Saturday, July 25, 2015


I GOT TAPPED AGAIN to assist and be involved in yet another humanitarian mission to Guintarcan Island, off the coast of Northern Cebu.  I had been there seven times; four as a local tourist and three more as a relief worker.  So, this would be my eighth trip there.  The Children of the Coast Foundation, for the second time, make use of my familiarity and knowledge of the island today, December 13, 2014.  Aside that, I will do the documentation.

CCF is engaged in philanthropy works that focuses in the betterment of marginalized children, those of which are considered vulnerable.  CCF is working with Wine to Water, a US-based charity organization that specializes in providing potable water to the poorest communities of the world by any means using technology.  The recipient of this mission is the post-Typhoon Ruby (Hagupit) community of Langub.

Supervising this activity is Wine to Water’s international project coordinator, Mr. Brad Ponack, who came here all the way from Cambodia.  Joining us is CCF’s executive director, Ms. Jonnette Alquizola.  A coaster van and a double-cab pickup are loaded from CCF’s depot at Mandaue City and left for Daanbantayan at 05:45.  By 09:30, me and my three crews begin transferring the items from wharf to a small outriggered boat.

The items were 50 pieces Sawyer Bio Bucket Filter, 40 pieces 20-liter water container, 40 pieces 20-liter bucket, 40 kilos rice, 80 sets basic health and hygiene kit and 80 pieces towel.  Mr. Ponack came along for a ride together with two of the crews while Ms. Alquizola opt to stay behind and utilize the remaining crew to help her distribute the other items not loaded into the boat to a community in San Remigio.  

Typhoon Ruby did not intensify into a super typhoon as was forecast but it stayed for four days in the Visayas region bringing rain and storm surges of 3 to 5 meters high which threaten shoreline communities and small islands.  As we cross the Bantayan Channel, swells of up to one meter threaten our small boat brought on by another weather disturbance approaching the islands.  We reach the village of Langub at 10:40 and, immediately, we transfer the items straight into the home of the village chairman, Mr. Rolando Villacarlos.

Mr. Villacarlos welcomed us and showed us his rain-impounding system installed on his house after Mr. Ponack inquired of how they source fresh-water.  This system is common in most households but is not altogether reliable owing to the need of frequent rainfalls as a source of drinking water to support a family the whole year round.  Then you have hygiene issues.  Impounded rain would have to be boiled or filtered for it to be potable.  Boiling needs heat which a private power plant supplies electricity for just a few hours only which is costly.

After Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), several relief agencies and non-government organizations donated different water filter systems to improve the living conditions of Guintarcan residents.  Mr. Villacarlos showed one such type, which is a Korean-made ceramic-type filter.  It is well-maintained but the lack of replacements for the filter elements have hounded the other households to condemn it and utilize it for other uses instead.  

We had observed that relief agencies/NGOs had not bothered about the filters that they had donated and left it to the fate of the locals or that it had not been their priority.  Actually, the supply of filters are available in the big cities like Cebu and Manila and it is just that the residents are not knowledgeable of its availability or that the filter replacements are expensive.  But the big obstacle is maintenance.  The residents just lacked the know-how in the care of their filters.

We learned also that a private enterprise located on the island are supplying households of drinkable water.  The water is sourced from a deep well in the middle of the island and pumped to the surface and converted from brackish to fresh water by reverse osmosis.  A 5-liter container costs 35 pesos but not everyone have cash to buy one bottle to last for a week.  So we looked instead to some residents who really are vulnerable for which Mr. Villacarlos is now tasking himself to produce with a list.

Meanwhile, we decide to check on the lone public school of Langub.  We talked to one teacher and we were informed that there are a total of 344 students in seven different grade levels.  The school has two modern rain-impounding systems which were built and donated by Mercy Corps and each classroom is equipped with a Sawyer filter system each given by the All-terrain Medical Relief Organization.  Almost all filters are working but a few had worked below its expectation.  This is caused by lack of knowledge.

Mr. Ponack fixed one existing filter system and added another better system for the Grade 4 Classroom.  For good measure, Wine to Water donated a total of seven Sawyer Bio Bucket Filters to the Langub Elementary School to bring to a total of 14 filter systems or two filters each per classroom.  The present system is an improvement of the existing which only utilized a plastic jerry.  This time, Mr. Ponack ensures the students have a stock of enough water by attaching the filter to a bucket with a lid and its flow of clean water going into a jerry.

Before leaving the school, we gave the Grade 4 teacher 56 sets of hygiene and health kits for her 56 students.  When we got back to Mr. Villacarlos’ residence, we were feted to a lunch of freshly-caught fish, grilled on charcoal, to add to our packed meals of fried chicken, spring rolls and rice.  It is 13:10 but Mr. Ponack have a lot of work to do.  He has to attach the rest of the Sawyer filters plastic jerries and buckets and he has two of the crews to help him as I will do a little exploring.

