Friday, March 13, 2015
I REACHED HOME AT 12:30 and ate a hasty lunch ten minutes later. Then it began to rain. I am worried that I would be further delayed to embark on a solo journey today, July 5, 2014, because of this. When the rain stopped, I thanked all the saints and hurriedly left my residence at 13:10 and commute to Jones Avenue then to Guadalupe, then I hired a motorcycle to bring me to the trailhead at Baksan.
I carried an old-school desert-tan Lifeguard USA rucksack and, in it, is a camera tripod, an Apexus taffeta sheet, a box of safety matches and a stainless-steel cup. My tomahawk - my old adventure partner – is open carried, the haft slipped into my operator belt. To protect me from mosquitoes, I brought my Umbro long-sleeved shirt, a sniper mesh and my long-standing partner on a myriad of sleeping grounds – my bonnet. A Silangan side pouch housed my dilapidated Kodak camera and a cheap cellphone. That is all.
It is 13:50 when I started. I am almost two hours late. I should have released myself at exactly 12:00 for this novel activity called Survival Day. Survival Day answers to the requests of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild to engage their members in an activity combining all the elements of bushcraft, survival, navigation and escape and evasion. A selected pair would engage on this overnight, preferably on a weekend, with a third man observing and documenting their activity. They would have to choose one place from among three sites.
When this was posted in Facebook, they were all taken by surprise. A daring few volunteered to enlist in a dry run but all bowed out at the last minute. Since I designed this activity, it is inherent in me to show all how it is done. To increase the ante, I will do this alone while doing the documentation myself. I choose the Buhisan Watershed Area, because that place is a perfect bushcrafter’s paradise. It is all jungle and home to some of the nastiest bugs.
From Baksan, I followed the path I had discovered to Creek Alpha. This route is already integrated into the old Lensa Trail which the locals had used for many years. The ground is wet but it is not slippery. Still, I opt to cut a green limb of a Mexican lilac tree (Local name: kakawate) as my walking stick. It is 7-and-a-half feet long and it is heavy. I pass by a teak forest and I look for dry leaves. Since it had rained all the time, I found just a few, crushed it, and placed it inside a plastic bag.
The grasses are waist high as I follow a low ridge then another adjoining ridge, this time climbing up to a hill which I loved to call as Boy T’s Hell. I pause for a while to study the somber sky, the verdant greenery and my back trail. I do not see a soul but I see traces of a rattan planting activity. They – the DENR1 or the MCWD2 – intend to discourage people from visiting the Buhisan by planting these like a hedge. It might be for a lot of reasons like wildlife poaching, illegal logging and, possibly, trail running, which the latter is downright hazardous if done here.
I go down the hill and follow another ridge where there is a tree with my trailsign. I found it and slowly trace the now-scant path. The walking stick is most helpful here as I get to pole vault over shallow ravines and save me the trouble of jumping without something to anchor on on slippery ground. Slowly, I reach the stream, after I had carefully maneuvered among spiny plants and those that I thought are toxic. You could never be too sure.
I am now on a very secluded trail, but very beautiful from whichever point of view you are in. The stream is full of water, clear and running. I carefully set my foot on stones when I walk on the river bed, intending to leave no trace of my presence even to the extent of climbing up on a path of loamy soil. I leave my presence at the top, but it is on a wrong trail. I do this all the time to fool anyone who might take advantage of my being alone. The Buhisan is still a dangerous place since it is a refuge of lawless elements.
I follow the path and pass by the old campsite of the first Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp. Along the trail are very dry leaves of a dead Indian rhododendron shrub (yagumyum). I collected a lot which disintegrate itself into tiny bits when handled. I soon found my plastic bag of dry tinder getting bigger and bigger which my pants pocket could not accommodate anymore, so I decide that I have enough and place it inside my bag.
I walk on, scanning everything that might be edible, but the sky darkened and I hurry up. I reach Creek Bravo and I take a rest. This is the only place in the Buhisan where there are groves of water bamboos (butong, buho). The groves are located at a higher place and there are no paths there except through a small watercourse. I climbed up using my hands to gain footholds. Although I am bulky and heavy, that had never been a problem for me. I used to rock climb in the ‘90s and I still got a good eye-to-muscle coordination and a tight grip.
The groves have thinned as it had been harvested over several times and only a few healthy poles are left, most of it young. One grove is being burned down and I can not comprehend why? I do not want to cut the few remaining poles so I looked for poles that had already been cut and overlooked by the gatherer. I found one hanging on a tree with four segments and I am able to save two conjoined segments. I also found a smaller but pointed pole, about six feet long, on the ground. I bound the bamboos together with a vine so I could carry it easily.
