Wednesday, November 14, 2018


I HAVE BEEN A LONELY VOICE in the outdoors, propagating a strange interest here in Cebu, the Philippines, called BUSHCRAFT. In the middle of 2009, only two people, apart from me, could comprehend its idea and how it is done or enjoyed of as a leisure activity. I was then in the process of distancing myself from mainstream outdoors. I love camping with a real fire and using a knife. Uh. Sorry. Knives.

Backpacking, sometimes mistaken here as mountaineering, is very popular. Urbanites regularly trekked to the mountains carrying heavy loads to spend overnight or a few days on those barren and exposed places. They looked cool carrying branded bags with matching shoes and brightly-colored clothes. If you look closer on their activities, you would notice the absence of a respectable knife.

I could not comprehend why people replaced a real knife with ceramic or plastic ones, and sometimes by nail files? Is it because of weight? Regulations? Fear? Whatever it was, the lack of that was influenced by no other than by ignorance. Then it became an advocacy for me to re-introduce the knife back to camping life, the knife-carry rights, and to educate more people about knife law, ethics, care and safety.

When I organized the first Philippine Independence Bushcraft Camp in 2011, the topic about the knife was given paramount importance. It was here that the participants began to understand the knife and it was also here that the knife culture began to slowly reclaim its spot in Philippine outdoors, thanks to my new converts (to include the next PIBC batches), which became the tiny sparks that started the organization of the Camp Red Bushcraft and Survival Guild.

Recreational bushcraft activities every weekend fascinated the outdoors community in social media. My activities always placed the knives at stellar attraction with the introduction of the first (and succeeding) “blade porn”, a traditional bushcraft showcase. An online prepping community began to appear and their members start to feature knives regularly. So were an online survivalist community and another online group that specialized more on blades.

One of those who participated in PIBC 2013 is a collector of expensive knives. He had been searching in the internet for any bushcraft activity in the Philippines so he could use his blades and it surprised him that his search brought him back to Cebu, of all places, his home province. He is Aljew Frasco, a gentleman from Liloan and a baker by profession. After the PIBC, he toyed on the idea of making knives from his DIY shop.

He just wanted to develop that skill as a hobby. That is all. Profiting from that was out of his thoughts. He had been searching long and wide for a perfect knife – a knife that could do all things. He found out later that he had been looking for the wrong places and it was with him all the time and they were a combination of threes or twos. What he lacked was time in the outdoors. The best place to test a knife. The PIBC gave him a different perspective this time.

One day after PIBC 2013, I got a call from him. He wanted me to test a knife. He made it himself. His first. A set of three letters were etched near the spine – AJF. His initials. With a sheepish smile, he named the knife as the AJF Gahum. Gahum is the literal Cebuano for “power”. Well, I thought to myself, I really need all the power in my arm to wield this steel blade. It was heavy but it suits me anyway and my outdoors lifestyle. I am used to hard work.

A few months later, he asked me of my opinion of the AJF Gahum. I gave him my honest observations; and the knife back to him. A few weeks passed and I got a call from him again. This time, the AJF Gahum sported a new set of wooden scales made of Philippine rosewood (Local name: narra) and Leichardt pine (hambabalod). Heavy mechanical work on the blade surface and the tapered distal made it lighter. It now has a convex grind and, likewise, thinner by a few micrometers. It is now sleek, vicious and hungry. There is only one thing to do: TEST IT OUTDOORS!

The AJF Gahum is a straight-backed knife. A very simple one. Of a very basic design, it is 235 millimeters long from tip to hilt. The full tang that held the scales is 130 mm from ricasso to end.  It is 47 mm from its widest measure and 6 mm at its thickest. It weighed 610 grams. With its new scales, it looked very handsome and caused a stir of interest, desires and more stares. It had lived up to its name. But appearances are different from performances. It had to be worn out and break something or be broken.

And so it became a regular customer on my side during dirt times and it made my work on the fields much easy, easing out my beloved tomahawk. The longer edge made cutting seamless and it never missed wood or bamboo. The extra, yet very manageable, weight made chopping effortless. I only have to raise it up and let gravity do its work. The weight assures me that it is there inside its sheath all the time and it erased my fear of it getting lost.

Weekends are my favorite days with the AJF Gahum. I test it on hardy bamboos, whose denseness in grain and skin could undo the superiority of branded knives into so-so ones. The Gahum, could cut it all seamlessly whether it be on the woody part or on wiry types whose thin tubes crack to splinters with a wrong swing. It does not matter if it is green or matured. This big knife is native born and is made to cut bamboo and wood, cane grass and shrubs.

The spine is friendly to batoning sticks which guide the strong-willed Gahum to a finer cutting tool. The same spine flaked off quartzites and iron pyrites from its mother stones, creating sparks from the clash of 5160 carbon steel and raw, but harder, material. As it is subjected to heavy usage, one of the rosewood scales went missing. The other half splintered into two pieces during a knife-throwing session. But the Leichardt wood scales remained.

For want of a hammer, a heavy stick, or a stone, the AJF Gahum drove sharpened sticks into the ground when I set up fly sheets for shelters. Some grounds are soft and some need power to penetrate. It happens all the time when I carried a hammock and where anchoring needed wooden pegs. I usually hit the top of the pegs right on the face of the blade. The same spot over and over again and the blade had not warped nor bent a slight angle. It is straight as ever.

I carried openly the Gahum at my belt during the exploration phase of the Cebu Highlands Trail, starting January 2015. The project is divided into eight segments, north to south, and this knife had been brought and toured on the six segments. I expected heavy knife work but I was glad it did not come to that. The opportunity to show off the AJF Gahum in open carry was just to familiarize locals, instead, about knife-carry rights for outdoorsmen.

The AJF Gahum, with its bulk and appearance, travelled with me, along with six to nine of my other knives, to Luzon, Visayas and, later, Mindanao. I did part-time classes in bushcraft and survival when I had a day job. When I pursued full time this journeyman occupation in 2016, I already knew how to bring my entire sharp tools through security, legally, for just as long as you follow regulations and protocols. Just do not carry the wrong item. Nor give a joke about bombs.

I let my students handle the Gahum during knife dexterity sessions. After each activity, I always examine the edge if it had dents and cracks. You would never know how people do to other people’s knives. Especially the “uneducated” ones who see knife as nothing but pry bars or digging tools. As a knife-carry rights advocate and teacher, your satisfaction goes ten-fold when you see no such marks. It is not a question of how perfect the temper of your knife is but of how your students fully absorbed the lectures well.

If you are skilled with a knife, you can use an AJF Gahum with a deficiency to its handle. I did that for more than a year. The missing rosewood scales allowed me to move back an inch to grip on the remaining scales. I used the baton stick instead to do the work for me. I cannot tolerate an absent AJF Gahum in my activity so the missing scales could be replaced. Despite the insistence of the maker to do that task for free.

However, I did acquiesce to the wishes of the maker at last. He asked me what material would I want to replace the scales. I provided him industrial micarta, a hardy material which were shaped to hold superheated shaft bearings of mining machinery that I found in an abandoned mine in Misamis Oriental in 2012. The mere fact that it is for industrial use and bear the Hitachi logo, makes it indestructible and would stay for keeps.

Just in time before the start of the PIBC 2017, I held the AJF Gahum once again. This time, it sported a different look and character: dark, brooding, unpredictable and incorruptible. From a blade with flamboyant two-toned scales, it now sports gloomy black scales. More like the Dark Knight. I like it that way. Very proletarian. Knives are just tools and should be used according to what it was intended for when early man invented it.

The AJF Gahum, however, is not a perfect knife. It has to be paired with a smaller one so I could accomplish my tasks outdoors. The built, temper and design are perfect in tropical settings. The edge has dulled just a bit and I liked it that way for my classes. I could not remember the time I sharpened it myself. It never came to that. I am a satisfied recipient of an excellent knife and it is a privilege to own the first of just a few blades made by AJF.

Document done in LibreOffice 5.3 Writer

Thursday, November 8, 2018


THIS IS A NON-BUSHCRAFT article or entry. I just placed this activity under the “Bushcraft Buhisan” series. This is a guided hike which I am doing for my friends from my former club, the Cebu Mountaineering Society, on December 28, 2017. Yes, it comes at an inopportune time after Christmas Day and before New Year’s Eve. I may want to spend this day like other normal person would but I have my own reasons to go out of the lazy zone.

We met at McDonald in Mambaling, Cebu City in the early morning. Boy Olmedo, Lilibeth Initan, Mon Corro and their three new members were there and we walked to Punta Princesa to ride a tricycle to Buhisan. It turned out the tricycle was only good on level ground and refused to accelerate on steep roads toward the Buhisan Dam. We were walking towards the watershed area when a government vehicle stopped to accommodate us after trying to hitch a ride.

After thanking the people who rode on the vehicle, we start to follow a path among a man-made forest of mahogany trees. This used to be my playground more than 25 years ago but I did not find it suitable as good for outdoor activities, for the very reason that it was dangerous here due to rampant hunting of birds which could easily injure you from a wayward bullet. This is also used as a refuge of people running from the law and becoming a convenient garbage dump from a nearby community. Lastly, the forest itself is fake. 

I was just here for this day upon the request from my friends. They are preparing for a climb to Mount Kinabalu and this is the first day of their training and wanted to take it slow on the first time and gradually become harder on the next few weeks. Yes, they would also avail of my terrain knowledge for another session next year, that would be just a few days from today. Anyway, I just follow an unfamiliar route and I believe it would connect to another bigger trail, which it does.

We crossed a small stream and came upon a wide level area which, I also believed were used as a picnic area for locals. Upon a small ravine, I saw a tiny waterfall and it has a lot of empty shampoo sachets and stones which has bits of soap that had adhered to the irregular surfaces. Come to think of it: the Buhisan Watershed Area is the source of potable water for 15 percent of Metro Cebu’s total household consumers.

The Metropolitan Cebu Water District neglected to protect it from vandals and pollutants and this is criminal. Or is this the mandate of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources? Whichever, this has happened for as long as I could remember and both entities has people that are all suffering from an extreme case of bad eyesight, close to blindness. If these were a forest that bear money, I am sure they would have built a high concrete fence complete with machine gun posts.

By this time the stream joined another stream and the trail forked out into two. In the denseness of undergrowth, I could not assess of what is beyond on one easy trail but the higher of the two would make it possible. I followed that and it goes on higher ground and I could see the man-made lake of Buhisan full of water. At other times of the year this is bare. It is so strange seeing the Buhisan so watery today. Its edges are marshy and this is referred to by locals as Pagatpatan. This is where hunting is rampant.

Most common tree that could survive and thrive in watery ground is the Leichardt pine (Local name: bangkal), whose flowers resembled that of pin cushions. I saw this same trees growing in the same conditions in Lake Lanao, Daanbantayan. Just the same, it resembled that of another hardy tree called the hambabalud (Sp. Neonauclea formicaria), which grew in rocky hillsides and bare soil. Far from the water’s edge are many young Philippine ebony trees (kamagong, mabolo) planted in between other common species.

We were now on drier ground now and more trails forked but I always took the leftmost, to be away from the lakeshore. I was rewarded of a familiar view of the catchment basin and we are out in more open terrain and sunshine. We followed a dried-up stream but I know there is another stream underneath us. We followed upstream and came upon three smaller rocks stacked above a bigger one. People do not really know the purpose and meanings of leaving trail signs.

Using the rock as a trailsign is adopted in the Boy Scout and leisure hiking. It is borrowed from the “talking rocks” used by Southwest Desert Native Americans when communicating with each other. It is left alone until such time when the recipient received the message. What the Boy Scout failed to appreciate was how to dispose the rocks after the recipient of the message – the last person – received the instructions. It is not left in eternal splendor. I threw the rocks aside because it is the most proper.

Right on the sandy ground are vandal lines which formed into a word, to which I do not like to perpetuate here in this article because I have better breeding, unlike that embarrassing cockroach that ruled this country like a madman. Two canines “ambushed” us for company and scouted the yards ahead of us. They really thought we would reward them with food with their unsolicited “help”. Sorry doggies. Thank you, but, no thanks.

Water appeared suddenly and it became a real stream finally. Why is this place called Buhisan? There are many versions actually and one version came from the word “buhis” (tax or tribute in Tagalog) which is very absurd. Buhisan actually refers to an old and large python that rarely moved because of its size. Because of its age and sedentary nature, moss and fungi grew on its scales and created a camouflage effect. It hunts by simply waiting for a prey to pass by. It lies itself like a log or hanging like a vine.

But the old folks called this place as Lensa instead, which in Cebuano is referred to as the rainforest. By this knowledge learned from the locals, I named the stream from its original name of Lensa Creek and the circuit of trails found here as Lensa Trail, instead of something Greek. There are many secret places in Lensa and they are given names by the locals who made their living here and I know some because bushcraft is not just a skill but also a repository of wood lore and history.