I found four rowhouses of 10 units each which gave shelter to the households that was displaced by Typhoon Yolanda.  The vegetation had recovered well and youths are playing basketball on a concrete court.  I walk past houses whose concrete floors are half-covered with white sand.  I understand a strong storm surge had caused sand erosion from the seabed into the shoreline and into the main road of this side of Guintarcan.  Langub had bore the brunt of Typhoon Ruby on the island.

I visit Judith Illustrisimo, who had hosted me during my first relief mission here last year together with the crews of the Death Valley Expeditionary Corps, a US-based humanitarian aid group composed of private security and military contractors.  She is selling fresh fish for me – cheap – and I ordered two kilos, for which she gave me more than that for 200 pesos.  I gave thanks and said goodbye and went back to where I came from, passing by the road.

On the way, I saw a white steel box.  I came nearer and I discovered a small solar-powered desalination plant.  This was donated by the Italian contingent of Oxfam just this year.  It gets its water from a very deep hole in the ground, pumped to the surface by clean renewable energy supplied by photovoltaic panels and by wind vanes.  Ultraviolet tubes cleans the water of impurities and bacteria before it pours out of the taps.  Ingenious.

By now, people are beginning to converge at the house of the village head.  Mr. Ponack and the crew are almost finished with the assembly of the water-filter systems.  Joseph Rojo, one of the crew, begins to explain to the residents in plain Cebuano dialect, how and when to clean the filters.  Then we delegate the distribution of all the relief items to Mr. Villacarlos.  

It had started to rain when we left the island at 15:00 and boarded the small boat back to the mainland.  We encountered slightly rough seas in the middle of the Bantayan Channel but I am undaunted.  The boat touched base at 16:00 and, immediately, we left the wharf for Mandaue City. 

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Wednesday, July 15, 2015


IN THE COURSE OF MY outdoor activities, it cannot be denied that people would ask and wish they could join me. I am very gracious when it comes to that but I cannot accommodate all since I find most of my weekend time focused on the development of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. Another reason is that I am a bit choosy now of the kind of people I welcome.

I would be very happy to bring people to the seldom-known places that I frequent but, at the same time, I have second thoughts. The main cause for that is these people I bring are bound to abuse this privilege. I would always assume that everyone understood fully about the Leave No Trace principles, especially those that professed to be “mountaineers”, but, on the contrary, they use their “new discovery” as an opportunity to promote themselves and gain a profit from the very people they invite. The more people coming, the better the profit, is it not?

Wrong! The more people coming, the more you get to disturb these pristine places and the higher the chances of accidents. People would only follow LNT when somebody is watching and when there is a profit to gain they do not care. That is why I found LNT amusing and cumbersome since the very people who are supposed to promote it, even to the extent of quarrelling and threatening other people over it, are the ones who are likely bound to discard it.

LNT is taken advantaged of by the outdoors-gear industry and the people that thrive in it like travel agencies and income-driven individuals that they used the logo as part of their corporate symbol and a tool to gain profits. I do not follow LNT because I found it shameful to be associated with these people but I respect its intent and I believe it will give the uninitiated the proper knowledge and guidance when in the outdoors and on their everyday life.

Let me remind all that you cannot, and never could, impose LNT on everyone and that includes me. If you think it is a rule, suit yourself, for you are only exposing your ignorance and naivete. Do not worry. For the many times that I have been invited in a mainstream activity, I would always show courtesy to the crowd and blend in with the activity as if I know my LNT well. That is flexibility for you. I hope you have it also.

On the other hand, I would always inform people that had been fortunate enough to tag along with me about my methods else they might find it revolting. I do not want to give an impression that what I do is conventional and ordinary like everyone is doing. When you are with me, you will act like real outdoorsmen. You will appreciate silence and nature to the very core. You will learn a lot aside from doing all your “jump shots”.

That is what is happening today, November 30, 2014, when I answered a request by four guys who worked in a business process outsourcing company to join me. They name their informal group as Takoy Outdoor Club and one member looks familiar. He looks like my eldest son. Anyway, I demand that we should leave by 06:30, which we did. I place great emphasis on punctuality from hereon and I do not want somebody derailing my itinerary again.

We hit the trail once I gave them an on-site briefing at Napo. Our route is the “Rosary Loop” which consists of the Napo Main Trail, Manggapares Trail, Liboron Trail, Babag Ridge Trail and the East Ridge Pass. It had been raining for the past two days and two nights and the ground is wet and muddy. Today, it had not, although, I expect heavy rains caused by an approaching weather disturbance.

