Sunday, May 24, 2015
A COMPANY-SPONSORED OUTING is always an essential part in developing and strengthening the camaraderie of its employees. Not only that, it helps to release work-related stress among its employees, especially if it is done outdoors like beaches and mountain resorts. It might integrate team-building seminars but it is much better if the employees are free to do their own thing absent of the shackles of its corporate masters.
Nature heals. I am a believer of that and I, a weekend outdoorsman, have regularly felt nature’s power over an individual. The mountains, the trees, the rivers, the birds, the sands, the seas, the air and everything in it conspire in that healing process. All are part of one large organism called Mother Earth. It breathes. It throbs with life. It worships the one true Creator – the God of Zion, of Islam, of Christians, of Buddhists, of Hindus, and of the many divergent indigenous people.
Today, October 4, 2014, I am in a private resort owned by a retired general in Matutinao, Badian, Cebu. I am with twelve of my officemates of Tactical Security Agency for a company outing. The resort is on the vicinity of the mouth of the Matutinao River. I have the option to bathe in either sea or river or brackish water; lukewarm or cold. It is raining and the tide is low. Not a fine moment to cavort with nature yet.
The travel from Mandaue City in the early morning had been smooth, the weather cloudy. Two vehicles are used: the Toyota Hilux and a Suzuki Scrum. I am riding the latter. After a stop-over at Carcar to load our order of roasted pork (Local name: inasal), we proceed to Badian via Barili. It starts to rain lightly when we arrive at Matutinao at 10:15 and I begun to chop half of the the roasted pork into small pieces with my Trailhawk Cleaver while the place is still peaceful.
The rest begins to fill up the closed cottages and cook rice in electric cooker and by firewood. The Toyota arrived at 11:00 and they had bought pork meat and fresh fish at Moalboal to back up our roasted pork. Since all were hungry, we decide to start our late brunch on the inasal leaving the meat and the fish uncooked and condemned as fodder for supper instead. The inasal is limitless and filled up everyone quickly, this despite the absence of condiments.
The first of the many bottles of brandy is opened but some of us preferred coconut wine (tuba) which had been offered for sale along the road. I very well know (and trusted) that this variety of local wines sold in southern towns are pure and freshly harvested from its source. One of us quickly dispatch a local to procure three gallons. On the other hand, two of my officemates with the Toyota was sent forth to look for a videoke machine for rent as our form of entertainment.
When the tuba came, I relish at its sweetness and declined, time and time again, the glasses of brandy which came my way. Everybody sang to their heart’s content while I enjoyed the company of funny tales and non-work-related conversations. Although it is raining lightly, it had not dampened our spirits and some even went out to the beach and took a bath in the middle of the afternoon.
I opt to stay dry and when the sky cleared at 16:00, I slowly set up my Silangan “stealth” hammock between two trunks of Gmelina trees with a matching Apexus taffeta sheet as an overhead shelter which is secured to the ground with cords and wooden stakes. Glass after glass of the organic wine had left me drowsy and tipsy and I walked to the lounge chairs placed on the beachfront. The sounds of the onrushing waves have soothed my mind and I lose awareness.
I woke up in darkness. It is 20:30 and the singing voice behind the microphone of the videoke showed signs that it had a drink too many. Only a few had stayed awake although it is still not late. I join the small company and eat a full dinner. The fish had been cooked on charcoal while the rest had been prepared raw with vinegar (kinilaw). The pork meat had also been cooked the same way with the fish but it is chopped in cubes. The inasal are plenty while some are cooked with vinegar (paksiw).
I washed again my food with the local wine until I am alone with the videoke machine. The last of my awake officemates turned in at 23:00 and I am now the sole steward of the microphone. Eventually, I got tired of singing and programmed the songs instead with MP3 versions and toned down the volume. I choose soothing songs relevant to this late hour. A hundred songs which, I believed, would last through dawn. I slept at last on my hammock at 02:15.
I woke up at 07:30 the following day, October 5. The water had risen and everyone are on the water. Ate my breakfast of soup from freshly-caught fish alone and washed it with local wine again when I noticed two new gallons are on the table. Some of the guys left the water to steel themselves with either tuba or brandy and picked food to chew about. Conversations opened up complemented with hearty laughs. The high tide had beckoned me to take a swim and I left the group for the beach.
I crossed the river mouth going across to a gravelly beach where some mangroves grew. I walked on the beach past the back of a public school and into an old Malabar almond tree (magtalisay). I touched the lower trunk. This is where the heat bounced off from my small campfire on the night of April 23, 2009 and the very place where I sang the songs that my late grandfather had taught me. That night, I was transformed from a leisure hiker into a more useful outdoorsman. Before leaving, I gave thanks to the tree.