Upstream are many boulders and a big pool, made deeper by damming with stones. This is also a popular picnic area by locals but, today, they are absent. I looked up at the sky and I frowned at the sight of dark clouds passing. Droplets of moisture drop on you but it is not rain. It is just the behaviour of a rainforest. We move on and arrive at place where Lensa Creek divides into two. A headland between two forks, there is a trail and we would be in safer ground. For a while.

We may have to pass through another mahogany forest, this time with those treacherous rattan palm tendrils which could freeze you on your tracks. The barbs are very painful if it is caught on your skin and disastrous for a branded dry-fit top. It passes on a narrow path with nothing on one side but space and rocks below. Slowly we reach the same stream and walked back a little downstream to gawk at the bottom of the Buhisan Waterfall from its headrock. That legendary snake was found somewhere near here long ago.

This is now the limits of my new playground. I do not do anymore a walk on lower ground and among streams here and today is but an exception. We walk upstream and a smaller tributary joined the bigger Lensa Creek but it is not yet the one. Trekking on we reach the fork of the Banauan Creek but it is difficult terrain. The next stream – Creek Bravo – would be better. We took it and walked a little upstream and took a rest.

I just test their local knowledge here and one of their member could not retrace or remember the route and it made them disoriented. I took over again and led them to higher ground and better trails. Although I am very protective of my camping grounds but, this is one of those times where mending a fence with my former club takes importance. I usually do not take people here outside of my circle in bushcraft. But not so today.

We climb up a ridge and once there we follow the back of the mountain gently and easily  in a forest of mixed exotic and native trees and shrubs. Birds flew in and out and sang of their presence. The trail climb up more gently and gently until we came upon a rare open space. We are now on the sacred ground of the Camp Red Bushcaft and Survival Guild; the fabled place called Camp Damazo. They saw for themselves how a Moluccan ironwood tree (ipil) looked like and what distance you would give to a stinging tree (alingatong).

From Camp Damazo, we go straight ahead and took a trail on the right that goes into thick jungle vegetation. I showed them Caramon Spring, a good drinking water source which had provided my bushcraft camps water for more than five years and it had not changed in volume since I found it in 2012. We crossed a stream, climbed up a steep trail slowly and safely, crossed another stream and followed the rolling terrain until we reach a road: the Baksan-Pamutan Road.

I showed them another trail across and it goes downhill among farms and orchards and quite tame from the ones we walked before in the morning. The dirt path goes down to Lanipao and then a road that goes to Napo. The day ended at 12:00 noon which was a good workout, inhaling good rainforest air. From here we transferred to Guadalupe on motorcycles. I promised my friends to bring them to another playground of mine next year.

Document done in LibreOffice 5.3 Writer

Thursday, November 1, 2018

OLD MANILA: A Gleaming Pearl After Dusk

AFTER MY ENGAGEMENT IN Rodriguez, Rizal on December 10, 2017, I went directly to Navotas City, into the home of Jay Z and Carla Jorge. That very evening, I am again treated to a sampling of the best of Navotas cuisine by the couple, right in their little restaurant – Pacing’s House of Barbeque. Tired as I was, the ambiance of the place and the food revived my soul to appreciate life better and to toast to the goodness of human character.

On the table was one of their specialties – spicy fish tofu served on a hot plate. Along with that was plain rice and their best-selling pork barbecue bathed in a glistening splendor of sauce, a well-kept family secret formulated by Jay Z’s late grandmother – Pacing. Grilled tomatoes on a stick completed the fare. Where I have taken off, a pint of Arce Dairy Ice Cream landed on spaces where these heavenly food used to be. A cold creamy ice cream mattered very much to a comfort-deprived heathen.

A book, just off the printing press, by the smell of the pages, passed on to my hands as a gift by the Jorge couple. Fine weather, cool ambiance, hearty reception, the best food in town, a special ice cream and a Guidebook on the Proper Use of Medicinal Plants. What else would a bushman want? These unexpected rewards somehow dampened my disappointment earlier before I came here. At least here, I am much closer to home. I got real friends.

The Jorge couple’s hospitality extended for a couple of days before I departed for Cebu. The most memorable of this was seeing the Manila that I have not seen before. That came on a late afternoon of December 11. The couple was celebrating their third wedding anniversary (I was their absent ninong) and Jay Z insisted that we dine at Barbara’s Heritage Restaurant where their wedding reception was held then. I went for a ride and found the establishment still closed.

It was at that moment when I was entering an old building of colonial proportions and beauty that I was transported back in time. Back to that time when Manila was a glistening pearl and a prized possession of Spain. The electric bulbs glowed majestically muffled, blending perfectly with the natural light of dusk. Shadows and lines and curves were at its exact places in the design of time and light and aura. It projects something unworldly yet understandably clear for the senses to enjoy.

Come to think of it. This was the same Manila that I totally disdained many years ago because of its uncontrolled development, overpopulation, high crime volume, grime accumulating on your nostrils and collars, high cost of living, floods under the slightest of rains and that ever constricting vehicular traffic. My idea of Manila expanded after EDSA '86 and became the National Capital Region. Manila, to most Visayas and Mindanao residents, is Luzon and where the conversations in Tagalog start.

Inside the courtyard of the quaint building is a beautiful fountain. Across it is a stone staircase leading to a veranda and above me are the finely-wrought windows and eaves that spoke of its Andalusian origins. I would be wrong if I have not seen this scene before in another time but in the comforts of a cushioned seat inside a cinema theater, back then when FPJ lorded it as an all-time box-office hit. 

Walking on the cobbled streets of Intramuros under twilight, devoid of vehicular traffic, was very soothing to the senses. A horse-driven carriage passes by, uprooting your mind from the present time to days when colonial life were centered around the protection of walled communities and watchtowers. Intramuros, the Old Manila, was the biggest of them all in the orient and it is here, at such hours, when the gran hombres and their doƱas socialized as if they were in their home countries.

The approaching Angelus of the hour brought magic and charm all to its own reminiscent of the times. At such hours, the tropic heat does not bite anymore. The breeze from Manila Bay dislodged the warm air that radiate from the mortar walls and pavements. San Agustin Parish stood before me and, farther away, is the bulk of the Manila Cathedral. Into the great door of the San Agustin I entered for the very first time and I could smell the many years of nostalgia that had stayed up the high ceilings, which also host a mosaic of shades and tones of the different centuries.

In a cacophony of bells, a Eucharistic celebration started as I eased myself in one of the pews. I noticed older women of European descent, attending to worship, only suggests that at its height of liveability, Old Manila may have hosted a considerable population of Spanish and other nationalities, as well as Filipinos of respectable wealth and influence, doing business or serving for the Crown. I might have dreamed but in my dreamy state I locked out the tensions that separate the colonizers from the local populace.

The electric bulbs and street lights now dominated the darkened skies and the old walls looked surreal in their unnatural glow. People walked on the cobbled streets and there are too few people here, an unlikely sight of that usual densely-peopled Manila street that I came to know of. Most of those I saw are students, laughing on their way home. Then there are the office workers, still in their uniforms, walking singly to the same direction where the students went.

Jay Z and I went back to Barbara’s. Hungry acids pierced my insides as the waiters arranged the food on two long tables. They served buffet food. Toned down music of smooth melodies sprinkled the ancient room in a totally relaxed mood and, at a signal, the chairs dragged backwards and reverberated inside the dining room as the diners prepared the short walk to the buffet tables. The ladies went first, while the gentlemen among us sat and waited for our turn.

Food for the taking were Filipino and continental dishes. I went in and choose braised pork, pinakbet, kangkong adobo, fresh lumpia and pork inasal. Popular Filipino delicacies are many and I helped myself with biko and on as many pieces of fried banana. A five-piece string band regaled us with their select traditional Filipino favorites. This same banduria provided the music that were interpreted by sets of cultural dancers swaying to the tunes of Tagalog, Bicolano, Visayan and Maranao numbers.

It was a memorable night indeed in the Old Manila which I now began to appreciate as a legitimate daughter of a Spain that was then at its height of power in the Old World, a good 250 years before the coming of the Americans. This same city shone a hundred more times in the Far East under another colonizer and could have been a shining beacon in the Pacific, on the verge of surpassing of even the greatest cities of Asia, were it not for World War II.

Though her identity was usurped by many, she retained her own destiny within the confines of the playgrounds where she frolicked, danced and sang long ago. She is a free spirit and she enjoyed her past with much more vigor than people thought of her as a modern metropolis. I came to apologize on that thought and I was gifted with a rare charm that has no equal, even from my own beloved Cebu.