Wednesday, May 11, 2016
A WEEK AFTER THE first search and rescue summit of Cebu Province, I began to receive requests from local government units to have their emergency responders undergo training in bushcraft and survival. This training is quite expensive if you look it at from an international perspective since the skills acquired are highly-valued by Europeans and Americans. We have one survival school in Subic but it only showcases the primitive-living ways of the Aeta. What I teach is entirely different.
Disasters are now more intense and unpredictable, aggravated by climate change and by man. More people now visit places, as in adventure tourism, where, a decade ago, nobody would and vulnerability to accidents increase as well. Against these conditions, LGUs need to be well prepared, as defined and mandated by Republic Act 102020. The recent SAR summit initiated by the Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office provided the stimulus for LGUs to provide their respective DRRMOs with great importance and provide them equipment, funding and training.
The Municipality of Lilo-an requested that I teach their emergency responders in bushcraft and survival on August 28-30, 2015. I recently had taught volunteer responders of the Capiz Archdiocese Disaster Action Center last month at Ivisan, Capiz and, before that, in June, to nineteen individuals during the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp which was hosted by Lilo-an. The PIBC is an alternative learning medium created solely to answer the needs for more education of outdoorsmen and active individuals.
I arrived at the Lilo-an Municipal Hall at 05:00 of August 28, 2015. Joining me soon to assist me are five members from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild: Jhurds Neo, Ernie Salomon, Dominik Sepe, Mark Lepon and Nelson Tan. I would be expecting the full force of the Lilo-an Public Safety and Emergency Management Office lead by its chief, Hammurabi Bugtai. Thirteen are available and a skeleton crew remained to man the post in their absence.
From the municipal hall we were whisked towards the village of Mulao by the town's workhorse called the “Dukevan”. After touching base with village officials, we proceed to the Mulao Elementary School before proceeding down for Cotcot River. I am leading the party and follow a trail, whose unfamiliarity will be lessened with Ernie's knowledge of having taken this same trail during the PIBC. Ernie failed to remember the exact route but we reach the Cotcot River on a different campsite.
Nevertheless, it is a good camping site which we used in our earlier dirt times. It has a wide open ground good for eight tents and some trees to prop hammocks. It is beside a stream and limitless firewood. Immediately, improvised shelters are erected by the participants using laminated nylon sheets, used advertisement tarp sheets, wooden poles, bamboos, ropes, natural cordage and buri palm leaves.
When all have settled down, I start the training at 13:00 tackling first about Introduction to Bushcraft. Except for a few, the term bushcraft is so alien to them but they could relate it better instead with the use of the closest Cebuano equivalent available - “panikaysikay”. It would also good to note that bushcraft is not totally synonymous with the word survival, since the latter is immediate while the former is the practice of skills in a day-to-day basis or the preparation hereof in survival situations.
One of the new topics that I have introduced lately is Ethical Bushcraft. It is taken as an excerpt from my future e-book which bears the same title. Considering that bushcraft is beginning to unfold as a leisure weekend activity, thanks to survival TV, the unabated enjoyment of it would take a toll on the forest resources like those happening in Western countries where many private lands and parks are now off-limits to bushcraft activities.
In Ethical Bushcraft, the participants are taught to be part of the landscape, judiciously use forest resources, even firewood, and to increase safety, particularly the management of campfires. It is a lengthy topic which takes most of the afternoon and, should be, for educating individuals into responsible outdoorsmen is what this is all about, especially when everybody are now interested in bushcraft and survival.
The last topic for the day is Knife Care and Safety. It aims to correct the usual ways we carry and use the knife and to change the common notion of the knife as a mere weapon into a very useful tool. In bushcraft, the knife lay supreme for, without it, tasks would be downright difficult to accomplish. As every tool, you have to spend considerable attention that it functions well by maintaining its sharpness and keep it from rust.
Bushcraft is a lawful activity and it easily fits in that description under Batas Pambansa Bilang Anim (BP 6), the only law in the Philippines governing the carrying and possession of knives. This topic increases your responsibility in the use of blades and its carrying, including travelling. It also teaches you the different shapes of blades, knowing the different parts of a knife and how to sharpen these.
