Tuesday, May 5, 2015


TROPICAL STORM LUIS is hitting landfall today, September 14, 2014, in Luzon, and it had brought great volumes of rain for the past days here in Cebu. It had rained at dawn and I do not mind if it will also rain on my scheduled activity this early morning. I am at Tisa eating bread with coffee and I wait for Bogs Belga, Dominik Sepe and Mark Lepon to arrive. All came early. Very good!

When we had secured ingredients for our noontime meal, we left Katipunan Street and proceed to Riva Ridge Subdivision where there is a road that led to the trailhead of Freedom Trail. Freedom Trail is the route which I had pioneered in 2009 that traverse Tisa Hills, Banawa Hills, some fringes of the Buhisan Watershed Area, Baksan, Arcos Hills, Sapangdaku with terminus at Mount Babag. It was used during Freedom Climb 2009 and again in FC 2010.

I had last used this route in April 2011 (BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN 7: Training the Pulag-bound) during an endurance training for members of Tribu Dumagsa Mountaineers who were preparing for a climb to Mount Pulag. In that hike, we passed by Kilat Spring and Starbucks Hill, before finishing it at Napo. Today, I will follow that route and, hopefully, scale again the fabled Starbucks Hill.

We reach the trailhead. The ground is wet, dews adhered to the blades of strikingly-green green grasses. Overhead are rainclouds while a strong breeze blew in from the southwest. Rain is ominous but I do not mind. In fact, I welcome it. I reach a sentry post and I retrieve my Chipaway Cutlery Bowie knife from my Silangan Predator Z bag so I could open carry it below my waist.

When you are with a Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild activity you can relish that freedom of carrying a knife openly. It is a privilege that might had been denied to you when you are with another set of people but, here in Camp Red, we ensure you that you will enjoy that right. Along the way you will learn what is the wisdom behind the carrying of knives. For that matter, outdoorsmen of tougher character begins to seek our company.

When we had crossed a cleavage, I begin a practical lecture about tracking while walking along the trail. Since we are on hard ground, tracks are invisible and impossible to read but by touching the surfaces of stones, you will know if people pass by here recently or not. There are two different techniques for that: one for the dry season and another one for a rainy day.

I intentionally brought them to a different trail and, forced to find the correct trail, we took an animal trail, hoping we could find a perfect footprint, which we did, on a farm. Seeing a deep imprint, I touched the ground if it is soft or hard. When I found that it is neither, I explained to them about the gender of the foot that made it; the rough estimate of time that the footprint was made; approximate build and height of the owner; and the possibility that the owner is carrying a heavy load or not.

We cross an open field until we come upon Freedom Trail again. Rainclouds are a blessing when taking this trail since it is really warm and sunny here. Then I thought of the many who have planned an activity for today at any place outdoors but decided not to push through because of Typhoon Luis, of this inclement weather, of muddy trails and of getting wet. I sneered at that attitude. Most of these people loved to use the word “adventure”.

I reach the mango tree on a high saddle and I shift to Kilat Trail. I will again be reunited with the natural spring of Kilat. I found this place while hiking and exploring alone in September 2010. Although locals visit here often to source their water needs, it was unknown to conventional hikers until I brought a few here but these returned and brought more of their kind. The natural spring gave them an option to rehydrate and replenish.

Water poured out of the ground when lightning struck the place many years ago. A burnt stump of an antipolo tree (sp. Artocarpus blancoi L.) stands as a mute reminder while a fig tree growing over the hole nurture its sweetness. Today, I met a man while going down there. We exchanged conversations and I was alarmed when he told me that people from the nearby abomination called Monterazzas de Cebu, conducted a survey there.

That could only mean that they aimed to claim the rest of the Banawa Hills and deny people access to Kilat Spring or, for that matter, claim Kilat Spring for themselves. Behind their palaces and mansions is a watershed area that had provided drinking water to the poorest quarters of Metro Cebu. The government should know that developments adjacent to watersheds are regulated, even prohibited, depending upon its vulnerability. I believed I smelled dead rats somewhere in the offices of the DENR and the Cebu City Government.

I reach Kilat Spring and I see people washing their clothes while the children help their parents with the laundry. I gave away my sweet buns to the children while we stayed for a while to boil water for coffee. Dom and I forage dry firewood and natural tinder, which are rare because everything is wet. It does not matter but we have to try and we did make a small fire just enough to boil water good for four people.

Satisfied with our coffee and after filling up our extra bottles, we left the place going by way to the Portal. The trail is excellent and it is thick with vegetation. Beside the trail is a path hacked for a tree planting project. Each stick marks where a young tree is planted. I reach a point on the trail that I came to get lost often. Today I know where I am going. The sticks told me so. Easy!