The sky is getting somber and somber as the afternoon light is losing its intensity. I will carry my bamboos and wooden staff over an ascending ridge, on the lookout always for rattan tendrils. As I walk on higher elevations, the light improved, visibility clearer. I see wild mushrooms (kwakdok) on dead wood and I pluck these. I walk on and startle a brush cuckoo (sigigid) feeding on the ground. It had not noticed me coming until I am about five feet near. I see a lot of dry wood on the ground but I prefer those hanging in midair.
I am now approaching Camp Damazo and I notice one of a pair of huge wood pillars that had guarded its entrance had succumbed to decay. Ah, the place that had nurtured the finest products of the PIBC had recovered well, the fire ring of stones under the Moluccan ironwood tree (ipil) remained untouched. I am tempted to stay for there is an abundance of light here but I need to be at the water source first to study the possibility of camping near it and to placate my throat.
I found the natural spring and I drink two cups of the fine water. Fresh-water crabs inhabit here and it appears only during nighttime. It would be best if I could camp nearby so I do not have to walk far and burn up a makeshift torch. The torch is a problem though as I had not found a dry suitable material like palm leaves. Anyways, I cut the bigger bamboo in half so I could fashion a water container out of one while the other half as a catch bin should I push to catch crabs tonight. I carved a spout for the water container and punched a hole at this end, then I fill it full with water after washing it.
I look around and I see a promising place to camp but it is gloomy and a possible route of running water should it rain heavily. I backtrack to the spring and decide to spend the night near Camp Damazo instead. My lacking of a dependable lighting to illuminate my foraging in the night discouraged me but I leave the catch bin if ever I could find dry leaves as a torch, time willing. It is now almost 16:30 and I need to go back to Camp Damazo to take advantage of the light being plentiful there.
I size up the place and I see a good ground thirty meters away. I walk towards it and I found a perfect spot although I need to cut or break a young tree to achieve a good campsite. It is underneath three tall trees with a hardwood species of tree (tugas) growing underneath it. There are no rotting branches on the trees and should a piece of either tree fall, it would be caught by the branches of the shorter hardwood tree. Breeze comes from the valley below and would fill my shelter with smoke should I make a campfire in between.
I notice a swarm of small forest mosquitoes beginning to torment me and those big black ants appearing suddenly as all sensed me expending carbon dioxide. I need to keep moving to distract these insects. Immediately, I cut several stalks of a zingiber plant and lay it on the ground. I grab an armful of crawling ferns that had been choking a young tree and place it above the leaves laid on the ground so I could use it as a cushion for my body should I lie to sleep.
I draw out my taffeta sheet from my rucksack and tie the middle grommet holes to the tree trunks with laces from my Columbia hike shoes. I extend one part of the sheet as a low awning close to the ground, tying one end with a piece of black clothe that I had been using as a head band and the other end with a vine. The other half of the sheet I would use partly as a wall and partly to cover the leaves where I would be sleeping on. I retrieve a long pole lying on the trail so I could use this to retain the angle of the sheet wall firm.
I would not have carried the walking stick here without a purpose. I place it underneath the sheet that would be used as my sleeping area. It would be placed so it would keep me from rolling over and to restrict my body in one place so my body heat would not be wasted. I believe it would be cold tonight and I need to be warm. I will collect firewood, the ones hanging in midair. I found many and I break the twigs into three different kinds: pencil lead size, pencil wood size and thumb size.
I make a nest of tinder and kindling beside a jutting root of an arbor tree, which act as a shield, before I struck my first match. Humidity causes the dry leaves to absorb moisture quickly and, until I struck my fourteenth matchstick, I was able to make a roaring fire. I feed dry firewood and collect bigger wood which I cut and split with my tomahawk. I drag some more and keep it off the ground. The mosquitoes and ants begins to disappear as it senses wood smoke. I can now rest easy and feed the fire from time to time.
I drag some felled branches with dried leaves still attached to it and use it to camouflage my shelter. By 19:00, I take rest inside my open shelter, donning the long-sleeved shirt and the bonnet. The mesh, will cover my head, upper body, arms and hands. I listen to the sounds of the jungle. I can hear hundreds of geckos inhabiting this part of the Buhisan. You could distinguish each individual by the timbre and manner of their croaks. Also grabbing attention are jungle fowls, a myriad of birds, frogs and a cry of a palm civet.