Running parallel to our activity is a patented dirt time by members of Camp Red. They will be passing the same Manggapares Trail later. However, they would start at 10:00. I found the trail undisturbed yet by footprints made by yuppies. The sky is gloomy with a high chance of precipitation. I inform everyone the proper name of the river below the trail. It is important that correct names of places be known to everyone so you would not look stupid by giving it another name in Facebook which a lot of people unintentionally do.

We reach the trailhead to Tagaytay Ridge at 07:10. I told everyone that we are too fast. We may suffer for that when the terrain becomes steep since we did not stretch our muscles prior to walking. It could be muscle cramps, overfatigue or loss of body heat. It is important that they know this. Now they understand why you have to control your pace. The path to Manggapares is thick with weeds and I regret I did not open carry my AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife yet.

It is 07:30 when we we arrive at the first steel pylon. I take the time of rest by retrieving the AJF Gahum from my Silangan Predator Z tri-zip sack. I talk about the history of this trail and how I re-discovered it. I could see the adrenaline of the four beginning to show for the reason that they had been yearning to explore for themselves of this place which they only heard as the “Six Towers Trail”. They are now on the threshold of it and they will not regret their luck today for they will see and learn more.

Going to the second tower, I show them an edible snail. This is a snail that lives on trees and it is abundant here. We push on down to a saddle, cleared some vegetation with the knife, and up again until we arrive at 07:50. The guys are exhausted but desiring for more. We did not tarry and proceed to the third one, which we reach at 08:00. Along the way, I showed them fruit trees which are free for picking like I did with a pomelo (Sp. Hystrix grandis). The view from up here is just too stunning for the four. They are now smiling.

They begin to appreciate the beautiful trail that lead to the fourth tower. We reach it at 08:15 and I inform them that we are now walking on a dirt road. They are confused since they only see a trail but, up ahead, they saw an abandoned payloader. They are now beginning to make sense in everything I talked about. The fifth pylon is easy to reach and we got underneath it at 08:25. They are now staring at the sixth.

I shift to another trail and the sixth power pylon faded from view. I am onto a path that is very difficult as it is very challenging which make passage of the sixth tower unnecessary. This is the Liboron Trail and it had returned to a condition when I first walked here. Rains caused the softening of the ground and my footing slip time and time again despite my effort not to ruin the path. It was for this reason that I insist that everybody should wear shoes.

I point to the place where I fell six meters and everyone are now very careful. After that very tiring walk, we rest at a saddle and enjoying the chance to drink water. I teach them water discipline since they swallow a lot of water. When we think it is alright to proceed, we shoulder our bags and walk up a hill. I tell them the story of my encounter with a grass owl as we pass by a field of cogon grass.

We go down into another saddle where bamboo poles fell during the recent typhoon called “Queenie” and blocked the path. I crawled underneath and the rest followed. A barbed-wire fence is another obstacle that we have to go over. Fortunately, a path had been cleared between it and another grove of spiny bamboo. I pass by between it but I advised the rest to watch out for the spines which might catch their eyes.

We walk on, crossing a small brook and climb another hill where the Caburnay homestead is located. Barking dogs greeted our arrival as Julian Caburnay welcomed me and my companions. I showed the guys the water source and I begin to boil water for coffee with a butane stove. Leaving that, I went out of the homestead to gather dry firewood and kindling. It is hard to find dry wood but I am able to bring back partly-moist small branches, old banana leaves and cloth-like coconut fibers called “guinit”.

I drink my share of the coffee. I found a cord from my bag and begin to make a tripod where the cook pot will be hanged over a fire. Once done, I cut a whole leaf from a giant taro and laid it on the wet ground. I break the small branches and arrange it over the leaf. With my William Rodgers Bushcraft knife, I shave some wood and made several feather sticks. I remove bark from the bigger wood and split it so it could air out moisture.

I crumple the guinit and the leaves into a tight bunch and rub it with my hands until it begins to break in small pieces as friction warmed it a bit. I place the kindling above the fire nest. I retrieve a black hair-like kindling from my fire kit and place it underneath the nest. I struck a single match and the material caught the flame and it spread rapidly. Thick smoke begins to show from the coconut-and-banana material as heat begins to wick it of moisture.

Everyone watched of how I prepared the fireplace in such a different way from what they had known; of the careful way of how I made the firewood and the kindling ready prior to the introduction of fire. When fingers of flame begins to consume the smaller wood, I place more twigs over it and I start to measure rice into a pot and then pour water. I hang the pot over the fire, adjusting the tripod so the bottom of the pot touches the fire. They watch and feed the fire while I get busy with the pork meat.

Julian gave us ripe bananas to munch on. It is organically grown and it is very sweet. Meanwhile, the guys look over the dragonfruit plant and the different ornamental plants that Julian had been growing here. The sky remained gloomy and it is our lucky day that it had not rained. When the rice got cooked, I hanged another pot over the fire. I pour cooking oil then saute crushed garlic and sliced onions. Later, I added sliced green pepper to the fray and finally the meat. I pour soy sauce and waited for it to boil.

As we were in the middle of the cooking, a lone hawk whistled. It circled above us. We continue our cooking when it disappeared from view. I let one of the guys improve the taste with just salt and then I add basil to enhance aroma. Now, time to enjoy that well-deserved meal served hot in a real boodle-fight location. The food was wiped out clean from the banana leaves and just a few morsels for the dog. However, I made it sure that Julian has a fair share, including uncooked rice and canned goods I brought specially for him.

Before saying goodbye to Julian, I show the guys how a basil herb looks like. Beside the basil, is a miniature guava tree with small fruits. They were just amazed at these discoveries and hoped to come back again. I brief them again of the remainder of our journey. We walk up to a ridge and the guys gets a good view of the wide landscape again. The trail now is thick with vegetation so I let the knife work – again.

Branches fell during the typhoon and it littered the trail as well. It is hard work but I love it. The knife cuts efficiently and, when there is nothing to cut, I return it to the sheath; then I start again and again until I reach the Babag Ridge Trail. I let them know that this is an old trail that I had used as training ground in the early ‘90s. It is a trail I lose track of when I laid low from climbing mountains and re-discovered it just more than a year ago.

They were all amazed at the wrist-thick rattan trunks that cross the trail. I also let them know that this trail is frequently used by off-road Enduro riders on weekends. Up ahead the trail would be fenced and we would make a long detour. Property owners had blocked access to motorcycles but these had not stopped. Some trees had fell, blocking the path, but we manage to go over it. I scan the upper part of the forest to see if there are hazards above.

We pass by the place where there is a cave. The path going there had been destroyed by the typhoon and we were not able to climb up to that higher ridge. So, I just told them that it was used by the Japanese as a defensive camp during World War II. We walk on and pass by a tunnel entrance that was blocked by logs. I told them that this is just one of many that the Japanese had constructed. I pointed to them the place that I referred to as the “last wild place”. I pick up a broken branch and remove Spanish moss. Future tinder.

We stop at a saddle and, there, the guys fell in love with the view of the Bonbon River Valley. This vantage do mesmerize a lot of people for it expands their adventurous spirits when gazing at the far wide-open spaces. One of them asked if I leave trailsigns. Good timing of question. I do not frequently leave signs unless it is for a last resort. I showed them my only trailsign on this whole route which, coincidentally, is located just a few meters away.

The route passed by along fences down into a dry brook and up into a different ridge, crossing it, down into a saddle and up to the Babag Ridge. Winded, we rest on a bench. A dirt road leads to the “tower area” where the highest peak- Mount Babag (752 meters) – is located. There is a trail going down - the East Ridge Pass - which lead to the Roble homestead, which we reach at 14:00. The guys are happy to get a respite from that downhill knee killer

After drinking green coconut water, the guys climbed the tree house and took rest there while I take time to talk with Fele and Tonia Roble. The children Manwel, Juliet and Josel are here too. They cook wild sweet potato for me and I munch on it. I will bring some for home and this is the kind that my wife loves best. We leave the Roble family at 15:00 for Sapangdaku Creek. We reach the stream and walk back to Napo. I notice six sets of shoe prints, to include a female, and it had already disintegrated due to contamination of other footprints made by locals.

We ride motorcycles-for-hire at Napo for Guadalupe. We transfer to the new watering hole, the Bikeyard Cafe. It is still 16:00. We had walked fast and one of my knees suffered. It is numb. But we are on safe ground now with plenty of cold bottles of beer on a bucket full of ice to curb dehydration. I just taught real-world education to these guys which they cannot find in LNT-laced activities.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

COMPLEAT BUSHCRAFT XIX: Basic Firearms Training

I DO NOT DISCOUNT the prospect of an invasion by troops of the People’s Republic of China to our shores in the future caused by our country’s defiant stance against them on their claims of the whole of the Spratly Islands Archipelago and on Scarborough Shoal. I never trust this Asian neighbor, who had never abandoned socialism despite enjoying economic windfall by embracing capitalism. It had demonstrated its assertiveness against other nations that have conflicting claims with them like India, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

The last time we were invaded by an Asian power was in World War II. Although not our conflict, the Americans stood by us and fought with us against the military might of the Japanese Empire because they were here and we were their territory then. We were prepared at that time, as the Americans took care of the early warning systems, war materiel, logistics, troops, air support and firepower but, still, we and the Americans lost at Bataan.