When I got past that, I pass by the section where upland marsh palms (saksak) grew abundantly. The palms are flowering and in bloom and nobody had harnessed their saps, which would usually pour out from a flower petiole when cut, that can be used as a strong drink (tapuy) or into vinegar. It only shows that some essential primitive-living skills are not anymore available to the present generation. Why not do the harvesting myself? Hmm...why not?

When we reach the Portal, we rest. It is 10:30. I am eyeing Lensa Trail today and it would lead me to Starbucks Hill. I hope. Last time, after I scaled the small peak (BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN 12: Circles), I got lost when I followed a wrong ridge for an exit route and dumped me and the rest instead on a small but suffocatingly-hot valley. Ultimately, I was able to extricate my companions from that place by following a set of scant tracks on a trail-less terrain. That was in April 2012.

Abundance of rain for several months have thickened the vegetation and the trail looks gloomy. I do not fear snakes for snakes are lazy creatures themselves during a cold rainy day. My worry is the soft ground and the harmful plants that grow along the route. The ground is almost covered by thick bushes and long grasses now and I have to pay attention closely of deceiving paths that led you to nowhere but disappointments.

I do not want to waste time going back and forth borne out of overconfidence and reading the wrong path. I need to be sure where I am going. Somewhere along the path is a small palm that marked a fork of a trail. The left branch would lead to Banica Creek while the other would follow the contour of the terrain. I would make it sure that I will not miss the plant. I follow the right route going into a very long bend until I see a mango tree.

Mango trees are quite rare in Buhisan, especially at its wildest parts. We may have to stay here for a while since it is already 11:00, just about right to prepare a meal. Underneath is a rare clearing and almost flat. It had been visited recently by people. I retrieve the pork, my AJF Folding Trivet and my sooth-blackened pots from my bag. Dominik and I forage again dry firewood. We got only a few dry ones.

Dominik begins to slice the pork with his Hemvarnet knife. Bogs and Mark helped him by slicing the other ingredients with their Mora and Seseblades, respectively. I explore the place and some bushes had recently been cut. I secured three long sticks and a vine and brought it back to the resting place. Dom had already started a fire. A pot is placed over the fire iron. It will be used to cook braised pork.

I prop a tripod over it where the bigger pot containing rice would be hanged beside the first. Only one fire will cook our food inside the two pots simultaneously since we do not have plenty of dry firewood. One pot is placed directly above the flame while the heat carried by the breeze will do the cooking of the second pot that is hanged. Bushcraft is like that. Full of improvisations. Quick to adapt to any situation.

We had our lunch at 12:30. Bogs had added a dish of sliced raw cucumber in vinegar to the fray. It is a simple meal. The braised pork is excellently prepared. I believed we had taken many refills that the bottoms of the pots are scraped clean. We have extra water to clean the pots and to boil some for tea. We revived the fire and burn small scraps of garbage and, when finished with that, we thoroughly put it out.

After repacking our things, we resume at 13:20. The trail really is difficult to follow since the time we left the Portal hours ago. It is now covered with so much vegetation. I arrive at another trail fork. One goes down while the other goes up. I remembered I had taken an ascending trail and so I took this trail. A small snake instantly move away upon noticing my presence. I advised everyone to be a alert.

It is a long ascent and I could not believe, after that, I come upon a house with barking dogs. It is not supposed be there or I may have missed a trail again. I see clusters of houses below us and I take a trail instead leading to a nearby ridge. That ridge is good and well covered. One could camp here without being noticed and would have been a perfect place were it not for the nearness of houses. The trail ended abruptly. I look for other paths but found none so I go back to the lone house and then down to the community.

It is a very secluded community and it is the first time I have visited this place. I asked a man for the name of this place and he said it belonged to Baksan. He pointed me to a route going to the road but I have other things in mind. I need to visit again Starbucks Hill and I asked instead another route to the Buhisan, apart from the route that we had just came from. He pointed a path. I gave thanks and we are still in the game.

When I arrive at the branch of a trail, I followed it and it goes on a long stretch of soft ground. I remembered this route now. It pass by a huge rosewood tree, standing straight to the sky, and everyone are amazed when all see it. The soft ground gave us difficult footing. We rely on our hands, grabbing at anything to keep our balance and to keep us from slipping down. We pass by a patch of broken rocks. Loosening one might trigger the whole hillside to slide down so we chose where we step.

It is silent save for the singing of the cicadas. It never rained but drops of moisture from leaves fall from time to time. Our clothes are wet because of that. The path is wet. The ground gave in to weight. It is a very tiring walk. Mark found a rusting empty shell of a Garand rifle and kept it as a souvenir. We persevered until we reach a ridge. The ridge goes down to a saddle. I stood looking at the familiar back of another ridge – Starbucks Hill.

