Tuesday, January 26, 2016

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LCVI: Classified as Urgent

IT IS LOGICAL TO transfer immediately all the school supplies that we have had collected through donations to the Roble homestead for storage today, May 17, 2015. Preparations for the big day next week (May 24) would be simplified and would not need a lot of people to do that task. Once done, the hours of that day would be focused more on the outreach itself. The carrying of the school supplies is, thus, classified as urgent today.

Many came on short notice and we all meet at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. The bulk comes from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, lead by its president, Jhurds Neo. Assisting us is Eli Bryn Tambiga and fellow paramedics from the Philippine National Red Cross. Tagging along is an “all-girls-mountain-cleanup” contingent. Spots of rain clouds paint the sky and there was a brief shower.

The school supplies, consisting mostly of notebooks and writing pads are distributed evenly among the volunteers for carrying and wrapped in plastic to prevent damage by rain or by sweat. Not only that, food ingredients that are to be prepared for the noontime meal are added to their bags. The journey start at 08:30, although a bit late but just enough to assure us that rain will not threaten the activity.

I purposely brought a South Korean military-issue duffel bag again, just like last year, to fill it as many notebooks as possible. I fill it with less – eighty pieces – this time because I already carried six kilos of poultry feeds intended for my six turkey chicks which have just hatched there just this week. I add a kilo of rice and I intend to keep my water bottle empty. I do not want to overstretch myself. I am not young anymore.

I just ate two fig pies as my light breakfast and doused it with one peso worth of cold water bought from a coin-operated automatic water dispenser in Guadalupe. That is just it. No more no less. The sun is now shining at its brightest splendor and I prepared for the worst by drinking another measured amount of water from another water machine in Napo.

My bag is heavy and uncomfortable. The unpadded shoulder straps begins to dig deep on the flesh of the shoulders as I walk farther and farther. I wore an ACU camo hat to prepare for the heat but God has kind eyes for me instead and for the rest, as the clouds returned to cover and diffuse away the sun’s scorching rays. It turned into a very pleasant morning instead, quite breezy. I could feel how everyone felt at this unexpected opportunity.

The trail showed that the soil is parched and in need of a really good shower of a few days. Cebu and the rest of the country is experiencing a mild El Niño and it had not rained seriously for more than two months now. I take it slow. I take my first rest underneath a mango tree. I do not intend to remove my bag while sitting. Putting it back would be difficult and you would have to expend energy placing it back which I am not generous this time.

I plan to fill my bottle once I will reach the Lower Kahugan Spring. I ditch that idea and savor the thought instead of drinking directly from the natural spring water. When I reach it, I also ditch that opportunity of a drink. I would have, if it only been very warm, but it had not. Besides the bag is a bit of a problem. I would have to remove it so I could stoop low to catch water with my hands. So, I just sit and take a breather, enjoying the conversations of those who sought rest there.

I did not stay long and proceed on my own. The trail begins to ascend gently and I switch to another path where it would had been easier in another time. One foot forward over the other brought me to a place where there is a community and I am winded, this time, and I sit and rest without taking the bag away nor do I enjoy the privilege of drinking water. This personal situation today I would consider as part of my preparation for the next segment of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project.

When some of the party arrive at my perch, I stand up and continue the ascent. Walking ahead of me is the 7-year old son of Richie Quijano – Legend, who is also with his wife, Francelyn. The soil is loose and sometimes dusty. The boy run up and down the trail and simply enjoying the freedom of the outdoors. His mother would snap at him for carelessness but it is a child’s world really and I am quite elated that the lad had taken a liking of the mountains.

We overtake a group of hikers resting at a row of mangoes. The boy lead me on until I reach the Roble homestead at 09:45. It is so surprising on my part that my effort had brought me earlier than I thought I would have. In fact, it was just a little more than an hour than I had expected it to be. Fele Roble is splitting a green bamboo pole with a stout stick hammering at his long native blade while wife Tonia is readying a pot with hot water for coffee.