When dusk begins to be felt, the participants disperse to prepare their dinner. They cook their food and rice in large pots which they brought along. Ernie prepared for the camp staff. Campfire Yarns and Storytelling unfolds when supper had been taken and everyone take their respective spots around a small campfire, just like the Boy Scout days. The campfire is the social center of early camp life since time immemorial. Taps at 22:00 is extended by two hours.
The second day – August 29 – begins with a light breakfast for, today, everyone would be fasting, including the camp staff. The participants would feel being miserable in an environment where they have almost no control of and then fighting off hunger and drowsiness in the middle of the lectures. When responding to calamitous situations, you are almost in this state and you have to stretch yourself for a few more mileage to be effective.
First topic for the day is Survival Tool-Making. When you lack gears or what you have is inadequate, you have to improvise by making tools. Tool-making is simply extending your existence during a survival situation. You make different tools for different situations like cordage, for foraging, for trapping and hunting, for dining and cooking, and for other special uses. What they learned yesterday in knife-handling safety would be applied on this topic.
Essentially, knives and tool-making go together. Making a tool exercises your dexterity with a knife. I demonstrate to them how to make a foraging stick and then a bamboo cooking pot employing the Trailhawk System. I designate them into three groups of four and require them to make a spoon, a drinking jug and a cooking pot. Those that do not have knives with them, choose the knives that me and my camp staff put on display.
The morning progresses into something positive for the participants and the training staff when a strong rain came. It stayed for 30 minutes and unleashes again another torrent after an hour but it stayed longer. In the dry comforts of their shelters, the participants persevered and continue on the making of their dining tools as well as the pot that would be used later for cooking and all three groups showed me their results thereafter.
Second topic would have been Firecraft but we just had a downpour and so not conducive to discuss about fire or heat. I jump to the next, instead, which is about Shelters. Before setting up a shelter, you should choose a good campsite. It should not be on the stream banks. It should not be on flat terrain. It should not be along trails. It should not be near a water source. It should not be under a forest of pines, cedar, pulpwood, eucalyptus and rubber trees.
The campsite should be away from all of these and do not alter the aesthetic of the place just so it could suit your tastes. Keep it as it is and then blend your man-made shelter with it. If you cannot make one, use a small cave or a rock overhang and make yourself comfortable by building a small fire. Use the rocks as reflector of heat. Simple shelters can be made from natural materials or a combination of man-made ones. Some shelters employ this setup in this bushcraft camp which is not difficult to explain.
Then I proceed to the topic about Foraging and Plant ID. Foraging works better with good bushcraft ethics unless there is a need where your existence would be at stake. I discourage the use of rifles when hunting for food and resort instead to trapping. I demonstrate how a simple trap looks like and how it is placed. Likewise, I show a snare employed to catch monkeys and big lizards and another one that closes a loop when moved. Not to be outdone, the participants made a trap made to catch fowls and birds.
Part of foraging is identifying plants. It could be edible, herbal or harmful. Just as long you suspect each plant that you do not know, it would never be a problem. To guide them how harmful plants look like, I showed them pictures of these plants, starting from the thorny ones to one that is so toxic that there is no antidote to cure people affected by this.
The last lecture for the day is about Outdoor Cooking. This topic also includes how you preserve meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. The processes are discussed thoroughly as possible given the light of day beginning to go dim. Then there are ways how you cook your food: open hearth, semi-closed and the closed style; and where you cook: campsite, trailside and bushcraft.
The open style is very popular as it is very simple. Semi-closed works like you would with a clay hearth where there is a hole to feed the fire with wood and another hole where the pot is placed or where the food is cooked. A good example would be the Dakota fire hole. The closed type is a different kind as it does not use direct fire in cooking your food but would use that fire instead to heat the stones to cook your food instead like a crude oven.
The three groups are now ready with their bamboo cooking vessels. The Trailhawk System of cooking is not complete without employing the unusual way of how it cooks rice, which is quite different from a standpoint of conventional cooking of rice. It is now almost dark and the guys are hungry because of the whole day without food. Whoever cooks his rice first, can start immediately their Nocturnal Hunting.
