Thursday, August 24, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Days 19 and 20 (Tabili to Bongdo)

DAY NINETEEN ::::: WHEN WOULD THESE COLD nights end? It had rained at midnight and, fortunately for us, the roof of the makeshift kitchen did not leak where we lay at. I promised myself a bath today, February 6, 2017. I am having second thoughts though. Jonathaniel Apurado did. It was like a ritual for him, water or no water. I do not mind walking without the benefit of a shower. This is the Thruhike and I am going to enjoy life off the grid.

We just had another three days’ supply and one of those are packs of Knorr instant soup. I choose crab meat flavor and have Jon put in shreds of dried squid during cooking. We have 300 grams of rice each and I just sank my first 100 grams into a billy can. The Trangia and its Chinese counterfeit are working at the same time to ensure our breakfast goes well. I decide to heat up with coffee, instead of a cold bath, and wait when the food gets served.

The soup tastes nice today despite my abrupt change of appetite that was dictated by a better meal of free-rein chicken soup that were offered us for the past four days. We were really pampered at Lawaan (Day 15) and Pili (Day 16), in Danao City, and in Bongyas, Catmon (Day 18). Anyway, I stirred another coffee after breakfast before swallowing in a multivitamin capsule, a Herbalife natural raw Guarana capsule and Yakult cultured milk. These make you fat if you are not moving.

I have changed into a new pair of dry Fila socks and a dry pair of SNS elastic undershorts. I would be facing another physical obstacle later but I am well rested and well fed. My Hi-Tec Lima shoes are drying up and it went well with my present disposition. The High Sierra Titan bag, provided by blogger Gian Carlo Jubela of Adrenaline Romance after Day Eleven, made my life better. It had shrugged off moisture and storm and remained rainproof even if it was “pre-loved”.

Inside is my Camp Red Special Edition Balaraw, gaining stock as one of the knives carried by the PinoyApache. The first of 40 in circulation, it is light and deserves its place in the Thruhike. Another knife is a Victorinox Ranger, provided by Markus Immer of Switzerland, is placed inside one of the waist belt pockets. The other pocket is claimed by the Suuntu MC-2 compass, a gift by Alan Poole of the UK. A backup, a Suuntu A-30, is hidden in the inner top pocket, a gift by Glen Domingo.

We are all now packed and ready to go and I bid goodbye to this nice place which was once the cheerful abode and office of my dear departed friend, Dante Limana. His father-in-law stood on the door as I say my great appreciation and thanks to him and Dante’s absent wife for accommodating us for the night. After this Thruhike, I will offer prayers for the soul of my friend. May God bless his soul. At 07:38, my shoes crunched noisily on the unpaved road as it joins another paved road. Day Nineteen thus lurched into business.

The road wind its way above a ridge offering us a good vista of hillside farms and fruit orchards. I am following the route that I had made during the Segment VI Exploration Hike last February 2016 which, by the way, was the route suggested by the late village executive and friend. After taking another road, unpaved this time, it reached a dead end but there is a trail that goes to the bank of the Bawo River. Once at the bottom, we gazed across another municipality, Sogod.

The stream is small, about ten meters wide, while water level is just three inches above the ankle. It was easy crossing it but climbing the hillside to the top was not. It took us an hour or more. Behind us is a beautiful valley, wide and green, unseen yet by recreational hikers. Before us is a plateau of small rolling hills. It is extensively farmed. The rain of many days have turned the soil sticky and, sometimes, slippery. After an exhausting climb and then a painstaking hike that punished my shoes, we reach the village hall of Cabalawan, Sogod.

After a short conversation with village officials, we proceed to a crossroad where, they said, cellular signals are strong. It took me many minutes and tries to time my text message to the Sogod Police Station as the signal is just a bar only and disappears before you hit the send button. I did send it and the ball is with them. I follow a branch of unpaved road. Beside me and beyond are small rolling hills, farmed to the crest and trough. I saw a headwater of another stream, a small pond, that gave life to a brook.

We reach a place called Bagting and I saw a familiar face of last year. The woman knew me and Jon and was all smile as she and her husband were busy shaving off the hair of their herd of swamp buffaloes on a water hole just below where we stood. She said it prevents lice. We left a pack of Park N Go stick bread for her as we follow a trail that would bring us into more interesting places never before seen by mainstream outdoor lovers. Yes, majority of the places we visited have not been trodden by the Facebook crowd.

I believed we are passing through private lands but there are no fences to bar passage. Just as I was debating with myself about a trail, an old woman came to my rescue and she knew me from last time. Appreciating her help, we left three more packs of stick bread when we found out she was with her three small grandchildren. Laughing at our good fortune, we found ourselves crossing a small stream which brought us to a place called Mangadlaw. Here, we found a store selling cold Coca Colas. As it is already 12:10, we decide to spend noonbreak here.

The rest broke the fatigue factor that was about to strangle me as I struggled to read the right trail to here. Rehydrating with cold beverage was perfect since the weather was sunny the whole time with occasional clouds making it mild. As usual we have Fitbar and a few pieces of Park N Go bread. I am carrying by hand three loaf bread and 14 bottles of Yakult inside a plastic bag. With that, and my rolled Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad slung on my front, I looked like an itinerant vendor, am I not?

My appearance would always elicit me a challenge from a local which I always replied in my best humor. Many times along the way, people would ask me what I sell. I stop to explain and they blush. A few times, a local would dart out from their doors when I pass by, suspiciously looking at my back, my bag and what I carried on my hand at a distance, only to find out too late that Jon is approaching from behind. As always, Jon would do the explaining and they smiled at their bloopers.

I think Jon had seen this happen three times on the unpaved road as we were walking towards Cabangahan, Sogod. We are but strangers here and never in their minds that, one day, tourists or hikers or adventurers or outdoorsmen or whatever, would take interest in visiting their places. For them, it is a phenomenon, a rare occurrence. For us, it is adventure, a means to pursue our passion. The Thruhike would change how they would interpret the presence of strangers in their places in some near future.

We reach Cabangahan and made a courtesy call to a peacekeeper when I found their village hall open. We wrote our names on their visitor’s log book after showing him our ID cards. I informed the older man that we are tourists and we are hiking through their place to spend a night on the next village. I added further that we came from Santander and have been walking straight for nineteen days today. Unbelief was written in his face so I showed him our event banner and the letters received by the Office of the Governor and the Cebu Provincial Police Office. He was speechless.

After a long day, we arrive at Bagacay, Sogod at 14:30. We slept here last time and we will do so again. I just need to pay a courtesy call to the village chairman, Hon. Leonardo Moneva. Unfortunately, he was not around but a subaltern received us and showed us our billeting place. It is a new multi-purpose building under construction. Window panes have not yet been installed but it has tiled floors. We chose a smaller room on the second floor.

Since there is still a lot of daylight left, we decided to inspect a large cave known as Dao. The official who received us earlier led us there. The village council expected that it will become another tourist attraction and so have cleared the thick vegetation on its approaches. It had not been thoroughly explored yet and had not been mapped. There are cave bats inside and there are fruit bats on the tallest trees outside of the cave. The huge trees are a very rare dao and a fig species.

Dusk came but we were already inside the building, eating our fare of spicy noodles, enhanced with dehydrated seaweed. My body have adapted to the strains of walking with a heavy load. My soles, except after Day Two, have not experienced soreness. The blisters have not reappeared, the soreness of the shoulders hefting a bag was a thing of the past. Maybe I have a better bag on this northern leg.

We have more obstacles ahead. The last one, the hardest. For eight straight days, I have not had the privilege of bath and toothbrush. It is immaterial to the goal before me. It does not affect my physical and mental capacities. It is just a state of the mind. Lacking thereof, left me still alive to enjoy my own Cloud 9 even on another cold night.

Distance Walked: 14.13 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 354 meters and a low of 214 meters

DAY TWENTY ::::: IT IS NOW 08:05 AND we are now departing for the next village. Hon. Leonardo Moneva of Bagacay, Sogod have not arrived yet and I can not sacrifice time for Day Twenty of the Thruhike. Today’s route would be harder to navigate and I need some extra time. Today is February 7, 2017. We said goodbye and thanks to his village councilor who welcomed us yesterday in his behalf. We were comfortably accommodated and he showed us Dao Cave.

One of my Hi-Tec Lima shoes is now smiling. A thread had came loose from yesterday’s hike. I have sent a text message to my wife last night so my primary hike shoes, a pair of Jack Wolfskin, which I used for eleven days during the southern leg of the Cebu Highlands Trail, would be sent to me for tomorrow’s rendezvous with the supply team. The Jack Wolfskins were provided by NiƱo Paul Beriales for me and Jonathaniel Apurado. I hope it would replace the present pair else I would have an excruciating hike ahead.

We follow the paved road going to Mohon, Sogod and a national road that linked Borbon with Tabuelan. We walked on this highway, going east, until we arrive at a spot where there is a waiting shed. Across it is a wide trail that used to be a road. It simply was left to the elements and nature simply claimed back what was theirs. This would be the start of a difficult navigation among low individual hills, tight valleys and high humidity. But the first time was difficult. That was last February 2016, during the Segment VI Exploration Hike.

Today, I need to refine the former route I took and work to make it better. Being familiar with the terrain is now an advantage. Once I am in some wild spot, I took to the narrow trails that led me to the other side of the hills, go down a tight valley and climb up another hill. I found an unpaved road and follow north. I linked with a road in shorter time than the first time I was here.

For a time, we have company with a vendor selling bread astride a motorcycle. He stops, we overtake. We walk ahead and he would speed past us. That goes for many moments, like a see-saw until he sold all his bread and he has to go back where he came from. He was my unsuspecting guide but the best lifeline should Murphy’s Law arise. The quirks of traditional navigation. Plain common sense!

Then we come upon a landmark of a house because it is big for its size in these parts and I am tempted of another unpaved road when I saw a community on the other side of a valley with a big structure having a red roof with white markings. It is far but it is strangely familiar. Then when I am about a kilometer to my goal, a lone motorcycle driver told me that we are going to Cajel, Borbon. Realizing my error, I retraced my path back to the big house. There is a phone signal and I sent a text message to the Borbon Police Station of our presence.

There is a trail, barely noticeable, and I follow it to the depths of another tight valley. I thought I have made it easy sailing today following a road, never knowing that I have to go back to the ones I had trod last time. It is never easy navigating in a tight valley. The high humidity suffocates you due to the absence of breeze which could revive you. Then you cannot see landmarks. Your compass is your constant companion.

We passed by a farm and a farmer pointed to a star apple tree where there is a trail to Bili, Borbon. The trail is good but very rocky. We climb, we dip, we climb, climb and climb, we dip and we climb until I saw another big structure with red roof and white markings. As I go near, I could read the words as KALAHI CIDSS. We are now in Bili. There is a school and it is recess time. It is 12:30. Time to enjoy noonbreak. One obstacle gone and it would be easier to the next village.

A store nearby sells cold Coke and we sit down to enjoy lunch of Nutribar and three pieces Park N Go bread. It is warm but cloudy. An old woman, Leonora Mondero, shares us her fear of seeing strangers. She remembered in the ‘80s while she was then the village head, friendly well-educated strangers came to visit this place never realizing that they were with a different agenda. The strangers came back a month after with many more bearing long firearms and camped here. They were rebels.

We assured her that we are not. We are just tourists hiking through their place. We told her that we came from Santander on foot and are now walking on our twentieth day. We have seven days more to go which will end at Daanbantayan. Oh, too much information left her dumbfounded. She laughed at us and she could only shake her head and say that God bless our journey. We found it very fitting and said goodbye to her after an hour of rest.

A trail lead us to an unpaved road. I found a land mark which has a trail that would lead us to Bongdo, Borbon. The trail is very nice. It passes by a natural spring, crosses a small but lively stream and followed the meandering waterway upstream. At another natural spring, we refilled bottles and climb up a trail that led to a semi-paved road. There is a chapel and basketball court but this is not the one. Bongdo is further ahead if you follow the road east.

After two hours of walking, we were rewarded with the familiar sight of our refuge for the night at 15:00. After doing a courtesy call on the village chairman, Hon. Abdias Retuerto, we were welcomed to stay in their village and use their multi-purpose building as our rest haven. In appreciation, I parted two loaves of Park N Go bread to the village head. We were here last year and slept here. Maybe tonight, I will have my first bath. But, dinner first.

Distance Walked: 12.50 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 225 meters and a low of 115 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Friday, August 18, 2017

WARRIOR PILGRIMAGE: Ten Years of Blogging

TEN YEARS AGO, I was exposed to an unlimited access of the Internet. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that I could manipulate with the click of a mouse. I navigated where my curiosity took me. There were that many. Too much data at the tip of my fingers but there were no information overloads even though I made up a lot of catching up. Where was I when this technology exploded in 2002?

Then I became interested in what people posted in their personal online journals. Everybody in the ‘Net called it a blog. I read a lot of blogs, most of them nonsense and many were really very good. In 2007, blogging was very popular. Facebook and Twitter were still strange creatures. I tried my hand in blogging just to exercise my mind and see where will it lead me. At first, I did not know where to start? I did not even know what would I write?

There were many free blog platforms at that time. The popular ones were LiveJournal, Wordpress, Multiply and Blogger. If I have to blog for a longer time, it had to be a stable platform that could last forever. I choose the last because it is owned by Google Inc. and promises me 40 gigabytes of data space at that time. I could also take advantage of their Google AdSense which could give me financial rewards.

I ran out of imagination of what to name this blog and settled instead with RiversideCROSSings, borrowed temporarily from the same name of my faith-based blog in MyOpera. That was on August 23, 2007 and I posted the first of my many articles, a poorly-written poem, Save Mount Manunggal. It was just a space filler but it kick-started my experiment with blogging. I had no niche but it steered to interests closest to my heart: mountains and the environment.

On October 8, 2007, I renamed this blog as Merely My Opinion. It became a rant station for some time with some very controversial articles that have generated me most visits and stirred up the most comments. By the end of 2007, I had published 10 articles – all originals, a modest achievement for someone who unknowingly was late in the game but, nevertheless, it inspired me to perpetuate this blog for eternity.

The end of 2008 saw me publish another original 40 articles, to include the first entry of the Napo to Babag Tales, that first appeared on September 6, 2008, but have fathered a total of 119 sequels through the years. In 2009, I dished out 50 more original articles and this number was the same and constant for the years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, which came to a total of 450 posts. Mind blowing!

It was on August 1, 2011 that it became known as Warrior Pilgrimage. That year, the blog added another niche, bushcraft and survival, and simply grew out from being just a blog. It became a name that is associated with what I do as an outdoors educator, wilderness guide, explorer, writer, event organizer and in speaking engagements. The blog functions as a media outlet for the Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp and the Cebu Highlands Trail.

This blog with an audacious name went to many virtual places and caught the fancy of the reader’s consciousness. It had crossed boundaries and got its rare brush with the bright lights as finalist and as people’s choice during the Bloggys 2015 Philippine Blogging Awards held in SMX, Taguig City. It never was meant for glamour and glitter but it had its chance and was bestowed badges of honor.

Despite this blog churning new article after new article, I refused to convert it into one with a domain name which would have ensured more subscribers and more clicks from Google AdSense. This is a vagabond blog living an existence on the morsels of knowledge from its unconventional owner. Earning is just an incentive but it shall never be its main reason of existence. It exists because it has stories to tell.

This current post is numbered at 33 for 2017 or a total of 483 articles for the ten years of this blog’s existence. I am in celebration and this celebration would run to the end of this year when it will soon hit 500 original posts. God willing. Ten years is a lot. I have seen many blogs in 2007 and, sad to say, they disappeared or locked in time when you click a link. My side bar has some of it. Most of them had domain names.

Why did this blog survived? Common sense says it is cheap to maintain as it is in free platform. Yes, it has a life and a mind of its own. It is original despite its very ordinary template. Its value is better appreciated by its concept of creating opinion which guide people of their actions. It inspired people from its tales of adventure. The writer is still healthy and intrepid. It shows the soul of its owner. It has no peer and will still be here as long as I do not use up that 40 gigs of disk space.

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Thursday, August 10, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Days 17 and 18 (Bangkito to Tabili)

DAY SEVENTEEN ::::: THERE IS A GOOD PROMISE from the heavens today, February 4, 2017. Yes, there is sunrise and the hillsides are painted in golden yellow. The small village of Bangkito, Tuburan would be bathed in sunlight soon. Although I may have the best sleeping place among my companions and among those who provided security for us, it is as if, just the same, I was sleeping outdoors. The cold penetrates layers and obstacles and no amount of hunkering and shifting of body could stop that until you use your head.

I put on a dry pair of socks last night but the real winner was, once again, a plastic bag covering the head. Yes, the lowly plastic bag. Just big enough to fit on your head and small enough so it will not slide down and suffocate you. Tried it first at Cantipla Ridge, Cebu City on a very wet day last November and I was surprised that I was able to sleep through the night without shivering. I stopped the shivering midway through last night only when I touched one of my empty plastic bags. They make noise, you see. My apologies then to to those experiencing a sleepless night.

Jonathaniel Apurado has helping hands this time cooking the food. Mark and Mirasol Lepon lent their kitchen knives, pots and their strange alcohol burner to the fray. But there would be no Knorr soup this time as I had some of it donated to the 13-man squad from the 78th Infantry Battalion who walked here yesterday from their detachment in Sacsac, Tuburan to secure our presence. Once again, I secretly passed some food for our army whom I feel should be fed better than just sardines and crackers. I shared a pack of Titay’s rosquillos to a group of kids as they happily show it off through their wee little forefingers.

We have a breakfast of miso soup with real floating seaweed, corned beef and a funny looking rice. Coffee then provides the closure after another morning ritual of swallowing capsules of Enervon multivitamins and Herbalife natural raw Guarana plus Yakult cultured milk courtesy of Jingaling Campomanes. The village center is a beehive of activity of children enjoying their weekend as well as folks looking forward to visit a market fair in an adjoining town of Carmen to trade their produce.

The 6-man team from the PNP Special Reaction Unit just had their breakfast courtesy of a village councilor while the Army is still haggling with a resident about a couple of native fowls which are to be their breakfast and lunch. I thanked each village official for accommodating me and my companions, to include the PNP SRU and the Army’s 78IB. The route of the Cebu Highlands Trail have chosen their village as either a stopover or as replenishment area and good things will happen once tourists come to walk it.

The 78IB guys choose to stay for awhile as we said our goodbyes at 08:40. They have things to do, building trust and communication lines with the villagers and that breakfast which has yet to materialize. The PNP SRU would walk with us down the only link of Bangkito to the rest of Tuburan municipality. We would split at a spot where there is a trail that would lead the Thruhike down to the boundary with the Municipality of Carmen.

The trail is good, muddy at many parts, and the challenge begins. It is not steep. It gradually goes down a small stream and on another bigger stream. After crossing it, the path goes up. It would have been easier in another time but today, on Day Sixteen, it sucks. Too many people have trodden it in the early hours of the morning, bringing with them water from the stream that their footwear carried, which mixed and mired the already muddied ground from yesterday’s rain.

The trail have widened to even as wide as six meters as people tried to walk on places where there were no mud yet. Then more people with their farm animals choose virgin ground and everywhere where it is possible to move forward and you got there a morass of a trail. It was hard on the steepest stretch where an effort, a step forward, would make you slide two or three steps back on account of gravity. Mark and Mirasol are struggling hard. Jon and Justin Apurado are doing well, barely.

I am listening to my feet. If it complains of the wet Kailas socks that I had worn for the second day, then I have trouble and change that with a clean dry pair tomorrow. If not then life goes on and it goes on its third day tomorrow. The Hi-Tec Lima shoes begun to show kinks in its armor. The thread that have sewn the rubber soles with its nubuck leather uppers began to loosen. I see a tell-tale sign that one of the pair would give up. For now, it would nurse my feet. For now, it will carry me along.

We pass by a natural spring and refilled water bottles. Soon we would be on the market of Taguini, which is a part of Caorasan, Carmen. We did arrive at 11:45 but not after muddying our shoes and trousers up to our knees. We ordered cooked food in one of these small huts that do business only during Saturdays. Sent a text message to the Carmen Police Station regarding our presence and the Thruhike when I found a signal hovering on the second bar, which is good enough.

Although the weather is mild, it is so humid. After an hour of rest, we follow a very rough road that goes on its rolling passage among hills and, at one time, over a long and steep climb. We intend to do courtesy calls on the village chairman of Caurasan, Hon. Tirso Andales, and on another Army detachment of the 78IB. We arrive there at 14:00 and we were properly received. At 15:00, we leave Caurasan bound for Bongyas, Catmon. A strong downpour overtook us along the trail, slowing us down. There is not much daylight left, especially official daylight government hours.

I noted that Mt. Kapayas could be scaled at a lesser height from where we passed. The narrow trail is winding, soft on some parts and, on another stretch, so slippery. It is also tricky since it connects with other trails and that was what happened when I got led into Amancion, Catmon. I blundered as my judgment got the better of me. Maybe fatigue and too much brain stress, evaluating all the risks we got past, to include dealing with people.

Fortunately, a lone woman walking towards us showed us back to where we came from and, not only that, she is going home to Bongyas! She gave her name as Belen Oro and she saw us at Taguini while we were having lunch, never expecting that she would meet us here. She just visited her sister after she sold all her budbud kabog, a native delicacy. She would guide us to the residence of the village chairman instead and told us that the village chairman’s wife is her older sister. We just had a stroke of fortune, oh dearest me.

We arrive at the home of Hon. Sulpicio Branzuela at 17:00, visibility good enough to offer recognition on our faces. The dear village chairman remembered me from last time, almost exactly a year ago, when I started my Segment VI Exploration Hike. I asked permission if he would so allow us to pitch shelters at the back of his humble home. He agreed but it would not be outdoors. He would accommodate us all inside since the weather is a bit disagreeable. Indeed it is cold at this hour and it would be colder still in the coming hours.

A roofed shelter is the best thing to dream about and that turned into a reality. The gods must have favored us. We were all wet, hungry, tired, thirsty and cold. Marciana, his wife was more than happy to welcome us. She misses her children, who are all grown up and married. I could feel the loneliness of the old couple. Their children, like everyone else, began to like living in the big cities where there are so many conveniences of life. They know that life on the mountains is hard.

Yes it is indeed hard. Marciana told me that she carried a half sack of millet in the morning to have it milled but came back disappointed. It meant that she has to balance the 8-kilo sack over her head on a slippery trail going down to the village center of Bongyas, which is one-and-one-half kilometers distant, and then paying 50 pesos for a motorcycle to bring her to Catmondaan, on the coast of Catmon. Finding that her regular miller is indisposed, she has to hire a motorcycle and pay another 50 pesos to take her back to Bongyas and then hike up that 1-1/2 kilometers back to her house in the afternoon. She is 68.

She showed me the unground millet. This was the staple food of ancient Cebuanos, before the Spanish came. It is not grown elsewhere anymore in Cebu except in Bongyas, Amancion and Cambangkaya, all in Catmon municipality. Boboi Costas of the Provincial Tourism Office have personally tasked me to document where the millet is specifically found and grown. I had taken a picture of the millet and has a name now of one of the traditional growers. Not only that, Marciana, knows how to make magic with the millet.

We cooked dinner on the couple’s hearth. Although firewood is offered, we insist we use our own alcohol burners and fuel. We got four alcohol burners glowing simultaneously to boil water for coffee, cook rice, warm up pork and beans and make my Korean spicy noodles more alive and tasty! We dined together with the old couple and their home begins to go warm as conversations light up the dreary cold night. There is electricity but, the couple says, they had it just last year. What available outlets present, are left to the mercy of the battery chargers.

The winds howled outside. Cold could have crept early if we have pitched our sleeping quarters outside. The good village chairman and his equally good wife made a difference why we are warm tonight. We have rugs instead of ground pads, we have pillows instead of stones, and we have blankets instead of fogs. Our warm bodies, closer together, made our sleep most comfortable as possible. On a night like this, someone said, angels come down from heaven and hover over every night to watch over honest people. Just my dream.

Distance Walked: 13.37 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 687 meters and a low of 341 meters

DAY EIGHTEEN ::::: WE COULD NOT BELIEVE our streak of fortune we had yesterday. We were truly blessed with meeting the right people. It surprised me that people with simple but beautiful dispositions in life are still that many in these places that, not too long ago, if my memory serves me right, were a hotbed of insurgency. I know these many places I passed by since Day One because I read it in newspapers almost everyday in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, and gets mentioned sometimes in the early years of the new millennium.

I know it was like a nightmare for those who stuck to their farms and homes here up to the very end when darkness was finally overcome by the goodness that were a combination of Cebuano cultural traits, justice and reform, and faith in God and governance. Of course, I may have had second thoughts when I first did these exploration hikes to complete the Cebu Highland Trails but my trust and belief in the goodness of man, no matter how hard fate and injustice may have caused him in the past, won out. I will not deny them that chance of good fortune if ever the CHT brought in ceaseless blessings for them.

The coldness of early mornings are getting intense as I walk more to the north. Februarys are always like that in Cebu when the northeast monsoon winds carry the winter cold of Japan, Siberia and China to the equator. I am the first to rise for I seek the call of nature. When I came back, Marciana, the wife of the village chairman of Bongyas, Catmon is already up. His husband, Hon. Sulpicio Branzuela, had fired up their hearth, feeding it with more firewood. A big black pot belch steam coming from the insides.

Jonathaniel Apurado finished checking last night’s charging of the batteries on his Nikon camera and Cherry Mobile U2 phone. I took advantage of the vacant portholes and charge my own Cherry Mobile U2 and Lenovo A7000 smartphone, even though how little time left to fill those hungry batteries. Although the rain had stopped on this cold day of February 5, 2017, the ground and everything above it are wet. The valley below me is shrouded in fog and I thought I heard thunder.

Justin Apurado decides to move from his warm bed and goes outside to worship nature. The couple Mark and Mirasol Lepon are still absent from my view. They slept inside a room which the Branzuela couple have offered them. Marciana, the wife, informed us that they are cooking something for our breakfast. It was awkward on our part to decline their offer. We promised them however that we will leave some of our food with them as our token of thanks. We explained to them that we will be supplied food and fuel soon.

Day Eighteen promises a re-supply at Tabili, Catmon later in the day. We only need to get there and wait for the supply team. It is already fixed. Planning the Thruhike took me many years but putting in the pieces to make the big pie took me just 60 days, give or take 5 days. If you compare mine with big expeditions, I think mine comes to the term as short notice. Only one sponsor, Derek’s Classic Blade Exchange, opened up their purse early to start my machinery moving. The rest flood me theirs on the last minute which induced me a dose of panic buying.

The good Branzuela couple, distinguished family of Bongyas, cooked milled corn and free-rein chicken soup for a grand breakfast. We all eat on their round table. The lady is a good cook. She mixed an edible legume which enhanced the taste and thickened the soup. It is so different from all the rest. When we have finished, we leave our Knorr soup packs, rice, sachets of soy sauce and vinegar, cooking oil, Tang, Goya and Ovaltine chocolate drinks and Blend 45 coffee. Not only that, Mark gave Marciana his DIY alcohol burner and DIY windscreen. The old couple were mesmerized by our alcohol burners.

Outside of the house is a dead black bird. It was not there yesterday. It froze to death. How strange? There must have been angels here last night. We said our goodbyes to the good couple as we start to walk down the trail to the main village at 09:46. We spent a longer time with them as we were endeared to their fine manners. The ground is slippery. Marciana said that this is not the right season to plant millet and so there are no fields to take photos of.

From Bongyas, we walk on a road that is only paved where the wheels would roll about. In between and on the sides are green grass. We follow this strange road, passing by a part of Anapog, Catmon, wherein it becomes unpaved and muddy. A few motorcycles ply this road to pick up passengers. Twice I saw small Suzuki 4-wheel drive flatbeds, a Japanese surplus import that became a choice vehicle for farmers and upland residents. It is cheap, sturdy, low gasoline consumption, navigates easily on narrow roads and spare parts are common.

By 11:50, we were now in Agsowao, Catmon. We observe noonbreak and munch on Nutribar. Cold Sparkles complete our rest and rehydration. After an hour, we proceed to our destination. The road is now paved with disintegrating asphalt. I did not feel a soreness on any of my feet even though I am wearing a damp pair of socks and damp shoes. This would be the last day for the socks and I would change into another pair tomorrow. A short thread that sew the rubber soles of the Hi-Tec Lima shoes with the upper nubuck comes loose. Ah, the beginning of the end.

We come upon a concrete sign announcing that we are now in Tabili. A noisy party stopped when they sensed strangers and a drunk party-goer pretended to befriend us. Asked so many questions and repeating the same questions over and over again. I know that scene. Better leave the premises because it is pointless talking to someone who is suspicious and tipsy. He thinks he is James Bond and we are KGB. I ignored him but he found Mark a willing listener and we waste more time there.

It was farther than I thought, the location of the residence of the former village chairman, the late Dante Limana. I have nurtured friendship with him ever since the time I met him here last February 2016 while I was doing the Segment VI Exploration Hike. I came to know of his death just last month when I visited this same place. Before he died, we met at the Search and Rescue Summit in Cebu City last July 2016 and gave him a Seseblade Sinalung knife. It is tragic on my part because I found him to be a good public servant with a bright future in politics. He was 36.

His father-in-law was expecting our arrival today and he is there by the time we arrive at 14:59. After the usual cordiality, he assigned our place of rest at the back of the house. There is water and a hearth and we are under a roof. Maybe tomorrow, I will have my first bath. There is a young katmon tree that Dante had planted. His yellow Suzuki Scrum is parked nearby. This small truck carried him safely to the hospital, driven by his 9-year old son. He was in ICU but succumbed a few days later.

At 16:00, the supply team arrived. Markus Immer, as always a reliable fellow, delivered the goods. With him were Ernie Salomon, JB Albano, Jingaling Campomanes, Locel Navarro, Ronald Abella and Christopher Ngosiok. They spent three hours with us, emptying a bottle and half of local brandy, unloading funny tales and controlled laughter. Too bad, happy times do not last long. Justin, Mark and Mirasol went with them as they left us at 20:00. The silence was deafening.

We made our way to the back of the house and distribute the supplies between us. Part of that is our fuel for the Trangia burners. We got a lot of Park N Go bread and parted some to Dante’s father-in-law. We also got more Yakult Cultured Milk and add these to the plastic bag that I am carrying with my hand since Day Twelve.

We strung our hammocks but used it only as a mosquito net. No hang time. It would be cold but I have not felt it yet. Jon begins cooking the first of the fresh supply of Korean spicy noodles and a hundred grams of rice. We forgot that we had not taken dinner. The company of noisy visitors caused that. Anyway, I will have that bath tomorrow.

Distance Walked: 11.56 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 559 meters and a low of 234 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer

Thursday, August 3, 2017

THE THRUHIKE JOURNAL: Day 16 (Lawaan to Bangkito)

IT STILL RAINED TODAY as it had last night. Although I expect extreme changes in weather for this Thruhike but never so depressing as it is today. I am told that there is a weather disturbance. I am warm inside the village hall of Lawaan, Danao City but, outside, it is wet and cold. Today is February 3, 2017 and we will be commencing soon with Day Sixteen of our Thruhike. The couple Mark and Mirasol Lepon, our donor for the Herbalife Natural Raw Guarana capsules would be going with us.

Jonathaniel Apurado would not be tinkering with the cooking pots and burners today. We will have another breakfast of warm free-rein chicken soup prepared by the people of Lawaan for us. Hon. Pilarino Montes and Hon. Shirley Ramos made it sure that we will be full for the day’s journey to Bangkito, Tuburan. Jon’s son, Justin, would be hiking with us also. Jon and I have food good for three days that Markus Immer and company brought yesterday. I would be meeting our supply team three days from now.

