Saturday, June 24, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 11 (Buot to Guadalupe)

I COULD NOT HAVE BEEN more happy today, January 27, 2017. It is because this is the day when I would put the southern leg of the Thruhike behind me. It is also home ground for me. Day Eleven promises to be something worth cherishing because, at the end of this day’s journey, I will be home. Who would not be? I aim to snare that two days rest incentive before proceeding on the northern leg. That two days rest would be good enough to check on the loose ends of my planning and preparations for the remainder of the Thruhike.

The two policemen from the Mabolo Police Station who have spent an overnight watch over us are leaving early to make their report to headquarters and to enjoy a well-deserved day off. I felt very grateful of this gesture and my thanks to them as well as to their superiors. Jonathaniel Apurado is making the breakfast soup as inviting as ever by adding shreds of spicy squid and cooking another fare of chorizo Bilbao. Washed it all with coffee and my last bottle of Yakult Cultured Milk.

After checking on my blisters, we packed our things as orderly as we had done many times before and made ready for downstairs to say thanks to the people of Buot, Cebu City, who had been a kind host for us. The sun had risen and warm but it is blotted out by Mount Samboryo and the Babag Mountain Range. We crossed the hanging bridge which spanned over the Bonbon River at 08:15 onto the other side. We follow a very very rough road until we reach a landmark and transferred to a trail.

We passed by a water source and filled full our water bottles. We will not cook meals anymore but we just want to ensure that we have adequate water to rehydrate. It is just insurance since I am planning of lightening up our loads by giving away our food along the way. The excitement of walking on my playground and of going home raised my adrenaline a bit and I have to control the mind lest I would break down midway. The trail goes up and up over places where you would not meet people.

I did meet people. A woman and his young son are going down to a school in Buot. The boy is already late for the morning session or maybe too early for the afternoon. Life to someone living on the hinterlands is really hard. The boy has to learn it the hard way, walking far to school and back to home, sometimes on an empty stomach. Most of the time, it rains, making it harder still to get that education. Some of these kids do not finish elementary and became what their parents were: marry young and rear many children.

Life is really unfair. We have these kids in the city pampered by their parents and who could not do things on their own. These kids took for granted electricity, tap water, instant food on the table, constant attention and good roads. They have the Internet and the malls to keep them entertained and allowance money to spend. I have a soft spot in my heart for folks living on the mountains. The Cebu Highlands Trail is designed to give them opportunity to meet people and tourists and nurture friendship and to widen their knowledge of the world that they do not know. This Thruhike is for them.

I am now over the obstacle called Mt. Samboryo and a saddle entices me to take a trail on a knife edge which do not appear to be one. Then there is a wide meadow where there is a lone house. The view is so breathtaking but my attention is only to a family living there. It seems the woman reared her three young girls all by herself. We left them our remaining food supply like rice, coffee, chocolate drinks, powdered juice, bread, biscuits, chorizo Bilbao, dried squids, Knorr soups, soy sauce, cooking oil, vinegar and our goodwill. My bag is strangely light now yet it really was charity and kindness which made it lighter.

She had remembered me from last December where me and some friends left chocolate bars and biscuits for her and her three girls so they will enjoy the spirit of Christmas, which is as alien as ET for folks like her who are in dire poverty. I know how it felt with an empty stomach everyday waiting for food to drop from out of the sky. In fact, she and her children were foraging for food among the deepest thickets when I came today. The woman was most grateful and my heart wept for I could do nothing more.

I am grateful too for Derek Manuel of Derek’s Classic Blade Exchange, Aljew Frasco of Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos, Atty. Jose Mari Gochanco of GV Tower Hotel, Lester Padriga, Juliet Molina, Adolfo Olmedo, Percival Espina, Atty. Bruce Ragas, Emerson Benoza, Gian Carlo Jubela and Sheila Mei Abellanosa of Adrenaline Romance, Wilma Rellora, Alvin John Osmeña, and the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, for opening up their purses so I could pursue this Thruhike with Doc Jon and to finance the food, fuel and other expenses needed. Without these fine gentlemen and ladies, I could not have shared something to our poorest brethren living in unimaginable circumstances.

This Thruhike, I began to discover, is an interesting and enriching experience. It is a pilgrimage of the heart and the spirit. My mind goes empty of worldly ideas and things and focuses only on the scenes at hand and on the people I met. There is so much to learn from what you see and hear along the route as much as people try to learn something from you. The silence of the hills is simply marvellous right at its wildest and emptiest stretches. This is what I experienced on the southern leg. The other half might be different or it might be more than that. I do not know but it remains to be seen soon.

The trail wove among hills and swidden farms until we came upon an experiment of man that was abandoned – a narrow rough road obliterated almost by rock falls. This road tries to wiggle its way to the other side of the mountain range but nature is, most of the time, a hard fellow to please. We follow it downhill, cross a stream that became wild just recently, walk more downhill and cross another stream. Across me is concrete pavement. I am now in a place called Bokawe, a part of Pamutan, Cebu City.

The endless rises of the road under the brunt of a sun approaching its highest zenith takes away your enthusiasm. I just place my concentration on the sound of my footfalls and take a quick peek every now and then of what goes ahead and around you. Dogs, as what we encountered before, do not like smelly and sweaty strangers. They barked with contempt at you and follow a few inches behind you until you could not take it anymore and feint to pick up a pebble and they would instantly leave you alone.

When I saw the last rise of the road, my last of the myriad of worries are almost over. It would all be downhill and easy. We arrive at a junction called Bagsakan, still a part of Pamutan, at exactly 12:00 and I called in rest. There is a store selling cold Sparkle and cooked food. I should have left my last energy bar to the girls if I know I could eat lunch here. We did not know that the village chairman of Pamutan, Ronaldo Labitad, was expecting us. It was not difficult for him to spot us. His guess was right: sweaty and smelly guys wearing blue CHT jerseys with big backpacks.

Just as were were talking with him, a policeman from the Guadalupe Police Station arrived on a motorcycle. PO1 Gerald Ytom knew me instantly the moment he laid eyes on me, not because I was the one they were assigned to watch over but because I was his superior when he was working with a security agency that I was tasked to oversee by the owners. He was happy to see me jobless now but I am most happy that he is now a public servant, a peacekeeper. I taught him well in my monthly meetings and that made a big difference. I am proud of his present standing in life.

At 13:00, we have to go down the road to Baksan, part of Sapangdaku, Cebu City. PO1 Ytom rode ahead of us and back and so forth. Other cops joined him when we reach Baksan at 14:30. By now, they could do nothing more as I will be switching on a trail that goes all the way to Guadalupe, Cebu City. Their motorcycles are only good on roads. The silence of the trails is most welcome again at hours were you would not meet people. Before doing that, I part away my trail mix of nuts, coated chocolates, marshmallows and raisins to a group of children and you should see their happy faces.

The trail is very much familiar to me. I discovered this in 2009 and I enjoyed its pristine solitude. It is a forest really but you would not know it because it is blocked by the Banawa Hills if you happen to be standing on any street of Metro Cebu. This part is very shady with many fruit-bearing trees growing. Today I saw no fruit but it have started to flower. The route goes out to a bare hill and passes a World War II tunnel and a steel power pylon before it goes down to a street.

We reach finally the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish at 15:40. I genuflected before the wide doors of the church and said my thanks to Providence. A few seconds after, Markus Immer of the Supply Team came with his Toyota Hilux to pick us up. First, we have to celebrate with toasts of the coldest beer. I missed the cold beer which I denied many times along the route where it was available. The first bottle became a second bottle and it is now late in the afternoon.

During the interim of our celebration, Doc Jon proposed to me to have photos of me and him right on the front steps of the Cebu Provincial Capitol, the seat of the Cebu Provincial Government. We have to wear again our sweaty CHT jerseys and the great backpacks and stood side by side a road marker which says “Kilometer 0” before a busy street where commuters look amused at our sweaty and burdened appearance. We have taken the southern leg and we are entitled to that two days rest.

Distance Walked: 13.7 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 571 meters and a low of 57 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Friday, June 16, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Days 9 and 10 (Mantalongon to Buot)

DAY NINE ::::: I WOKE UP TO A FIERY SUNRISE from the vantage of the upper level of the village hall that we stayed in last night. Jonathaniel Apurado was already up and he has regained his strength from the struggles of the early days of the Thruhike. He has adjusted to the rigors of the hike under adverse conditions as well as to the load he is carrying. I had begun to call him Doc Jon after he treated my feet blisters last night and, likely so, for today – January 25, 2017.

Day Eight was a longer day than the one before that and the comfort and rest we got here at Mantalongon, Barili was good enough to stave off the fatigue that went with it and revitalized our mood and enthusiasm for today. A breakfast of Knorr soup and rice tells me otherwise. The blisters on my toes are dressed up after the meal and the feet is housed in another pair of clean socks. In the old days, I used to encounter blisters on the insides of my thighs but I am wiser now. I wear elastic undershorts now and “de-salinize” it every night if I ever wear it for three straight days. Then I changed into a clean pair like today.

Walking with us today would be Willy Muit, the village councilor whom we met yesterday who was on the lookout of us. He would accompany us up to the boundary between Barili and Carcar City. Joining him is his fellow councilor, Jun Mag-usara, and a local peace officer, Glen Paras. Willy and Jun were in athletic attire. They walked fast by the time we hit the road at 08:10, nonchalant about the heavy bags we carried. We have to keep pace with them on the paved road. I sent a text message in advance to the Carcar City Police Station informing them of our presence, for very soon we would again be in their area.

We arrive at the boundary of Guadalupe, Carcar City but Willy and Jun enjoyed the morning exercise that it extended all the way to a place called Tapal, located in Valencia, Carcar City. By then, at 09:00, we are on our own. I walk by memory as the hike on nice paved roads begets nothing from me but uneasiness. It just does not fit being called a trail as in the Cebu Highlands Trail although it was a trail long ago. The weather is strangely warm with few clouds to shade us. We are now primed up by the swift pace we had with the village councilors early in the day that maintaining it was the best thing to do for, by 10:30, we are now at Buenavista, Carcar City.

We took our second rest here and doused the parched thirst with cold bottles of RC Cola. Our rests are also opportunities to talk with the locals and it helped to our cause. Their familiarity of their places are so valuable. Nevertheless, we have to proceed as the day is still long and our next night stopover would be quite far. I reviewed my itinerary and it says: Noonbreak at Buenavista, Carcar. Campsite at Tubod, San Fernando. It seems we arrived too early to enjoy a noonbreak at Buenavista. I would again tamper my itinerary and find a good place ahead for that well-deserved break.

We arrive at Calidngan, Carcar City at 11:30 but I saw a good shady area with a big log to sit upon. Nearby is a well where women wash clothes. It is a cool oasis under the brunt of a noontime sun. We took our Spartan lunch of four pieces Park N Go bread, a Fitbar and my trail mix of coated chocolates, different nuts, marshmallows and dried raisins. Popped in afterward a Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana capsule to keep me from drowsing. I have to wait the one hour to pass before we proceed to the next.

The road that we had been walking on once we left the concreted ones are a combination of asphalt and unpaved. The Jack Wolfskin shoes provided by Niño Paul Beriales worked very well in different conditions. It is very light and it dries quickly. After eight days of walking it had been properly broken but not after bruising my feet with a blister each. I am aware of that and it is properly dressed up. Once we reach the next night stopover, I would have it washed again by Doc Jon and smeared with calamine ointment.

The warmth is beginning to be felt. Moments like this gives a calm sea to a fisherman. I am shielding my face and head with a camouflaged sniper’s veil. I find the veil too versatile for a mere hat and I look good with it on photos. The dark sunglasses provided by Zue Fashion worked well on very glaring moments and protected my eyes from UV rays. The road goes up again and we saw once again two men carrying big cabinets on their backs whom we met yesterday at Bae, Sibonga. After a brief happy conversation, we passed by a beautiful rice field in a hidden valley. We are now entering the mountain boundary of Balungag, San Fernando. It is 13:12.

I crossed a spillway where a herd of swamp buffaloes are cooling on a water hole. I sent another text message for the San Fernando Police Station about our presence. Up ahead is a rustic view of a rough road with coconut palms lining it reminiscent of an old photo of Cebu I had seen that was taken in the 1930s. I am beginning to like it even though it is utterly warm. Nobody is in sight and that is better. Locals usually stay in their houses at this hour glued to their AM transistor radio listening to a popular drama series called Handumanan sa Usa ka Awit. Those that were not, are alarmed at our presence. Either they would ask us what are we selling or we get just get a hard stare.

When I saw a small chapel, I hastened my pace. I thought I am in Tubod, San Fernando this early at 13:30 and it would be a bonus for me since I could do a courtesy call and a long rest after that but I was wrong. I was still in Balungag. Nevertheless, we stopped to join a couple of locals enjoying an early afternoon recreation of drinking palm wine in a cool and shady part. We bought a jug of “tuba” for ourselves from Teresito Tangente and began to talk about a local work blade that he owns. It is called a “butetehon” and is made by a local blacksmith named Fredo Yangyang.

After sitting for 15 minutes, we decide to retrace our route and proceed to Tubod which we reach at 14:30. I do not like the reception I got today. I have bad memories of this place. It happened during the Segment II Exploration Hike in March 2012. There are still places here in Cebu which do not welcome outsiders as much as you would like them to embrace openness. When I made my itinerary, I cannot find a better place to stay during Day Nine except in Tubod. It has a good water source and has nice places to set up a campsite. It had also become familiar with me.

I was hoping that my meeting with municipal tourism officers in early January would enlighten people of our presence on the places where we would pass or stay. There was a breakdown of communication somewhere. My constant updates to the different stations were done to protect us, first and foremost, and to remove any suspicions of our presence. Of course, how could two people who walked for nine days across mountains and burdened by heavy loads and blistered feet threaten the peace and order situation of communities? It is like seeing the banana eating the monkey.

I have to change my itinerary pronto. I will go further along the route to look for that safe refuge. We left Tubod and follow the trail that I loved to call as the “Carabao Highway”, which would lead me to the boundary road of Pinamungahan and San Fernando. We arrive at the road at 15:30 and properly dished out a text message for the Pinamungahan Police Station. In the waning hours of the day, we doubled our pace down the trail to Sibago, Pinamungahan, churning kilometer after kilometer bound for Lamac, Pinamugahan. We reach it at exactly 17:45 but found the village hall already closed.

In dusk we walk up a steep road where the Hidden Valley Mountain Resort is located. I have cash prepared for any unforeseen event, thanks to my donors. We booked a room after a wait of a half hour. The facility has free WIFI and I enjoyed the liberty of updating our hike to friends, sponsors and followers. We have airconditioning but we toned it down to fan. We cook our food inside and eat a silent dinner. The stress was great for this day. This has got to be the longest day. I have not mentioned that I have developed blisters on both my shoulders when we were approaching San Fernando.

The blisters on both of my big toes are throbbing with pain as the old dressings are removed. It is smeared with calamine ointment. My shoulders are treated. On a soft warm bed, I wrote the day’s activity on my journal, as I had done in all the days, recording the times I sent messages to the police stations in every municipality we passed by. Same with the weather and places we stopped to rest which I sent to the base support team. I am tempted to take a bath but I saved it for tomorrow. The room starts to feel warm and Doc Jon flipped it forward to Low Cool. An early rest on a soft bed is the most sensible thing to do.

Distance Walked: 25.43 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 293 meters and a low of 57 meters

DAY TEN ::::: I TOOK A BATH FOR ONLY the second time on this southern leg of the Thruhike. I am fresh but sooner or later I would smell again like hell and get sweaty. I do not care. This IS the Thruhike! There is not much I can do for that but give a big smile and a wide berth. We checked out at 08:00 from the Hidden Valley Mountain Resort after a different breakfast of Japanese miso soup and rice. As every after breakfasts, capsules of multivitamins and Herbalife raw guarana extract are swallowed along with Yakult cultured milk. My blistered feet are swelling and I decide to have it covered with small adhesive plasters. It goes its painful cycle of healing.

We leave Lamac, Pinamungahan at 08:25 with heavy burdens and thinner pockets. The road took us higher and higher and on some stretches of scenic views until we were on the boundary of Bunga, Toledo City. We passed by Lake Poog and then the bigger Lake Bunga which is drained of water to accommodate rice farms. I stop by at 10:15 to see how Antonio Vergara is doing and to shoot a text message to the Toledo City Police Station. He was my guide on the Segment II Exploration Hike which we start from Lutopan, Toledo City to Mantalongon, Barili that ended at Mantayupan Falls, Barili in March 2012.

I learned that he suffered a mild stroke which made him slightly incapacitated. We decide to part to him our unused powdered turmeric tea and, for his grandchildren, baked products from Park N Go Bakeshop. He seems healthy than the last time I saw him. He is ecstatic to know that he had contributed something so grand like the Cebu Highlands Trail where it is realized now with this Thruhike. I would have loved to stay for the whole day to talk of the old days but time is too precious to me right now because of this piece of paper called the “itinerary”.

We arrive at the national highway that linked Toledo City with Naga City, cross it, and we are now at Don Andres Soriano, Toledo City, which was known formerly as Lutopan. It is very warm. Maybe because we are walking on concrete pavements or maybe that there are no trees to shade us on our late morning walk. Our food plan for this day is lunch with real food and we got it at exactly 12:00 from a stall vending food on the village plaza near a big gymnasium. The progressive village and the city of Toledo derived its income and its progress from a big copper mine operating here.

After a rest from the overwhelming warmth of a noontime sun, we proceed at 13:00 for Cantabaco, Toledo City and took rest at Lower Camp 8, Toledo City at 14:30. An old woman, who says she lived alone at Upper Camp 8, stopped by to ask us of what we are doing here? She must have been curious about our attractive CHT jerseys and our big bags. When she asked us for food, we were happy to part her our coins worth around 45 pesos. It brought her a big smile since she had not have a meal this day but she has to walk many kilometers to buy food at Lutopan and back to her home.

I am sad at the old woman. Life is hard when you are living alone and frail. After 20 minutes of rest, we proceed to Camp 7, Minglanilla and arrived there at 15:30 where I dished out a text message to their police station to let them know of our presence. We were now in a man-made forest when a group of young people came running after us. They surmised that we were the ones on a Thruhike and they have guessed well. Our CHT jerseys and backpacks were a dead giveaway and so were our smell. They are the young bureaucrats called the “Eco Warriors”, which is the pride and joy of Boboi Costas of the Cebu Provincial Tourism Office.

Their presence in Camp 7 were to study the flora and fauna here and it was just a coincidence that our paths crossed. A young woman did an impromptu interview of me while a male colleague of hers took a video. After that, all five of them had their photos taken together with me and Doc Jon. A motorcycle rider with full-faced helmet happened to pass by as we were posing before the camera and I had a reunion of sort with a classmate, Noe Rondina, whom I have not seen for some 20 years. Such coincidences glued our feet on one place while the minutes ticked by. I have to break from this impasse but, as all good things that went well, it flowed through its course seamlessly.

We arrived at the tri-boundary of Minglanilla, Talisay City and Cebu City and I had a cold Sparkle to douse the thirst caused by heat and stress and promptly sent off text messages to Cebu City’s tourism officer, Punky Oliverio, and its police headquarters. It is now 16:00 and too few daylight and government hours to make it to Buot, Cebu City. The paved road going there is on rolling terrain but, once we reach a place called Odlom, it would all be downhill and partly paved, which would help to our cause. Our pace hastened and it increased when it goes downhill on that almost abandoned road.

The road is cut off by a brisk creek but, once we are on the other side, the funny looking road beside the Bonbon River just tossed us later to the doorstep of their barangay hall. It is 17:55, almost an hour beyond official government hours but their office is still open. I half-believed we were expected but the staff has to go about the full details like counter checks, confirmations and several phone calls. I am supposed to be in home territory but I seemed to be the one speaking a different language. Or maybe them. I am tired and rest could wait until the green light glowed, which it did after almost an hour.

I thought I would finally see another banana eating the monkey but it was just a thought. It went well and we were assigned a room in the third level, with bathroom and running water. I would have loved to take a bath but, what the heck, tomorrow would be the last day of the Thruhike’s southern leg. The Thruhike will enjoy a temporary stopover once it reaches Guadalupe, Cebu City and we will also enjoy that two days rest promised to us by the itinerary. The room is wide but we preferred to sleep on the floor with our sleep pads.

Doc Jon cooked spicy Korean noodles while I made myself busy stirring an Extra Joss energy drink and catching faint cellular signals for my regular real-time uploads. Two policemen from the Mabolo Police Station arrived shortly to provide security for us. Mabolo is far away yet these cops travelled swiftly at short notice to fulfill their beat. This is unprecedented. I have not had experienced this special attention during the exploration hikes. We were simply left to our own wits then, even accosted when we were erroneously and maliciously reported as “armed and dangerous”.

But both the Cebu Provincial Police Office and the Cebu City Police Office, under their respective commanders, Sr. Supt. Eric Noble and Sr. Supt. Joel Doria, are serious in their commitment of ensuring our safety and the Thruhike’s success. They sent their people to check on us and that is good. I appreciate it very much. It gave us peace of mind and the legitimacy of our undertaking. I wished these good officers success and may they reach their respective stars in a shorter time than usual.

I failed in my photo uploads but I was able to sent text messages to my wife and my base support team. It seemed like a big burden have been taken off me, knowing that we are just a day away to reach the mid point of the Thruhike. We had been hiking for ten days straight and, by a stroke of fortune, we did not encounter difficulties, accidents and anything that might delay us. My plan worked so well even if I have to vulgarize my itinerary. Even when I suffered blisters on my big toes and on my shoulders. This is the first Thruhike of Cebu on a route that I have painstakingly explored for more than five years that became the Cebu Highlands Trail.

I touch the image of the Señor Santo Niño and made the sign of the cross as a sign of respect. The whole of Cebu honors the Holy Child Jesus every third Sunday of January and every able-bodied Roman Catholic goes on a pilgrimage to the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño to pay homage and ask blessings. I was not there. The preparations of the Thruhike had taken every attention of me and it is most intense when there were just a few days left. That was the time when my sponsors shared their graces for this Thruhike. He understands and I am in good hands.

Distance Walked: 24.95 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 507 meters and a low of 101 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Friday, June 9, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 8 (Mompeller to Mantalongon)

IT RAINED LAST NIGHT BUT it was just light and it saved me the trouble of a disturbed sleep. I thought I saw sunrise but shrugged at the sight and went back to sleep. Regained my senses at the sound of footsteps. Jonathaniel Apurado is busy this early. A pot of boiled water is ready for coffee with rice already cooked. I felt tiredness today, January 24, 2017. Must be the thought of the immensity of the Thruhike and, here we are, on its eighth day, barely making a dent, although we are now on the threshold of reaching the midpoint.

Yesterday was the longest stretch we walked. It was quite a departure from the days after Day One where we pampered our feet and enjoyed well-rested hours. I take note of things which made a Thruhike favorable for me and Jon. We are not young anymore yet we can outwalk anybody when challenged. Aggressive hike is good but it should not be done in a string of several days like most people do when chasing peaks. Their adrenaline rush dull them to dump everything for that perfect moment. These people are slaves to time, gobbling more than what they could chew. It is dangerous.

The Thruhike is not just about walking and moving forward. It is a cerebral activity as well. You consider many factors, seen and unseen. You have to be flexible and decisive when you are forced into an inconclusive corner. You do not think just for yourself but of your companion, the objective and everything that comes your way. Safety and security are given premium over everything associated with adrenaline. The Thruhike is an adventure moment all the time but we are not slave to time, even though we have schedules to observe, and of the brain, which sometimes release adrenaline for no apparent reason.

The itinerary is just a piece of paper. It is just a guide to keep an ordered observance of time but I could radically change it when I see a need like the first day and the yesterday. In between I gratify self with early arrivals and long rests. Would I be able to keep up with the pace of today with injured toes? I would have it treated later. It is a long stretch, maybe more than yesterday’s. I trust that we would, with our breakfast of rice, soup, chorizo Bilbao and coffee and supplements of multivitamins, Guarana and Yakult.

Before leaving, we visit Junnie Estimada whom we knew from last time. He is quite a fellow, intelligent despite his humble upbringing, had been to so many adventures when he was a younger man. He earned street smartness while working as a wash boy for a taxi company in Cebu City in the ‘60s and learned to drive one on his own. Later, he drove buses in Cebu and then in Mindanao. In Cotabato, he drove for a cargo company and was into the middle of many skirmishes during the MNLF secessionist war of the early ‘70s. He returned with his family here after retiring from his job at the Dole Pineapple Farm some fifteen years ago.

The Thruhike is about meeting local people who have stories of their own and this makes the Cebu Highlands Trail unique. Since Day One we have met many people and these interactions would be the main course of a future book about this Thruhike which I would someday write. Telling about them and their lives would give the CHT a different perspective, so different in a way, of how the usual long trails are viewed at. Here, in the CHT, there is more emphasis in showing kindness, patience, charity and love for, without such, you can never absorb acceptance.

We start Day Eight at 07:30 under mild weather with showers. We stuck to our northern course and soon came upon a very muddy part of an unpaved road. Motorcycles filled with passengers are in a quandary finding navigable furrows which would soon be flattened and widened by cargo trucks. Walking people are voicing out their displeasure at government for acting so slow. They requested us to post our pictures of this road condition in social media so something could be done immediately. Several stretches were turned into morass by trucks as it transfer from one highway into another highway.

The unpaved road that linked two highways wind about into breathtaking views of the wide lowlands of Dumanjug as we enter into Bae, Sibonga. Finding a good signal, I was able to notify the Sibonga Police Station of our Thruhike. The two solitary hills that we saw yesterday in Tulang, Argao are now in our midst. We reach another village of Papan, Sibonga before stepping on a paved highway that linked coastal Dumanjug to Sibonga coast. We followed it uphill going by way of the latter and soon come upon near a corner where there is a sign announcing that we are entering Manatad, Sibonga.

We entered another road, just a few meters walk, and another sign showing Libo, Sibonga. This is the place where we were supposed to be at yesterday. Saw an empty bench for a good place to rest and rehydrate from the almost two hours of non-stop walking. It offers an endless view of a beautiful valley. The weather is still mild and cloudy. We followed another road where there is another sign displaying Cagay, Sibonga and then another about Basak, Sibonga. The asphalt road is narrow with few vehicles using it like three-cylinder Suzuki light pickups but, most of the time, by motorcycles. This is another scenic stretch that gives value of the Thruhike.

We pursue our course to Basak and stop by a store to cool myself with a cold bottle of RC Cola. This is a common rural store that doubles itself as refilling stations for motorcycles. Part of what they sell is gasoline displayed in one-liter glass bottles of Coke. The owner is a peace officer of the village, Monico Iñigo, and he is busy loading his farm produce of bitter gourds and tomatoes into separate baskets so he could bring these to the town market. He asks of our ID cards and I gave him also my calling card for keeps as well as a CHT sticker.

The asphalt alternated with an unpaved one most of the way and it wind its way upward into lonely stretches. The weather is cloudy but mild. We cross into Candampas, Barili for a while before we found our feet walking again in Sibonga, The road passes by a community with beautiful gardens until we reach a place called Lamak, which is now part of Mayana, Barili. It is 12:10 and perfect time to observe noonbreak. We are now at the midpoint of Day Eight.

I munch on four pieces of Park N Go bread, three Tiger crackers, three Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos, a Nutribar and my mixed trail food of nuts, raisins, marshmallows and coated chocolates. These are paired with cold bottles of RC Cola. A Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana capsule is added to my simple lunch. Then I sent a text message for Barili Police Station informing them of my presence and my route. For the first time in the Thruhike, I lay on a bench, closed my eyes and pretend to sleep. The effort is good enough to freshen me after 30 minutes.

By 13:00, we proceed north and reach the boundary of Napo, Carcar City after an hour. I shoot another text message for Carcar City Police Station. The asphalt road goes about weaving a tight valley of strip farms, chalky cliffs and verdant hills and almost no houses. It is a lonely highway and the silence is only broken by just a few motorcycles. It goes down and up several times and I liked its solitude for it opens up the mind to accommodate many thoughts and enlightens the spirit. It also pushes the brain to block pain that are felt on the body.

This black road that goes through beautiful places is long and it goes through some parts of Guadalupe, Carcar City until communities appear and a school in a place called Hunob. I found the trail that will traverse the highlands of Carcar City and, later, would lead me to the Mantalongon Livestock Market in Barili. The day was warm but windy. Approaching Hunob, there was a light shower and it drenched me wet to my skin, including my socks which were nursing a blistered toe each.

I was walking in pain for the past three days but this day my shoulders felt a soreness that was felt after that light downpour in midafternoon. I tried to remedy that by shifting the placement of the shoulder straps of the bag which I had been doing so for sometime on the last five days. I think all my shoulder areas had been made tender by the stiffness of the bag’s shoulder pads. There was a flaw with its design which I first encountered during the exploration hikes in Segment VI, VII and VIII but it was not that irritating because these were just 3 to 5 days walk where weight diminishes by the day.

I would not mention the maker but I am exploring the idea of replacing it when I reach the halfway point of the Thruhike. The problem is I do not have the funds to procure a better one. What I have are the Silangan Predator Z, a Habagat Viajero, a Doldy VCS 30, a Lifeguard USA and a couple of army-issue duffel bags. All of these are either just too small to carry things for the Thruhike or are these designed for efficient organization of the items to be carried. I have another much bigger Habagat Venado II but it is already retired after 20 years of service.

My eyes betray the pain that I kept for so long but it is hidden by the dark sunglasses that was provided by Zue Fashion. We arrived at Mantalongon Livestock Market at 15:40. The honorable village councilor, Willy Muit, had been waiting for us and, once he spotted us, led us to their village hall. We were met by the honorable village chairperson, Ursula Daquil, and assigned us an upper room to use for our night’s stay. It was a tiring day but the people of Mantalongon made it sure that we were comfortable while we were in their place. Even personnel from the Barili Police Station arrived to give us support while documenting our presence with photos for their community relations program.

We have running water and bathroom for use and electricity to charge our batteries for Jon’s camera, my Lenovo A7000 smartphone, our Cherry Mobile U2 basic phones and our Versa Duo VHF radios. Although I have a Canon IXUS camera, the self-contained camera from the Lenovo A7000 would provide the images that I would send in real-time, or near it, in a social networking site for the benefit of our sponsors, friends and followers. The Cherry Mobile U2 is favored by members of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild, which we both belonged, because it floats on water at IP-6 rating and could function in any rugged conditions.

When not propagating signals, the Versa Duo VHF radio could function as an FM receiver and could provide us entertainment and relaxation when we are in urban billeting areas or in campsites. The rest inside the Mantalongon is most welcome. I would change my moist Kailas socks with that of an Under Armour socks for tomorrow. The base of each toe are not good to look at and demands immediate medical attention after our supper of Korean spicy noodles and rice. The skin on both left and right shoulders are red but there is no pain as pressure on skin surface is relieved by rest.

We were not able to cook our supply of food since a local peace officer decides to let us partake of food prepared for his daughter’s birthday. We appreciated this kind gesture very much for it changed our routine fare of spicy noodle soup every dinnertime. We will carry surplus food instead for tomorrow and it would be a long hike, perhaps much longer than what we hiked today. The blisters have been treated by Doc Jon with medical supplies from our own first aid kits. I felt a sense of security as I lay on the floor behind a big desk. Toned down MP3 music from my Cherry Mobile U2 brought me closer to Lady Starlight and after the third song I turned it off.

Distance Walked: 23.72 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 598 meters and a low of 162 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Thursday, June 1, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 7 (Balaas to Mompeller)

THE SIX DAYS OF THE THRUHIKE HAD transformed my body into a lean athlete of long ago that was almost forgotten in the recesses of my memory. The mirror on the wall did not tell a lie today, January 23, 2017. Was I happy? Of course, yes. Would that mean, I am happy of our daily diet of Knorr soups on breakfasts, baked products and energy bars during lunch and spicy Korean noodles for suppers? Yes. Breakfast of Knorr soups does not mean that I have the same one flavor everyday. There is chicken, beef, mushroom, asparagus, crab and corn. We simply add shreds of dried squid or dehydrated seaweed to enhance its taste if we find it too boring.

A capsule each of Enervon Multivitamin and Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana and, since Day Five, a bottle of Yakult Cultured Milk, complement breakfast and coffee. We just had our supplies replenished and we carried this load up and down the route yesterday to here in Balaas, Argao. These are supplies worth six days and today we would continue on our journey north until we reach Cebu City on Day Eleven. It is a long way there and there are still obstacles to overcome. The greatest of these is local acceptance of our presence.

The Cebu Highlands Trail is not just about dramatic scenery of mountains and valleys, of a healthy environment, and of self-ingratiation, but it is also about people. Remember that upland communities were isolated for many years until an obscure road opened them to many opportunities but, for lowlanders, especially living in the big city, these places are unknown. Those who frequent here came with their SUVs and these are seen as arrogant and aloof like rich landowners who came to collect what was theirs or politicians who promised better life or deceiving like carpetbaggers. New faces are treated with suspicions due to a bad memory of a failed experiment on peasant struggle.

It is a challenge for me to meet people who have bad memories and you have to be honest and sincere. A smile and a greeting does not convince them. You have to spend a few minutes with them. Talk is what they want and to learn new ideas and things outside of their place. Majority of them do not understand the idea of hiking, camping, backpacking and that sort of thing. They cannot understand why we are walking when we are supposed to be awash with cash since we live in a city? They would even offer to pay for our ride on a motorcycle so we would not suffer walking under the brunt of the sun hefting a big bag. Would you not love to meet these people and make life so simple? Here they are, on the route of the Thruhike.

As much as I love these beautiful moments of local interaction, it is sometimes annoying when they mistook you for a travelling vendor of goods. A lot of them would innocently ask what you are selling or would wonder what is inside your bag? It is not confined in one place but it is everywhere since Day One. I could not blame them. I am carrying my Therm-a-Rest in a rolled bundle across my front with the label of the plastic sleeve still new. Then in one hand, I am carrying a plastic bag with bread, Yakult bottles and the antenna of the Versa Duo radio protruding. The only lowlanders who visit here on foot are sweaty vendors which fit our description.

What makes people accept us is translated better by giving them something valuable. No it is not money nor expensive things. It is something that they will keep and would give them an income although a few minutes of honest conversation made them smile. I am talking about my 30 pieces of Indonesian pepper given to me by a local in Camburoy, Samboan during Day One. This variety grows into a shrub and would last long than an ordinary pepper and can be used as an ornamental plant to decorate your lawn since the fruits are bigger and looked like Christmas light bulbs. I am practicing the new gospel of “pepper diplomacy” which elicit a laughter from Jonathaniel Apurado.

After thanking Hon. Ricardo Gonzaga and the people of Balaas, we begun our journey to the next destination. It is 08:10, a sunny morning but still mild. Soon it would be warmer. We doubled our pace since we will be going extra to Libo, Sibonga. Our early arrivals of the past three days in Nug-as, Alcoy; in Mantalongon, Dalaguete; and in Balaas were a necessity, to prepare ourselves for this day. I do not know if we could accomplish this but I know I have a safe card, in case I fall short. Planning a Thruhike is not easy. I planned this like I am engaging in a war campaign. Trust me, I am good at this.

I have accomplished 22 percent of the Thruhike and we are inching towards the halfway point in Cebu City, that thing in the itinerary called Day Eleven. Today is the seventh day and tomorrow will be the eighth. I had recorded all the places, the dates and times, the people we met, the weather, the meals and other prominent events in my journal after every supper. I have crashed the items found on the itinerary and on the food plan when we got past the places and made some necessary corrections when I changed the order of things.

I packed in an extra SD card and an extra battery for my Canon IXUS to make my photo documentation uninterrupted. I have a charger set for my Lenovo A7000 smartphone so I can give uninterrupted real-time, or near it, uploads of photos which are essential so I could update my sponsors, followers, friends and my wife. I have also a separate charger set for my Cherry Mobile U2 basic phone to give our updates to the police stations, my wife and our base support team. To ensure the phones’ continuous power in case electricity is scarce, I carried two power banks for such emergencies.

The road is unpaved, passing by Linut-od, Argao, with upland rice terraces appearing from beyond the edge of the road and seemed almost endless. The farms are fed by irrigation coursed through natural springs coming from a source above us. Cebu is fortunate to have such rice farms located in upland areas like Argao, terrain difficult enough from being converted into a cockfight arena and other uses like one whimsical local government unit is doing to its valuable self-irrigated agricultural lands. I could not just understand why?

I arrived at a landmark in Butong, Argao where there is an ancient sacred fig tree growing. I could not determine its age but it is estimated to be around 600 years old. Behind it is a natural spring which fed a concrete tank filled with clear bluish water. The overflow from the tank fed more rice terraces, more than the eye could see. A local once told me almost two years ago when I passed by here that this was where most prominent families in Argao and neighboring towns hid during World War II.

Walking among the highlands of Argao under cloudy skies is wonderful. The road passed by lonely stretches yet so picturesque and rustic until we come upon a crossroad where three roads connect at a place called Bayabas, a part of Cansuje, Argao. There is a public market nearby and there are stores and small restaurants. But it is still 10:30, too early to take a noonbreak. As I was taking photo of a man splitting logs with an axe, an old local asked me of what wares I am vending. Smiling at that expected question, it becomes a duty to update Joven Heyrozaga of our activity when answers beget more questions.

Finally, seeing the good purpose of our walk and learning that I have had a meeting with one of their distinguished sons – the Honorable Governor Hilario P. Davide III – before I embarked on the Thruhike, it becomes moot and academic. The furrows became a beautiful smile, friendly and helpful as he sees a picture of me and the governor in a photo saved in my Lenovo A7000. We went on our way, our hearts ever emboldened, by the show of goodwill. The footfalls becomes light, we sped from one scenic stretch to another until our time told us that it is time to call a noonbreak.

We halt at a junction in Alumbijud, Argao. The village is famous for the baskets woven from the stems of the red finger fern or “nito”. Their best weaver is an octogenarian and it is a dying craft. I saw a local woman, pushing up and down the lever of an artesian well many times to force water up a spout and into her pail. It is already 12:00 and the spot is perfect. The woman is Flavia Algones. She goes to Cebu City every Wednesday afternoon to sell her farm produce at Manalili Street during night and returns home every Thursday. She is washing her clothes today in preparation for that.

After an hour, we bade goodbye to her and hiked up a road where, when reaching its pinnacle, we were rewarded with a marvelous view of a wide plain shared by the neighboring towns of Ronda and Dumanjug. Across this low valley is Sibonga and its prominent Tres Sierras Range. From where I stood, it looked very far and almost impossible to reach with just less than four hours of government daylight hours. I do not know but I have to try. It is all downhill now and I know we will be passing by the villages of Tulang, Anahaw and Mompeller, all in Argao, before crossing into Sibonga.

The distance was just too great and we arrived at Mompeller at 15:00. Although, I still have enough time to cross over to Sibonga but I would not force the issue this time. I have to be realistic. I do not want to overstretch ourselves to work beyond what we are used to. We have heavy cargoes and I may have to concede a slight setback to save the Thruhike. I realized I have erred in my itinerary this time. I have underestimated the distance. It caused blisters on both toes. I will let ourselves be rested early so we will live to fight another day.

It took me a day to cross Argao from one end – in Balaas, to its other end in Mompeller today, just like the Segment III Exploration Hike I did in February 2015, only it was done in reverse. The honorable barangay chairperson, Evangeline Sarsauga, did not expect us to make a night stopover here in her village but she learned beforehand of our Thruhike from their tourism officer, whom I have briefed in early January together with those coming from other municipalities at the Museo Sugbu. She and her staff were very helpful.

We were welcomed and accommodated in the same unfinished structure we slept in two years ago. We procured a 5-gallon bottle of drinking water from a water distributor nearby for our hydration and cooking needs. Jon cooked spicy noodles with a sprinkling of horse radish and shreds of spicy squid and complemented the soup with fried slices of chorizo Bilbao. There are no cellular phone signals but there is a local FM station broadcasting a few Cebuano songs in between long commercial breaks.

Mompeller is agriculture economy as is most of the other villages of Argao, which in itself is the “Rice Granary of Cebu”. Nowhere else in the Province of Cebu, that I see so much land dedicated for the planting of rice except in Argao. It lined the Salug River, following the gentle contours of the valleys. The name Mompeller, might have came from the original spelling of Montpelier, which is French in origin and quite so sophisticated to pronounce for a thick Cebuano tongue that it metamorphosed into its present form.

The village is silent as we ate supper. The highway that traverse over the mountains between Ronda and Argao is dimly lighted. Towards the coastline, a bulge of clouds were lit up by flashes of lightning announcing its ominous presence. The night is cool. I lay on the concrete floor but my Therm-a-Rest pad made it comfortable. Thank you Michael Schwarz for providing comfort for my Thruhike. There was no unexpected arrival of people like the last time and we were glad it did not came. We are prepared for tomorrow.

Distance Walked: 17.61 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 703 meters and a low of 286 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer