Thursday, December 14, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 27 (Lanao to Bulalaque Point)

BEFORE I UNROLL THE LAST TALE of adventure which hound Day Twenty-Seven of this first-ever Thruhike of Cebu, let me first acknowledge the people and the establishments that had put their faith in me and my team. They are mentioned from time to time in like articles and in Facebook. For the last time, they will have their worthy participation in the completion of the Cebu Highlands Trail and the ensuing Thruhike noted below:

DEREK’S CLASSIC BLADE EXCHANGE
TITAY’S LILOAN ROSQUILLOS & NATIVE DELICACIES
GV TOWER HOTEL PHILIPPINES
SILANGAN OUTDOOR EQUIPMENT
GALILEO SATELLITE CONTROL SYSTEMS-PHILIPPINES
BAKHAWAN BEACH HOME
GOV. HILARIO DAVIDE III & PROVINCE OF CEBU
SUGBU TURISMO (PROVINCIAL TOURISM OFFICE)
ADRENALINE ROMANCE BLOG
PARK N GO BAKESHOP
VIAJERO OUTDOOR CENTRE
LAVILLES FAMILY OF AUSTRALIA
FRONTGATE BURGER RESTOBAR
VERSA TWO-WAY RADIOS
APP OPS PHILIPPINES
HAM RADIO CEBU
CAMP RED BUSHCRAFT & SURVIVAL GUILD

     MR. ALVIN JOHN OSMEÑA
     MS. JULIET MOLINA
     MR. NIÑO PAUL BERIALES
     MR. PERCIVAL ESPINA
     PACING’S HOUSE OF BARBECUE
     VEN GOING PLACES STORIES BLOG
     MR. MICHAEL SCHWARZ
     MS. WILMA RELLORA
     MR. RANDY SALAZAR
     MR. MARKUS IMMER
     MR. LESTER PADRIGA
     MR. ADOLFO OLMEDO
     MR. RONALD ABELLA
     MS. LOCEL NAVARRO
     ATTY. BRUCE RAGAS
     MR. JOAQUIN GOCHOCO
     MR. EMERSON BENOZA
     MR. GLEN DOMINGO
     MR. HAROLD BUTANAS
     TACTICAL SECURITY AGENCY
     MR. ALAN POOLE
     SHOESTRING XAYD BLOG
     MS. MIRASOL LEPON
     QUIJANO FAMILY
     MR. JEROME TIBON
     MR. ROMMEL MESIAS
     MR. JONATHAN BLANES
     MR. MELO SANCHEZ
     MS. AMAYA MONTECALVO
     MR. JEREMIAH DAYTO
     DRINOX KITCHEN
     MR. GLENN PESTAÑO
     MR. MATTHEW DE LEON
     THE KNIFEMAKER
     SESEBLADES
     MR. MARC IVAN DE EGURROLA
     ZUE FASHION
     MS. LAILA MANTOS-ABADINGO

My apologies for any omission that I might have made but let me take this occasion to cite the following brave individuals who comprised my CHT Exploration Team, namely: JONATHANIEL APURADO, JUSTIN APURADO, JOVAHN YBAÑEZ and late addition FRITZ BUSTAMANTE; and my Base Support Crew in JHURDS NEO and CHAD BACOLOD. They were all there on their own accord, offering their time, intellect, skills, muscles and naked enthusiasm for a place under the sun.

This citation also goes to another set of individuals who were in earlier explorations with me on the first two segments of the CHT like ERNESTO SALOMON, CIRILO TOLEDO, MARCO ALBEZA, CHARLTON BATHAN, ARCHIE MAYOL, RAYMUND PANGANIBAN, ELI BRYN TAMBIGA, LEOMIL PINO, JAMES CABAJAR, JOHN SEVILLA, GLENN PESTAÑO, SILVERIO CUEVA and ANTONIO VERGARA. They slogged and charged the unknown with me. 

 
Finally, I could not have done this without the faith and trust in the ALMIGHTY; the support, love and understanding of my wife VILMA and my family. These are the strengths and the inspirations why I persevered, against all odds, since I started the exploration on February 20, 2011 from Lutopan, Toledo City; and the first step of the Thruhike twenty-six days ago from Liloan Point, Santander.

Today, February 14, 2017, is a special day, not that it is Valentine’s Day, but it is the day that I will put closure of this historic Thruhike. The early morning is still silent as I rose from the comforts of my Therm-a-Rest laid on the concrete floor of the multi-purpose building of the village of Lanao, Daanbantayan. My morning habit for a glass of water led me to a water dispenser. The noise woke up both Markus Immer and Jonathaniel Apurado.

The sun had not thrust its will on this part of the world but I see five residents starting to enter the iron gate that lead to us. They were carrying pots and I believe there would be a feast later. We decide to clean up the place and put all our equipment and gear into our backpacks as neatly as possible as was practiced many times. We would not be needing our extra food anymore and we decide to leave it with our hosts.

I prepared the fossilized shell I picked up from Liloan Beach on the first minutes of the first day of the Thruhike and placed it inside a small ziploc plastic along with my business card and a paper indicating the origin of the shell and the date of the Thruhike. Jon prepared his also and labeled a small paper with his name and the date of the long walk. I drank coffee for the last time on the CHT.

The CHT itinerary says: 09:00 Arrival at Bulalaqui Point. Too stiff! It is just a morning hike of a few kilometers but I can tweak it by walking at a snail’s pace. We have a lot of time! Now the village hall is a beehive of activity and the people of Lanao are preparing a breakfast in our honor. Food are brown rice and bitter gourd with egg, organically grown along the lakeside shores of the heretofore unknown Lake Lanao.

After saying our deepmost thanks to the village council and the people of Lanao, we faced the cold northeast monsoon wind outside and lurched forward at 07:45 to fulfill our once-in-a-lifetime mission which no person or group have done before. Markus is in high spirits, extending his adventures in his adopted home. Connecting with the right people is his uncanny skill and he will not be denied today.

We follow an unpaved road that I have already identified as our route to Bulalaqui Point. I have explored this route last November 2016 which capped the more than five years long exploration of routes for the CHT. We entered the village of Tapilon, Daanbantayan when we reached the Looc Elementary School. In the mildest of weather, we barely shed sweat. We were not forcing our pace but walked in a manner akin to touring with a bike.

From a rough road, we were now walking on a new concrete pavement for just a few paces only as an old trail that have served the residents in the past is now my preferred path. It is a short cut to the highway which connect the town center of Daanbantayan to the Port of Maya and vice versa. We reach a bridge and I guess the stream below as the outlet of Lake Lanao. A concrete sign says we are now entering the village of Maya.

A motorcade celebrating National Heart Health Day overtook us as we walk towards Maya. Some of the participants on the vehicles must have known our presence and our business in their municipality and pointed their hands towards us. They waved at us. The noise of the drums drowned out their shouting voices as they were in the process of communicating with us. We waved back and became part of their celebration while it lasted for a fleeting seconds.

We arrived at the village hall of Maya and made a courtesy call to whoever is in charge. A watchman welcomed and entertained us as we try to explain our presence. A village council woman, Hon. Vanessa Laspinas, came and learned the purpose of our Thruhike and she was glad upon learning that their village, especially at Bulalaqui Point, is the terminus of our 27-day journey.

After a customary picture, we bade goodbye and seek the route to Cebu’s own finis de tierra, our land’s end of the north. I seek the small streets that would lead us to the new Port of Maya. The wharf is still under construction but, nevertheless, in operation. Two Ceres Liner buses parked at its empty parking area waiting for a boat from Malapascua Island or from Palompon, Leyte. There is a path that goes into a growing community and it had not changed despite construction of more houses.

We are now hiking uphill. It is grassy with patches of waist-high shrubs, some coconut trees and a few huge trees. The trail goes into another hill which the locals referred to as “pawikan gatakal”, because it looked like one turtle riding on the back of another turtle. Whatever it is, I climbed over the great hump and into wilder shrubs and better views of the yet-unfinished wharf and of a beautiful cove on the other side.

There is a cairn right on the trail and I stood above it and tried to propagate the Versa Duo VHF radio in the direction of the repeater tower of Ham Radio Cebu, 140 kilometers or so away, just like I did in Day Three, Day Fourteen, Day Fifteen and Day Twenty-two. At five watts power, the distance was just too great even when I have the strong amihan to my back. The Versa served me well and satisfies my experimentation. 

There are just a few meters of open space on the trail for soon we would be entering a stunted forest cover. The trees would provide us shade and we would be partly protected from the strong northeast monsoon winds, which is now more pronounced due to our proximity to open sea. I have to tread the trail slowly because, somewhere beyond my vision, would be the precipitous edges of Bulalaqui Point.  

At exactly 11:07, we arrive at Cebu’s northernmost point. The adventure of the Thruhike which had spun for 27 days plus two days rest halfway in Cebu City is now at a close. The jagged rock that had separated from the headland many many years ago danced among the waves a hundred feet below. My Canon IXUS camera, its very existence bounded to document in still and moving images the CHT Exploration and the Thruhike, is now more relevant than ever.

SPO4 Condino and PO1 Arreglado of Daanbantayan Police Station arrived to look over our safety and witnessed our small celebration in this most uninhabited corner of the great island province of Cebu. I am in the midst of the greatest performance of my life, talking before my camera in video mode for a total of 211 seconds, acknowledging Providence, the people I am with and those who have helped in the realization of the Thruhike and the CHT.

In a location I previously marked months ago, I retrieved a “time capsule” which I left last November 3, 2016. With that, I dug a shallow hole on the ground and place it there, together with my fossilized shell and that of Jon’s as well. I covered the hole back and placed a small cairn over it. I hope it would soon become a landmark. A shrine for adventurers who would leave their marks someday.

How many would be placed there in the future? At that moment, I was clueless. The idea of another Thruhike is a thing that I would not like to think of at that moment. What I am thinking of right now is to go home and be with my wife and my family. I missed them all especially my little grandson, Gifford. His grandpops has a lot of tales for him. Another reason is the Brew Kettle beer that I readied before Day Twelve. It would be very cold now. A good match for my deprived body.

The Thruhike had proven that Cebu can be walked along the middle, the interior, and at its most rugged terrain from the southernmost beach to its northernmost headland or vice versa. On both ends, you are assured of a dip in the sea by a beach. Although there had been attempts to walk across its length, notably by the party of Judge Meinrado Paredes in 1996-1997, it was not realized due to the prevailing peace and order situation and scarcity of maps.