The skies are crying and I could do nothing about it except steel myself from the cold. I am used to these kind of weather. I would have warmth and comfort at the end of the day’s walk, which would most likely be in Bangkito. But I love these moments. It raises the bar of my alertness. I know it would come out naturally, providing me sane decisions in situations where most people would melt. Years of learning my own behavior and how my brain worked have taught me patience and timely decisions, or what we call as common sense.

Of course common sense forbid you to go outdoors in stingy weather but there is always a narrow crack of opportunity that only a very few skilled people could identify and take advantage of. It made their lives more meaningful and these few thrive where others dared not. I may not be one of them but I follow in their footsteps and it made my life gratifying and those that are or were with me. We simply enjoyed the adrenaline rush and the experience simply embed in our subconscious as added knowledge which would be useful in dire situations.

We leave Lawaan at 08:30 but we have company. Ma’am Shirley would walk with us up to their boundary with Pili, Danao City. The village secretary is also going with us as well as five of their peacekeepers. Well, they came of their own accord and they were most happy that we made their village as part of the itinerary of the Thruhike. Lawaan is the traditional convergence area of agriculture produce coming from the mountain communities of Danao, Asturias, Balamban, Tuburan and Carmen. It has a public market, public schools and the San Isidro Labrador Parish.

Its standing as a leading village on the mountains have been challenged lately by another, whose thrust is more on tourism. Tourism gave more revenues which, in turn, translate into more services and infrastructure projects. The Cebu Highlands Trail passes between these mountain villages and peripheral tourism gets developed over time and becomes an income-generating vehicle for communities. The value of the CHT is not yet appreciated since it had not reached its time but, when hikers become a regular sight, expect a boom in services and goods.

Under the rain, my brain goes numb. It goes its usual behavior, directing the body to increase its production of heat and oxygen. The body oblige and the heart pumps blood at a higher pressure, creating friction, while the lungs inhale pure mountain air, cooling the human dynamo at an ideal temperature conducive for the processing of good thoughts, of good common sense. It is not easy. You have wet clothes and the natural drainage goes to the shoes and the socks, making it water logged. Your bag goes partly wet adding more grams of unwanted weight.

I am prepared for these things. So are Jon and Justin. But I am slightly worried of the Lepon couple. Not that I do not trust them how they would fend off a cold and wet walk, they simply do not know what to expect yet. This is their first day and they would be tested here. Today would not be a long route, tomorrow is. And a little harder. Anyway, we are all with the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild. We all specialize in skills for the real world. Adaptation to any environment is one of those. We liked it better that we are part of the landscape instead of the other way around, which most are doing.

The peacekeepers are walking ahead but I paced myself to make life more comfortable for Ma’am Shirley and their village secretary. A small Suzuki vehicle owned by the village of Lawaan trailed us, its welcoming presence designed to accommodate the ladies should they feel tired and cold. The ladies are partly wet despite their jackets and umbrellas. Sometimes the gusts made the umbrellas ineffective. This used to be a trail and now it is a concrete road, recently paved. I could do nothing about change. I work around it. The road goes higher as it twist and bend among the slopes like water.

Ahead are people and motorcycles. As we go nearer, we found out that they are the contingent from the village of Pili, led by their chairman, Hon. Joverlito Martel. They were expecting us and they have prepared another meal of free-range chicken soup and milled corn. We just had one during breakfast and brought some leftovers for our lunch but it is bad manners to decline a meal offered by friendly villagers, let alone from their highest village official. Ma’am Shirley and her retinue walked with us for another kilometer up to a place called Purok, from whence a trail to Mt. Mago is located.

At that moment, under the onslaught of a feisty weather outburst, we all decide to add the offered meal to our lunch instead. We will bring this along the way. I, in behalf of my team, sincerely thanked everyone from the villages of Lawaan and Pili for their kindness and generosity. I have not experienced something like this in the southern leg and it moved me. We were treated like VIPs here and these kind people went out of their way to relish and enjoy our company even in the most unkindly weather. No words could describe my feelings.

That was not the end of it. Four peacekeepers from Pili would accompany us to Mt. Mago as our guides and escorts. They were in raincoats and rubber boots. Jon, Justin, Mark and Mirasol are in raincoats too. I am the only one who is not wearing rain protection. I simply forgot about my garbage bag converted into a crude raincoat as my adrenaline goes high treading on muddy trails. The winds lashed at the plastic garments and rain punched a million needles at us, almost horizontal. I sent a text message at 08:47 for the Tuburan Police Station informing them of our coming, since there would be no more cellular signal up ahead.

The peacekeepers walked at a good pace which suits me but I have to look back and stop from time to time to keep us close together. The ground is slippery. Rainwater filled every hole and furrow and it overflowed. The fields are shrouded in clouds and fog. Visibility is good for 20 meters, at times at just 5 meters or so. Winds have not wilted its stranglehold on the exposed ridges. Chill is bearable but in a few hours it would be cold. At 10:40, I sent another text message to the Cebu Provincial Police Office, while I still have a signal, informing them of our direction. I got a feedback. It gave me a sense of security, at least.

We reach the concrete marker of Mt. Mago that marked the corners of Danao City, Tuburan and Carmen. It is almost 12:00 and we decide to stop here for a noonbreak and make use of that meal of native chicken, milled corn and rice for the nine of us. Then I remembered the estofado chicken Candelario Garces gave me yesterday in Kaluwangan II, Asturias as he was celebrating his birthday. I added it to my own share of the lunch and it was delicious. I could have eaten it in better conditions were I have the opportunity and so would have relished its taste better.

Everyone were really hungry and cold. The meal, or what used to be one, lay on a bed of banana leaves. We ate it under the shade of a small tree. Mt. Mago is almost bare save for vegetation growing among narrow gullies and tiny cleaves and on a rare spot like the small tree that we are sheltering under from the rain. There is a small pond which water meander into a small water course. This could be the source of the mighty Luyang River that flows out of coastline Carmen and into the Camotes Sea.

I have to release the four peacekeepers from Pili of their responsibilities for we know the way to the village of Bangkito. I thanked them and parted a little something for them which made them smile. As they walked away, Justin propagated a VHF signal for the direction of the Babag Mountain Range, in Cebu City, using a Versa Duo 2-way radio with stock antenna at 5 watts power. He was communicating with the repeater tower of Ham Radio Cebu, 40 kilometers away, and connected successfully with station 4F7MHZ under adverse weather conditions.

As navigating trails finally returned to me, we immediately left the peak and follow a trail that goes downhill. Several landslides have erased trails but I managed to seek out a path across these and we found ourselves on the safe side. Met a man from Bangkito carrying a big basket full of cabbage on his back supported by a tumpline on his forehead. The chance encounter in the foulest of weather provided us information that this same trail is used by them going to Santicon, Danao City, to include 20 of their children who are studying there.

I trembled at the thought of the children when I looked back at the landslides we just passed. The good thing is these children do not walk singly or in separate groups. They all travel in one group. These children were forced to study in Santicon since their school in Bangkito was also forced to close due to few students. It is about five kilometers away, most of it on open terrain, exposed to all the harshest of elements. It is a very remote country. A place that could host and hide predatory individuals and insane criminals.

We reach Bangkito at 14:15 and I made a courtesy call to their village officials. The lady councilor knew me from last time and it was easy to obtain permission from them to spend a night in their village. They assigned their multi-purpose building as our billeting place but the rest decided to strung their hammocks and canopies near the closed school building. So little have changed since the last time I was here in October 2015, during the time of the Segment IV Exploration Hike. I saw for the first time a blue concrete box which served as the source of clean water for the community.

So I have the village hall to myself and dried my clothes, socks and shoes outside when the weather turned nice with a faint presence of sunlight. My things inside my bag were dry, thank God. Those that were half wet, I let dry. I lit my Trangia alcohol burner alive and boiled water. I need hot beverage to keep me warm. I got my Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate drink and I felt better. I splayed my ground sheet on the concrete floor and, over it, the Therm-a-Rest provided by sponsor Michael Schwarz. It would be cold tonight but the sleep pad would be a good provider of warmth and comfort.

A six-man team from the PNP Special Reaction Unit arrived at 15:30. They were directed by CPPO to provide security for us on the duration of our stay in Bangkito. To remember, we have cops coming in to watch for us but they did not stay overnight. These were in Alcoy (Day 4) and Barili (Day 8), which were good enough. In Mt. Manunggal (Day 13), they stayed but we did not see each other. Tonight we will be with them. Finally. I have to thank the leadership of Police Sr. Supt. Eric Noble for taking primary importance of our safety as well as taking cognizance of the value of the Thruhike for the Province of Cebu. Such intelligent officers are hard to come by.

As everybody were preparing dinner, a squad of thirteen soldiers from the 78th Infantry Battalion came at 18:15. They were sent by their headquarters through radio dispatch from their detachment in Sacsac, Tuburan. They came on foot and on short notice. They barely have food for the night and not all have sleeping gear. But they came, to provide us another layer of security. I pity them and I decide to donate my excess food for them. Three meals of mine and Jon’s. Mark and Mirasol parted some of their food supply too.

I did not expect that CPPO and the AFP Central Command would send their forces for us at the same time in one place. While it may have boosted our safety, I have contrasting thoughts. Were there sightings of armed rebels? I know the places that I have visited in have been a hotbed of insurgency in the past but I do not see a resurgence of that, given the fact that the Philippine government have opened up negotiating channels with the CPP-NPA-NDF, although stalled, but both parties talk the same language since the current administration is top-heavy with people from the left spectrum, led by the president.

The timing of the separate arrivals of the PNP SRU and those of the Army detachment of the 78IB could have caused a misencounter. There was no assigned challenge and counter-challenge, a common procedure among government operatives. Both do not know each other’s presence when they were directed to serve their missions here. There was no proper coordination. Fortunately, the latter did not arrive in darkness. It sent shivers through me when I go through the notions of that. Even today as I write this several months after.

As expected, the cold came in. I could not sleep properly knowing that there are many good men within my proximity suffering from the cold staying out of doors to watch over me and my companions, complying with their mission. How could I be so insensitive? I went out and checked on their conditions. The cops were in the best place for they arrived first and so have chosen the choicest spot. The army guys were in a place that was, to me, not even a good choice to stay warm, but made up for it by being the most secure just in case. They ditch comfort for survival. They think like me.

Distance Walked: 9.48 kilometers
Elevation Gained: 780 meters and a low of 440 meters

Document done in LibreOffice 5.2 Writer