Tuesday, April 26, 2016
I RARELY HIKE ON a weekday for I have a day job, unless, of course, if a guest requests me. I have done that on a few occasions and today, August 4, 2015, is one of those days. I would never say no on a good offer and never says no as well if it interests me at all even without getting paid for services rendered. I do part-time wilderness guiding – not mountain guiding.
However, neither of those conditions have forced me to be absent from my workstation today. It is for a different reason and I considered it as urgent. Relatives from Guam whom I have not known or seen in person since existing in this world came to visit their Cebu connection. My family put on their best foot forward and accommodated our visiting relatives.
With me is my second cousin, Neil, and his eldest daughter, Cami – my niece. They carried the same surname as I have and it is a good moment to establish good bonding time. I would never say no to them and never would say no to occasions such as this. Not even Super Typhoon Hanna, which just entered the Philippines, because I have committed this day for a hike in the woods.
We used my brother's red Suzuki Scrum to transport us to Guadalupe so I could buy food ingredients for our meal later on and then going to the trailhead in Baksan. The ground is wet since it rained early dawn precipitated by the coming of the storm. Surely, there would be a lot of slippery spots. Times like these make me very careful, not for myself but for those coming with me. The tempo of the walk is deliberate and slow.
When in that pace, I could see everything and I could talk a lot to my guests. I always talk about the plants because those are the very first things you will always notice and then the insects and animals. Next would be the names of places and the woodlores. Keeping guests entertained and informed is what distinguishes true outdoorsmen from another set of “outdoorsmen”.
The stream is clear and swiftly weaves among its chosen channels where it had carved for many years. The sky is cloudy with wefts of sunlight escaping from among its most porous parts. There is an ominous silence save for the cicadas (Local name: gangis). Old folks say that when these are noisy, expect no rain to fall. I half-believe that but, just the same, it is entertaining to the ears of guests if you tell these half-beliefs to them. Now that is woodlore.
Underneath the tall canopies of trees, the jungle is very dim. I follow the trail as we ascend the stream bank. We would be walking now on higher ground. The path is not ascending but it follow the contours of a mountain and Neil begins to ask how do I keep myself from straying. I do not in my turf. I mark a few trailsigns though where there are crossroads. I point to one and he understands.
The richness of the vegetation enlivens father and daughter as I name each plant which have uses and each plant which they would have to give a wide berth. Rattan is one and a stinging nettle (daw-daw) another one. Both grow low to people's height and touching each would cause you either cuts or skin irritations. Pace is controlled. I picked up a straight stick on the ground and passed it to Cami as a walking staff. I can see she walks better with it.
We go down another stream and we rest here. However, I have to do something. I have to climb a high bank where groves of water bamboo grow. I have to find a dry piece of bamboo pole. There were a lot of discarded poles left by forest gatherers a year ago which I kept off the ground hoping it would be useful someday. I found one and carry it down. I would use this later for an impromptu firecraft session.
We now ascend a trail to the ridge. I show them another plant that is harmful to a touch if you go careless and this is the Asiatic bitter yam (kobong). The path is lined with rattan but my eyes also scanned what is above us. Dead branches are also my concern. You would not know when it would fall down, would we? I take time with my pace so as not to overwork Cami and Neil.
I arrive at Camp Damazo and inform both father and daughter that we will stay here for a while. I need to boil water for coffee but I have to leave them so I would get water from a natural spring which would not be far. There would be mosquitoes and ants when they sense our presence. It would go away when you have a fire but we have no fire yet. I have an alternative though so I pluck leaves from a common floss plant (hagonoy) and teach how it is used.
I rigged my Silangan hammock – the ones with a mosquito net – should mosquitoes becomes unruly. I laid a laminated nylon sheet on the ground for Cami and Neil to sit on and got all the pots and bottles out. I prepare a tripod of sticks that I will later use in cooking our meal. It is 09:15 and we are early. The cicadas are noisy as ever. I left them bringing along two empty water bottles and my empty Zebra pot.
I go back to the camp and produce a Trangia alcohol stove and start heating another pot after I transfer contents from the Zebra. Then I get my fire kit. It is just an assortment of “garbage” that ordinary people stepped over or walked past without any idea what it is and are its uses. When you are into bushcraft, these things matter.
I show Cami how to work out a spark from a ferro rod. She tried once, again and again and it did not spark. She tried it forcefully and small sparks came. I show how it is properly done then Cami worked it like magic. Now time to choose firewood. I tell here that the best firewood are not picked up from the ground but those that are above the ground and these are small. I told her a story about fire made by a Native American and the ones by a white American and she chuckled.
The process of obtaining dry twigs and small branches begins and then converting it into pieces which are very easy for a nascent flame to feed on. Neil produce some tinder by scraping knife on a mature bamboo surface and form it into a loose ball where Cami directed the sparks of the ferro. Meanwhile, the water boiled above the Trangia and I mix instant coffee on a metal cup for Neil and Cami to savor on. I pour mine on a metal dish and enjoyed coffee that way.
Showed my best tinders for Neil and Cami to ogle upon: a tuft of kapok, shrivelled Spanish moss, coconut husk fibers and hair-like sugar-palm fibers. For me, they are my time-tested tinders that could catch sparks. And then there is the charclothe. Stored it all dry to through many layers of plastic aside from the green Triton dry bag.
I left Cami to practice with the ferro rod while Neil coached her. I prepare the rice inside the Zebra, for any moment we will start the cooking. A smile crossed Cami's face as she worked an ember on a charclothe and blow it on a nest of mixed tinder. There goes a thick smoke and a small flame. Quickly, it is placed underneath a teepee of twigs. The Zebra with the rice is now hanged from the tripod with a special hook.
