Monday, June 22, 2015
SEGMENT 1-A OF MY Cebu Highlands Trail Project is the most used route I take whenever I engage people to a cross-country day hike. This route is also used as a requirement for membership into the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. This route then satisfies the adventure adrenaline of most, as a selection hike for a chosen few and torture for someone who had been on this six times.
Today, October 26, 2014, would be my seventh. I do not like to do this all the time for the simple reason that my ancient body could not keep up to the demands of what the brain imposes. Just walking and crossing the Bonbon-Mananga River System twenty-one times for 2-3 hours is enough to feel the pounding of my water-soaked feet to stones that I stepped on and to sand grits lodged inside shoes and socks. The heavier you are, the more pronounced this foreign objects on your feet. I weigh like a pygmy rhinoceros.
But I have to do this. I am a different breed and I possessed a warrior’s grit and spirit. I want to leave a legacy. I want to mold warriors from this pampered generation and then teach them how to deal with pain. Pain is a nuisance but it is a a fact of life. Pain creates character and fortitude. Without it you will always be walking meat. The stretch of this route, which used to start at Lutopan, Toledo City, is mind-boggling to achieve in twelve hours but it is just a state of the mind.
Today’s activity is delayed by “Filipino time” and further delayed by people who still needs to be baby-seated all the time. We leave the assembly area at Citilink, Cebu City at almost seven. We took a public jitney to Tabunok, Talisay City and then procure ingredients for our noontime meal at its public market. Long ago, we used to take a bus bound for Lutopan and you have to be early because the bus took an eternity to reach its destination.
Today we will ride motorcycles for hire. It is not safe but it cuts away travel time. The Manipis Road is still undergoing facelifts caused by recent landslides. There are no steel railings on a lot of stretches and you can feel your soul beginning to break away from your physical body as you cast your eyes downward into the distant river below. Stretches of unpaved road, muddy and wet, causes tire wheels to skid and run on snaky patterns! Shucks.
Jhurds Neo and Nyor Pino, veterans of this route, are the first to go; then the father-and-son tandem of Jonathan and Justin Apurado; then husband-and-wife, Mark and Marisol Lepon; and me, as last man. While the motorcycle I rode took a refill at a gas station, I saw Jingaling Campomanes, in a quandary of looking for missing people, asking locals about us. I cut away her worries by calling her and offered her space on the small 100cc motorcycle. Our entourage now feels like a scene from a popular TV adventure race.
When me and Jingaling arrived at the Sinsin junction of the road, nobody was there. How could Jhurds and Nyor miss this place? I looked, I asked locals and I sent text messages of the missing six. Meanwhile, minutes tick by, further aggravating the itinerary. It is 08:00 and we have a schedule to catch. Fortunately, Jhurds, on the prodding of the driver, called me. We meet them halfway between Sinsin Junction and Odlom. It is 08:25 and I have to brief them so there would be no mistakes this time.
The road from Odlom cant downwards to Buot-Taup, an upland village of Cebu City which is located nearby Bonbon River. My plan does not enter the village center but it takes a detour to a trail going down onto a small tributary which we follow downstream into the bigger Bonbon. I remind everyone to get used to having wet shoes and socks because there are no other ways to get to the other side. Some did not get my message right and tried to be Indiana Jones. Their futility leads to water just the same and a sprained ankle on one.
Streambeds, which you see as flat, hide quarry holes, which you may notice only when you are on its edge. I do not want people walking where they choose and inflict injuries through carelessness and ignorance. I remind them again to walk single file and follow me. When excitement and adrenaline controls your mind, you tend to overlook the finer details of the surroundings. You tend to reject common sense. I remind Nyor to stay at the tail and keep the ears glued to the slightest deviations of the river’s rhythm.
Meanwhile, I grudgingly welcome the walking on water. Personally, I really do not like to thread on streams and I was taught to travel smartly so I could keep my feet dry. Walking on streams exposes you to a lot of dangers. Flashfloods are your main concern. Then your soles soften, exposing you to pain underneath. Stones, whether exposed or underneath, are slippery and you lose balance. But this is the best training ground to increase your outdoors awareness. I am serious when on rivers because I have seen its power many times.
By 10:30, we got past the place where I previously stop to prepare a meal. I think our pace is just too slow. Too many stops along the way to accommodate a limping member caused us precious long minutes. It had been fair weather when we start and I see dark clouds from the east. It does not matter for it only bring rain. What I worry are rainclouds from the west or north. Slight drops of water begins to appear and everyone is worried. I am not but I am quite worried of Jhurds. I need to stop to make coffee on a sandbar.
The water boiled just as Jhurds and Nyor arrived. There is a slight drizzle yet coffee time goes on. Jhurds needed that. Very much. Sitting on a rock made me better. The change in weather cooled the oven-hot streambed. We resume our journey. The slight rain caused water from the Manipis Road to cascade into the river system by way of storm ditches. The water is brown. It joins the Bonbon making it brown but, as time goes by, the great quantity of clear water won over the effuse.
We pass by the fork of the river system where the Bonbon River becomes the Mananga River. The stream becomes wider and becomes dangerous. Additional tributaries increases water volume like the Maraot Creek, where water current come strong, by virtue of its location from a much higher elevation. I evade the place where the Maraot joins the Mananga. Bad memories. With that, the trailhead to Cabatbatan would not be far. It is almost twelve noon and I have to change route: from the river bed to drier ground.