I walked near a sandbar protruding out to the sea. I sat on the pebbly bottom with the rest of my body above the surface. I just sat motionless, enjoying the sun at my back, the waves lapping at my knees and on my tummy. A small fish dart between my legs and swam to the shore’s edge. I followed it with my eyes but lost it. I changed to a prone position and slowly crawled towards the sandbar, just enough to keep my chin above water.
I saw a bird on the sandbar. It stared at me and so I froze. I am about eight meters away from the bird. For about 30 seconds, the bird observed me until it sees me harmless and decides to hop and walk around the sandbar looking for something on the ground. It had a long beak, so it must be a marine bird but it is small with short legs. The wings, tail and head are dark while its undersides are light colored. My memory about this bird begins to work and, I think, this is a common kingfisher (tikarol).
It feeds on something from the ground. It hopped and ran all around the small confines of the sandbar. The sunlight caught a flash of its food at its beak from my low angle of sight. It must have plenty of food on that small island as it peck again and again from something moving on the ground, its tail wagging up and down, a sure sign that it is a happy and contented bird until an unexpected arrival of another bird on a nearby mangrove tree caused it to shriek and dragged a wing on the ground as if shielding from an attacker.
The new arrival – a gray wagtail (bangkiyod) – just watched the kingfisher from below its perch. It then flew away. It may have planned to fed on the same food as that of the kingfisher’s but being late at the party caused it to look for another place to feed itself. I am interested with the kingfisher’s diet and I am also interested to read its track on that small sandbar, especially at that spot where it was spooked and had almost gone to flight.
I have enough of bird watching and I will invade the sandbar for study. Before I went, I take note of the most prominent trees in the vicinity. One is a tall mangrove about 15 meters away and another is a leafy Malabar almond tree across the estuary. These are the most likely trees that a bird would fly to should it be threatened by my presence. The kingfisher chose the Malabar almond tree but it skimmed the water’s surface first before changing angle in a wide arc to the safety of the leaves.
With the sun across me, it was not difficult to find the food that the kingfisher had fed itself to contentment. These are arthropods (hipan-hipan) and it begins to populate the drier ground of the sandbar after being displaced by the approach of tide. Their silvery backs flashed in the glorious sunlight but I cannot find the tracks of the kingfisher, especially at the spot where it dragged its wings. The sandbar is not made of pure sand but just a hump of small pebbles mixed with a bit of grainy sand.
Failing that, I walked to the mangrove tree where the gray wagtail perched. I saw the broken branch where it stood for a moment. The outer end showed signs of use and smoothed than the rest of the branch. I looked for a similar branch and I also found where a bird would always perch. I smiled contentedly of these small discoveries. People do not take notice of these things, of slight differences, of reading nature from its palm up.
With a wet hand, I touch a leaf of the mangrove, leaving a wet imprint of my thumb. Similarly, with a wet forearm, I brushed another leaf with it. The wet imprints caused by my hairy forearms on a leaf adhered. I observed my actions on both leaves for 15 seconds, then 30 seconds and then for a minute. The moisture evaporated but the imprints remained. I went back to the sandbar to look for the tracks. I studied it more closely, lying prone at lower angles, but found no traces. Disappointed, I go back to the leaves.
After five minutes, the imprints on the leaves stayed. At a different angle of light it cannot be seen but when you shift at another angle, it is very visible. Satisfied with my study, I cross the estuary back to the resort. I believed I need more drinks and more food to keep my brain working in order to answer the mystery of the kingfisher. The current on the river mouth can be seen by the eyes. The differing temperatures between salty and fresh water can be felt by skin. I swam from halfway to the shore.
After more than an hour, I go back to the sandbar. I finally found the spot where the kingfisher was antagonized by the presence of another bird. Its wings dragged small pebbles loose and the claws scratched the gravelly sand caused by shifting of its weight. I am able to read this only when seen from a new angle and it had given me a sort of a personal victory. Aside that, I saw a recent foot print of a man, at least of size 8. Invisible on a semi-hard surface unless you see it with a different set of eyes.
I walked to the mangroves. My imprints on the leaves stayed. Subtle things can never be noticed by ordinary people and be seen with an ordinary frame of mind. Even with me, trained in the woods at an early age (although for a short time only), there still are things that I cannot catch attention immediately. It slips from my grasp – my memory – and I could not imagine I sometimes walked like a sheep. So unknowing like the rest. So innocent. So full of meat.
I cross once again the river and touched base on shore. My officemates are preparing our lunch and of leaving. Some of them dress up, packing things, running over again in their minds details that might had been overlooked. I take it slow so I would not be distracted by my ongoing connection with nature. I talked to them of the plants when they asked for a name and I loved to share what I learned.
