Saturday, November 14, 2015
I AM NOW FOCUSING MY sights on my unfinished Cebu Highlands Trail Project. Recently, I completed Segment III on February 19-21, 2015 after a hiatus of one-and-a-half-years which were spent on other activities. Next in line would be Segment IV and Segment V. Segment IV is the hardest of all and I had scheduled it in October 2015. Segment V is easier and I decide to explore it first and, that means, I have to move it backward from early 2016 to May 2015 instead.
Just like I had done before Segment III, I will prepare the Exploration Team through endurance training and long hikes. For this purpose, I will retrace the route I had taken to complete Segment I last October 26-27, 2013, which is from Mount Manunggal, Balamban to Guadalupe, Cebu City. I have tried this again alone on a “penitence hike” during the 2014 Lent, which saw me floundering on the trail caused by my self-imposed fasting, on a time of the warmest days of that year.
I failed to finish one-half of that pilgrimage but I have gained my soul back from the quagmire of sins. This rugged route, coupled with the hottest weather, is a test of endurance and may make or break an iron will. I have nothing to prove now but my companions of this different training-and-penitence hike would soon find out. They are Jonathan and Justin Apurado – father and son – and both are members of the Exploration Team.
We start from Citilink Terminal, Cebu City at 14:00 of Holy Thursday – April 2, 2015. The van-for-hire drop us at the road corner leading to Mt. Manunggal at exactly 15:30 and we walk the length to seek our campsite. We found favor on an unfinished concrete structure instead on the traditional camping ground for the posts are convenient for our hammocks to tie on. Our overhead sheets, we would convert instead into wind breakers for there are no walls.
As soon as we have secured our places, I prowl down the mountainside to forage dry firewood. The recent activity of March 17th, the Death Anniversary of President Ramon Magsaysay, have caused scarcity of wood on the upper slopes. I found a few though that had been left by people at the lower reaches and carry it up. Justin and Jonathan give life to a flame by a flint strike on flammable tinder from pine trees.
It is a beautiful landscape at dusk. The red glow of a setting sun cooled as it touched the horizon behind the Negros mountains across Tañon Strait while a full moon rose over Camotes Sea. Presence of pine trees softened the strong aroma produced by the warmth of an afternoon sun on the soil and on weeds. Two fireplaces, two AJF Folding Trivets and two pots, one containing milled corn while the other water for coffee, are set up.
The coffee was good but we need to eat dinner quick before the fog begins to carpet us with its cold embrace. By now, strong breeze begins to claim every nook and cranny of the abandoned concrete edifice that we claimed as our camp. Jonathan and Justin were able to cook spicy beef noodle soup, dried fish, chorizo Bilbao and milled corn. We eat silently after a prayer. There is an abundance of water near the Pres. Magsaysay monument and obtaining it is never a problem.
The evening begins to get cold as gusts of wind slowly whittle away our body heat. Jonathan shared to me his brandy in a flask and I happily take two shots. I prepare my rosary to begin praying five decades of the Mystery of the Light. Tomorrow would be very warm and we would be following a long route marked by many ascents and downhills. So an early rest would suffice. After the night prayer, I immediately turn in to my waiting hammock and so are father and son.
The windbreakers we prop alongside our hammocks are inadequate. Winds increase chill factor and I have to abandon my place after an hour and transfer to a room which, thankfully, is the only finished part of the structure as it has walls, shuttered windows and a functioning door. I untied my tarp sheet from the posts and lay it on the cold cement as my ground sheet. Next is the hammock and I place it atop my ground sheet and wiggle inside it. The coldness of the floor is numbing.
I force myself to be comfortable and grab that sleep. After 10 minutes, Jonathan and Justin followed my lead. They too had found the chill factor brought by the wind too offensive for their liking. We all lay on the cold floor on the flimsiest of material to cushion our bodies against. During the night, the winds unleashed its strength as roofs made violent sounds. It was a long night and I was denied sleep even as I tried many times to ignore the discomforts. It gratifies me to know though that I had dreamed at the moment when somebody rose from his frigid bed.
My eyes are heavy as I force myself from sleep. The early morning light had not yet achieved intensity but I find it annoyingly bright. Maybe my lack of sleep had to do with that. Meanwhile, I need to answer the call of nature and I go down a trail to look for a good place. I see familiar shapes of “wiper” leaves in my dreamy stupor. After that, I go back and coffee is ready. Warm coffee in the morning puts you back to reality but I need to dry clean my hands first before a fire before handling my cup.
We eat a breakfast of quail eggs, spicy noodles, rice and dried fish at 07:30. The next meal would be dinner and we will fast in between considering that it is Good Friday. We quickly wash our pots and utensils and put everything in our backpacks. My Silangan Predator Z bag weighs about twelve kilos. Its weight would be felt during ascents and during the last hours of the day. We secured more water before going. I open carry my AJF Gahum knife. Same with Justin with his local kukri while Jonathan opt to open carry his Nikon camera.
The trail goes downhill and uphill into a forest and down again into grassy areas, crossing many dry brooks, treading on rocks, evading thorns from bamboos, rattan and wild yams. The condition of the path are much better than the last time for this route had been used during the death anniversary of Pres. Magsaysay and by mountaineers training for a big climb outside Cebu. I pass by the place where I was spooked by a big python last time and I throw wary glances at the grasses.
We pass by hilly farms of tomatoes, bitter gourds and green pepper and walk under trellis until we reach a big abandoned house. This is a landmark of sort for its blue color stand out against the green of the hills and it marks the halfway point to Inalad. The morning is really very warm with the sun scorching our heads. I covered myself with a military shawl but it only favored my cheeks, ears, forehead, eyelids, nape and part of my nose. My body is very hot and I need to sit and rest under the shade for a good ten minutes to settle it.
By 10:20, we proceed down a long ridge to dried rice paddies and arrive on the bank of Bangbang River. We rest again for ten minutes, at least. I immerse my shawl in the stream and press it over my head. Trickles of liquid cool my head, part of my face and down on to my neck. We cross the river without getting our feet wet for the water had receded in the mild El Niño. From the river, it is now all ascent. We follow a path beside a small stream and then follow it until we reach the saddle of Inalad at 11:40.
We are behind schedule but reaching the place before 12:00 satisfies my requirement. The climb to Inalad near noon had heated my body so much and no amount of water could simmer it down. Although there are cold drinks available but it would defeat the reverence of Good Friday. It would also put to doubt my integrity and of the activity which was labeled as a “penitence hike”. We will fast but we will only subsist, at the most, on bread and water when it is needed.
I begin to feel rashes on the anus as I take a sit on the concrete pavement. A man’s brief cannot make rashes like that and I remembered the leaf that I use as the culprit. It has unusually thick membranes and the leaf stalks are reddish. Worse, my eyes begins to be irritating. I feel pain when I close it and when I open it back and I am in dire need of a nap! The only way to rid of this pain is to keep the eyes open and moving the pupils from side to side. (Sigh!)
This journey is very testing indeed to me as I am deprived of a good night’s sleep causing me swollen eyes and then that troublesome fat ass of mine. Well, I am used to discomforts and I do not take these as alibis to cut short a wonderful journey of the soul. That will not sit well with Jonathan or Justin. They had prepared for this and I am obligated to give them the satisfaction they deserve. This is a rare hike and nobody had done something like this. This is extreme.
By 13:00, we cross the Transcentral Highway and take an unpaved road to Tongkay, an upland village of Toledo City, which is nestled in a valley. My eyes at first react to glare and strong light but, as I walk further on, the irritation lessened. I covered half of my face with the shawl but remove it when I pass by people to greet. We reach the village center and go inside a public elementary school where we rest for a while to rehydrate.
We cross a stream and my final test for the day starts. It is an ascent to a campsite on the slope of Mount Tongkay. The heat in the middle of the afternoon is overbearing and almost take a toll on my resolve. Nevertheless, I conceal it from my companions but, I take time to recover my breathe once in a while. The trail is a never-ending crawl of steep and mildly-steep terrain.
I see a mature Johey oak tree (Local name: marang) looming tall down a slope and I finally solved the mystery of a fruit peeling that I saw while walking here last year. I believed it is not introduced since this mountain is very isolated. From what I heard of stories, Mt. Tongkay used to be abundant of Philippine macaques (unggoy) until being hunted out by people. The survival of a marang tree attests to the once-rich diversity of this mountain.
Once I reach a point where my former campsite can be seen, I am disappointed to see that the trees had been cleared. What used to be the only level place where there is thick vegetation offering protection from the heat, cold winds and from observation is now a graveyard of dead trees. I see the culprit: a lone farmer. He passed by us while we were resting. He is carrying a freshly-cut tree trunk. That campsite is usually warm when evening falls because it catches warm air rising from the lower valleys.
Nevertheless, I do not possess a single-dimensioned mind. I have another ace from up my sleeve, another alternative campsite, but it is farther up a slope, on a ridge. We have a lot of daylight hours left as it is still 14:00. I am already spent out but I gathered my last ounces of strength to get there. We pass by a newly-cleared slope that was converted into a farm. The route was supposed to pass by here but it is gone. I followed the furrows until I am on grassy vegetation again.
We reach the almost-bald ridge at 15:30 but we lacked water. I could have that later. We rest for about 10 minutes before I choose Justin to accompany me to fetch water. We bring all our empty bottles while Jonathan would make a fire to prepare coffee. Justin and I proceed to Mount Etwi, which can be reached by following a string of narrow ridges, and go down to a community. The natural spring is dry but a local told us of another source, about 300 meters down a slope. It is just a hole on the ground with slow driblets of water.
It took Justin 30 minutes to fill up five liters of water on empty bottles. The afternoon light is dying and we retrace our route to our campsite. Jonathan had already finished with the coffee and I welcome it very very much. Oh, I thought I am going to quit back at the lower slopes an hour ago due to heat and lack of nutrition. Surprisingly, my eyes feel better now. The sun is losing its intensity as it is approaching dusk and I have hot coffee to enjoy. Nobody beats coffee in the outdoors!
This ridge we are going to camp is actually a short saddle between Mt. Tongkay and a false peak. There are trees on the eastern side and that is where we will all hitch our hammocks and our overhead shelters. We tie on our hammocks among tree trunks. Then we revive the fire and start cooking our food in darkness. I provide lighting with my LuminAid solar-powered emergency inflatable lantern. I am hungry and I will rest early tonight. Our dinner are noodles, chorizo Bilbao and milled corn which we had at 20:00.
I change my brief into cycling shorts to give me peace of mind on my simmering battle with the rashes on my anus. It is windy on the ridge and it cannot catch warm air from the lower valleys like a camp in the middle of a mountain slope do. Although our hammocks are in the treeline, strong breeze ruffle the tarp sheets. Time and time again I wake up to the sound of the wind on my shelter and I have to adjust my body inside the netted hammock as it keeps on sliding down. A bad fix.
I wake up at 05:30 and take an early morning leak. Dew adhere on the grass leaves but the ground is dry except on the ground where it is higher than our camp. We were just below the fog line. If it would have, we would have felt cold and moisture. Jonathan and Justin rouse from their sleep and begins to arrange the wood to start the fire. The day starts with coffee and then breakfast of noodle soup, Chorizo bilbao, quail eggs and milled corn.
Campsites on ridges and peaks expose you to severe warmth even in early mornings. We hurriedly break camp and leave at 08:15 for the direction of Mara-ag. We pass by the peak of Mt. Tongkay and I show Jonathan and Justin of a deep hole on the peak itself. This is not a sinkhole because the mountain is not made of limestone. It is solid rock and it might be man-made.
I have heard stories that the mines of Atlas Mining Corp. (now Carmen Copper) located in Lutopan, Toledo City have reached underneath Cebu City and as far as Argao in the south. This could be a mine vent. After that, we go down and follow the narrow ridge to Mt. Etwi, where we sidestep it, and arrive at Mara-ag Ridge at 09:00. I indulge myself with powdered juice drink on a small store. An exit at Cantipla, Cebu City would be appropriate and we just have to follow the road we are on north.
I ask Jonathan and Justin if they want to end this day at Cantipla or would they want to cross the Bonbon Valley and the Babag Mountain Range into Guadalupe, Cebu City? Both choose the longer option and I have but to satisfy their explorer spirit. We ask from a local of the shortest route to Bonbon where I do not have to follow this road to Sudlon and I was given direction to a dirt road which goes to Morga.
We reach a corner and I grudgingly follow this road but, once I saw a well-beaten trail, I change options. I follow the trail instead into hilly farms and solitary houses. I believe I have found an old route because it is well-used despite the presence now of farm-to-market roads and modern transportation. I am onto something better and I see wild vegetation where I thought had vanished in our mountains. The sun is very tormenting but we are on a shady route.
I come upon a fork on the trail where I have to choose one. Both are well-beaten and both are going down separate long ridges. I opt for the rightmost and it brought me to a rare patch of forest. We stop in the middle of the jungle and answered the call of nature. I found my rashes getting to be irritated more with sweat running on it. In my complete bliss, I fail to notice the prickly flowers of a local grass called madyong. I removed the spiny little balls one by one from my bike shorts and Silangan Greyman hike pants.
The path now begins to disappear – almost - and I suspect I missed the main path. I follow this scant path to a small mountain brook which still has running water. We cross it and climb up a slope into a grassy meadow and into a farm. I see the path I missed and I reclaim and follow it to a shady location where there is a house and a water source. A good place to rest from the sun and to replenish our water supply.
Places like these are a long way off from schools and I wonder how the children manage to study? I pity them that I leave a small pack of Titay’s Liloa-an Rosquillos – a small token for me but is a rare luxury for them. I am rewarded with smiles and that is enough for me. Someday I may start another outreach here. Kindness begets kindness. Residents could not understand why urban-bred people like us would rather walk when we could afford to ride. That is where they shared their knowledge of places and it comes handy.
We go down another long ridge with a route cutting through several small mountain brooks, going up a hill with farms and a few houses until we stop on another house with a water source and a small bamboo bench underneath an ancient soursop tree (siko karabaw). We take time out by boiling water for coffee on Jonathan’s Trangia stove. It is extremely hot and the slight shade is a comfort. This forced fasting had sapped me of energy. Since it is 12:30, we decide to cook our last instant noodle as our meal.
The family had been so kind to offer us their lawn space and their company. Their patriarch had been so conversant that I leave my sachets of coffee and powdered juice, rosquillos and 20 individual packs of dried squid as gratitude. Just like the previous homestead, their knowledge of their own place is so valuable. We go down the last ridge and, 20 minutes later, we are on a stream. I do not know yet the name but this will have a name soon.
The stream had lessened due to the onset of hot weather and the pools and estuarine plants contain thick algae. Plant chemicals are very rampant here since it is carried during rains from farms located on the higher slopes. It is my first time to walk here and there is a path on the riverside that crossed among boulders. We pass by another smaller stream where the confluence is choked with huge chunks of boulders. Nature’s work is still ongoing here and I would not be in these places when there is a strong rain.
We come upon a smoky place where a local couple are dozing under the shade. They are making charcoal. Downstream is a high waterfall and there is no way to go beyond except by following a path up the bank where the smoke is most intense. We climb it and there is a long trail that pass by an island in a stream and ending at a private resort in a place called Morga. So the stream is called Morga Creek.
I follow three boys going home from the resort and we come upon a flood plain where the community of Biasong is located. I have heard of this place many times and it is my first time here. They are preparing for their fiesta tomorrow. We rest at a small store and douse our thirst with cold soda drinks and a big bottle of cold beer. We tried to negotiate a motorcycle ride but the drivers are all busy betting on cockfights.
We choose to walk to Bonbon by following Morga Creek downstream, then switching to a trail that goes over a hill, then down a road to the village hall. I make sure that Jonathan and Justin go first on a motorcycle before I ride mine to JY Square. I arrive at 16:00 and I was hoodwinked by the driver to pay 80 pesos for a ride that would have cost 40 pesos. Karma has its own sweet time. On the other hand, I have found a new route for Segment 1B of the Cebu Highlands Trail and that is more important.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer