Sunday, September 18, 2016


TEACHING BUSHCRAFT AND SURVIVAL is a passion which I love to do. I found pleasure in sharing it to my fellow countrymen and to foreigners alike. Language barriers are not a problem with me and I find it entertaining to see faces of people amused at my thick Cebuano-laced tongue trying to make a conversation in Tagalog or navigating my lecture through its intended course in my coarse English, supplemented with hand gestures to cross the language barrier.

It is good that I have something to read on in almost-perfect English prepared by me, of course, which is now standard matrix to which I conduct these outdoor trainings. In the entire album of my photos, you might see me reading to the participants or discussing something to them while holding stapled sheaves of bond paper. I do not teach in helter-skelter fashion and I do these, instead, in an organized manner.

It is not often I receive foreign guests interested to learn the BASIC TROPICAL BUSHCRAFT COURSE like I did once coming from the UK and the USA. While English may be the preferred international language in business and commerce but it is still Greek to a lot of people specially from the former Eastern bloc countries. I even toyed with the idea of learning basic Russian, if ever these guys come to town. They did come, however.

What came to town instead were five guests from Poland. Surprisingly, they can speak and understand English very well and it made my day. That day is January 13, 2016 and I arrive at their hotel early in the morning to pick them up and whisk them away to the parking lot of Guadalupe church. Another client – a Filipino – arrive to take his place inside the small Suzuki Scrum mini pickup that I hired while I wait for my assistant.

After finishing with my procurement of food ingredients, Ernie Salomon arrive and take his place in the ever tightening room of the small Suzuki. We proceed to Baksan Hills while the driver shift to four-wheel drive as the road go steep. We arrive at the trailhead at around 08:00 and I do my first duty by briefing all my guests of the terrain and the camp rules. I intend to set up our campsite at the old Camp Damazo.

While I have taught outdoor seminars of this same nature many times in the past, I did it part-time since I have a day job. After I have parted with my employer on the last day of 2015, I decide to go full time. This would be my first endeavor as an unemployed. The five from Poland and one Filipino would be my first clients. I am providing them a Silangan Rev 20 tent and three hammocks (Silangan and Tingguian Tribe) for this occasion plus an Apexus fly sheet. Sef Abella, the lone Filipino, has with him a hammock-and-shelter set.

I am left with a cheap laminated-nylon sheet which I intend to use as a ground sheet to sleep upon without an overhead shelter and hope that it never rains. Ernie will not stay overnight but will prepare the meals when I start the lectures. I tied up the hammocks and the fly sheet between four trunks while two Poles set up the tent. The camp ground is dry while Creek Alpha below still has running water which vanish and appear in some places.

Our water supply are composed of bottled water and in Nalgene bottles. I may have to supplement these by sourcing water from the streambed for cooking and washing since what we have are not enough for two days. The jungle is a humid place and it is very warm, especially after a light shower had fallen down. We dug two water holes on the sandy bed and line the insides with stones and let the silt settle down. Meanwhile, I designate the latrine area sixty meters away from our camp.

When I have taken coffee, I begin by introducing myself to the participants, then the Introduction to Bushcraft. Bushcraft is very popular in the northern hemisphere, especially among countries located in temperate zones – which Poland is – and this is a serious activity for them. While bushcraft may be associated or mixed in with survival, I emphasized that bushcraft is really different from survival. While survival is immediate, bushcraft is the preparation thereof.

As they begin to understand that, I proceed to Ethical Bushcraft. When a lot of people begin to practice bushcraft as a leisure weekend activity, expect land owners and park managers to frown upon them, like those happening in the USA and the UK right now. Here in the Philippines, people have not totally grasped the idea of bushcraft yet, but, in time, they will. My introduction of Ethical Bushcraft in all my outdoor seminars is to educate people about the judicious use of forest resources.