A circumcised Josel is wearing a big t-shirt but still smiling. I gave him the 50-peso worth of sweet bread that I bought in Guadalupe and he disappears into their tiny makeshift hut, the abode that they had been using as a home right after their original house was destroyed by Typhoon Seniang. A new but unfinished house is standing on the former site and promises a new beginning for the Roble family.

Slowly, the rest arrive and occupied the empty benches. The school supplies are all collected and placed in the visitor shed for an inventory later. Meanwhile, I need coffee. I am very thirsty and the only remedy for that is a cup of coffee – and a refill - which I sip one after the other. I part the kilo of rice to Ernie Salomon, our food fixer par excellence.

I give the bags of both starter and booster feeds to Fele. The young turkeys would really need this to keep them healthy in the coming weeks. I am very happy to see the tiny guys peering from the wings of their mother. The six would be divided between me and the Roble family and I believe this venture would improve a little of their economic standing as the children are growing. Manwel is now a young man doing vocational schooling while Juliet is serious with her secondary studies. Little Josel is following in their footsteps.

While the rest are preoccupied of their tasks, I focused mine on making two sets of fireboard and spindle for a bowdrill. I used the folding saw from Victorinox SAK Trailmaster to cut it into manageable pieces and the vintage Sheffield-made knife with deer handle to shape these. When done with that, I proceed to carve a forked piece of wood with the Sheffield knife as the “bearing block”. I would need these things for the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp in June.

After the notebooks and writing pads had been sorted and tallied, we proceed with the most important activity of the day – eating. Ernie, time and time again, had concocted another wonderful meal fit for kings. Pork chop estofado, grilled pork and a foraged banana heart (Local name: puso) that was cooked with oyster sauce is laid on the table for the hungry volunteers. Added to that is his signature raw cucumbers and tomatoes in vinegar.

Siesta is allotted instead to the discussion of the next tasks for next week (May 24) which would be the day when the gifts will be distributed which Jhurds is now facilitating. When that was finished, Mayo Leo Carillo proceed to finish another Penobscot bow made of three layers of bamboo. This is much better than the two-layered one which he made last time. I tried the pull of the limbs and I believe it is between 20 to 35 pounds.

On the side, Legend and Josel, together with Jerome Roble, bonded each other by plinking empty cans with slingshots. Later on, the guys dragged two boards and place it side-by-side on the ground and another glorious round of blade porn ensues. To make this quick and over with, everybody grabbed their blades from its hidden pockets inside the bag and pierce it on the two boards.

We leave at 16:20 back to Napo after securing the notebooks in a waterproofed location and saying goodbye again to the Roble family. They assured us that they will prepare the place for the big day next week and we promised them something in return. It was a very good day and my duffel bag is blissfully light even with a stash of sweet potatoes inside.

Document done in LibreOffice 4.3 Writer

Monday, January 18, 2016

NAPO TO BABAG TALES LCV: Unconventionals

I ALWAYS IGNORE THIS trail whenever I do a reverse of the No-Santol-Tree Trail. I find it unnecessary to go over a peak in order to go down and climb another one. Why make life difficult? Common sense always win over me. On the other hand, this particular trail was not here when I embarked on an exploration frenzy around the Babag Mountain Range in the years 2008 to 2011. I just noticed this in 2012.

Anyway, I promised my adherents at the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild today, May 10, 2015, that we would be doing some little explorations in the hills between Kalunasan and Sapangdaku. I have not even thought of this trail when we begin from the trailhead at the Kalunasan Road. We are fourteen people – all men – and it is a very warm day. It is already 08:30 and not a very good hour to start.

I stare at this trail and I begin to get interested. I would have to drag my feet though to make life comfortable for those who are not used to walking rugged terrain or the lack of it. Behind me are Camp Red regulars Jhurds Neo, Ernie Salomon, Jerome Tibon, Dominik Sepe, Eli Tambiga, Mayo Leo Carrillo, Nelson Orozco, Justin Apurado, Bogs Belga, Mark Lepon, Jonathan Apurado and Nelson Tan. A mix of the serious, the amusing and the outrageous.

Most are in their best earth-toned clothes and bags and we looked more like spec-ops guys instead of colorful gadflies. Gadflies? Well, we see them from time to time usually on the parking lot of Guadalupe church or in our favorite dirt-time place and you would not know if there are males among them. Well, today, I do not expect to meet any of them, much more so on this trail in the heat of the day.

