Friday, July 8, 2016

BUSHCRAFT BUHISAN XXXVI: A Happy Free Spirit of the Woodlands

I AM SUPPOSED TO be in Bohol today, October 18, 2015, but a strong typhoon battered the north of the country and the Coast Guard has released a stern advisory on sea travel. My wife thought it not wise to proceed on and so she had all our tickets refunded against my wishes. That would also confine me to an inactivity on a Sunday which I find so alien now in my system.

I always go out to the backcountry every Sunday be it in the best or under inclement weather or be it with companions or alone. Every Sunday is allotted for a walk with nature and I have good reasons for that to the dismay of the wife, who understood and allowed me despite her protestations. If she would have not, the bed would have claimed me as an everyday companion and I would be a medical case.

The moment that I learned of the shelved trip, I absently assemble all the things inside my Lifeguard USA rucksack. Included are two small pots and one-fourth of a kilo of milled corn, small plastic bottles of cooking oil and salt, an AJF folding trivet and a plastic chopping board. I will go to Buhisan alone to look for a good place to train ladies for the audition of “Expedition Philippines” and to look for things to help in their training.

Yeah, I am carrying a heavy load for such a trifle activity. Even my wife noticed that. She reminded me about my load which is unusual for just a day hike. It is already late and I do not have time to disassemble the contents of the bag. I would have to carry this load instead as a training load in preparation for Segment IV of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project which is just four days away.

By the way, Segment IV is an exploration hike that starts from Mount Manunggal, Balamban and ends at Caurasan, Carmen. It will be on the dates of October 22 to 25, 2015. It is more than fifty kilometers long but the very rugged terrain, the total lack of knowledge of its trails, absence of information and guide and the inherent risks to personal safety make this my most challenging journey for the Cebu Highlands Trail Project.

I will be alone today and I commute to Guadalupe. I will forego about the cooking and proceed instead to the business of survival hiking fare: bread and water. I fill my water bottle full and stash just two pieces of bread. My mind is still unclear. Yes, I will go to Buhisan but which route? I settled for the longest. Okay, even if it is already very late – 08:45 – the cool weather is stacked in favor of me. I will pass Heartbreak Ridge.

I climb the flight of stone stairs to the ridge and stop by the last store to buy a single sachet of 3-in-1 coffee. I get my AJF Gahum knife from the bag and hang it from my 5.11 belt while stripping the Canon IXUS camera off of its pouch and slide it inside the right pocket of my khaki Blackhawk pants. The long pants is heavy but I am unfazed. In fact, it gives me confidence to prowl the bushes.

For the fifth time, I am using my new Merrell Geomorph shoes. This would be the final break-in test before bringing it to the Segment IV hike. I will not be in a hurry today. The ground is wet and limestones are slippery. I am still very careful even with good shoes. I may trust my equipment but I always respect nature first. You cannot be too sure. Never underestimate a wet trail.

I pass by the steel tower and go on the tunnel vent and beyond without stopping. I am sweating even if the skies are cloudy and the winds blow constantly at 18 kilometers per hour. This is the good thing when you hike in the Visayas in the worst weather affecting the north. But when we get one bad typhoon, expect our brothers in Luzon to enjoy favorable weather too. Tit for tat.

One of the things why I am out of the comforts that my home would have provided me on a Sunday is that I also want to field test a portable iCOM VHF radio with an extendable Skyprobe antenna. Communications is an important part in explorations and the radio equipment would be very vital in my day-to-day progress, as well as receiving weather updates. I stop for a while to communicate with my Base Support Team – the Eagle Base – using the station frequency of Ham Radio Cebu.

Some of the weeds are in bloom and I captured this in camera. There is so much to learn in local vegetation. I may know some but 99-percent of these remain incognito. My thirst for more knowledge about plants is an ongoing process. Because I do not walk on mountains just to benefit my health and my self-confidence, I stop often to enjoy nature's beauty at closer range possible and I appreciate it when these are in good health.

I am very fortunate to walk on a trail where nobody knows except locals. I am also very fortunate to pursue on a journey without companions for human noise drown out natural sounds. Few people would engage on lone hikes and these few people have found harmony in themselves and with nature. I prefer being alone not because I want to but because I owe my existence to my close links with the natural world.

One of the privileges why walking alone is beneficial for me is I could act like a fool without causing anyone to worry or laugh at me. It seems crazy but I have some good reasons like testing my new Merrells. A wet trail is a hazard in itself if taken downhill and this is terrain where shoe reputations are made or unmade. Well-worn limestones too. I deliberately step on one and my shoe lose traction and I fall on the side of the trail.

