Wednesday, July 26, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 15 (Ginatilan to Lawaan)

IT WAS COLD LAST NIGHT. Breeze kept blowing through the iron grills that is part of the wall of the storage house where we slept in. This community in Ginatilan, Balamban begins to stir to life in the early morning. Today is February 2, 2017 and, any hour from now, we will start Day Fifteen of our Thruhike. Coffee smells good as I stirred its powdery contents into hot water. Jonathaniel Apurado, as usual, cooks the rice and Knorr soup which begins to lose its appetizing mien on me. Capsules of multivitamins and natural raw Guarana completes our breakfast.

Residents came to know more about us after studying our vinyl banner tied on to the storage house announcing our activity. Located in the most remote part of Balamban, this community is nestled deep in the valley but is now accessible by a newly opened road. It once was the center of the village and engaged in commerce directly with Cebu City through the unpredictable Lusaran River until they transferred the seat of governance up a hill for better accessibility. The name of Ginatilan, I suspect, came from the Cebuano word “kinati-ilan”, meaning “at the lowest spot”.

Deprived of a bath for three days, I am still fresh and comfortable. A good night’s sleep sure helped a lot. The blisters on my feet are now history. The Hi-Tec Lima shoes mothered the affected part well. I have changed into a fresh pair of Kailas socks as well as a fresh pair of Accel elastic undershorts. The load inside my High Sierra Titan backpack is getting lighter and it helped a bit as we still have rugged terrain to hike up and down to.

Although I have explored these places in 2015, I cannot assure myself that I would be walking on the same trails again. I did not explore it with the benefit of a modern gadget like a GPS. I did it with dead reckoning most of the time and only once did I use a map and compass to check on my location when I found the website-sourced maps completely inaccurate when it came to placing names. A GPS transmitter is provided in this Thruhike by Galileo Satellite Control System Philippines so it could track our progress and save these in a cloud environment.

Right now, I will be walking on sheer memory, the product of the oddities of traditional navigation. After saying our thanks and bidding farewell at 08:10, we follow an unpaved road that goes down to the banks of the Lusaran River. This river is the second biggest river system in the island of Cebu. It has many headwaters, some of whom cascade down as barriers between local government units like between Cebu City and Balamban and Asturias.

The water level is at thigh level at its middle while current is moderate but it could carry you far downstream if you lose balance. Saw two boys ahead of us nimbly tiptoeing on concrete footpaths but once they were on water, they know where to place foot. I followed where they stepped at and I went easy on the other side. Jon struggled midstream as he failed to study the boys and almost tumbled over. He reached on the pebbly shore safely.

We stayed for a while to dry our feet. A man came over asking a question which turned into a conversation. He is a typical farmer, unkempt and unassuming, but beneath that rugged veneer, he is none other than the legal son of the late Sgt. Dionisio Calvo Rojas of the former 38th PC Company. It may not ring a bell to you but his father saw action in the Korean War as a member of the 10th Battalion Combat Team and came back home alive. He is the son of a hero and I reach out my hand as my sign of respect and shook his.

Our BCTs sent to Korea under the command of the United Nations did our country proud. I came to know them when I had the privilege of listening to three veterans talking among themselves many years ago. Your pride would swell when you learned how these guys from the 10th, the 14th and the 18th would stand on their ground on the trenches when other UN units abandoned theirs in the face of overwhelming odds, even in the dead of winter.

They would inflict heavy casualties against the North Koreans and the Chinese in close combat warfare. It simply is amazing since we do not have winter here and I could not imagine how our guys adapt quickly to that semi-arctic environment they are in but, they said, they learned painful lessons when they failed to wear mittens while touching metallic objects such as a spoon or a trigger. Chocolates, thick trench coats and PX goods made their life better there and raised their morale.

His is a sad tale though. His father remarried and sired many sons from other women. Deprived of support, he was forced to stop his studies and worked on odd jobs which took him to even as far as Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. His mother is still alive, old and frail, and he needs help so her mother could avail of the survivor’s pension due her as the legal wife of a veteran. Here, in the most remote part of Cebu, of all places, I met the son of a hero.

The tale he spoke about his father’s service to country and the sad chapter after that moved me to put it in print here. As I have posted before, the CHT is not just about ecstasy of landscapes and adrenaline rushes, it is about people. People who have tales to tell. People who are hungry of news of the world beyond their places. People who are positive of improving their lives and grounded on their faith that someday they will be delivered from poverty.

We are now in the side of Asturias town. This is their farthest and their most remote part. We are in the village of Kaluwangan II. After crossing another stream, I am on to drier ground. There is a path and there is a school nearby. I pursue the trail up a mountain. It is always ascending and I looked back and relished at the beauty of the Lusaran River as seen from my vantage point. The river bent along the foothills creating deep pools almost oxbow-lake like.

I am not following the old path that I took two years ago but is in the midst of a new one where I thought would bring me direct to Uling Ridge. This is a small mountain range but it is formidable just the same. Not far away would be the Garces Homestead. I am told that today is the birthday of Candelario Garces and so have prepared something modest for him, his wife and his grandchildren. Actually, it is just surplus food that I carried for emergencies. Anyway, we will get a resupply once we reach Lawaan, Danao City.

The trail I am following goes into a cassava plot which was recently harvested, depriving us of handholds for balance. On the other side is the sheer drop of a steep slope without any vegetation to stop a roll. A careless slip would send you down tumbling a long ways. When you are into these situations, your senses and attention peaked a notch and you went carefully. The trail passes by a very small community of three houses. At this point, I sent a text message to the Asturias Police Station informing them if our presence.

Candelario is there and I greet him a happy birthday. He smiled but he seems to be sad. He is mourning the death of a grandson who was murdered in Cabasiangan, Balamban a month ago. I was saddened at the news since his late grandson was just a boy, still in his teens. Who would do such bad things to a teenager? These places we are trodding upon is still a semi-lawless region where scores are settled in violence. I gave him my gifts. In return, we refilled our water bottles.

He is alone as his wife is out there in the fields tending their farm plots while his other grandchildren are in school. His house is located near the peak. I was wondering if there is a name given for that peak? If there is none, then I will exercise my privilege of giving it a name being the first outdoorsman who explored this area. Why not Garces Peak? I dare say it is quite appropriate, is it not?

From here, I propagated VHF signals for the direction of the Babag Mountain Range in Cebu City, but it failed. Instead, I redirect my transmission to the coastline and I got a reply this time from an amateur radio station, 4F7MHZ. What amuses me is that I sent it in simplex VHF and the remote station received my signals in duplex UHF. I just cannot explain why? By the way, I am using and testing a Versa Duo VHF transceiver, at 5 watts power, loaned to me by Tech1 Corporation.

Before leaving, Candelario parted some of his prepared food for his birthday to us. These are two pieces from the free-rein chicken cooked in estofado and wrapped inside a small plastic that used to store cookies. How touching. My heart wept at his kind gesture. He has less in life but he still gave. He is an old man and frail. He goes to his farm on a horse because his lungs cannot endure walking on even moderate distances. He suffered incarceration in the past by a miscarriage of justice but that is another story.

We go down Garces Peak into a long route that passes by into more remote places. Unbelievably, a small house exists here and, further on, a bigger house where there is a woman weaving natural fibers on an ancient loom. We cross a small stream and debated on which route we would take when we faced a fork on a trail. I opt the more beaten one and I was rewarded by my guess when I met a mother and her son going home to Ginatilan from Danao City.

My eyes now fixed on the trail and on the landmarks ahead, it was not difficult anymore. We come upon a ridge overlooking a stream. On the other side would be Danao City and there is an activity on the stream. Under the shade of Mexican lilac trees, I watched the stream while munching on our noontime specialty of Nutribar and our trail food mix of peanuts, coated chocolates, marshmallows and raisins. Water does the rest of bloating it. Popped in another Guarana extract and then I chased sleep in humid temperatures.

We go down the mountain and into the bank of a stream. A father and his son are catching fish by hand using stones and barriers to trap these in small pools. Ingenious. So bushcrafty. So much to my liking. I practice bushcraft and championed this as a better outdoors activity over those that imitate Western culture or that relies so much on expensive gear, clothing and equipment. Bushcraft is a realistic activity that fits well in austere environments like mountains and jungles.

We cross this unnamed stream that drains into the bigger Lusaran River on the map. It is smaller but it is wilder and so was harder to walk across. There is a dangerous trail over on the other side, whose surface had been gnawed away by water, undermining rocks to precarious situations. Once we got past it, the path goes up and up. It is very warm. I do not know why, perhaps, there might be rain later. I see an electric post on top of a hill and it becomes my reference. Perhaps too, there might be a road or a community.

There is a house and another one and a good trail over the side of a hill and, ultimately, a paved road. On one side of this road is the village of Sacsac, Danao City, while on the other side would be Lawaan. We stop by a small store to rehydrate. There are cold bottles of RC Cola and I opened it with my Victorinox Ranger. It is good to just sit down and enjoy the shaded bamboo bench after a hard day of walking on rugged terrain. The rest allowed me to inform the Danao City Police Station of our activity.

The route we took is the same one used by residents of Ginatilan pushing their farm produce to the markets of Danao City and bringing home their weekly needs. Thankfully, our loads are light now as we used up most of our food and fuel. The concrete hardtop is unkind to feet as it goes on its rolling progress. We finally reach the edge of the village of Lawaan, passing by a school then the San Isidro Labrador Parish and, finally, the village hall at 15:35.

Village officials led by Hon. Pilarino Monte and Hon. Shirley Ramos, welcomed us to Lawaan and ushered us to our billeting place. After 15 minutes, our supply team arrived early on board the Toyota Hilux pickup driven by Swiss Markus Immer. Coming with him are Ernie Salomon, the couple Mark and Mirasol Lepon, Aaron Binoya and Justin Apurado. They got lots of Park N Go bread and baked products and 20 bottles Yakult Cultured Milk.

The people of Lawaan treated us all to a dinner of free-rein chicken soup and we were so much indebted to their kind gesture. They have given the upper floor of their village hall for our use. Markus and the rest left us when the rains fell, but Justin and the Lepon couple stayed. They would walk with us starting tomorrow to as far as to where their vacant schedules allow. Indeed. Tomorrow would be another hard day but it would be a very complicated trail, slippery and dangerous.

Distance Walked: 8.35 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 554 meters and a low of 107 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Friday, July 21, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 14 (Mount Manunggal to Ginatilan)

SPIDERS ARE EVERYWHERE AND I have to rise up earlier than usual. Jonathaniel Apurado have been searching for these in the half-light when night gave in to morning. The comfort and warmth that the Therm-a-Rest provided me during my sleep was unbelievable. I know because I was here without one and I was deprived of sleep that time. Thank you Michael Schwarz. Anyhow, the Therm-a-Rest would not protect me from the bite of a hairy wolf spider. Today is February 1, 2017.

I do not have a fear of spiders like most people I know even though I have experienced its painful bite. I just drowned a black one on the sink today. I shake my shoes and clothes before wearing it. You can not be too sure. I retrieve a Blend 45 Barako sachet and disemboweled its contents on my secondary pot lid which I used as a cup, then I poured hot water. Ah, coffee, in the interim before breakfast on a cold morning is most welcome. Jon is busy cooking rice and the Knorr soup. Soon we would have a meal.

The blisters on my toes are getting better. The much roomy Hi-Tec Lima shoes may have to do with that. Just a year ago, this pair was provided by the Lavilles Family of Australia for my adventures. They simply enjoyed what I do and it makes them connect to the old country. Even so, the wear and tear of my weekend activities and the exploration hikes of the last three segments of the Cebu Highlands Trail last year have taken its toll on the shoes when the adhesive material that gripped the rubber sole with the upper nubuck leather gave away. I simply have it sewn by a cobbler.

The new Lorpen hiking socks may also have contributed to the healing. Four pairs were provided by Viajero Outdoor Center of Cagayan de Oro City at a special price where it is divided between Jon and me at two pairs each. It is thick and gave comfort to my injured feet. These same pairs were used during the southern leg of the Cebu Highlands Trail. I have worn my first pair since Day Twelve and today would be its last day.

At 08:45, we start our journey for Day Fourteen. Yesterday and the day before that were eye openers of how difficult the northern leg would be. Two physical obstacles removed from the Thruhike. Today, I would face another obstacle. It would not be the difficult terrain. It would be people. During my Segment IV Exploration Hike in October 2015, I and Jon’s son, Justin, were subjected to interrogation in one of the villages here, by their officials who were under the influence of alcoholic drinks.

We were denied sleep in their village hall when we requested that, we were able to find ways and so finished our exploration. Today, I hope, they would not be tipsy when we meet again. This part of Balamban, beyond the tourist circuits of Mt. Manunggal, Mt. Mauyog and Gaas, are places where a stranger is bound to suspicion. People here have bad memories of experimenting in a foreign ideology many years ago. Although times have changed, the memories are painful.

This part of Balamban has a lot of wide open spaces, very scenic, and it would be a waste if it should be off-limits to tourism. The populace could gain from local and foreign tourists visiting their local attractions. There are many here starting from the hole on the hill at Sunog, Balamban where there is a trail beyond. We were about to take the trail when somebody familiar took our attention. She was the woman last night who awoke from sleep and told us the trail to Mt. Manunggal.

Her name is Belen Corbo. She has a farm planted with ginger somewhere along this trail we are about to take. She would be harvesting some of it and she is waiting for her husband. Jon gave her a small pack of Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos after she said that she had not taken breakfast yet. There had been an attempt to make this trail a road but, nature claimed it back. Landslides caused by rains make it impassable to motorcycles. Even foot traffic have a hard time.

The soil is red and loamy clay. It is soft and stores water. Running water on its surface have scarred it. Try paving it and you waste money. This cannot be tamed easily. A dog followed us as we follow this beautiful trail into forests. Sometimes it overtook us when it smells something unusual up ahead. The trail wove like a ribbon among hills and cross small streams with running water. Traces of animal droppings, tamed and wild, compete my attention. You can spot a dog easily because it has plastic.

The weather is mild with a bit of sunshine alternating with passing clouds. The terrain is rolling and the dog seemed to like our company although we did not gave it something to eat. I simply discourage that. It is not unkindness to dogs, I just do not like dogs change their eating habits. It should be with the ones who regularly feed them and not with strangers. Anyway, walking with a dog who is not afraid of other humans is reassuring enough. Like building up a phony feeling that you are from here.

I do not know the names of these places while walking this trail for there simply are no locals to ask. I just presume that this high peak is Mt. Matun-og for it is very imposing and gives an impression that it is in league with Mt. Manunggal. Beyond this mountain is a scenery that you would not see anywhere else in Cebu. Right before you is a vast land with endless mountains to the north as far as the eye could see. Unlike other mountaintops, you would not see any semblance of the sea from here.

Across me, sitting squarely on a small mountain range, is the village of Matun-og, Balamban. I would not be going there. The trail became an unpaved road starting from where I stood to inhale the majesty of the vast scene. We take a short rest here, just to regain strength by rehydrating and then munch on my trail food of mixed nuts, marshmallows, coated chocolates and raisins. We will be going to Cabasiangan, Balamban. It would be more empty spaces. God simply forgot to put people here.

The dog, if I leave it at its whim, would be a long way from its master. We need to part from each other. Forcefully if that need be. It ignored me many times everytime I shooed it away. It pretended to run away but, when you are not looking, it sneaks silently until you notice its presence again. With a good-sized pebble thrown at 20 meters, I hit its rib and it ran away yapping. We proceed on our journey. I look back and the dog is wiser now. It had simply lost its appetite.

The unpaved road is not the same one that I walked last time. It had lost its right to be called one. The rains have made this unusable. I do not see a motorcycle for many hours now. The landscape is so silent save for the sounds made by our shoes and our breathing. Movement is limited only to grazing animals and tall grasses dancing before the breeze. The road wove in and warped, most of the time, with a deep furrow on the middle.

The hills have markers on top indicating that this vast place is part of the Central Cebu Protected Landscape. It is reserved as timberland but I see no timber. Some of it are farmed but a lot of it are just open spaces, meadows and bald hills. However, in deep valleys, trees have choked these forbidding spaces. I see a few houses but, most of it are abandoned by their occupants who, I believe, would be toiling on the fields or, if they be children, inside classrooms.

I have to thank the very cooperative skies for it gave us good weather. Remember this is open country without forest cover. We arrive at a crossroad where there is a store. It is 12:00 already and just about perfect to spend noonbreak. The village official who interrogated me more than a year ago is here. He is not drunk this time. There is gambling right under his nose. One is the card while the other is the coin-toss. It seems he maintains a small racket.

Me and Jon just rest under a tractor shed, eating our meal of Fitbar, crackers and the trail mix paired with cold Mirinda. We are now in Cabasiangan. This rough road will lead us to it. The other end of the road will lead to Lusaran, Cebu City. We just spend thirty minutes here, for the itinerary says that we would have to camp at Ginatilan, Balamban. We just want to be there before dusk sets in. We need to be there during official government hours. This is a different place and you need to play safe.

The last two days found us sleeping without the benefit of calling on village officials. This time we would. I will make it sure that we would, at the earliest time possible. Noon times are moments when you see nobody, except a few. But I noticed old people resting under the shades of Mexican lilac trees. They were four of them, two old couples. They were smiling not because they were happy. They were smiling because they find us odd walking with big burdens upon our backs at the unholiest of hours. Why are we walking? They would ask. Gave them our honest answers as we stayed for a few seconds with them.

Pushing on, we overtook a group of more senior citizens. We found out on this one group that they would be receiving a government stipend allotted for older people aged 60 and above. Somebody from the municipal government would be coming over to distribute cash for them at the village hall of Cabasiangan. We arrive there and the village head is calling in a session. The one who interrogated me last time introduced me to their chairman.

There is a bulge of rainclouds coming from the direction of the coastline and it is beginning to threaten the good mood of the day. I hope those senior citizens would get here in time before the belly of the clouds open up. On our part, we did not stay long. We proceed to another unpaved road that goes up a mountain. The moments before the rain comes, are moments that are quite so welcome. A gush of cold wind turns the air around us instantly cold and then the single drops of water spaced far among each other came.

I brought out the rain fly to shield my High Sierra Titan bag while Jon unleashed his own rain fly, his poncho and his magic umbrella. The Trailhawk who disdains wearing a raincoat meets the dry Saint. The rain with all its might and volume for that day washes away my smell and my optimism. Although I have complete trust of the quick-drying qualities of my Silangan hike pants and CHT jersey, the bottom of where rainwater spills down is where I most worry of. I am talking about my shoes and socks and the blisters that are still tender.

Slowly, I climb up a mountain which seems to have no end until I reach a public school. We are now in the village of Ginatilan and, further down the path, would be the village hall. We arrive there at 14:30 to the beat of the Sinulog that was performed by a group of schoolchildren practicing for a town festival. I introduced myself to the village chairman, Hon. Eva Villamor. I asked her if we could spend a night in their village and I went into the matter of explaining the CHT and the Thruhike. I seem to favor the old village hall down the place where the road end by the banks of the Lusaran River.

I immediately got her approval and a glass pitcher of cold water. I am wet. The weather is cool but I am thirsty. The presence of cold water in this far land during a Thruhike is a rare opportunity that do not come often. Thank you very much. When we got our fill, we continue on our journey down a paved road to the former seat of Ginatilan, which is found at the very bottom of the mountain that we just climbed an hour ago.

We arrived there and a place was arranged by the villagers for our use as billet area. It is a community storage house. There is a bamboo cot but we prefer to sleep on the concrete floor close to the four-foot concrete walls that would partly shield us from wind chill. Curious children began to arrive and see Jon cooking. They marvelled at the small alcohol burners. Jon taught them knife safety to entertain them.

When the kids transfer their attention to me as I tinker with my Lenovo A7000 smart phone, I decided to entertain them with videos that entertained very well my grandson. I propped the phone on my plastic food containers and the show commenced. For a full 20 minutes, their attention were glued to the nursery rhymes until the battery ran out. Thankfully, there is an electric outlet to charge our depleted batteries.

The village is silent after supper and lights are turned off from each house. Cold begins to creep in through the iron grills which is part of the wall. As the night wore on, rats starts its business of survival by foraging on the stocks of corn kept in an inner room. We already expected that and we have secured our food far from their reach. I thanked Providence for steering us away from trouble for this day. This northern leg is harder and there will be more obstacles to encounter as we travel northward.

Distance Walked: 15.14 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 955 meters and a low of 156 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Some photos courtesy of Jonathaniel Apurado

Sunday, July 9, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 13 (Biasong Creek to Mount Manunggal)

I HEARD A SLIGHT SHOWER when I woke up early. The noise of the jungle filled my senses into a primeval state. Moisture dropping on my overhead canopy taught me to lay still. This is Day Thirteen, January 31, 2017 and it is 05:30. In the half light, I noticed my rump already kissing the ground. My mind tried hard to wiggle out the rest of me from its comfort zone, which it did, at around 06:00 only. The stream changed its color but it had not risen.

I look around to answer the call of nature. The vegetation is lush, moist and untouched. But there is a path. I noticed wild taro and wild cassava. This used to be farmed by man. Yes, the path. It goes up into more wild jungle and the path turned out to be a pathway, no less, made by water. This is not the one that I hope to find. Anyway, I enjoyed this solitary interlude with nature with so much gratitude. The feeling is most cherished. I believe you will agree.

When I returned, Jonathaniel Apurado had already cooked rice. I tried again to catch signals from my Cherry Mobile U2 basic phone and from the Versa Duo VHF radio transceiver. None. I was dismayed by the new SD card that I am using as a storage for pictures for the northern leg. It got corrupted yesterday, damaging the pictures I took with my Canon IXUS 145 camera at the start of Day Twelve. I noticed the harm only after lunch and was forced to change it with the one that I used during the southern leg of the Thruhike. Just like on the southern leg, I carry an extra battery for the camera.

We got our breakfast of Knorr soup, rice and coffee. Popped in a capsule of Enervon Multivitamin and a Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana. These food supplements were provided for us by our sponsors, Markus Immer and the couple Mark and Mirasol Lepon, respectively. I noticed it improved my performance as the Thruhike went from south to north, especially on the last five days of the southern leg. Power and increased stamina put us to where our itinerary would want us to be, except at Day Seven, which immensity and length was under-appreciated by me during the planning stage, just like yesterday’s.

Today, I will find that elusive trail which would have brought us to higher ground yesterday and on that place indicated on the itinerary as Maraag Ridge, which is part of Sudlon II, Cebu City. We are now at the edge of Sudlon I, another upland village of Cebu City. I look around again as Jon went on his business of boiling water taken from the stream for our supply of drinking water. I see another path but, this time, it is made by man. The path is now claimed by jungle but I know how to track people, or what seems to be the traces of humans made months ago.

I go back to our bivouac site and anxiety take hold of me again. I traced that former path I did minutes ago to commune with nature once more, this time with more feelings. It is ecstasy! After that sweet moment, it is time to break camp. We leave at 08:20 and follow that ghost of a trail that I believe would ensure our success. It goes up over very thick jungle, that I have to slash from time to time with my Camp Red Limited Edition Balaraw. At times, the ground is slippery, at stretches where it is most steep.

Persistence lead me to a mango tree, a sure sign of human habitation. I was utterly exhausted. It was hard going, just to gain 150 meters. My Silangan hiking pants was a patchwork of sticking parts of ladyfinger ferns and a hundred detached threads. Up ahead is an open field and grazing cows. I now know where I am going. I passed by here two years ago. There would be a small farming community up there but we have to walk up a hill and a hundred meters more to get there. The day gets to go warm.

The first rest for the day happened at a place called Panas, a part of Sudlon I, at 09:10. I have befriended a homesteading family here while I was on an annual penitence hike in April 2015. I am most grateful for Yolando Ubong and his family for providing us drinkable water today and acknowledged that kindness by leaving behind a couple of our powdered juice drinks and small packs of Titay’s Liloan Rosquillos. Sourcing clean water here is difficult and you have to walk far. There is phone signal but it left me as quickly as it appeared.

Far across a wide and rugged valley is Maraag Ridge. I could not go there direct. It looks too difficult. But a scenery could be deceiving. You would get there in time if you have patience. I am now on more gentle terrain and I am following a trail that goes in a wide arc, a long circuit. This trail is not the same one I took a couple of years ago. I am only walking on this because I listened to Yolando. I am going southwest, farther from Maraag. I thought I saw a familiar landmark but I succumbed to adrenaline rush offered by exploring a new route.

Passing by part wilderness and part farms, I come into more tamed places and bigger farming communities. Music, of the genre popularized by Eddie Peregrina and Victor Wood and the like, took my attention as it blared from one house to another. Mountain communities, I noticed, starting from the southern leg up to here, share the same taste in music. It is only broken sometimes by recent danceable tunes like those unpalatable bodut music. The farther I go away from that, another fresh song of the same kind would welcome me.

I am now walking into the navel of Sudlon I. Our own revolutionaries fighting Spanish and American occupations, made these mountains their redoubt. Nearby is a colony of descendants of these revolutionaries. It has its own brand of Christianity, are vegetarians and eat their food uncooked. Although the day was warm, cool breeze came in abundance maybe because we are in the highlands of Sudlon Mountain Range. By 11:45, we found a small store offering food at a place called Gabi, in Sudlon II. We need real food, if ever we want to reach Mount Manunggal before dusk.

We took short naps while in the store, taking advantage of the one hour allotted for noonbreak. We really need that. Before leaving, I sulk myself to another bottle of cold Sparkle after swallowing a capsule of Guarana extract. I need these for more energy for I will be racing with time the rest of the day. Ahead of me are gentle rolling terrain, paved in concrete, and it would lead me to Maraag. It is 13:00, but the skies seem to have cooperated with us as it gave us a very mild weather. Then I increased the pace, forgetting sometimes that I am walking with Jon.

The Sudlon Mountain Range is found in the middle of Cebu. It links with the Cantipla Ridge of the mountains of Tabunan in the north and goes on its way through its southern ridge at Sinsin, the same place where we passed by on Day Ten. The road that we are walking now follows a gentle course on easy rolling terrain where it afford us breathtaking landscapes. We reach Maraag after an hour of walking and proceed without stopping to the entry point at Cantipla where we availed of rest at 14:15, with bananas and cold Sprite.

I have to forego of my original plan of hiking through a part of Tongkay, Toledo City on mountain trails and unpaved road instead of here due to time constraints. I would have proceeded to Mt. Manunggal through there, following the Lusaran River from above. I have to modify the itinerary again. It is a mockery on that piece of paper but who else knows of what I am doing except Jon. I consult him whenever there is a change of plan. I simply underestimated the distance and the difficulties of Day Twelve. I hope I would not make the same mistake in the future.

After 30 minutes, the race is on. We cross the Transcentral Highway on to the other side and found ourselves walking another paved road down to the village of Tabunan, Cebu City. It is a long downhill walk that took most of the afternoon among stretches of beautiful scenery and the monolith that is the Central Cebu Mountain Range. We arrive at the bosom of Tabunan at 16:15 and availed another rest time, but it would be very brief, since we do not have the luxury of time. Soon it would be dusk and I do not want to navigate uphill in the dark in a spent state.

We cross the Lusaran River at 16:30 into Balamban. Yes we are leaving Cebu City and I immediately sent a text message to the Balamban Police Station to inform them of our presence and our Thruhike. I got a reply and that is reassuring. Slowly, we followed the trail up to Mt. Manunggal. I have been walking here many times and I am familiar without any guidance until I come at the point where there are two trails. One goes up, one goes down. I consult my compass. One going up goes north while one going down goes northwest. I opt for the former. It is 18:00.


I noticed that it took me a long time to work my way out of the forest and I begun to retrace back to where the two trails converge. My logic seems to have favored the same trail I took once I noticed yellow ribbons tied to trees which are used to mark routes of adventure races that are always held in Mt. Manunggal during the death anniversary celebrations of a president who died in a plane crash here. We follow a trail of yellow until I saw no more and by that time we had already covered a great distance that going back was out of the question.

Meanwhile, I have contact with a team of policemen sent by their station to provide us security. I saw the headlights of their motorcycles and, by God, they are faraway or that we strayed so far from our destination. In darkness I have to assess our location and terrain when I come upon a prominent spot and used the policemen’s location as my reference point. Years of studying traditional navigation come in handy during the most trying times.

At 19:15, we come upon a small house where the dog’s barking shook the owner awake and it helped to our cause when a woman pointed to a trail, which I thought, in half-darkness, as just a path to an animal watering hole. It is slippery but once I am on to the other side I saw a clear path that goes up. The trees parted and it revealed a road, near a junction between the one going to Mt. Manunggal and the other to Sunog, Balamban.

The messages from the policemen came and they are waiting for us at the camping ground, near where the monument of President Ramon Magsaysay is located. We were utterly exhausted and disoriented that we do not have the time to socialize and so choose our bivouac area at 19:30, at the nearest place possible to where we are now. That place is the building belonging to the village of Magsaysay. Inside we have space to lay down as well as protection from the elements. We found more comfort here.

Immediately, we work on our alcohol burners and start the boiling of water for coffee and the cooking of rice. While that was going on, I helped myself to a pot lid, for want of a cup, of Extra Joss powdered energy drink. Just like on the southern leg, I left my metal cup, preferring to use a second pot lid to drink liquid from to compensate its weight. The Therm-a-Rest provided by the Thruhike patron Michael Schwarz would be tested again in cold weather here in Mt. Manunggal.

Dinner came at 20:30 but it is never too late. We cherished the warmth of the extra spicy noodles and warm rice. We have company here. They are migrant workers earning their keep while working on the abaca fibers and they sleep here. They are using the structure as a storage place to keep the fibers from getting wet. They earn extra income when we request them to fill our water bottles and collapsible containers. The policemen are sending another message but I declined their offer of company. We need rest. It was a hard day. Climbing two major mountain ranges in one day was never easy.

Distance Walked: 23.6 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 973 meters and a low of 320 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer
Some photos courtesy of Jonathaniel Apurado

Saturday, July 1, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 12 (Guadalupe to Biasong Creek)

I HAVE RISEN EARLY today, January 30, 2017, to finish the rest of the Thruhike. I have not really rested well on the two days that were allotted as rest days. I was working on the loose ends of the Thruhike like shopping for more food items and stove fuel that I have failed to procure the last time, assorting all of these in three separate plastic bags for the three rendezvous points of the northern leg, handing out these same bags to our supply team and another bag for Jonathaniel Apurado as his share of the stuff that we both will carry.

I have slept late on those two days. I was quite stressed out. When you are the organizer and the lead person, the weight of responsibility would bear on your shoulders. On the other hand, I am healthy and good to go for the final half of the Cebu Highlands Trail. My CHT jersey and hiking pants, which were both provided by Silangan Outdoor Equipment, are properly washed and smelled good again. For a change, I will use my old pair of Hi-Tec Lima shoes to let my blisters heal properly since these are a good fit and properly broken.

One great change that I have imposed on my gear is the replacement of a backpack that have caused misery on my shoulders during the southern leg. It was a local brand and the design had many flaws. I could have endorsed their brand in social media and in my blog if they have answered my message since I advocated support for local products. But it was not to be. They missed their chance and that freed me of the misery of endorsing a bad product. Gian Carlo Jubela of Adrenaline Romance Blog, however, provided me instead his pre-loved High Sierra Titan.

As it turned out the High Sierra bag is bigger, at 50 liters storage capacity, I was able to organize better my things this time. It is much lighter, giving me more option to carry more, and has fat shoulder pads and waist belts. It has extra pockets found on the waist belt and underneath the top cover and has an expandable pouch. The pouch is very important because I could retrieve quickly my itinerary, maps, documents and journal sealed inside a waterproofed Sea Line map case. It has another front opening near the bottom and has an earth-toned color of olive green.

Basically, the things that I carried on the southern leg are almost the same for today except, perhaps, a few minor ones like replacing the Buck Classic 112 with a Victorinox Ranger and adding the Camp Red Limited Edition Balaraw for slashing work on the hardest part of the northern leg. Our food would still be the same. Breakfast would be rice and Knorr soups, energy bars and baked products for lunch, and spicy Korean noodles and rice for dinner. Our meals would be supplemented by capsules of Enervon Multivitamins and Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana.

The northern leg of the Thruhike would be more difficult than the ones found in the south and I have to be kind to our legs and feet by identifying three different places to replenish our supplies. That meant that we have to lug supplies a few days less than what we did for the southern leg. Today we are carrying four days worth of food and fuel to be carried over the Babag Mountain Range and the more rugged Sudlon Mountain Range. As the initiator of this Thruhike, I am carrying extra.

We start from the Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Guadalupe, Cebu City at 05:10, following the road at the back of the church. I send a text message to the Cebu City Police Office informing them of the continuation of the Thruhike. We arrive at a place called Napo, which is part of Sapangdaku, Cebu City at 06:00. Eight minutes later, we were on our way again. The trail goes on into familiar ground, crossing the Sapangdaku Creek where Jon had a quick breakfast of spaghetti, right across the Lower Kahugan Spring.

By 07:00, we begun the assault of Mount Babag, following the trail that I personally designate as the East Ridge Pass, passing by the abandoned homestead of the Roble family and the Upper Kahugan Spring. We arrive at Babag Ridge at 08:50 and followed the road to a store owned by a friend, Vicente Bontiel. The climb and the walk that start four hours ago have started to eat away my resolve. It is 09:30 and it starts to go warm. A couple of cold Coke and 15 minutes rest would be ideal to recondition the mind that we are in a Thruhike instead of a dayhike.

This road goes to a junction and we choose the left one for it leads us to the village of Bonbon, Cebu City. Along the way, we meet Michael Cabras and wife. They are settling here as homesteaders. I teach bushcraft and survival and Michael learned from me during the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp last year in Liloan, Cebu. Homesteading is not easy, especially if you are doing it on your own. You would need to blend, adapt and improvise. If you know bushcraft, you fit in easily. If you are not, then you have a lot of real hard labor cut out for you.

We reach the Transcentral Highway and bought a few bananas. It is very humid and the bananas would be helpful in staving off muscle cramps. Just a couple of meters away is the road to Bonbon. It is paved and all downhill. We followed it until we reach a bridge at 11:20. We stop by here to spend noonbreak inside a small restaurant. The heat of the day is just too much. It is even felt under the shade of a roof. I cannot do something about it but get on with life. In about an hour, we would be on trails and streams.

I cross the wide Bonbon River, whose water level reach my knees. I have to remove my Hi-Tec shoes and Lorpen socks and fold my quick drying Silangan hiking pants up to my groin. Up ahead would be a place called Biasong and a creek that I would follow upstream. On a point where there is a trail, I would climb a mountain that would lead me to Maraag Ridge, our designated campsite for Day Twelve. It looks so easy on the itinerary. I hope we could achieve our destination despite the obstacles of climbing two mountain ranges in a day.

I am forced to walk Biasong Creek, following the route that I have identified and refined during the several exploration hikes that I undertook on Segment I in the years between 2011 and 2016. Of all the segments that the CHT would choose, this would be the most dangerous, for it cross rivers. Not only that, you would walk upstream on one river, like I am doing now. If I have time, I would remove this part and refine the segment on entirely drier ground, which I already did on its other half.

When you are walking a stream, you are forever indebted to check the sky from time to time. Biasong Creek is deeper than the last time I was here and, where I walked with dry shoes and socks before, I am forced to remove these now. Water goes up beyond my knees at places where it is most shallow. At one point, I felt goosebumps when I saw dark clouds blotting open space among thick jungle. I doubled our pace and suffer for that by walking barefoot a lot of the time.

Time was not on our side. The water level impeded our progress. Again, I will have to compromise and modify the itinerary by looking for another place to camp. It is not easy, this campsite. It took us almost dusk – at 17:30 – to find it. It is fifteen meters away from the edge of Biasong Creek and on a high ground. I have to consider those treacherous flashfloods. You cannot be too sure. We claim our bivouac site where there are trees to tie our hammocks to. We have only a few daylight hours left to set that up and cook our evening meal.

I am able to set up my shelter quickly while Jon was struggling with his. I boil water for coffee and enjoyed the natural sounds of running water and the sounds of dusk creatures. Then I remembered my late grandfather, who took me to these same places to learn the ways of the jungle. From him, I learned how bushcraft is done, the same idea that I teach people. Jon recovered from the stress of fighting off fatigue and taming his brain and settled down to fetch water down the stream.

We are both carrying a half-kilo of rice each, repacked in 100 grams inside plastic tubes that people used to sell ice or cold water. This 100 grams is good enough for one meal shared by two people. Jon dropped his first 100 grams into the pot to start the cooking of rice. Our fuel are denatured alcohol totalling one liter each which would be burned in our Trangia burners. Jon has two billy cans while I have a Kovea cook set. Our dinner would be Korean spicy noodles which would come from my own supply.

Dinner came at 19:30. Camp life is noticeable only within the range limits of our head lamps. There is no moon. The food was good. Spicy as always. A spoon of virgin coconut meal finished off my day, as I have done in the south leg. I squeezed into my hammock and it sagged closer to ground. The jungle sounds and the stream became a lullaby to my ears. Checked the phone signals of both my Cherry Mobile U2 and my Lenovo A7000. No need to waste battery power so I turned it off.

So was the Versa Duo 2-way radios directed to a repeater tower of Ham Radio Cebu. No signal. I have underestimated the distance from Guadalupe to Maraag Ridge just like I did on Day Seven. I was not tired but my brain got overwhelmed by the immensity of the country we walked in at a pace which was faster than usual, considering the weight we are carrying. We were fortunate we came this far at the edge of Sudlon I, Cebu City. Tomorrow would be harder. What we failed to take today would be added tomorrow.

Distance Walked: 18.58 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 718 meters and a low of 56 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer
Some photos courtesy of Jonathaniel Apurado