraft tradition of the pageantry of the knives becomes the center of attraction called the Blade Porn and photo sessions follow. Official Camp Hawkeye will be Eli Bryn Tambiga (2012). Together with Christopher Ngosiok (2015), he will also attend to the chores as Camp Medic.
Clearing of camp follows and all proceed to the Lanipao Rainforest Resort for relaxing in its spring-fed swimming pools and to enjoy refreshments and that deserved lunch prepared by our Camp Fixer – Ernie Salomon (2011). Giving of Certificates of Training and the raffling of freebies to all participants shall be carried out by our Camp Ramrod – Jhurds Neo (2012) - during the socials.
The Knifemaker of Mandaue City and Seseblades of Pampanga supports this initiative by providing their blade products for use and for free giveaways. Paracord Manila will also give away their products. Paracord bracelets made by the different PIBC alumni will also be given away aside from the items prepared for by Jhurds Neo, the President of Camp Red.
An event T-shirt will be part of the minimal P800 registration fee paid by each participant aside from the certificate, transportation, real camping experience, a meal and the use of the amenities of the Lanipao Rainforest Resort. Finishing the Bonifacio Day Special Bushcraft Camp gives you the option to join Camp Red. You can either improve yourself further through self-practice or through participation of activities hosted by Camp Red. This bushcraft camp will open many possibilities for you that you have thought had not existed.
Andres Bonifacio did not die in vain. He united the different ethnic groups and gave a sense of a nation for all native inhabitants to aspire for and govern for themselves. His dreams of a Free Philippine Republic gave hope to all who have been subjected to the yoke of a harsh and cruel master. His dreams never died. It lived on. Dreams Never End.
Andres Bonifacio art from the Concerned Artists of the Philippines
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Saturday, November 14, 2015
I AM NOW FOCUSING MY sights on my unfinished Cebu Highlands Trail Project. Recently, I completed Segment III on February 19-21, 2015 after a hiatus of one-and-a-half-years which were spent on other activities. Next in line would be Segment IV and Segment V. Segment IV is the hardest of all and I had scheduled it in October 2015. Segment V is easier and I decide to explore it first and, that means, I have to move it backward from early 2016 to May 2015 instead.
Just like I had done before Segment III, I will prepare the Exploration Team through endurance training and long hikes. For this purpose, I will retrace the route I had taken to complete Segment I last October 26-27, 2013, which is from Mount Manunggal, Balamban to Guadalupe, Cebu City. I have tried this again alone on a “penitence hike” during the 2014 Lent, which saw me floundering on the trail caused by my self-imposed fasting, on a time of the warmest days of that year.
I failed to finish one-half of that pilgrimage but I have gained my soul back from the quagmire of sins. This rugged route, coupled with the hottest weather, is a test of endurance and may make or break an iron will. I have nothing to prove now but my companions of this different training-and-penitence hike would soon find out. They are Jonathan and Justin Apurado – father and son – and both are members of the Exploration Team.
We start from Citilink Terminal, Cebu City at 14:00 of Holy Thursday – April 2, 2015. The van-for-hire drop us at the road corner leading to Mt. Manunggal at exactly 15:30 and we walk the length to seek our campsite. We found favor on an unfinished concrete structure instead on the traditional camping ground for the posts are convenient for our hammocks to tie on. Our overhead sheets, we would convert instead into wind breakers for there are no walls.
As soon as we have secured our places, I prowl down the mountainside to forage dry firewood. The recent activity of March 17th, the Death Anniversary of President Ramon Magsaysay, have caused scarcity of wood on the upper slopes. I found a few though that had been left by people at the lower reaches and carry it up. Justin and Jonathan give life to a flame by a flint strike on flammable tinder from pine trees.
It is a beautiful landscape at dusk. The red glow of a setting sun cooled as it touched the horizon behind the Negros mountains across Tañon Strait while a full moon rose over Camotes Sea. Presence of pine trees softened the strong aroma produced by the warmth of an afternoon sun on the soil and on weeds. Two fireplaces, two AJF Folding Trivets and two pots, one containing milled corn while the other water for coffee, are set up.
The coffee was good but we need to eat dinner quick before the fog begins to carpet us with its cold embrace. By now, strong breeze begins to claim every nook and cranny of the abandoned concrete edifice that we claimed as our camp. Jonathan and Justin were able to cook spicy beef noodle soup, dried fish, chorizo Bilbao and milled corn. We eat silently after a prayer. There is an abundance of water near the Pres. Magsaysay monument and obtaining it is never a problem.
The evening begins to get cold as gusts of wind slowly whittle away our body heat. Jonathan shared to me his brandy in a flask and I happily take two shots. I prepare my rosary to begin praying five decades of the Mystery of the Light. Tomorrow would be very warm and we would be following a long route marked by many ascents and downhills. So an early rest would suffice. After the night prayer, I immediately turn in to my waiting hammock and so are father and son.
The windbreakers we prop alongside our hammocks are inadequate. Winds increase chill factor and I have to abandon my place after an hour and transfer to a room which, thankfully, is the only finished part of the structure as it has walls, shuttered windows and a functioning door. I untied my tarp sheet from the posts and lay it on the cold cement as my ground sheet. Next is the hammock and I place it atop my ground sheet and wiggle inside it. The coldness of the floor is numbing.
I force myself to be comfortable and grab that sleep. After 10 minutes, Jonathan and Justin followed my lead. They too had found the chill factor brought by the wind too offensive for their liking. We all lay on the cold floor on the flimsiest of material to cushion our bodies against. During the night, the winds unleashed its strength as roofs made violent sounds. It was a long night and I was denied sleep even as I tried many times to ignore the discomforts. It gratifies me to know though that I had dreamed at the moment when somebody rose from his frigid bed.
My eyes are heavy as I force myself from sleep. The early morning light had not yet achieved intensity but I find it annoyingly bright. Maybe my lack of sleep had to do with that. Meanwhile, I need to answer the call of nature and I go down a trail to look for a good place. I see familiar shapes of “wiper” leaves in my dreamy stupor. After that, I go back and coffee is ready. Warm coffee in the morning puts you back to reality but I need to dry clean my hands first before a fire before handling my cup.
We eat a breakfast of quail eggs, spicy noodles, rice and dried fish at 07:30. The next meal would be dinner and we will fast in between considering that it is Good Friday. We quickly wash our pots and utensils and put everything in our backpacks. My Silangan Predator Z bag weighs about twelve kilos. Its weight would be felt during ascents and during the last hours of the day. We secured more water before going. I open carry my AJF Gahum knife. Same with Justin with his local kukri while Jonathan opt to open carry his Nikon camera.
The trail goes downhill and uphill into a forest and down again into grassy areas, crossing many dry brooks, treading on rocks, evading thorns from bamboos, rattan and wild yams. The condition of the path are much better than the last time for this route had been used during the death anniversary of Pres. Magsaysay and by mountaineers training for a big climb outside Cebu. I pass by the place where I was spooked by a big python last time and I throw wary glances at the grasses.
We pass by hilly farms of tomatoes, bitter gourds and green pepper and walk under trellis until we reach a big abandoned house. This is a landmark of sort for its blue color stand out against the green of the hills and it marks the halfway point to Inalad. The morning is really very warm with the sun scorching our heads. I covered myself with a military shawl but it only favored my cheeks, ears, forehead, eyelids, nape and part of my nose. My body is very hot and I need to sit and rest under the shade for a good ten minutes to settle it.
By 10:20, we proceed down a long ridge to dried rice paddies and arrive on the bank of Bangbang River. We rest again for ten minutes, at least. I immerse my shawl in the stream and press it over my head. Trickles of liquid cool my head, part of my face and down on to my neck. We cross the river without getting our feet wet for the water had receded in the mild El Niño. From the river, it is now all ascent. We follow a path beside a small stream and then follow it until we reach the saddle of Inalad at 11:40.
We are behind schedule but reaching the place before 12:00 satisfies my requirement. The climb to Inalad near noon had heated my body so much and no amount of water could simmer it down. Although there are cold drinks available but it would defeat the reverence of Good Friday. It would also put to doubt my integrity and of the activity which was labeled as a “penitence hike”. We will fast but we will only subsist, at the most, on bread and water when it is needed.
I begin to feel rashes on the anus as I take a sit on the concrete pavement. A man’s brief cannot make rashes like that and I remembered the leaf that I use as the culprit. It has unusually thick membranes and the leaf stalks are reddish. Worse, my eyes begins to be irritating. I feel pain when I close it and when I open it back and I am in dire need of a nap! The only way to rid of this pain is to keep the eyes open and moving the pupils from side to side. (Sigh!)
This journey is very testing indeed to me as I am deprived of a good night’s sleep causing me swollen eyes and then that troublesome fat ass of mine. Well, I am used to discomforts and I do not take these as alibis to cut short a wonderful journey of the soul. That will not sit well with Jonathan or Justin. They had prepared for this and I am obligated to give them the satisfaction they deserve. This is a rare hike and nobody had done something like this. This is extreme.