The Americans are not around anymore and the Armed Forces of the Philippines is a puny force compared to the People’s Liberation Army. We could not stand toe-to-toe against the Chinese in more than two days of conventional warfare. We do not have a strong navy and our air defense is full of air with no force. Our best war assets are our ground troops which is still the most experienced in Asia but that is just all about it. We will be facing a million-strong army, come to think of that. An elephant against a shrew.

We cannot rely on that Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951 with the Americans as they themselves are an economic slave of the Chinese. The PROC owns majority of stocks of the big banks in the US of which the US government has outstanding debts. When these banks freezes funds belonging to the US government, defense and federal spending would be a very big problem for them. It is best that Filipinos should rely only among themselves.

Conflicts would bring out the best in us Filipinos but we do not hope and pray that it will come to our shores. When the Americans came to colonize our country after the Spanish-American War of 1898, they found the Filipinos already united and enjoying the euphoria of helping to end the 333-year Spanish occupation. The American forces did not expect to be held off by hundreds of bolo-and-stick-wielding Filipino warriors in savage jungle warfare and changed their tactics to subjugate the natives.

When the Japanese came, they swallowed more than what they could chew. Filipinos who survived Bataan and Corregidor, withdrew or escaped and regrouped, formed small units and employed guerrilla tactics on the invaders. It is not a secret that the beginning of the defeat of the Japanese campaign in the Pacific War Theatre started right here in Cebu with the recovery of their War Plan Z. The native blades made the Filipinos lethal but possession and mastery of the firearms increased their lethality.

Because of the Chinese threat, I shed off my liberal tendencies and my advocacy of a gunless society by teaching people about Gun Safety and Firearms Proficiency Training starting in 2010. My skills in firearms are just average but I have a wealth of unconventional training and experience which cannot be taught to civilians. I teach what is only prescribed at their level. Just the basic stuff.

I have a handful of people with me on this oppressively hot day of November 23, 2014. I am leading the Apurado family, father Jonathan and sons Justin and Jon Daniel, up a trail to an undisclosed firing range in the south of Cebu. Some of the participants that are not with us may have arrived at the designated area since they rode in a private vehicle driven by Jerome Tibon. They are Nelson Orozco, Dominic Sepe and the couple Mark and Marisol Lepon.

Me, together with the Apurados, opt to ride a bus and so we walked. I could have ridden that car since I am the organizer and, believe me, when you are organizing this kind of activity, you get to earn a good income, as I have done so for other people. I could have packaged this as a group or I could price it individually. It depends. But I choose to give it for free. I am a little bit crazy. Perhaps, but I am not a creature of greed. And I do not like the behaviour of China.

Glenn Pestaño had scouted the range a day ahead of us and may have had prepared the most important tool for this occasion: a handgun that could fire caliber .22 bullets. Yes, I insisted on a low-powered ammunition since this will be done under the radar. The higher the caliber, the noisier it gets. With a caliber .22 LR ammo, people would take it as a pre-Christmas reverie of exploding firecrackers, as was, and is, practiced in the Philippines. Besides that, caliber .22 LR ammo are cheap and firing is a very expensive activity, is it not?

Me and the Apurados arrive at the site. Glenn met us and there is no sign of the people riding in the car. It is almost 10:00. Why are they delayed? They should have been here hours ahead of us since we commuted and walked. I could have started any minute now if the others would have been already here or earlier if some people would have been punctual. After a long wait – at around 10:45 – they arrive. Someone who did not arrive at the assembly area preferred to be whisked from his home and delayed the car further when this someone was unprepared.

I do not like people taking hostage of my itinerary. The ETD says 06:00 but some people do not take this seriously despite being contacted by mobile phone – a wondrous gadget that is supposed to give you instant messages and replies in real time. I kept my cool and marked this day where my patience is strained and promised myself to leave people behind if they failed to come on time on the next activity. No more time extensions. No more superstar attitudes.

Anyway, we all decide to boil water and drink coffee first before I start the lecture on Gun Safety. A few individuals may have taken this same seminar but I inform them that it is best to be refreshed and learn a different interpretation from another to broaden their knowledge. For the first timers, it is a personal adventure. This is the same program of instructions when I started teaching people again how and it come as follows:


After the first part of the lecture is finished, the cooking fire is quickly resuscitated. The big pot for the rice is immediately hanged from a tripod as a frying pan quickly appear to start the cooking of the chicken adobo. Another fire is made and a trio of stones are produced to accommodate the frying pan. One more fire is made to make embers while a thick-gauge GI wire is foraged and converted into an impromptu iron grill. This would accommodate a yellow fin tuna which Jerome bought at a Carcar market.

The last viand to get cooked is the mussel soup. We take our well-prepared hot meal at 13:30. In a matter of minutes we will start the firing practicals. Glenn had produced a French-made caliber .22 LR semi-auto pistol that had seen better days. Magazine release is located at the heel of the grip. The safety button doubles as a slide stop if you just twist it 180 degrees. The slide design shows an exposed barrel. It is an old gun and I suspect mechanical parts may cause malfunctions.

We transfer to a new location where the backyard firing range is located. It is underneath a copse of mangoes, the ground leveled. The excess earth are used as a bullet dampener. It is about six feet high and six feet wide. Two bamboo poles are planted on the front and is now securing the classical target cardboard. Meanwhile, I provided an eye protector and an ear muff as safety gears. I will be supervising the firers one by one as they take their turn.

Twenty-five rounds are allocated to each firer who would shoot the target on four different positions at 10 meters like Standing Strong Hand, Kneeling, Seating and Prone and another at 5 meters for Standing Weak Hand. Those who provided themselves ammunition were able to fire. After the smoke had settled, Justin spread 17 aces out of 25 tries and topped the shoot-out with 97 points. Mark came next with 92 points, Glenn at 80 points, Jonathan with 47 points and Jon Daniel with 37 points. Nelson and Marisol got tied at 24 points but Nelson got the sixth spot for hitting 3 aces to Marisol’s one.

We leave at 16:30 for the lowlands. The Apurados, and me will walk the path were we had taken in the morning while the rest will ride the car. My group, now joined by Glenn, reach the highway at 17:45 and we wait for a bus that would accommodate us which is rare. We were able to catch one but we stood along the aisle from here to Cebu City. I am able to sit down at the vicinity of Basak but it was a very welcome rest, nonetheless. The one who delayed the activity, on the other hand, is very comfortable on a seamless car ride.

The firearms training had exposed the participants to the standards of proper gun safety and lessened their anxiety about guns through firing familiarization and adjustment to the initial shock of an explosion and a recoil. This is just a simple training but it had opened to the participants a good understanding of a firearm that would lead to a safer environment. One more thing, the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild is not a militia organization and I am not organizing a local militia unit. Against the PROC? Why not?

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

NAPO TO BABAG LXXXV: A Tracking Lecture and a Try on Retro

THE GUYS ARE TALKING about a retro outdoors activity and, for that matter, I came to the assembly area in Guadalupe today, November 9, 2014, in my most retro-iffic attire. I wore faded jeans, a Ralph Lauren blue plaid shirt, a Henschel leather brimmed hat, a leather belt and my Lifeguard USA rucksack. I make it sure that I have the William Rodgers bush knife with me as well as my good old tomahawk.

Not all were doing a retro though and they looked so corporate. They did not live up to the spirit of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and refused to be unconventional. On the other hand, the couple Mark and Marisol Lepon, not yet full-pledged members, were in their ‘70s inspired clothes and old-school bags. Glenn Pestaño arrived like John Rambo. He is wearing faded jeans tucked into combat boots, a Vietnam-era jacket and a Ray-Ban Aviator glasses.

We leave Guadalupe at 07:30 after procuring the ingredients for our noon-time meal on the mountains. A full kilo of chicken meat and some ingredients were provided by Jerome Tibon, who graciously declined to join our activity because it is his daughter’s birthday. We wished him and his daughter well and gave thanks for sharing his “party food”. Completing the cast are corporate-looking people like Jhurds Neo, Nelson Orozco, Ernie Salomon and Dominik Sepe with a guest.

It is a cool morning. The northeast monsoon winds bring a semblance of the cooler air from the north temperate zone. No massive clouds appeared but just wisps of it which float like stretched cottonballs. We will aim for the Roble homestead and I walk slow. I am wearing jeans and it would not be good to develop a rash on the inner thighs. I am also thinking of the guys who had the same attire as me.

The trail is hard-packed now, as rains had not been consistent for the last week but the river is laughing like a care-free damsel. I checked everything on the trail, the details on the ground, the sounds of the periphery, people, activities, birds and insects, vegetation and, of course, my backtrail. Although my pace is deliberately slow, I did not stop to rest. When I do stop, it was to accommodate the locals the priority of using their routes, but it was just a few seconds.

We cross again the Sapangdaku Creek and I finally stopped to fill my empty water bottle and to wait for the last man, which that honor belonged to Glenn. Glenn, although interested to spend a lot of time at the outdoors, but his body does not think so. He is overweight, lacks the flexibility and his stamina is suspect. I let him be for this occasion for the environment that we are trudging on to is controlled to our liking and familiarity.

When all are counted in, we take on the ascending trail of the eastern ridge of the Babag Mountain Ridge. Although the sun is making its presence felt, the tree cover deny a lot of it to tire me out and the rest. We take it slow, afraid to tear our aging jeans. On a few occasions, I had to shoulder a knee, high enough, so a foot could have a hold on a waist-high step of a path. As I watch my backtrail, people disappear from my view except Marisol.