Among the most important tools in bushcraft and, to a higher extent, survival, is the knife. Since it cuts through organic material and flesh, education about its proper use is of high importance. The topic of Knife Care and Safety precedes everything before handling a knife or any type of blade. This covers from safety carriage and rest, travelling, blade-handling efficiency, blade designs and grinds, sharpening techniques, courtesy, the Nessmuk trio, even our local knife law, if it helps them.

I would have Survival Tool-Making as the next topic like I did with my previous seminars but I proceed instead to Plant ID and Foraging. This section talks about hunting for food, collecting essential items like tinder, foraging edible plants, making traps and snares, and identifying plants, especially the toxic kind, which the tropics has a lot. Here in the Philippines, edible plants are that many since most of these are introduced from Central and South America by the Spanish and, later, by the Americans.

I will have to engage them in a Discovery Hike so they will encounter some harmful plants like the rattan vines, the stinging nettles and the Asiatic bitter yams on our way to forage a bamboo pole which can only be found at Creek Bravo. The bamboo is essential in tool-making and can be carved easily with a knife according to its use. I found no dried bamboo of the exact size for fire-making and have to make do with a smaller one. It is a thin and flimsy piece.

When I have secured a green bamboo pole and the dry bamboo, we double back to camp for our lunch, since it is almost 13:00 already. Ernie did a good job of the pork adobao and the five Poles found it excellent. We always cook our food without monosodium glutamate (MSG) and their derivatives disguised as “magic mix”. I have influenced Ernie how to cook with the right frame of the mind and, for that, he is now the best outdoors chef in Cebu, even in the entire country, hands down!

After an hour of siesta, we begin Survival Tool-Making. It is about making survival tools for just about anything from digging sticks, cordage, dining and cooking implements, hunting and fishing applications, and others as obscure as the batoning stick. I show to them the idea of a digging stick – taller than me, heavier than usual and flat-edged instead of pointed. Then we proceed with cordage using fibers of plantain. Making it strong by twining three lengths and braiding these together.

To apply what they learned in knife safety on the making of survival tools and to practice their dexterity with a knife, I suggest to them to make spoons and drinking jugs from the green bamboo pole. Before they start that, I teach them how to use a small knife to cut up bamboo with the use of a baton and how to make a cooking vessel from the same bamboo using the Trailhawk System. I choose my William Rodgers knife to do that demo.

While all are busy, I make a pressure-trigger snare from small pieces of bamboo. It may look so complex but, actually, is the most common type that most people use. When I find them in a lull, I lead them to where the snare is located and show them how it works. You may or may not place bait and it works better with heavier fowls like chicken, ducks, turkey and geese. Meanwhile, Ernie has to leave at 15:00 but he marinated the rest of the meat for our supper later.

Time ran its course and, when we sensed that it is already 16:30, we forage more firewood. Sef ably helped me with the fires and the pork barbecue. The Poles are now ready to cook rice on their bamboo pot. I teach them the Trailhawk System for cooking rice which is quite different with how you usually cook it. Dinner came at 19:00 and the rice was perfectly cooked. The bottom of the bamboo did not suffer holes and I am quite satisfied of their job.

The Campfire Yarns and Storytelling begins with knowing each country. The Poles are curious about our close attachment to the Americans and what would I feel about the idea of different price tags for tourists and another for locals? Our fond regard of the USA started when it introduced public education which a former colonizer failed; then we fought with them in Bataan and suffered the same ignominy after defeat. Many of their soldiers voluntarily stayed to resist tyranny. We fought with them again in Korea and in Vietnam even though these were not our war.

My guests have visited Loay, Bohol and Oslob, Cebu and they would proceed to El Nido, Palawan tomorrow. They do not like places which are saturated with tourists and that is why they took a chance with learning bushcraft in a jungle. Double pricing is giving tourism a bad name and I do not like this practice. In fact, a lot of Filipinos do not like it at all and the government should take steps to regulate establishments employing this bad practice. In fact, what price I gave them are similar to what I offer to Filipinos.