By 13:00, we cross the Transcentral Highway and take an unpaved road to Tongkay, an upland village of Toledo City, which is nestled in a valley. My eyes at first react to glare and strong light but, as I walk further on, the irritation lessened. I covered half of my face with the shawl but remove it when I pass by people to greet. We reach the village center and go inside a public elementary school where we rest for a while to rehydrate.
We cross a stream and my final test for the day starts. It is an ascent to a campsite on the slope of Mount Tongkay. The heat in the middle of the afternoon is overbearing and almost take a toll on my resolve. Nevertheless, I conceal it from my companions but, I take time to recover my breathe once in a while. The trail is a never-ending crawl of steep and mildly-steep terrain.
I see a mature Johey oak tree (Local name: marang) looming tall down a slope and I finally solved the mystery of a fruit peeling that I saw while walking here last year. I believed it is not introduced since this mountain is very isolated. From what I heard of stories, Mt. Tongkay used to be abundant of Philippine macaques (unggoy) until being hunted out by people. The survival of a marang tree attests to the once-rich diversity of this mountain.
Once I reach a point where my former campsite can be seen, I am disappointed to see that the trees had been cleared. What used to be the only level place where there is thick vegetation offering protection from the heat, cold winds and from observation is now a graveyard of dead trees. I see the culprit: a lone farmer. He passed by us while we were resting. He is carrying a freshly-cut tree trunk. That campsite is usually warm when evening falls because it catches warm air rising from the lower valleys.
Nevertheless, I do not possess a single-dimensioned mind. I have another ace from up my sleeve, another alternative campsite, but it is farther up a slope, on a ridge. We have a lot of daylight hours left as it is still 14:00. I am already spent out but I gathered my last ounces of strength to get there. We pass by a newly-cleared slope that was converted into a farm. The route was supposed to pass by here but it is gone. I followed the furrows until I am on grassy vegetation again.
We reach the almost-bald ridge at 15:30 but we lacked water. I could have that later. We rest for about 10 minutes before I choose Justin to accompany me to fetch water. We bring all our empty bottles while Jonathan would make a fire to prepare coffee. Justin and I proceed to Mount Etwi, which can be reached by following a string of narrow ridges, and go down to a community. The natural spring is dry but a local told us of another source, about 300 meters down a slope. It is just a hole on the ground with slow driblets of water.
It took Justin 30 minutes to fill up five liters of water on empty bottles. The afternoon light is dying and we retrace our route to our campsite. Jonathan had already finished with the coffee and I welcome it very very much. Oh, I thought I am going to quit back at the lower slopes an hour ago due to heat and lack of nutrition. Surprisingly, my eyes feel better now. The sun is losing its intensity as it is approaching dusk and I have hot coffee to enjoy. Nobody beats coffee in the outdoors!
This ridge we are going to camp is actually a short saddle between Mt. Tongkay and a false peak. There are trees on the eastern side and that is where we will all hitch our hammocks and our overhead shelters. We tie on our hammocks among tree trunks. Then we revive the fire and start cooking our food in darkness. I provide lighting with my LuminAid solar-powered emergency inflatable lantern. I am hungry and I will rest early tonight. Our dinner are noodles, chorizo Bilbao and milled corn which we had at 20:00.
I change my brief into cycling shorts to give me peace of mind on my simmering battle with the rashes on my anus. It is windy on the ridge and it cannot catch warm air from the lower valleys like a camp in the middle of a mountain slope do. Although our hammocks are in the treeline, strong breeze ruffle the tarp sheets. Time and time again I wake up to the sound of the wind on my shelter and I have to adjust my body inside the netted hammock as it keeps on sliding down. A bad fix.
I wake up at 05:30 and take an early morning leak. Dew adhere on the grass leaves but the ground is dry except on the ground where it is higher than our camp. We were just below the fog line. If it would have, we would have felt cold and moisture. Jonathan and Justin rouse from their sleep and begins to arrange the wood to start the fire. The day starts with coffee and then breakfast of noodle soup, Chorizo bilbao, quail eggs and milled corn.
Campsites on ridges and peaks expose you to severe warmth even in early mornings. We hurriedly break camp and leave at 08:15 for the direction of Mara-ag. We pass by the peak of Mt. Tongkay and I show Jonathan and Justin of a deep hole on the peak itself. This is not a sinkhole because the mountain is not made of limestone. It is solid rock and it might be man-made.
