Thursday, June 23, 2016

COMPLEAT BUSHCRAFT XXIII: Flashes of Steel and a Fire Piston

AFTER A ROWDY DIRT time at the Babag Mountain Range last September 20, 2015, the Expedition Philippines camaraderie transfer to the Municipality of Lilo-an, which is north of Cebu City, today, October 4, 2015. The place will be by the banks of the Cotcot River, the same place where the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp was held last June, and on almost the same place where I trained the municipal government’s emergency responders in the art of bushcraft in August.

There will be more of the dear Col. Thomas Moore and, of course, more dirt time. Unfortunately, Wil Davies and Ernie Salomon could not come but they will be with us in spirit.  Also, this time, there will be less than the last time, which is okay since it can now be easily managed. It had rained very hard early in the morning and, for sure, the trails will be muddy and the river swollen.

I believe blades will be thrown, not on the river, but on makeshift target boards. First, we must have to go to the campsite and that is all we did by meeting up together near the San Miguel Brewery in Mandaue City and then taking a public utility midget to Lilo-an.  Inside the tiny multicab are Tom, me, Jhurds, Glenn, Eli, Jonathan, Justin, Faith, Bogs, Richie and Dominik. Aljew and Bona join us as we transfer to the hilly village of Mulao.

From the school, we utilize the services of a helpful local, Epang, who led us down to the campsite.  There are spots on the trail where it is soft and there are stretches where it is uncomfortably steep.  All made it, including the bulkier guys. Folding trivets are set and the fires roared to life. Dirty pots gets balanced over the fires and the first order of the day is coffee!

Firewood are split and blades get to work with the hands.  Even the ladies are into it with Faith shaving a bamboo featherstick with her Seseblade NCO. Dominik tried to make up for the absence of Ernie by cooking pork adobao without the usual cooking oil but oil seeped instead from its fat on a heated dry pot.  That was the easy part.  Now, how do you make your pork adobao palatable if you happen to have forgotten an important ingredient like garlic?

Tom and Glenn are in a serious talk.  Could it be that Glenn is scheming of another mismatched trade or the other way around?  But I eavesdrop on them and they were talking about this unpopular guy on Dual Survival. It so happened that I was not the only one who has a discrete listening post. Jhurds and the rest joined in the conversation and it navigated from Dual Survival to Dude You’re Screwed to Snake Blocker to food when it is unacceptable for a tummy to go on empty forever.

The sky is dour but we were optimistic that it would not rain even as the stream is swollen and brown.  We did have that lunch of pork adobao sans garlic but it is as if it had it or thought to be with it. Anyway, it is sumptuous beyond our expectations. It is laid on green banana leaves with two chunks of rice formed by the very shape of the pots that held it during cooking and the appetite is coaxed further by a generous serving of raw sea urchin meat, still warm from its origins in the waters off Mactan Island.

The meal had ended the way it should be: a wipeout!  Me and Bogs goes to the edge of the stream and wash all the blackened pots with fine sand and water for the lack of soap.  It is a time-tested method which had been practiced long before when laundry soap and Scotchbrites became available. Anyway, the water from the stream is light brown and I may have to re-wash mine with tap water once I reach home.

I got back in time to see Jhurds pass on to Glenn a fire piston.  Wow! A fire piston! Glenn pushed hard the plunger once with his palm and everybody waited with baited breath to see the result.  The plunger is removed and on its tip is a glowing ember of what used to be tinder.  I never saw an actual fire piston much less of how it worked.  It is a very useful gadget for bushcraft which every bushman should have to add to his preoccupation of redundancies of fire tools.

It is said that the fire piston has its origins from the tribal peoples in the Philippines and was copied by the Westerners to make quick fire just a short time before the safety match was invented.  I doubt that.  If ever that would be true, we would have made another festival of the fire piston just like a thousand other festivals ranging from masks to witches. An opened bottle of Matador brandy retrieved from its special earthly cask becomes the stimulus of more conversations.

People wanted to let fly their blades and have requested for this dirt-time. Knife throwing is a skill that I learned so many years ago and which I used later with considerable proficiency during my warrior pilgrimage years, with which the last days of it waned some twelve years ago. I had not practiced it anymore and this skill is rusting.  My throws are not that crisp anymore nor it is consistent.