The mosquitoes, they came, and how they loved to hover near the ears. I move to my side and pray when would this torment end. When the breeze shifted direction, the mosquitoes would be gone but when the breeze disappears, it would be back with a vengeance. Fed up with my failure to gain sleep, I feed another set of firewood to my small campfire at 20:30. My eyes had already adjusted to the darkness that I could walk my way around to take a leak. The whole place is now foggy.
The strong winds came and all creatures are silent. Rain will come soon. I hear branches breaking, a lot of it falling to the ground. A low pressure area near Luzon had been bringing all these rains and a very strong tropical typhoon (Glenda) is looming in the Pacific, approaching my island by the hour. It is raining lightly but it never affected my fire. A few drops fell on it and I thought it at first as a person walking on grass (as raindrops hiss on embers) but it is only my mind playing games on me.
The mosquitoes, well, they remained when the breeze shifted to another direction and would be gone again when the smoke filled my shelter. I begin to feel my stomach complaining without dinner. I rise again from bed at 22:00 and feed my fire with enough firewood. A strong downpour fell but the fire kept roaring and thick smoke would emerge when a few raindrops found its way there. My struggle with the pesky insects continue on until past midnight where I rise again and feed my fire.
I hear the beautiful melody of a black shama (siloy) and unbelief is written all over me that I had really slept. I look at my wristwatch and it is 05:30. The second day (July 6), at last, but I am not in a hurry. I peek at my fire and all the wood are burned out. I go back to sleep. I wake up again at 07:00 and rise to rekindle my campfire alive. I prepare another nest of tinder and light twigs and it took matchstick No. 21 before it roared to life.
I will heat up the water inside the bamboo that I had collected yesterday. After 45 minutes, steam begins to appear from the spout. I get my cup and poured me a good-quantity of the bamboo-flavored water. Then I place wild mushrooms that I had foraged yesterday on the liquid and set my cup above the embers to boil it into a soup. “Wild mushroom soup, that is the menu for breakfast sir.” It might be inadequate but, at least, it is nourishment.
Breakfast at 09:00 and I sit still on a rock listening to the melodic chants of two individual black shamas and the buzz of the cicadas. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a reddish cuckoo dove (tubaon) perched on a dead wood three feet away from me. It eyed me curiously for about fifteen seconds and transfer to a young tree at my back. I could not resist the temptation of moving my head after 30 seconds to see its beauty and it flew away. Oh, such little pleasures give meaning to life.
I take advantage of the sparse sunlight on the open spaces of Camp Damazo and I drink two cups of the bamboo tea. Noontime is still far and I have to kill time by taking a little exploration of a ghost trail that I had noticed below my place. I go back and try my reflex on my tomahawk. The remaining wood pillar becomes my target board. I am quite rusty, my throws lacked consistency now as I have not had the time to practice it anymore, unlike in the old days when I was engaged in a warrior’s pilgrimage.
Two hours more to go. Boredom led me to my shelter. I feed the fire and lay down. Strong winds from the southwest arrive and everything becomes silent. It rained again. I wait out the rain under the dry safety of my shelter. It is a light rain or it might be the canopies filtered this into something more tolerable. I close my eyes and I awakened at 11:30, thirty minutes more and I will be on my way.
When 12:00 do arrive, I break camp, put out my fire and put everything in order. I carry the pointed bamboo as my staff. I pass by the natural spring and drink two cups of the refreshing water. The female bat that I had startled yesterday near the spring is surprised again by my presence and flew away. I cross two small streams, probably these are the upper parts of the streams I crossed yesterday. The route is uphill now and I take it slow, resting twice, each for 30 seconds.
I reach Baksan Road at 12:45 and I feel good. The struggle would be easy now as it is downhill all the way to Lanipao. When I arrive at the place, I just rest a minute before resuming to the designated rendezvous point – Napo, which I reach at 13:10. I could have gratified myself with cold refreshment and biscuits but I intend to do it at Guadalupe instead. I still have an extra 10 miles of resistance and I believe I could do that.
Guadalupe at 13:30 and I reward myself with a humble lunch in a small store. Then I proceed to the Red Hours Convenience Store to recoup my electrolytes with cold bottles of San Miguel Cerveza Negra. It was a worthy two days of solitude which would perfectly change the game of how the outdoors would be best enjoyed here in the Philippines. Being badass is not always bad and, sometimes, in my dreams, I liked to to toy with the idea of creating a new hobby called BADASSERY3.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer
1Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
2Metropolitan Cebu Water District.