Sunday, February 21, 2016

COMPLEAT BUSHCRAFT XXII: Hanging on for Dear Life

THE BUSHCRAFT COMMUNITY OF Cebu will hold its centerpiece event on June 10, 2015, called the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp, at the Municipality of Lilo-an, 17 kilometers north of Cebu City. Today is June 7, and this is the only time to prepare the PIBC campsite. That means, I have to muster the “workforce” to install the latrines reserved for the males and for the females.

The gang will meet at the 7Eleven Convenience Store, across the Cebu South Bus Terminal early in the morning. They had been to different PIBCs and all belong to the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. Already there are Jerome Tibon (2014), Nelson Orozco (2014) and Johnas Obinas (2013). Arriving next are Jhurds Neo (2012), Mayo Leo Carrillo (2012) and Justin Apurado (2014).


We proceed in a convoy with Jerome's KIA leading the way, followed by the Suzuki Mini Van driven by Jhurds and Johnas astride his Skygo 250cc motorcycle. We arrive at a gated residence in Lilo-an and another of Camp Red, Christopher Maru (2013), meet us outside. He is with his cousin, Jonjon. We all transfer to a bigger Toyota pick-up customized into a passenger van when Aljew Frasco (2013) and Bonna Canga become available. Along the way we secure food ingredients for our meal and steel digging tools.

I would have wanted to make digging tools out of tree poles but the ground where the latrines will be demand sturdy tools. I brought a laminated nylon sheet intended for privacy of the latrine users if it would be finished. We leave for the village of Mulao and arrive there at 09:30 and, immediately, most of the guys open carry their knives by their sides. Their blades says so much about them.

We walked down the hill to Cotcot River. The day is very warm. It would be very humid once we would reach the stream. The water have receded due to the onset of a very warm El Niño. We reach a lone acacia where there is a grassy campsite and a large grove of spiny bamboos (Local: kagingkingon). I may need mature bamboo poles for the latrines. The bamboos are a sturdy lot, demanding more effort to cut into comfortable lengths despite our very sharp blades.

We are able to secure four poles of equal lengths and bound it two apiece. Carrying it is not difficult since it is very light. For good measure, we bring four unused coconut planks which were recently cut. All are considered reject and useless but these are heavy since it is still partly wet. Those who will carry it produce work gloves to prevent getting hurt by the sharp grits. These would be useful as seats during the PIBC lectures.


The way would not be even ground. We will walk, hop and balance over granite rocks. Fortunately, the rock surfaces are bleached dry by the long absence of rain removing the instance of slips. Still, we walk carefully and slowly. My feet soles are getting pounded by the angled slopes of rocks and boulders. This river is a local tourist attraction for it hosts two unusually-shaped rocks called “Malingin” and “Arko nga Bato”.

Getting to the first rock and then the second are quite tricky but going past it is very challenging. Like I said, it is not even ground. It is difficult with a backpack and much more complex when carrying something. I carried the heavier of the two steel digging tools. I could use it as a walking aid in very inconvenient situations but I would not trust it on angled rock surfaces. Never.

We pass by a narrow ledge and we help each other out by passing the heavy and awkward things we carried, including the backpacks, for safer passage. There is no cause to hurry really. Epang, the local guide whom the village chose to accompany us arrive late and he pointed to a steep slope of rock which I saw him walk the last time I was here just two weeks ago. Although very formidable to traverse, spots on the rock indicate where the feet would walk. I would follow that lead.

I took the chance. I follow the scant trail into a very narrow ledge where there is a wide crack. Dried leaves conceal stagnant water underneath and I stepped my right shoe on it. I never trust granite even if it is dry. I felt the wet sole slightly go unstable on the sloping rock. I hope the hot surface would dissipate soon the moisture clinging to my soles. My right hand probed for a hold while the right foot found a good spot.


I transfer the digging tool on a vertical crack so I could free my left hand. All my weight are on the right foot as my left foot have nothing to step on. I probed for a handhold with my left on the very smooth rock but found none. As I am doing this, my right shoe begins to slip very slowly. I begin to rattle. I know that, if I fall, I would land on the deepest part of the river, which is water but, I would strike my head or my body first on a protrusion of solid rock above the pool. I have to think quick!

I pushed away the tool leaning on the rock so I could have more options with the left hand yet I found none. I stretched my left foot to its farthest reach, the right foot begins to slip a little more as my weight shifted. I pulled back, ground my right foot forward to recover what little space it lost and I repeat, stretching out my left foot onto the crack where the steel tool is lying. With a grunt, my left foot touched the tool yet I know that stepping on that would bring me and the steel rod racing down the chasm.

With my right shoe now losing its rubbery grip on the smoothed rock, I strained to maneuver awkwardly the tip of the left shoe between steel and rock and, with my last ounce of my strength draining, I let go of my loudest grunt, hooked my left foot on the crack while my left hand found a hold just enough to raise my right foot from its scary spot. The shift of weight transferred to the other foot and the debris underneath begun to move. I placed my right toe underneath the left heel to stop going down and moved the left foot to a tiny ledge just below me and I stopped slipping.

I retrieve the steel bar and sit down silently to rest on that tiny ledge. I could not believe what I had just escaped from. All the strength had drained out of me and I am sweating and huffing. Epang, with a heavy coconut plank on one of his shoulders, deftly crossed the stretch where I had, a few seconds ago, hanged on for dear life. Yes, those few seconds ago, I was focused only on myself. It was like floating inside a bubble and you are not aware of people around you. It was either me and the rock or the fall.


Shaking my head, I see Justin backtrack from the route that I had taken. I almost lost it and I cannot explain why I was able to overcome that hopeless situation. I recovered my wits but my knees are shaking. My footing are unstable at first when I go down the stream but, as time passes by, it regained its confidence of treading the uneven path. Would I want to do it again? Never! Was it bravado that led me there or was it something else? Both.

That burst of adrenaline had left me winded and thirsty. Fortunately, the natural spring is just nearby now and I could fill my empty water bottle. It is also shady there, giving me protection from the heat that probed from above your crown and from the ones that reflect on water and smooth rock. Everyone was speechless during my try at Spiderman at a late age. Literally, they lost their use of the vocal chords or maybe I am deaf. And dumb.

I cross the stream and I am at the campsite. It is now 11:15 and we may have to make fire for coffee first and then for our meal. I retrieved my cache of firewood and all we need now is a strike from a steel and fine tinder. Two fires roared in a humid midday. A trivet is placed above one where the water is boiled and an iron grill with four stone anchors over the other where rice is cooked. Apparently, my water bottle is emptied for both and I have to cross the stream back to the water source.

I go back to the camp with two filled bottles and a very dry bamboo pole for more firewood. Bamboos are excellent for cooking and very heat efficient. I forage that from a far distance under a stifling sun then break that bamboo by hands and a knee. It is as if I have not been in a difficult situation a while ago but I have to move since, if you do not, no one will. I cannot afford to rest even though I needed it very much.

Bushcraft is about using the head. You do not wait for somebody to tell you what to do and what not. You feel and you decide and you use your head. If you just sit and watch and wait for people to shove you your grub, then you are in a wrong crowd. What would you do if you failed to secure onions and garlic for your pork? Darn it, you cook it without those. Lacking that would not kill you. You use the right frame of your mind!

Fortunately, Jerome, Nelson and Christopher helped in the preparation of the firewood and the cooking fire. Boiling water for coffee is the first order. I crave for it and my sanity slowly returned when the cup was empty. I want another one and I got what I wanted. Two cups of coffee each dirt-time had become a ritual for me. I cannot think of less. I deserve this especially after that harrowing out-of-body experience.


Meal cooked by Christopher is an excellent but spicy pork estofado. So spicy that no angel would dare taste. Despite that, it was licked clean by the hungry company which meant we have to drink more water. Much better for it is a very humid day. The Cotcot River made it more humid. The shades would have been a good refuge to take a siesta but we have a big task to accomplish. The latrines! We would have that rest after this. We need to dig two holes first.

From the place we walk uphill to about 30 meters. I had already found a good spot for the latrines of both sexes on an earlier trip (CB 21: A Dance with Pain). The digging irons would be appropriate for the type of ground that I have chosen. We dig first the spot for the males. It is on a small clearing with a bit of level ground. A hole is immediately dug and, after a few minutes, it take shape as 6 inches wide, 8 inches deep and three feet long. But there is more room for another hole and we commence on the second beside the first.

As the second hole was dug, I cut branches from a felled tree that was left behind by a wood gatherer. I would need these as posts for the men's latrine. After sharpening one end of each post, we drive these into the ground with the help of the handle bar of one digging iron which was wide enough to act as a sledgehammer. I use old bamboos as horizontal beams to lash and hold the posts together.

Done with the males, I proceed to the spot where the females would be located. It is on a lower ground, near a big boulder with bushes all around except for the approach. We only need one hole here and, fortunately, the ground is softer. We finished it in record time then I drive the posts into the ground. Lashed bamboo horizontal beams all around to make it ready in a few days. By that time, the latrines would be wrapped with sheets of laminated nylon.

Satisfied with our work, we begin packing up our things, glad that we will not be carrying heavy items except the two digging irons. The boulders have lost their heat and it is fine to walk on them now. The shadows are long and the eyes begin to taunt the brain. Pretty soon, it would release adrenaline. I have to keep the brain in check by slowing my pace. As I slowed, so does the people behind me.

I pass by the place where I almost fell and I feel a wave of chill in my spine as I look at the spot where I am supposed to land: right on that finger of rock. Leaving behind Arko'ng Bato and Malingin, we reach place where there is a big acacia tree. Everyone take rest except me. The trail to Mulao is going up and I have to walk it up without stopping with one of the irons gripped by my hand.

I reach the top and it amazes me that I still had a lot of adrenaline left. It is now almost dusk as I wait for the rest. Once they got over here and finished their cold soda drinks, we leave Mulao for the lowlands. Epang took care of the digging irons and said thanks to him. My worries are now over. The campsite is now ready for the PIBC MMXV.


Document done in LibreOffice 4.3 Writer

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