I could now start slicing the pork meat, onions, garlic and those long green peppers. I show them the trees around Camp Damazo while waiting for the rice to get thoroughly cooked. I have trust on the Zebra as it is really an efficient pot. Neil looked up at a huge tree and asked for its name. Moluccan ironwood (ipil). Beside it is a small tree but you better keep a wary eye on it because it is the stinging tree (alingatong). It is harmless since the foliage are now a bit high.
I replace the Zebra with the already cooked rice with a battered pot with cooking oil in it. The fire is fed with more wood as the tell-tale pops of the cooking oil approaching boiling point is heard. I pour the sliced garlic, then all the sliced onions. Stirred it until onion gets soft. Two-thirds of the sliced green pepper are mixed to the aromatic concoction. A few minutes after, the sliced meat are dropped and stirred. Then I add soy sauce.
Neil and I talked about knives and he brought along the ones I have given him – a prized ginunting from Albay and a small Seseblades sinalung. He collects knives and he preferred Philippine traditional blades. He is with the US Air Force and travels with his unit anywhere. On the other hand, Cami is an accomplished sport dancer. She had snared top honors in international dance competitions in Barcelona, Rome and Las Vegas.
I go back to my cooking and poked the meat texture. A few more minutes and it should be done. Now the meat is tender, I pour the last of the green pepper as garnish and drop a few black pepper powder into it and left it to the fire for a full minute. The pork adobao is now ready for eating along with the rice and we eat in silence which is broken, time and time again, by conversations. I make a pair of bamboo chopsticks each for father and daughter while I settle for a fork when I notice I failed to bring a spoon.
The pots were literally cleaned off of their contents. It was a good meal considering we have limited comfort and too few hours to get a good opportunity of cooking from a very threatening sky. The slightly-spicy pork adobao was appreciated very much by Neil and Cami. It was cooked with the right frame of the mind. I place water on the pots, cups, metal dishes and, for a purpose, leave it be for a while.
From a piece of mature bamboo that I foraged earlier, I split it into two parts. I will show Cami how to make fire by rubbing two pieces of bamboo together. Although air is humid and misty and the bamboo is partly wet, I will try to show to Cami how this works. The most important thing is teaching Cami the process of making the bamboo into a fire tool. First, make a notch on one piece then scrape its hard skin back and forth for tinder.
The other piece would be the “saw”. I smoothed one edge so it would fit on the notch of the other. Place the tinder bundle on the inside of the notched piece and keep it in place with a thin bamboo strip. Either you place the notched piece on the ground where it gets rubbed by the other or you place edged piece below the notched piece where it gets rubbed. Showed her how it is done. After several drops of sweat rolled from my forehead, I got smoke. Then thick smoke. And that is all. No fire. I am exhausted. Skin of one finger brushed against ground. Pain!
It was a nice try despite drops of sweat and dew over the primitive fire tool and Cami is delighted at the sight of the real thing which she probably had seen many times in the Internet. She tried the native contraption but one bamboo piece broke in two. I would have made another piece and try it one more time but the sky says no. Drops of light rain are beginning to fall over the forest canopies. I pack the things into my Lifeguard USA rucksack and take the exit route.
The rain is for real now and no half-beliefs about cicadas could stop it. It made the ground more dangerous but, as always, I take charge of the pace. The route climb up a steep stretch and I have to wait for father and daughter to catch up and let them take rest. We have a luxury of time. Cloudy skies made the lighting dim as if to give impression that it is late and would have made another impression on the brain to dictate the body to release adrenaline so we would increase our pace.
We reach the road at 14:15 but across us is a trail to Lanipao and it is all downhill and easy. This time the rain fell at a greater intensity. The trail became a small stream and I have to check always my back trail for telltale signs of rushing water which are most probable in mountainous areas especially if there is an occurrence of a landslide. We trod on the side of the path instead where there are grasses.
We stop for a while at a place where there are midget coconut trees. Neil needs a coconut palm. He is onto something. I choose a healthy frond. Neil split the palm into two and counted something like fourteen midribs each piece. We carried the leaves to Lanipao then to Napo. The rain had not abated and the Sapangdaku Creek had risen a little and can still be forded by using a technique which I learned and developed on my own.
We walk on the asphalt road to where the Suzuki Scrum would rendezvous us. It arrived at the right time on the road corner leading to Baksan but we are now going to Guadalupe this time. We are all wet to the skin but it does not matter. The Suzuki proceed to Mandaue City to drop both Neil and Cami at their hotel. Neil talked of giving me a surprise with the coconut fronds when we meet again in a few days. Cami is elated at the chance to hike in my hidden jungle which she captured all with her camera.
It was a good time to know my relatives from Guam and them about me. Even more than what they knew me doing all these things in Facebook. I am what I am and I am proud to be a relative.
Document done LibreOffice 4.3 Writer
Saturday, April 16, 2016
A SEARCH AND RESCUE Summit had never been organized and presented in Cebu before until July 29, 2015 came. Two days after that, July 31, it was deemed a success! Credit that to the hardworking men and women of the Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO-Cebu), led by its department head, Baltazar Tribunalo Jr., and by its operations chief, Dennis Cortes.
We all know that all the finest private and volunteer emergency response teams (ERT) and emergency medical teams (EMT) of Cebu converged on the parade ground of the AFP Central Command Headquarters, Camp Lapulapu, Cebu City in the morning of that first day in full force and in their finest attire and equipment. These include guest responders from Quezon City (UP Mountaineers), from Bohol (TARSIER 117) and from Olongapo City (Sta. Rita FRADRU), with special appearance of news TV personality, Paolo Bediones of Rescue 5, lending active support.
Attending also are the LDRRMOs from Daanbantayan down to Santander and the satellite islands of Bantayan, Mactan and the Camotes; and the CDRRMOs of Cebu, Danao, Talisay, Naga, Bogo, Mandaue, Toledo and Lapulapu. For three days, no eyes blinked as everyone participated and witnessed every scenario they could join, touched and haggled every item displayed they could hold, and attended every mini-clinic each participating organization could muster.
This blogger, who had built a reputation for introducing bushcraft and survival as an outdoor leisure activity in the Philippines, was invited along with the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild to this summit, not a mean feat, considering that I and Camp Red are not emergency responders. Our presence and participation is anchored through our availability to train and impart ERTs/EMTs and the LDRRMOs our wilderness survival skills which would benefit them in difficult terrain, situations and time.
Gracing the first day and the opening of the 1st SAR Summit is the Honorable Hilario Davide III, the Cebu Provincial Governor, after a short introduction by Mr. Tribunalo and the overview of the idea of the SAR Summit by Mr. Cortes. “Interoperability Camaraderie and Unity” is the theme of the event for which the goal really is to unite all the different ERTs/EMTs to one protocol in responding to emergencies. In the next three days this scheme would be tested.
FIRST DAY – JULY 29, 2015
CAMP LAPULAPU, CEBU CITY
SCENARIO 1: Collapsed Structure Search and Rescue
Mr. Cortes of PDRRMO-Cebu briefed the mixed group of participants coming from different ERTs and LDRRMOs to respond to and extricate two unconscious “victims” trapped inside a collapsed building after an “earthquake”.
SCENARIO 2: Confined Space Breaching and Extraction
The 53rd Engineering Battalion of the Philippine Army briefed another mixed group of participants from the different ERTs and LDRRMOs in breaching a building structure composed of different materials using industrial-grade power tools.
CLINIC 1: Orientation to Bombs and Explosives
A Bomb Technician belonging to the Explosives Ordnance Disposal Team of the Philippine Army discusses about bombs, explosives and its paraphernalia; the chemical compositions of explosives; the Improvised Explosive Devices; and the safety protocols in responding to or encountering suspected bombs.
CLINIC 2: Wilderness First Aid
Christopher Ngosiok of Camp Red discusses the limitations of responding to emergencies in difficult terrain and explains the different techniques, through improvisations, to address the injuries sustained by a victim in that situation.
SECOND DAY – JULY 30, 2015
BOY SCOUTS OF THE PHILIPPINES CAMP, CEBU CITY
SCENARIO 1: Mountain Search and Rescue
Members of the UP Mountaineers briefed a mixed group of participants coming from different ERTs and LDRRMOs to respond to and extricate two missing “victims” found on two different locations of a deep ravine.
CLINIC 1: Land Navigation and Terrain Analysis
The Army's 5th Special Forces Company conducted a brief lecture on map reading, direction finding and grid coordinates.
CLINIC 2: Single Rope Technique
Members from WERUC demonstrated how SRT works and how it could be incorporated into rescue operations.
CLINIC 3: Low Angle Rescue
Lead responders from the Central Visayas Search and Rescue (CEVSAR) showed the many different techniques in low-angle rescue and safe extraction of victims.
CLINIC 4: Orientation to Amateur Radio
Jet Manuel of Ham Radio Cebu discuss a brief orientation on the laws that guide radio use in the Philippines and the simple ways to operate a radio transceiver and the protocols of communications.
Each participating ERT/EMT, volunteer, partner organization, vendor and exhibitor were allocated a tent on the second day. Camp Red was supposed to conduct a mini-clinic on this date but I decide to forego it since the volume of people coming in to visit our tent was extraordinary and there was a very effective yet interactive sharing of information to the visitors by those who manned the display table.
DAY 3 – JULY 31, 2015
SOUTH ROAD PROPERTIES, CEBU CITY
SCENARIO 1: Hazardous Materials and Vehicle Rescue
Lead agency is the Special Rescue Unit of the Bureau of Fire Protection-Region 7 who responded to a “vehicular collision” of a tanker which caused leak of an unknown kind of hazardous material and the extrication of two unconscious “victims” from the scene of incident. A showcase of HAZMAT equipment designed for responding in that kind of situation.
SCENARIO 2: Water Search and Rescue
The Philippine Coast Guard and the PNP Maritime Group-7 invited and briefed a mixed group of participants coming from the different ERTs and LDRRMOs in rescuing “survivors” from a “sunken ship” at the entrance to the Mactan Channel on two rubber rescue boats.
SCENARIO 4: High Angle Rescue
The Philippine National Red Cross, UP Mountaineers, TARSIER 117, Sta. Rita FRADRU and highly-experienced individuals (Randy Salazar and Chico Estrera) pooled together their skills and knowledge to brief a mixed group of ERTs and LDRRMOs in responding to two unconscious “victims” during an ongoing “fire incident” and extricating them from the rooftop of a multi-storey building.
CLINIC 1: Incident Command System
The Office of Civil Defense-Region 7 gave a summarized discussion about the ICS to all the participants.
CLINIC 2: Vehicle Extraction
Mr. Cortes demonstrated the tools and techniques to extract an unconscious “victim” from inside a vehicle. CDRRMO-Danao provided their hydraulic tools for this occasion with which crews from different ERTs and LDRRMOs tested. Same with the battery-operated tools provided by CDRRMO-Naga.
It is wise to note that ambulances from the participating ERTs, EMTs and LDRRMOs were extensively used during each scenario. The “victims” were immediately transferred from the SAR scenarios to waiting ambulances and the EMTs performed accordingly by applying life-support systems and moving the “patients” to safe zones. Also in good stead are the ACER guys who gave constant real-time communications to ICS on all the scenarios, clinics and on invisible grounds where they are stationed.
Ultimately, the 1st SAR Summit held here in Cebu was a tough act to follow and it was successful, in the sense, that egos were kept behind where it would have thrown a monkey wrench on the whole event. The intention was to foster camaraderie and familiarity among the different ERTs and EMTs who, I believe, have their own set of values, or rules to be exact, to follow. Having done that, the summit achieved unity and harmony. Interoperability would just be a few steps away.
Kudos then to the successful bid of the Cebu Provincial Government to achieve this as well as to the staff of PDRRMO-Cebu. For those who attended the summit, it was very engaging and quite helpful on their part as each were exposed to the different levels and disciplines of search and rescue. For the LDRRMOs, it is high time that their respective LGUs commit a respectable budget to run this department efficiently as envisioned in Republic Act 10121.
Document done in LibreOffice 4.3 Writer
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO the Province of Capiz. That would be my destination, however, as I sat inside a Cebu Pacific plane bound for Iloilo from Cebu on the early morning of July 23, 2015. Coming with me is Joy Quito, whose organization, the Peace and Conflict Journalism Network (PECOJON), made possible my appearance there soon as a resource person for the training of 32 individuals in Basic Tropical Bushcraft Course.
These 32 individuals belong to the Capiz Archdiocese Disaster Emergency Responders (CADER), which is a pet project of the director of the Capiz Archdiocese Social Action Center, Rev. Fr. Mark Q. Granflor. A private passenger van from the Archdiocese of Capiz whisk me and Joy from the airport in Cabatuan, then rendezvous with Len Manriquez and Charlie Saceda of PECOJON, and travel overland to Roxas City over a scenery of healthy rice fields and friendly people, whose tone of Hiligaynon are pleasantly sweet to my ears.
Would I present my lecture in Hiligaynon to these 32 individuals of CADER or would I prefer to use Cebuano and English? Or in Tagalog, perhaps? I had been a basic speaker of Hiligaynon as I learned it in my journeys in the Visayan Sea in 1986-87 but it had eroded through the years without practice although I could plainly understand what the Ilonggos would say amongst themselves. Nevertheless, I have to try. It would be stiff on my part but it is part of the challenge as a bushcraft instructor.
We arrive at the place where the Archdiocese of Capiz is founded and the bronze statue of the late Cardinal Jaime Sin stood prominently as we proceed to the office of Fr. Mark. After a few minutes, Fr. Mark invited me and the PECOJON officers – Len, Charlie and Joy – to a lunch at his grandmother's house in Ivisan, Capiz. Seafoods galore: steamed mud crabs (Local: alimango), shrimps, mantis shrimps (hanlilitik) and mussels; blanched seaweeds (lato); and crabs in thick coconut-milk soup.
The place where the bushcraft camp would be held is just in the vicinity yet we have to take the same vehicle in going there. It is now almost two in the afternoon and the opening of the seminar is a bit delayed. I found myself inside a local haunt, the Spring Hills Resort, as the site where I and the participants would spend the next three days. It is in the village of Malocloc Norte and has two pools, several cottages and a main hall. It has a small stream running beside it and verdant vegetation everywhere.
I found no other place to set up a campsite except at a grassy volleyball court and a vegetated knoll above it. The participants are now all accounted for and I introduce myself after opening the seminar. The heavens begin to growl and I instructed the participants – to include the PECOJON officers - to set up their simple shelters under the onslaught of rain, because that would be the same conditions when you are responding to places hit by disasters. A few seconds later, it rained hard. All were unprepared and some were in a state of mild shock at this reality.
As I have stated to them earlier about this strange sounding activity called bushcraft, that it is just all about the mind, adaptation and improvisation; and gears have nothing to do with surviving. The archdiocese had provided the CADER volunteers several pieces of cheap 3-meter by 3-meter laminated nylon sheets that I have specified for use in this training. I watched and documented them as they started to set up their shelters using pieces of rope, foraged wood and improvised cordage. All sorts of knife lay on the ground everywhere.
I have done this on purpose to test their levels of individuality and their teamwork and to make as basis for a critique later on. Each tarpaulin are assigned to a team of two people and I saw two teams merge to create a better and bigger shelter while another team help set up another theirs. Later on, another three teams merged and a crude mansion emerged. Then all improved the comfortability of their living quarters by placing cushions of grass and coconut palms under their ground sheets and leaves of banana and anahaw (English: foot-stool palm) are propped at the exposed sides to break the entry of drafts.
I too set up my own shelter in the pouring rain. My T-shirt is wet as well as my thick Blackhawk pants and 5.11 shoes. I do not mind it and even used my Canon IXUS 145 camera to take pictures, knowing well that water would incapacitate it. I really do not mind it at all for I know the participants are also watching me of how I conducted myself in a difficult situation. Inspired by my example, the CADER volunteers began to show tenacity and perseverance and a sense of community evolved.
Satisfied with their grit and their resourcefulness, I reminded them that the brain would adapt to pressure and stress in any given situation. All you have to do is act accordingly and smartly to what you will perceive. I proceed to the first chapter which is Introduction to Bushcraft. In this chapter, bushcraft is described to them in the most simple terms as possible. I even provide the nearest equivalent to my own dialect in Cebuano about bushcraft as “panikaysikay”. Cool.
