Sunday, June 14, 2015
THE MOUNTAINS ARE SHROUDED with fogs as wisps of lower clouds are hovering over its valleys. On the place where I stood, on the concrete parking area of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, is wet. Today, October 19, 2014, is another Sunday where we at Camp Red Bushcraft and Suvival Guild gets to enjoy our dirt time. It is a time for me to discuss to people about Blend, Adapt and Improvise, which is really part of my e-Book project, ETHICAL BUSHCRAFT.
I believed it had rained hard in the early morning but I had not felt it in my home at MJ Cuenco Avenue for it was dry. Rain had been felt most here in Guadalupe. Much more so at the Babag Mountain Range. Ernie Salomon, Nelson Orozco, Boy Olmedo, Jonathan Apurado, Justin Apurado, Marisol Lepon and Mark Lepon begins to appear by ones and by twos at the assembly place. When we had secured the food ingredients, we leave at 07:30.
The motorcycle-for-hire drivers converging at the back of the church are beginning to be an annoying lot. I see many new faces and they begin to exact higher fares from us. They probably had assumed that we are new to the place and that we do not know the standard fare that locals pay. I do not trust these new faces nor would I place my life in their hands as a passenger. I think they need a good night’s sleep. We rode instead whom we know.
By the time we cross the foot bridge of Napo, the Sapangdaku Creek is robust and clear. I never saw her so sparkling and so alive. Her swirling currents are music to my ears. It is good to listen to her watery melodies. Meanwhile, the trail is wet and very muddy. I am leading. I study the path and choose which way to walk on. I do not want to inconvenience locals with our passing on a route that they had been using for commerce and for their day-to-day chores. I want to leave it as it is.
I shun the trail, once in a while, and pass by alternate routes when I think it is so idiotic to walk there. I do not subscribe to that insipid notion of walking single file on a trail even if it is muddy. I liked to think a lot when I am walking. I am no zombie. I absorb the essence of the place and becomes one with it. It is like entering into your own house and notice things disturbed by another. It is like enjoying the comfort afforded only by a home.
I am always at home among the mountains. My visits here are not superficial nor urged by peers or to be seen in Facebook. Although I post my photos in that social networking site, but it is always five months too late. All Sundays of the month are almost spent in the outdoors to the consternation of the wife. My kids do not mind. They would rather see a healthy dad that do not watch over their backs all the time than one who loved to boss around on a couch.
There is a slight powdery shower but it will be gone for long and then return again. My pace is fast and I leave full shoe prints on the surface. I cannot do about it for now. It will deteriorate when the soil will melt before rain or another pair of shoes will walk over it. To be honest, I cannot identify my own shoe print. I walk back a few steps to take a picture of it to remind me that it is mine.
We reach Lower Kahugan Spring and we take a rest. I fill up my empty water bottle. I take my first sip of water. Two old locals entertained us with their tales. It is good to know them and to be treated as a local. Appreciate it very much. The sky turned dark. I heard a low growl of thunder. Perhaps, another promise of rain. Then, without warning, the sky cleared. Sunlight.
The Kahugan Trail is wet. It is gradually ascending. I look back. The rest are up to the test. No one is lagging behind. We pass by a father and son clearing a path of vegetation. That path goes down to the Busay Lut-od Waterfalls. The splashes of water dropping from a height made a loud noise. Three waterfalls make the narrow valley shudder with resonance. The chapel is now near and soon we will get our rest. At 08:45, we got that.
Dark clouds appear again with low rumbles of thunder. The powdery light rain fell from the sky, cooling down the earth. Slowly, with great care, we go down a brook and into a small mountain community. Few people are around. We follow the trail down into a forest and then to the Upper Sapangdaku Creek. The route goes up into a ridge which I thought would never end. It did end on the last house owned by Vicente Bonghanoy.
He is around and we are quite glad we could take a rest and prepare our meal here. First things first, coffee. Oh coffee, where art thou? I retrieve a pot while Ernie and Jonathan produce alcohol burners and cups to boil water pronto. The rest take a seat to take a good breather. It is good to just sit still and scrutinize the texture of your blade. The knife is the lifeblood that stirs Camp Red people to go outdoors.
