Saturday, March 25, 2017


THERE IS AN OVERCAST SKY. The ground is muddy. For some people it is not a good day to hike. Sometimes even a sign of rain is reason enough to abort an activity. I know of one club whose members does that all the time and to think that they have been climbing mountains for a long time. They still find it hard to fit in and understand that they were in a wrong hobby. I think theirs is more of a social club than as a real outdoors club.

I never would want to be like that. It is unmanly and it smacked of arrogance. For that reason, I organized the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild of some years back to steal the thunder away from some of these outdoor clubs. The guys took on the mold of what an ideal outdoorsman should be. They have no qualms of what the weather says and they rather spend all their time in our local mountains honing their skills instead of going out on expensive outdoor sorties.

Today – November 20, 2016 – is just an ordinary day. If the weather is somber, we matched that with our clothes. We preferred neutral earth tones because we do not like to stand out and looked like gadflies. We are serious outdoorsmen and do not come to the mountains just because everybody is doing it. We have our own playground and we stay long to gladden the spirits of our local hosts as we keep them company. We would rather be part of the landscape instead of as strangers.

Eight-year old Zachary accompanied his father. He too wore black t-shirt and khaki cargo pants and carried openly a knife like everyone, that including the ladies. Some of the guys came from the Boy Scout and have advanced through their ranks but, after graduating high school, all what they learned were wasted away by inactivity and absence of opportunity. The Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild gave them that chance to practice their skills and learn a lot more.

We just left Napo and Lower Kahugan Spring and are now walking a semi-wild trail along the Upper Sapangdaku Creek. Thick growth and felled trees had claimed part of the trail and we are backtracking to where we saw a branch of a trail that ascend to a low ridge. We pass by a few houses and gets to ascend some more until we cross a small tributary and then the Sapangdaku where everything becomes familiar.

The path goes up after passing by a copse of stinging trees (Local name: alingatong). Zach is tired and is now carried above the shoulders of his dad. Bona is not feeling well and she gives her best. Aljew never leaves her side, coaxing and taunting her. After 15 minutes, we arrive at the Bonghanoy Homestead. Automatically, the guys foraged the driest firewood possible for a good fire for coffee and for another small feast.

I get to meet my male turkey for the first time after several months. I had him transferred here for good. I brought him first to the Roble Homestead in January 2015 together with a female but bad fortune had hounded him. Unsuccessful breeding of his brood on three different occasions and the demise of the female led me to decide to transfer him to where he would be happy. A widowed female was waiting for him here.

Ernie appraised the ingredients before him. There is a kilo of raw pork liver, cereal wrappers, green pepper, yellow and ordinary rice, cucumber, a kilo of chicken meat, some green leafy vegetables, tomatoes and spices. He has Mirasol and Jonathaniel to assist him and my unceasing mockery to distract him. Aljew started a small fire in his collapsible metal fire box while mine coughed in smoky whimpers inside a Swiss Army emergency burner.

Knives appeared and are then used for all kinds of work: slicing meat, chopping firewood, opening green coconuts or carving an impromptu spatula. Each knife says about the owner. These guys do not carry just one even though you only see one hanging by a belt. Wait when he opens his bag and you would likely see that he has at least two more, even a half dozen, sometimes. Why that many? Like it or not, it is a source of pride for them.

Bieber, a local boy, came with a bunch of green coconuts. Soon it will be the object of our dessert. Right now, we are just waiting for Ernie and company to finish what they have started infront of their fire. To make good of the minutes, the guys talk about their blades and of the coming outreach event in early December. Such activity demands good planning and preparation with which Jhurds had been doing the legwork. I listen sipping my warm coffee and shared some of my seed collections to Bieber’s father.

Lunch is called and everybody made for the beeline to where the food was served in semi-boodlefight fashion. There is the chicken sinigang (tamarind-based soup), pork-liver adobao (cooked in oil with thick sauce), sliced cucumber and tomatoes in vinegar, yellow gourmet rice, ordinary rice and dynamite lumpia (fried green pepper rolls). The guys are up to the challenge of this small feast but I carefully stashed portions to Bieber’s family fearing of another wipeout.

Then the coconuts got cracked. Sweet coco water are just perfect to stymy the parched throats caused by this humidity. The soft meat is just as sweet and nourishing. What part uncarved are left to the mercy of the dogs, which happily carried it to their pups. Bloated, we spend a little time to settle our bellies. Bona is okay. She snatched a nap on a hammock. Zach is refreshed and have developed confidence despite getting cut with his knife, a natural bonding which makes you a better person.

Aljew, quite satisfied of the meal, especially the pork-liver adobao, decides to part his knife that he is carrying and using today to Ernie. It is a custom-made knife which Aljew himself made and tempered to his standard. He called this knife as the “Kusina”, a local adaptation of the Spanish cocina, or kitchen. Ernie, thus, would be the sixth bushman to be a recipient of Aljew’s work. Welcome to the AJF Knife club, Ernie!

We say goodbye to the Bonghanoy Family and climb a hill which is part of a ridge called Tagaytay and where a trail called Manggapares is found above its back. It is now in the middle of the afternoon and it would be lonely there. In all my years walking this trail, I seldom see people here, mostly in the morning. The afternoon belonged to us and the Manggapares Trail is ours for the walking. Zach, surprisingly, refused to be assisted by his dad. The kid has spunk!

We walk past the abandoned backhoe, the hulking equipment now a part of the landscape. We ogle at its components, good material to produce us enough blades from a bladesmith but it belonged to another man who, by this time, probably have not located his property yet. It is best to be an honest outdoorsman. Under my guidance, the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild would breed such men and women.

Overhead, above the fourth tower, is a lone Brahminy kite riding the thermals in circles. So late in the day to hunt for food but who am I to judge its wild instinct. Lately, I come to interpret the sight of raptors as harbingers of bad fortune unlike in the old days where its appearance would be gladly appreciated. I am a renewed Catholic for the past 15 years and the old magic do not work anymore to my advantage after the priest have cast out all the juju I acquired through the years. My trust, protection and hopes are to my God alone.

We descend on the third tower but I made it sure that I would not miss the correct trail after walking past the second tower as was the last time. I saw the path that confused me but it was a good error for we found a good trail to Lanipao. Somebody from behind egged me to try it one more time but today is not the day. I would rather be at Napo and early than tackling a trail that I am reluctant to walk this day. Remember the raptor.

Along the way, I plucked six wild-growing pomelo fruit to bring home. The Lifeguard USA rucksack becomes heavy again but I do not mind. It is now all downhill and we are on the verge of ending our dayhike soon. After the last tower, there would be a flower farm and then the first of the houses that carved a living community in this part. We arrive at Napo late in the afternoon and everybody were basking in their moments of unabated perspiration, glad of the exercise. From here, going to Guadalupe is not anymore complicated.

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Monday, March 20, 2017


THIS IS UNUSUAL. I am in unfamiliar territory.

Mountains and jungles are my usual environments but never thought of this place. Unbelievable!

I have never been known to teach about the outdoors, much less, bushcraft, in a corporate setting.

But I am IN a swanky oasis today, in the middle of the Cebu Business Park. I am in the City Sports Club Cebu.

I am not dreaming. I am here. It is November 19, 2016.

I am sitting near the pool and I am enjoying my meal of rice with beef toppings courtesy of the club.

In two hours I will start my lessons. Everything is ready. I got firewood and kindling. I got the green and the dry bamboos. An animal snare is set.

This is a surprise. I will be with a different crowd.

I teach adults with a sprinkling of adolescents. But not this time.

They are all kids! All thirty-two of them.

I must be dreaming. But this was not Disneyland. I do not see Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck? Oh, God. My knees begun to shake.

I am in front of them. Standing on a stage.

They are sitting with clasped hands on rows of table with good manners all and right conduct.

I wished I am in a Ronald McDonald suit. But I am not.

I looked like the Undertaker with my all-black attire minus the hat and eyeliners.

I got hold of the mic and imitate Peter Pan without success.

A fat beauty says her piece and she stole the show. I do not know where to go.

Got to work on my bag of magic tricks. No. Not yet.

Try telling them a story of dwarfs and giants and walking in a trail like Hansel and Gretel did. Camping in Neverland.

The mic changed hands and I got their ears.

Now the bag is open. Out comes a knife. Nobody touches this thing until I say so. Nobody did. Not part of the plan. Sorry.

I open up a bamboo. Time to show them how to cook rice in it.

We transfer to a place where we make fire and cook our rice. The fire roared to life and everyone poked sticks in the center. “Marshmallow barbecue!”

My fire is almost gone. Got to show them how to make a simple shelter. It was easy and quick.