Since it is a “black art”, more likely, the other side of me would not be comfortable with an audience. Mine is an older method which is difficult to master. I will try but I cannot assure of a perfect throw.  As always, I would miss. Like three of my throws. I let Glenn do the honors of demonstrating the throwing of a knife.  The technique he is using is the more popular one which is very easy to do and can be seen in many video tutorials.

The thud of the blunt point of the pommel is disconcerting to the ears as well as to the eyes at first but people adjust their reflex and their distance to the target board made of a piece of an abandoned coconut trunk. Slowly the result becomes better as the flash of steel flies through air and a more agreeable thud elicits a smile from Glenn, Eli, Bogs, Justin and Dom. The afternoon is punctuated by either affirmative shouts of a true and loud jeers of a fail.

When everyone got tired of punching the target board with slit holes, we begin packing our things. Rain is imminent! I am the last to leave the camp to see to it that there are no more glowing embers nor garbage left behind. I put on my knife belt and stared hard at the target board for the last time.  Why not throw my big AJF Gahum? Aljew would not mind if it finds the target true. TSAAK!

The spin was perfect this time without anybody watching.  The thud of a true throw is ominous in the silence and every head craned back to see the heavy blade embedded on the target board.  I could see the biggest smile on Aljew’s face for he gifted the AJF Gahum tailored-fit for me and throwing it was not on his mind when he made that on his forge.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

NAPO TO BABAG TALES CIII: Jungle Wil and Pathfinder Tom

BACK IN SEPTEMBER 2009, I met two grizzled veterans of the outdoors at the Gustavian, a high-end restaurant in Banilad, Cebu City. We talked in the noisy and smoky part of the Gustav – The Taproom - where expats gathered, talking about women and football in the same length and breadth with beer-laced breaths reaching you from a mile away. I did not know, at that time, that both have been following my blog and have arranged for this meeting.

That was long time ago and both have gone on separate ways afterwards. The American, Tom Moore, went back to Etats Unis to embark on his high-profile adventures and even got cast in Discovery Channel’s “Dude You’re Screwed”, a high-rating survival reality show which debuted in 2013 and which went into its second season in 2014. Wil Davies – as Welshman as rugby – hopped to and fro Hong Kong and Cebu and, ultimately, settled here chasing that elusive sunset. He is a highly-experienced outdoors educator.

I worked under Wil in Jungle Wild Adventures and, later, teamed up with him to establish the Snakehawk Wilderness School in 2013. It was with Snakehawk that we both got cast in “Native Instinct”, which brought both of us to Guintarcan Island for a “desert island” scene in Cebu and to the Pastolan Aeta village of Hermosa, Bataan for a jungle shoot. The production staff encountered severe technical problems and the show never went on the air.

Except for a brief moment in 2012, we three met again at the Sandtrap in Banilad but that was not the outdoors. That time, Tom was riding on the euphoria of his casting in DYS. Anyway, back in 2009, both were eager to spend the outdoors of Cebu together and they contacted me on the possibility of leading them to our mountains. It did not materialize as extreme weather conditions would not permit it although Wil had, for many times, gone with me.

Today, September 20, 2015, however, things changed favorably for both. Tom and Wil are on the forefront, leading me and the rest of the guys of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild into our favorite playground of the Babag Mountain Range. Yes, Tom, Wil and I are finally in the outdoors after six long years when they had first suggested that to me in that smoky and noisy room. That long. Listen then to the values of old men telling tales.

Tom would be showing us how to prepare and cook desert fare and the older Wil, now beginning to reveal feebleness of body, is ecstatic over this rare chance to rub elbows again with his old buddy in their hallowed place and, for both of them, on their much younger counterparts at Camp Red. Camp Red is really anchored on their idea of how the outdoors ought to be enjoyed and it is, in a way, their descendants. I am just the conduit of that idea and nurtured it to what it is now.

For the bush-crazy Camp Red people, it is also a rare chance to shake hands with and engage in conversations on the DYS celebrity - Tom aka Col. Tomahawk and Pathfinder Tom - and, for those who have not seen Wil in person, another culture shock. Wil or Jungle Wil, by the way, have appeared together with me in the only surviving video clips of NI posted on its Facebook page and on its Vimeo account. According to producer Matt Everett, it is sort of a “Ray Mears-meets-Bear Grylls” show. Guess who plays “Bear Grylls”?

Tom’s coming is grounded on a survival-reality show which he is planning to produce, direct and participate in and which he intended to shoot entirely in the Philippines for its first season. Tom, Wil and I would each have our own episodes for this show called “Expedition Philippines”. It would have a total of 7-8 episodes which would be participated in by other international survival celebrities as well.

EP would be a real expedition, as what its name suggest, and Tom would be leading this while I would be his second. We are starting our groundwork today to identify and meet the very people who would compose part of the team, based upon my recommendations. Cebu will be our base and possible locations where the team, along with the production crew, would be are the jungles of Bataan and Palawan, islands off Cebu and Samar, and the highlands of the Cordilleras.

After transferring from Guadalupe to Napo, we walk the trail in a long line to the Lower Kahugan Spring, our first rallying point. Everyone got there, including Glenn Pestaño and another heavy guy. Tom, who have grown fat, got there without any problem but that is the better part. The other half of our route would end at the abandoned Roble Homestead and it would be a bit steep for comfort but it is shady. In the tropics and deserts, shade is your ally.

In spite of that, people got there earlier than expected. Tom had already kneaded the flour for the tamale that he intended to cook when I got there. A fire is born and so is water warmed up for coffee. I never start my work in the outdoors without coffee and coffee tastes better there, be it brewed, in 3-in-1 sachets or anything that tastes like one. The empty homestead got peopled in due time, including the bulkier guys.

Ernie Salomon gets to work in his kitchen without walls. His outdoors experience, his expertise and his resourcefulness to get food fixed in time gets him a slot for EP as the camp fixer. Tom had seen that in photos and now he sees Ernie this close. So is Jhurds Neo, as the expedition officer in charge of logistics acquisition; through his experience with ships, by his integrity and leadership qualities. Both he and Tom got a talk and it is a cinch for Jhurds.

The distaff side among us like Mirasol Lepon, Faith Gomez, Locel Navarro and Francelyn Quijano helped in the meal preparation, together with the guys. By the way, Tom is eyeing a conventional Filipina to work with an international female TV celebrity and an Aeta woman in one episode. There will be auditions for this part and I have many possible candidates who learned from me in the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp and similar trainings.

Big cauldrons are used, provided by Zene Roble, for cooking the pork adobao and the mixed-vegetable soup. Tom had already cooked the bread in cooking oil and looked more like fat pancakes instead. Me, I rather slurp my warm coffee and choose a spot to talk with both Tom and Wil. Zene offered them native cigarettes made from dried leaves of the Java plum tree (Local name: lomboy, duhat) and the duo smoked it like it is a Chesterfield.

The best part of the activity are the tales which circle around blades. Glenn, as always, is the celebrity when it comes to this. His collections and even his present possessions are the envy of everybody’s. There is no one, when comparing knives with matching history to tell, can match his except, perhaps, Aljew Frasco, but he is hot here. So Glenn claims that honor today. Around him are Jhurds, Dominik Sepe, Johnas Obinas, Justin Abella, Justin Apurado, Jonathan Apurado, Mark Lepon, Nelson Tan, Richie Quijano and a couple of the new guys enjoying the repartee.

The fire is supplied by abundant firewood that are sourced from dried branches and bamboos which the guys efficiently cut to pieces with their blades. Tending the fires are Ernie, Fritz Bustamante and Nyor Pino and an initial shower that did not last for more than five minutes visited the cooking. Fly sheets are hastily cast overhead the hearth and over a table. Cooking is ongoing on a soup of Lima beans which took Ernie longer than usual. Tom helped in the softening of the steaming beans by crushing it with a stainless bucket.

Another torrent of rain visited us, this time it is stronger and it stayed longer. We brave the shock of cold and eat the hot meals at 12:45 under the protection of fly sheets, tarpaulins and the roof of an unfinished house. I always love the rain and embrace it by completely going wet. Why make life difficult by going half-wet and half-dry and, just the same, get drenched when the wind blows in another direction?

It seems Tom has an appointment and he has to go sooner than we expected him to be. We have to fill up then of a ritual which now is standard fare in all Camp Red activities: the blade porn. One by one, a wooden bench becomes a porcupine as all blades are pierced standing up on its point. This is the exclamation point that ends dirt time at Camp Red to the astonishment of Tom and Wil and the new guys with us. They never expected that many!

