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

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