Thursday, September 8, 2016
ONE OF THE REQUIREMENTS into acceptance as a regular member of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild is finishing the Selection Hike. The route is none other than Segment I-A of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project. It starts from Lutopan, Toledo City and ends at Guadalupe, Cebu City. It is about 31 kilometers long and should be finished in under twelve hours. It is not in a straight line nor on flat terrain.
My discovery of this route in February 2011 had inspired me to make this as a yardstick of stamina and endurance for member-applicants and, likewise, it is the seed of inspiration for my Cebu Highlands Trail Project. However, the possibility of the construction (and the eventual operation) of the Mananga Dam forced me to revise the route last January 3, 2016 because a part of that route would eventually be swamped under a man-inspired lake.
Today, January 10, 2016, I am returning, to spur off the new season for Camp Red. The first of these activities would be the Selection Hike. I am with the uninitiated members of Camp Red. They are Aljew Frasco, Nelson Orozco, Mark Lepon, Mirasol Lepon, Christopher Ngosiok, Bim Sauco, Fritz Bustamante and Nelson Tan. Coming along to act as their “big brother” are Jhurds Neo, Dominic Sepe and Jonathan Apurado. We leave Cebu City at 07:30 for Lutopan.
It is a warm morning. We arrive at Lutopan after an hour and Mark, Mirasol and Fritz were already at the market. Fritz just came from Negros Oriental and he aims to walk for work by taking a “short cut” to Cebu City. That would be an epic tale, would it not? Of course, it should be! We buy food ingredients that would be made into a very desirable lunch somewhere between Point A and Point B, and coffee too.
Since it is already very late in the morning and I fear that walking from Lutopan would melt away the enthusiasm of the guys when they are overtaken in darkness halfway along the route, I decide that we “cheat” a little by riding on motorcycles to Camp 7, in Minglanilla, three kilometers away, to make up for the long time wasted waiting for a Ceres Bus at the terminal. I prefer this bus company over the others because it serves better the riding public.
It is my fault though about choosing a bus but it affects little of the strenuous hike this hardy bunch would soon take. From Camp 7, we begin the test at 09:30. The sun is gracious today as it shines its warmth for all the world to relish or to disdain. Whatever, it is still life-giving and I have adapted myself to its tantrums. I am a child of the tropics and of the outdoors and I cannot alter these.
We reach the junction along Manipis Road where another road leads to Sinsin. We are now in the borderline hinterlands of Cebu City. We follow this road and turn at a corner called Odlom, which would lead to Buot-Taup. It is a long downhill walk on a half-finished road that bend and turned on the whims and contours of the terrain. We reach a narrow tributary of the Bonbon River and cross it without trouble. It is now almost noon.
We reach the main square of Buot-Taup and take refreshments at a store. The guys are so excited at the novel sight of a hanging span that cross the Bonbon River over to the other side. When they are finished with their business with the store, all queue to the bridge and it swayed and bounced to the heavy footfalls of eleven burdened individuals. Smiles are written all over their faces like children. I point to a high peak and their smiles turned to frowns.
We follow a trail that is forever ascending and we are glad to have found a grassy ground with shade and take coffee. Just nearby is a water source. Alcohol burners – branded and improvised – are made to work for their money’s worth. It is good to just sit for a while and talk about knives with hot coffee to sip on. Everything is silent except our voices, tainted again and again with a laugh or two.
After that 30-minute break, we proceed for the rest of the trail. It becomes a quest of choosing which one leads to where as my memory of my last week’s passing becomes blurry. Some trails branch off from where I walked and all are beaten trails, hard-packed and stony, and I am in a quandary. Well, I did chose one as it looked familiar and it leads to nowhere. Recovering from that blunder, I learned that I was walking on the right path after all.
We come by a small farm and walk through it and reach a ridge where another trail branched from the other. Both lead to “home ground” of either Cabatbatan or Bukawe. The latter is very enticing to an exploration while the other answers our need for warm food and cold refreshments. The “pot at the end of a rainbow” is in Cabatbatan, provided that the old lady who tends the store is not on a personal errand.
Down we go on a long downhill path, still perfect in its firmness and hold by the absence of water. I do not know how we will fare in here during a rainy day but we wish it would not be else it would be another story. Slowly, we all negotiate the hill safely and all partake of the cold drinks sold by the old lady. We retrieve all the pots and the ingredients for our lunch for there will be cooking. I believe our lunch would be late as it is already 15:30, but it is perfect if you are in Spain.
Our meal came at 17:00 and we devour it quickly for it is excellently done the traditional way with wood for fuel on the old lady’s “dirty kitchen”. The last time I saw it before prayers, it was a stew of diced pork, carrots, potatoes and vegetable pears, unlimited rice and a dish of eggplant salad. Feasts fit for kings indeed. Slowly, we pack up our things, knowing well that we have a long way to go, all of it concrete roads except maybe for short stretches where it is unpaved.
Darkness overtook us at Bukawe and it is cool. Nevertheless, most of us craved something cold which another store provided while it is still early. It is just a short respite for, after here, there will be more roads to walk on and it is always ascending. Darkness mellowed down the landscape to deny these rough breed of bushmen the sight of unending rises which take its toll on your resolve. Then rain fell.
By 19:15, we reach Pamutan Junction. From hereon, it would all be downhill and the pace increases, turning your soles into punching bags from the constant pounding of either hard concrete or from stones on an unpaved one going down Baksan way. Natural night vision is compulsory here and LED lights are relegated as an observation tool only when in doubt. The rain never stopped and it washed away the extra body heat caused by the torrid pace we imposed on ourselves and, of course, man smell.
Once we cross the Sapangdaku spillway, our pace slackened by a notch, knowing fully well that somewhere up ahead would be Guadalupe. My feet, if it could only talk, would have cursed me even when I am using a better fitting Hi-Tec Lima shoes, which I am breaking in for preparation of the continuation of Segment IV of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project. The pair is a gift from the Lavilles Clan of Australia.
I arrive first at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish and take a seat and wait for the rest. I am sure they are feeling also the malevolence of their undoing, the throbbing feet, toe blisters, rashes between the inner thighs and genitals, which I now have, plus the results of aging – the swelling of arthritic knees. One by one or in pairs they come. Standing up from my comfort seat to shake hands with them is the manliest thing to do.
The last one to arrive timed at 20:45 or 15 minutes under 12 hours. It would have been less had we not cooked our meal at Cabatbatan but they finished it in style with a feast in between. All have passed the Selection Hike and I welcome them to the fold of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.
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