Wednesday, April 6, 2016
I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO the Province of Capiz. That would be my destination, however, as I sat inside a Cebu Pacific plane bound for Iloilo from Cebu on the early morning of July 23, 2015. Coming with me is Joy Quito, whose organization, the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON), made possible my appearance there soon as a resource person for the training of 32 individuals in Basic Tropical Bushcraft Course.
These 32 individuals belong to the Capiz Archdiocese Disaster Emergency Responders (CADER), which is a pet project of the director of the Capiz Archdiocese Social Action Center, Rev. Fr. Mark Q. Granflor. A private passenger van from the Archdiocese of Capiz whisk me and Joy from the airport in Cabatuan, then rendezvous with Len Manriquez and Charlie Saceda of PECOJON, and travel overland to Roxas City over a scenery of healthy rice fields and friendly people, whose tone of Hiligaynon are pleasantly sweet to my ears.
Would I present my lecture in Hiligaynon to these 32 individuals of CADER or would I prefer to use Cebuano and English? Or in Tagalog, perhaps? I had been a basic speaker of Hiligaynon as I learned it in my journeys in the Visayan Sea in 1986-87 but it had eroded through the years without practice although I could plainly understand what the Ilonggos would say amongst themselves. Nevertheless, I have to try. It would be stiff on my part but it is part of the challenge as a bushcraft instructor.
We arrive at the place where the Archdiocese of Capiz is founded and the bronze statue of the late Cardinal Jaime Sin stood prominently as we proceed to the office of Fr. Mark. After a few minutes, Fr. Mark invited me and the PECOJON officers – Len, Charlie and Joy – to a lunch at his grandmother's house in Ivisan, Capiz. Seafoods galore: steamed mud crabs (Local: alimango), shrimps, mantis shrimps (hanlilitik) and mussels; blanched seaweeds (lato); and crabs in thick coconut-milk soup.
The place where the bushcraft camp would be held is just in the vicinity yet we have to take the same vehicle in going there. It is now almost two in the afternoon and the opening of the seminar is a bit delayed. I found myself inside a local haunt, the Spring Hills Resort, as the site where I and the participants would spend the next three days. It is in the village of Malocloc Norte and has two pools, several cottages and a main hall. It has a small stream running beside it and verdant vegetation everywhere.
I found no other place to set up a campsite except at a grassy volleyball court and a vegetated knoll above it. The participants are now all accounted for and I introduce myself after opening the seminar. The heavens begin to growl and I instructed the participants – to include the PECOJON officers - to set up their simple shelters under the onslaught of rain, because that would be the same conditions when you are responding to places hit by disasters. A few seconds later, it rained hard. All were unprepared and some were in a state of mild shock at this reality.
As I have stated to them earlier about this strange sounding activity called bushcraft, that it is just all about the mind, adaptation and improvisation; and gears have nothing to do with surviving. The archdiocese had provided the CADER volunteers several pieces of cheap 3-meter by 3-meter laminated nylon sheets that I have specified for use in this training. I watched and documented them as they started to set up their shelters using pieces of rope, foraged wood and improvised cordage. All sorts of knife lay on the ground everywhere.
I have done this on purpose to test their levels of individuality and their teamwork and to make as basis for a critique later on. Each tarpaulin are assigned to a team of two people and I saw two teams merge to create a better and bigger shelter while another team help set up another theirs. Later on, another three teams merged and a crude mansion emerged. Then all improved the comfortability of their living quarters by placing cushions of grass and coconut palms under their ground sheets and leaves of banana and anahaw (English: foot-stool palm) are propped at the exposed sides to break the entry of drafts.
I too set up my own shelter in the pouring rain. My T-shirt is wet as well as my thick Blackhawk pants and 5.11 shoes. I do not mind it and even used my Canon IXUS 145 camera to take pictures, knowing well that water would incapacitate it. I really do not mind it at all for I know the participants are also watching me of how I conducted myself in a difficult situation. Inspired by my example, the CADER volunteers began to show tenacity and perseverance and a sense of community evolved.
