Wednesday, September 16, 2015
THE PREPARATION FOR the Cebu Highlands Trail Project goes on high gear today, February 1, 2015, with a Survival Hike Training from Lutopan, Toledo City to Tubod, San Fernando then going down to South Poblacion, where Taiheiyo Cement Corporation is located. I have tried this route last August 17, 2013 but it was a leisurely activity which took me and those with me more than 12 hours to finish.
Today I am with my chosen Exploration Team composed of Jonathan Apurado and Jovahn Ybañez. I woke up at 02:00 and walked my way 30 minutes later from residence to the Cebu South Bus Terminal. I buy five pieces of bread to be consumed later during the hike and take time to nap on an empty chair. By 04:30, I transfer to the 7Eleven Convenience Store and wait for Jonathan and Jovahn.
Jovahn did not arrive but Jonathan and I leave, nevertheless, at exactly 05:00 from Cebu City on board a bus for Toledo City. I do not want again to make my activity to be held hostage by people who are not punctual. We arrive at Lutopan at 06:55 and walk to a waiting shed that marks the start of our route. The village of Bunga will be the jump-off point for this training hike and the early morning clime is cold but, otherwise, fine.
I grab my new Canon IXUS 145 Camera, provided for by Tactical Security Agency by special arrangement, from inside my Silangan Predator Z Tactical Backpack. The camera will be used for documentation of the whole project as well as for this occasion. I also make ready my Cignus V85 VHF radio and set a frequency where another cog of the team – Chad Cordova – will be monitoring as Base Support Crew.
I will open carry my AJF Gahum Heavy-duty Knife inside its PVC sheath. The knife is made by Aljew Frasco, a fellow bushman and one of my benefactors. One of the reasons why I will open carry a knife on this route is to facilitate familiarity to the locals of a different lifestyle that bushcraft will undertake. To recall, inhabitants on this route are suspicious of outsiders and they do not see hikers often and, much more so, from a knife-carrying urbanite. It is time to break that taboo.
At 07:00, me and Jonathan follow the road to the community of Bunga. We are still on the jurisdiction of Toledo City and, soon, we will be in Lamac, a mountain village of Pinamungahan town. We pass by a small lake and go down the road into its shore. Across us are people fishing using lines while nearby the lake is a poultry farm. It is a small lake alright and we know its name by the time we go back to the road. It is called Po-og Lake.
Today I am blessed with the finest weather. It is supposed to be a rainy morning and that would not have bothered me except the new camera. The camera kept blazing at its target seen in the viewfinder. Some parts of the road were cleared recently of earth caused by Typhoon Seniang. The walk becomes fast-paced as the grade of the road goes down into Lamac. We reach the village at 09:00 and eat rice cakes without stopping.
Without stopping really meant without stopping for a short respite even the chance to rehydrate. We do stop beyond the village of Sibago, still a part of Pinamungahan, but on the foothill of a trail that led to a ridge to drink water. This ascending trail leads to a road that is the boundary between Pinamungahan and San Fernando. The trail had been washed by rain runoffs and by small landslides yet we reach the road at 10:00.
We reward ourselves with cold bottles each of soda drinks and, at the same time, eat our first pieces of bread. After about five minutes, we proceed on with the training. We follow a path that had been widened and dug in deep by the sleds pulled by the many generations of swamp buffaloes. I call this the “Carabao Highway” and it would lead to the village of Tubod, in San Fernando, and, perhaps, would go all the way to Mantalongon, Barili in the old days.
The animal path is wet but there are parallel paths for humans to walk on, like a street sidewalk, and we shift often to one or the other whenever it suits us. We pass by an old concrete marker on top of a ridge that divide San Fernando and Pinamungahan and a couple of albino carabaos grazing. Since we left Bunga, I gave my best courtesy to the locals, giving greetings with a smile to arrest their instinctive suspicions of our presence. Sometimes they may ask what we are doing but I gave them honest answers.
It is not strange if they would ask us if we are doing a survey. That is the strategy that some groups with ulterior motives had been using to cover their real purpose but they get, instead, our honest answers. One local even asked us if we are treasure hunters. It elicit me a smile when I remembered that this was the prevalent question which the mountain inhabitants of Carmen had been asking of me and my previous group when I was there in 2009.
We reach the village of Tubod at 12:00 and it looks empty. On the communal water source, women are crowding around a concrete basin filled with water from a natural spring. They are doing laundry. We asked for a piece of their clean water and filled up our water bottles. We do not tarry and again we found ourselves walking on the road. This is the second half of our training and may well be the hardest.
Tubod is found exactly in the middle of Cebu between San Fernando and Pinamungahan and it could be 15 to 16 kilometers, when a bird flies, to either shores. It is located on a mountain ridge but on its east and west are other mountain ranges. Your view of the sea are blocked because of these mountains! We happily go down the road and reach a bridge after 30 minutes and, slowly, our torture begins when the road goes up. Ahead of us is a mountain range.
The bad thing about walking on mountain roads, especially if it is paved with concrete, is it is torture on the feet soles. Another thing is its monotony which bleeds away your expectations of a reprieve. I had been tempted many times to end this walking by accepting an offer of a free ride from drivers but I politely declined. During four days of Segment III (Mantalongon, Barili to Mantalongon, Dalaguete), which would be in about three weeks from now, it would all be mountain roads.
I face the ascending road with dread as it evolve into unending rises which would be broken by just a handful of level grades for just a few meters only. I would want to take a brief rest but the breaking of a momentum would be hard to recover. I would get that rest, however, if I am assured of a cold drink from a small store, which is rare. I need to replenish my spent energy and the best answer is sugar from soda drinks.
When I found a store in Bugho, we stop and drink the cold contents of a bottle and eat our second pieces of bread. After that, we bravely face again the endless rises of the road. We pass by the village of Magsico and further on would be the village of Tabionan which we reach at 14:00. My feet are now complaining as it is now swelling at the heels and the ankles are a bit stiff. I have found the 5.11 Tactical Series Shoes unfit for long walks on concrete roads. I don’t know why? But it must be the great care I treat the pair by changing my gait so soles would not drag on concrete.
We stop at Tabionan for one final drink of cold drinks. This is where the end of endless rises and the start of an unending downhill walk of asphalt and concrete pavement. Asphalt are missing on some parts of the road and I chose to walk on where it is unpaved. The soft ground would have been a reprieve but the feet have suffered so much and can only feel a little comfort. Worse, the weight of my backpack’s contents are beginning to be felt on the flesh of my shoulder as well as on the back of my waistline.
I walk slow to diminish the impact of feet on the ground and to lessen the bounce of the bag on the shoulders. I see a different ridge from my angle that would have lessened the travel on the road and I could have dared to explore it today if I only knew of its existence. The road I am on wind on a very long horseshoe curve and I am appalled at this torture. I have seen no local walking on the road like we do and they might have thought us as foolish for declining a ride.
Our hopes begin to soar as we see from afar the shoreline and the tall exhaust tube of the Taiheiyo Cement plant. I am hoping we would reach the cement factory by 16:00 but, at my controlled pace, I doubt it. I am not worried because we have a lot of daylight to spare. Steadily, the slow and controlled downhill walk diminish away the distance and my expectations that I would reach the highway at 16:00 becomes achievable.
I reach the plant at 16:00 and the highway five minutes later. We crossed the road half limping and sit on the waiting shed. Sitting still had never been so wonderful as is felt now. I congratulated Jonathan for surviving this test. We have accomplished our Survival Hike Training in nine hours of an almost non-stop walk without a solid meal in between. My experiments on just bread and water gained success once more with this long hike.
Today’s preparation would be tested on Segment III. The monotony of the roads and the different attitude of locals upon strangers would be our big obstacles. The pains felt on our feet and our shoulders can be remedied by adjusting the loads to the most basic of essentials like simple shelters, extra clothes and dried food. Navigating by traditional means would still be our main strategy in dealing with distance and objectives.
Apparently my feet took a beating and I wince in pain as I try to stand up from where I sat. I sit down again and, silently, I begin to return the camera, the AJF Gahum and the 5.11 operator belt inside the backpack while changing to a dry t-shirt. I have learned a lot from this day’s activity and I will make a big adjustment on the care of my feet since Segment III will be 4 days. I would need pain killers and some balms for that or even change my shoes.
It would be noted that on Segment III our loads would be heavy considering that we will be carrying our food. My own load would be very heavy and I begin to doubt the externally-expandable 32-liter Silangan Predator Z could carry all my needs. But it does not faze me at all. Today’s activity had prepared me and my team what to expect.
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