Saturday, November 26, 2016
WE AT THE CAMP RED BUSHCRAFT and Survival Guild begun to love Baksan when we discovered its secrets that we decide to transfer our “dirt times” there. At Baksan, we do not meet anymore colorful corporate hikers. Of course, they know where it is because it can be searched in Google Earth but going there is still a puzzle for them. Even if they will accidentally find it, they cannot fit in because there is nothing spectacular to talk about.
In the old Roble Homestead, we frequently meet them there. Meetings are mutual and friendly but we know that they talk behind us because we are different. We do not worship Leave No Trace, like they do in such vociferous manners on other people, yet they cannot impose it on us. We have our own set of values when it comes to enjoying the outdoors and LNT is not one of those.
We carry knives and we know most of them cringe at the sight of even the smallest Swiss Army Knife. We regard our knives as mere tools and we know the value of this simple tool in simple outdoor functions or, worse, during SHTF. Our difference from them stood out glaringly with our joyous attachment to our unique tradition of the blade porn. We delight at our “wrong turns” and it is the best thing in the world.
We blend well with the landscape by just being there and not mere passersby. We can sit idly by a campfire and enjoy its companionship of warm food and steaming coffee while some of these colorful hikers would be busy spying on other campers of their misplaced garbage. While some of them pounce people in Facebook by posting pictures that hurt their make-believe LNT sensibilities, we dare them with ours that totally ground against their beliefs.
We are now at Baksan always to save them of their frustrations of seeing us doing many things that ran contrary to their Western-inspired outdoor principles. We regret to inform them that we never camp on bald peaks nor make campfires there. These are the very places we evade for it ran counter to our adherence of Blend, Adapt and Improvise. On the other hand, we do not stay a minute and we had rather be on our way quick.
This day – August 14, 2016 – I am with these crazy bushcrafters. Two male guests came along upon the invite of one. Our plan would be to test the route between Tisa and Kilat Spring for we heard rumors of this greedy Italian-sounding abomination called the Monterazzas de Cebu trying to gobble up the whole of Banawa Hills and part of Tisa Hills, thereby, close access to a valuable water source at Kilat forever.
Although it is still 07:30, by my own experience walking both Tisa and Banawa Hills at this hour, it should already be warm. The hills are grassy but devoid of trees. It is rare to find a copse of different trees, most of it among deeper cleaves and on a few ridge tops. A power pylon stood guard on the trail. Its presence a hint that a corridor underneath it and its cables are government property. Why would this Italian-sounding housing development pursue its project?
Behind this low mountain range facing Cebu City is a watershed where Kilat Spring is found and the imaginary boundary is just a couple of steps away. Do not the Metro Cebu Water District find this position irregular? Is it okay to supply water to the metropolitan area whose source partly comes from the Buhisan Watershed Area which is now a close-door neighbor of this Italian-sounding residential area?
Did they check where their drainage flowed this time because there had been silence lately of places which had been inundated with water and mud coming from them in the past? I am just curious because one small stream in the Buhisan showed brown and silty effluents during a downpour. I understand it has been issued an Environment Compliance Certificate by the DENR because you cannot proceed with earth-moving activities without one? Is this ECC acquired with all the proper requirements? Is it above board?
Is it not a part of this Italian-sounding residential area transgressed by a corridor of high-voltage power lines supported by two steel towers on two separate points can be a risk to life and property? Can City Hall just allow and provide them building and land development permits without closely scrutinizing its close location to a watershed and a power corridor? Would City Hall not consider preserving a historical landmark that is now being trampled underneath this Italian-sounding abomination? It is a kilometer-long Japanese tunnel.
I waited for the others as they slowly negotiate the trail. I found a branch of a trail that would lead us to Kilat Spring. I know most of them have exhausted their water bottles but, over that ridge where there is an old mango tree, a path goes down into the Buhisan Watershed Area and abundant water. It did not take long and we reach Kilat Spring. We have all the water in the world. We celebrate by boiling water for coffee.
Water from Kilat Spring, according to an old-timer that I met some years back, burst forth after the ground was hit by lightning. A stump of a burnt tipolo tree is a testament to this incident which happened many many years ago. The water is now caught inside a concrete box and is diverted to the dam structure to serve as water supply for the MCWD engineers while the rest just flows freely thru a tap. Above the spring is a talo-ot tree, which nurtures the fine quality of the spring.
After 45 minutes we proceed to the Portal. We are now traversing thick jungle on a path that had not been used frequently by many people as before. Some parts of the trail are beginning to be overrun by weeds and it came at a point where there is a spot that had, so many times, led me to walk in circles and I am doing it again. I finally caught the true path and it relieved all the stress that I am now beginning to accumulate.
We pass by a forest of mixed sugar palms (Local name: idyok) and upland marsh palms (saksak). There has been an attempt to burn down these and a few of the palms are molested and cut without meaning. How could anyone be so vicious on these palms? I carefully pull the hair-like fibers of a sugar palm and the others did so. We collect this for our fire-making needs as it is a good tinder. I stuffed mine inside a small plastic bag where it will be transferred to my fire kit soon.
We reach the Portal but we continue until we reach Sibalas, the “Navel of Baksan”. There is also a natural spring here which is now housed inside a concrete box. Nearby, is the resting hut of the old steward of the water source and of the big swath of the place itself – Luceno Laborte or Noy Ceno. He is around and Jhurds Neo, the head shed of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, gave him two brand-new stainless-steel cups which elicit a very happy smile from him.
Everybody settled down and proceed to the foraging of dry firewood, which are few. Nevertheless, we have ways to make it fire-ready. The sound of wood being split by knives echoes down to where I sat talking to Noy Ceno and Jhurds. I watch the two guests, both wearing red t-shirts, watching silently the show the guys are now running. It would be their first time to see “dirt time” and they are glued to the spot where they are crouched.
Ernie Salomon, the camp fixer, is busy preparing the food while the rest are keeping him company in the slicing business. Fires are lit on two hearths. A pot for coffee is now above one while another pot of rice claims the other. Ernie’s home-made hobo stove spews out a smoke and a tin cup for coffee is placed over it. I was tired of the hike. Maybe I am just too busy. I was guiding people yesterday. Or maybe I am getting old.
I drank coffee again and I tinker with my Cignus V85 VHF radio. I am able to contact amateur station DV7FAL of Linao, Talisay City from my hidden location in Baksan, bouncing my signal to a steep flank of Banawa Hills which then makes a ping-pong to a repeater in Busay. Ingenious maneuver. When you are into ham radio, you tend to experiment and that is what I just did with an inferior made-in-China equipment. Think of what I could do with a Japan-branded radio?
Immediately after that, I caught the attention and interest of Christopher Ngosiok, Nelson Tan and the two guests about ham radio. We talked about licensing, acquisition of radios, review classes and preparing for that written examination administered by the National Telecommunications Commission. I am a licensed ham operator for three years now and I carry a callsign of DW7EUV. Many of the guys from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild are licensed hams.
Radio equipment is always part of mine and someone else’s gear. Radio communications is essential when SHTF sets in. I have personally witnessed cellular signals fail in the aftermath of a 7.2 earthquake in Bohol and in places in the path of Typhoon Haiyan. Only radio signals were able to provide a link between the distressed communities and relief agencies. It happened in 2013 in many places of Bohol, Leyte, Samar and Northern Cebu.
Spoon is rapped on a pot lid, signalling the start of our late lunch. Ernie did wonders with chicken meat with an estofado dish. For a dayhike, we at the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild are pampered to feast like kings! How could we reduce our weight with food like that? More servings please! We gave a share of the meal to Noy Ceno and his family and our bellies bloat like that of Jhurds’. Hahaha…
When dark clouds begun to appear in the middle of the afternoon, we decide to pack our things back into our bags, including the blackened pots. We will be exiting to Guadalupe this time but, first, we will have to pass Enas. I lost the trail to there and I decide to explore the many strange trails that crisscross Lower Baksan until I call it quits and followed a trail that led to high ground. So familiar. So, Bebut’s Trail it is.
We go down that dreaded place called “Heartbreak Ridge”. We walk on the fringes of that Italian-sounding abomination and I see they are now starting to fence off the poorer quarters. How can you fence off a fault line? It is recently discovered in Buhisan, just at their back. I wished the new homeowners well.
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Monday, November 21, 2016
THE BUSAY LUT-OD WATERFALLS of Sapangdaku, Cebu City is not a tourism destination compared to the more spectacular and popular ones like the Kawasan in Badian, the Tumalog in Oslob, the Mantayupan in Barili, the Aguinid in Samboan and a host of others which dot the island of Cebu. But I am happy about its anonymity. It meant that it will not host people.
Locals have told me long ago that the Sapangdaku Creek pass through five succeeding drops – like a giant staircase – hence, the name “busay lut-od”. In all my visits there, I have come to know, and seen, of only three. Maybe because of a single path to one which lets me see the two other waterfalls, all at the same time. If I have time, I might visit the rest of the Busay Lut-od.
I have guided many people here in the past years, to include fourteen Danish girls, but I am now a bit choosy. Sometimes I refer it to other people like the time a celebrated Old Manila tourist guide, Carlos Celdran, visited and bathed here in 2014. Sometimes I just leave requests unanswered when I find myself busy with other projects or that would-be clients are a bit stiff for my comfort.
I do not personally guide people there anymore if you are just after scenic landscapes, for leisure’s sake or in the aid of your physical exercise. I would, if you could tickle my interest like what would I gain if I do so? I am more of a wilderness guide and less of a mountain guide and that might cost you more. But, do not worry, I have associates to fill your wanderlust.
I have brought people there again just this year. The outdoors is now my full-time occupation. Last March, students from the Cebu Normal University conducted an interview of me in the pursuit of their studies. In July, I accommodated Australian guests to a city wilderness tour which brought them here to the Busay Lut-od. Today – August 13, 2016 – three students from the University of San Jose-Recoletos will have their chance.
I am almost always very welcoming to students doing field study, not necessarily in the wilderness, in the pursuit of complying their school requirements. I am a parent myself and I know the stress one gets when their kids do not make the grade through difficult circumstances. I am very accommodating here and I gave them guidance and hints on anything they need to know.
It is a warm morning, almost perfect, with wisps of clouds floating by. We all meet at the parking lot of the Our Lady of Guadalupe and, at first, there were four: two males and two females. They are BS Tourism students and they will make a feasibility study of the Busay Lut-od Waterfalls. I gave them the idea of the terrain, climate, prominent landmarks and other things of what to expect along the trail.
Most of the time some students do not understand how the outdoors looked like or how they would fit themselves in there. The choice of clothes and footwear are disappointing. They, almost always, dress for the malls. Well, I could not help it except manage my pace to a creeping one with lots of rests. I hope the Guy Upstairs would turn back the temperature by a few degrees.
To distract the tightness and difficulties of what they wore, I talk about the plants growing along the trail and beside the stream. I point to them a durian tree with several fruits hanging at its high branches. The same with a marang tree. Only one from the four could discern the rarity of durians in Cebu. At another time, a farm of roses and daisies. Then broccoli-like canopies of mango trees in the distant hills.
The long rests under the shade of trees begets me smiles and their gratitude. If they could only talk about their feelings. Nevertheless, I would know what they are feeling right now. That their tight shoes and tight jeans beget blisters anytime today. It is a given. The outdoors is not something to take for granted. They should do their homework.
We reach the river crossing where there is a natural spring. I insist that they rest long here as the path will be slightly steep once we proceed to the waterfalls area. As they talk among themselves, I refilled my Nalgene bottle. Their leader, Peter Lubas, is much more prepared than the rest and he is carrying a heavy camera with heavy accessories.
He says, he chanced upon my name when he read the blog, Adrenaline Romance. Besides that, the owner of the blog, Gian Carlo Jubela, who is a friend of mine, recommended me for this sort of project. He emailed me but I suggested to him to search me in Facebook instead, which he did. I gave him my discounted professional fee which he accepted to fulfill once they have sufficient material to document.
That material for documentation is still a long way but their efforts would not go to waste. On the moderately steep trail, they walk with so much labor. I assure them that it is just 30 minutes to condition their mind so they could time their attempts. On the last rise, we arrive at another path going down to the waterfalls. It is steep with loose surface the last time around.
I go down first and then Peter and the two girls. I believe the other guy is covering the tailend of our downhill hike. I took a headcount once I reached the first waterfall. Three. The last would still be up there, I guess. I would give him two minutes. It was that moment after I gave a briefing to the three that I noticed the other one had not arrived yet.
I left the three and made my way up and see no one there. He might have turned back. The tight jeans and tight shoes might have to do with that. Painful lessons. I go back to the three and informed them of their missing companion. They smiled but they already know the reason why. I gave them space. I climb the side of the waterfall and I am now on another level. Another waterfall,
The two girls took a bath while Peter climbed up to photograph this second waterfall. For an hour, they take their fill of this hidden wonder, just a few kilometers from Capitol and not much walking and fare expenses. It is just at the backyard of Cebu City. Quite accessible but, let the rest know about it, and it would be heaped with garbage, just like all those popular waterfalls I just named.
The activity ended before noon and we were already at Guadalupe. I earned my guiding fee and it is a hard way to earn one when you know that what was sideline then becomes now your bread and butter. It is not everyday I get chances like this. It is a hard reality. Despite that, I choose to be choosy.
Why? Because I refuse to earn without conscience. I am against commercialism and popular tourism. I am one of the last gatekeepers of our Mother Earth.
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Sunday, November 13, 2016
IT IS A SUNNY AUGUST 6, 2016 MORNING. The storm just left a day ago and I am here standing at the edge of a shoreline in Kawit, Medellin, Cebu waiting for my turn to board the wooden-hulled boat for Guintarcan Island. Boy Toledo is now climbing up a narrow ramp towards the deck of the prow followed by his wife Belen, his daughter and son-in-law. Ernie Salomon and Boy Olmedo are repeat visitors while the rest are first timers.
Everyone are excited. Even Boy T, and Belen, who is a native there. This would be my ninth visit after more than a year. I was there last time as the local coordinator and guide for Wine to Water last December 2014. It was a humanitarian mission geared towards improving the potability of water for residents affected by Typhoon Yolanda and by Typhoon Ruby with the distribution of Sawyer water filters.
I am here as an unofficial tour guide this time, gaining nothing for my time and nothing again for my efforts of resisting the island heat. It was Boy T’s idea after all, borne out from that liquid sucked from the mouths of frosty below-zero beer bottles, and I have to dance with his tune. Boy T always loved to celebrate and, this time, he will celebrate his survival of another mild stroke which happened a few weeks ago. I am happy about his recovery and I am generous with his idea.
We will all stay three days and two nights at his mother-in-law’s house. Tita Rosos, the matriarch, will celebrate her 88th birthday on the second day and the Toledo family will witness that occasion along with us. Boy T and Belen even brought a brand new freezer to add to the old refrigerator. The house, which was destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013, would now have been repaired by this time. I have witnessed how the community of storm survivors rallied around the old house to make their lives bearable.
The sea looked serene but when we are now about two kilometers offshore, waves tossed and rocked the small boat and spewed spray and mist above the gunnels. The island’s lighthouse stood prominently on a hill, its white paint reflected sunlight in a glare. Right in the middle of the island is a patch of white sand that extend all the way below the lighthouse. The boat helmsman is aiming now for that patch of white.
Out came the passengers, one by one, when the boat landed on the beach. The narrow ramp served as the ladder to reach dry land. When I visited here the second, third and fourth times, I jumped from the prow into the beach like a swashbuckling Pizarro, even as the boat was still lurching in the waves and unable yet to secure rigging, probably causing the skipper’s heart to skip a beat with my act. I have mastered this stunt while as tugboat crew in my younger days. That agility is not yet gone but it just lacked the opportunity as I was astern.
The old house is completely repaired except that the retaining wall facing the shore have not been rebuilt. The serpentine papaya that hugged the ground is gone. In its place is a pile of hollow blocks waiting to replace the crumbling fence. Lola Tita, smiling and upright despite her age, meet us at the foyer and welcomed us all into her home. I kissed her right hand and went back to the courtyard.
I found a spot to set up my bright red Silangan Rev20 tent. I bought this last December 2014 yet I have not had the opportunity to learn how to set it up and to sleep in it and this would be the very first time ever for me. It is almost brand new since it was only used a couple of times by my son and by clients from Poland. It is not free standing and would need pegs to keep the outer shell erect when the stringed pole is inserted and fastened to the retaining grommets on both ends.
The inner shell could be attached inside the outer shell by a system of ladder locks. Then you have to insert two short poles on both ends of the tent to add rigidity. Right. The problem is the sleeves of both pole inserts are just too tight to make attachment seamless. I tried hard and gained success only after I have worn my reading glasses. What if it were in darkness? A dog stops by and quickly took a leak on my tent. Quickly too, a pebble came its way.
Justin Apurado, Locel Navarro, Judy Jane Neo, Christopher Ngosiok, Amaya Montecalvo and Marilyn Mansukhani and husband decide to keep me company on the courtyard in their tents or in their hammock sets. Everyone’s busy with their adjustment to a new environment. There is food cooking as the aroma wafted into my nostrils. I surveyed the back of the house where the “dirty kitchen” is located. I believe I need coffee to let my thirst settle down.
When I have that first slurps of coffee, immediately, my mind goes working. Planning and organizing a trip on the spot on an island that offers a wide variety of features are sometimes knotty. I have suggested to Boy T that we visit the La-aw Lagoon after a few minutes from now and we would have to hire a small boat to bring us to its seaward side. I came to appreciate the value of the lagoons and it is just right that the islanders managed it themselves that no structures be ever built.
Guintarcan Island, for all its location, accessibility, beautiful features and bounty, is surprisingly undeveloped. For me, I would rather have it stay that way. The islanders seemed content with what they have and with what they reap from fishing and farming and, besides, they were able to sustain the education of different generations of children for so many years with their present means of livelihood. They do not need expansive tourism and all those resorts. Drug addiction and crime is absent here.
Let Guintarcan be spared of development and commercialism which other islands are supposed to be reaping. I have known of many island resorts that became popular tourist destinations but behind that glitter and pomp are social problems hounding the communities like high cost of living, increasing crime incidence, drug addiction, pollution, diminishing fish catch, land ownership squabbles, sea access problems, environmental degradation and scarcity of resources. Only the resort owners became rich.
After a few moments, we took a shortcut by sea to the mouth of the lagoons. The boat has to enter a narrow channel where a rock concealed the outer lagoon from the sea. The boat skipper cut the engine out and slid his small boat slowly between the rocks. We are now inside the outer lagoon where a big rock canopy obscure the sun and Google Earth, completely putting us in its shade. Meanwhile, a fisherman and his family are drying kelp on the other side of the rocks.
A passage in the hole on the rock lead all to the second and third lagoons. The color of water here changes into a bright aquamarine. Below the surface are grape-like seaweeds (Local name: lato) growing wild. Swimming is ideal. All around are steep rocks with wild vegetation. I spied a couple of fruit bats hanging upside down from one of the tallest trees. I left the bathers to meet the second batch of bathers that will soon arrive.
For two hours, everyone enjoyed the novelty of swimming on the lagoons while I stood watch on a ledge. My curiosity somehow peaked a bit as I see a scant path leading into an opening. There are small cave mouths among the rocks and there are traces of recent digging activities. Going further, I found an open area that seemed to suggest of an old human intrusion or habitation. Much much older than we thought it to be. This could be an old burial ground or where they do their rituals.
I looked around in the open for animal bones. Perhaps, if I have more time, I could sift it below the ground. I might even find pottery shards or crude tools. One by one, the bathers have had enough of the lagoons and are now in the process of transiting into exit mode. A trail wind among the small but wild forest into a narrow pass that somehow gave a bit of protection of the place from overland intrusion. We walk on flat terrain then onto a dirt road.
I decide to bring the troupe to a long flight of stairs down to an iconic beach that I loved to post in Facebook: Hagdan Beach. It is a small cove and fishing village with pristine white sands and hundreds of small fishing boats secured by stilts on dry land. It is a beehive of activity today. Kids are swimming everywhere, playing tag-and-go in the water, the women busy drying kelp and fish while the men mend their fish nets. We joined the kids and become like them.
But not for long. We climb up the stairs and made our long journey back to Dapdap on foot. Our lunch would be available by now. It is already 14:30 and everyone’s hungry and it is five kilometers away. Vacant motorcycles-for-hire called for passengers which some took but the rest brave it on the narrow concrete road. I noticed the islanders do not walk far distances anymore relying more on the swift and relaxed travel that motorcycles afford.
Prickly pear fruits are now ripe and we pick some on the way, including the leaves. The islanders have never understood this cactus plant for it is an introduced species from the deserts of North America. On the other hand, the wide fleshy leaves are made as canvass board instead to write personal graffiti or as target board to shoot marbles at. I must teach them that this is another source of food and to introduce to them an obscure Cebuano name for that as tabal.
I was the last to reach the Rosos house and I enjoyed the late meal at 15:45 but I am used to it. Afternoon is now coming to an end and, soon, it will be dusk. Boy T had already opened a second big bottle of San Miguel Pilsen. Cold beer is a rarity in Guintarcan. Electricity is available only at 18:00 until 22:00. We brought frozen ones in five cases and stuffed them inside ice boxes and what available space inside the refrigerators. Soon there will be electricity to keep those beer perpetually cold.
It did not. We eat supper under the glow of candlelights and it sufficed to improve our appetites better than being under artificial lights. Sitting on the courtyard in total darkness holding a cup of beer is a wonderful experience. The Milky Way and all the stars are strikingly clear in an island sky. The glows of Daanbantayan in mainland Cebu and the combined one of Ormoc City and Isabel in Leyte stood out on the far horizons. Blinking red lights marked the passing of jumbo jets. I wonder if we could catch an orbiting satellite?
When the crowd on the courtyard begins to go sparse until I am alone with Ernie on the last bottle for the day, I would now have the honor of claiming the sleeping space inside the Silangan Rev20 and my first time ever so. The tent’s length is just enough for my reclining height. My crown touched the fabric and the balls of my feet as well. It is a single-person tent. It does not matter. It has enough space to store all my things dry. I wonder how the two Poles fit in?
The second day – August 7 – starts on a good note of a glorious sunrise. After the usual early morning ritual of sun worship and coffee, I see a broken axe. I volunteered to fix it. I will have to remove first the remnant of the handle wedged tight by several nails inside the eye of the axe by burning it. The extreme heat might affect the temper of the steel but the axe is not a precision tool so I let it be. Besides, its use is confined only to splitting firewood.
I looked around for a handle material and found a discarded piece that used to be part of the old house. It is a hardwood known as molave (tugas lan-han) and it is old and well-seasoned. Immediately, I shaped it with a native bolo and, finding it unfit for the job, I looked for another and borrowed Amaya’s Knifemaker Custom Bolo which does a respectable progress.
I was engrossed in my work and I stopped it when Lola Tita was presented a cake and a candle to blow. We sang a birthday song for her and everybody took a piece of the cake. Breakfast is served and, soon, we will be on another tour on the other side of the island. Marilyn and husband, meanwhile, decide to leave early to pursue their household chore of rearing a child and caught an early trip to the mainland.
Meanwhile, I have to bring with me the axehead and the hardwood to Cebu so I could make a better job with all the tools I need. It would not be perfect, unlike machined lines and curves, since it would be hand-made but it will be a custom classic once it is done. I make my own wooden handles for my hatchets and hammers and these are unique pieces complemented with Southwest Native American art carved on it.
The morning turned into a very warm sky. The heat from the sun bounced off the fine white sand as we walked the shoreline to our destination, which will be Cantingting Cave. It is a big cave which I first entered on my first visit in 2009. That time, I was experimenting a novel idea of catching cave bats for subsistence. I caught four. I used this same method during my fourth visit in 2012 while co-hosting in the filming of NATIVE INSTINCT, a reality survival TV project. The show failed to take off due to severe technical problems.
The way to the cave is now about to be guarded by a government building – the Langub Barangay Hall – still in the works. It is a Sunday and it is abandoned. We followed the path up the hill and found the cave. Everyone donned their headlamps and carefully navigate along irregular levels of ground. The cave is now cleaned of guano but it still stank. The chamber walls are dotted with excrement of individual bats and it looked like a giant leopard hide.
The cave bat population is not that great anymore as when I first encountered them. In 2009, it swarmed the entrance as it flee from our intrusion and disturbance. Although a lot are flying all around near the roof, they seemed not threatened with our presence and did not even bother to swarm out of their habitation. I waited outside as the neophyte cavers take their fill of Hades.
We are following a road back to Dapdap but there is one more feature of the island that I need people to visit. It is the lighthouse and it is on top of a hill. The route to there is already obscured and I have to use my tracking skills if there are still traces of people and grazing animals. If not, I would use traditional navigation to reach the top.
I and the rest failed to bring a big blade for clearing a path and I have to use my hands to break off branches getting in my way and feet to bend bigger branches back. It is slow painstaking work and draining. My hands are sore, my arms and bare shins suffered cuts. I have to pay special attention for anything that might threaten an eye and remove it away even though I consume so much time.
We reach the lighthouse and the fence is locked. It is operated by solar energy and people came here often to maintain the batteries. On one corner of the fence, outside the property, are empty plastic bottles of what used to be distilled water and battery solutions. Improper disposal of toxic material is happening right on this island paradise without the residents knowing.
We retraced our path and walked the rest of the way to Lola Tita’s house. Boy T bought a pail of fresh seashells composed of spider conch (sa-ang), juvenile giant clams (takobo), leopard cowrie (sigay), mother-of-pearl oysters (kapis) and conetips (ahong). This would be a good addition to the goat meat dishes that is now being cooked in honor of the birthday celebrator.
The house is busy with some visitors and I have to scurry myself to the beach to dip in the coolness of the sea, away from the heat, and to heal my cuts with the natural saline solution. When I am done, lunch had already been served and I made a backdoor maneuver to zoom in on the spicy goat innards (paklay) that Ernie had been cooking. On a neighboring smoldering pot is goat stew (kaldereta) which I wolfishly placed on top of the other on my plate.
There was not much to do the rest of the day. The last bottles of beer have been consumed and it is too hot inside the tent to sleep. I decide to thin the axe haft with the Knifemaker Custom Bolo. Then when it got cooler, I crawled inside the tent, with the door opened wide so breeze could enter. I read a book – National Geographic’s New Age of Adventure – and got drowsy. It rained. I woke up and closed the tent door and resumed my dreamtime.
I woke up again and it was almost dusk. I got up and made for the house in time to see the same dog yesterday marking his territory again on the same spot of my tent. I was too late. I resumed reading sitting on a chair. Another dog, raised his right leg to take a peek and a pebble got him this time and it yowled in pain. I washed the abused part of my tent and placed a barrier.
Dinner time came early and seashells galore. People do not know anymore how to cook seashells. All the flesh have contracted deep into its shell during the time when it was boiled and you have to smash it with a hammer to get to the meat of it. It was a nasty undertaking and I have to revert to food that was served during lunch.
We waited for the lights to appear and it did an hour after 18:00 and it only lasted about 15 minutes. Now I am talking with Boy T about energy self-sufficiency and renewable energy. Without beer, the drinks shifted to something stronger like Emperador Light Brandy. Only a few took the chance to join us. Nevertheless, we have to empty the bottle before calling it a day. I crawled to the comforts of my tent and forgot everything.
Early morning of the third day, after coffee, we break camp. Stowed everything inside my Silangan Predator Z bag. The rest did theirs. We are now ready to leave the island for the mainland. Lola Tita walked to the shore to send us off. She never left the place where she stood until I could not see her anymore as the distance become so great. I wished her well and may she have more years. She is really a good lady. A perfect matriarch.
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Sunday, November 6, 2016
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.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2016
I AM SAD AND I HAVE no more inspiration and inclination to write an activity which took place last July 24, 2016. It was the 112th episode of my long-running Napo to Babag Tales which started way back in July 2008. This would have not come out if the pictures I took were lost. The articles and images of seven equally adventurous episodes before this were lost to a corrupted hard disk drive with all the rest of my files.
In these times where technology has almost perfected everything, storage drives for computers and other devices left a lot to be desired. They had never perfected these. My original files were made from scratch in 2007 and then, again, in 2010. I thought my present files are feeling free and safe when this technology meltdown came again, one after another, hitting my external hard drive, my micro storage drive, my thumb drive and the danged HDD. I guess I have to start from scratch again. With great pains!
It is more than a year since I walked over the Tagaytay Ridge branch of the Babag Mountain Range here in Cebu City. I need to visit Julio Caburnay’s homestead and see how he is doing. My mind is not focused. I could not get over the idea that all my prized files are lost. I have people from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild with me and a lady guest. I cannot show my frustrations now and I have to concentrate hard on the path before me else safety will be compromised.
It had rained early in the morning before we came. The leaves are balancing moisture on their surfaces while the ground is damp. It is just a matter of choosing which surface to step on to prevent slippage. The vegetation is thick. It had recovered quickly from the grasp of that totally cruel El Niño that gripped the Philippines for over eight months. It was really really very warm. Springs and streams disappeared while the thought of running a farm would be totally insane.
When my files got lost, I thought of the same. Should I continue maintaining Warrior Pilgrimage without these? Warrior Pilgrimage is not only a personal blog but is also a conduit to people about my skills, my activities and my trainings offered to the public. A lot of people. Apart from the stories and pictures for the blog, a lot of those were lecture syllabuses. Even a future book and much more! It was where I based my livelihood. Now you know how I feel. Fate can sometimes be that: Cruel!
It is a very humid morning despite walking underneath a shaded path and protected partly by some passing clouds. Everybody is sweating and panting to keep steady their footing and balance on steep inclines. Manggapares Trail is a beautiful trail and would have been better where it not for the location of the five steel power pylons that had been constructed along it in 2012. The trail followed the ridge of Tagaytay from the ford of Napo along Sapangdaku Creek up until it joins the Babag Ridge Trail.
Few people, apart from locals, come here because this is not a route known to the usual hikers. We at Camp Red have identified the whole place as another of our playground but I know of a few hikers who have known of this and walked this trail after being guided by a local boy. They even named this as the “7 Towers Trail” to mystify this to their own kind. They exit to Bukawe through a dirt road. Our typical route would bypass Mount Liboron by taking a fork of the trail which led to the homestead.
We passed by five locals making a hut where there used to be thick vegetation. They have cleared it for charcoal. I do not have a right to question them because I cannot personally provide them alternative means of livelihood. The land is not mine nor theirs but they have the moral right to do so whatever they want it to because it is for their own and their family’s survival while I, on the other hand, is just a mere passer, hiking for recreation only.
A steel tower loomed like a Martian death machine – the second one of seven but, in our case, the first of five. On a hill is another and going there is an obstacle in itself because it is farther and the path is almost bare. When we reached our third tower, it would now be easy after that. We stop on an abandoned Mitsubishi backhoe, its yellow bulk becoming part of the landscape. We dared to boil water for coffee. I love coffee. Who would not be?
We resumed to our fourth tower and found our hidden trail and walked at it at a slower pace. There is no use hurrying up even though it is now almost noontime. Safety is observed better by walking slowly, the eyes sweeping in a wide arc, identifying hazards and toxic plants and venomous reptiles. This is a route not frequented by people and it is kind of remote although I see tracks of foot and hoofs of a few days old.
Lost in my thoughts was my lost files. I would need to recover those at all cost! I would need to bring the HDD to someone who knows how to stir the magic potion. I wonder how much would I pay or how would I sort the recovered files when each would now have a different name like it did in 2010? Thinking about it made me more thirsty and left me a half bottle of water for the rest of the day, including my share for the cooking.
We reach the Caburnay Homestead at last and a sentry dog announced our arrival. Julio already noticed us and I am glad to see him healthy and hearty. They suffered, says he, from the long drought spell. He has to source his water from far away and people were on their edge for the right to get a share of the water. He has to stop farming for a while and had to subsist on what plants that survived. Of course, he has a hundred square meters of fruit-bearing cacti - his prized dragonfruit - which can grow in drought or no water at all.
We started preparing our meal, Camp Red fashion. It would be cooked in real fires, no MSGs, always a royal feast, eaten while warm and we care not from bleeding violet-loving sissies when we post these in social networking sites. Never ever teach us outdoor ethics. We already saved you of a heartache because you do not have any idea where we do our dirt times. You just concentrate on your pristine landscapes while we take care of our own.
I leave the guys to the food preparation while I decide to test two home-brewed Slim Jim radio antennas. I may need a Slim Jim during the exploration hike of Segment VII of the Cebu Highlands Trail Project which would be next month. Communications is vital during explorations especially when in a remote area like a mountain range which is still unmarked and unnamed in any old or current map. I connect the antenna cable to my Cignus V85 VHF radio. It failed to transmit. Connection problem. Tried the other. Same result. Not fit for the exploration.
Cooking took a long time. We had our lunch at 15:30, as always, in Camp Red style. Fortunately, there is water gushing in the homestead piped from across a hill. We cleaned our pots after giving the share of our meal and the rest of the unused food ingredients to Julio and his wife plus a can of sardines. Julio never forgets to repay us with his kindness by sharing to us his sweet tiny bananas and his prized dragonfruits.
We left in a hurry as the day begins to give long shadows. We reach the Babag Main Trail. A few offroad motorcyclists left furrows on the surface and a broken piece of what used to be a covering that protects the engine and rider. Walking on we saw traces of one motorcycle falling on the steep side of a trail. I could not hide my amusement which I let the others know. They too could not help it but laugh when they see the side of the trail.
We have no more water but the concoction of juice from foraged limes and fresh cucumber mixed in warm water which we drank after our late lunch have removed our cravings for water. We were not thirsty but we could have water soon when we will tackle down the East Ridge Pass. We found the Upper Kahugan Spring alone without people.
Before we came down to the natural spring, we noticed the newly-opened trail smothered and very slippery. I learned later that more than a hundred people climbed Mount Babag from Napo that morning. This is a path for everybody’s use and I could live with that. What I could not live with is the corporate people turning Tagaytay Ridge into something like this. A crude water slide. No way.
That is why I am so choosy in bringing people there. I do not want people returning on their own without me and bringing others who also would come back without the very people who brought them there and bringing friends with them and etcetera etcetera... It is a vicious cycle and I have seen it many times. It turns the place ugly, developing animosity with locals and fellow hikers.
My idea of enjoying the outdoors is different from the view of the mainstream crowds who are, almost always, relegate theirs to scenic landscapes and the speed of their paces. For a lot of them, they cannot do repeats. It is kind of expensive and you have to pull an arm and a leg to get that much-desired approval for a leave. They can only pass a place once and disdain going to the same place or be dreaming about it which time they do not have.
I can, many times. So can my adherents at Camp Red. We enjoyed and will always enjoy and we feasted and will always feast every Sunday, be it four or five Sundays in a month. It does not matter. We treasure the locals we know more than the fleeting landscapes. We can see more by the number of footfalls we make and we can create a story by the footprints or animal tracks we saw. We know where to go instead of being led to.
We can accomplish much in a day what you would in a week’s tramping. In this case we can sit long and become part of the landscape while you are all spent up physically and financially trying to find that one great moment you believed existed and never have understood the environment you are trying hard to fit in. We can sit comfortably by the warmth of a campfire while you are busy spying neighboring campers for a misplaced candy wrapper.
When you are outdoors leave everything behind. Stress from your office work are unwanted garbage here. The same with personal turmoils. The outdoors, the mountains, the streams, the trees, all the sounds of nature, it heals. I do not care anymore about my files. I will start from scratch again if the recovery software fails. No big deal. The mountain had taught me everything to forget it. Warrior Pilgrimage will exist and will be there as long as Google will search for it.
We arrive at Napo at 18:30 and, slowly, one by one, we leave for Guadalupe on any available motorcycle with empty seats. I was the last to go. Nevertheless, we make it a day by spending a few hours at our new watering hole frequented by expats. These same faces that I am with on almost the same places never failed to inspire me. There is life after a meltdown after all and that is why this activity is published now.
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