Tom and Wil went downhill which nobody noticed during the time we were busy packing all our things back to our bags. I follow their wake and sees one set of deep footprints that is pronounced at the heel tips. It belonged to Tom and he is in a hurry. Another set of footprints which imitate the characteristics of a ninja belongs to the much lighter Wil. Both has a five minute headstart. I overtake them on a bend before the path goes down to a depression some meters the footbridge at Napo.

We all transfer to Guadalupe and, from there, to our watering hole in Red Hours. Wil had to go to take his medications which he failed to carry and Tom got hold of a cold glass of the coldest Red Horse beer that we could possibly purchase. Tom eventually says goodbye to that appointment of his and made love with his Red Horse instead. Welcome to the Philippines, colonel!

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016


THE KENTUCKY COLONEL and the High Priest of Pimpdom is in town. Yeah, one of the co-stars of Discovery Channel's “Dude You're Screwed” is here. Along with Jake Zweig, John Hudson, Terry Schappert and Matt Graham, Thomas D. Moore made survival reality show more exciting by competing with the elements as they each find their way to civilization in under 100 hours after being left in the middle of nowhere. DYS debuted in 2013, made it to its second season in 2014 and was shown in Asia as “Survive That”.

Tom, better known by his Internet handles of Tomahawk and Pathfinder Tom, is a regular visitor in the Philippines, particularly here in Cebu, where I first met him in 2009. His recent coming has got to be connected with another survival TV project which he aims to promote, produce and direct. It would be called “Expedition Philippines” and, in a sense, is a real expedition in itself. Scenes would be shot in the jungles of Bataan and in Palawan, islands off Cebu and Samar, and the highlands of the Cordilleras.

During the expedition, I will be his second and, during the actual shooting, I will have my own episode. Six other international survival TV celebrities will each have their own episodes upon the invitation of the Colonel. Some of the guys at Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild are already being chosen to compose the expedition team, based upon my recommendations, and the rest will get to see their idol in the flesh today, September 13, 2015.

We are going to the town of San Fernando, for a fiesta celebration in the mountain village of Tonggo. Jhurds Neo brought a Hyundai Starex for this occasion. Crowding out behind are the Tomahawk, me, Ernie Salomon, Richie Quijano, Mark and Mirasol Lepon, Jingaling Campomanes, Nelson Tan and our host Nelson Orozco with his relatives. On a new Yamaha DT motorcycle, is Glenn Pestaño, riding escort. The following are photo montage of our Sunday activity:

After the merrymaking, we hop back to the Starex and do sightseeing at the Singli Mountain Resort. It has a good-sized swimming pool in the middle of the resort with another smaller one across the road to a low hill. It is far from a community and would give some peace of mind to a traveller and is good for a family and company outing too. After that, we proceed back to Cebu City and see to it that the Colonel is in his hotel safe and sound.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016


I MISSED THE ROBLE HOMESTEAD. It had been sometime that I and my wards from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild had done dirt-time there. Dirt time is nothing more than dirtying the hands in a no-nonsense real outdoor activity. The place where the Roble family had lived is now abandoned after Fele was injured last July 3, 2015 by a gunshot wound caused by a neighbor, Timoteo Gabasan.

The suspect, who is still on the loose, threw out some threats of harm to hikers and friends of Fele. It is a cause for alarm to visitors, hikers and people and so I advised them to put off any outdoor activity, for the time being, at their place going to Mount Babag. They had listened and followed my advice. Despite that, I frequent the place on different occasions on other routes to test how true and real were the threats.

There really were threats and the suspect was even angry at how I am able to penetrate the place last week where he is believed to have been hiding. To test again that menace, I decide to visit again the Roble homestead and planned on to stay there the whole day with the bushmen of Camp Red for our dirt-time. We are not afraid of anybody and the Babag Mountain Range is not off-limits.

On the parking lot of Guadalupe church are people who will again defy that situation: Ernie Salomon, Glenn Pestaño, Dominik Sepe, the couple Mark and Mirasol Lepon, Nelson Tan, Mel Mesias, Jonathan and Justin Apurado, Locel Navarro, Bogs Belga, Nyor Pino, Fritz Bustamante and guest Ariel Lim. We leave at 07:40 for Napo, right after securing our food ingredients.

Sapangdaku Creek is clear, robust and at a fast current. The ground is wet and many parts muddy. I am at the head of the column with Glenn behind me. Glenn had not been seen outdoors lately and have missed many episodes of our dirt-time. He has a lot of ground to cover, especially with his physical conditioning. He is my responsibility and I would not want him out of my sight. I would love that he stays behind me and the rest will have to bear the slower pace.

We reach Lower Kahugan Spring and take a respite. So far so good for Glenn. I fill up my empty bottle and enjoy my first drink of water. I carry my Lifeguard USA rucksack and it is filled to the brim even though I carried light. My AJF Gahum is on my side happy to slap its weight on my left thigh. It is a weight that I welcome anytime any day or night on any place or weather. All carry their blades openly, including our ladies.

We resume after that well-deserved short rest. The path go a little steep and would challenge Glenn big time. I still insist that we hike on by his pace. Along the way, I forage the tender tops of turkey berry (Local name: talong-talong) which I would mix with the rest of the food ingredients we bought at Guadalupe. That is the part of the wild shrub which is considered edible.

Surprisingly, even at Glenn's pace, we reach the old homestead at 10:00. Earlier, I feared that we would arrive later than that, at the most, at 11:00. Immediately, a few of us begun to forage firewood. The first order of things is building a fire intended to boil water for coffee. Coffee is legendary outdoors, regardless if it is brewed or just an instant one. I do not mind; just as it looks, smells and tastes like coffee!

Ernie begins to claim an abandoned table and starts his preparation of our food. Locel, Mirasol and Nyor assists him in slicing the ingredients while Bogs, Fritz and Ariel keep feeding the fire with more wood. Jhurds, Dom, Nelson, Mel and Mark are in a conspiracy of eliciting Chuck Norris tales from Glenn and wishing he would part some of his stash of prized folders.

Fele's brothers, Zene and Roger joined us for a talk and how I am glad that their concerns about their own lives have lessened. They do not take chances and be complacent. They are still monitoring the suspect's whereabouts, whose choices of travel are now confined to Kalunasan, in Bocawe and on the other side of the mountain down to Bonbon. I liked that the suspect is pestered by his own shadow. One of these days, the long arm of the law will catch up with him.

Lunch got served at exactly 12:00 and we make it as feast-ful as possible with soup that was made from ingredients coming from the streetside market and from what we picked up along the way. Grilled pork makes it more feasty plus Ernie’s signature side dish of raw cucumber-and-tomato mix in vinegar. Since there were more food than we can consume, we shared some of it to Roger, Zene and son, Jerome.

After cleaning up the dishes and dirty pots, I suggest to everyone to make fire by friction by any means. I am preparing the guys their worthiness if ever I tap each one of them to be my assistants should there be bushcraft and survival trainings given out to institutions or group of individuals just like I did recently at the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp, to volunteer responders of the Archdiocese of Capiz and the DRRMO elements of the Municipality of Lilo-an (Cebu). They should prove their worth.

Teaching bushcraft is never easy. You talk and you give demonstrations. In between, you have to prepare meals, make fire, cook, fetch water, drink, walk, check camp safety, make a latrine, source materials for your lectures and a little time for yourself. I cannot do all these things all at the same time and so I need guys who are flexible. I can promise them a little something for them in return if ever I am requested to teach again in the near future.

The guys begin work. They find dry bamboo poles and some pieces of soft wood. For the bamboos, they split it into pieces where it can be rubbed against each other. Three sets of two individuals each are on to it. Mirasol and Mark and Nelson and Mel are doing the planer rub while Nyor and Justin does the saw method. A bowdrill set was fashioned from out of the soft wood and Dom and Jonathan pushes their effort on it.

Smoke emit from all methods but only the bowdrill was able to light a fire. It is indeed an amazing afternoon of perspiration and burnt smoke. I am satisfied but I wish they would be better than today. Practice is wanting and I wish they would also find time for that. It is expected that paying clients demand such results to justify the worth of what they pay you to teach them.

I prepare myself for future trainings by cutting two pieces of soft wood with the folding saw of my Victorinox SAK Trailmaster. The wood is about 2 inches thick by 4 inches wide but the superior design of the small saw make short work of it. I would carry home the wood and it shall become part of the things when I travel to do trainings.

We wrap up our activity at 15:00 and say goodbye to Roger, Zene and Jerome. We waited for the threat-maker to crawl to us but he never came. We were ready to bash his head open. It would have been the least we could do to him. Anyway, we take the same route and reach Napo at 16:30. It is too early to call it a day and so we spend it at the Red Hours Convenience Store.

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