The participants are a mixed group of young college students and mature family men, the oldest of which is 64 years old. Joining them is Mai Durias, the project manager of CADER and the guys from PECOJON. Discussions in English taken from the lecture sheets would have been alright to a set of sophisticated assortment of individuals like weekend hikers, mountain climbers, would-be survivalists and yuppies but this group is different. They do not even know who Bear Grylls is. Got my point?
The lecture ended as it starts to get dark. Quickly, the participants help each other in grilling the pork chops and cooking the rice. I squeeze in between glowing charcoals a small can containing tiny squares of denim to make charclothe. They asked what is it but I kept my lips tight. Upon my suggestion, banana leaves are gathered to line the tops of four long tables in the main hall right after fraying it with fire. We will have a grand “boodle fight” tonight. Dinner started right after a prayer. It is a silent group but it will be a noisy lot after this night.
We transfer to the volleyball court and a huge bonfire erupt in the middle. Dry firewood are rare after that heavy downpour earlier. Inspite of that, we were able to start a flame using diesel fuel. Activity is the Campfire Yarns and Storytelling. In the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp, this activity is fueled by alcoholic drinks making it very animated and entertaining. Fr. Mark's presence made me formal stiff and I have to wrack my brains to achieve a string of conversations for this gathering. Good thing, I got help from Len.
For a good two hours, each participant tell everyone in the circle candidly about his or her expectations of the seminar and narrate about his or her reaction when building a simple shelter with just a few resources at hand and no clear-cut instructions under the onslaughts of a heavy downpour. On this occasion, natural leaders emerged from the group. After the activity, I burrow into my Silangan hammock in a cold rainy night.
The second day – July 24 – is sunny. After breakfast, I begin the next chapter of Ethical Bushcraft. There is always the danger of overdoing things in the course of a bushcraft activity and might not be conformable to the environment and to certain individuals or organizations. Ethical Bushcraft guides you the proper way to use forest resources in the best way possible, taking advantage of knowing the plants and animals, choosing a campsite well, fire safety, disposal of garbage the bushcraft way and be stewards of the forest.
This chapter is very long and is very important as well that people know this. I know a lot of very entertaining survival TV shows that sends the wrong messages to its audiences and I read in websites that a lot of park managers and private land owners are beginning to complain about destruction of plants and the aesthetics of their lands by these weekend survivalists in the US and UK. Proper education is the key here and this is where it starts.
As I prepare for the next lecture, I place all my unsheathed blades on the table before me: the AJF Gahum, the William Rodgers, the tomahawk, the Victorinox Trailmaster, the Leatherman Juice S2, the Mora Companion, two Seseblades sinalung and a ginunting. Because, in a moment, the chapter on Knife Care and Safety will start. A knife is a tool, first and foremost, and, like any other tool, it must be maintained sharp and free of rust. You must learn how to sharpen and must know what are the parts of a knife as well as the kinds of designs and edge.
It hurts also – and, sometimes, very expensive - if you do not know the only law (Batas Pambansa Bilang 6) governing the use and carry of a knife here in the Philippines. It is very important that those who participated in all my bushcraft camps know this by heart and the procedures (and proper gestures, as well) in declaring and surrendering your carried blades to security checks when entering ports of entry, airports, malls and, even road checkpoints.
Knife safety is very important in bushcraft because, if you do not practice that, you are bound to hurt yourself or others with you since bushcraft is a labor-intensive activity and directing a lot of work with a knife or knives. As our next chapter would be labor-intensive, it is important that safety should be observed. Meanwhile, people are going to fast today, including me. There would be no noon meal. It is part of the learning process.
Survival Tool-Making is next and I assigned people to six groups. There are mature bamboo poles provided for use in this class and soon it would be dismembered. Mature bamboos are hard but with a sharp knife, even if it is a small one, you can cut it as it pleases you as long as you pay attention to my instructions and my demo. They have to make for themselves individually bamboo spoons and jugs. As a group, they would have to make bamboo cooking pots with conjoined segments – the Trailhawk System way.
The six groups began cutting the poles even as a deluge of rain begins to fall from the skies. I leave them be and they brought the bamboos underneath the roof of the main hall. They only stop when I think it is time to continue with another lecture about Outdoor Cooking. On this chapter, I discussed the different ways to preserve the edibility of vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. They also learned the methods of cooking as in an open fireplace, semi-closed pit and the closed way of cooking which is done under the ground. In time, they will understand these later in the night.
After all had happily showed me their crafted tools - bamboo cooking pots, spoons and drinking jugs – I begin the process of teaching them how to cook rice in bamboo, especially mature bamboos. Unknown to most, mature bamboos can be used to cook something as much as you would use one with green bamboos and it is no different when you integrate it with my Trailhawk System from opening up the segments down to the cooking itself.
So, while some attend to the cooking, the rest forage around for food. Some guys have foraged along the river for snails which only a few were found which are the neritidae and the thiaridae species. Others opt to scrounge edible plants like horseradish, swamp cabbage and banana trunks while a handful borrowed my two catapults and used these to ping two free-rein chicken senseless.
Slowly the rice from the bamboos are being transferred to frayed banana leaves. Ah, I see another grand “boodle fight” feast in the making. Each group occupy one table and I make the round among the tables inspecting what viands are they going to eat? One table has swamp cabbage adobo. Another has the core of banana trunks cooked and set as extender for canned sardines. Then four tables shared the native chicken estofado among them. Dinner commence at 19:45 after a short prayer.
