Friday, April 1, 2016
I AM IN NO MOOD to write this. I have arrived at an episode where I found writing an article on the same places on its 99th episode begin to look boring and provide me no inspiration. Why? That answer would be a no-brainer to a person who had no knack of sharing his joys and experiences to another. If he or she would be a blogger, they would have written one article for a particular place for one time only. Except for few tenacious ones, writing is fun, constant and a stress reliever.
I really do not know why? The “Napo to Babag Tales” had many sequels and its last was NBT 98: Rain or Heavy Rain. This time, the magic is gone. Would that, perhaps, be related to the tragedy that beset the Roble family? Probably, yes. Of course, it would have to be YES. The existence of the Roble homestead along the route to Mount Babag had inspired me to write these many episodes about the trail there coming from Napo or reverse.
I saw the transformation of the Roble family from its impoverished beginnings, hacking a living on the mountain fastness of the Babag Mountain Range, to the time when their very place hosted groups after groups of hikers finding a place to rest and to savor green coconut water on their way to the peak of Babag. Their place is a favorite among weekend hikers and these people have appreciated the family for the use of several bamboo benches, a hut and a platform built on a mango tree.
I have brought my adherents from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild here long ago and we made the Roble place as an area where we make our “dirt time”. We honed our cooking skills here and feast on food fit for kings. We had made their place as a launch pad for the several editions of outreach events like the Who Put the “N” in Nature which is focused on the distribution of school supplies before the opening of classes in June and the Christmas United in December.
A few kind outdoorsmen provided them goats for breeding while I brought two live turkeys there. When their original house was brought down to its knees – typhoon after another, named Yolanda, Ruby and Seniang, the community of outdoorsmen pitched in to donate cash and material so a new house would emerge. Sacks of cement, nails and roof sheets made its way and a house was erected, although unfinished yet, a concrete testament to the spirit of goodwill and unity of hikers endeared to the good ways of the Roble family.
The Roble family is a good case study. If a family who had gained an income that was provided before by a destructive charcoal-making industry and if given an opportunity to earn an alternative source of income, would help create a better difference on the environment. That is how I see it and it helped to write about the Roble family and the Napo to Babag Tales over and over again. Like a novel. Then tragedy came.
Feleciano Roble was shot by a neighbor – Timoteo Gabasan – last July 3, 2015 at Kahugan with an unidentified vintage caliber .30 rifle. Although Fele survived the attempt on his life but he lost a kidney and their temporary shelter was razed by the same suspect a few days after. The clan to which the suspect belonged to refused to cooperate with the police and harbored the suspect instead. Threats were flaunted to the remnants of the Roble clan as well as to the hikers, especially to those who had helped Fele.
So that same threat is directed at me for I have helped Fele escape the finishing bullets which the suspect would have unleashed during the flight of Fele to safety and hospitalization. Same with Jhurds Neo and Ernie Salomon. I take no threats lightly. I had never changed my approach with how I dealt with those whom have issued threats directed at me. I walk into it. I will always take the initiative and bring that on their doorsteps.
Today, July 19, 2015, I will test how that threat will turn out. I will be the “white mouse” for that experiment which the suspect will impose. My plan is to take Tagaytay Ridge straight up right after crossing the bridge from Napo. I will follow Manggapares Trail and the Babag Ridge Trail before going down the East Ridge Pass into the abandoned Roble homestead. From there, I will proceed back to Napo.
Coming with me is Jonathan Apurado, Justin Apurado, Richie Quijano, Nyor Pino, Locel Navarro and Mark Lepon. I have a guest from Poland who does not want to be identified but he goes by the pseudonym of “Jologs”. Yes, he can understand Cebuano and can speak basic Cebuano words. We aim to cook food somewhere along Tagaytay Ridge and we provide ourselves ingredients for our meal.
Of course, we also have our blades carried openly like we used to do. It is standard fare for our tribe at Camp Red when hiking outdoors. It gives us a better purpose than not carrying one at all. It provides deterrence against those who have ill motives and it projects an image of a bunch of alert outdoorsmen. I have changed how people should enjoy the outdoors and, slowly, my tribe increased.
It is a beautiful morning as we slowly ascend the seldomly-hiked ridge. Clouds partially cover the sun and the path is quite shady. Meanwhile, a vagabond dog joined us. I do not know what is in the mind of the canine and what it perceive of us but I take it as a sign of good omen. Could be a blessing and protection from the patron saint of Napo – Saint Roch. Perhaps.
As I walk, I talk about plants. Jologs gets a good education of tropical plants. He gets to see and know useful and edible plants, as well as the ones you are going to evade. We meet a hunter with an air rifle. He has a live wild fowl with him that he caught with a snare. The Manggapares Trail is thickly vegetated and nobody lives there. The only structures found on this beautiful ridge are seven power pylons and an abandoned backhoe.
Cables are now strung to connect these from the power source in faraway Naga City, passing over Minglanilla and Talisay City and to here, then crossing over to Kalunasan and Budlaan, before ending at a distribution plant in Cabancalan, Mandaue City. We walked underneath five of these towers before switching to Liboron Trail. Nobody uses this scant path except the locals and me.