Satisfied with their grit and their resourcefulness, I reminded them that the brain would adapt to pressure and stress in any given situation. All you have to do is act accordingly and smartly to what you will perceive. I proceed to the first chapter which is Introduction to Bushcraft. In this chapter, bushcraft is described to them in the most simple terms as possible. I even provide the nearest equivalent to my own dialect in Cebuano about bushcraft as “panikaysikay”. Cool.
The participants are a mixed group of young college students and mature family men, the oldest of which is 64 years old. Joining them is Mai Durias, the project manager of CADER and the guys from PECOJON. Discussions in English taken from the lecture sheets would have been alright to a set of sophisticated assortment of individuals like weekend hikers, mountain climbers, would-be survivalists and yuppies but this group is different. They do not even know who Bear Grylls is. Got my point?
The lecture ended as it starts to get dark. Quickly, the participants help each other in grilling the pork chops and cooking the rice. I squeeze in between glowing charcoals a small can containing tiny squares of denim to make charclothe. They asked what is it but I kept my lips tight. Upon my suggestion, banana leaves are gathered to line the tops of four long tables in the main hall right after fraying it with fire. We will have a grand “boodle fight” tonight. Dinner started right after a prayer. It is a silent group but it will be a noisy lot after this night.
We transfer to the volleyball court and a huge bonfire erupt in the middle. Dry firewood are rare after that heavy downpour earlier. Inspite of that, we were able to start a flame using diesel fuel. Activity is the Campfire Yarns and Storytelling. In the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp, this activity is fueled by alcoholic drinks making it very animated and entertaining. Fr. Mark's presence made me formal stiff and I have to wrack my brains to achieve a string of conversations for this gathering. Good thing, I got help from Len.
For a good two hours, each participant tell everyone in the circle candidly about his or her expectations of the seminar and narrate about his or her reaction when building a simple shelter with just a few resources at hand and no clear-cut instructions under the onslaughts of a heavy downpour. On this occasion, natural leaders emerged from the group. After the activity, I burrow into my Silangan hammock in a cold rainy night.
The second day – July 24 – is sunny. After breakfast, I begin the next chapter of Ethical Bushcraft. There is always the danger of overdoing things in the course of a bushcraft activity and might not be conformable to the environment and to certain individuals or organizations. Ethical Bushcraft guides you the proper way to use forest resources in the best way possible, taking advantage of knowing the plants and animals, choosing a campsite well, fire safety, disposal of garbage the bushcraft way and be stewards of the forest.
This chapter is very long and is very important as well that people know this. I know a lot of very entertaining survival TV shows that sends the wrong messages to its audiences and I read in websites that a lot of park managers and private land owners are beginning to complain about destruction of plants and the aesthetics of their lands by these weekend survivalists in the US and UK. Proper education is the key here and this is where it starts.
As I prepare for the next lecture, I place all my unsheathed blades on the table before me: the AJF Gahum, the William Rodgers, the tomahawk, the Victorinox Trailmaster, the Leatherman Juice S2, the Mora Companion, two Seseblades sinalung and a ginunting. Because, in a moment, the chapter on Knife Care and Safety will start. A knife is a tool, first and foremost, and, like any other tool, it must be maintained sharp and free of rust. You must learn how to sharpen and must know what are the parts of a knife as well as the kinds of designs and edge.
It hurts also – and, sometimes, very expensive - if you do not know the only law (Batas Pambansa Bilang 6) governing the use and carry of a knife here in the Philippines. It is very important that those who participated in all my bushcraft camps know this by heart and the procedures (and proper gestures, as well) in declaring and surrendering your carried blades to security checks when entering ports of entry, airports, malls and, even road checkpoints.
Knife safety is very important in bushcraft because, if you do not practice that, you are bound to hurt yourself or others with you since bushcraft is a labor-intensive activity and directing a lot of work with a knife or knives. As our next chapter would be labor-intensive, it is important that safety should be observed. Meanwhile, people are going to fast today, including me. There would be no noon meal. It is part of the learning process.
Survival Tool-Making is next and I assigned people to six groups. There are mature bamboo poles provided for use in this class and soon it would be dismembered. Mature bamboos are hard but with a sharp knife, even if it is a small one, you can cut it as it pleases you as long as you pay attention to my instructions and my demo. They have to make for themselves individually bamboo spoons and jugs. As a group, they would have to make bamboo cooking pots with conjoined segments – the Trailhawk System way.
The six groups began cutting the poles even as a deluge of rain begins to fall from the skies. I leave them be and they brought the bamboos underneath the roof of the main hall. They only stop when I think it is time to continue with another lecture about Outdoor Cooking. On this chapter, I discussed the different ways to preserve the edibility of vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. They also learned the methods of cooking as in an open fireplace, semi-closed pit and the closed way of cooking which is done under the ground. In time, they will understand these later in the night.
After all had happily showed me their crafted tools - bamboo cooking pots, spoons and drinking jugs – I begin the process of teaching them how to cook rice in bamboo, especially mature bamboos. Unknown to most, mature bamboos can be used to cook something as much as you would use one with green bamboos and it is no different when you integrate it with my Trailhawk System from opening up the segments down to the cooking itself.
So, while some attend to the cooking, the rest forage around for food. Some guys have foraged along the river for snails which only a few were found which are the neritidae and the thiaridae species. Others opt to scrounge edible plants like horseradish, swamp cabbage and banana trunks while a handful borrowed my two catapults and used these to ping two free-rein chicken senseless.
Slowly the rice from the bamboos are being transferred to frayed banana leaves. Ah, I see another grand “boodle fight” feast in the making. Each group occupy one table and I make the round among the tables inspecting what viands are they going to eat? One table has swamp cabbage adobo. Another has the core of banana trunks cooked and set as extender for canned sardines. Then four tables shared the native chicken estofado among them. Dinner commence at 19:45 after a short prayer.
Since it is raining and a campfire is not feasible, I rather have the participants gather in the social hall of the resort for some team-building activity initiated by the students among them and videos of some of the things I discussed for the past two days. Two episodes of Ray Mears are shown to the participants – the ones done between Thailand and Vietnam (POW Survival Stories) and the other one shot in Palawan (Desert Island Survival). Then they begin to understand what I was talking about.
It is another cold night, wet and omnipresent rain, as I seek the comfort of my shelter in the darkness. My place is located at the farthest and the highest part of the campsite where there are Mexican lilac trees (kakawate) to fasten my hammock and canopy sheet. The call of a night heron pierce the silence of dawn and it is just near. Meanwhile, drops of moisture found its way into me as my sheet begins to show signs of aging and from abuse.
The third day – July 25 – also shows a promise of a sunny and warm morning. I begin to discern that rain always come knocking at or near noon here in this part of the Visayas. While everyone are still recovering from their sleep, I devise an Aeta-style bamboo snare that is designed to catch a monkey or a monitor lizard and a trap that is good for snakes, fish and lizards. Three participants caught me doing this and made themselves two pressure-trigger snares for fowls while another made a loop snare designed to catch small mammals.
I took advantage of the good window of sunny weather and proceed on with the lecture about Firecraft. As always, the importance of this skill rely mostly on dry things and less humidity. Since it rained the whole night and the ground is wet, I doubt if we could make fire by friction but I could try and dry the bamboos. But first, I have to discuss the solar magnification method which would utilize the rays of the sun to be increased in intensity by placing a magnifying lens between it and a tinder.
I showed them the small blackened can which I placed on a fire on the first night as if I am cooking it. I opened it and showed the contents: charred cloth or charcloth. They place a magnifying lens over it and it begins to produce smoke and ember faster than they have known of doing it with paper. They are amazed and they begin to ask how did I “cook” it? I showed them how with the same air-tight can with a small hole where “fresh” denim cloth are placed inside. It helped when I mentioned the process of making charcoal and they can relate better the idea of the charclothe.
By now, the sky begins to go cloudy. Solar magnification by use of a bottled water did not have a good result so I proceed to fire-making by friction else it rain again. There are many ways in doing that but I start with the unfamiliar: the bow-drill method. I have pieces of dry wood that I have brought from Cebu and I begin unravelling the intricacies of making and performing the bow drill to the eager participants who are now mesmerized by the simple wonders of bushcraft.