I look up the trail and I barely see green. The trees and thickets have wilted and are opaque brown and in different shades of it. Worse, the hillsides are scorched by grass fires of a few days old! So on we walk with sparse shade on a ground that is loose and dusty. I forced myself to move like a snail. The strongest walkers are impatient behind me but we are not in a race. We are in a humanitarian hike. It is humanitarian to be kind to the slowest walkers, is it not?

We reach a point where there are two tamarind trees. It could barely give a shade. The NST Trail branch from here while this trail that I am planning to explore is on another branch. Right now it is beckoning me up. I clear the path of dry wood and other debris. I do not want an accident. People tend to overlook a lot of things when they are subject to fatigue and heat which they could have noticed when under good conditions.

I have not carried a big knife although I open carried a smaller knife but it is of no use against dry wood. You simply cannot hack and slash with it. With both hands, I drag the wood one by one, moving it on the side of the trail. It is difficult because these are dried branches that have tangled against each other and I have to use considerable strength which I am supposed to be conserving.

Being generous of your energy in a harsh condition like today would drain you faster than you could recoup it. The secret thing here is you do not overexert. The dust rise as I drag the dry wood to the side while maintaining good balance on a steep terrain made difficult with loose topsoil. Good thing I have covered my head with a “krama”, a checkered clothe popular in Cambodia which Jonathan had given me a week ago. I looked like a fierce follower of Pol Pot of the Khmer Rogue.

We pass by a couple of tamarind trees that had been cut down a few weeks ago. I still could not comprehend why some people cut down fruit trees that had given them an income for some time? I remembered the 51 sacks stacked higher than a standing man along the road that we passed by an hour ago. I let go a sigh of frustration and stare heavenward. Up ahead is a lone whitelead tree (Local name: biyateles) surviving a grass fire. One half of its foliage is green while the rest are scorched.

I reach the top and it is shady. It is 09:30 according to my Guess watch. Wow, I cannot believe it took me one hour to reach this place which is just about 300 meters in length! I am indeed humanitarian. The place is a ridge with another ridge going southeast. I notice an orange paint sprayed on a trunk of mango. So, this had been used as a race route. Anyway, this is a good route for runners but just be careful going downhill.

I waited for the rest and I am sure where I would go next. Up ahead is the steel hulk of a transmission tower looming above the trees like an alien machine and the trail goes there. The guys take a rest and begins their conversations. I ventured alone to that other ridge to have a look. It goes downward to a series of lower hills where, I believed, there is a community. I go back where the rest are and proceed to the tower.

The ridge is planted with mango trees and I see traces of chemical-spraying activities here: orange-colored rubber hoses, blue PVC water barrels, small water pumps hidden under tarpaulin, paper with Arabic literature, ropes, bamboo ladders and empty pouches for chemical compounds. Over the side are plots of roses, another plant that people shower with generous amounts of chemical. Ferns thrived under them mangoes while algae are growing fat on their branches and barks.

I go down a saddle where the steel tower is located and go up to the rest of the ridge. Immediately, I see the route where I had taken my team last January that led me to a cul-de-sac filled with a forest of roses. It was some mistake which I do not want to repeat. We go up where there is a farm shed and shady trees and then I heard water.

I begin to look around and I see water pouring out of a black PVC pipe into a big hole filled with clear water. It is clean. There are small fish (gurame) swimming in it and some golden Japanese snails (kuhol). I wonder where the water came from because it flows very briskly in this mild El Niño. I look again at my watch and it is now 09:45. I decide to make our “dirt-time” here. The place could accommodate us all and a different place would induce good conversations and plans.

So we find places for our backpacks and begins to disembowel it of our pots, knives, tools and the food ingredients which we will prepare and cook here. We gather dry firewood and tinder as we set up our fireplace. It was quick. Fire begins to appear. Water are plenty. We could use it generously in our cooking but there should be coffee first. Even on a very hot day, warm coffee is very welcome.

I see another hole where water flows from a green rubber hose. Water is cloudy and is not of good quality like the first. Jonathan and Justin set up hammocks near this hole. Bogs and Eli cut the meat, onions, potatoes, cucumbers, green pepper and a vegetable pear with a Mora and an antler-handled knife made from Sheffield. The second knife is a gift given by Alan Poole of the United Kingdom to me. This is the moment where it will be tested.

Ernie concentrates on the fireplace while Mayo, Mark, Nelson and another Nelson assisted him. Jhurds secretly pour cold Pepsi in a cup while Dom and Jerome secretly are in a middle of a personal discussion. When all these guys are not doing something, they swap places and strike conversations with anybody. It is a healthy atmosphere and I am amongst them taking photos or testing equipment like my new knife and a Suuntu MC-2 Mirror Compass given by the same donor.

I found this place a very great campsite for a “Survival Day” activity – if ever its water source is working all the time – and there are bamboo groves nearby. Although quite shady, it is not a good idea to make camp at the top of a hill because it is exposed to winds and you get easily skylined. Instead, you would have to set up shelter down a saddle where there are mango trees because bushcraft is about blending with the landscape.

By now, the food had been cooked. As always, another kingly banquet for hungry bushmen. After a prayer, the boodle-fight starts. Open for decimation are grilled pork sliced in bite sizes; “pancit” - a popular noodle meal; steamed potatoes; rice; and a side dish of raw cucumber dipped in spiced vinegar. Many trips to the food had found me full and the dining place a puzzle of blank spaces.

There were some food left and a kilo of uncooked rice which we left to the farmer's wife who unexpectedly came while in the last parts of our lunch. Then we begin to clean the dishes and pots and pack all the things into our respective bags. The journey continues. We go down the hill into copse of mangoes where the trail wind among it and crossing other trails. I post familiar places but my adventure juices prefer the unfamiliar ones.

I take a route going south and east and south and west, passing by a long narrow ridge, then standing below another steel pylon. I end up on a flower farm and a farmer shows me a way to the rest of the path. It curves into another ridge that goes down into a dry waterway and a small marshy area thick with birds of paradise. The route goes down once more into a stream, which I later understand as the Sapangdaku Creek. We cross the stream and come unto a small flat valley.

We all take a rest here since it still 14:00 and very shady. Jhurds introduce me to a woman living in a single-room house with a small child. She carries a surname Labrador and I remembered her at the Roble homestead last December where we had an outreach. His husband is away but I could not dismiss the good location of this place. It could host a good number of people as it is not a fragile environment and can be used as a bushcraft camp.

The place is called Kangsi. It is nearby a stream and a natural spring. A small rainforest is across it with groves of bamboo and is perfect for a plant ID lecture. The Napo Main Trail is just above us and this makes it friendly for bulky people and senior citizens. I walk to the water source and fill my bottle. When I got back Mayo is doing something with a discarded but still green bamboo pole while the rest are hitting a target with their catapults. I lend mine to make it five.

Jhurds is carving a bamboo to make sheath for a local boy who carried a knife with a flimsy cardboard one. He secured two pieces of bamboo with packaging tape and gave a piece of his paracord to tie the sheath with knife to the boy's waist, eliciting a thankful smile from the boy. Meanwhile, Mayo made bow limbs and another shorter piece to support the longer one. He is making a Penobscot bow. This type provides good power for an arrow if used with ordinary wood, in this case, bamboo.

For almost a good two hours we made the place into another playground but it would not be our last here. For sure, we will be coming back. I like the place and I would like to spend a night here sometime. We leave for Napo at 15:45, following a route that goes downstream. This is a difficult route because it passes by water and it causes rocks to be slippery. Besides, I never like to walk along streams.

Ultimately, we reach Napo and made a mad dash for Red Hours, our favorite water hole. It was a good day. Our little exploration snared us to two good places that make our patented dirt-time as good as those we spend most often. It was a good time also to prepare the rough cuts extra sharp for the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp this June.

Document done in LibreOffice 4.3 Writer

Thursday, January 7, 2016

MAN-SIZED HIKE XVI: Mantalongon to Boljoon

AFTER FINISHING SEGMENT III of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT last February 21, 2015, I decide to prioritize Segment V over Segment IV. Segment IV may have been scheduled first for October 2015 over the other but it is long, difficult, demanding of strength, skills, patience and time. It flows north from Mount Manunggal to Taguini, Carmen and would pass by places where many years ago were considered dangerous for mainstream outdoor activities.

On the other hand, Segment V, which I had first scheduled in the first quarter of 2016, is the shortest and the easiest and would be fine if I do it ahead of Segment IV instead. It requires no special considerations and I do not mind of the short space of time for its preparation after I had set the schedule for May 1, 2 and 3, this year. This route would link with Segment III and was to terminate originally at Nug-as, Alcoy but I lengthened it to Upper Beceril, Boljoon instead.

I pressured myself to end the exploration phase of this ambitious project in 2016 and make the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL available to the public by 2017. I have done this almost singlehandedly and I am determined to finish this to the end even if I am left with rags to wear. What you do not know is that I will leave a legacy of dots in a box – a template – so others who will follow after me would refine the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL as a first-class long trail that would attract international backpackers and encourage local ones to enjoy their own mountains.

Today, May 1, I am embarking on the fifth segment of this Project. I already had a dedicated Exploration Team and had prepared well the member’s stamina, including the basic items that the Team need. I need this Team to be better prepared and organized than the previous ones I led so as to lessen waste of time. The sacrifices and preparations had worked well during Segment III where the Team had shaved a day from its original four-day schedule.

I will lead again the Team into places where many mainstream outdoors people have not gone into before. There is more to Cebu and adventure can be most enjoyed here horizontally instead of vertical ascents. This is a three-day hike that will start from Dalaguete and, hopefully, would end at Boljoon. I will follow a route that will surely pass into Alcoy and, probably, might stray into either Alegria or Malabuyoc.

After waking up at 02:30, I walk out of my house an hour later to the 7Eleven Convenience Store located across the Cebu South Bus Terminal and waited for the rest. Jonathan Apurado, a marine biologist and an inactive mountaineer, came with his son Justin. Justin is an engineering student of a local university and dabbles into bushcraft and parkour. Not available this time is Jovahn Ybañez, a struggling ultramarathoner, designated as reserve.

As in every organized explorations, there is the Base Support Team. Its primary function is communications and assistance. It will monitor the progress of the Exploration Team and will give updates on weather to the Team and informs the outdoors community in Facebook. Chad Bacolod, a good communicator from Naga, will man the desk again. Another crew, Jhurds Neo, of the Camp Red and Bushcraft and Survival Guild, will be on standby and would be mobilized when needed.

The Team, will carry a banner that describes our activity as well as the logos and names of sponsors. These are GV Hotels, Silangan Outdoor Equipment, Titay’s Lilo-an Rosquillos and Native Delicacies, Tactical Security Agency, PAC Outdoor Gear, Jonathan Blanes, Glen Domingo, Boy Toledo and Glenn Pestaño. Also included are entities who contribute to the Team by other means like Camp Red, Mountain Climbers Alliance of the Philippines, Ham Radio Cebu, the Philippine Mountaineering Blog and the Warrior Pilgrimage Blog.

The elements of the Team are proudly wearing the team uniform jerseys provided for by Silangan with the name of the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT emblazoned on the front. Silangan Outdoor Equipment is my official outfitter since I endorse their products through my Warrior Pilgrimage Blog and in fora where the outdoors community interact. I am wearing their Greyman Hiking Pants and carrying their Predator Z Tactical MOLLE Backpack.

Aside that, the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT is officially sanctioned by the Cebu Provincial Government as a legitimate outdoor activity that would help them identify places where adventure tourism would be developed on the once-remote mountain areas of the island. This, after my meeting with the Honorable Grecilda Sanchez, board member representing the Third District, and Ms. Mary Grace Paulino, the provincial tourism officer.