Since it is raining and a campfire is not feasible, I rather have the participants gather in the social hall of the resort for some team-building activity initiated by the students among them and videos of some of the things I discussed for the past two days. Two episodes of Ray Mears are shown to the participants – the ones done between Thailand and Vietnam (POW Survival Stories) and the other one shot in Palawan (Desert Island Survival). Then they begin to understand what I was talking about.
It is another cold night, wet and omnipresent rain, as I seek the comfort of my shelter in the darkness. My place is located at the farthest and the highest part of the campsite where there are Mexican lilac trees (kakawate) to fasten my hammock and canopy sheet. The call of a night heron pierce the silence of dawn and it is just near. Meanwhile, drops of moisture found its way into me as my sheet begins to show signs of aging and from abuse.
The third day – July 25 – also shows a promise of a sunny and warm morning. I begin to discern that rain always come knocking at or near noon here in this part of the Visayas. While everyone are still recovering from their sleep, I devise an Aeta-style bamboo snare that is designed to catch a monkey or a monitor lizard and a trap that is good for snakes, fish and lizards. Three participants caught me doing this and made themselves two pressure-trigger snares for fowls while another made a loop snare designed to catch small mammals.
I took advantage of the good window of sunny weather and proceed on with the lecture about Firecraft. As always, the importance of this skill rely mostly on dry things and less humidity. Since it rained the whole night and the ground is wet, I doubt if we could make fire by friction but I could try and dry the bamboos. But first, I have to discuss the solar magnification method which would utilize the rays of the sun to be increased in intensity by placing a magnifying lens between it and a tinder.
I showed them the small blackened can which I placed on a fire on the first night as if I am cooking it. I opened it and showed the contents: charred cloth or charcloth. They place a magnifying lens over it and it begins to produce smoke and ember faster than they have known of doing it with paper. They are amazed and they begin to ask how did I “cook” it? I showed them how with the same air-tight can with a small hole where “fresh” denim cloth are placed inside. It helped when I mentioned the process of making charcoal and they can relate better the idea of the charclothe.
By now, the sky begins to go cloudy. Solar magnification by use of a bottled water did not have a good result so I proceed to fire-making by friction else it rain again. There are many ways in doing that but I start with the unfamiliar: the bow-drill method. I have pieces of dry wood that I have brought from Cebu and I begin unravelling the intricacies of making and performing the bow drill to the eager participants who are now mesmerized by the simple wonders of bushcraft.
My several efforts only produce a smoke. I do not have the good timing and it might be good if I let the participants try this on themselves. Two sets of bow drills are now at work and the odor of smoke pervade the air but no ember too. Too humid. The ground is wet and moisture, invisible to the naked eye, easily transfers to a porous material like dry soft wood for it acts like sponge. Worse, I can smell the ominous coming of rain. Time to hurry this lecture and proceed to the bamboo-saw method.
Very popular but very effective, the bamboo saw is taught to the Boy Scout here, which some of the participants were once had been. Similarly, as in the bow drill, it only emitted the pungent odor of burnt wood and the tell-tale smoke, but no ember. To prop back their sagging confidence, I introduce them to the novel idea of lighting a fire with a ferro rod. They could not contain their smile and their amazement at the wonders of this inextinguishable source of fire that worked even when wet.
My last lecture for the day is about a kit that is very relevant to any would-be responder: the Everyday Carry or EDC. They were a bit confused about this term but they were able to relate again with a smile when I asked them of the usual things that a carpenter would bring to his work. All my EDC items get a scrutiny from sugar sachets to a power bank to a coin purse containing loose change and a USB memory. Some of them carried micro-EDCs but they just did not know that. Now they are educated on the twerks of urban survival.
The course finished before 17:00 and everybody happily heaved a sigh of relief. I did likewise. This was a different crowd but I am able to adjust and improvise a bit. Just some little tweaks and a good dose of creativity. I am optimistic that I would meet this same kind of participants and I could apply the same tricks. Anyway, all gathered for a group picture with their certificates of training before everyone went to their assigned tasks. Some prepared something for dinner while four guys left the resort on board the CADER vehicle.
I visit the room reserved and paid for my keep which I did not use for two nights when I was with the participants. The soft bed is inviting but it is best that I take a bath first which I have not had the opportunity to do so for the past three days. I take a nap after that and woke up. It is already dark but I feel refreshed. Fr. Mark is here and I greet him a good evening. I notice a sack filled with fresh oysters which majority of these are already in the process of being cooked on raw embers and in boiling water.
I sit on the long table with Fr. Mark, Len, Charlie, Joy and Mai for dinner. I notice something familiar – a perfectly-cold bottle of Gold Eagle Beer. It has been eons since I last drank this. That was in the late '80s. Then I notice something new – a dish of immaculately white elongated clams. I learned that this is called “diwal” (English: angel-wing clam) and it is highly-valued in Capiz as their own. Rightly so. The meat is succulently delicious and strangely sweet. I believed I had eaten twenty pieces during dinner plus the oysters and emptied three bottles of beer.
When Fr. Mark left, I proceed to my room. I wake up at 07:00 on the fourth day – July 26. My Blackhawk pants and my 5.11 shoes are already dry. Today I would travel back to Iloilo then to Cebu but, first, we have to be at Roxas City. I receive tokens of appreciation from the Archdiocese of Capiz then the same vehicle that brought me and PECOJON people here in July 23 came and whisked us back to Iloilo with a stopover at Midway, a good restaurant located on the middle of nowhere. Joy and I catch plane back to Cebu but Len and Charlie took on separate destinations. Arrive home at 15:00.
The opportunity to expand my realm of teaching bushcraft to the Province of Capiz, especially to the volunteer emergency responders belonging to CADER, had been made possible thru the instance of PECOJON. PECOJON, together with partner NGOs and LGUs, are engaged in the advocacy of developing emergency preparedness capability for the local communities which had been hit hardest by Tropical Cyclone Haiyan. Self-reliance skills which I have taught is just one of their objectives to reduce the impacts of catastrophes.
Going back to this window of opportunity, I somehow placed myself at the edge of my wildest dreams: that of actively pursuing my passion into something tangible, worthwhile and enjoyable. I have studied this for a very long time considering that I have a day job which might be affected by the conflict of how I divide my time. Sooner or later, I will choose which would be best for me and my family's upkeep. For now, I get to have a foretaste of the labors of this novel interest which I am sharing to Filipinos and it is very tempting.
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Friday, April 1, 2016
I AM IN NO MOOD to write this. I have arrived at an episode where I found writing an article on the same places on its 99th episode begin to look boring and provide me no inspiration. Why? That answer would be a no-brainer to a person who had no knack of sharing his joys and experiences to another. If he or she would be a blogger, they would have written one article for a particular place for one time only. Except for few tenacious ones, writing is fun, constant and a stress reliever.
I really do not know why? The “Napo to Babag Tales” had many sequels and its last was NBT 98: Rain or Heavy Rain. This time, the magic is gone. Would that, perhaps, be related to the tragedy that beset the Roble family? Probably, yes. Of course, it would have to be YES. The existence of the Roble homestead along the route to Mount Babag had inspired me to write these many episodes about the trail there coming from Napo or reverse.
I saw the transformation of the Roble family from its impoverished beginnings, hacking a living on the mountain fastness of the Babag Mountain Range, to the time when their very place hosted groups after groups of hikers finding a place to rest and to savor green coconut water on their way to the peak of Babag. Their place is a favorite among weekend hikers and these people have appreciated the family for the use of several bamboo benches, a hut and a platform built on a mango tree.
I have brought my adherents from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild here long ago and we made the Roble place as an area where we make our “dirt time”. We honed our cooking skills here and feast on food fit for kings. We had made their place as a launch pad for the several editions of outreach events like the Who Put the “N” in Nature which is focused on the distribution of school supplies before the opening of classes in June and the Christmas United in December.
A few kind outdoorsmen provided them goats for breeding while I brought two live turkeys there. When their original house was brought down to its knees – typhoon after another, named Yolanda, Ruby and Seniang, the community of outdoorsmen pitched in to donate cash and material so a new house would emerge. Sacks of cement, nails and roof sheets made its way and a house was erected, although unfinished yet, a concrete testament to the spirit of goodwill and unity of hikers endeared to the good ways of the Roble family.
The Roble family is a good case study. If a family who had gained an income that was provided before by a destructive charcoal-making industry and if given an opportunity to earn an alternative source of income, would help create a better difference on the environment. That is how I see it and it helped to write about the Roble family and the Napo to Babag Tales over and over again. Like a novel. Then tragedy came.
Feleciano Roble was shot by a neighbor – Timoteo Gabasan – last July 3, 2015 at Kahugan with an unidentified vintage caliber .30 rifle. Although Fele survived the attempt on his life but he lost a kidney and their temporary shelter was razed by the same suspect a few days after. The clan to which the suspect belonged to refused to cooperate with the police and harbored the suspect instead. Threats were flaunted to the remnants of the Roble clan as well as to the hikers, especially to those who had helped Fele.
So that same threat is directed at me for I have helped Fele escape the finishing bullets which the suspect would have unleashed during the flight of Fele to safety and hospitalization. Same with Jhurds Neo and Ernie Salomon. I take no threats lightly. I had never changed my approach with how I dealt with those whom have issued threats directed at me. I walk into it. I will always take the initiative and bring that on their doorsteps.
Today, July 19, 2015, I will test how that threat will turn out. I will be the “white mouse” for that experiment which the suspect will impose. My plan is to take Tagaytay Ridge straight up right after crossing the bridge from Napo. I will follow Manggapares Trail and the Babag Ridge Trail before going down the East Ridge Pass into the abandoned Roble homestead. From there, I will proceed back to Napo.
Coming with me is Jonathan Apurado, Justin Apurado, Richie Quijano, Nyor Pino, Locel Navarro and Mark Lepon. I have a guest from Poland who does not want to be identified but he goes by the pseudonym of “Jologs”. Yes, he can understand Cebuano and can speak basic Cebuano words. We aim to cook food somewhere along Tagaytay Ridge and we provide ourselves ingredients for our meal.
Of course, we also have our blades carried openly like we used to do. It is standard fare for our tribe at Camp Red when hiking outdoors. It gives us a better purpose than not carrying one at all. It provides deterrence against those who have ill motives and it projects an image of a bunch of alert outdoorsmen. I have changed how people should enjoy the outdoors and, slowly, my tribe increased.
It is a beautiful morning as we slowly ascend the seldomly-hiked ridge. Clouds partially cover the sun and the path is quite shady. Meanwhile, a vagabond dog joined us. I do not know what is in the mind of the canine and what it perceive of us but I take it as a sign of good omen. Could be a blessing and protection from the patron saint of Napo – Saint Roch. Perhaps.
As I walk, I talk about plants. Jologs gets a good education of tropical plants. He gets to see and know useful and edible plants, as well as the ones you are going to evade. We meet a hunter with an air rifle. He has a live wild fowl with him that he caught with a snare. The Manggapares Trail is thickly vegetated and nobody lives there. The only structures found on this beautiful ridge are seven power pylons and an abandoned backhoe.
Cables are now strung to connect these from the power source in faraway Naga City, passing over Minglanilla and Talisay City and to here, then crossing over to Kalunasan and Budlaan, before ending at a distribution plant in Cabancalan, Mandaue City. We walked underneath five of these towers before switching to Liboron Trail. Nobody uses this scant path except the locals and me.
We reach the Caburnay homestead at 11:00 and Julio welcomed us. It is along a route to Babag Ridge but there is water spewing from a black PVC pipe which comes from a natural spring far away. The place is perfect since it has two bamboo benches and a center table. I have visited this place many times and the couple who lived here are quite accommodating, to the extent of sharing their organically-grown fruits to us like bananas, jackfruits, avocados and dragonfruits.
We immediately boil water for coffee since the uphill hike had cost us some reserves of energy. When coffee got served, the zest returned to us and we concentrate on the preparation of our meal. It is now almost noon and we thanked Providence for shading us most of the time from the sun going here else our pace would have been slower. Our regular chef is not around, so time for the rest to learn how to cook.
Jonathan picked up the chore and we will be cooking mixed-vegetable soup with some ingredients plucked wild along the way. As always, monosodium glutamate and those spurious food additives are not part of our cooking. We keep our food close to nature as much as possible. It is a skill that men should possess.
We left the Caburnay couple at 14:30 and continue on our journey. We reach the ridge of Babag after an uphill walk without trouble where shades abound to keep us from the intense heat of the sun. It is a long walk to the main peak but, along the way, I decide to visit a World War II ruin. This is the main entrance of the gamut of tunnels constructed by the Japanese in a losing but last-ditch effort against the liberation force of the Americal Division and some rag-tag Filipino guerrillas.
The wind played among the leaves trying to talk sense into me but I am an opaque card today, denuded of clairvoyance and hindsight. My thoughts are focused on our safety later on. I would find that out if Fele's tormentor keeps his word. I would not go to the peak of Mount Babag where the trailhead down to Napo is found. Instead, I would explore a beaten trail, if it is true, that it would lead down to the same trail to Upper Kahugan Spring.
It is steep and straight but very manageable. The ground is stable even if it is wet. It passes by a healthy grove of sand bamboo (Local name: bagakay) and goes down to cross a small dry gully and continues onto a field of wild taro (lutya) then to a very narrow pass. Along the way, I saw pepper vine (buyo) and a forest rat (balagtok), seemingly unafraid of human intrusion. It could well be that it found the spines of the thorn bamboo (kagingkingon) enough protection from us.
Anyway, I do like the trail and it indeed led to the Upper Kahugan Spring, which water I found very refreshing. Then I heard a shout from afar. It was unintelligible but it is directed against us. I shouted back contemptuously. I exchanged more shouts at that unidentified man and I decide we better leave towards the Roble homestead as shadows are getting long. There has been a problem with this farm owner. He frowns at hikers passing by his farm and block its access to Mt. Babag.
As we were midway to that place, a man showed up at the heels of Nyor quite angry that I have shouted back at him. It seems his right hand was hidden from view to project to us that he has a weapon but I am used to this kind of situation. Then he recognized me and became apologetic of his behaviour. He said he was shouting at someone not from our party but I took it as an affront instead on our right to roam on government land.
So many ignorant people here pretending that they own a piece of land even when they just possess a mere photocopy of a land tax declaration. They thought they own the place forever and block right of ways. The government should know these things, especially the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, because these documents came from them. I believe some corrupt government officials are making a killing here. So, for that matter, I advise people to refrain from passing by “Forbidden Farm”.
We reach the abode of Fele's older brother, Zene, and they are in a state of fear. I could feel their relief at seeing us. With our presence, they are safer, but it would not be long when their agitation at the thought of the suspect roaming free and stalking them in the middle of the night returns. I look at my adult pair of turkeys and it is alright. From its six young ones, only three survived. When the Roble home was burned, the perpetrator also slashed the necks of my two young turkeys and caused injury to a third.
Suddenly, I begin to feel a very familiar feeling that had been constantly present in my past. It is a rage that I have no assurance of control. I pick up a stick that is as thick as a wrist and about 20 inches long. Miyamoto Musashi had vanquished most of his adversaries armed with just a stick. They were the finest warriors of 16th century Japan who take pride of their weapons from swords to halberds to chain-and-blade with matching skills, superior than most, and whose reputations struck awe.
I could feel my blood boil causing my individual muscles to revolt. I need to release this bottled up rage and walking would only be a slight liberation from that but, at least, it is a relief. My eyes scan everything, ears up, while my mind begins to process all possibilities of cause and effect like a chess player would with his two knights. With a stick I had humbled some people even with superior weapons. Just give me the right distance.
The threat-maker chooses his time and place and he has the element of surprise. It is my disadvantage. As always. It had never changed, quite unfair, but just give me the right distance and my speed would do the rest. I once disarmed a spoiled brat with a rifle and a sidearm in a crowded bar in Urgello with just a stick; a hoodlum with a revolver in F. Villa; a serial killer in Davao City; and many others more but those are stories quite different from today.
The sight of the burned-down house had caused my temper to rise. I got agitated by noise caused by unnecessary talking at the back of me and I pleaded for silence and asked them to keep their eyes open. I am now in a different world and I see only black and white. You might call that paranoid but it is the way it is and I am still living because of it. I am only after my imagined adversary which I expect to appear anytime. Even so, I now have a strategy. If he appears and makes a wrong move, the stick will do my work.
I reach Napo at 17:00 and I still have the stick. The adversary did not materialize contrary to his threats. Might as well bring this stick home. It will be put to good use. I will need this in my bushcraft class in a few days in Capiz but it would have been better if this stick squash his thick skull. What a boring day.
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