Wednesday, May 24, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 6 (Mantalongon to Balaas)

IT IS A COLD DAY AND IT IS DECIDED that Jingaling Campomanes, Mark Lepon, Christian Tan and Glyn Formentera would not walk with us today, January 22, 2017. They were planning to separate from us once we reach the foot of Mount Kandung-aw but plans changed as easily as water shifts its current. The artificial mood of yesterday left. Back to reality, of walking the Thruhike with only Jonathaniel Apurado as companion. We do not speak often because I walk far ahead of him. We only converse during rests and with locals. The Thruhike is not a jolly activity, it is solitude.

The Thruhike then is a pilgrimage of silence, imposed on you by no one else, except, by you. Seriously, the Thruhike is thought to be an amazing journey of the self through places where your soul would want itself to be – in the serenity of the hills. I can not yet decipher the intrinsic value of the Thruhike for I am yet at Day Six and the hardest parts are yet to come, although five days of hiking are daunting enough. I will soon arrive at places where either my will, my patience or my determination will be stretched thin or pressed hard. I have experienced these often during the early explorations of the Cebu Highlands Trail and I was fortunate it had a short time frame of three to five days. But this is different. This is 27 days!

After saying my appreciation and thanks to the officials of Mantalongon, Dalaguete, we set off at 08:30. The weather is almost Baguio weather, cool and very mild. A thick cloud dropped a wispy shower that vanished instantly as it began. Sunday is a day of rest for most of Cebu and the rest of the world. For most people visiting the outdoors, it is a trip to peaks, beaches or waterfalls. For most destinations, people are expected, whether on official routes or on “backdoors”. In a Thruhike, or for that matter, explorations, you are viewed with suspicion since you are not supposed to be there or there are no precedents of people turning their places into tourist destinations.

Sunday is then a day which I considered very much with importance in my itinerary. This is the Thruhike’s first and I designed it that we walk today for Balaas, Argao. Whether we arrive early or late, it does not matter, for people there are already familiar with us. We spent a night there last February 20, 2015 after a lengthy explanation. We were then in the middle of the Segment III Exploration Hike and the late afternoon brought us to there. It ended well and, today, it would not be difficult to obtain their goodwill again.

There is no other way to walk the “Vegetable Highway” except on pavements. As of today, I cannot see a good reason yet to find a trail to Argao. I see many and they criss-cross deep valleys and climb over hillsides, which might be romantic but impractical due to its difficulty. Whoever designed this road was a genius and this road was not made when things were started to be ran by people “running the country like hell”. It was designed and constructed by someone who belonged to a country that was supposed to “run this country like heaven”, if you quote a dead president’s statements which does not make sense.

However, I see such two options in a future shift of paths. The first would enter Argao through the Cambantug Mountain Range, cross the Salug River over to Cansuje, Argao and go north to Alumbijud, Argao. The other would be that you would have to go to the side of Badian from Osmeña Peak, follow a route over the mountain ridges that connect with that of Argao which are dotted with coal mines and pockets of lawless enclaves. If I could have started the explorations 10 or 20 years ago, I would have not been wandering on roads but on trails. The fact that I started this epiphany in 2011 and finished it only in 2016, is a testament of that shortcoming plus, another fact, that I have no big corporate backing or a team of corporate personalities.

You would have to appreciate of what I did in completing my explorations of finding a route for the CHT, which no one had ever done before on the island province of Cebu, without support, except from a few notable individuals like Alvin John Osmeña, Aljew Frasco and Jose Mari Gochangco, who believed in what I was doing. And you would also have to appreciate me even more of my boldness to go on a Thruhike of a CHT that was not even made and documented with the benefit of a global positioning satellite system but on the premise of memory borne out of the quirks of traditional navigation.

Anyway, this memory brought me to the sixth day in such progress and precision as good as using a GPS. The week-long rain that happened before I started the Thruhike had left its mark on the appearance of this road. Just repaved with solid concrete, rockfalls from above and landslides undermining below threaten people who use this. It is simply dangerous to use this road for the moment. We are forced to walk on the outer edges, a safe distance from a rock fall, of even a size of a thumbnail, could be life threatening if it falls directly on the head.

Hazardous that might be but one village seems to live with that. On the road to Ablayan, Dalaguete are many small banners placed on both sides of the road, aside from three bigger ones strung across, declaring a fiesta celebration. People were in a festive mood and screams of pigs were heard everywhere up a hill or down a gully. The road wove on more hazards but not that many anymore yet this is one scenic stretch highlighting the valleys around Mantalongon as the “Breadbasket of Cebu”. We arrive at Maloray, Dalaguete at 10:30 and you will see many little rice terraces planted with an upland variety.

Mount Kandung-aw towered over us but we had been there in February 2015 and is now included as one of the interesting features of the CHT. The peak is a good alternative to spend a weekend in these parts and would relieve the pressure off the very popular Mount Osmeña from local tourists. We walk on and we see a lot of people waiting for porters to carry their goods over the other side of the road since a big part of the road was swept away by the rains of early January. Likewise, farm produce were dumped here coming over from the other side where it is loaded onto trucks while motorcycles waited on both sides. Ah, commerce.


We crossed the chasm nimbly as locals do while a few motorcycles braved the slippery and steep stretch. Since we covered so much ground in the morning, I deem it necessary to take our noonbreak as early as 10:55 since the mild climate changed into warmth. I munch on two pieces Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos, six pieces of Park N Go Bakeshop bread, a Nutribar and my jumble of trail food. With water I popped in a Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana capsule into my mouth and watch three locals walk past me with big baskets at their backs, carrying 70-80 kilos of vegetable pears, cauliflowers and carrots supported with tumplines to their head. This road made their lives bearable.

At 12:00, we proceed up the road. We saw another road joining the ones we are following. The junction got washed and a temporary patchwork of rocks and concrete were arranged to hold the earth above it but got washed again. It looks scary and that is why I saw no trucks parked on this side from the chasm we crossed. This road goes up to Badian while our direction goes to Argao. We stop by a new parish somewhere in Manlapay, Dalaguete where parishioners in their Sunday’s best just came out from a church service. The rest took longer, since there is a shady spot and a cold Sparkle to beat the heat as Jon enjoyed talking with the locals.

The journey continues into the heart of Manlapay, the last village of Dalaguete, and then into Argao. At a road corner going to Balaas, Argao, I immediately dispatch a text message to the Argao Police Station so they will be informed of our presence and our activity. We arrive at Balaas at 13:40 where the honorable barangay chairman, Ricardo Gonzaga, and the village council welcomed us. They expected us at 16:00 since that was the one indicated on our itinerary but we somewhat have developed wings on our heels. Or is it that I just made this day’s schedule conservatively kind?

Why are we expected along the way? Well I found it out the hard way early in my exploration hikes, especially at San Fernando during Segment II which was done last March 2012. Since then, I made it necessary to make my activities known by sending out letters to Capitol and to the Cebu Police Provincial Office but, sometimes, it does not give assurance like what happened during the last day of Segment VII last August 2016 in Daanbantayan. To make my Thruhike seamless, I made a courtesy call on the Honorable Governor Hilario P. Davide III last November 25, 2016 and the rest is history.

Under the protective shelter of the barangay hall, we claimed our billet area. We released all the stress of the day and just enjoyed the stillness of rest. Across us is the view of the wide Salug River Valley, the Cambantug Mountain Range and Mount Lantoy. We are treated as guests and a plastic tray with cold Sparkles and bread came our way courtesy of Hon. Gonzaga and the people of Barangay Balaas. We arrived early and the early rest benefited our feet. We are now in the middle of the southern leg and we made good progress. Tomorrow would be different. We would be expected at Sibonga and it would be a long day.

Distance Walked: 13.47 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 793 meters and a low of 502 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Days 4 and 5 (Cerdeña to Mantalongon)

DAY FOUR ::::: IT IS GOOD TO SEE SUNRISE after three days of moody early mornings. It rained the whole night but it was not that cold. The forest protected us from the elements. Although there was light rain today, it is so-so and is not bound to stay for long. I touched my wet clothes that I hanged under the canopy sheet. Partly-moist but wearable just the same. The Lorpen socks are now better than the time I removed it yesterday. This would be its last day of use and would probably be worn again on the northern leg of the Thruhike. Today is January 20, 2017.

It is 06:00 and I decide to tour the campsite for a good place to call in nature. When I returned, Jonathaniel Apurado is holding a pot that hot water is ready for coffee. Same breakfast fare of Knorr soup and rice as was done in past mornings. We break camp at 08:12 and it is a very very mild day. We would be walking on roads where, before, were trails. I may be a romantic but I am also a realist. Gone are the days when life was difficult for mountain residents. The presence of roads are a blessing for them, removing them from isolation, having access now to the economy of the lowlands, wide opportunity for education and better income which they could not wrestle in the past.

Despite the roads, the scenic views have not changed. The deep valleys on both sides are filled with seas of clouds after a rain. There are such few places in Cebu where you could view, while walking, both the western coastline, which includes Tañon Strait and Negros Island, and the eastern coastline, where you can see past Bohol Strait, Bohol Island and Siquijor Island. The route follows a narrow range of mountains, skirting two opposing big river systems, that connect the Southern Cebu Mountain Range, that start from Barili to Alcoy, to another mountain range in Oslob which is dominated by Mount Bandera.

A lone Brahminy kite flew over me and it circled overhead riding the thermals as I was about to make my way down to where this new road would join the road at Upper Beceril, Boljoon. We turned left and rest instead at San Antonio, Boljoon, at 09:25 near where we could replenish our water bottles. This is the road that goes to Nangka, Boljoon and this is the road where so much verdant hills are seen at closer distance on both sides, separated by narrow strips of farms. It is unpaved for the most part. Another scenic stretch which goes all the way to Nug-as, Alcoy.

We arrive at Nug-as at 11:35, hours ahead of schedule. We cannot just proceed to the next destination, which is in Mantalongon, Dalaguete, even if we are capable of doing it today. We cannot just alter the order of things this time just because I have the upper hand. There are times where you would have to honor what is on the itinerary and, for that matter, we would have to stay at Nug-as for the rest of the day. I have guests who would arrive later and we also have to meet our supply team tomorrow afternoon at Mantalongon. Good sense dictates that we would have to follow the itinerary to the letter.

