Friday, March 6, 2015
WHEN YOU GO INTO BATTLE, you should know your adversary and, along with that, the battlefield. It seems a very wise decision when Mayo Leo Carillo requested me to scout on the route that he would plan to take on Survival Day, where he volunteered to undergo on its dry run scheduled for July 5 and 6, 2014. The place is the ridge of Tagaytay, a part of the Babag Mountain Range, of which place he has no knowledge of.
Survival Day is a two-day test of endurance and resourcefulness which I had floated for all members of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild to try. This challenge is also open for those who are not members of Camp Red but had taken bushcraft and survival trainings during my visits in Luzon.
It will involve two participants who will work as a team and, in between them, they will be allowed to carry only one knife, one simple shelter, one metal cup and one kind of firemaking gadget. They will choose one route from among three and hike it and they will have to source their own drinking water and food, build a campfire and stay overnight on the first day. They break camp on second day and be at the rendezvous point before sundown.
A different set of two individuals would then be released twice monthly and this will run up to the end of this year. A third man will accompany a pair to document and to observe. The third man will be their lifeline should things go wrong and the umpire should they cheat. The pairs would be graded according to their accomplishment, to initiate a friendly competition, but this will never become a race.
I had granted Mayo’s request and, not only that, I will personally lead the reconnoitering activity. Today, June 29, 2014, Mayo will see, for the first time, the terrain and vegetation on Tagaytay Ridge, so he will know his “enemy” along with Ernie Salomon, Jhurds Neo, Patrick Calzada and Justin Apurado. We start early from Guadalupe and start our hike at 07:45 from Napo.
It was Jhurds who chose this route when he got paired with Mayo earlier but he backed out when a teaching job was offered to him by a local university. Ernie volunteered to fill in the vacuum and it is now his mission as well. The day is warm but cloudy. We reach the trailhead of Manggapares Trail at 08:15 and I advise everyone that it will be a hard walk.
We reach the second of the seven towers that rise along Tagaytay Ridge. The third tower is situated further up a rise which is separated by a saddle. The trail had been obliterated by thick vegetation where I create another path for my five companions. My hands and my Puffin Magnum knife are put to good use. It is a tiring work, more like swimming on land with the sun beating hard on you but it is labor that I welcomed.
We pass by the fourth tower and I find it desirable to rest under the welcoming shade of Mexican lilac trees (Local name: kakawate) for a good ten minutes. I was really exhausted that I took three swigs of water. We proceed to the fifth tower where I showed to them of pepper, sweet potatoes and taro growing wild along the way. Not only that, there are mango, jackfruit, Java plum and lime trees bearing fruit.
The fifth tower, as I had known it, had not yet been erected except for four big holes that were poured with concrete as foundations. Today, it is complete and standing. Besides that, an easy route had been established by workers which curved around the posts. The day is getting warmer as the hours drag by towards noon. After this tower is another one but we will be walking on a dirt road that begins to be reclaimed by vegetation.
While walking uphill, we meet eleven men going the opposite way. It is an unusual number of locals if you consider the kind of place to be at. All of them are carrying openly local blades known as a bolo and one of them is armed with a CO2-powered rifle. Locals often band together to clear fields for collective farming, cut trees for charcoal or harvest mangoes. Sometimes, very rarely, they organize into a posse to search for stolen livestock.
I open carry my Puffin Magnum knife, dangling in swagger fashion by my side. Jhurds has his big Spyderco Forester on the side of his vintage Swiss rucksack. A knife in full view always make men think twice, especially if it is a KNIFE. However, if they would had been an enemy patrol they would have had the advantage of high ground and would have had beaten us hands down. Fortunately for me, it was just my tactical brain playing games on me.
The abandoned backhoe is still there but its transmission gears are now missing. Oil from the transmission had leaked to the ground and, although dry now, it had blackened the soil. We cross a low saddle and pass by the sixth tower. I look for the cement mixer but it is gone now, perhaps brought back by the workers who constructed the fifth tower. I saw the trail and follow it. Thank God, it is still there.
It is 11:00 and I hurried my pace. It goes through thick vegetation now and, somehow, we meet three youths carrying empty baskets. They said they were delivering mangoes and they are going home to Bocawe. We all rest on a saddle, trying to normalize our breathing and to rest. Infront of us is a low hill while, behind, is Mount Liboron. I have not been there and I have no intention. Perhaps, I might visit it one of these days just to gaze how the view would look like from up there.
We push on along high grasses and down into groves of bamboo. We have to crouch to pass by sagging poles with its protective thorns. When we got past it, the trail is fenced off by two strands of barbed wires. I break an old bamboo pole and prop it as a platform over the lowest strand. We cross the wires and are now on the other side. We climb up another hill and reach the garden of Julio Caburnay. It is exactly 12:00 but we have to rest to recover from the intense exertions. Here, you could source your drinking water and Mayo and the rest noted it well.
Ernie begins to work on the food ingredients while Jhurds starts to assemble a tripod and notch wood to make a wooden hook. Patrick, Justin and I scrounge for firewood. Justin personally kindle a tinder nest to life using sparks from a ferro rod. Mayo set up his small tarpaulin sheet above a bench that we cleared of potted plants. The fruit from the dragon cactus is almost ripe while the tiger vitex (lagundi) is blooming. The heaven begins to go gray. Rain is ominous.