I have heard stories that the mines of Atlas Mining Corp. (now Carmen Copper) located in Lutopan, Toledo City have reached underneath Cebu City and as far as Argao in the south. This could be a mine vent. After that, we go down and follow the narrow ridge to Mt. Etwi, where we sidestep it, and arrive at Mara-ag Ridge at 09:00. I indulge myself with powdered juice drink on a small store. An exit at Cantipla, Cebu City would be appropriate and we just have to follow the road we are on north.
I ask Jonathan and Justin if they want to end this day at Cantipla or would they want to cross the Bonbon Valley and the Babag Mountain Range into Guadalupe, Cebu City? Both choose the longer option and I have but to satisfy their explorer spirit. We ask from a local of the shortest route to Bonbon where I do not have to follow this road to Sudlon and I was given direction to a dirt road which goes to Morga.
We reach a corner and I grudgingly follow this road but, once I saw a well-beaten trail, I change options. I follow the trail instead into hilly farms and solitary houses. I believe I have found an old route because it is well-used despite the presence now of farm-to-market roads and modern transportation. I am onto something better and I see wild vegetation where I thought had vanished in our mountains. The sun is very tormenting but we are on a shady route.
I come upon a fork on the trail where I have to choose one. Both are well-beaten and both are going down separate long ridges. I opt for the rightmost and it brought me to a rare patch of forest. We stop in the middle of the jungle and answered the call of nature. I found my rashes getting to be irritated more with sweat running on it. In my complete bliss, I fail to notice the prickly flowers of a local grass called madyong. I removed the spiny little balls one by one from my bike shorts and Silangan Greyman hike pants.
The path now begins to disappear – almost - and I suspect I missed the main path. I follow this scant path to a small mountain brook which still has running water. We cross it and climb up a slope into a grassy meadow and into a farm. I see the path I missed and I reclaim and follow it to a shady location where there is a house and a water source. A good place to rest from the sun and to replenish our water supply.
Places like these are a long way off from schools and I wonder how the children manage to study? I pity them that I leave a small pack of Titay’s Liloa-an Rosquillos – a small token for me but is a rare luxury for them. I am rewarded with smiles and that is enough for me. Someday I may start another outreach here. Kindness begets kindness. Residents could not understand why urban-bred people like us would rather walk when we could afford to ride. That is where they shared their knowledge of places and it comes handy.
We go down another long ridge with a route cutting through several small mountain brooks, going up a hill with farms and a few houses until we stop on another house with a water source and a small bamboo bench underneath an ancient soursop tree (siko karabaw). We take time out by boiling water for coffee on Jonathan’s Trangia stove. It is extremely hot and the slight shade is a comfort. This forced fasting had sapped me of energy. Since it is 12:30, we decide to cook our last instant noodle as our meal.
The family had been so kind to offer us their lawn space and their company. Their patriarch had been so conversant that I leave my sachets of coffee and powdered juice, rosquillos and 20 individual packs of dried squid as gratitude. Just like the previous homestead, their knowledge of their own place is so valuable. We go down the last ridge and, 20 minutes later, we are on a stream. I do not know yet the name but this will have a name soon.
The stream had lessened due to the onset of hot weather and the pools and estuarine plants contain thick algae. Plant chemicals are very rampant here since it is carried during rains from farms located on the higher slopes. It is my first time to walk here and there is a path on the riverside that crossed among boulders. We pass by another smaller stream where the confluence is choked with huge chunks of boulders. Nature’s work is still ongoing here and I would not be in these places when there is a strong rain.
We come upon a smoky place where a local couple are dozing under the shade. They are making charcoal. Downstream is a high waterfall and there is no way to go beyond except by following a path up the bank where the smoke is most intense. We climb it and there is a long trail that pass by an island in a stream and ending at a private resort in a place called Morga. So the stream is called Morga Creek.
I follow three boys going home from the resort and we come upon a flood plain where the community of Biasong is located. I have heard of this place many times and it is my first time here. They are preparing for their fiesta tomorrow. We rest at a small store and douse our thirst with cold soda drinks and a big bottle of cold beer. We tried to negotiate a motorcycle ride but the drivers are all busy betting on cockfights.
We choose to walk to Bonbon by following Morga Creek downstream, then switching to a trail that goes over a hill, then down a road to the village hall. I make sure that Jonathan and Justin go first on a motorcycle before I ride mine to JY Square. I arrive at 16:00 and I was hoodwinked by the driver to pay 80 pesos for a ride that would have cost 40 pesos. Karma has its own sweet time. On the other hand, I have found a new route for Segment 1B of the Cebu Highlands Trail and that is more important.
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