Show them how the snare works. It caught a stick!

Back to the fire. Place rice inside the hole. Feed more firewood.

Talk. Talk. Talk.

Back to the fire. Rice almost cooked. The fat beauty remained. She is scheming something.

I turned my back. Woosh!

She put out the fire with water and I got a half-cooked rice.

My two hours is finished. Class dismiss!

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First photo courtesy of City Sports Club Cebu

Saturday, March 11, 2017


WHEN I CONDUCT OUTDOOR CLASSES involving fewer than seven persons or if I find a few participants who are not athletic enough to withstand the rigors of my best campsites, I turn to the ones that I had chosen before as best for these conditions. Usually, it is either at Camp Xi or on the original site of Camp Damazo where the first Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp was held. Whichever, both are in Cebu and are in proximity to streams where the things needed to run a bushcraft camp are found.

Camps intended for bushcraft are not your ordinary tent-city-camps which you most likely see in massed-climbing-crazy-Philippine-mountains. There is a wide chasm in its choice of location, its design and purpose, its appearance and its occupants. There is no comparison and yet it shares its calling in the outdoors. Mountains bring in people and it is mystery to most because of our human instinct for novelty which satisfies the senses and the feelings and converts it to a rewarding experience.

Rewarding is deemed subjective depending on which ground you are setting afoot. In bushcraft, it is primeval in nature because there never is or was a bald and bland moment. Bushcraft would never use a bald camp nor it is tethered to an inorganic and alien ideology. It relishes at its absence and the want of it, simply because it knows the psychological restraints this Western idea is being imposed on people and their organizations by individuals who knows no better, stunting creative growth by the blind subservience of it.

There is nothing spectacular in bushcraft camps for it lay hidden in forests or what we call as places below treeline. I do not want high exposed places nor would I want a sea of clouds for it is immaterial and just a girl-thing. It is just a fantasy created by tour organizers to make quick money from star-struck tourists and gullible campers looking for romantic flings. Living for the day is the evil thereof and I look forward instead to tomorrow and the days after that which only bushcraft can answer.

I cannot understand why people love to camp on lake beds but I can understand a very few intelligent ones of why they do not. It is beyond necessity and comfort and conventionally-acquired mindsets because it is just common sense. It is not learned in universities and in Google. It is learned by looking but not looking. By looking at places where no one takes a second look. In bushcraft, you can see these small discoveries because you do not stand out. You can learn these things and it becomes a passion.

Little by little, bushcraft is now the haunt of people who, in their better days, chased their passions of peaks, adventures and romance. They were part of that mainstream crowd who flocked the mountains in every chance possible when massed-climbing was then acceptable as it is still now and glorified even more. Why the change of heart? Simple. They have ended their search. It was with them all the time when they were looking for it. It is called Common Sense.

Common sense is not common anymore. You hear of people burning their expensive tents and their eyebrows by cooking inside it. Why? They were camping on bald peaks and it was so windy, so foggy, so rainy and so cold outside and the only sensible place to keep away from those was inside the tent. Then you hear stories of grass fires on campsites. What happened? A smart guy wanted to show off his Boy Scout campfire skills on the wrong place: a bald peak where the wind always lay supreme.

You have these same people walking in one single line following their leader walking on mud and slipping all the time. On the other hand, local people walked on drier ground beside the trail, amused and entertained at their sight, but could not grasp somehow the idea of walking in mud is a hobby. It does not make sense, is it not? Common sense always disappear when obsession and arrogance of interpreting something you cannot fathom (yes, ignorance too) take hold of you.

The surest way to have common sense is when you get married and start a family that all assumptions of your “greatness” are thrown asunder. Take it from me. I have seen them all and they disappeared from the scene forever. What is left of them is that wishful thought of a second coming which they loved to let people know in Facebook. When would that be when you are a potato couch in your profile pictures? You are already an organizer’s nightmare. You have earned enough of common sense, so do not waste it at your one last shot of “greatness”.

As hard as it may seem for a second coming, however, there are a few places in the outdoors where it can become a reality. One of these is glamour camping. You do not have to walk far because you use an SUV. Set up your ancient tent and relive your glory days with your own kind. In the long run, however, it does not make sense. It overshoots the expenses that you have had when you were still lean and strong and free-spending and people for company are getting less and less. And you are still a potato couch in your pictures!

Bushcraft is easy on these kind of people. It does not force you to walk far and it does not drain your pocket. It does not need a lot of people for company. You can be an island of your own, contrary to that cliché of “no man is an island”. You tend to shy away from these colorful-clothed adrenaline-loving folks as you begin to patronize your own favorite places which you kept secret. You can do your own thing far from prying eyes of these naysayers who do not know anything about outdoors common sense.

I brought three guys for a three-day learning camp at the old Camp Damazo last November 12, 2016. Two of them had left their mark in the outdoors as part of that mainstream outdoor culture. They simply have outgrown it and diverted their passions instead to the unspoiled ground called bushcraft. They will cover new ground and programmed their time to attend the BASIC WILDERNESS SURVIVAL COURSE. Few people could appreciate what is bushcraft and their idea of it are narrowed down either on Bear Grylls or with the Aetas which is not even near enough.

It was a short early morning walk to a man-made forest where even old men could thrive. There is a trail that led to a small stream then downstream to the campsite. We claimed the old camp as ours and set up our shelters. A single tent appeared on the widest ground courtesy of Vlad Lumbab, who will share space with his office crew, Michael Sacristan. Another Michael (Schwarz), of German ancestry and an active outdoorsman, set up his wonderful-looking chocolate hammock with matching canopy between two teak trees.

I claimed my own spot in between two trunks for my rust-colored hammock and a light gray canopy. Immediately after that, we start a fire to acquire woodsmoke on our bodies and clothes and to smoke out varmints away. It was very trying on wood that was found half dry but, nevertheless, we did produce its assuring presence. Boiling water for coffee is the first order of the day and with that coffee you can organize things better like starting the first chapter, which is Introduction to Survival.

Everything has its place in the wilderness and in the human psyche once you get past the hurdles of the initial impact or shock. The brain, the nerve center and the processor of all thoughts relating to your appreciation of life, will be harder to please than you would have expected it to be. It would be like installing an anti-virus software into an affected CPU without reformatting its system. The psychology of surviving depends upon your choice of location, your common sense and, take note, oxygen intake.

If you can perceive better than what your panic-induced thoughts dictate you then you are on your way to a better standing. Stay still, close your eyes and breathe deeply, and think! Your first and foremost priority would be water and water is indispensable on that very moment and wherever you may be. Water is oil to a machinery and that is the first of the four hypothetical tanks that you should immediately refill. It is also the first in the hierarchy of needs in a survival situation.

The second need is shelter where you have to take rest and conserve your waning energy, comfortable and safe enough from exposure to wind-chill, rain, wildlife and opportunistic humans. If you have a temporary refuge, nutrition would be your next need and the second hypothetical tank to top off. Food is your source of energy and, probably, will provide you sugar, which is hard to find in the wilderness unless you have good background in plants, and fat which is almost absent in the tropics. Both sugar and fat are what consist of the remaining two hypothetical tanks to fill in.

The hierarchy of needs does not have to follow a prescribed set as long as water is on top of the tier and warmth should also be there after either shelter or food or before each or both. Warmth from a fire during a cold night or from direct sunlight after a downpour are very reassuring and heralds the rising of a confidence to survive and the appreciation of life. Your last need which will complement all your needs during survival is security. Failing to secure one or two needs would bring you back to square one. Living for the day is the evil thereof. Prepare for tomorrow and the days after.

Preparation is part of survival even when it is still not happening. One of the things that a lot of hikers fail to appreciate is a survival kit. To them it is additional weight. They threw caution and good common sense to the wind because it challenges them or they know none. They believe that it will not happen to them because they had carefully planned their trip and studied the weather forecasts. What they do not know is they are in an environment which is difficult to comprehend with an erratic weather system that can not be predicted!

Of course, having a survival kit can not change the conditions of mountains and weather but you would cringe at the thought of having none when you find yourself lost in the dark, hungry and dumb! A survival kit at your reach is better than having none. Now, what consists a survival kit? In this chapter I discuss a subject matter which I have had talked many times to a lot of outdoor clubs and individuals – Customizing Your Survival Kit.

Actually, one can be purchased commercially that is designed for those who wanted to have all they need in a small tin box. It is compact, light and does not take space but despite its contents, you wished it was big enough to fit in with extra food and first aid items. Customizing your survival kit is the best approach and it is easy. Design it to the environment where you are going to and to the type of activity you are participating in. Personal preference is your guide. Redundancy works here like torches and fire tools.

After the two chapters we take a break to prepare food for lunch. The fire had died down and, once again, we revived the campfire which is not always that easy in a very humid environment. But by our own efforts, we were able to give life to one and the participants proceed on the business of cooking their meals. Vlad uses his “fire basket” and it is a very efficient equipment, much like a hobo stove, but square and collapsible. I use my simple folding trivet to hold the pot above the flame instead of a traditional trio of stones.

Rain comes and I hit a dead end. I let the participants take their siesta. The humidity is really oppressive and, besides, there is not much you can do when drops of rain fall down on you and on paper. Not a good time to induce their attention for another lecture. It is really uncomfortable and I have experienced this so many times. Fortunately for me, this was not scheduled for two short days. If it were, I would be stressed out.

An hour of siesta was good and ripe for the resumption of our journey. Water Sanitation and Rehydration takes the next chapter and then navigates to the next which is Knife Care and Safety. Another vital item that people do not always entertain of bringing is the knife. In bushcraft, each individual carries at least three different blades for different kinds of work. A knife is a tool and as long as you do not grow a good set of titanium teeth and fingernails you would need it. If you do carry a knife, you will have to learn all things about the knife, ethics and the law regulating knife carry.

I decide to reschedule the brief chapter of Cold Weather Mechanisms and Heat Retention today instead of tomorrow. We have a lot of things to do tomorrow and also I need us to work on our fire while there is still daylight. That means we have to forage dry firewood which would be rare after that downpour. Satisfied with the stride of five chapters, I call it a day and pursue our bigger tasks for the rest of the day.

When we had eaten dinner, it was time for a Campfire Yarns and Storytelling. The fire burned as it is fed from time to time. The night is cold and the reflection of a rising moon, almost at its full strength, begins to be felt on the sky. Frogs compete with the usual night sounds as the flame flickered and hissed as drops of dew fell from a leaf. A flask of local brandy provided the fuel and as soon as it ran its course it was already half past ten.

The second day (November 13) promises to be a better one. The skies are clear and we will have company. After groping with the business of coaxing a fire to life, drinking coffee becomes part of this ritual. A light breakfast followed and then the chapter on Traditional Land Navigation. Early travellers used the streams as routes and why cannot modern men do the same? On this same manner, they have utilized celestial bodies like the sun, moon and the stars, seriously analyzing terrain and shadows before proceeding, and marking many references.

Company came in the form of the great guys from the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild who arrived in the middle of the first lecture for the day. Led by Jhurds Neo and Aljew Frasco, I could not have been more proud. These guys showed that Cebu’s bushcraft community is active and thriving. They had with them guests, some future enthusiasts perhaps, exposing them to the brand of outdoors which this guild is very well versed at.

Next chapter is Foraging and Plant ID. Foraging covers hunting and trapping. A simple bamboo tube perfectly placed can trap a creature on land or in water. Snares are more complex as it employ a spring-and-trigger mechanism activated by the prey. All of these do not work if you do not know how to outwit or lure prey. Identifying a plant for its nutritional value is easy but it is best you suspect each plant. Soon we will be foraging bamboo on another location and I would identify for them wild plants that they need to evade or love.

This hike is part of that chapter. It is now near noon but we will forego of lunch. Fasting to imitate the pangs of hunger is part of psyching up to the real thing. Walking hungry and uncomfortable in an environment where you have no total control of by its unfamiliarity and by adherence to a set of protocols imposed can be very daunting. We arrive at the site where bamboos grow and taught them the finer art of bushcraft with regards to cutting and harvesting, and how to dispose the unused part so it can be used next time.

From this activity, the chapter on Survival Tool Making begins and then Firecraft. Tools made from nature come in handy as it extends the life of your knife with the manufacture of digging sticks, trapping applications, fire-making implements and eating utensils. The Philippines is blessed to have so much bamboo and making a cooking vessel from these to cook something is just natural. We have readied a pot employing my Trailhawk system and another pot system popularized by the Aetas made by the German Michael.

Firecraft is just perfect for this moment. It had not rained and the air is almost dry but I have to digest to them what is this thing called the fire triangle, a tinder, a kindling, and where are the best firewood foraged? On purpose, I let them experience starting a fire with firewood instinctively sourced from where they saw it, mostly from the ground. Unknown to them, good firewood are found where their eyes have missed. A fire would later erupt with none of the difficulties encountered the past one and 1/2 days.

Firecraft lessons navigated from the ferro rod set to the flint-and-steel and to the two friction methods that I often taught – the one employing dry bamboos and the bowdrill. We have not had success with the drill but it smoked with burnt odor and so were lots of sweat. The bamboo snared us great success instead and a wide smile for everyone. After this, we begun the cooking of rice inside the two bamboos and readied for Nocturnal Hunting.

The stream is empty of crabs. We were in a wrong occasion. The moon is at its brightest! I have noticed it last night. I searched for tree snails and I found none either. There is the warty toad that the German found but I would not bet on that as food. Retreating to the camp, we subsist on leftover food from last night. The good thing is the guys from Camp Red had left us enough spirits before they said goodbye for another round of Campfire Yarns and Storytelling. We observe taps at exactly twelve midnight.

The last day – November 14 – promises another good day and the campfire is revived for the last time for coffee. One more chapter to talk about – Outdoors Common Sense – and this is taken as an excerpt from my still-unfinished book ETHICAL BUSHCRAFT. It instills the simple truths of “Blend, Adapt and Improvise”. It zooms in on the choice of colors for clothes and shelter, trail ethics, campsite locations and campfire size, and how you act in case of wildlife encounters which in bushcraft are frequent.

After breaking camp at nine we go back to where we were two days ago. From there, we hired motorcycles to bring us back to Guadalupe and partake of brunch at my favorite spot after every outdoor stint. Vlad and his sidekick, Michael, got each a Seseblade Sinalung knife courtesy of Dr. Arvin Sese, while the German Michael gets a Camp Red patch and a soap-sized beeswax courtesy of Warrior Pilgrimage. Most of all, I am happy to hand them the certificates, which described the sum of good outdoors common sense learned in three days.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017


ONCE UPON A TIME IN SOME DARK PLANET of long ago, I was living in a semi-nomadic existence foraging inside garbage cans and the streets for scraps of steel or bronze or copper when I was eleven or twelve. Sometimes I just spirit it away from under the noses of busy machinists and masked welders in their shops. My best friend then was the scrap buyer and it provided me “funds” to buy Coke during recess time in school which was then a luxury. It was wrong but I am not ashamed to tell you about this.

I am the eldest in a brood of four sisters and one brother. We were not rich but we were kind of living a sheltered life. My parents were both cops and both were straight. Everyone could attest to their honesty in their job and they have a name to protect. Discipline in the home was sometimes harsh and, being the eldest, I was given a certain responsibility and the privilege of the cane, painful at first, but you get to like its familiar slap on your behind afterward and you feel better. It adds your resistance to pain which I found useful.

I was the wild kid and I liked the streets better than sitting inside a stuffy classroom. I became street smart and had unknowingly laid the foundations of a future crime boss were it not, on one of my class-cutting excursions together with a classmate, we came to visit a place where there were books everywhere and people were in trance to these. That was in Patria de Cebu, fronting the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral, where it housed the temporary home of the Cebu City Library.

Why I was there? It was accidental. Of course, there was a bowling alley and a billiard hall nearby but the usual people I knew were not there so we decided to hang out inside this house of books out of boredom. I checked out some books and I kind of liked a children’s illustrated history book of the United States of America and another illustrated book of classical literature. I really was engrossed in my reading and forgot about everything about the streets when a bell rang.

We followed a queue of people returning the books to a long desk where there was an attendant receiving it. When my turn came, an older woman replaced the attendant and I came face to face – of all people – my own aunt! She was surprised to see me and seemed happy at my sudden interest of books. I was ready to tell a lie if she asked me how I came to be here. She checked at the books I read and gave it back to me and told me to bring it home. It was the start of my long romance with books and it changed my life.

Forty-two years fast forward, I visited the Cebu City Library again at its now-permanent home in a building shared with the Jose Rizal Museum and the Cebu City Historical Affairs Commission along Osmeña Boulevard. I was with my mother and another aunt and it was like seeing an old friend. There are now fewer people than was before. People do not read books nowadays, especially the younger generations. They spend more time in Facebook and the malls. I would not be surprised when books would just be an item in a curio shop.

I love Facebook even though there is no “book” in it. I just supply the book in my profile pictures where I am seen holding a book shielding half of my face, a typical unabashed self-portrait, the most literal expression of Facebook: a Face and a Book. I changed my profile as often as I picked up a book to read. Facebook then becomes my vehicle to spread this advocacy of reading real books, not PDF books! Someday, when all these technology fail, books would be worth more than gold. Shades of Book of Eli, is it not?

Books I read could be spine-tingling novels or a boring scientific research. Reading on paper is so different than reading on a monitor screen. I do not have to explain this in detail but in paper there are no glares. As simple as that. The time-worn pages of a book reflect a character all its own, never mind the DNA of people that stained some pages, but it sure has an aroma all its own, much more so when it just comes off the press.

I have read hundreds of books, sometimes re-reading it more than twice when I liked it very much or there is not much material to read and, each time, I left my mark at anywhere in the last pages: a nickname in long hand, with date and place. I even have my own private library where every book is rubber-stamped under the name of “Warrior Pilgrimage”. I am proud of my book shelf housing a lot of unread and dusty books and novels. I tried to remedy this by reading two books at a time but I am not in a hurry.

As I scanned the books inside the Cebu City Library, I saw a lot of books that grabbed instantly my interest. My aunt is not anymore running the library. She died many years ago. I can not bring some books out like the way I used to do. I guess I have to spend more time in the library, which is good in itself which I will do for as long as the city government will support its operation and existence.

How about you?

When would you rekindle your interest in reading a real book?

When would you visit and support your local library?

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017


I STILL POSSESS A MINDSET as if I have a day job and waited for a weekend before I engage in a joust with the outdoors.  I tried to think it over and over and I laugh at myself for taking change so slowly.  In fact, I have left that job on the last day of 2015.  I seem to be busy on weekdays doing nothing and, yes, wired to an electrical outlet.  It is indeed strange for someone who found the great outdoors home!

I got guests for this coming weekend and I need to prepare a campsite deep in the hidden jungles of the Babag Mountain Range today, November 10, 2016, a Thursday.  Yes, today is a weekday but I do not have the same enthusiasm I showed for a weekend.  I need to pressure myself to move out of my comfort zone and, when I did, the sun was already high and warm.  It is always like that.

Like now.  It is already 10:20 when I arrive at the trailhead coming from Guadalupe by motorcycle.  The good thing is that when I am in my environment everything changes so quickly as if I am a different person.  I am instantly transported into a weekend mood.  My mind shifts from conventional to native idiosyncrasies.  The smell and sounds of the forest changes me.

I follow a path down to Lensa Trail.  The vegetation all around me is very healthy except on a wide patch of Burmese teak forest where every tree is healthy and the rest are not.  You could not even hear the buzz of a bee.  People come here to gather firewood.  Indeed, this wood is good for furniture.  It is impervious to termites and is prized by wood carvers and demand a good price.  I see a baby serpent slithering away.

The trail goes down and, after walking just a few meters, I espy a slender arm of bamboo, much thicker than the bagakay variety and those crawling ones called bokawe.  I did not saw it before and it grew on a dry ravine where all indigenous species thrive.  I approach it.  There is running water on the small ravine and the bamboo is of the butong variety.  It is healthy and seems to have not been touched yet by humans.

I am elated at this discovery for I would have another source of bamboo in this mixture of man-made forests and naturally-thriving jungle, which is really rare.  I reach Creek Alpha and I follow it downstream.  It has running water and it flows briskly where there are cascades.  Here birds make its presence felt.  A Brahminy kite (Local name: banog) called overhead thrice while a yellow sunbird (tamsi) fleeted by infront of me.

I see fresh footprints of three individuals, a few hours old, and it came from downstream.  One is deep for a small person – a woman’s – and it could have carried something heavy, firewood perhaps.  I always love this moment, trying to unravel a tale, a puzzle, by the mere study of trail signs like footprints and what humans leave behind.  You should try this and it would be good to develop your creativity.

I left the stream and I am onto dry ground.  The first trace of human activity here other than footprints meet me.  They were harvesting leaves of young fishtail palms.  The leaves are used as decorations of flower bouquets.  They were also cutting long leaf stalks of wild ginger called galangal and used this as a mat to sit on when they were working on the fishtail palm leaves.

I go down a path to check on the state of the campground of the old Camp Damazo.  I used this place the last time in January.  I did not bring people here after that so it could recover.  It had recovered very well and so is ripe again to host a camp.  This would where I would bring my guests this Saturday.  Everything is okay except that I have to forage and stash firewood and old and green bamboo poles as well.  Then I would need to find a good place for the latrine.

I begin my work on the firewood first.  I do not need big pieces of wood.  What I would need are just dead branches that have fell where it has still dry twigs and leaves on it.  I found many on Lensa Trail and drag the best ones to as near as possible to the campsite and place it above ground.  It is humid here and I would know it would rain starting this day onwards.

At Camp Damazo, I walk a few meters downstream where there is a tree that had fallen across the stream.  There is a path on the left leading to a cleared ground.  Around it are good places to answer the call of nature.  I marked the clearing with a shred of yellow plastic tied to a young tree and another shred of white plastic tied to another young tree to mark the path to there.

When I was finished with the latrine and the firewood, I proceed to Creek Bravo where I could see the state of health of my prized water bamboos.  It is a warm day and I have to walk easy.  I do not have had breakfast nor a slurp of warm coffee.  I do have bread inside my Lifeguard USA rucksack but I reserved that for a simple lunch.  I would boil water when I get to Creek Bravo.

I arrive at the next stream and I immediately study the foliage of the bamboos.  This is a rare spot of the jungle where there are groves of bamboo.  About seven of them.  Almost all of these have not recovered well from a destructive human activity of three years ago.  Only two groves are healthy and are producing poles of normal growth and width.

I would not cut one today and I would reserve that for Sunday – the second day of this weekend’s camp – and searched instead for a dry pole.  Usually, I stashed leftover poles above the ground when I cut one that is too long and I found one, a leftover of the Bonifacio Day Bushcraft Camp in November 2015.  It is not perfect but it would do during a firecraft session.  I cut a small branch with roots on it so I would introduce bamboo in Creek Alpha.

I go down the hill with the pieces of dry bamboo and the young branch and walked upstream where there is another smaller stream that branched into Creek Bravo.  On this watery junction I will boil water for coffee.  I retrieve my Swiss Army emergency stove and make it ready for a fire.  From nearby dry twigs and from tinder scratched from the old bamboo, a fire begins inside the chamber of the stove.  Water I get from the smaller stream and start boiling.

After almost an hour of tinkering with the simple gadget, I have my coffee break and my bread.  It is wonderful to just sit still and enjoy warm coffee in a very humid jungle alone.  How many people would do this on a weekend, let alone a weekday?  None that I know of.  In silence, I have peace.  Water cascading on rocks is like music to the ears.  The clouds becomes dark and wisps of moisture fall down but it did not last long.  Sky starts to clear and a raptor just crossed overhead while ground pigeons scamper to safety.

When you are into bushcraft, you could see everything.  You are far better than all these adrenaline junkies who think they are the fastest sperms in the planet.  Hand it to them their exploits but when difficult terrain and bad weather begins to claim them, they would discover late in the day that they had not used their brains well.  Bushcraft is a cerebral activity.  It is zen happening in the woods.  It uses the brains and patience more than it uses strength.

My existence and lifestyle justifies the need for Filipinos to look back to where they came from and learn some bushcraft skills.  Never ever stereotype the Aetas as bushcraft for bushcraft is broader than you think.  What the Aetas are doing is showcasing their culture and their hunter-gatherer society and urbanized people (I do not call them civilized) had taken advantage of the Aetas for entertainment and making money in their behalf just like whites did to Native Americans in circuses and expos.

After my simple meal, I go back to the old Camp Damazo to plant the bamboo and to stash the old pieces.  I notice that the path I used in 2011 in coming down here have been also used by the locals and now has an appearance of a trail.  I follow it and I climb up a ridge where there is still an existing trail.  I am now at the top of Boy T’s Hell, a hill that had given Boy Toledo nightmares during an exploration in 2010 here.  Across me is Starbucks Peak and I would love to visit it again someday.

I go down the hill and followed a thin ridge that linked to another ridge.  I looked for the trail that led to here but it is gone.  Mind you, this is the part where you miss a trail and it brings you far from your destination.  I remembered my trips here the previous years where me and my party travelled off-course from our intended objective.  I looked again and I opt a path that I thought would lead me back to the trailhead.

The trail I am following begins to lead me off familiar territory and dumped me back to Creek Alpha.  I followed it upstream and I found the trail back to the trailhead.  It is 15:00 and I have to go early to prepare my things and my unfinished tasks for the Saturday.

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