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

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