Been expecting that slip. I shrug off the leaves that stuck to my clothes and went on my way. Picked up dried wiry vines that had already been neatly rolled by a farmer and tuck it securely on the side of my bag. My tummy is acting strangely and immediately my eyes scanned a big-leafed shrub and an animal trail. You know how it goes when no one is with you. Come on, use your imagination. I picked up a warped old 45 polyvinyl disc and keep it in my bag after I have finished my nature call.

I met a local with a heavy sack over his head and I gave the privilege of the trail to him. Despite gaining little in his progress by the heavy weight, the man took time to ask me why I am alone today? I answered him honestly and he went on his way grinning. I saw a woman splitting firewood with a bolo from a distance and she smiled when I gave her morning greetings. I talked to another local with a sack of coconuts over his head and asking me the same question. He gave his name as Ronald.

I reach the place called the Portal at 10:45 and I savor my first sips of my water. Meanwhile, my mind is working which of the seven routes would I take. I chose one that goes deep into jungle which leads to a stream. The trail is beginning to vanish as the vegetation claimed the bare grounds. Some parts have been washed away by water making my walk quite dangerous. The Merrells never failed me here but my sense of balance begins to irritate me.

It could be caused by different factors: 1) Lack of breakfast, 2) overweight or a 3) shifting backpack. I considered all three but I suspect the bag. It is overloaded by useless weights and the insides shift when I move. The bag is of old-school design and does not have a waist belt to hold the bag still. I use my hands when I need to as I weave along a tiny ribbon of ground which sometimes went missing for a time.

The last time I passed by here was in December 2014. That time I was leading people into the streams but the path that provided me through there had been missing or that the vegetation had really gobbled it up for good. I am now in a quandary if the other trail that would lead to Starbucks Hill would not be found also. I changed plans and take another trail but it led me to a familiar hill and to a community which I want to sidestep at.

I am back to square one and I start from there to Creek Alpha instead. A great transformation from the original plan. Reaching the community took a lot of my energy which no bread could compensate. I can now feel the burning hunger. I can never discipline a brain that automatically sends signal from the stomach. Well, it can wait for I intend to go slow to keep the mind from dictating its wishes on me.

I reach Creek Alpha at my own pace at 12:25 and I would go downstream to where a trail would lead me to another stream. The water is clear and briskly running in the fulness of its existence in a rainy season. Ahead are footprints of children and adult alike, distinguishable by bare and sandaled feet on sand. My senses peaked up a notch upon learning of people ahead of me. The sensation of hunger is now totally gone.

Meanwhile, my close observations on plants have led me to an exposed rootcrop of an Asiatic bitter yam (Local name: kobong) and I plucked a piece intending to propagate it on my backyard. The thorny vines make a good obstacle for burglars and strays. As I proceed on, I saw a small stream that connects to the bigger Creek Alpha. It looks good even if going above it takes a little climbing. I found a small pool and, above it, more climbing.

I go back to the main stream and found the trail. I reach Creek Bravo at 13:20 and take a short rest. I see the groves of water bamboos (botong) above me are recovering from its desecration of two years ago and, I believe, a single pole is ripe for the taking for another bushcraft camp should I host it back here. I take another trail bound for Camp Damazo taking dry twigs for firewood along the way. I may have to boil water at the campsite to dump the contents of my only sachet of coffee into it.

I reach the camp at 14:20 and begin a fire between a trio of stones. Camp Damazo is still the best place to do these trainings for the ladies, even of the auditions itself, because it has a clean source of water nearby. Likewise, it could now host another episode of the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp since the vegetation had already stabilized. It could host more people this time since there is a wide level ground a few meters away from camp.

After I had my coffee, I continue my hike at 15:20. The natural spring which had provided the camp with reliable water had become a small stream. Strong rains had caused the enlargement of the hole and washed away the bamboo trough that I had placed there in 2013. Its source came from another stream some 300 meters away, which I called Creek Charlie, whose water passes through permeable rock, sand and clay.

I push on and cross two more small streams, the upper parts of Alpha and Bravo, and climb up a steep trail that passes by healthy stands of stinging trees (alingatong) beside a stream. I reach Baksan Road and cross it to view a firewood gatherer’s version of a Nessmuk triumvirate. It is a heavy US-made axehead with a thick GI pipe for a haft; a local blade – 20 inches long – whose handle is bound by strips of rubber; and a stainless kitchen knife whose blade had metamorphosed into a mere sliver due to constant sharpening.

I take an easy stroll down to Lanipao enjoying the full bloom of the plants until I reach it at 16:50 and down some more to Napo which I found at 17:30. I got a motorcycle ride back to Guadalupe and changed to dry clothes while at the parking area of the Catholic church. I spend the rest of my day for a couple of cold San Miguel Beer bottles at a watering hole frequented by expats. Cheers! Mission accomplished.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.4 Writer

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