I reach the Roble homestead at 09:50 and would have been glad of the benches under the cool shades when I noticed a local youth sitting on one of the bench with an agitated Tonia Roble attending to the boy. I see a 4-inch cut on his scalp. The wound shows a glimpse of his skull and I regret this day that I did not bring my trauma kit with me. Nevertheless, I asked the details of the accident so I could ascertain the extent of his injury. The boy is in a terrible state of shock.

I wait for the others. Five minutes later, Nelson and Dominik arrived. Nelson has a semblance of his first-aid kit with him. Our presence somewhat assured the boy of his present plight. To him we are HELP. Immediately, Dominik cleaned the skin around the wound with betadine and place a gauze pad on the wound. A roll of bandage is wrapped around the boy’s head and secured with adhesive strips. I request Jhurds to contact JB Albano and Eli Bryn Tambiga, both registered nurses with Camp Red.

A bandanna is added by Dominik over the boy’s head to protect the wound from direct sunlight. I immediately advised the boy’s father to get him down to Guadalupe. I asked Manwel Roble to accompany them. I get to talk to JB over the phone and requested him also to meet Manwel and the wounded boy in Guadalupe and facilitate him to a government hospital. I also asked Eli to coordinate with JB, just in case, when the hospital would need blood. Eli is with the Red Cross. Jhurds and I provide a little cash for his immediate need.

Finally, Manwel and the boy’s father got their acts together and walk the injured boy down the trail. It would not be easy, but I hope they could make the journey easier by catching a rare motorcycle on a trail. Slowly, I get the chicken meat from my bag and pass it in the care of Ernie. I get my set of blackened pots and make it ready for cooking. Somebody just said “coffee”, so I get my William Rodgers knife and walk up the trail to forage sticks for a tripod and some dry twigs to start a fire.

Jhurds set up the fireplace and the tripod while I break the twigs into very fine kindling. He gave the honor to Mark of starting the fire with a ferro rod. I provide him with a dry Spanish moss as tinder. The moss caught a spark and it begins to smoke. Mark blow it alive but wrong arrangement of firewood and kindling caused the small flame to die. Mark rearrange the fireplace and starts again with jute fiber. This time there is no stopping the fire. A pot of water is hanged from the tripod.

Nelson begins to chop a piece of log. My William Rodgers splits firewood, too big for its design, but it had accomplished it well. It is just a matter of using the head to get it done along with a generous amount of strength. Bushcraft is never for the corporate kind because it uses hard labor which caused the callousing of the hands which I have had since the time I get to learn how to use a knife on wood and that was some 40 years back.

There were lots of instant coffee, the 3-in-1 kind, and it matters very much to a thirsty individual tormented by the sun and by an unconventional location. Ernie begins to sautee garlic and onion on another fireplace and the familiar sweet aroma hanged in the air where it teases our stomachs to squirm against the brain. The brain ignores it as the tasks need immediate attention except for Glenn. He goes hungry and finding none to eat he burrows into his own world and starts sewing his rucksack.

A group of five hikers – three male and two female – arrived and sat on the farthest bench underneath the mango tree. Tonia provided them green coconuts. They take rest before engaging again the trail to Mount Babag. A group of another three male and three female hikers arrived and the first group left so the newcomers could occupy the bench. An all-women group arrived after them and the earlier one shared the bench with them. They are in their own company while we have ours to enjoy to ourselves. They ate on their prepared meals and they enjoyed the green coconuts.

When Ernie finished with the chicken curry, he begins to work on the Bicol express, a local dish using great quantities of pepper washed with coconut milk. Two pots are hanged over the fire for the rice. After Nelson fried dried anchovies, the meal is set under a hut. Jhurds lead the prayer before meals and everyone take a shot of heaven. Hot meals are always superb and who does not want their food hot, huh? More refills and the curry is decimated. We keep some of the Bicol express for the Roble family.

When all have settled, I begin the lecture on Trailcraft. This is something you do when you are on a trail. It could be walking techniques, places to rest, navigation, trail signs and trailsigns, observation, stalking, plant ID and tracking. But, today, I will talk about Basic Tracking Theories. I learned a little about tracking because I had a wise teacher. That was when I was six until I am nine. Learning tracking is an evolving process and cannot be learned in a day or a week or months. It takes years of your whole adult life.

I tried to think, at first, the ways which my grandfather had taught me, but it is quite cumbersome to teach it to others who do not possess the mindsets of an indigene and I clamber up the Internet hoping I could get a conventional source that suits well with their being city-bred. I used some ideas by John Hurth, from his e-book titled Combat Tracking. It is a good book, but being a book and without a teacher to interpret and guide you, it will just remain a book or a fiction novel even.