The following are the narrative of events in chronological order that tell the whole picture of SEGMENT V, CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT:

DAY 1 – May 1, 2015

  • Leave the Cebu South Bus Terminal at 07:00 by bus bound for Dalaguete. We were delayed departure by two hours due to a good number of vacationers taking advantage of a long weekend.
  • Arrive at Dalaguete at 09:30, transferred to motorcycles-for-hire.
  • Left highway for Mantalongon Vegetable Market but delayed further by 45 minutes because of road clearing and construction.
  • Arrive at Mantalongon, Dalaguete at 10:30 and then take a quick breakfast.
  • Start of first day hike. Leave Mantalongon Vegetable Market at 11:00 for Alcoy by an alternately paved and unpaved road known as the “Vegetable Highway”. Pace: Moderate. Weather: Warm and sunny.
  • Starts communicating with Base Support of our progress by radio, through a frequency provided by the Argao civic radio group, and by mobile phone. Exploration Team use EAGLE ONE as its callsign while Base Support use EAGLE BASE. Radio equipment in use is a Cignus V85 UHF/VHF Portable Radio Transceiver but radio contact weak as well as by phone.
  • Pass by villages of Langkas at 11:40 and Nalhub at 12:20 and stop at the village of Catolohan at 13:05 to to rest, rehydrate and eat bread from a small store.
  • Resume hike at 13:25 and proceed to somewhere in Alcoy. Weather: Partly cloudy.
  • Cross boundary into Nug-as, Alcoy at 14:00 and pass by the community of Bulalacao.
  • Arrive at the village center of Nug-as at 15:00. Make courtesy call to head of village and ask permission to spend night at their multi-purpose building. Prepare coffee then supper. Food are carbonara, asparagus soup and milled corn. Dinner at 18:00. Weather: Cool. Taps at 20:30.

DAY 2 – May 2, 2015

  • Wake-up alarm rang at 04:45. Prepare coffee then breakfast. Food prepared are fried chorizo Bilbao, scrambled eggs, asparagus soup and milled corn. Breakfast at 08:00.
  • Start of second day hike. Leave Nug-as at 09:00 for somewhere in Boljoon. Pace: Slow to moderate. Weather: Partly cloudy.
  • Stop by community of Liptong at 09:10 to drink fresh coconut wine offered for sale.
  • Resume hike at 09:20. Pace: Moderate to fast. Weather: Partly cloudy.
  • Cross boundary into Nangka, Boljoon at 10:30. Radio transmission unsatisfactory.
  • Pass by village of San Antonio at 11:15.
  • Stop by small store at the community of Calot at 11:50 to rest, rehydrate and eat bread.
  • Resume hike at 12:10. Pace: Moderate to fast. Weather: Warm.
  • Pass by villages of Upper Beceril at 12:50 and Lunop at 14:00.
  • Stop by a small store in Lower Beceril at 14:20 to rest and rehydrate.
  • Resume hike at 14:50 and arrive at the village center of Lower Beceril at 15:00 to pose before camera.
  • Resume hike at 15:05 for Poblacion. Pace: Slow to moderate. Weather: Partly cloudy.
  • Arrive at Poblacion at 16:50. Take a rest, rehydrate and eat an early dinner at a local restaurant.
  • Leave Boljoon for Cebu City at 18:00 by bus.
  • Arrive Cebu South Bus Terminal at 21:30.

This present Exploration Team had prepared so well in terms of physical conditioning that we shaved off a day of its original itinerary by our pace alone. Another factor which caused us to make this a 2-day affair instead of three is the presence of the “Vegetable Highway”. The existence of this little-known vein of progress actually is unknown even to some people living on the places we passed by. For most of those who lived along it, it is a blessing.

The Team officially have logged 33.57 kilometers of walking from Point A to Point B, basing upon the auto computation of Wikiloc, a web-based application which can either be manipulated by uploading GPS waypoints or by manual tracing of the route by a mouse but, I believed, we had logged more than what we were supposed to since the absence of a reliable transport system in the hinterlands of Boljoon forced us to walk down to the national highway located along the shore.

We each carried an average of 13+ kilos although we are observing light backpacking. Food, survival gears and our sleeping equipment had used up much of our cargo space. It is good that water could be had along the route even under a mild El Niño phenomenon. The places where we pass by are still abundant of water so there is no need to carry more than two liters of water. Along the route are natural springs which pour out cool potable water for man and creature alike.

On the other hand, folks see our presence on most of the places we passed, except at Mantalongon, Dalaguete, as unusual. They have not seen hikers or outdoorsmen or urbanites with backpacks before and they viewed us with suspicion until you break the ice by giving them a smile and a greeting. Ultimately a conversation begins, explaining your purpose, would make them see a bit but they cannot comprehend of why we walk when there are vacant seats on a few motorcycles passing by.

The completion of Segment V is but one step closer to my objective. The next routes would not be as easy as the finished segments nor would it ensure favorable conditions. Definitely, the next segments will not be a walk in the park and would demand navigation savvy from the Exploration Team, which that responsibility rests squarely on me. The CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT from hereon goes on a high swing of difficulty but the team accepts that challenge by adapting to what it demands.

I have learned so much from the different segment hikes with different teams. This present team is so flexible and very much prepared for the physical challenges at hand that it had given me a great assurance that we can deliver the CEBU HIGHLANDS TRAIL PROJECT true to its schedule. Me and my team had explored and achieved fifty percent of the Project and I am quite elated about this. The next 50 percent would be different.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3 Writer

Friday, January 1, 2016

THE RONIN'S WAY (A Warrior's Pilgrimage)

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL! As we all know, a new year brings forth another new year's resolution. A change from the usual things we do in the past. An improvement for ourselves. For some, they refine themselves to keep them in stead to the demands of their job, their business and their relations. For those approaching middle age, re-inventing themselves to suck in fresher air or munching greener grass. For me, it is another landscape.

Starting today, January 1, 2016, I am jobless. I will be riding again on the waves of uncertainty. A situation that does not offer me a promising future. But, I will not be seeing unsmiling faces anymore that you always find in board meetings which makes your stomach curl with sickness. Also, I will be free from conventional timekeeping designed for a corporate world that leaves people married to their work in behalf of their masters, even to the ends of the earth, and losing their souls in the process. I am now free to do as I like with my free time. I am FREE!

This feeling is so liberating. To make this more significant, I am using a different font for this article called Liberation Sans. I am now master of my own fate. I do not know how long will this take but I am quite sure that it would take more than the best of me to breathe above water. I will not beg, of course. I am too proud for that. Instead, I would engage on my livelihood through what I do best: teaching people good old common sense and leading them to that place called “freedom of the hills”.

The lure of the outdoors had always beckoned me ever since the time after my grandfather had brought me to the woods at a tender age to learn the crafts that, someday, I would teach others. These skills had lain idle for sometime until I found it again useful. It had not been used extensively in the past as it did during the last seven years. As always, this passion ran in conflict with my day job. I was a security professional until yesterday.

I am on my own now. I will begin life as a contractor. A freelancer. A masterless ronin. I sell my services to anybody or to any entity at a price. It is better that way than being at the end of a leash where somebody else controls how I spend my time. I repeat, I will be master of my own time. I have no regrets about severing myself from my employer. With all due respect, my former employer had given me the means to feed me and my family for eight years before we decide that it is time to move from each other.

It is hard and I know what it means to scrape the hard end of a barrel. Been there before. God willing, windows of opportunity would be opened for me again. I just hope and pray that it will! It had been knocking on me for sometime but I had not been courageous enough to let go of a conventional way of earning a living as a mere employee. Until today! I think, it is now ripe for the taking. I hope I am not wrong this time.

I have always entertained the thought of roaming the land unimpeded and living off it for days or weeks or even months. This idea is now realistic to me since I am in a situation where I have complete control of my time. It may sound absurd if you think that modern living have removed all vestige of wilderness that the hills have afforded to people a hundred years back. Think again. I have been privileged to see it all during my outdoor sorties even at limited opportunities back then.

In the far shallows of my life, right after midstream, I change careers once more. I will be explorer, bushcraft teacher and writer all rolled into one. I will pursue my livelihood in an unconventional manner with the shape and terrain of Cebu as my arena of opportunity. This masterless ronin has now the time and his sole attention to lead you on a journey to a world that he had already created for you. I am in the best of my health and possess the faculties and confidence to bring people to this environment called adventure.

What I can offer you is the learning of real-world skills, personally from me, at close quarters, while in the pursuit of a part of the Cebu Highlands Trail as a “grasshopper”. It is a quest that nearly equates with old-time frontier travel – a warrior's pilgrimage – at almost the whole length of its southern route, and terminating in Cebu City. Twelve days of walking close to 150 kilometers at your own pace and eleven nights of sleeping under the stars. You will earn a special patch and a certificate of training.

Along the way, you will learn a lot of things that you do not learn in a controlled environment. It is bushcraft at its best, learned as it should be learned, in a journey with a teacher. You will engage in survival hiking on a route that does not offer a “sea of clouds” and mild weather. You will yearn water and the first shade you would find along the route under the brunt of a tenacious sun at its highest orbit. The southern half of the Cebu Highlands Trail is already a great challenge but your greatest will be against yourself.

This is a radical approach of learning that veers away from the usual. You add a long hike of many days and it becomes an adventure worth telling. Twelve days of quality time from the only person who has the capacity to do this on foot in an environment where you have almost no total control of. Frankly speaking, this has no parallel elsewhere and I am sure you will have great tales to tell after you have reached the trailend of your journey. If you only have the time and the daring.

With a lot of time in my hands, I could also finish the rest of the Cebu Highlands Trail this year at the earliest time possible. There is still Segment VI and Segment VII to the north and Segment VIII to the south. I am hoping to open this 260+ kilometers route in 2017. Maybe, much earlier. Once completed, you could walk through the island of Cebu from north to south or reverse at its most rugged mountains found in the middle in 15 to 30 days. Since its blueprint is still in my head, this is exclusive to just me and those that are chosen to walk with me.

The Cebu Highlands Trail thru-hike, which I would soon change name anyway, is a different adventure from the “grasshopper” walk. This is just a longer trek from the first and more of fulfilling the physical aspect of the hiker. For this, you will also receive a certificate of completion and a special patch if you complete the whole route. For those engaging in segment hikes, you would receive a certificate.

I have now time for everything. I will still be doing the rounds of teaching all interested individuals – from emergency responders to outdoorsmen – about bushcraft and wilderness survival in standard 3-day campouts to 10-day advanced cross-country courses. I can also do a tour of public lectures and motivational talks to the corporate world, the professionals and others about prepping, urban survival techniques, my explorations and articles I authored. I can also serve as guide for people who do trips in the mountains and the backcountry.

Lastly, I will be focusing on my other passion: Writing. Adventurers who write are a rare breed and I thank God I am both. Yes, I will still be maintaining this blog. It is a good blog for its niche and it is without a local peer. However, writing good non-fiction books and adventure novels will be my thrust once I settled on a good spot with a desk, a PC, a good landscape and a good wine. I am almost finished with my first book – ETHICAL BUSHCRAFT. Once I am done with the graphic illustrations, I will look for a publisher.

There are no financial rewards for an explorer. He might snare accolade and renown but he will live in poverty unless he has sponsorship backings by big names from different industries, where he might gain something through speaking engagements. On the other hand, sales from books you authored does not ensure you a decent source of living. You only get so little with the big percentage shared by the publisher and your agent unless you are a regular bestseller, which is still unheard of for a Filipino.

Surprisingly, as a teacher of bushcraft and survival, I can turn the wheel around for as long as I want but there are others following in my wake who would also want to share in the fruits of what I pioneered. It is a free country and anybody could do his own business but it would be to the discernment and judgment of the student or the client to choose from whom to give them quality learning. I have taught many and only a few became rare jewels. I give my blessings of those who asked and none for those who did not.

I will be experiencing the real world in the coming days soon and it will be a long journey ahead. Very long. Forecast is somewhat gloomy. Chances are 51%. Just a slight edge for me. However, I would not want it in any other way. But I am hoping my independence from the conventional would elicit sponsorships from the very world that I am trying to shy away from. It is a strange world indeed.

Photo courtesy of Justin Apurado
Patch concept designs by Mark Lepon
Document done in LibreOffice 4.3 Writer