We rest underneath a mango tree at Camp 4, Talisay City. This is the halfway point of our journey. Long ago there used to be a big acacia tree here which gives a better place to rest. It is now gone, cut into pieces for no apparent reason except to cash in on charcoal. We stayed and boiled water for coffee. We needed this. Some of us do not have the luxury of breakfast. Me, I bought two binangkal (English: ball pudding) at Tabunok. I ate the first and would have eaten the second when a Bajau girl appeared asking for alms.
Yes, the coffee would be a big help because Cabatbatan Trail is an unforgiving trail. How many of my party suffered cramps here in the past. I remind all not to keep up with the strong pacers. The weak should walk at their own whims. I tasked Mark to count the number of concrete footpaths. I am leading the pack and I am relentless here. I seldom stop but I have to look back once in a while. I really am concerned of Jhurds, of Nyor, of Jingaling and of Mark.
I met a lone hiker in the middle of this route. He is clad in a trail-running outfit but he is wearing thong sandals. He also has an alpine cane. It is the second time I see such kind here. He came from Pamutan, he says. I told him I came from Sinsin Ridge and will exit to where he came from. But I am challenged by his footwear. It is not threaded and the man is slight of build even though he is tall. He would leave almost no trace on the trail and that is where my excitement is focused. I will look for it and study if I found it.
It is slightly raining again. It would certainly disturb his fresh tracks which would be indiscernible. Beyond a lone tamarind tree, I saw his sandal print. The right foot made a slight indent near the grass. He was travelling light and I did not see another print until I pass by a muddy stretch. Obviously, he is oriented to walking along the middle of the path and he has no knowledge whatsoever of trailcraft. As I was doing that, his alpine pole left a series of perfect holes on the ground.
I reach Maraot Creek and take a rest. Justin and Jonathan arrive not long after. I just bought a Cherry Mobile U2 mobile phone. The manual says it is waterproof, dustproof, shockproof and encased in a floatable material. I tossed the phone on the stream. It hit bottom then it floated to the surface and was carried by the current. I took pictures of this wonderful gadget which had been so true to its packaging. The gear test were witnessed by father and son.
Jingaling and Marisol came after five minutes. Nyor, Mark and Justine after eight minutes. Mark counted 1,860 steps. Very good and thank you. Jhurds seem to be okay but he felt his ankle beginning to swell. It distracts his walking and he favored only one foot. Well, Jhurds, this is not your finest moment. You got to walk, pain or without pain. I cannot babysit you at this stretch of the game. We cross the stream and proceed to Cabatbatan. Yonder is the only store that sell cold drinks between Sinsin Junction and Pamutan Junction – a distance of roughly 15-16 kilometers.
We pass by small plots cleared for farming, a homestead and, on a clear glimpse below, clearwater pools of the Maraot Creek good for swimming and bathing. Small tributaries and ravines are alive with water where before were not. The beautiful banilad tree is still standing but it is threatened by clearing. A part of the trunk is being scraped, maybe used for home medicinal remedies. With my AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife, I freed several young soursop trees (Local: tsiko karabaw) of strangling vines. We reach a headrock of a waterfall and we rest.
A path leads to the store above and we believed we would have those cold refreshments soon. At 14:50 we occupy the benches. I pulled out my blackened pots, rice, storm sandals and a dry T-shirt. Wearing something dry, especially, freeing my feet from its wet stranglehold, improves my well-being. Justin takes care of lighting the fires on a “dirty kitchen” offered for free use to us, to include the stocks of firewood. Jhurds provided a kilo of salmon belly. Soon we will have a hot meal of salmon soup (Local: tinola, towa) and rice.
We eat our meal at around 16:00 and it was very satisfying. A hot meal is essential for a body deprived of heat and energy. I had always been espousing cooking over pre-cooked meals. Even though it eats time but a meal is the most important activity of a human being in a day. In the old days and even today, a man has to hunt or find his meal the hard way before he could eat and there are days when the stomach goes on empty. The opportunity to eat a meal then is a blessing unlike today where it is relegated as a consumer product.
We left Cabatbatan at 16:30 and follow the winding road up to Bocawe. Dusk overtook us. Sinsin Ridge and the rivers that we had passed by hours ago are deluged with spectacular scenes of a sunset and a thunderstorm. Darkness had obliterated the vision of never-ending road rises and that bodes well with our psyche. One of my knees do not take kindly to the walking on concrete pavement, much more so, my feet soles. The roads are abandoned and people here sleep early. It is still 18:00 when we pass Bocawe.
In my group are Justin, Jonathan, Jingaling and Marisol. Unseen from us and far away behind are Nyor, Mark and the limping Jhurds. When the big city lights are in view, the morale of the rest begins to liven up. Smile begins to cross their faces yet they do not know that it is still a long way to go. Jhurds pass us by astride a motorcycle with an even bigger smile. He is finally “rescued” by a willing driver. His safety is my main concern and it is as if a big needle had been removed from my back!
We reach Pamutan Junction at 18:45 and we wait for Nyor and Mark. Meanwhile, Jingaling has to leave. Husband called. She goes when a motorcycle passes by. When Nyor and Mark arrived, we six walk the road down to Baksan and then to the Sapangdaku Spillway. I had to shelve the direct route to Guadalupe offered by Bebut’s Trail as it is quite late and our passing might disturb communities. We will go the long way using the road.
We arrive at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at 20:10. I personally congratulated each for their steadfastness and for braving the pain, the fatigue and a hundred other concerns. We immediately proceed to Napolitano Pizzeria to cool down and to end the activity with discussions over cold glasses of beer. Although we were not able to reduce our ETA nor beat the deadline of 20:00, it is okey because all have enjoyed the walk and there was no untoward incident.
But I have another plan for the future. I have seen a possible route to cut travel time and, maybe, I would utilize bread and coffee as our meals next time.
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