Monday, August 1, 2016
THE BUSHCRAFT CAMP that had made Cebu and its home-grown Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild notable in outdoors circle, especially on occasions marking Independence Day, is returning to its old haunt at Camp Damazo. This time, it will mark November 30, 2015 as the culmination of its three-day activity, with which date commemorate the death of our national hero, Andres Bonifacio, for which activity is named after him: the BONIFACIO DAY SPECIAL BUSHCRAFT CAMP.
Camp Damazo have molded the first local bushcrafters from 2011 to 2013 after participating in the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp. It is a special place for these enthusiasts of primitive-living skills belonging to the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. It is located somewhere among the small pockets of forest and jungles of the Babag Mountain Range in Cebu City. It is an hour's walk from the nearest trailhead but finding the route to there is knowledge confined only among our circle.
Fortunately, this would be the route that seventeen participants would discover today (November 28) when they would immerse themselves in the world of bushcraft. I walk the lead starting from the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish to our first rest at the dreaded “Heartbreak Ridge” in a very warm morning. I am carrying a South Korean military duffel bag that is filled full of the things I and the rest need for this bushcraft camp, including 28 event t-shirts. Of the seventeen, five are minors.
Coming along are six individuals, personally handpicked as camp staff. Jhurds Neo, president of Camp Red and alumni of the 2012 edition of the PIBC, would sit as the camp ramrod – the administrator. Aljew Frasco (2013), the vice president, would assist as instructor, together with Mark Lepon (2015). Eli Bryn Tambiga (2012), the club secretary, would serve as camp hawkeye – photographer - and would share the task of camp medic with Christopher Ngosiok (2015). Ernie Salomon (2011) would take charge of the kitchen as the camp fixer.
The ridge almost took the fight off of me as I am forced to halt on places where I have not known to do in previous trips. In my struggle to carry the heavy duffel, I have to make a lot of stops and I had wasted time. The heat was unwavering and it added to my miseries. I was able to recover slightly on the shady areas going to the Portal, which was rolling terrain. I had been carrying a plastic bag full of the robust bread that is a specialty of Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos and Native Delicacy but I am forced to pass it to Christopher after the Portal.
Once I am out of the shade, the struggle returned on the concrete road yet, I know, up ahead would be shady Lensa Trail and all downhill until Creek Alpha. We take a trail that wind around a mountain and stop by Creek Bravo to harvest a green pole of water bamboo before proceeding to Camp Damazo which is uphill. I stop at the top where the ridge starts ascending higher and higher to Camp Damazo. This time, I surrender my task to leading the party to Ernie.
I idled on my uncomfortable seat and rose only when I found the last man coming. Camp Damazo have recovered well from its usage in 2012 and 2013. The main campground will not be used by the participants. They will, instead, camp on a recently-discovered flat terrain just below the trail and is suited best for tents. The old camp, however, will be allocated to the camp staff who, I believe, would most be setting up simple shelters and hammocks.
As I arrive, everybody are busy setting up their shelters; the participants on the lower campground while the camp staff are on the upper part. Ernie had already started the cooking fire and is ably assisted by volunteers Mirasol Lepon (2015), Jonathan Apurado (2015) and Jingaling Campomanes (2015). Jhurds, meanwhile, are bringing Mark and more volunteers – Nyor Pino (2015), Fritz Bustamante (2015) and Nelson Tan (2015), downhill towards the designated latrine areas, to cover it with laminated nylon sheets.
All the camp staff availed of a late lunch – typically an Iberian habit – at 15:30. At 16:00, I immediately opened the lectures with Introduction to Bushcraft, which I intentionally made short owing for the time lost hiking to here which, unfortunately, I was responsible for. After 15 minutes, I proceed to the longer chapter on Ethical Bushcraft. Since bushcraft is beginning to get noticed by many people as a better leisure weekend activity, it would be good to teach them better outdoor ethics and being discrete on their choice of campsites.