The early arrival would do well instead for our bodies so it could recover from the hike of four straight days. This is another phase of the Thruhike where you would have to balance things out since the body could not bear the punishment for long. Remember, we still have 23 days more of walking. I do not want ourselves getting burned out halfway to the end or giving up somewhere along the way to injuries. Besides, I have a couple of sore toes to look over and a pair of shoes to dry. Considering all these, I sent a message to the Alcoy Police Station informing them of our presence.

We proceed to the barangay hall and asked permission to stay. It was not difficult to obtain since the one assigned today was someone who knew us from last time. We tied our hammocks on the same places where we fixed it last time. We do not have to use the sheets since there is a roof. We eat for the very first time a hot noontime meal of local noodles, the extra I carried just in case. I rehydrate a lot of liquid from powdered juice and Extra Joss and tuned in to an FM station signal coming from Negros Oriental. It was a very relaxing afternoon just lying down on a bamboo cot which the body really needs.

I would have stayed on the cot long but I have to find a cellular phone signal. We do not know if the GPS tracking device provided by Galileo Satellite Control System Philippines is transmitting our geolocations to them. The problem is that the only place where I could catch cellular signals here is on a waiting shed located 250 meters away. Photos and information from Day One to Day Four would be sent by my Lenovo A7000 smart phone and have to be posted in my Facebook wall to update my wife and family, my friends, my sponsors and my followers. It was slow at times when the signal appeared on a single bar and disappears from time to time. For text messages, I relied on my Cherry Mobile U2.

At 17:00, a police car from the Alcoy Police Station, led by PO1 Regidor, arrived to see how we are doing. They were sent to assist us if ever we encountered difficulty in finding our way in their area, which did not happen anyway. They stayed until 19:30. When we were on our own, we commenced our dinner of Korean spicy noodles with a sprinkling of shredded dried squid, sweet potato leaves and dehydrated seaweeds. We were well rested and waited for our friends to come but somehow they got delayed. We slept instead when the clock hits 22:00.

Distance Walked: 11.55 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 839 meters and a low of 359 meters

DAY FIVE ::::: JONATHANIEL APURADO WOKE ME UP at 05:00 that our guests have arrived some three hours ago. I am sure they would be tired so I let them rest for a couple of hours more. They have set up shelters in a car porch just a few meters away from the building where we are housed. They are Jingaling Campomanes, Mark Lepon, Christian Tan and Glyn Formentera and all belonged to the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. Their presence and participation are more of supporting the Thruhike. They would engage in a dayhike with us today – January 21, 2017, from Nug-as, Alcoy to Mantalongon, Dalaguete.

Jon had taken over the cooking and there is Knorr soup and rice, boiled quail eggs and coffee. After breakfast, we took down our hammocks and stuffed all our things inside our backpacks. I changed into a new pair of undershorts and a clean pair of Kailas socks. The Jack Wolfskin shoes are now dry as well as my “uniform”. We are now ready to start Day Five except that our guests were still asleep. We shook them awake at 08:00.

We all leave Nug-as at 09:25 and this was the most late that the Thruhike had started. I have an additional cargo, ten small bottles of Yakult Cultured Milk, courtesy of Jingaling, which I carried inside a plastic bag with either hand. The sun finally appeared but not that scorching. January and February are the best time to engage in a Thruhike here in Cebu. You will be facing the cold winds that the northeast monsoon would bring in from the icy winters of Japan, Siberia and China. The sun would slightly be at your back since winter solstice changes the angle of its shadow.

We cross the boundary into the Municipality of Dalaguete and the village of Catolohan at 10:45. A lone Brahminy kite appeared in the sky, this time, much nearer. We arrive at Nalhub, Dalaguete at 12:10 and stopped for our noonbreak. Jon and I subsist on our food supply while the rest make use of theirs. Cold bottles of Sparkles cured those parched throats. Afterward, I shoot a text message to the Dalaguete Police Station and informed them of our activity, providing them our names. This is now a necessity since our party becomes bigger and noisier and it might send wrong signals to locals.

After an hour, we proceed on our hike and passed by Langkas, Dalaguete at 14:00. The hills here becomes like those seen around Osmeña Peak which is good as scenic attractions. The road goes up and up but I kept on going without stopping. I have taken my regular doses of one Enervon Multivitamin capsule and two Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana capsules each day and these might be the reasons I packed so much power today? Perhaps, but it is too early to tell. The long rest of yesterday might have to do with it.

Anyway, I arrived first at the Mantalongon Vegetable Market at 15:00. I expect to be here at 16:00, enough time to receive my supply team who will arrive at 17:00. As soon as everyone were all accounted for, we walk to the short distance to the barangay hall of Mantalongon. We are expected today by their officials and we were provide the free use of a building with toilet and running water. Just a few minutes after us, the Toyota pickup of the supply team arrived very early. Driving is Markus Immer from Switzerland with passengers Ernie Salomon, Justin Apurado and Glenn Pestaño with son.

They are also with the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild and how glad I am of seeing all of them, giving their support wholeheartedly of the Thruhike as volunteers. I could not ask for more. The supply team had brought bread from Park N Go Bakeshop, courtesy of Randy Salazar, aside from our daily fare of food and fuel for the alcohol burners. Markus also brought two boxes of small brownie cakes baked by his wife Analyn as his personal contribution. I shared what we have with the barangay officials of Mantalongon.

We left for a while the barangay hall and proceed to the market to eat early dinner at 16:00. We found one local restaurant big enough to accommodate all eleven of us. It was the first time in the Thruhike that Jonathaniel and I eat food that was not our cooking. Glad that the itinerary brought us to Mantalongon and break that monotony. Again, Markus chipped the bill and we go back to our billeting area. The supply team left at 18:00 while Jingaling, Mark, Christian and Glyn decides to stay with us. They still cannot decide how they would spend the day tomorrow – a Sunday.

We partied in the room provided for us with the brownie cakes, juice and Korean spicy noodles. I took a bath for the very first time after five days and washed my upper “uniform”. Mantalongon is famous for its cold weather and that is why it is called as Cebu’s “Little Baguio”. The guys even had a “blade porn”, a bushcraft tradition of exhibiting all knives in one place – a sort of pageantry. Then the activity transforms into a pageantry of first aid kits and another for fire kits. My Term-a-Rest sleep pad proved its efficiency by providing me a good night’s sleep.

Distance Walked: 13.65 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 779 meters and a low of 603 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Days 2 and 3 (Monteverde to Cerdeña)

DAY TWO ::::: THE STRONG WINDS HAVE MELLOWED down while the monotonous tap-tap of the rain on my canopy have lulled me to laziness. It should be a cold morning but I am surprisingly warm. The Therm-a-Rest insulated foam pad which was provided by Michael Schwarz for the Thruhike have given me strange comfort which I have had not experienced before.  Indeed, I had a good night’s sleep free of worries but I have to rise from the comfortable capsule of my hammock.
I was amazed at our coverage of Day One.  We were not supposed to be camping here at Monteverde, Samboan yesterday but somewhere down short of here.  The first day adrenaline spurt might have to do with that.  Or that I intend to change the itinerary.  It is the latter but adrenaline and, perhaps, capsules of multivitamins and Guarana may have helped.  Here, we have a good water source and a perfect ground to set up hammocks and shelters.

It is 06:15 and I need to boil water for coffee.  Suddenly, my hands are afire.  Ants, known locally as “hakot”, have invaded the nooks and crannies of my backpack where I stashed my rice and everywhere on the ground and then my feet got stung and it was all over me quick.  They were working all night while I had that hangtime.  They were also on my Park N Go bread.  I gyrated to a tuneless dance and dragged my bag far, slapped it hard and shook off the tiny army.

I did have that coffee while watching over my Trangia alcohol burner doing its work on rice.  Jonathaniel Apurado, my buddy of this Thruhike, is cooking Knorr soup on his alcohol burner.  You might wonder how much food we carried for this journey?  We carried food good for five days only, intending to replenish our supply at Mantalongon, Dalaguete on Day Five, which would be on January 21, 2017.  We each carried a half kilo of rice, repacked in five plastic tubes weighing 100 grams each, and three packs each of Knorr flavored soups and another three for Korean spicy noodles.  Actually, I carried more for insurance if ever Murphy’s Law imposes its will on the Thruhike.

The warm Knorr soup mixed with warm rice on a cold morning is wonderful.  My food plan are soup for breakfasts, baked goods and energy bars for lunch and spicy noodles for dinners.  When we get a chance to pass by markets, we will change our diets but, basing on my food plan, this would be rare and few.  By now, you would get the idea of our eating habits for a month.  You know, planning the Thruhike is not easy.  You will have to study your itinerary long and hard before making it final, careful enough not to overestimate nor underestimate the distances between places found in maps.  When you have the itinerary, planning your meals are next.

The good thing about my itinerary is I could change it if I wished it.  I can enjoy this privilege because I have explored these places in segments.  Days One, Two, Three and Four are part of Segment VIII which I had passed by last September 2016 but we did that starting from Upper Beceril, Boljoon going down to Liloan, Santander and this Thruhike is going on a reverse, which is kind of tricky on your planned pace because it is uphill.  But Day One was spectacular because I changed it.

We leave the campsite at 08:15 just in time when curious locals visited us.  The wind began to pick up its strength and rain lashed at us but we still retained good manners to accommodate their questions and it turned out well and good.  One of those who came is Dominador Rodriguez, and we met him last time when we passed by here.  We followed him as we continue on our journey today, January 18.  Before I reached the boundary of Oslob, I informed their police station about our presence and our activity.  I might not get that chance for I know cellular phone signals ahead are absent. 
I do not feel tired nor I feel muscle pains from the labors of a forced march yesterday.  The amount of time walking among mountains done every Sunday for eight years have done wonders for my body and I have adapted well.  If this is to be a gauge then the Thruhike is good as done!  I have trained myself well even before this epiphany happened in 2011 but the greatest transformation is my mindset.  I might be older but I am better than when I was an invincible adventurer of the ‘80s and the ‘90s.

The trail passed by a well but we have already secured water.  We reach a paved road.  This same road goes down to Tumalog waterfall and to the coasts of Oslob but the one we are following is the unfinished Trans-Axial Highway which goes uphill.  The scenery begins to change when you are on higher elevations.  Valleys, farms, verdant hills, rocky cliffs and solitary huts dot the countrysides.  A Brahminy kite flew from behind me to the right and I take it as a good omen.  I tried hard to capture it with my camera but another one caught my attention as it called me with its shrill whistle.

For the moment, there is no other way to walk here but I see some shortcuts where it would bypass the pavements and it goes through forest trails.  Actually, you would not know these until you see a long bend or a hairpin turn and then you decide to explore a path which puts you on places where you most wanted it to be.  It goes perfectly well on three of such places because I was certain it would.  We reach Cañang, Oslob at 10:15 and rest at its barangay hall to talk to a local.  Although the building gave us warmth and protection from the rain and cold, we need to continue our walk and so have to leave this friendly village. 

The same road goes into more scenic scenery of long deep valleys on either side, choked with trees and approached by a series of low hills, farms and verdant meadows, landscapes which you would not know existed in Cebu.  The same Brahminy kites that I saw a couple of hours ago appeared.  By now, the weather turned mild with bit of sunshine.  We came upon a waiting shed at 11:25, at a place called Mohon, already part of Can-ukban, Oslob and we stopped for noonbreak. 

Since we were on higher ground, I decide to test the Versa 2-Way VHF radio on selected frequencies for Cebu City, Alcoy, Dalaguete and Argao.  Both Jon and I possessed amateur radio station licenses, being members of Ham Radio Cebu.  Cloudy weather, distance and mountains forbid me to come in contact with these repeater stations.  The rest is a good thing for it made me appreciate this structure at closer range than the last time I passed by here.

Well rested, we leave Mohon at 13:00 in a cloud of light showers. The concrete road is in good condition as it weave its way among hills and pocket forests which, to my mind, contain an enormous number of avian species.  From a distance, you will see this same road climbing up through more elevations and it would probably deter you when you walk it in another time.  The wet weather brought by a Low Pressure Area might have helped us in overcoming this obstacle but you will feel the cold as you go higher.

We arrived too early at the place where we are supposed to spend our second night, at 14:10, but it is pointless to go on under this uncooperative weather to seek shelter on another place.  We will just have to take advantage of the friendship we made with a couple who owned a concrete house which is located just across the Vincent de Paul Hermitage.  It is convenient for us to honor the itinerary this time, just in time to see Miguel Aniñon grind ears of corn with a millstone, which I caught in video.

We spend the rest of the day unloading our things to dry it out, together with our bags.  The hammocks were dry and that is the most important thing.  We do not have to worry about the rain since we tied it on the concrete posts of an unfinished concrete structure where there is a roof, although without walls, and owned by the Aniñon Family.  The location of their house, together with the hermitage, are located on top of a peak and we are, nevertheless, exposed to the spray of raindrops and cold wind.  That night, strong gusts and heavy downpour brought by the storm pelted our camp. 

Distance Walked: 10.37 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 754 meters from a low of 538 meters

DAY THREE ::::: THE COLD CREPT INTO MY SIDES where the Therm-a-Rest had not clasped me as it gave way to weight of body inside a hammock which had become soggy from the intermittent spray of moisture.  It was like that for the rest of the night and, here, early in the morning of January 19, I begun to wiggle out of my discomfort zone.  Jon had already started cooking the rice and boiled water for coffee on our alcohol burners.  The skies were still in a dour mood and it was raining.  The things that we dried yesterday, remained moist.

Fr. Carlo Curacot of the Vincent de Paul Hermitage came to pay us a visit after breakfast and asked of how are we doing?  After a while, he sent us warm buttered pancakes and, finishing it, we set out on our journey to the north.  The ground was wet and slippery but we decide to go against common sense by taking a steep shortcut downhill to evade a long bend of concrete road. We realized it was difficult to stay erect following this trail, more like a suicide mission, but we survived this unscathed.

An unpaved road is nice but trails are better.  Only, the trails to our next destination are in short supply.  When there is a shortcut, we took it and, most often, it is so muddy and slippery.  We stop by a small house with so many family members at 09:50 on a boundary between Oslob and Ginatilan.  A matriarch, Damiana Cariño, 72 years old and bent to so much time working in the fields, talked about her predicament of never receiving cash allocated to senior citizens from both towns.  We advised her to focus on the town where she is registered as a voter.  That is where most local funding is based on, of small towns where politics are so divisive.

Another shortcut brought us to another stretch of unpaved road and a welcome sign says Manlum, Oslob and another says Cansaloay, Oslob.  Up ahead would be a shallow well fed by a natural spring.  It is a small marshy place and is one of the headwaters of the Laguinsan River which wind its way to the coasts of Oslob.  A trail goes up to a bald hill which goes up and up.  The rains had not abated, winds picked up strength as we gained elevation.  Fogs obliterate the landscape, making navigation a patchwork of guesses and tells.

Most of the time, I am caught off-balance by the force of the wind.  The Therm-a-Rest is slung across my shoulder to the front of my body and is the object of so much wind resistance so I have to clip it lee of the wind with my left arm.  Mt. Bandera would just be around there beyond my vision obscured by fogs.  As I go further, terrain which lay invisible begun to show its earthly appearance, blurry humps at first then in great details.

Now I am on the hump that is Mt. Bandera and we stop for a while to send out another propagation test to a repeater station of Ham Radio Cebu, found in the Babag Mountain Range of Cebu City, a distance of about 118-120 kilometers.  I am testing a Versa Duo VHF Radio, with stock antenna and 5 watts power.  The first stream of communications was received by station DY7EYN at 11:00 but was interrupted by bad weather and cut short.  The second one at 11:30 went out seamlessly and acknowledged by station 4F7MHZ.

Satisfied by the results of the worthiness of the Versa Duo in extreme weather conditions, we go down the trail towards Tigib Spring, another source of the Laguinsan River.  We arrive at 12:10 and enjoy our 50 minutes of noonbreak under the onslaught of streaming winds and whipping rain.  We munch on energy bar, biscuits, bread and mixed trail food.  I foraged ripe guavas and sliced it in halves with my Buck Classic 112 knife.

At exactly 13:00, we followed the trail that would join with an unpaved road, which would become one with a paved one, recently concreted.  This road goes on lazily uphill, twisting and bending forever towards the sky, passing by either at Malabuyoc or at Boljoon, again and again.  The good thing is the rain had abated for a while and there are no fogs to block your view ahead although the wind still ruled the higher elevations, especially at the most exposed areas.  At this stage, I informed both the Malabuyoc Police Station and the Boljoon Police Station of our presence in their area.

At a point where it is most elevated, the road begins to twist and bend downward.  Heavy rains have clogged up ditches with silt and pebbles, on some points, carrying whole culverts down the mountainside.  Landslides threaten a house below while cracks on elevated ground above roads is something you would not want to happen where people pass.  I have not seen one vehicle, not even the omnipresent motorcycles-for-hire.  But there is life here.  A boy rode the back of his carabao while a noisy party of intoxicated locals just came out from a house where there is a feast of some sort.

Schoolchildren walked their way home from school and some of them run at the sight of us.  Stories of child snatchers pervade everywhere and we fit the description of big bags to stuff children inside.  Cannot blame them for these places are indeed lonely which a newly-opened road could not change immediately.  In time, maybe they will get used to the sight of a backpacker.  I hope so.  The Thruhike opens you to different local cultures and different people who harbor different beliefs and, most of them, are talkative enough to tickle you with their simplicity.

By now, the road is eerily empty and silent.  I found a copse of mahogany trees which I have eyed before as a perfect camping site for hammocks.  It is now 15:30 and I do not know if we would get another opportunity to find a good place like this to camp up ahead.  This is perfect, although it is just ten meters away from the road.  It is slightly elevated, since we are at the shoulders of Mount Ablayan, and trees are growing near each other that could hide several shelters.  I got a light gray taffeta sheet and Jon has a brown laminated nylon sheet.  Both are of neutral colors and we are good in stealth camping.

Immediately, I tied the partly-moist hammock to separate trees to wick away moisture while I fixed over it my wet taffeta shelter.  Then I removed all the things inside the bag to let it all dry, carefully storing the food cache above the ground.  I fixed the drip lines at each end of the hammock in the event rain will come.  Set up my Trangia alcohol burner at a spot where I could comfortably sit, scratched the small ferro rod of an Advanced Pro Fire Starter over the alcohol fumes and a fire erupted.  So began my coffee moments.

I cooked the rice and then my first supply of spicy Korean noodles.  Jon seems satisfied with his shelter but there is something different in him today.  He looks fatigued.  Maybe the weight he carried.  His bag is bigger than mine.  We both expect an expedition type of activity but I carried things that are necessary even though some have redundancy in functions.  I even left my metal cup, preferring to savor coffee from the extra lid of my smallest pot.  The only extra luggage I have is a selfie stick.

But there is also something different with my feet today.  I felt a soreness at each base of my big toes.  Walking with wet unbroken shoes and new socks since Day One might have rubbed the skin of the big toes.  The pair of Jack Wolfskin fits just right but it would have been better if I broke it down for a few days before engaging on the Thruhike.  Same with the Lorpen cotton socks which were provided by Viajero Outdoor Centre at a special price.  We are still on the third day and I do not want some things putting a monkey wrench on the Thruhike.

In my mind’s blueprint, I would use the same socks and undershorts for four days and will change to new ones only on the fifth day and the eighth day afterward for this southern leg.  The Silangan Outdoor Equipment hiking pants and shirt would be worn without spares for the whole of the Thruhike.  I could only wash it, perhaps, in places where there is an abundant supply of water but that is just about it.  I cannot assure myself if I could take a bath nor brush my teeth.  I hanged my moist jersey, hike pants and wet socks for drying.

Despite our efforts to camp stealthily, I noticed schoolchildren running so fast on the road when they passed by near our campsite and then sneak a glance at our direction.  They have developed keen eyesight even at hours where everything stood gray and they could distinguish something that is not right.  I may fool a mainstream hiker but I cannot fool a mountain youth.  I toast my coffee lid, for want of a cup, to them.  There is light rain yet we enjoyed supper at 18:00, while there is still light.  Rain and wind lashed back its fury during the middle of the night but I am warm even half naked.

Distance Walked: 11.94 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 839 meters from a low of 359 meters

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Monday, May 1, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 1 (Liloan Point to Monteverde)

I WALK FROM MY HOME in downtown Cebu City to the Cebu South Bus Terminal at 03:00 of January 17, 2017.  Today is the start of the test Thruhike of the Cebu Highlands Trail or the CHT.  I do not know what would come out of the Thruhike starting from this lonely hike in the wee hours of an unfolding day.  My backpack is heavy but I am used with heavier loads before and I do not know how I would fare in a Thruhike since this is a different thing than just climbing a peak.  This is an exercise of epic proportions.

Yesterday morning, the Cebu Provincial Government, thru Mr. Boboi Costas and the Cebu Provincial Tourism Office, hosted a press conference and send-off for me and Jonathaniel Apurado at the Museo Sugbu.  Going there to witness this were JR Servano of Silangan Outdoor Equipment, Randy Salazar of Philippine Adventure Consultants, Gian Carlo Jubela and Sheila Mei Abellana of Adrenaline Romance, Jhurds and Zette Neo with son Jacob, and Justin Apurado of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.

That was a cheerful moment even if it was raining hard compared to the grim outlook that my mind is harboring right now on the empty streets.  I arrived at the terminal after 45 minutes and I waited for Jon, munching on bread paired with instant coffee.  Jon came in time at 04:00 and we boarded a Ceres Bus bound for Liloan, Santander.  I forced myself to sleep while in the bus but I could not.  My restive mind refused to be subdued and so I lost some precious hours of sleep which I surrendered after waking up more than two hours ago.

It is 07:25 when we dropped off the bus.  I am on stable ground looking across a beach and faraway Negros Oriental.  Above the far shoreline, the Cuernos de Negros Range is still shrouded in mist.  This is it.  Liloan Point.  Kilometer Zero.  Strewn on the beach are pebbles, debris and dead seashells.  I picked a piece of a small clam and placed it inside what space left in my bag.  Jon did likewise with the other half of another clam.  The rituals of the first moments of a long journey took us many minutes to observe.  Haste I want but haste could wait.  I would have that later to make amends to my itinerary.  Meanwhile, I sent a text message to the Santander Police Station, informing them of our presence and our hiking activity.

I focused my concentration on the paved road and the hike machine begun the first of its thousand steps.  From sea level to a grade of just three meters, I felt the effort of my muscles carry the weight of me and bag as the walking took us to a corner of the national highway.  A small eatery beckoned me and Jon for a meal and we took a light breakfast of fish soup and rice.  The meal was sufficient but we supplemented it with tablets of Enervon multivitamins and a natural Guarana extract from Herbalife.  I do not know how these would affect on our performance but that remains to be seen. 

I filled my two empty bottles half full.  If I filled it full, I would be carrying another two kilos of weight.  I took a peep at my schedule.  Noonbreak at Talisay, Samboan.  Campsite at Camburoy, Samboan.  Is this real?  I do not know but let me see if I could better these places with first day adrenaline.  The mild weather played well into my hike though but there is a Low Pressure Area spotted off the coasts of Surigao del Norte and it is approaching land.  Somewhere along the way rain had to be encountered.

Why did I choose January?  Okay, the Thruhike is programmed for 27 days and this journey would end in the middle of February.  In Cebu, January and February are the coldest months of the year when the amihan – the northeast monsoon – bring in the coolness of winter from Japan, China and Siberia into the equator.  It becomes colder still when spring starts to thaw the ice.  I am walking north and I will be facing the wind and the sun slightly at my back because of winter solstice.  I am using nature for my benefit.  Now you know.

I heaved the backpack and it creaked on the shoulder straps.  I let go a breath of air and cinched all the ladder locks tightly.  Jon and I are wearing new pairs of Jack Wolfskin trail shoes donated by Niño Paul Beriales and newly-minted CHT jerseys designed and provided for by Silangan Outdoor Equipment.  Darn it, we looked good!  My outfitter, also provided me a new pair of grey hiking pants which material is the same as that of my old pair.  I am in 7th Heaven in my appearance and nice-looking appearance translates into high morale and better performance.  That said, I will grow wings on my heels.  Bring it on!

We were here last September and it was easy to find the trail we used although the last time was downhill.  The ground is wet but not muddy.  It had rained for a week except yesterday and the day before that.  The traction is good except when you step on something hard and unwieldy.  We covered higher ground quickly as if we are men possessed.  We connect to a dirt road and the boundary marker that is known as Talisay, Samboan would not be far.  Time is 10:20 and too early for a noonbreak.

I am packing a GPS transmitter provided by Galileo Satellite Control System-Philippines.  It is about 300 grams and is powered by three lithium AA batteries.  It should be placed without obstacles overhead and so I have it attached above my 40-liter backpack with a piece of cord.  I have to untie two knots when I need something from inside my bag which were often and retie it back.  The GPS would track our hike and would be automatically recorded digitally in a cloud environment.  Aside that, we each were equipped by Versa Cebu with their Versa Duo VHF 2-way radios along with extra batteries and chargers.

We walked very fast on the first few kilometers and we decide to rest at a community called Inadlayan else we would experience a burn out.  Local folks were amazed at our quest to hike to the tip of Northern Cebu but I was more amazed at the cooling effect of a cold Sparkle on my thirsty throat.  We are now at Bunlan, Santander.  There should be a trail up ahead which we had taken last time only it was kind of tricky since we were washed out in thick mist during a storm.  We have to remember.

We did remember but I slipped on my toes and I found myself going down on my knees.  It was the action of a swaying backpack, filled to the full at its expandable pouch, that caused me a slight mistake.  A rock punctured the fabric of the pants and caused a scratch on my right knee.  I peeked at the knee and it was bleeding slightly.  No time to nurse a pain.  I got up slowly and proceed upon the height that refused me a minute ago and stared at another familiar ridge.  This time we know where we are going and we have to take a noonbreak.

It is exactly 12:00 when we reach Cabutongan Elementary School.  We are still in Santander but midday is warm even though it is cloudy.  My lunch are six pieces of Park N Go bread, two pieces of Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos, three pieces of Tiger crackers, half of the Fitbar and a handful of mixed nuts, chocolate, raisins and marshmallows.  A single tablet of Guarana extract is added later.  I have enough supply of all and I would not worry for I have planned the Thruhike carefully as if I am in a war campaign with a supply team tasked to replenish our food and fuel at rendezvous points up ahead on the CHT. 

I checked my knee.  The blood had caked but Jon insists treating it with betadine.  No harm done except for a microscopic breach on the fabric.  An hour of rest had given us enough time to replenish lost energy to the 3+ hours of hiking with loads.  At 13:10, we pursued the place dictated by the schedule as our campsite.  We passed by Camburoy, Samboan and chatted with a group of local folks.  We took advantage of this by refilling our water bottles.  Upon the insistence of one, I plucked thirty pieces of Indonesian pepper which I plan to plant in my garden when I reach Cebu City on the eleventh day.  Sent a text message to the Samboan Police Station so they could explain to anyone calling their attention of our presence

The winding dirt road is abandoned save for a few passing motorcycles.  Everyone are indoors listening to a popular drama series on AM radio: Handumanan sa Usa ka Awit.  It is better we passed by unnoticed than be beholden to stay still for a few precious minutes trying to explain the unexplainable intricacies of hiking through Cebu as a matter of respect for the locals even though they cannot comprehend very well of the magnitude of what you are doing.  You got to be nice all the time.  Show your best smile and greet everyone.  Talk more and the more they talk.

I follow the rough road.  It is long, going uphill all of the time, winding and twisting and you would have to retrieve memory when it passes by on junctions.  It is eerily silent and there are no more houses when we cross over to somewhere in Monteverde, Samboan.  The place is one where we should have taken our noonbreak for next day’s walk but, here we are, taking it by storm.  I think we grew some kind of wings on our feet.  I guess, the first day jitters and the capsules of multivitamins and Guarana ingested hours ago would have something to do with that.

We each carried a bottle of Enervon Multivitamins containing 30 capsules, courtesy of our Swiss benefactor, Markus Immer, and another bottle of Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana, containing 60 capsules, courtesy of the couple Mark and Mirasol Lepon.  Although I believed that supplements could improve performance but I was not an eager fan of that because of cost but, today, provided free, I began to notice a slight difference.  Maybe it is too early for presumptions or maybe it was just adrenaline, which is normal during first days.  Maybe.

We walked by memory and came upon the most wonderful sight which I expected to reach before the onset of dusk: the concrete water tanks of Kalinawan.  We arrived at 16:30 with plenty of light to pitch our shelters and hammocks and, the most important of all, plenty of water.  The trail is on an exposed ridge which lacked large trees.  What it have are shrubs and young trees down a slope.  I found a group of sturdy shrubs just perfect to host two hammocks and thick enough to hold the weight of a man. 

Just when we were about to start claiming the spot for our shelters, strong winds coming from the east begun to play on my taffeta sheet making my work on a shelter rather tricky.  Jon took much longer righting his as he struggled against the wind carrying his much lighter laminated nylon sheet off its anchors.  Maybe the LPA have hit land.  While Jon was in that predicament, I started the cooking of rice for our supper.  I am carrying the very efficient Trangia burner which is fed with denatured alcohol.  For that matter, I carried a liter of fuel.  I relish the moment with a drink from my supply of Energy Joss which lessened my body thirst caused by extreme exertions.

When the rice got cooked, I boiled water for coffee.  Jon soon boiled water for the first of his supply of three spicy Korean noodles.  It began to rain and the wind stalled a bit.  We ate in silence in dim light given off by our headlamps.  Outside of our range of light it was silent and dark.  Both of us were tired and an early rest is most welcome.  The wind had increased its intensity and so were the rain.  It was cold but I was dry and warm, thanks to the Therm-a-Rest which fits perfectly inside my hammock.  I do not know about Jon but I can see he was really tired.  He carried a heavy load some of it superfluous like a folding seat and an umbrella.  Beats my selfie stick.

Distance Walked: 16.67 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 548 meters from a low of 0 meters


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