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


Christopher Ellis said...

Free-rein (sic) free-range?
Once again, delightful writing, thank you.

PinoyApache said...

They are the same. I liked to use the first term than the second one.
Thank you for visiting and taking time to read and comment. Thank you.

leomel pino said...

Sir Jing, There is no such Sitio that goes by the name Sacsac and also, the only Military Detachment near that area is located in Brgy. Kansi.