One by one, group after another group, leave in search of their own food. For me, it is time to relax by taking a bath in the middle of Cotcot River where the current is swift. The water is warm yet refreshing to a warmed up body that have not had rest for two days and a bath for a day. I never felt so better after that, given that the night is warm and humid. I can see lights that walk up on one hill and another group on a hill across it.
Ernie starts his own cooking, ably helped by Jhurds while Nelson makes another fire to smoke the mosquitoes away. The first group arrive and they caught five edible tree snails (Local: taklong), just enough for the four of them. A second group arrive to show a more miserable result – a heart of a young coconut tree (ubod). The last group whose lights glowed at the farthest hill returned with a live chicken and some horse radish. Very well, so far so good. All cook their food. Those with less, supplement it with canned goods.
The second night begets a second dinner found the hard way. When all had their fill, another Campfire Yarns and Storytelling turned up. Since I do not have enough time for tomorrow, I decide to talk about the Everyday Carry around the campfire circle. The night went on after that but I am tired and I hit the deck of my shelter early.
The third day – August 30 – is reserved for Firecraft. It is a very warm morning. After a good breakfast, I start the topic immediately. Firecraft is not just about making fire by modern conveniences or by primitive means, but it is understanding how a fire would work and how it may be used. Elementary understanding of a fire should start from the so-called fire triangle, which is now substituted with the tetrahedron. (A tongue twister. Why not a diamond?)
Then you have to identify good fire tinder. Tinder absorb heat which makes fire possible and it could also absorb moisture quickly to test your patience in making fire. Tinder are natural dry material which are so light and, sometimes, so fluffy but you could manufacture your own tinder like I did with cotton jeans which result to charred clothe. Charclothe could catch the flimsiest of sparks and can be used as medium to receive heat from concentrated light passing by water inside a bottle.
There are four ways to make fire. First is by the conventional manner which could be done with a lighter, a box of matches or by a ferro rod. Second is by solar magnification which can be created with a magnifying lens or other material which could imitate the lens like bottled water or even ice. The third is by pressure which is only possible with an internal combustion engine and by the fire piston.
The last is the most popular, which is by friction. The whole idea of survival is anchored on this. Actually, it is not. Friction methods are many and it is done with wood or by bamboo or the combination of both. Most popular here is the bamboo-saw method because it is considered our own and is extensively used in Boy Scout activities. Beginning to get attention in local bushcraft is the bowdrill method. Other methods like the hand drill, the fire plow and the fire thong are as good as the others. It takes a good amount of practice and the right conditions to make fire with these.
After successfully making fire in some methods, I believed I have taught all what is needed to be taught and decide that the training has ran its course. Then it rained heavily. We pack our things back inside our bags under this deluge and break camp. I fear that the river would rise. As I had feared, a tributary has risen and we have to cross it three times under a strong current. We take another route back to Mulao and found refuge under their covered basketball court.
While waiting for the rain to subside, Jhurds decide to raffle off the free giveaways: ten pieces paracord of 10 meters length each, two Seseblades NCO Straight knife and a modified Seseblades Sinalung. All these courtesy of Jhurds, who have been very supportive of my endeavours. A Hyundai Starex of the Municipality of Lilo-an arrive to pick us all, down to the new seaside store of Titay's Rosquillos and Native Delicacies.
Upon arriving, I distribute the training certificates to the participants, after which Aljew Frasco whisk us off to his farm and treated me, Jhurds, Ernie, Mark, Doms and Nelson to a well-cooked mixed-vegetable stew. Gone are the fatigue and the bone weariness that have hounded me for as long as I can remember. The soup is just superb and would have been perfect if paired with cold beer but we all need an early rest. There would be a next time, I am sure.
The Municipality of Lilo-an have taken extraordinary steps to professionalize their emergency responders with the addition of this training. They are the first municipality to extend their DRRM operators to learn bushcraft and, likewise, it equipped them in their work, especially when responding to places where they have no total control of the environment. This training taught them how to adapt, blend and improvise in any given situation where resources are limited and pursue their goals without impediments.
As for me, I have now come to the conclusion that I will focus my attention on sharing what I know about bushcraft and wilderness survival. I have been in private employment for sometime now and I think I may have to choose the best master: the corporate owners or my passion. I will arrive at that bridge and when I do I will cross the river and burn the bridge behind.
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