Now my turn. I asked them if they know Lech Waleska and St. Karol Wojtyla? All five knows the former but only one knows the latter. I have seen Karol Wojtyla when he came here in 1981 and he was carrying the more popular name of Pope John Paul II. I mentioned the places Pomerania and Gdansk and they describe to me of these places. When they will return to Poland, it would be the start of winter and they would expect below zero temperatures.

I carried a metal flask filled with a specially aged Matador brandy and I shared this to my guest which made our conversations more fluid. All turn in at 21:00 while I stay awake to stand guard and watch over the fire. I am sleeping out but I am protected by a hooded wool sweater. Fortunately, it did not rain. I enjoyed the MP3 music from Cherry Mobile U2 phone tuned low. I believe drowsiness won over me at around 02:00.

I wake up the next day – January 14 – at 05:30 and everybody are still asleep. I use a Trangia alcohol burner to boil water for coffee. After I had coffee I cook an egg omelet with that and slice it equally for 11 sandwiches – two each for the five from Poland, one for Sef and none for me. Also fry 20 pieces of small “lumpia”, grounded meat handrolled with thin flour wrappers.

Breakfast was decimated without a waste and they begin to pack their things and clean up the campsite. They have a plane to catch at 14:00 and I promised to send them off to the airport before 12:00. One guy showed me an unhusked coconut that he found at Bohol and asked me how to open it. I showed him how and I prepared a small cook pot underneath to catch the liquid when the shell is broke. All five of them took turns in sipping the coconut water.

But I have one last topic to talk, which is Firecraft and it is already 09:00. I have to make this quick. Would that be possible? I have to improvise and start off with what makes a fire. I talk about the fire triangle where three elements should be present so fire could start and, conversely, you take away any element from the three and the fire dies. There has been a revision with this and they added another element – chemical reaction – to make it a fire tetrahedron. But I liked to explain it in its old context because it is simpler.

Then I reminded them that the firewood they collected yesterday from the ground were not the best firewood because these absorb moisture from the ground and it hampers the progress of your fire. The best firewood are those that are found hanging or those that do not touch the ground and it is best that you start with pencil-lead sizes, then pencil-wood sizes and, lastly, the thumb sized.

Tinder materials are anything that is light, dry and fluffy. I prepare a tinder bundle, sometimes called a “bird's nest”, and show them how it is done. On the contrary, it is best that you collect different tinder material and store these in a fire kit else you make one yourself. I show them my fire kit and the different tinder I foraged as well as charclothe inside the can that had been used to make these. I show them the original material – pieces of cotton jeans – before these were charred and turned into charcoal clothe.

I start making fire with the easiest which is now very popular because of the advent of survival TV, and that is striking a ferro rod. Taught them two different styles in striking a ferro rod which both participants tried with success on my tinder made from a hair-like fiber of a sugar palm. Showed them also a much older contraption – the flint and steel – which should be paired with charclothe.

Then I proceed to the friction method of making a fire. I have already prepared the one with the flimsy bamboo yesterday. I show them each piece of the bamboo fire-saw and what should you do with it, including its tinder bundle, which I demonstrate in making one. I rub both pieces and it emit smoke until the bottom piece broke caused by the pressure of my weight and the process of rubbing. On the other hand, I find no success with the bowdrill method as the pressure of time is now so greatly felt. I remembered their flight schedule.

I decide to pack my things inside my two bags I used for this occasion: a Sandugo Khumbu 40L and a Lifeguard USA. We retrace the trail that we took yesterday in coming here. We arrive at the road at 10:50 and walk for about a kilometer downhill where the Suzuki Scrum is waiting. We arrive at the departure area of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport at around 12:10 despite encountering traffic caused by the festivities of the coming Sinulog Festival.

We parted and I believed I have entered the portals of the big league reserved only for those who have created their name doing what they loved best. I cannot turn back now and I am made.

Document done in LibreOffice 4.4 Writer

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