The rest are exhausted and all sat on dead poles like I did. Infront of them is the fabled peak! It is still 14:30. Is this really Starbucks Hill? Dominik, who was in that hike of April 2011 (BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN 7: Training the Pulag-bound), remembered. I do not know, but there is something amiss. I looked around the saddle, at the tamarind trees and at the peak. There is something that I have noticed as odd but I cannot recall what is that.

Anyway, I urge the rest to move because, after that, it would all be ridges that end near a road. I had never expected that there is now a well-used trail leading to the peak nor I had expected to move easily upward. This is something new on Starbucks Hill. I reach the top in less time than I had expected it to be. The breeze is always cool here. It cooled my superheated body and so for the rest.

I need to find that huge tamarind tree where the “coffee bar” is located. When I had visited here the first time (BEBUT’S TRAIL 5: Starbucks Point), I was with Ernie Salomon, Boy Toledo and Glenn Domingo. We brewed coffee here – under that big tamarind tree – and that is why this place is called Starbucks Hill. It is a special place. A good place to rest from the noontime sun for breeze coming in from the sea are plentiful here.

I am very careful now, intending not to be misled just like the last time. My mind says “RIGHT” all the time, always keeping to the rightmost path if ever there are trail forks. I saw none, much more so the “coffee bar”. Strange. I am now following a descending trail and re-tracing it back to the ridge is now daunting since I covered a lot of ground already. I looked for signs. Somebody just left a bundle of freshly-cut fish-tail palm leaves.

I see black seeds of a zingiber plant on the ground. It is not scattered but grouped like a mound. A Malayan palm civet left it long ago as its dropping but it is now very dry and very light. I thought I heard a rustling of dry leaves on the ground. Might be the rest of the guys coming down after me. As I walk down a few meters, something moved far from my right and it created a lot of ruckus. A sizable snake is fleeing away in a frenzy.

The path I took led me to a stream. It is Lensa Creek all right. The one that supplies water to the catchment basin and then to the dam of Buhisan. We have walked very far and I cannot explain why I am again dumped on another exit. I will have to follow the course of the creek upstream instead, intending to reach Camp Damazo thence to Lanipao and Napo, but it is still a long way. It is now 15:15 and too few hours of daylight. Then I saw a shoeprint on a sandbar.

The shoe is threaded. This is interesting. I called everyone to study the print and asked of their opinions. Dom says it is a hiking shoe and it is going upstream. Very well. Let us see if the rest of the tracks just ahead weave a different tale. A woman may have left this considering that it is a narrow shoe and small. About size 7. We found the same tracks but I found one unusual print. The heel dug in deep. It is made by a rubber boot. It is not made by a hiker but by a local and it has a dog for its companion.

While doing all this walking on the streambed, I chose to step on boulders. When we walk on forested ground, I chose the stones and roots instead of stepping on the wet path. I deliberately show them my walking habits even to the extent of going back to a shoeprint I intentionally left and wiping it away. This is done to leave no trace of my passing and from being observed by another person. It is not related to the Leave No Trace, but a skill taught to me by grandpa when I was a kid. Ages before LNT was born.

The stream gave in to forest then stream again. Another set of shoeprints – I mean, bootprints – are discovered by us. It goes downstream. Why? Because a pebble was dislodged from its hole when the foot stepped above it and moved an inch downstream. It belonged to a man. Why? Because it is size 9 and the imprint is deeper than the first set of tracks we saw. Up ahead, I saw the twin logs and I am near. We walk on until we reach Creek Bravo.

Mark and Bogs are now suffering from cramps. Walking on a streambed is very taxing and would stretch some of your leg muscles because you will be using a different set of muscle tissues that is different from those you normally use on a trail. Camp Damazo is on a high ground and it would be difficult for them. We may have to rest more often and they would have to rehydrate more often. It is a slow process going to Camp Damazo and daylight is losing its brightness.

We reach Camp Damazo. We rest again. It is 16:15. Just a little more and we will be on Baksan Road. I walked with Bogs while Dominik accompanied Mark. Our distances lengthened. I reach the road at 17:00 and waited for Dominik and Mark. They came at 17:20. The trail to Lanipao is now easy as it is all downhill. We use LED torches when darkness overtook us. We took cold refreshments at Lanipao at 18:30.

Our last engagement is Napo. We reach it at 19:00. Motorcycles-for-hire whisk us one by one to Guadalupe. Lessons were learned during the hike and these hardy individuals that I am with had came out of that difficulties smarter and better. For me, it was my last tryst into Starbucks Hill by way of Lensa Trail. From hereon, it shall be a “Holy Grail” to any bushman worth his salt who seeks it.

Note: For a purpose, I never document some of my routes with GPS or given grid coordinates and, lacking that, it ups the ante for adventure.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer
Some photos courtesy of Mark Lepon

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