The rest of the morning dragged by until lunch came. We said thanks to our graceful host and leave something for their caretaker’s upkeep. The two vehicles slowly retrace the path to the highway. On convoy, going to Alegria, we returned the videoke machine and made a detour back to Badian. At Barili, rain overtook us. It is a slow ride, visibility impaired by rain on an accident-prone highway bound for Carcar.
Rain stopped at San Fernando but it returned at full intensity in Minglanilla. A flooded highway along Linao gripped traffic to a standstill. Vehicle and motorcycle engines conked out causing more problems to traffic. We decide to park our vehicles at KIA Motors Service Center while the floodwaters are still high and the rain unforgiving. After 90 minutes, the floods subside and traffic begins to flow. We reach Mandaue City at 16:30. I did not stay long. I have a long way to go on a motorcycle under overcast clouds which still pour wispy drops of rain.
That opportunity to wind myself (or perhaps, for my office mates too) closer to nature had opened up windows of some unused knowledge that I had learned so long ago into practice. I was like a child again, reminiscing of lessons taught to me. This time I had retrieved this aspect and it will be used and, ultimately, shared to a few useful outdoorsmen. Because of a company-sponsored outing done without the shackles of its corporate masters.
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Tuesday, May 19, 2015
I WENT AS FAST AS I could to Guadalupe today, September 29, 2014. It is now 10:15 and quite late for a morning walk from Napo to the Roble homestead. No, it would not be a walk but a race against noon. I would not have been here were it not for a special occasion of which I am invited. Today is the birthday of Fele Roble, Manwel’s father.
Already hours ahead of me are Boy Toledo and Jhurds Neo. Both had sent me SMS yesterday of their availability for today. I believe more are going there. Anyway, I had taken a light breakfast near the Ayala flyover more than an hour ago after a rare Sunday inspection on my wards at the Pag-IBIG Fund Corporate Tower in the Cebu Business Park.
When I reached Napo, I put on my Chipaway Cutlery Bowie Knife, intending to open carry it to the Roble homestead. I drape my meshed shawl on my neck to shield me later from the onslaughts of the sun, which is nearing its zenith as well as its intensity. The Sapangdaku Creek is full and its water swirled and laughed at the bounty heaped by many days of rain in the valleys and hills of the Babag Mountain Range.
The ground is wet, parts of it muddy. In fact, a lot of soles are printed on trail surfaces. Leaving a shoe print is not wrong nor it violates a Leave No Trace Principle but, here at the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, we take it to a higher level. Leaving a print on a wet ground is like leaving a thumbprint on glass; more of like introducing your personality to another person. What you leave behind could tell about you which you had never known yet.
I have something in mind today. I would take photographs of as many footprints as my camera battery would allow me and make a database about it. From there, I would let people guess and choose from the album of prints for a particular picture of a rubber sole. They would also guess the foot size, gender, build and other details like what caused a shoe to dig deep into the ground? They would have to create a story basing on the set of tracks they see.
I am not frustrated of my insane pursuit as the ground gave me many shoe prints to photograph which even a blind man could follow easily in the dark. My eyes were focused on the trail, especially at its wettest and muddiest part where I get to “know” of a lot of clumsy individuals. Most just superimposed their tracks of another while some make a half circle trying to evade the mud – too late and too soon.
As I was doing that a lone hiker joined me on the trail. He could either be amused at my activity or was just ashamed to ask. I do not know since he is behind me. When you do not ask, you would never elicit an answer from me, otherwise, do not wait for that chance wherein you would have to pay me to get one. Nevertheless, he enjoyed my tales of the outdoors and the special and uncanny features of the places where we passed.
We reach Lower Kahugan Spring and we take a short rest while waiting for my bottle to get filled by the natural spring. We resumed our walk and I follow a new route which had recently been opened to the mountain folks but only a few outsiders had known. On it are more shoe prints but, at least, these belonged to friends. Nature had worked in my favor of this so-called deduction process.
The heavy 5.11 Tactical Pants I wear today becomes a drag as the terrain gradient begins to demand more effort of self to attain progress. The bottles of vodka and lime juice inside the Silangan Predator Z backpack also begins to be felt on my shoulders. This business of hiking mountainous terrain could never be understood by sedentary urban folks yet, here I am, always complaining against myself why I am doing this, promising (and breaking), time and time again, never to engage on this again.
It never was easy to fool a person but I seemed to be enjoying this on myself. The brunt of the sun added to this stalemate of a promise and a renege but I am already on a spot called the “point of no return”. The wristwatch, an instrument that promotes the Western idea of time, begins to grab me by the neck and imposes on me to make more effort. I have to be there not later than noon because I had promised myself so.
At precisely 12:00, I reach the Roble homestead but my struggle to be here in so short a time had taken the fight out of me. I sat on the bamboo bench, catching wind, ignoring an invite of a sumptuous meal. Too soon. Too soon. Everybody had already settled on the blank spaces in between, especially Jhurds, Dominik Sepe, Mark Lepon and Maricel, who found a spot at a mango tree on a platform built above the ground.