Before I start, I remind everyone that you cannot absorb tracking if your mindset is very conventional, a mindset that had been conditioned since your learning age up to present by conventional education, where thought processes are nurtured inside university classrooms and in corporate environments. What you retrieve from your memory is very crucial later on as you progress to develop your tracking skills. This is not taught in classrooms but it is learned by switching on nature to work for you.

First things first, light is very essential. You do not look for tracks in the dark but in daytime. There are certain hours of the day that a footprint or a mere blemish on a ground is very visible. You have to understand the tale of the shadows. The longer the shadows, the better the visibility. If you are in dim-light conditions like a thick stand of forest or jungle, you may use a flashlight. A mirror or a light-colored cloth will also suffice for it will bounce off light onto a suspected sign.

When looking for signs, you start at places where a footprint would likely be seen like muddy spots, soft patches of ground, slopes, streams, sandy areas, dusty roads and on tight places where movement is channelled. Signs could also mean man-made materials left behind or disturbance of everything where a quarry would likely pass. A quarry could either be human or an animal.

According to John Hurth, you should check for ground indicators. Regularity is one. These are impressions not found in nature. A print of a shoe or a perfect hole made by a cane stands out. Flattening is next. It creates a contrast with the surroundings. A foot creates this during a walk as well as the buttocks when someone is squatting. Then you have transferring. The walking sometimes transfers one material from one place onto another which makes it odd like a splash of water on a dry boulder or mud on a sandbar.

Color change is another. You create a difference in color or texture from the rest of the surroundings especially when you trudge on grassy areas. Next is disturbance. Passage causes alteration, movement or re-arrangement of objects from its natural state. These are prevalent on small stones, blades of grass and low-crawling vines. Then last is litter. These are items that are left intentionally or unintentionally.

As there are ground indicators, there are also aerial indicators. These are objects disturbed by a quarry above the height of the ankle. These might be leaves, branches, trunks, vines, boulders or cobwebs. Then there are body discharge which humans usually leave like sweat, blood, saliva, urine and feces. If it is an animal, you might add fur, scales and musk. Non-visual indicators are felt by the senses of hearing and smell. The ears detect unnatural sound while the nose home in on familiar odors.

Signs and footprints never last. It is subject to contamination by other humans and by animals. It is subject to aging and erosion by weather. It is subject to breakdown by bacteria where body discharge are concerned. Certain kinds of terrain like rocks and road pavements are not receptive to prints. Aerial signs do not last when rains come. It is up to the aptitude and observation skills of the tracker when signs are subjected to the above processes and how he may catch his quarry with less indicators.

My last part is how to determine the age of the signs. I cannot tell them how for it is a long process starting from tender age up to present but I could show them where to start. At your backyard, prepare a square meter each of clay, soft loam, grassy loam, sandy loam and sand and place a low fence around them to prevent contamination by rodents and pets. For each type of soil place all prints of your threaded shoe, your plain sandal and your bare foot.

Scatter among them shreds of newspaper and toilet paper, shreds of regular and thin plastic bags, empty sardine and corned beef cans with morsels still adhering to it, cooked and uncooked rice, pieces of bread, vegetables, empty and half-full water bottles, urine, feces/stool, saliva, hair, cigarettes, matchsticks, green twigs, folded and unfolded green and dry leaves, aspirin tablets, bandages with and without blood, empty ammo, etc.

Watch the transformation of all footprints and litter after 30, 60 and 120 seconds. Make notes and take pictures from four angles and make an album. Repeat after 5, 10, 30, 45, 60 and 90 minutes. Make notes, take pictures. Again after 2, 5, 9, 12, 24, 36, 48 and 60 hours. Make notes, take pictures. Do it again after 3, 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, 30, 45, 60, 90, 180 and 365 days. Make the same notes and take the same pictures. Study all the specimens, your notes and pictures and keep it to memory or you may reproduce a miniature and carry it as a kit.

We left the Roble homestead at 14:45 after a retro blade porn. As we go along the way, I showed them how a pair of shoes could cause discoloration on a carpet of ground-hugging weed. Likewise, the flaking of bark from a tree trunk caused by hand. You cannot see it at your usual angle and distance. You cannot even see it by using your familiar conventional mindset. You should pay attention to every detail; to objects not in their natural state or harmony like you normally notice of your things inside of your own room.

The trail back to Napo is hard-packed and there are a few spots where I could leave shoe prints. I leave two prints on two different spots with one spot marked by a banana peeling. I did not tell the others of that but I am hoping that they had shelved off their corporate mindsets and learned a little about the lecture. At the end of the day I asked them about my prints. Nobody noticed except one. They were all busy talking on the trail and they were all males. I am not surprised.

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Postscript: The injured boy was brought to the Cebu City Medical Center after JB Albano had given him a shot of anti-tetanus. His wound was stitched and dressed, given antibiotics and pain killers and is now recuperating.

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