Tough men that I knew of in my younger years carry knives. Local men, women and children alike, as they had been and as now, carry bolos. They are not confined to just here but everywhere in the country. Blades are extensionS of the hands to be used as a tool. Without such instruments, tasks would be downright difficult to accomplish with just teeth and fingernails. Bushcraft is a lawful activity. It uses knives just like farmers, veterinarians, butchers, foresters and hunters do. Do not ask me next time why I carry blades.
When coffee is ready, I take two cups. Old men deserve a lot of coffee. It helps to keep in stride with younger legs. It is the best companion of free-spirited men. Nelson, Justin and Mark forage dry, but rare, firewood. Ernie, Jonathan and Boy are in the kitchen preparing the ingredients for our meal. There is water piped from a spring some distance away where Vicente went to fix the line. The blades begins to appear. It slices meat and vegetables; split bamboos; chops firewood; or simply as star attraction of a story.
Such men of Camp Red are like that. They are proud of their blades. To them it is an emblem of their being non-conformist. A badge to segregate real men from sheep or walking meat. Our ladies too. They open carry knives just like their men do. Bushcraft is where you see and test yourself in a real world. We do not go against the environment, like most people do with their expensive gears, but be one with it with less and yet find comfort in it.
By 11:30, the meal is served. Pork sinigang (a tamarind-based soup), swamp radish salad, fried anchovies, chicken flakes with sliced carrots, and raw cucumber in vinegar are the viands. A kilo of milled corn replaces rice as our staple. We start lunch right after the prayer for meals. Hot food just off the fire are wonderful to eat. Camp Red do not teach their people to rely on pre-cooked meals, canned goods and MREs or cooking with MSG and other artificial flavourings. We dine with real food and it is always a feast.
When everyone had settled, I start the lecture. The pioneers of outdoors recreation had coined the ageless outdoor creed of “Leave nothing but footprints...” when too many people begun to discover the outdoors. Reckless enjoyment of the outdoors led to degradation of campsites and streams, which also led to injuries and fatalities. It is just difficult to manage and contain people visiting the outdoors and the natural parks.
Later, the Leave No Trace was adopted by park managers to make people understand better the impact of man on a fragile environment. It is a set of guiding principles which were designed for temperate areas, mountain environments and deserts. The tropics has a different environment but it is better, just as well, if local mountaineers, backpackers, hikers and cavers learn and understand LNT because they tend to visit the mountains in large numbers which is just too much an impact for different ecologies to recover.
Bushcraft activities do not visit high places like mainstream outdoorsmen do but would prefer places below the treeline. Bushcraft people in other countries find LNT very impractical, cumbersome and quite amusing. Here in Cebu, LNT is just a reference in hindsight but we have a set of values so different from that which we had started to adopt. It is the simple principle of Blend, Adapt and Improvise.
Before knowing this bushcraft principle, it is best that our mindsets, which had been conditioned through many years of Western-style education and thought processes learned in university classrooms and corporate environments, be adjusted back to our roots. Back to the days when life was simple with the feet so close to the earth. Back to the days when the cooking fire was fire from firewood. Back to the days when earth and heaven and you were one.
Under the principle of BLEND, is a set of guideposts to teach you how not to stand out of your environment. It starts from the clothes you wear and the gears you have, the odor you carry, shiny objects to hide, enjoying the silence, choosing trails and places to walk for your own safety and security. Blend is just an antithesis to being gregarious, colorful and unknowing. It is taking a step ahead from an unexpected threat which usually come against soft targets like visiting hikers.
ADAPT is the principle by which you take Blend to a higher level. It simply is bringing yourself to be one with the surroundings and to minimize your presence. It describes how to choose a campsite and your shelter, using the wind and the light to your advantage, choosing the best firewood and the size of your fire and to use natural camouflaging against observation and discovery. Security and safety are taken into great consideration here.