Not all could understand what bushcraft really is, especially if you are just imitating survival reality TV shows without knowing its full wisdom, while some cannot appreciate its methods borne out by their prejudiced view of what they perceive on survival TV. Bushcraft can be very destructive if you do not have the privilege of someone teaching you its proper ways. As a parting shot for the first day lectures, it is very important that they know this: that “bushcraft can never mix with mainstream outdoor activities”.
Ernie immediately started the preparation for supper. All the participants likewise prepared theirs on the same cooking fire under the watch of Ernie and his small crew. Dinner came at at 19:00 amid a sky threatening to burst into a storm. The Campfire Yarns and Storytelling has its fine moment until the skies cannot hold it anymore and hurled thunder and lightning and rain. Lots and lots of rain but a hardy few endured under a narrow flysheet canopy. Some continue on their duty as Nightwatch.
I work my way in the rainy darkness among a cobweb of guylines to my dry Silangan hammock protected by an Apexus canopy sheet. I slept well until Eli woke me up at 04:00 to start my watch duty. Coffee is bottomless as I feed the fire with wood. After an hour of composing my thoughts in silence, Camp Damazo begins to come alive from the grips of its cold stupor. There will only be a light breakfast for this second day – November 29 – and I see to it that all will fast for the rest of the day. This is done so the participants could relate what it would be like during survival in a wilderness setting.
There had been sightings of a palm civet (Local name: melu) in the early hours of morning and it is good that it had showed nerve despite our presence. I am quite glad that it thrived even though it is hunted by unscrupulous poachers. As long as I am here, it can never be threatened. At 08:00, the chapter on Knife Care and Safety is being discussed by Aljew. He showed all how a knife, if improperly handled, would cause harm and he gave a bonus by demonstrating different notching techniques.
The next lecture is Firecraft and Aljew still held the reins. The discussion steered from tinder selection to firewood to the different methods of starting a fire. The boredom that grasped the participants is now replaced by avid interest to witness the real thing, perhaps the opportunity to produce a fire by themselves. True to form, Aljew performed the bowdrill, spinning smoke and heat until dust embers spurred a flame on a nest of dry tinder. The participants tried their luck but spindles broke free from its cord.
Another friction method – the bamboo fire-saw, is provided by the tandem of Mark and Fritz, which both achieved in an effortless and fast-paced manner. A lone participant overcame awkwardness and, after pairing with Mark, produced fire. Then everyone tried their hand on every dry bamboo ready for the scorching and satisfaction are written in each of their grinning faces. That goes also to the ladies and the kids!
Excitement had drowned out their starvation as noontime passed without being noticed. Fire-making ate too much of time and I am again in the circle of a natural amphitheater discussing about Shelters starting at 14:00, and continue on to another topic about Foraging and Plant ID. For the satisfaction of the participants, different snares and traps are already set by the camp staff so they may understand the complexities of catching food in the wilderness. Plant ID focused more on the harmful ones which all learn from pictures and from actual plants.
I am also now on the throes of hunger but there are now but a few more hours only before we feast during dinner. Going there, I have to talk about Survival Tool Making and proceed to give some practical exercises that the participants would fulfill and, consequently, create a bond with the knife to improve their dexterity. Their creativity on the bamboo begets a spoon, sometimes with a fork, a chopstick when it gets too complicated, a drinking jug and, finally, a cook pot.
The pot cannot be used if you have nothing to cook inside. Last topic is Outdoor Cooking. This is where you are taught how to preserve meat and your other food. This is also a time to understand the different methods of the fireplace where you will cook your food. Ultimately, rice will be cooked inside the bamboo pot but it is cooked differently from the standard fare.
The participants are grouped in fives and the first to accomplish the task of cooking the rice, gets the first chance to engage in Nocturnal Hunting. Since it had rained last night, Creek Charlie nearby will be brisk and it would be a sociable place among fresh-water crabs. Then edible tree snails will come from their hiding places to feed on moss among tree trunks and branches. Both creatures will be ripe for the picking and you end the imposed fasting by cooking these as your dinner.
The children and the teens among them, probed the darkness of the forest with LED lights, without fear, accompanied by their adult companions. I stationed myself as a safety marshal at the farthest end of the forest while others posted themselves on the creeks and along the peripheries of the hunting ground. It was the best time to hunt the tree snails and they expertly left alone the exotic African variety. Likewise, they deftly catch river crabs beyond the reach of claws.
The snails and the crabs are then dumped infront of Ernie. He knows how to make these fresh catch and obscure gastronomic fantasy into a delightful reality. By 20:00, the participants and the camp staff proceed to consume their only real meal of the day. Strong spirits help conversations and laughter crackled in the night. The place becomes alive again and the Campfire Yarns and Storytelling is doing an encore but this time it is more lively. It is a strange celebration set amidst a remote forest of a mountain.
I am spent and I report to my sleeping quarter so early at 22:00 and I never fully witnessed the bond that kept these kindred spirits awake until the coming of the first shafts of light. I am glad that I am not doing night duty. Perhaps my spot had been taken by the arrival of volunteers Justin Apurado (2014) and Locel Navarro (2015) yesterday. Today marks the appearance of another PIBC alumni Fulbert Navarro (2012) to give support and morale.
This is the final day and today (November 30) is the main reason why the Bonifacio Day Special Bushcraft Camp is being held. This is the day of remembrance of Andres Bonifacio, one of the country’s greatest heroes, who died 118 years ago today at the hands of a rival faction. I will honor him today by extolling his virtues, then raising the Philippine colors high on a pole and sing the national anthem - Lupang Hinirang. Afterwards, we renew our patriotic vow by reciting the Panunumpa sa Watawat.
Then the most awaited sideshow of this bushcraft camp which is now a tradition – the Knife Porn – is unleashed. Balanced above pieces of bamboo are the prized blades that the participants, camp staff and volunteers have used for three days. High-end brands lay alongside local ones, carbon steel knives with stainless-steel ones, fixed blades with folding knives, and multi-tool sets snatch their own spots. Perfect time to catch this with pictures.
That was the last program and, slowly, everybody break camp. It has been a pleasure for me to camp and sleep again at Camp Damazo after more than two years. The fireplace is now a permanent landmark and it shall stay as it is to remind people that it is the only place to introduce fire here, even with those having stoves. A cairn marks its place and it adds character to Camp Damazo, truly a place for rugged outdoorsmen who would appreciate its presence.
We leave our camp of three days at 11:00 and pass by the camp’s very reliable water source. After crossing two streams the ascent to the road starts. We cross that when we arrive at the rim and begin hiking the last stretch to Lanipao. By 13:00, we were now splashing in the spring-fed pools of the Lanipao Rainforest Spring Resort. This is the same place that the participants of PIBC MMXII and PIBC MMXIII bathed in after three days in a very humid Camp Damazo.
A meal of hot free-rein chicken soup and grilled pork, courtesy of the camp staff, gets everyone filled up. Training certificates are being distributed along with the raffling of giveaway items. VGOOD moringa juice were provided free to every participant, camp staff and volunteers, courtesy of fellow participant Ed Eduria. After getting refreshed, we leave at 15:30 bound for Napo on foot to catch motorcycles-for-hire Guadalupe.
The Bonifacio Day Special Bushcraft Camp officially ended at 17:00 of November 30, 2016. All able staff and volunteers and alumni of previous PIBCs like Glenn Pestaño (2011) and Boy Toledo (2011) proceed to Cafe Angelica, another of my refreshment area, located at the back of KIA Motors, in Gorordo Avenue, to savor sub-zero beer. The Bonifacio Day event was the first of its kind and the first to accept minors (Jacob – 14, Cleos – 14, Shawn – 14, Michaela – 11 and Maverick – 9), and I will study it if it would be feasible to hold it yearly.
Keep those fingers crossed. XO
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