My several efforts only produce a smoke. I do not have the good timing and it might be good if I let the participants try this on themselves. Two sets of bow drills are now at work and the odor of smoke pervade the air but no ember too. Too humid. The ground is wet and moisture, invisible to the naked eye, easily transfers to a porous material like dry soft wood for it acts like sponge. Worse, I can smell the ominous coming of rain. Time to hurry this lecture and proceed to the bamboo-saw method.
Very popular but very effective, the bamboo saw is taught to the Boy Scout here, which some of the participants were once had been. Similarly, as in the bow drill, it only emitted the pungent odor of burnt wood and the tell-tale smoke, but no ember. To prop back their sagging confidence, I introduce them to the novel idea of lighting a fire with a ferro rod. They could not contain their smile and their amazement at the wonders of this inextinguishable source of fire that worked even when wet.
My last lecture for the day is about a kit that is very relevant to any would-be responder: the Everyday Carry or EDC. They were a bit confused about this term but they were able to relate again with a smile when I asked them of the usual things that a carpenter would bring to his work. All my EDC items get a scrutiny from sugar sachets to a power bank to a coin purse containing loose change and a USB memory. Some of them carried micro-EDCs but they just did not know that. Now they are educated on the twerks of urban survival.
The course finished before 17:00 and everybody happily heaved a sigh of relief. I did likewise. This was a different crowd but I am able to adjust and improvise a bit. Just some little tweaks and a good dose of creativity. I am optimistic that I would meet this same kind of participants and I could apply the same tricks. Anyway, all gathered for a group picture with their certificates of training before everyone went to their assigned tasks. Some prepared something for dinner while four guys left the resort on board the CADER vehicle.
I visit the room reserved and paid for my keep which I did not use for two nights when I was with the participants. The soft bed is inviting but it is best that I take a bath first which I have not had the opportunity to do so for the past three days. I take a nap after that and woke up. It is already dark but I feel refreshed. Fr. Mark is here and I greet him a good evening. I notice a sack filled with fresh oysters which majority of these are already in the process of being cooked on raw embers and in boiling water.
I sit on the long table with Fr. Mark, Len, Charlie, Joy and Mai for dinner. I notice something familiar – a perfectly-cold bottle of Gold Eagle Beer. It has been eons since I last drank this. That was in the late '80s. Then I notice something new – a dish of immaculately white elongated clams. I learned that this is called “diwal” (English: angel-wing clam) and it is highly-valued in Capiz as their own. Rightly so. The meat is succulently delicious and strangely sweet. I believed I had eaten twenty pieces during dinner plus the oysters and emptied three bottles of beer.
When Fr. Mark left, I proceed to my room. I wake up at 07:00 on the fourth day – July 26. My Blackhawk pants and my 5.11 shoes are already dry. Today I would travel back to Iloilo then to Cebu but, first, we have to be at Roxas City. I receive tokens of appreciation from the Archdiocese of Capiz then the same vehicle that brought me and PECOJON people here in July 23 came and whisked us back to Iloilo with a stopover at Midway, a good restaurant located on the middle of nowhere. Joy and I catch plane back to Cebu but Len and Charlie took on separate destinations. Arrive home at 15:00.
The opportunity to expand my realm of teaching bushcraft to the Province of Capiz, especially to the volunteer emergency responders belonging to CADER, had been made possible thru the instance of PECOJON. PECOJON, together with partner NGOs and LGUs, are engaged in the advocacy of developing emergency preparedness capability for the local communities which had been hit hardest by Tropical Cyclone Haiyan. Self-reliance skills which I have taught is just one of their objectives to reduce the impacts of catastrophes.
Going back to this window of opportunity, I somehow placed myself at the edge of my wildest dreams: that of actively pursuing my passion into something tangible, worthwhile and enjoyable. I have studied this for a very long time considering that I have a day job which might be affected by the conflict of how I divide my time. Sooner or later, I will choose which would be best for me and my family's upkeep. For now, I get to have a foretaste of the labors of this novel interest which I am sharing to Filipinos and it is very tempting.
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