The last is IMPROVISE. Since bushcraft is a cerebral activity, this principle teaches you to think, assess and make use of nature to your advantage. It may be studying a trail, ensuring other sources of water, making tools from nature and from things which few thought could be possible, using nature to work for you, carrying it light, and learn stealth. This last principle is for the serious outdoorsmen who takes good care of their back trail.
I know that Blend, Adapt and Improvise place a lot of people off-tangent because it simply goes against the grain of conventional thinking that influences how people should enjoy the outdoors, as in a Western model, and to the way how you choose your clothes and gears, which actually are outcomes of a capitalist market. Blend, Adapt and Improvise creates a level field for everybody regardless of your economic status and makes your outdoors pursuits less complicated.
When I had finished with my discussion, a quick blade porn followed. We give thanks to Vicente for his generosity with regards to the use of his place, of his water and of his stock of firewood that were made to cook our food. We left him our unused sachets of coffee and whatever food ingredients that were not used during cooking. We foraged half-dry wood and place it underneath the crawl space of his house as our replacement for the burnt-out firewood which he says as unnecessary.
But there is one thing that had been bothering me for the past many months. It is the place were he sourced his water. To recall, I had been dying to look for a water source near to that hidden meadow I discovered more than a year ago so it could possibly host a future Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp. He revealed it to me and point me to a hidden route. As if that is not enough, he also revealed to me a route that would take us direct to Napo once we climb up Tagaytay Ridge.
We leave at 13:00 and start for the water source first. It is on the west of us, following the horizontal contour until we reach a pillar of two old hardwood trees, the name of which I cannot determine since the leaves are located 60 feet above us. I cannot believe that such huge trees had survived the onslaught of homesteading, farm clearings and a small charcoal industry. This marks the path to a small mountain brook. I smiled at what I saw.
I cross the small stream and walk to an elevated ground. I see a petrol barrel converted into a water tank. It is full of water, filled by a natural spring channeled by a bamboo trough. The drips are slow and I hope the volume would not change if there is heavy rain or drought. I leave the water source but my mind goes back to the brook. If I could follow it upstream, perhaps, I would find its source, but that would be on another exploration, don’t you think?
We all go back to the main trail and begins to negotiate the route towards the ridge. Above it is Manggapares Trail. The part of the trail had been widened into a dirt road during the start of construction of the steel power pylons in 2012 which connect first from Bocawe. This road had reverted back as a trail as vegetation began to claim back what was theirs. We go down the ridge passing by the fifth, fourth, third and second towers in succession.
This hidden trail that I had been eyeing to explore for a long time is the same trail that Vicente had revealed to me just an hour ago. I let everyone know that we are now in exploration mode so they could prepare themselves of the unexpected. This was like the Manggapares Trail I saw over a year ago when it was not subjected yet to a tree-cutting frenzy. It is so beautiful and so serene. It exudes a mystery all its own.
But this is really part of Manggapares Trail, I now realized, for it tiptoed on the same back of this ridge called Tagaytay. It connects from Babag Ridge, 700 meters or so high, down to the river crossing of Napo, about 180 meters above sea level. This WAS the trail that an earlier generation of hikers walked and climbed on the way to Mount Babag. This is an old trail that I have even passed once in the early ‘90s while I was with my former club.
There are no branch of trail but I found one going left but that would be on another time, perhaps. I found a low knoll on the right that looked like a good covered campsite. It is wide with a faint trail that has lost its luster due to non-use. I walk on the main path which suddenly dip at a steep angle. Walking is now controlled, one step at a time, until I see a farm. I see black PVC pipes and water. They must have water source somewhere near.
We pass by abandoned houses but their doors and windows are open. I see a woman doing laundry but her back is facing us, a group of old folks talking did not notice us and then I step on familiar ground. On my right is the bridge of Napo. I just explored the last half of Manggapares Trail and I am tempted to keep this route to myself and for Camp Red.
But, no, this should be shared. This is perfect training ground for our local fitness buffs gearing to snare honors in national and international competitions. The trail runners would be happy to try this route. As for me, I just keep on exploring, opening up many secrets, and entrenching the whole mountain range as a redoubt when SHTF comes.
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