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

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