During my explorations, the insurgency in Cebu have died a natural death but residues of suspicions remained. For several times I was placed in many awkward situations. People in the hinterlands are not used to seeing strangers walking with big backpacks. It reminded them of the violent past. Although we talked in the same dialect but there is no way I could explain to them of what is a “hiker”, a “mountain climber” or a “mountaineer”. A few times, we settled on a neutral word - “tourist”.

I carefully planned my exploration hikes, making it sure that the local government units, through Capitol, and the police are properly informed. It does not give assurance though as what happened on separate occasions of April and September 2016, where I or my team were escorted by the police and had to terminate the activity. Once, we were threatened with harm in March 2012 and, another time in January 2015 and October 2016, we were denied camp in a village.

Maps are important but I used it only during pre-route planning. Analog maps sold by NAMRIA are utterly outdated by 20+ years. I used and studied online maps provided by DOST Project Noah, before it was mothballed. I even screen printed the mouse-enlarged maps on several bond papers which I brought in my exploration hikes, just for reference only. Just like the analog maps, some villages are off their true locations. Most of the time, I used traditional navigation.


Anyway, the Thruhike needs careful planning, enough logistics and a walk of AT LEAST a month or more. (If people are intimidated of strangers casually walking, how would they find you running?) Food is a consideration. You know, I have developed a trauma of a certain breakfast food. You need to cook dinner and breakfast with denatured alcohol. You need to use an alcohol burner. There is no other way unless you hire a porter.

I got cold sweat when I thought of doing another Thruhike with guests as I sat inside the empty Ceres Liner. I am sure a lot of people would like to try the CHT end to end. Unfortunately, I still have not possessed the data that the radio tracking device provided by Galileo Satellite Control System-Philippines and my memory would serve that purpose for the time being. However, I would accept guideship jobs in segments only. The CHT is composed of eight segments. It is much friendly that way and easy for me.

We did it, finally. On that first few steps of that February 20 morning six years ago, I never thought that I would reach the end of my quest. At that time, I find it too ambitious and I was afraid that I might get sucked into obsession. How did I overcome everything? Especially the logistics and the trickles of support. I do not know. But one thing I know is you enjoy your passion and let people believe what you do. You must be credible, honest, bold and human. And you must pray.

Distance Walked: 8.54 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 35 meters and a low of 5 meters


Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Thursday, December 7, 2017

PINOYAPACHE MEETS THE GREATEST PINOY MOUNTAINEER

REGIE PABLO JOINED ME today, March 18, 2017, inside a Toyota Corolla driven by Jay Z Jorge. We would all be going to Antipolo City. The Climbers League for Ideal Mountaineering and Balanced Environmental Responsiveness, or simply known as CLIMBER, will be opening the 18th Batch of their Basic Mountaineering Course in Basekamp, a private camping facility.

I stayed the whole day yesterday in the residence of Jay Z in Navotas City and I am fully rested after a week of travel, work and outdoors recreation. A wholesome dinner at Pacing’s House of Barbecue settled my equilibrium to near normal levels. My participation in the CLIMBER BMC would just be in a cameo role of bed spacer and freeloader. Jay Z must have erred in inviting me.

Sitting all to himself at the back is Regie, the renowned Filipino mountaineer and Mt. Everest summitter. It is indeed an honor to meet and share a ride with him inside the Toyota. This unassuming man made possible the Philippine dream of putting the first Filipino on Everest, with which honor belonged to Leo Oracion, who planted the national colors at 8848 meters in May 2006. It could have been him, though.

 
Unknown to many, he was the wellspring of that idea when he made known his intention of climbing Everest in 2001, after acquiring the funds, the equipment and the sponsors through his own industry and connections to sustain his expedition. He was set to claiming that honor when he was talked and prevailed upon by the local mountaineering community to involve the whole nation. So it became known as the Philippine Everest Expedition Team.

On that year in 2006, the country achieved an unprecedented feat by placing two team members on top of the peak. He did not get that chance. He sacrificed everything for that moment but his never came. Worse, he was sent packing days before caused by internal politics of the expedition team. He nursed bitterness for relinquishing his opportunity in 2001 but he will prove one day that he can climb without a team with useless people and their personal motives.

His day came on May 16, 2007. He did the impossible. He climbed Qomulongma all by himself, by his own wits and, in the process, losing the endmost joint of a thumb to frostbite. But he survived the greatest ascent of his life and lived to tell his solo adventure. Quite a feat for someone who defied age and his critics. It was the greatest insult he could flaunt in their faces! I loved individuals who thrived in obscurity. Regie is a certified Badass!

 
I remembered featuring Regie Pablo and his Everest climb in my Multiply account back in 2007. I know only that his expedition was done on his own power, bequeathing his corporate job for that one chance which elicit my appreciation. I know now that he took the longer route, after a brush of betrayal and rejection. His ascent has more substance, more drama and more sacrifice than any other Filipino before him and he deserves that honor, in bold letters, as the Greatest Filipino Mountaineer.

We arrive at Basekamp and some of the CLIMBER training staff are already there. The participants are excited to be in a seminar that would educate them into responsible individuals. They would learn a lot, considering that CLIMBER is an advocate of excellent outdoors education anchored on the seven principles of the Leave No Trace. In fact, CLIMBER is one of only a very few local partners of LNT Center of Outdoor Education.

Jay Z introduced me to the participants as an “inspirational” speaker. I was caught unprepared for I was informed at the last minute. Maintaining my composure, I tried to be esteemed as possible infront of them. I appealed to the participants to be discerning and objective of joining in mass climbs and cheap bandwagon tours which tend to drain them physically and emotionally instead of gaining good impressions and memorable experiences.

However, DIY trips and organized tours by more responsible tour agencies are much better and yields you higher sense of adventures and better memories, provided you follow protocol, which you can only learn in seminars like the BMC. As my parting message, it would be nice to the environment and to the indigenous communities to keep these unvisited places all to yourselves and it would be better, as well, not to share it in social media sites.

 
Regie would talk about Introduction to High Altitude Mountaineering during the first part of the BMC. For that matter, he brought a big bag containing the learning aids vital to imparting his lecture to the participants. Real mountaineering starts at 4000 meters because air begins to thin and low temperatures starts to be a hindrance. These two, together with ice, avalanche and crevasse, would make progress painful and dangerous.

Altitude sickness, frostbite, exposure, pulmonary and cranial edema are the main illnesses that slows down expeditions and, almost always, it claim lives. Another difficulty in higher altitudes is the difficulty of doing body functions deemed normal at sea level like breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping, defecating and urinating. Because of that, the sport of mountaineering needs special clothing, safety equipment and high-end gear and a very complicated acclimatization process.

The bag is a treasure trove of items that have seen better days when Regie brought it in many of his mountaineering expeditions in New Zealand, China, Argentina, Kyrgyzstan, Alaska, India and Nepal, but his crowning glory in Mt. Everest made these items more valuable than ever. Each has its own story to unravel and are now collectible items. These items are a decade old now and still served its purpose as valuable aids in BMC education.

I was amazed at the number of tools and thought processes to accomplish an expedition in arctic and thin-air conditions. In cold weather, deprived of oxygene, your blood circulation becomes sluggish affecting your thoughts. Simple body movement takes an eternity to accomplish. It takes years of experience to get used to these harsh conditions and an equally harsh environment. It takes also a deep pocket to make a summit timed on the most favorable time of the year.

 
It is cheap if you were born and have lived there all your life like the Sherpas but astronomically expensive when you are organizing an independent expedition on your own. Lately, commercial adventure tour agencies organize climbs in the Himalayas region and the price has diminished so much by leaps and bounds and, because of that, summitting Everest or any of the fourteen 8000-meter peaks are now possible for everyone.

The Philippine Everest Expedition Team took this very economical course and their contracted tour agency took care of everything from climb permits, lodging houses, additional equipment, oxygen, food, transportation, yaks and a small army of Sherpas to pave the way for them. It would have been much cheaper still if they start from the Buddhist Kingdom of Free Tibet but it is much safe in Nepal with all these professionals.

Regie successfully climbed Mt. Everest after cultivating friendships and connections with Nepalese tour operators and guides. He is a likeable fellow, humble and simple, but he has drive which could move mountains like his plans in 2001 where a number of people woke up from their stupors and inspired a nation. Denied his chance in 2006, which was originally his expedition, he came back and proved his detractors wrong. He won the last battle after a painful retreat.

His name in Philippine mountaineering history is already ensured and his way was the stuff of legends. Regie is an asset to any organization which could positively harness his intellect, skills, experiences and insights and CLIMBER is just fortunate to have worked together with him in educating people. CLIMBER guarantees the education of BMC participants only from the people who are the best in their fields, which followed thereafter.

 
The afternoon of the first day is dedicated to Land Navigation which is handled by Ronald Fabon and, after dinner, Basic Life Support by Christopher Jazmin. During the breaks, I set up my Silangan 2nd-Gen Hammock and an Apexus sheet at the back of the lecture hall and chased short naps. While witnessing the BMC, I get to meet again Ven Ap of Ven Going Places’ Stories Blog who had featured me many times and who have helped me with sponsorship for my Thruhike last January.

The next day, March 19, is a whole morning of Ropesmanship and Knot Tying by Marc Gana. The afternoon is dedicated for Wilderness First Aid by Chad Angelo Torres and Leave No Trace Principles by LNT Master Educator Erick Suliguin. After dinner, guest resource speaker Jeremiah Dayto talked about Prepping. Jay Z capped the final day with Introduction to Wilderness Survival and Khai Fredeluces explaining the appearance and contents of a survival kit.

It was another worthwhile weekend that I spent, this time, with my friends in CLIMBER. Some of these guys have even sat in my different bushcraft and survival classes like Jay Z (PIBC 2012, BWSC 2013), Marc (MCAPBC 2012), Jeremiah (PIBC 2016), Chad (BWSC 2016), Khai (BWSC 2016) and CLIMBER top honcho Bong Magana (MCAPBC 2012). These guys know what they are doing and, as I have mentioned earlier, they are the best in their fields.

Notable mentioning is Erick, a product of CLIMBER’s earliest BMC batch, who went on to pursue advanced learning in LNT at its US headquarters and came back to inject CLIMBER into a very credible outdoors learning institution. From him, I now own a Condor Bushlore, a Browning folding knife and a NOLS patch. It was a very fruitful weekend and my overall 14-day in visit in Luzon, which brought me to Baguio and Zambales, culminated in meeting Regie Pablo, a Filipino mountaineer nonpareil.

Document done in LibreOffice 5.3 Writer

Friday, December 1, 2017

PINOYAPACHE GOES TO NAVOTAS

AFTER TWO DAYS IN BENGUET and another four days in Zambales, I settled my tired soul in Navotas City in the early hours of March 17, 2017. It is good to be back in the abode of Jay Z and Carla Jorge. The superb couple hosted me last year but, this time, they have something which would make my stay memorable. That would be later in the evening. In the meantime, I need to change into something comfortable and catch a lot of Zs.

Navotas City is famous for its fleet of fishing boats; its fish port and fish market which is a source of fresh bounties from the sea for the whole Greater Manila Area; its indigenous delicacies of puto taktak and horse jerky; its stainless-steel ornately-designed three-wheeled bicycles which ply the narrow streets to service commuters; and its lone amphibian rescue vehicle.

Due to uncontrolled extraction of underground fresh water in Metro Manila, subsidence of lands nearby coasts sagged by many centimeters, allowing high tide and heavy rain to flood the streets of coastal towns and villages of which Navotas is located. Navotas is a sliver of land, broken in three, bounded between Manila Bay and the mighty rivers of the Navotas and the Tullahan. Be prepared for high incidence of floods when visiting though.

There is one main artery – M. Naval Street – and it plies all the way to the coasts. On another side is where the fishport complex is located. You would be passing by city hall, the city hospital, the San Ildefonso Parish, the San Jose de Navotas Parish, the San Roque Parish, department stores, banks, fastfood joints, narrow secondary streets choked with bicycle taxis and more than a dozen shipyards. Another road artery – Gov. A. Pascual Street – channels all vehicles exiting the tiny city to C4. Navotas is home, nevertheless, to many commercial establishments that serve the residents.


Unknown to many, Navotas hosts a hidden gem called PACING’S HOUSE OF BARBECUE. It is a small family-run restaurant which is unique for its nontraditional concept and taste and, at the same time, very enticing for its affordability in spite of the princely depth of how the food is presented and prepared. Located on Judge A. Roldan Street, it is just a walk of a few meters when alighting from Naval Street.

Unfortunately for car owners, there is no parking area. The narrow street is occupied by bicycle taxis. It is a small place consisting of six tables inside and an extra two tables that may be added outside when the demands of dining customers is great. It is managed by the couple Jay Z and Carla and they have a full-time staff of three. The kitchen and the order counter are located in one room with wide windows.

On the farthest corner is an aquarium and a soda chiller. As décor of the main wall, there is a flat TV, a guitar, framed art pieces, a vinyl LP disc of Best Pinoy Folk Songs and an oil painting by Rigor Esguerra. Across it, above the counter, is an old school blackboard where the day’s menu is written in chalk. Just off to the back are two mountaineering backpacks. The light-colored bag once belonged to Leo Oracion, the first Filipino to scale Mount Everest in May 2006. The dark one belongs to Jay Z.

Jay Z is an entrepreneur and this is his first venture. What he had experienced in the food business were learned from his late grandmother, Lola Pacing, and that is why the restaurant is named after her. He is a passionate mountaineer, outdoors educator, prepper and responsible gun owner. His wife, Carla, teaches in a public secondary school and is acquiring units to gain a masteral degree in a different field of laboratory research. She is also into prepping and is into improving her skill with a firearm.

Evening came and I was feted to dinner at PACING’S HOUSE OF BABECUE. Dish served were pork barbecue, crispy sisig, spicy tofu and longanisa. The pork barbecue is a winner and I had never tasted anything like it. Jay Z has his secret formula which he got from Lola Pacing. The crispy sisig is another dish that you should develop a taste of. These two are the favorites of their patrons.

The spicy tofu and their plump and spicy sweet longanisa just made my dining princely. As if that was not enough, a pint of Arce Dairy Ice Cream is pushed my way across the table. The creamy texture of the ice cream just won me over and I would bring the empty can when I go back to Cebu as my “war booty”. Jay Z and Carla just filled me up and I could hardly move.




They have not forgotten that I just had a rough week spent outdoors and travel and they have not forgotten either that I will be visiting the outdoors again for the next two days. Yes, I will be at Antipolo City early tomorrow morning to be with the training staff of CLIMBER as they opened the eighteenth batch of their Basic Mountaineering Course.



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Thursday, November 23, 2017

PINOYAPACHE GOES TO MASINLOC

I FOUND MYSELF STILL awake at midnight in Baguio City. After emptying the last ounces of the last big bottle of Red Horse Extra Strong Beer, me and Michael Schwarz decide to say goodbye to Gary, our host here in the City of Pines. I am tired and sleepy but tried not to think about it. In a little while, we would be in the bus terminal hoping to find brief solace on a trip for Olongapo City.

It is now March 13, 2017 and Micheal has plans for this day and the next few days after that and I will be his guest in his playground somewhere in Zambales. We found a 01:45 bus and, immediately, the soft-cushioned seat of the Victory Liner gave me an idea of what will be my Dreamland Ride hereon. Sleeping while sitting jolt you a few times to consciousness and mild confusion. Curtained windows gave you imaginary privacy.

The bus arrive at 05:45 in Olongapo. We took a hasty breakfast in a fastfood chain and returned to the same bus, which would go north to Pangasinan. By 06:30, we are on the road again. We passed by the last town of Bataan and we are now in Zambales. Never been here before but, new places to see and experience, somehow remove the cobwebs of dull attention that sleepiness impose.

Tired as I was, I could feel the adrenaline rising as sure as the heat rises in rhythm with the orbit of the sun. Outside glare from gaps between curtains began to harass my droopy eyes trying to retrieve what was once known as sleep, even in its imaginary state. After about two hours we stop at a terminal in Botolan and transfer to another bus bound for Masinloc. After a short wait, we left and there is no turning back to sleep.

At Masinloc, we set foot on the town square. It is 10:30. We waited for Jed, an outdoor accomplice of Michael, who arrived a few minutes later. Across us is the Masinloc Mall and the police station and a street going to the public market. We need to buy food ingredients for our meals that would nourish us in the mountains. We will navigate the tight spaces and lanes with our big bags. It becomes an acquired skill when our police deny safekeeping bags while doing our marketing.

From the market, we transferred to the village of Sta. Rita by tricycle. Waiting there is Pips, the last member of Michael’s triumvirate of “lazy campers”. Yes, Pedro, they have a Facebook group called Lazy Campers Bushcraft. They are serious outdoorsmen and they are equally serious in introducing dirt time in Luzon. Recreational bushcraft is more enjoyable than racing with the sun and counting peaks. Like me, these guys practice Zen regularly in the outdoors.

Michael the Prussian Drillmaster is the ringleader. He is a free spirit of the woods and had found his specialty: sharpening edges. He cannot imagine hiking the mountains without his Granfors and his cache of sharp tools. His passion always clashed with the mainstream and he hates sheep. His radical ideas and the dose of temper he dealt with those that do not agree with him somehow got tamed by his girlfriend and a little bit with my guidance.

Jed is a natural bushman. Originally from Cebu, he adapted well with his new home in Zambales. Shy, silent and strong, he could do things on his own and has enough imagination to turn a bland day into an exciting one. Pips is another natural bushman. He is a pure Zambaleño and is a volunteer ecoguide and responder when requested. Influenced by Michael, Pips developed a skill in making bolos on his DIY forge.

I am the pampered guest who is about to witness their playground in the coming days. I need to stretch my time so I could be in another outdoor activity in Antipolo City on March 17 and the trip to Zambales is most welcome. After securing our food good for “one month”, we rode another tricycle and arrive in another village of Bunga. From the community, we hiked for about two kilometers to a campsite in Bunga Creek.

I analyzed the stream’s highest waterline and we choose a campsite on a higher ground. We placed our campfire instead among the rocks near the water’s edge. Under the shade from the fiery sun, the best thing to do is boil water for coffee and talk about things to do for the rest of the day. While the residents of Luzon cooked rice, I, the Visayan, cooked milled corn. Jed almost cried seeing my milled corn since he had not eaten that for ten years! I gave him the ones I cooked and more of that good for ten meals.

Pips and Michael cooked our main fare, a native chicken adobo. Yes, we dined like royalty. After dinner, Michael, Jed and Pips scoured the stream for something edible. I joined them with my generic LED headlamp sputtering to stay bright. I was not successful but the trio got two small shrimps the size of a small finger and promptly dispatch it on an ember. The humidity was so pressing hours before, so I decide to cool down and bathe on a chute of rock where water runs swift and massage your flesh vigorously. 

I slept and shared space under a Deer Creek canvass shelter with Michael. I brought my Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad for this occasion. It was a gift by Michael so it would give me comfort and blissful sleep during my 27-day Thruhike of Cebu early this year which it did. He is happy to know that and I laid it side by side with his own but differently designed Therm-a-Rest. Michael lent me his power storage battery so I could pump direct current into my Cherry Mobile U2. The night was cool and it aided a good night’s sleep.

The second day, March 14, saw Jed cooking his milled corn breakfast paired with egg omelet. Yes we have ours too but with rice. I ran out of water and I used my Lifestraw to suck water from the stream. We start breaking camp. Michael has other plans. When we were all packed, we collect litters left by picnicking locals into our garbage bag. It is Michael’s gesture in paying back a nearby community which uses this stream as their water and food source.

We returned to Sta. Rita riding on an empty three-wheeled hog carrier and crossed a bigger river. After a very soothing cold Red Horse, we proceed to the town center to eat lunch in one of its food stands while waiting for a public jitney that would take us to another location. You get to know the place, they say, when you visit the market or eat their food. I have seen the market yesterday and it is more of the same with other places. One food gets my interest. It has an ingredient from a tree. Perfect!

At 14:00, we leave Masinloc for the hills where I know not. The old jitney brought my eyes to view a beautiful meandering river filled with emerald water and dotted with rocky and sandy beds and embankments. It has beautiful forests all over the river dominated by casuarina trees (Local name: agoho, maribuhok). The tree sometimes get mistaken as a pine tree since it has needles instead of broad leaves and has small pine cones for fruit. It is a hardwood variety though.

After an hour, we arrive at an abandoned mining complex. Used to be operated by Benguet Consolidated Mining Corp., it had seen better days. It even has a small airstrip. Along one side are heavy equipment and machinery parked and stacked neatly. Dilapidated buildings that used to energize this big mine loomed from afar with their smokestacks. A detachment of security guards still manned the facility. A gate ushers us inside and we were required to register our names and purpose. Then the jitney proceed to the township.

Rows of well-kept staff houses are still used as homes by former employees and their families. There are two public schools – one for elementary and one for secondary, a basketball court, a huge Catholic chapel, a couple of convenience stores, a refreshment parlor and an empty community center which may have hosted noisy parties and discos when the mine was at its peak and very profitable. Now, it is almost a ghost town save for the schools which still accept students.

The jitney brought us to an explosives dump. We are on our own now, Michael, Jed, Pips and me. We walk towards that beautiful river in the waning afternoon light. Greeting me is a silent amusement park and empty resort cottages which could have been full during the height of the mine’s productivity. Upstream of me is a span that used to be a low hanging bridge. Steel and cables are twisted beyond repair. A great flood could only cause that and we are just in a tributary.

We cross this stream along a causeway to another bank where the bigger Lawis River is found. We settled on a point where the two streams meet. The river is free flowing and the water is crystal clear that I could see pebbles on its bottom. Sometimes, I could see flashes of silver indicating fish. The beach is sandy and clean and strewn with pebbles. I could just lay flat a ground tarp and Therm-a-Rest and slept under the stars but the sight of that hanging bridge gave me a cold sweat.

I choose a high deck with a roof. The floor is wood and it is empty save for two sets of bench and seats. I would settle here for the night. Brought out my tools, a headlamp, pots, instant coffee and the Swiss Army emergency burner after I had placed the ground tarp and the Therm-a-Rest over it. Prepared also a small lantern and place it for easy access when darkness comes. I go down to the campsite, foraged dry grass and twigs, and started a fire inside my burner. Coffee first for me.

Tempted by the cool water of the river as against the humid air that begins to be felt in the low afternoon, I swam into its depths. I stayed long enough until I felt my body in a shivering stage. Going back to the fireplace, Pips had started a fire on wood supplied by Michael the Prussian. These are dry casuarina wood cut neatly by Michael’s shark-toothed camp saw. Meanwhile, Jed had just butchered two live fowls and start dressing it.

I cooked the rest of our day’s rice in my pot. We have clean piped water provided free from the resort’s reservoir. I believe we will enjoy another feast fit for the royalty in a short while. One free-rein chicken is cooked as soup which we will dine on tonight while the other one is preserved for tomorrow’s meal. The place is deserted and very silent. I just love the ambiance. In the waning light, our campfire emerged as a source for company. 

I woke up very early on the third day, March 15, and it is silent. No voices from the trio. I went down the stairs to and investigate last night’s campfire. The ground is cold. A snore emanated from one of the tents. Bored, I go back to my Therm-a-Rest and chase more sleep. I woke up again just when sunrise had crested over the mountain across me and flood my eyes with golden sunshine. Made some noise chopping wood with my small Knifemaker Camp Knife.

Made another small fire inside the burner for another day of coffee. The camp starts to stir. Two zippers made their long arching runs and out came Pips and then Jed. Michael do not need any. He loves old camp setups like the heavy Deer Creek canvass sheet. All the air in the world. Varmints too. A good fire emerged spurred on by the heat-efficient casuarina. Rice, coffee, sliced gumbo adobo and leftover chicken from last night.

We break camp and followed a path up a slope. It used to be a road but nature reclaimed it. Vegetation is different here. There are fruit-bearing trees, stringy bamboos, grass and more indigenous vegetation. Beside this old road is a raised concrete trough that transfers running water down to the old township. A juvenile monitor lizard escaped as potential food using the trough, nimbly flowing with the swift current.

Rusting sluice valves are placed along the paths of small streams that run down the mountain, crossing the road, and into the main river. These may have been part of a flood control system used by the mine company, diverting excess water to where it is most needed. Michael wanted Jed to cook the preserved chicken wrapped in leaves so I foraged the broad leaves of a parasol-leaf tree (binunga).

I see traces of a horse leaving a shod hoof print on mud that hardened with its signatory droppings. Walking on a warm morning is eased by shady areas and a constant flow of breeze. We may have walked four kilometers and we stopped beside a cashew tree. Not that it is shady, but because it had dropped plenty of ripened fruits on the ground. Jed collect the fruits on the ground and removed the exposed seed from the yellow flesh. He crushed the flesh and a fluid is directed into his mouth. I did the same.

I see recent animal traces which could only be made by a wild boar. The cashew had been its food source. Nice to learn more wildlife habits. Michael saw a good campground across us on a distant riverbank shore and how he wished to be there if only there is a path. It is indeed a perfect place to camp. It is just a matter of finding a path down to the stream from where we stood which is just too steep. I analyzed the terrain and it is an obstacle.

It did not turn out difficult for me though. I did not even exert enough effort. When I saw a bare patch of ground under thick vegetation, I followed it and discovered a staircase hewn out from the bare face of solid rock. When presence of people began to disappear, wildlife used the path down frequently to the stream else vegetation would have been parted. You would not know the presence of this staircase if you do not know traditional navigation.

I went back up and called the trio. Excitement are written all over their faces. There is a wide ledge of solid rock and it have not had a visit of man for so many years. What I found are recent droppings of a happy leopard cat (melò) which may have all this territory to himself and a shrub which bore black berry-like fruit. I followed the invisible paw prints on rock, mere scratches that you can see in a different angle, and it went into a small hole among a jumble of rocks. The awful smell defines its lair.

As I was doing my small discoveries of wildlife, the three found a good place to cross across the wide stream. They were now considering making a camp underneath a copse of casuarinas but I found the ground too soggy. They are on the path of a small stream! I passed by them and drop my bag on the actual place from where I first saw it from across the stream, before I discovered that stairway. It is a raised sandy area and shaded by broad-leafed trees.

The river is so beautiful and clean. Rocks are sun bleached and plenty. Wherever you view it, downstream or upstream, you cannot believe that this is in the Philippines. The former mine administrators rehabilitated and designed a first-world country landscape when they started to stop operations. Casuarina trees project a false pine forest to a naive visitor and it is nice to gaze at. In between these are other trees native to Luzon. I wished they had also planted bamboos.

There is a natural hedge of katmon aso on one side of our camp while a fallen log protected us on the other side. There is a lone tree growing at the edge where sand meets slope and supplied us the shade. Near the log is a ditch that had been carved by running water as it made its way down to the river’s edge. Michael pitched his canvass shelter on the raised sand and I assisted him. The canvass shelter, even if it is dark blue, is a natural.

Jed retrieved yesterday’s dressed chicken and prepared it for cooking. He wrapped it with several layers of binunga leaves and tied it with natural fibers. Then he dug a hole on the ground, placed the wrapped chicken inside and covered the hole with sand. Jed and Pips made a fire over it after we found enough dry firewood. With the same fire, we cooked rice and part of the marinated pork which Pips cooked in oil and will become our spartan meal.

Michael, meanwhile, prepared a tripod. He would use it as a platform to dry the rest of the marinated pork by exposure to the sun and by radiated heat from the campfire. I watched the trio and, at the same time, suggest them with wrong ideas to mislead them. It is cool under the shade while a few meters away, on the bare sand, it is very warm. Over that bare stretch is emerald water, as inviting as ever. I will have that after my tummy gets filled.   

The log, with its dead branches pointing to the skies, are full of cicadas. The same with the green branches drooping to the ground from live trees. These underground residents have reached the end of their 17-year cycle and would soon be mummified to where they were last found. Michael claimed the coolness of the water while Jed and Pips focused their attention on their own shelters. We let the embers burn and fed with a few firewood.

I did a little exploration upstream and found a lot of wildlife activity. Plenty of paw prints on the sand, from a gang of monkeys and individual leopard cats. One even left urine and stained a rock. My tracking skills followed an invisible path which bound from stone to stone and clung on to a low branch which it used to go over thick grass to a rock on a slope. The branch is smoothed by many claws and the debris fell to a bleached rock. 
  
I went back to the camp fully satisfied with my discoveries but a small stream nearby snared my attention. I go up several small levels of rocks and discovered boar droppings, a week old. I go back when the stream becomes difficult to navigate but the stream would satisfy our water needs should we run out of our supply. Jed and Pips had already joined Michael in the water and are frolicking like children. I took a bathe after they were done.

The disappearing light of the day turned our attention to the campfire. We fed it with more wood and cooked rice and milled corn. We retrieved the dried meat and cooked it in saucy adobo. A full bottle of local brandy fueled the campfire stories. The full moon shone at its brightest and the riverscape is a beautiful sight to behold. On the river’s edge, I expected nocturnal creatures to thrive but I was disappointed. There is something wrong.

 
On our last day, March 16, I would find out why the river is devoid of other life except a few fish. I saw a school of six fish the size of a child’s palm on the stream’s transparently clear water. Why only fish and just a few? I go back upstream carrying both my AJF Gahum and Mora Companion on my belt. I need to explore more. I got past the stained rock and I am now scrambling over obstacles, stepping over gaps and cross dry watercourses choked with rocks.

Squeezing past a notch, I saw a fruit bat clinging to a wall of rock, its back facing the early sunrise. It had not noticed me and that is strange. It should have flown away but it had not. I looked closely and it is emaciated. Blood dripped from its snout. It is dead. What caused it? Disease? Perhaps. Some parts of the stream, where it is deeper and still, there is presence of algae. The river is healthy and free-flowing yet it had lacked something that may contribute to a healthy ecosystem.

Or there is something that hindered it. Heavy metal? The upper slopes were mined years ago. Who knows what did the miners used to separate the minerals from the rest of the ores. This place is rich in chrome, copper, nickel and gold. It had been extensively mined until such time all the rich veins had been exhausted or that the drop in prices does not justify anymore the expensive maintenance and operation of the mining complex. But they left the land recovering.

I retraced my path and stumbled and fell. Just a split second before I hit ground, I maneuvered my body so my back would take the impact. I fell on a rock and it did not hurt. I listened to my body for a full thirty seconds and I noticed pain on both my shins. Of course, I snagged on a rock and it scratched my shins. Feeling a bit dazed, I stood up and started. Suddenly a snake that I had not noticed came alive just a meter away from me and made its escape. I gave chase with camera but lost it when it swam effortlessly in the stream, crossing on the other side.

When I returned I had a cup of coffee and talked about my encounter with a dead bat and a strange snake. Rice is halfway through its course and everyone waited when it would be cooked. Remember, we buried a full chicken underneath the fireplace. How does it appear and taste takes up space in our thoughts. Finally, the embers are cleared and the chicken wrapped in leaves is retrieved. Who wants sandy chicken?



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