Sunday, November 6, 2016

BEBUT’S TRAIL XIII: Legends of Baksan

IT IS A PARADISE FOR BUSHCRAFT. Nobody knows where Baksan is and nobody is interested. I do. Jhurds Neo, the head shed of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild does. It is just walking distance from Guadalupe. If you prefer to be lazy, you just drop at Sector 8 and you would be on your way on foot the rest of the way.

Where really is this place called Baksan? Honestly, I cannot tell you. Just use your Android phones and your Google Map. It is right there complete with longitudes and latitudes. But could it really tell you the whole she-bang? Uh-uh. GPS technology is only good when you are driving a company car. Ask your HR department. It is also only good on straight lines and wide open spaces and catching Pokemons.

I am choosy now of who I bring with me. I do not want it saturated by people who cannot fit in to the places they visit. These people are careless creatures who do not know common sense, trying to adapt themselves into something else which they themselves have no idea about. The absolute posers and pretenders. They come from both extremes and both kinds are amusements in Facebook. Then there are the stupid.

A year ago, I thought I know a lot about Baksan. I was just learning it right along the fringes until a local led me into its bosom some months ago. I have written an article about this, ready for posting in Warrior Pilgrimage but, unfortunately, this and the rest of my valuable files got lost after my hard disk drive got corrupted. I have to start writing this again, this time, for today’s activity.

Well, today is July 31, 2016. I am guiding Jhurds and the rest of the badasses of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and a female guest who seems to like our brand of outdoor activity. Tell you frankly, I have always observed that women are more inclined to challenge themselves to worm their way in to this man’s world called bushcraft. Must be that they are right-brained and can understand better the creativity that bushcraft provided.

From Guadalupe, the forest swallowed us by the time we hiked a trail that is the flank of a low mountain range which is now developed into an abomination called the Monterazzas de Cebu. This unfinished and hard to sell high-end subdivision which tried to sound Italian, claims the whole of Banawa Hills and is just a few steps into the Buhisan Watershed Area. How could the DENR approved an Environment Compliance Certificate for this? Why cannot the Metro Cebu Water District question this development? Is it money talking?

The trail wove around places where there used to be communities. Hedges of ornamental plants that line the front of what used to be houses are now thick and wild. A part of a post protrude from the vegetation that is now claiming the old habitations. A part of a concrete floor is now crumbling and begins the process of turning into dirt. Hibiscus and franciscos indicates an absent family that used to claim their side of paradise here.

We pass by an even ground where there used to be a basketball court and, beside it, a place where there used to be a chapel. It was abandoned by the former inhabitants when this became the battleground in the ‘80s between the military and an ideology that promised a painful change. There were no victors but there were shattered dreams and blistered hopes as the conflict stunted the growth of progress here. It is a cursed place.

I led them into a place the locals called as Enas. There is a natural spring that bleed water into a very small pool tainted with sulfur. It is not potable. The overflow trickled slowly down the hillside and joins Baksan Creek below. The ground has thick sulfur deposits and is bare of vegetation except of sparse ankle-high ferns. Dead trunks appear as burnt and black. This place reminds me of Kaipuhan, in the Cuernos de Negros Mountain Range, but smaller in scale.

It is my first time to see something like this in Cebu. The place is just queer. I see a lot of Indian rhododendron (Local name: yagumyum) growing around the fringes of Enas, with which shrubs are found only in highly elevated places where the clime is colder. Its presence only indicates of a micro climate happening here, perhaps, spurred by the location of the sulfur spring.

The sulfur spring could only mean that there is an underground volcanic activity or there is a fault line somewhere near which necessitates the seepage of sulfurous water. There is a fault line though, discovered recently running across the Buhisan Watershed Area. Bad news for that greedy high-end Italian-sounding abomination. It is just less than a kilometer away. Good luck!

We followed a trail and I took chance to look over a rare homestead where there are three boys playing. It would be a big help if I could ask them of the way to Sibalas and they pointed to a very narrow trail. I see a lot of marang trees (English: Johey oak) and these are bearing fruits, just a few more days and it will be ripe. The trail is quite steep, without any shrub for a handhold, and it led to a stream below.

The stream is familiar. I have passed by here in December last year, right after a Christmas outreach for children located in Upper Baksan and on two different occasions after that. There is a crumbling structure of what used to be a house. A standing concrete wall bear bullet holes, concrete testament of the intensity of conflict that befell on this place. Walking upstream, we came upon a small community, remnants of a once big community.

A path leads to a ridgeline above. Locals are harvesting star apple fruits (kaimito) on a saddle and, some of them, we meet along the trail carrying it downhill in big baskets on their backs held by tumplines supported by their foreheads. We found several paths but I chose the most beaten trail. It followed a low ridge and, after crossing a gully full of accumulated cottonfruits (santol), I saw a roof of a small house.

We are now in the “Navel of Baksan”, a correct translation to a description given by my local guide during a hike here in March as “ang kinapusuran sa Baksan”. There is now a community here, another remnant, led by an original resident Luceno Laborte. Nearby is a natural spring contained in a concrete box which my guide have suggested to as the center of it all. The water source attracts nearby communities to as far as Gethsemane in Banawa during extreme drought.