We reach the Caburnay homestead at 11:00 and Julio welcomed us. It is along a route to Babag Ridge but there is water spewing from a black PVC pipe which comes from a natural spring far away. The place is perfect since it has two bamboo benches and a center table. I have visited this place many times and the couple who lived here are quite accommodating, to the extent of sharing their organically-grown fruits to us like bananas, jackfruits, avocados and dragonfruits.
We immediately boil water for coffee since the uphill hike had cost us some reserves of energy. When coffee got served, the zest returned to us and we concentrate on the preparation of our meal. It is now almost noon and we thanked Providence for shading us most of the time from the sun going here else our pace would have been slower. Our regular chef is not around, so time for the rest to learn how to cook.
Jonathan picked up the chore and we will be cooking mixed-vegetable soup with some ingredients plucked wild along the way. As always, monosodium glutamate and those spurious food additives are not part of our cooking. We keep our food close to nature as much as possible. It is a skill that men should possess.
We left the Caburnay couple at 14:30 and continue on our journey. We reach the ridge of Babag after an uphill walk without trouble where shades abound to keep us from the intense heat of the sun. It is a long walk to the main peak but, along the way, I decide to visit a World War II ruin. This is the main entrance of the gamut of tunnels constructed by the Japanese in a losing but last-ditch effort against the liberation force of the Americal Division and some rag-tag Filipino guerrillas.
The wind played among the leaves trying to talk sense into me but I am an opaque card today, denuded of clairvoyance and hindsight. My thoughts are focused on our safety later on. I would find that out if Fele's tormentor keeps his word. I would not go to the peak of Mount Babag where the trailhead down to Napo is found. Instead, I would explore a beaten trail, if it is true, that it would lead down to the same trail to Upper Kahugan Spring.
It is steep and straight but very manageable. The ground is stable even if it is wet. It passes by a healthy grove of sand bamboo (Local name: bagakay) and goes down to cross a small dry gully and continues onto a field of wild taro (lutya) then to a very narrow pass. Along the way, I saw pepper vine (buyo) and a forest rat (balagtok), seemingly unafraid of human intrusion. It could well be that it found the spines of the thorn bamboo (kagingkingon) enough protection from us.
Anyway, I do like the trail and it indeed led to the Upper Kahugan Spring, which water I found very refreshing. Then I heard a shout from afar. It was unintelligible but it is directed against us. I shouted back contemptuously. I exchanged more shouts at that unidentified man and I decide we better leave towards the Roble homestead as shadows are getting long. There has been a problem with this farm owner. He frowns at hikers passing by his farm and block its access to Mt. Babag.
As we were midway to that place, a man showed up at the heels of Nyor quite angry that I have shouted back at him. It seems his right hand was hidden from view to project to us that he has a weapon but I am used to this kind of situation. Then he recognized me and became apologetic of his behaviour. He said he was shouting at someone not from our party but I took it as an affront instead on our right to roam on government land.
So many ignorant people here pretending that they own a piece of land even when they just possess a mere photocopy of a land tax declaration. They thought they own the place forever and block right of ways. The government should know these things, especially the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, because these documents came from them. I believe some corrupt government officials are making a killing here. So, for that matter, I advise people to refrain from passing by “Forbidden Farm”.
We reach the abode of Fele's older brother, Zene, and they are in a state of fear. I could feel their relief at seeing us. With our presence, they are safer, but it would not be long when their agitation at the thought of the suspect roaming free and stalking them in the middle of the night returns. I look at my adult pair of turkeys and it is alright. From its six young ones, only three survived. When the Roble home was burned, the perpetrator also slashed the necks of my two young turkeys and caused injury to a third.
Suddenly, I begin to feel a very familiar feeling that had been constantly present in my past. It is a rage that I have no assurance of control. I pick up a stick that is as thick as a wrist and about 20 inches long. Miyamoto Musashi had vanquished most of his adversaries armed with just a stick. They were the finest warriors of 16th century Japan who take pride of their weapons from swords to halberds to chain-and-blade with matching skills, superior than most, and whose reputations struck awe.
I could feel my blood boil causing my individual muscles to revolt. I need to release this bottled up rage and walking would only be a slight liberation from that but, at least, it is a relief. My eyes scan everything, ears up, while my mind begins to process all possibilities of cause and effect like a chess player would with his two knights. With a stick I had humbled some people even with superior weapons. Just give me the right distance.
The threat-maker chooses his time and place and he has the element of surprise. It is my disadvantage. As always. It had never changed, quite unfair, but just give me the right distance and my speed would do the rest. I once disarmed a spoiled brat with a rifle and a sidearm in a crowded bar in Urgello with just a stick; a hoodlum with a revolver in F. Villa; a serial killer in Davao City; and many others more but those are stories quite different from today.
The sight of the burned-down house had caused my temper to rise. I got agitated by noise caused by unnecessary talking at the back of me and I pleaded for silence and asked them to keep their eyes open. I am now in a different world and I see only black and white. You might call that paranoid but it is the way it is and I am still living because of it. I am only after my imagined adversary which I expect to appear anytime. Even so, I now have a strategy. If he appears and makes a wrong move, the stick will do my work.
I reach Napo at 17:00 and I still have the stick. The adversary did not materialize contrary to his threats. Might as well bring this stick home. It will be put to good use. I will need this in my bushcraft class in a few days in Capiz but it would have been better if this stick squash his thick skull. What a boring day.
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