Immediately, the rice pots are hanged from the tripod. Once these are cooked, Ernie starts with the mixed vegetable soup. Diced pork and shredded bamboo sprouts are mixed to the soup giving it a much better flavor. On the side, pork adobo is also cooked. Although thunder begins to rumble and raindrops are now falling hard, these did not dampen our appetite. Fortunately, Mayo’s a small tarpaulin overhead made it possible for us to take a decent lunch.
The rain stayed for a half hour until it goes to the lowlands, which is east of us. We do not have time to rest as it is now almost in the middle of the afternoon. Slowly, under light drops of rain, we pack our things and gave the rest of our food to Julio, along with a portion of uncooked rice, a canned tuna and sachets of coffee. We said goodbye to Julio and gave thanks. We will tackle the rest of the trail to Babag Ridge.
The rain had left the trail so muddy at where the ground was broken for a small farm. It is so slippery and so soft. If I wanted to walk on the middle so I could gain a few meters, that would be very easy, but I would be condemning the rest to a very taxing scramble. To walk at the sides are my best option but it is very much the same but, at least, I do not wreak havoc on the middle of the trail. Legs akimbo, I put a step forward, slide two steps backward and start over again.
As a long-time student of the trails, I always take consideration of the ones following me, especially those who are not used to walking on a mountainous terrain. If I could not help it, I would rather break off from the main path and start another route. This is how my mind always operate and it is now an inbred habit on my part. Once I reach a good grassy part, it becomes easy on me but my hard breathing unmasks my condition.
I watch the rest though, as they try to keep a good foothold in the mud and they gained slowly up to my level. I am not amused at what I see. I treat every walk on a trail as a serious matter. I always keep a stoic front so horsing around would be limited. Once a member gets hurt, it slows me and exposes me to more problems. I keep a sharp watch on everything and sees to it that all are alright.
As they reached where I stood, I turned my back and face the trail. I reach the old trail but I walk slowly now so the rest could catch up. We all stoop under the now-heavy but quite spiny vines of rattan palms which seem to block the path. Debris had covered again the trail but these off-road Enduro bikers never gave up. They always come back and clear obstacles, even to the extent of hacking the trunks of a threatened forest plant.
We proceed on and pass by a place used as a camp by Filipino guerrillas and, later, by the Japanese. The latter had used this as an almost impregnable redoubt, utilizing the high ground, in the defense of their occupation of Cebu before superior Allied force in 1944. What is left are a complex system of tunnels that had been condemned and closed, stacks of quarried stones and whispers of the wind that may be telling a story. No riders nor recent visitors passed by here because it cannot be seen from the trail.
As we walk on, we came upon another recent camp that had not been used anymore when some parts of the Babag Trail were fenced-off in the late ‘90s. The path is channeled down into a dry stream and up to the ridge by barbed-wire fences. We take rest on this ridge that offered views of both the east coastline and the west valley of the Bonbon River. We did not stay long for it is now getting late.
We arrive at the vicinity of Mount Babag where the trail to Sapangdaku Creek and thence to Napo starts. I see a lot of mud from the lower trail carried by several sets of shoeprints to the dirt road where I stood. I guessed around 20-30 people are going up here, basing on the mass of mud and prints. We begin our descent but I am quite disappointed to see the path smothered flat and looked like a primitive copy of a water slide.
I advised everyone to follow the path I will make and imitate how I move along difficult stretches and they should mark it where. The most basic of trailcraft is to learn and develop your own walking techniques, study the terrain, improve balance, learn to navigate and how to defy gravity. Adroitness and flexibility are qualities that I still possess despite being an old citizen now. I travelled along the rims of this long and winding water slide of a trail and cut in through untried, but safer, grounds.
Meanwhile, I met many locals going to their homes and they were having difficulty even though they know their environment so well. They were muddied up to their knees and I did not saw them at this condition ever since. Except today. Quite nasty! Walk single file on the middle of the trail, even though it is muddy and wet – as people without skills loved to quote it in Leave No Trace. What ignorance and indifference! Would that make you a champion of the environment or a scourge to locals?
Apparently, if you follow that LNT idea I mentioned, you are doing a great disservice to the locals, who have used the trails as a lifeblood to their existence. You are making yourself inconsiderate to them and to other people using the trail if you treat yourself like a blind horse from Duljo. I always thought that people who visit mountains are adventurous and creative. Creative people work around rigid lines and stiff templates, so why walk like a zombie?
I reach the Roble homestead. Justin had kept his distance close to me and so arrived after two minutes. I wait for the others. I begin to imagine how the bulky Jhurds would maneuver on that slippery descent. I stifled a laugh but, at the same time, I am worried. In a group, the rest arrive after 25 minutes. Jhurds and the rest are muddied up to their knees and two of them have muddy seats. Mayo had used his alpine canes and it had helped him stave off gravity.
We take rest. It is now 17:00 and soon it would be dark. We resume our walk in semi-darkness where the glow of LED lights had preserved well my trail mates’ confidence. We arrive at Napo and whisk ourselves away to Guadalupe. It is 18:15 and the rest have had enough of the day so we decide to end the day without much fanfare and set out for our respective routes to home.
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