Luceno or Noy Ceno is present and he welcomed us all. We all remove backpacks and begun the process of our patented “dirt time”. The guys immediately forage dry firewood while Ernie Salomon, the camp fixer, receives all the raw food ingredients into his airy kitchen and tame the edible assortments into one fine meal which will soon emerge. Fire appears, not from bottled fuel but by real source, and water is boiled first for coffee. Coffee, campfire and the outdoors is a good combination, is it not?

I looked at some of my blades when I am alone. There is a 10-inch vintage 1943 knife made by Fame E&J Kitchening Ltd. of Sheffield, England, with a deer antler handle and can be carried on the side in a black leather sheath personally made and owned previously by my generous benefactor and a fine gentleman from the UK – Alan Poole, also known as the Ghost of the Woods in the international bushcraft community.

Second is a classic bushcraft knife made by William Rodgers, also of England. A phrase of “I Cut My Way” is engraved, along with the manufacturer, on the blade. It is 9 inches long and 5/32” thick with beech scales. It is impervious to abuse and was also given to me by a gentleman from Liloan, Cebu – Aljew Frasco. The present leather sheath, untreated yet, is designed to be worn frontiersman style and is made by Jonathaniel Apurado.

Another is a custom bushcraft knife made by The Knifemaker of Mandaue City, Cebu. It is small, 8-inch and 3/16” thick with hardwood scales. Sheath is riveted kydex and can be worn hanging from the neck, over the shoulder or could be slipped into the waistline. The manufacturer wanted it tested in real live action accompanied with a product review. So far, I had felt its weight in my bag and in my person and it is barely negligible.

What about balance? There is no such thing as balance. Balance can be interpreted differently. For an experienced knife thrower, balance is immaterial. Distance does and dynamics. Choosing a cottonfruit tree, I aimed the Knifemaker custom knife onto its trunk from an estimated distance where I believed it ought to be thrown. The blade spun in blinding speed and found the target true.

Blades, the main tool of all crazy bushmen, are used without limits and does all the work of splitting firewood to slicing meat and vegetables. Noy Ceno shows off a few of his prized blades: a 36-inch long tenegre blade and an 8-inch knife. The knife is a World War II survival knife issued to US pilots which is now sporting a different handle. The tenegre is badass. It belonged to his great grandfather and it has a tale to unwind.

Ears pricked up, Noy Ceno tells me that the blade was used by the original owner during the days after the Tres de Abril uprising of 1898 against Spanish domination in Cebu. Then it had seen action during the Philippine-American War after that. Both historical events told of many brutal close quarter encounters where the blade has advantage, whose Cebuano hands wielding it have grown up with the indigenous art of stick fighting.

This old tenegre blade is not that thick and it is very light. I could hear the metal sing faintly as I slashed the empty air. My hair stood up at the very act of it. The present wooden handle and sheath are replacements of the older ones and is made by a local artisan, whose designs are prevalent among all working blades owned by farmers in Baksan and among nearby communities here.

The name Baksan, from what I understood and came to believed in for so many years, comes from a local snake – a python, as it would be to a lot of places bearing the names of Lawaan and Buhisan, even a spitting cobra, Banakon. But Noy Ceno begged to disagree. “Baksan” is termed to this place by other locals because of the habit of its inhabitants who secured the intestines of their opened stomachs as if it is a belt while retreating from a battle.

It was kind of strange hearing it but I have known of some hardy characters who survived knife fights with their opened entrails pushed back inside slashed stomachs as if nothing happened. These guys surely have grit. I look at my pot belly. Could I do the same? I would faint, perhaps, but I would have to bite the bullet if ever I would have to choose between one who sports an ugly scar or as a cadaver.

Lunch came. One is a soupy local pasta called pansit; another is a dish of scrambled salty eggs mixed with sliced tomatoes and onions; and a dessert of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and onions in vinegar. Rice and milled corn are mixed in to the fray. It is a small feast which are rare in dayhikes but is held regularly by the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild as a sort of tradition. Here, everybody learn outdoors culinary, enjoy a warm meal and a good dose of bush lore.

On the other hand, all mainstream hikers subsist on cold meals or snacks because they are concerned of their time. Their watch, always telling them the Western idea of time, kept them away from enjoying the mountains in such a close and sacred interaction and the opportunity of maintaining friendships with locals are almost nil. They are always in a hurry and they are just passing all the time. They can never be part of a landscape.

I am proud with the guys at Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild for they have understood the ways of nature and are far better outdoorsmen than their corporate peers. By leagues. They move with an easy stride and demeanor and time is of no essence to them. They can lose among vegetation if they wished it and appear in another place some distance away.

When the sun seems to have started losing its intensity, we begin packing our things. We had spared food for Noy Ceno and his family as well as unused coffee, sugar and some items. We will take another route that will pass behind that greedy high-end Italian-sounding abomination. It goes down a long ridge which would be heartbreaking if taken uphill in the morning. We reach Guadalupe in good daylight and spend the rest of the hours in a friendly watering hole.

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

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