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.

Document done in LibreOffice 4.3 Writer


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