Saturday, April 1, 2017
I DO NOT OFTEN BRING people to Camp Damazo. It is sacred ground for the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and it had hosted the 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions of the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp and the 2015 Bonifacio Day Bushcraft Camp. There are no seas of clouds nor exhilarating views to gaze upon golden sunsets and luxuriant valleys. It is dreary and humid and all jungle. You will be disappointed. To us who find bushcraft a way of life, it is paradise.
The camp is named after the late Sergio Damazo Jr., my scoutmaster during my high school years at the then Colegio de San Jose-Recoletos (now USJ-R) when it was then housed in its old campus near Freedom Park and Carbon Public Market. During his time, he was a legend among his peers. He was a very good teacher and he was equally a very good storyteller. His tales of his experiences and anecdotes placed all ears to an unflinching attention.
It was that time when a Boy Scout IS a Boy Scout and my school basked under his giant shadow snaring accolade after accolade, recognized and represented in every international jamboree. He was a natural prepper and a master of all crafts that were taught in the Boy Scout. His loss left a big vacuum in the local Boy Scout community which, sadly, stagnated to glamour camping, cater service food and all that is politically correct imposed by overprotective parents.
It is my privilege as his former student to name this place in the wilderness in his honor and memory. There never was like him and his is a big shoe to fill in. Camp Damazo does not appear in Google Map nor it is kind to cellular signals. It is a hidden nook in the Babag Mountain Range yet, despite its remoteness, it can be walked direct from Guadalupe, the route of which is also a mystery. It is a privilege then if you are personally invited.
One of those that I welcomed today – November 26, 2016 – is my Swiss benefactor and friend. I cannot say no to him if ever he rings me for a hike in the woods. He is a typical individual who has a heart set for the outdoors. His is a rare breed in a Europe that is now harboring a highly-urbanized generation which is perpetually wired to the electrical outlet and the Wi-Fi. He is not that young anymore and he is intent to shed off some weight off his frame.
We have spent time together in other places testing equipment and gear and I am more than willing to try anything new. I write my own unsolicited reviews in this personal blog and in my Facebook wall and I somehow liked it in so much that it have helped people in their choices. My Swiss friend is carrying a bag that seem to have a bulky cargo inside. Whatever it will be, I just want to steer him safely along the trail to Camp Damazo.
We walked at a slow pace at ten in the morning on wet ground past a man-made forest of Burma teak. A strange red shark far way from home greeted us. The path ends at Creek Alpha but we walked downstream to get to another trail which would pass an old campsite and more of teak forests with a mixture of non-native species. When I am here, it seems that I am in my natural environment and every stress and worry is forgotten. I am a freelance wilderness guide and this is my office.
I am not a mountain guide. I do not give you the cold shoulder and that perpetual silence while you struggle to keep up with a pace. I do not work that way. I talk to make you more alive and watchful in a pace much to your liking. Along the way are harmful plants which without your knowledge gets you snagged or stung. You begin to wonder how such a living forest is dead? It is so silent.
I was wrong. Here upon a tall teak tree, a stingless bee colony (Local name: kiyot) made a honeycomb inside its trunk which is rare. Honey overflowed and oozed down it. The viscous fluid is sticky and sweet. It is a matter of choice for one native species trying to adapt to a foreign host to keep away competition and ensure its survival. These are small wonders that do not take attention from an untrained eye and the matching wisdom to explain why? That is why I am no mountain guide.
We reach Creek Bravo and take a rest. The humidity of the tropics might be too much for my friend. When I am on this spot, it gives me happiness just to stare across me of the only place in the whole Buhisan Watershed Area where a good concentration of water bamboos (butong) grow. How it colonized that part left me wondering? Whatever, it is a source of material and nourishment for a bushcraft camp. I took special care of these bamboos leaving it untouched for long periods of time.
We resume our hike. We climb up a steep trail to reach a ridge and two parallel trails. One goes down Lensa Creek while the other follow the back of the ridge and then to Camp Damazo. The forest is now alive of birds and insects. I still see Burma teaks, gmelinas and mahoganies but, amidst them, are native species which attract these living creatures. A few branches blocked the path and we have to watch over our heads of unstable ones bound to fall at the rock of a breeze.
Jungle jumble becomes a beautiful forest, for a time, and becomes both as we approach more elevation. Soon we will be at the fabled Camp Damazo. At thirty before twelve noon, we reach the place. In the center is a cairn, marking the fireplace. A bell pepper with a single fruit grow beside it. Above us is a Moluccan ironwood tree (ipil), whose foliage protect us from the eyes of sun and drone. Beside it is a stinging tree (alingatong) which, for all of its ill repute, is harmless. For now.
What makes Camp Damazo special? First of all, I discovered this while exploring Lensa Creek in 2010. It was when I saw a sickly bamboo that I noticed a trail which led to three other trails, which one of these brought me to here. I came back to explore the other trails and found a natural spring and an exit in one and Creek Charlie on another. The camp is on a low peak covered by trees and surrounded by thick jungle where teaching plant ID is perfect. Ground is a mixture of rock, sand and loam and absorbs rainwater quickly.
You would likely see ground pigeons, palm civets, jungle fowls and hawks here at closer distance than you would have expected these to be. Creek Charlie is a source of food which is very vital in a nocturnal hunting episode. Camp Damazo is a wild place but succeeding bushcraft camps have tamed it briefly and I decide to leave this place untouched for every couple of years so wild vegetation would recover. But on some weekends, we come just to cook meals and be gone.
Today, we will just be testing gears and have a cup of coffee and some bread. My Swiss friend retrieved a Kelly Kettle. That is why his bag looked so bulky. It is my first time to personally see, touch and hold a Kelly Kettle. It is a camp burner which you can use to cook food and boil water simultaneously. It is made of high-grade stainless steel and weighs 1000 grams. It consists of the fire oven, a kettle looking like a doughnut with bail and a chain near the bottom to tilt the liquid out, a standard pot and a collapsible pot adapter to handle bigger pots.
We tested it with a commercial alcohol-gel fuel but it never dished out enough heat to boil water in the kettle and it took us the whole of 15 minutes to observe a steam, which did not came, so we decided to add small bits of firewood in the oven to stir the water alive. It did in a few minutes. The Kelly Kettle is more efficient if it uses solid fuel like dry wood, twigs and other kindling. It is best in expedition base camps and in boats where exposure to elements are high like rain, snow and wind.
Buried below the spotlight of the Kelly Kettle, is an Advanced Fire Starter Pro donated by Paul Sidney Uy for my use during my Thruhike of the Cebu Highlands Trail in January 2017. It looks like a tactical pen where the parts can be unscrewed from each other. There is the one holding the striker, another one holding the ferromagnesium rod and another as container for tinder. At the end is a small button compass while the other is a lanyard holder.
I scratched the rod with the striker on the alcohol gel and it caught the sparks and blue flame erupted which then was used for the Kelly Kettle. This fire starter creates a good volume of sparks unheard of for its small size. Actually I tested it on a tattered piece of tissue at Frontgate Burger Restaurant the previous night and the tissue caught fire. Sidney owns Frontgate, located in Baseline, Juana Osmeña Street, Cebu City, which serves the finest burgers and steaks in town. The demo was witnessed by other Frontgate patrons.
After we had our coffee and fully satisfied of time spent well, we leave Camp Damazo for Guadalupe. We walk on the exit trail where the natural spring is located and more strange plants to understand and learn. Streaking away to put more distance from us is a jungle fowl. It is a rooster and it is the first time I saw one fleeing away on the ground. Most often when surprised it flies in a trail of dropping plumes. It may have freshened itself with water from the spring and caught unaware of our coming until about a few meters.
After crossing the upper part of both Creek Alpha and Creek Bravo, which were slippery, we arrive at the Pamutan-Sapangdaku Road. We cross it for another much tame trail going to Lanipao where we found cold refreshment. From there, we walk towards Napo where we ride motorcycles-for-hire to Guadalupe. From the church, we walk again to my favorite watering hole and cap our outdoor workout with the coldest beer.
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