Wednesday, January 11, 2017


I AM UTTERLY TIRED TODAY but it does not mean that I will not honor a commitment. I have to else I will suffer credibility. I woke up late but, nevertheless, I have to move. It is already 08:00, when I arrive at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish. It is Sunday – September 18, 2016 – and there are many churchgoers. I have not taken breakfast but there is a bakery.

I remind myself not to overexert. A few days from now I will complete the Cebu Highlands Trail Project by walking its last segment that will start from Nug-as, Alcoy to Liloan, Santander. An earth-shaking hike not for the weak-kneed. Anyway, the guys from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, I presume, will be going to the Napo Trailhead and that is where I am going now.

I arrive at Napo. Another group of hikers just left. I do not want to follow in their wake nor would I overtake them on the trail. I will give them space and distance and their privacy. There is one option for me: hike along Sapangdaku Creek. I do not like to walk on streams nor encourage people to do so. It is one of those moments that I will take a chance.

I remind myself again that I am an ancient relic now and possesses no more agility to leap over stones midstream. I go down a path before the footbridge and walk along a bank of Sapangdaku Creek. The water is robust and noisy for it had been raining a few days ago. There is a bend up ahead and a big rock, ancient and covered in moss, faced me. It had been there since it was swept downstream during prehistoric floods.

Man-made water holes, washing wells, fishtraps and footprints complement boulders, sand, pebbles, vegetation, debris and deep pools in the character of the stream. The sound of rippling water constantly hum in your ears and sometimes disappears for a few seconds before it emerges into a stronger resonance. All those times, my awareness are at its edge, never wavering nor retracting into complacency.

The water passes on a small channel where current is strong but crossing the stream is easy here. I clamber over rocks when passage forward becomes tricky. I have to be careful of where I place foot over the other without neglecting other concerns like venomous reptiles and harmful plants. It is always like that. Scan the places first high and low before reaching out for a handhold or placing a foot. All done methodically.

I see few people on the stream. A farmer crossing a stream unaware of my presence. Two women with a small child washing clothes by a bend. Another woman with child doing the same chore on the mouth of a small feeder stream. However, human presence are everywhere. Unseen people talking and laughing nearby. A smoke flares up with somebody tending it. Invisible children playing, their voices echoing on the narrow confines of the stream. Someone feeding the squealing pigs. Pebbles gathered by somebody and abandoned.

The stream passes by a community and sewage pours into it. Stench is revolting. Water looks sinister. Vegetation grows thick and fat on the water channel. Few spots to walk and the only places are nearby canal outlets. No choice except hold breath and make an exit quick. At other times, it passes by thick vegetation where both sides were linked by a bridge of vines that is so low, so dark and so suspicious-looking.

When I am on an open field, the stream looks so glorious in the morning sunlight. It is as if I am in another world. Upstream becomes a conduit of much cleaner water and enchanting scenery until the channel is blocked by felled trees. The dried leaves and branches cover everything what is below. Would I step on stone, water or snake? I hope my feet touch dry ground always.

There had been reports of Philippine king cobras (Local name: banakon) escaping from a government-run zoo in nearby Kalunasan. When you are a snake on the loose, the fastest way to travel is going downhill and, when you reach a stream, you got all the food and the coolness you need, and then work your way upstream. Aside that, there are cobras in the wild also and this is still their habitat. I had not seen one but I had seen other kinds of venomous and non-venomous snakes.

There is that faint splashing sound that catches your attention which is different from the usual ones made by a current ricocheting its way on rocks and debris and shore. It grows stronger and stronger as you approach and you discover it is a cascade, sometimes mistakenly described by the many as a waterfall. A waterfall is a straight drop of the stream from a height while a cascade is but a stream rambling on solid rock from a height.

So this is the one that caused so much racket everytime I walked the trail above Sapangdaku Creek but I suspected it at first as a waterfall. I do not have a name for this stream landmark nor I have people to ask of. I have noticed that there are two pools created by the drop. One on the bottom and the other on its middle. Besides that, there is another separate pool on its side, created by an overflow.

There is a passage going to the top of the cascade but you would have to climb a 15-foot wall of rock, which I did, thank God, I can still do it at my age and bulk now. Scrambling rocks and boulders is no stranger to me for I learned rock climbing in Cantabaco, Toledo City in the ‘90s, back in the days when I was lean and strong and young and fearless. But now, I am afraid of heights.

There is another pool but narrow and above it is a chute on the rock that channeled the stream at its swiftest current. This is a good spot to take a bath since it is hidden. Maybe later. I walk upstream and more of the wonderful features: pools, small cascades and crystal-clear water with schools of guppy in it. Farther, there is a trail built on a man-made pile of rocks. Motorcycles came down here often as seen on the different wheel tracks. I just want to travel along the stream.

There is another deep pool, another set of big boulders and children. One of the boys, who was crouching and unaware of my presence, dropped his excess load into the swift current. The stream, like any other streams in the Philippines, is a repository of everything, like animal wastes, chemicals, garbage, sewage and excess loads. This stream is polluted but people wash their clothes and dining utensils and themselves with water from here.

I am able to keep my shoes and my feet dry by my sheer wit in choosing where I walk. In my experience, it is not wise to walk with wet shoes unless you have no other choice. There was a time when people were crossing Marbel River up to their crotch on their way to Mount Apo, there I was leaping among boulders midstream over their shoulders, not because I was showing off but because I am uncomfortable with wet shoes and socks. That was dangerous! I was able to accomplish that because I had a wonderful pair of shoes and I was a fool.

The clear water becomes white. Chemicals! I could hear a small engine from afar. It is used to power a water compressor for spraying mango trees. The sound gets louder as I approach and I heard another sound, that of water being sprayed. Up on the branches of a mango tree, a man is spraying the leaves and flowers. I held my breath and made another quick exit. Cebu’s mango industry is the number one pollutant of rivers! Next are the flower farms. Just look at the abnormal growth of algae.

Once upon a time, Cebu mangoes were the best in the Philippines and our mangoes found its way to the US, Europe, Australia, Japan and other countries. Not anymore. We are now overtaken by Guimaras. You know why? They grow it organically while ours use chemicals. Food standards are now high and very strict and, what was once Cebu’s market, are now verboten. Sapangdaku Valley is mango country and trees dot the landscape like broccoli. How I wished growers go back to the basic and be less greedy.

There is another deep pool and, above it, is a chute of water. I walk on and there are sandbars. Two men are shoveling sand into empty cement sacks. I walk past them and an abandoned spoon in sand. Another small feeder stream joined Sapangdaku Creek. Passage quite tricky but I saw a track of a person going upstream. Reading a track is a skill. Most tracks are imprints on soft ground. That is the easy part. Following someone on hard surfaces like stones and boulders is extraordinary. I just love it.

Arrived at a big pool with a good chute. The pool is dammed with stones to make it deeper and to fence in fish. I go around it and am now in familiar ground. Just 300 meters more upstream would be where those crazies of Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild would make their dirt-time, if I am correct on my presumption. I walk past a natural rectangular stone that could have been used by a local for sharpening blades.

I am at the spot of where they are supposed to cross the stream and climb up a trail but I saw not one trace of them. Disappointed, I drank my first gulp of water. I laughed at myself of why I went to the great length of stealth-walking on a stream only to find that they are not here. Well, it happens. Yes, it happened that I walked that part of the Sapangdaku Creek where I have not had the opportunity to do so. I am glad of my debacle. It was a great day.

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