Boy T, Boy Olmedo, Ernie Salomon and Ramon Corro are on the visitor’s shed, already in the middle of a round of the first bottle of local brandy. I ignore these spectacles and concentrate to listen instead to my body talking. When I have settled, I begin to take fill my plate with milled corn, goat stew (calderetta), free-rein chicken (estofado) and diced pork (menudo). The food are meant for everybody. It is celebration time.
After I had taken my fill of the feast, I join the group on the visitor’s shed. Boy T is on a debate against the rest, defending his privilege to enjoy the outdoors with a little mix of liquor but the rest found on the other part of the shed are against it. I added my voice to defend Boy T but the rest, in jest, rebuke Boy T with a “board resolution” passed by the “Board of Directors” disallowing him to enjoy this privilege. I could only shake my head and smiled in agreement.
After I had disentangled myself from the raucous crowd in the shed, I make busy with my camera again taking photographs of rubber soles to add to my database album. From these soles, I would challenge my adherents to identify the footprints in which it was made. Well, that is advanced trailcraft for you and it would certainly add to your knowledge and, perhaps, you might even use this skill in another situation. Who knows?
Anyway, by 14:30, we leave the Roble homestead. Boy T cut short his drinking binge in accord with the “board resolution” and everybody is happy. Laughing. Sweat begins to bleed from our skin as the afternoon sun creates a very humid condition. We arrive at Napo at 15:15 and wait for our ride back to Guadalupe. We got that and continue our celebration at Boy T’s favorite watering hole in M. Velez Street.
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Wednesday, May 13, 2015
WHEN GLENN PESTAÑO OFFERED to provide a free-rein chicken for a meal if we come to Sayao, Sibonga, Cebu on Sunday, September 21, 2014, I did not hesitate. I volunteered to come and I do not care if I am just alone or with a thousand. I will come on my own free accord, of course, with that promise of a delicious meal.
I arrive at the 7Eleven store across the Cebu South Bus Terminal and was in the middle of my light breakfast of fig pies when Mark Lepon arrive. Mark had been very consistent with his appearance and participation upon the activities of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. For three straight times, he was there and now, the fourth.
We board a Ceres Bus bound for the south. It left the terminal at 07:00 and we disembark at 08:40 when the bus reach Ocaña, Carcar. We chip in money between ourselves and bought a kilo of rice, some vegetables, cooking oil and vinegar. From there we transfer to Napo, where we cross a stream and walk towards Sayao by way of an unpaved road that ascend and wind into hilly terrain.
It is a warm morning but I am used to this situation. My body and my mindset had adapted well to this weekend hiking regimen among rugged woodlands in sunny and rainy weather. Gone are the painful muscle pains that had hounded me days after such walks in the outdoors. I believed I had achieved my goal of equaling my fitness of 25 summers ago, maybe even more. Before gaining that, it took me five years of hard work going back to square one.
Although I do not indulge anymore in non-stopping trail runs but I had regained my burst of speeds on short distances, my endurance, my wind and my second wind. Aside that, I had gained a lot of insight and wisdom. So to speak, I am in the best years of my life, or, for that matter, health, enjoying what I do, albeit in my middle years. Age does not matter, I just shifted my paradigm. It takes sparks of creativity to enjoy life more.
I am under the sparse shade of a coconut tree, waiting for Mark who had been struggling under the heat of the sun and with the weight of his bag. His water bottle is very accessible and he could rehydrate himself anytime. My bottle is inside my Silangan Predator Z backpack and my idea of rehydration are done in small sips, very few and far between. Water discipline is an art. I had learned it young under the aegis of my grandpa.
The AJF Gahum heavy-duty knife danced proudly by my side for every stride of my leg. It is open carried, its weight a safe assurance for an equally proud owner. Mark, presently, a rough cut, but, soon, a rare jewel, carried openly his Seseblades NCO knife. We, at Camp Red, prefer local blades because, we know, it could perform better in the tropics than imported ones.
We pass by a community and I saw Glenn and our host, Rufino Ramos. Both were there to acquire that promised free-rein chicken and another desirable treat – an unadulterated white coconut wine (Local: tuba). When we had the items, we resumed our walk towards the hill. Glenn is carrying an air-powered rifle. He says he is celebrating his promotion in his work and this simple offer of free-rein chicken meal is his own version of thanksgiving.
We stop by a shady place underneath two large mango trees. Instantly, I retrieve my AJF Folding Trivet and my black-bottomed pots and set up a fireplace. We need to enjoy coffee. I forage dry tinder and firewood while Mark uses his stash of charclothe to start a fire with a ferro rod from Glenn. While waiting for the water to boil, Glenn fine-tuned his air rifle and set up his sight on an empty vitamin container. Mark test the feel of the rifle and fired shot after shot. Then the coffee is ready.
Rufino took charge of cooking the chicken while I will cook the kilo of rice. Mark has a newly-acquired Victorinox SAK Officer and he had been asking me about its authenticity during our hike. While it looked authentic enough, I advised him to get a second opinion from Glenn. Glenn is a knife collector, especially branded ones. One of those he collects is the Swiss Army Knife. Mark got a real deal indeed!
The coconut wine is very sweet and I could not say no to several successive shots in a few minute intervals. I cook our rice on my biggest pot, then I start to make bamboo pop guns (Local: lut-hang) for my grandsons. I cut the small bamboo tubes with the folding saw of my Victorinox SAK Trailmaster. The saw design of the SAK is superb, as always, and made short work of the two-week old bamboos, which are now beginning to harden. The bamboo rods used to pop out “bullets”, I shape with my AJF Gahum knife.
When I had finished, our simple meal of chicken soup commenced. Since we are just four people, we eat to our heart’s desire. The soup, always so distinctly-flavored and very much savored when native chicken is the dish. The meat is succulently seasoned to the taste buds when its tenderness are just enough and not much. You do not need any taste enhancers when you cook soup on a native variety, believe me.
A branch of a mango stray low and I punch my AJF Gahum tip down, then my William Rodgers bushcraft knife, my Trailmaster, my Trailhawk cleaver and my Buck 112 folding knife. Glenn did likewise with his own array of knives and a blade porn begins. Mark joined the fray with his own and then cameras get busy. Rufino decides to show me wild plants which they used as home remedies for common ailments.
Glenn, Rufino and Mark take a route going somewhere to shoot targets while I stayed to enjoy little pleasures with the native wine. The afternoon hours drag slowly underneath the place of the shady mango tree. The place is just perfect to spend a Sunday, a good spot to release all the stress accumulated from being a slave to time, money and from people that we called as our “boss”.
By 15:00, Mark and I leave Sayao. Rufino and Glenn accompany us to a trail leading to Calangyawon. It pass by farms and individual thatched houses, a cotton shrub, groves of bamboo, dry brooks and a small community. From a distance, I could see a small lake, perfectly covered by trees all around. Motorcycles for hire are waiting for passengers when we arrive. Me and Mark hop on separate motorcycles and it goes down to Ocaña.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015
TROPICAL STORM LUIS is hitting landfall today, September 14, 2014, in Luzon, and it had brought great volumes of rain for the past days here in Cebu. It had rained at dawn and I do not mind if it will also rain on my scheduled activity this early morning. I am at Tisa eating bread with coffee and I wait for Bogs Belga, Dominik Sepe and Mark Lepon to arrive. All came early. Very good!
When we had secured ingredients for our noontime meal, we left Katipunan Street and proceed to Riva Ridge Subdivision where there is a road that led to the trailhead of Freedom Trail. Freedom Trail is the route which I had pioneered in 2009 that traverse Tisa Hills, Banawa Hills, some fringes of the Buhisan Watershed Area, Baksan, Arcos Hills, Sapangdaku with terminus at Mount Babag. It was used during Freedom Climb 2009 and again in FC 2010.
I had last used this route in April 2011 (BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN 7: Training the Pulag-bound) during an endurance training for members of Tribu Dumagsa Mountaineers who were preparing for a climb to Mount Pulag. In that hike, we passed by Kilat Spring and Starbucks Hill, before finishing it at Napo. Today, I will follow that route and, hopefully, scale again the fabled Starbucks Hill.
We reach the trailhead. The ground is wet, dews adhered to the blades of strikingly-green green grasses. Overhead are rainclouds while a strong breeze blew in from the southwest. Rain is ominous but I do not mind. In fact, I welcome it. I reach a sentry post and I retrieve my Chipaway Cutlery Bowie knife from my Silangan Predator Z bag so I could open carry it below my waist.
When you are with a Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild activity you can relish that freedom of carrying a knife openly. It is a privilege that might had been denied to you when you are with another set of people but, here in Camp Red, we ensure you that you will enjoy that right. Along the way you will learn what is the wisdom behind the carrying of knives. For that matter, outdoorsmen of tougher character begins to seek our company.
When we had crossed a cleavage, I begin a practical lecture about tracking while walking along the trail. Since we are on hard ground, tracks are invisible and impossible to read but by touching the surfaces of stones, you will know if people pass by here recently or not. There are two different techniques for that: one for the dry season and another one for a rainy day.
I intentionally brought them to a different trail and, forced to find the correct trail, we took an animal trail, hoping we could find a perfect footprint, which we did, on a farm. Seeing a deep imprint, I touched the ground if it is soft or hard. When I found that it is neither, I explained to them about the gender of the foot that made it; the rough estimate of time that the footprint was made; approximate build and height of the owner; and the possibility that the owner is carrying a heavy load or not.
We cross an open field until we come upon Freedom Trail again. Rainclouds are a blessing when taking this trail since it is really warm and sunny here. Then I thought of the many who have planned an activity for today at any place outdoors but decided not to push through because of Typhoon Luis, of this inclement weather, of muddy trails and of getting wet. I sneered at that attitude. Most of these people loved to use the word “adventure”.
I reach the mango tree on a high saddle and I shift to Kilat Trail. I will again be reunited with the natural spring of Kilat. I found this place while hiking and exploring alone in September 2010. Although locals visit here often to source their water needs, it was unknown to conventional hikers until I brought a few here but these returned and brought more of their kind. The natural spring gave them an option to rehydrate and replenish.
Water poured out of the ground when lightning struck the place many years ago. A burnt stump of an antipolo tree (sp. Artocarpus blancoi L.) stands as a mute reminder while a fig tree growing over the hole nurture its sweetness. Today, I met a man while going down there. We exchanged conversations and I was alarmed when he told me that people from the nearby abomination called Monterazzas de Cebu, conducted a survey there.
That could only mean that they aimed to claim the rest of the Banawa Hills and deny people access to Kilat Spring or, for that matter, claim Kilat Spring for themselves. Behind their palaces and mansions is a watershed area that had provided drinking water to the poorest quarters of Metro Cebu. The government should know that developments adjacent to watersheds are regulated, even prohibited, depending upon its vulnerability. I believed I smelled dead rats somewhere in the offices of the DENR and the Cebu City Government.
I reach Kilat Spring and I see people washing their clothes while the children help their parents with the laundry. I gave away my sweet buns to the children while we stayed for a while to boil water for coffee. Dom and I forage dry firewood and natural tinder, which are rare because everything is wet. It does not matter but we have to try and we did make a small fire just enough to boil water good for four people.
Satisfied with our coffee and after filling up our extra bottles, we left the place going by way to the Portal. The trail is excellent and it is thick with vegetation. Beside the trail is a path hacked for a tree planting project. Each stick marks where a young tree is planted. I reach a point on the trail that I came to get lost often. Today I know where I am going. The sticks told me so. Easy!
When I got past that, I pass by the section where upland marsh palms (saksak) grew abundantly. The palms are flowering and in bloom and nobody had harnessed their saps, which would usually pour out from a flower petiole when cut, that can be used as a strong drink (tapuy) or into vinegar. It only shows that some essential primitive-living skills are not anymore available to the present generation. Why not do the harvesting myself? Hmm...why not?
When we reach the Portal, we rest. It is 10:30. I am eyeing Lensa Trail today and it would lead me to Starbucks Hill. I hope. Last time, after I scaled the small peak (BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN 12: Circles), I got lost when I followed a wrong ridge for an exit route and dumped me and the rest instead on a small but suffocatingly-hot valley. Ultimately, I was able to extricate my companions from that place by following a set of scant tracks on a trail-less terrain. That was in April 2012.
Abundance of rain for several months have thickened the vegetation and the trail looks gloomy. I do not fear snakes for snakes are lazy creatures themselves during a cold rainy day. My worry is the soft ground and the harmful plants that grow along the route. The ground is almost covered by thick bushes and long grasses now and I have to pay attention closely of deceiving paths that led you to nowhere but disappointments.
I do not want to waste time going back and forth borne out of overconfidence and reading the wrong path. I need to be sure where I am going. Somewhere along the path is a small palm that marked a fork of a trail. The left branch would lead to Banica Creek while the other would follow the contour of the terrain. I would make it sure that I will not miss the plant. I follow the right route going into a very long bend until I see a mango tree.
Mango trees are quite rare in Buhisan, especially at its wildest parts. We may have to stay here for a while since it is already 11:00, just about right to prepare a meal. Underneath is a rare clearing and almost flat. It had been visited recently by people. I retrieve the pork, my AJF Folding Trivet and my sooth-blackened pots from my bag. Dominik and I forage again dry firewood. We got only a few dry ones.
Dominik begins to slice the pork with his Hemvarnet knife. Bogs and Mark helped him by slicing the other ingredients with their Mora and Seseblades, respectively. I explore the place and some bushes had recently been cut. I secured three long sticks and a vine and brought it back to the resting place. Dom had already started a fire. A pot is placed over the fire iron. It will be used to cook braised pork.
I prop a tripod over it where the bigger pot containing rice would be hanged beside the first. Only one fire will cook our food inside the two pots simultaneously since we do not have plenty of dry firewood. One pot is placed directly above the flame while the heat carried by the breeze will do the cooking of the second pot that is hanged. Bushcraft is like that. Full of improvisations. Quick to adapt to any situation.
We had our lunch at 12:30. Bogs had added a dish of sliced raw cucumber in vinegar to the fray. It is a simple meal. The braised pork is excellently prepared. I believed we had taken many refills that the bottoms of the pots are scraped clean. We have extra water to clean the pots and to boil some for tea. We revived the fire and burn small scraps of garbage and, when finished with that, we thoroughly put it out.
After repacking our things, we resume at 13:20. The trail really is difficult to follow since the time we left the Portal hours ago. It is now covered with so much vegetation. I arrive at another trail fork. One goes down while the other goes up. I remembered I had taken an ascending trail and so I took this trail. A small snake instantly move away upon noticing my presence. I advised everyone to be a alert.
It is a long ascent and I could not believe, after that, I come upon a house with barking dogs. It is not supposed be there or I may have missed a trail again. I see clusters of houses below us and I take a trail instead leading to a nearby ridge. That ridge is good and well covered. One could camp here without being noticed and would have been a perfect place were it not for the nearness of houses. The trail ended abruptly. I look for other paths but found none so I go back to the lone house and then down to the community.
It is a very secluded community and it is the first time I have visited this place. I asked a man for the name of this place and he said it belonged to Baksan. He pointed me to a route going to the road but I have other things in mind. I need to visit again Starbucks Hill and I asked instead another route to the Buhisan, apart from the route that we had just came from. He pointed a path. I gave thanks and we are still in the game.
When I arrive at the branch of a trail, I followed it and it goes on a long stretch of soft ground. I remembered this route now. It pass by a huge rosewood tree, standing straight to the sky, and everyone are amazed when all see it. The soft ground gave us difficult footing. We rely on our hands, grabbing at anything to keep our balance and to keep us from slipping down. We pass by a patch of broken rocks. Loosening one might trigger the whole hillside to slide down so we chose where we step.
It is silent save for the singing of the cicadas. It never rained but drops of moisture from leaves fall from time to time. Our clothes are wet because of that. The path is wet. The ground gave in to weight. It is a very tiring walk. Mark found a rusting empty shell of a Garand rifle and kept it as a souvenir. We persevered until we reach a ridge. The ridge goes down to a saddle. I stood looking at the familiar back of another ridge – Starbucks Hill.
The rest are exhausted and all sat on dead poles like I did. Infront of them is the fabled peak! It is still 14:30. Is this really Starbucks Hill? Dominik, who was in that hike of April 2011 (BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN 7: Training the Pulag-bound), remembered. I do not know, but there is something amiss. I looked around the saddle, at the tamarind trees and at the peak. There is something that I have noticed as odd but I cannot recall what is that.
Anyway, I urge the rest to move because, after that, it would all be ridges that end near a road. I had never expected that there is now a well-used trail leading to the peak nor I had expected to move easily upward. This is something new on Starbucks Hill. I reach the top in less time than I had expected it to be. The breeze is always cool here. It cooled my superheated body and so for the rest.
I need to find that huge tamarind tree where the “coffee bar” is located. When I had visited here the first time (BEBUT’S TRAIL 5: Starbucks Point), I was with Ernie Salomon, Boy Toledo and Glenn Domingo. We brewed coffee here – under that big tamarind tree – and that is why this place is called Starbucks Hill. It is a special place. A good place to rest from the noontime sun for breeze coming in from the sea are plentiful here.
I am very careful now, intending not to be misled just like the last time. My mind says “RIGHT” all the time, always keeping to the rightmost path if ever there are trail forks. I saw none, much more so the “coffee bar”. Strange. I am now following a descending trail and re-tracing it back to the ridge is now daunting since I covered a lot of ground already. I looked for signs. Somebody just left a bundle of freshly-cut fish-tail palm leaves.
I see black seeds of a zingiber plant on the ground. It is not scattered but grouped like a mound. A Malayan palm civet left it long ago as its dropping but it is now very dry and very light. I thought I heard a rustling of dry leaves on the ground. Might be the rest of the guys coming down after me. As I walk down a few meters, something moved far from my right and it created a lot of ruckus. A sizable snake is fleeing away in a frenzy.
The path I took led me to a stream. It is Lensa Creek all right. The one that supplies water to the catchment basin and then to the dam of Buhisan. We have walked very far and I cannot explain why I am again dumped on another exit. I will have to follow the course of the creek upstream instead, intending to reach Camp Damazo thence to Lanipao and Napo, but it is still a long way. It is now 15:15 and too few hours of daylight. Then I saw a shoeprint on a sandbar.
The shoe is threaded. This is interesting. I called everyone to study the print and asked of their opinions. Dom says it is a hiking shoe and it is going upstream. Very well. Let us see if the rest of the tracks just ahead weave a different tale. A woman may have left this considering that it is a narrow shoe and small. About size 7. We found the same tracks but I found one unusual print. The heel dug in deep. It is made by a rubber boot. It is not made by a hiker but by a local and it has a dog for its companion.
