Saturday, October 24, 2015


I WILL BE EXPECTING that the Buhisan Watershed Area – my training ground – would soon be off-limits to people. While it may bring in good results for its upkeep, it denies people to make a living there. The protection of the watershed from illegal logging, charcoal gathering, wildlife poaching and, to a lesser degree, recreational activities, will make the man-made forest generate healthily and ensure a cleaner water supply for the metropolis.

The Buhisan Watershed Area, known previously as Lensa (and still do by the locals), is 5.5 hectares in size. It is mostly found in the village of Buhisan but parts of it are found or are bounded by the villages of Toong, Pamutan, Sapangdaku, Tisa and Guadalupe. It has a man-made lake that often disappears because of siltation and a 100-year old but still working dam which was constructed by the Americans when Cebu was under their administration.

As a man-made forest, early reforestation work focused more on the planting of exotic trees which modern soil scientists have found to be incompatible with local flora and fauna and causes leaching of soil which does not produce good results for a healthy and balanced ecosystem. Only the hardy rattan palm and other equally hardy weeds grow compatibly underneath mahogany trees, a South American import.

The dry water channels, where rainwater passes, and the small streams are choked with indigenous species and it is where healthy trees and shrubs are found. Likewise the catchment basin and its nearby marshland. There is life there. Birds, butterflies and all sort of wildlife abound on those narrow corridors. My activities are focused on those corridors too which a few cannot be penetrated by radio, cellphone or satellite signals. These are dead spots.

Somewhere among those hidden places where vegetation is thickest, I will find my Indian-style camp. My own “spirit lodge” where I would vanish into its solitude and do meditations to purify the spirit. Although I have found it long ago, I had ceded it to the hosting of the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp in 2011. It is not applicable now since it is now a known location. I will look for another and it is on this quest today, March 15, 2015, that I took to exploring the Buhisan again alone.

It is a very warm morning as I start my hike. I am late in waking up and have failed to join my brethren in the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild doing a knife safety class in the other part of the mountain range where I am at. I had bought food ingredients for my noontime meal at Guadalupe but I doubt if I could eat at exactly noon since it is now 10:30 and too few hours to prepare that given the time that I will consume most later for walking and exploring.

The underbrush had wilted and tree branches had thinned. Sunlight is now felt even under a man-made forest of Burmese teak with which branches own the widest set of leaves. The ground is parched dry due to absence of rain for a good three weeks. Branches of a star-apple tree almost kissed the ground as the fruits are now heavy and ripe for the picking. I took four ripe ones with me. I stop for a while under the shade of a mango tree to get my AJF Gahum knife from inside the Sandugo Khumbu 40L bag and open carry it.

After a small sip of water, I proceed on. Today I will try to inspect another trail that branch on the right, which is different from the route that I used to hike which led to Boy T’s Hell and then down to Creek Alpha. This new route is not going uphill but going down in a very moderate manner which I suspect would lead to the same Creek Alpha. I walk slowly trying to absorb the heart and soul of the trail, inhaling to memory its distinct aroma and listening to the sounds of the wind and the birds.

Another trail branched off the ones I am following but I shrug it off. My focus is on the main trail which now goes down into a dry streambed where there is an abandoned sack of sand. I see drops of liquid on a stone and it looks like sweat. Moisture would instantly evaporate at this very late morning but it is still recent. I look for human signs and I see grains of wet sand on a rock, the kind you see when a shoe transfer sand to a polished floor.

A smudge here and a deep footprint there. Whoever he is, he must have been in a hurry and his direction goes downstream. I do not have to follow the gait of a man on flight. His presence is enough for me to keep my eyes and ears open and sense everything unusual. Walking on the dry stream, sand gave way to granite. Depressions on the rocks hold water, colored in a transparent reddish tinge, and minutes of life swim on the surfaces.

I see a very slow seep of water coming out of a crack of granite and above it are the greenest shrubs. An unknown number of birds could be heard tweeting and chirping from that direction. So, there must be a good supply of water to make those shrubs perpetually green under the steaming heat of the day which also made the birds happy. I mark the spot in my memory and I would explore it on my next visit. Promise.

Following the stream down, I see a familiar place, only it is dyingly dry, and then a trail. The most beautiful trail on this balding forest is still beautiful as ever since it is shady and the ground is carpeted with dried leaves. Only it is too short. I stay for a while to answer the call of nature and to leave something housed in plastic and hang it from a branch. It is intended to mark the spot as a camping site for visitors who will come here in a few days.

The trail ended abruptly on the creek, as expected, and I walk the dry bed where another trail begins on a high bank. I had found one of the last missing puzzles of Lensa Trail which happened more than an hour ago. Yes, I spend more than an hour for that new route I tried which is not even a kilometer long. The sun is almost at its zenith but I do not intend to hurry. Hurrying is playing in to stupidity. A thinking man do things in a comfortable pace.

The path is littered with dried leaves of teak and mahogany. The bigger teak leaves are more noisy as it crumble in a loud crunchy sound as you step on it. I try to evade stepping on it but there are just too many and my walking sounds like a huge popcorn feast. It betrays my presence. The smaller mahogany leaves are not noisy but stepping on it is like stepping on a soapy tiled floor. The leaves slip against each other and you literally float on dry land. Whichever, I found these dry exotic leaves annoying.

I reach the very dry Creek Bravo and take rest. It is now 12:00 but I am not hungry. I open the biggest star apple fruit and munch it. I hope the seeds grow where it landed. I need to inspect the groves of water bamboo up a high bank so I climb it. I see six groves but only one is healthy enough to have recovered so well from wanton harvesting last year by locals. The other five, including the one burned down, have slowly recovered but all are not healthy yet.

I go down back to the stream and I see four boys accompanied by two adults. They are on a hunt for the edible tree snails (Local name: taklong, takdong, takyong, korakol) and they are going downstream towards the bigger Lensa Creek which, I believe, is also dry. I need to go up a ridge and prepare my meal at Camp Damazo. The camp, which hosted two more episodes of the PIBC, is on a high-ground but, the good thing is, there is a good water source near there.

I notice that the trail had not been cleared of debris that Typhoon Seniang dealt with last December and so I get to work on my AJF Gahum and start clearing. Trail maintenance is a manly labor and I love doing this. The sound of the chopping and the slashing motivates me more of the importance of my existence and purpose. It makes me think clearly aside from the opportunity that silence and solitude had already presented.

In my active pursuit I get to know of a plant which, to the rest, is just a pesky vine that hurts skin. A weed. This is the Asiatic bitter yam (kobong). I found the rootcrop as I was going up the ridge since it was exposed. I open the bulb and the flesh is colored yellow and starchy. The stem is olive green and full of thorns. At this time of year, it does not bear leaves. It adapts. I collect pieces of the rootcrop and bring it with me for propagation.

Once I am on the ridge, a whole branch that broke off from a tree block the trail. I clear the smaller branches and stack it above the other. I make it sure that good-sized wood are not touching the ground. Who knows, I may have use of it one day? Rattan palms cross the path. I did not cut it but move it sideways with the use of a forked stick. I place a few trail signs on the trunk when I think a branch of a trail might mislead people.

After I picked up a wrist-sized wood that cross the path and place it beside a trunk, I notice a glossy liquid on a stone near a tree. The liquid came from the tree and it slid down the trunk down into the ground and that stone. The source is too high to see and I notice that the tree is dead. I touch the glossy liquid. It is partly dry but sticky. I taste it and I found it sweet. Honey! No beehive. Only a stingless bee (kiyot) could produce honey without building a beehive. It bores through wood and make their honeycombs inside.

Satisfied with my discovery, I continue with trail maintenance until I arrive at Camp Damazo. Exhausted by my walk and by my work, I take two sips of my diminishing water. It is now 13:00, so I decide to stop here and make my meal. I retrieve one of my bigger pots and my cup and, along with my almost-empty water bottle, I walk a little distance to a natural spring, leaving my bag behind perfectly hidden. The spring had not diminished its flow and may need a change of its bamboo trough though.

When I came back, I look for dry wood. There are plenty but I prefer the twigs and small branches. I break it into small pieces and prepare a fireplace. I need to drink coffee so I will heat the water inside the bigger pot. I look for three sticks to make a tripod and lash it all on one end with a green vine. When it was done, I hang the pot and start making a fire with a lighter. The warm temperature made my fire easy and soon I will have my coffee.

I transfer some of the partly boiled water into the smaller pot so I could commence cooking the milled corn while providing my cup some amount of this water for instant coffee. The smaller pot does not have a handle like those of the bigger one which can be hanged. I found a flat stone and place the second pot above, one half of its bottom to the fire, the other half balancing on the stone. The good thing about milled corn is you do not have to reposition the pot to evenly cook it. You just have to stir forcibly the contents.

I grab the pork meat and slice it with my Mora Companion. Same with the onion, garlic and green pepper. I pour oil on the bigger pot and hang it back feeding the fire with small sticks. I found two more stones and confine the fire to a small space so it would not spread and, at the same time, maximizes cooking efficiency. I drop the sliced onions, garlic and green pepper into it and stir. I add the sliced meat and stir more until it is brownish. I pour soy sauce and return the lid.

The milled corn is perfectly cooked without a trace of burnt particles despite the pot exposed to the flame on one side only. About the same time, my pork adobao is ready for serving after a sprinkling of black pepper powder. At 15:15 I eat my late lunch. In the silence of the afternoon, I savor the simple meal alone and without any distractions. It is a sweet time that pure backwoodsmen of old would enjoy.

Sadly, I cannot continue with my search of my Indian-style camp for I do not have the luxury of time. Perhaps, next week. I would find it while Buhisan is still blissfully open. I was not able to eat all I cooked but I have someone who would need this. I clean the place and burn anything man-made I found at Camp Damazo. After packing my things and making sure that the fire had died, I leave at 15:45.

I arrive at the road, cross it, and give my food to the “forest keeper”, Mario. I call him that because we frequently meet each other in the most remote parts of Buhisan. He makes a living there and the fencing of the Buhisan would affect his livelihood and deny his family a chance of decent simple living. I am sad for him but, I believe, he will find ways to earn his living on the same place of which I, too, would find access to visit my soon-to-be-found “spirit lodge” in the near future.

The day is now casting long shadows but the trail is easy now. The setting sun had washed Tagaytay Ridge in a beautiful glow. The skylined towers above it are now linked to each other by cables. In a while, I will be in the community of Lanipao and then in Napo, where there would be a motorcycle-for-hire waiting for me.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer


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