While doing all this walking on the streambed, I chose to step on boulders. When we walk on forested ground, I chose the stones and roots instead of stepping on the wet path. I deliberately show them my walking habits even to the extent of going back to a shoeprint I intentionally left and wiping it away. This is done to leave no trace of my passing and from being observed by another person. It is not related to the Leave No Trace, but a skill taught to me by grandpa when I was a kid. Ages before LNT was born.
The stream gave in to forest then stream again. Another set of shoeprints – I mean, bootprints – are discovered by us. It goes downstream. Why? Because a pebble was dislodged from its hole when the foot stepped above it and moved an inch downstream. It belonged to a man. Why? Because it is size 9 and the imprint is deeper than the first set of tracks we saw. Up ahead, I saw the twin logs and I am near. We walk on until we reach Creek Bravo.
Mark and Bogs are now suffering from cramps. Walking on a streambed is very taxing and would stretch some of your leg muscles because you will be using a different set of muscle tissues that is different from those you normally use on a trail. Camp Damazo is on a high ground and it would be difficult for them. We may have to rest more often and they would have to rehydrate more often. It is a slow process going to Camp Damazo and daylight is losing its brightness.
We reach Camp Damazo. We rest again. It is 16:15. Just a little more and we will be on Baksan Road. I walked with Bogs while Dominik accompanied Mark. Our distances lengthened. I reach the road at 17:00 and waited for Dominik and Mark. They came at 17:20. The trail to Lanipao is now easy as it is all downhill. We use LED torches when darkness overtook us. We took cold refreshments at Lanipao at 18:30.
Our last engagement is Napo. We reach it at 19:00. Motorcycles-for-hire whisk us one by one to Guadalupe. Lessons were learned during the hike and these hardy individuals that I am with had came out of that difficulties smarter and better. For me, it was my last tryst into Starbucks Hill by way of Lensa Trail. From hereon, it shall be a “Holy Grail” to any bushman worth his salt who seeks it.
Note: For a purpose, I never document some of my routes with GPS or given grid coordinates and, lacking that, it ups the ante for adventure.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer
Some photos courtesy of Mark Lepon
Friday, May 1, 2015
IN FIRECRAFT, ONE OF the most important component to successfully accomplish a fire is the tinder. In the old days, nature provided man his tinder. In modern times, natural fire tinder is still used alongside man-made tinder although the value of the natural materials have not diminished by use in recent times. In fact, every Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp these are discussed, used and encouraged.
When speaking of fire tinder, these are the very materials by which it would catch sparks from a ferro rod or sawdust embers from a friction device. These are the medium that would receive heat and convert it into a flame through a natural chemical reaction. By the very nature of fire tinder, these are extremely dry down-like material, very light and you would take a day to fill up a small container if you happen to collect the tiniest.
There are many kinds of natural fire tinder and these vary by regions. Here in the Philippines, which is a tropical country, there is a wide variety to choose from amongst the thousands of plant specie growing densely inside of a square kilometer of jungle. I have tried some and all are good.
One the best tinder I have tried and used is the soft downy fluff from the dried fruit of a kapok tree (sp. Ceiba pentandra). The tree and its cotton-like product are locally known in the Cebuano dialect as “dol-dol”. The tree is very common and grows everywhere. It grows straight to about forty feet with branches unfolding horizontally from the trunk starting halfway to the top.
The upper trunk and branches are green-colored while each leaf petiole hosts seven leaves. The fruit looks like an avocado when it is still green and drops to the ground when it matures and turns brown. The dry downy material is collected from the matured fruit and becomes an alternative to cotton as a stuffing for pillows and Teddy bears.
The good thing about the kapok is it is already very dry when you open the matured fruit as it is enclosed inside by its rain-repellent skin and quite protected from moisture. It has natural oil and would easily catch the sparks from a scratched ferro rod or from a small flame. Moreover, it consumes itself rapidly during a combustion process.
It could be easily stored as it can be pressed into a tight ball like cotton but you should remove the seeds first. It is shiny light tan in appearance and it is lighter in density than cotton and very silky when rubbed with thumb and finger.
The tree is associated with supernatural beliefs which the oldsters used to scare the young ones and the children give it a wide berth. The tree can be used as material for light housing needs like construction of cabinets, furniture and decoratives. It is also a good source for firewood.
One funny story I heard about the kapok tree is when a local fisherman in Badian, Cebu decides to choose and carve a boat hull from its trunk. After he was done with the construction of his boat, he took it to sea. He was sailing smoothly for an hour in calm waters. He took it further to more open sea and encountered the first waves. His boat did not last after a few poundings. It broke in two.
Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer