Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Carrying Cathy

I just started a book project so I’ve been off the web for a while. This one is taken from my oh so large archive heap of old events that I swore to put on the blog. The reason it came up now was a discussion I had the other day about any potentially inappropriate reasons for carrying a Filipina.

Last October or so S called around 8 pm on a Saturday evening. Her husband J had a friend who was lost on Mount Makiling, an old dormant volcano next to our town. J was going on a rescue mission and S wondered if I could come along too.

Sure. I threw the things I would think be necessary in a backpack, put on some hiking boots and a longsleeved shirt and J picked me up. It was not clear where or when he was lost but going up the hill we picked up another friend with more info and also got textreports on the situation.

His friend had taken five of his employees at a large American credit card company for a kick-off at Makiling. They planned to go to Mudsprings, an area of steaming hot mud bubbling out from the ground about a third of the way up to the top. When they got there, they felt hungry for more, so they made attempt at the summit, which they reached and started their descend half an hour later. They didn’t mark their entrance path though and went down on the wrong side, realising after another half an hour that they were lost and made it back to the summit. When reaching the summit they realised they would not make it down before nightfall, and with no flashlights or lanterns there was no way they’d pull off a night descend. And with no spare water or food they were not likely to make it down in one piece the next day. So the friend texted the Forestry Department to ask for help.

We reached the outpost somewhere around 8:30 pm and got the full briefing. So me, J, the Forestry boss, two other foresters got in yet another friends shiny new gold colored Isuzu Crosswind to go as far as we could on the muddy, bumpy path. On the way up the Forestry Boss inquired about the contents of everyone’s backpack.

”Well, Dried fruits, chocolates, water, extra water, first aid kit, knife, insect repellent, flashlight, extra flashlight, lantern…eh…that’s about it”
“Where are your extra clothes”
“Well, maybe I’m to big to lend them clothes anyway” I said jokingly, no really knowing what he was getting at.
“ No, for you, it’s going to be cold up there”
“ Yeah, I’m from Sweden, we don’t get cold”.
I know it was a very boisterous and un-swedish remark (I do get cold, it never happened in this country yet though) but I included it because that’s how I felt at the moment:

Going up an old volcano in the dead of night to save a group of people who were stuck there. Who might die on the top of the mountain if we can’t get to them. I know it’s not Everest or anything, but the whole idea gave me instant chest-hair. At the time I was mostly dealing with poopy diapers and screaming children and reading stories to stop children from screaming. This was Alpha-Male for me.

J’s friend with the Isuzu wasn’t properly equipped (apart from the car of course, which had gotten us nearly half way up) so he couldn’t come. The Boss stayed behind for some reason I couldn’t figure out (and didn’t really mind about).

At 9 pm the four left, Me, J, Forester V and Forester N set out through the jungle to do some serious man shit. I had a definite Lord of the Rings – feeling, just a tad to big to be a hobbit though. Maybe I could be Strider. Cool.

The first part of the way up was easy. Literally a walk in the park, even though Makiling is technically a Forest Reserve and not a National Park anymore on account of being too small. The reserve is 4000 hectares and there’s 10 foresters to look after it and stop illegal logging, poaching, trapping, settlement, guide visitors and occasionally rescue poorly planned kick-off parties. Maybe not the most gratifying job in the world, but I'd take it. We were talking about conservation issues, climbed big rock outcrops, walked along narrow trails with a wall on one side and a extremely steep slope on the other, picking some secret wild fruits that didn’t taste that well but it was good for your stamina (and, of course, your boner. Seems that everything that tastes off here is regarded as a native Viagra. I’m beginning to suspect that it’s just a male ritual, if you can eat things that tastes like shit, you’re really masculine, then you must have a good sex-drive, sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy) and I did no longer hesitate about my Strider* identity.

It took us 1 hour 45 minutes hours to reach the top where there was much gusto. The group were happy to see us. One of the young women had gotten some scratches that I could fix with my first aid kit. We cooked for them, gave them water and a few jokes. I felt like going out in the jungle to look for secret herbs to prepare my elfish back-to-life potion that would leave us all hovering down the mountain in a ball of glorious light, but settled for picking wild strawberries.

Anybody saw the hubris coming, nooo.

We were 10 people up there. 4 rescuers and 6 people in need. We where supposed to go down and be back so we could get a few hours of sleep and not ruin our entire Sunday. I thought.
You see, 40 minutes behind us were rescue-team No 2, consisting of another 9 people, including the forestry boss (why would he stay behind, he was the boss right. Why let someone else get the credit for the rescue if you’re going to be up all night anyway).

11.30 pm. - So we better cook for team no 2.
11:40 pm - They’d better eat.
11:55 am. - They’d better get some rest before the descend.
0:02 am. - By the way, you have any aspirin in your first aid kit?
0:02 am. - No, It’s a first aid kit.
0:03 am. - Why don’t you have any aspirin in your first aid kit?
0:03 am. - I never had aspirin in first aid kits. They’re supposed to save lives, stop bleeding and infection, not cure head aches. You can sniff on some rubbing alcohol if you want to.
0:03 am. - I have aspirin in my first aid kit.
0:03 am. (Well, you should have brought it then, shouldn’t you. And how about showing some gratitude or I’ll rip that bandage right off.)
0:04 am. (I am not Strider. I am Saruman)
0:10 am. - OK. We can go now. (What, and leave Isengard all abandoned)
0:11 am - Wait. One of the girls is night blind.
0:12 am - She can’t go.
0:13 am - She can’t go very fast.
0:14 am - She goes very slowly. (Thanks to Saruman's lantern by the way, that wizard stuff comes in handy)

So we go, veeery slooowly downhill. I put a white hand on trees here and there. Some singing, some playing “Mexican hat dance” on their cellphone. Three hours and fifteen minutes later we’ve reached the easy part. Half a mile to go. If we go Uruk-Hai style we’ll be there in 20 minutes. We stop for a short break, get up and then one of the young women sits down again and won’t move. The boss talks to her to see what’s wrong.

- Pagod, she’s tired (No shit)
- You don’t have any aspirin in your first aid kit?
- Still not, sorry, (I was planning to go to Mercury Drug, but the one on the path was closed)
- Any medicine that might cheer her up, caffeine.
- Sorry. Just first aid. (Dammit, I knew I should put some amphetamine in there, they do come in handy,
specially when passing customs)

(Luckily he did not criticize my first aid, or I’d had my wand kick his ass into next week)
After a minute of confusion where we at least could give her some chocolate and water, everybody sat down again. And waited. 16 men (of which 13 are from the rescue squad), 3 women. One of which is not willing to go any further. She weighs 45 kg, tops.

- Hrrm, I said to the boss, maybe we can carry her for a bit?
- No no, She’ll be fine, we just wait for a bit
- Hrrm, I said to J, why can’t we carry her for a bit?
- She’ll be fine. The boss decides.

So for 45 minutes we sit and wait for a young woman to overcome her tiredness. Everybody’s is still talking cheerfully in Tagalog. The odd “Mexican hat dance” is playing from a lone cellphone. I don’t understand shit. (I am not Saruman, I am an ignorant Orc).

Finally she gets up and 15 men, 6 women and 1 ignorant orc are walking downwards again. We walk and walk for at least 50 meters before the next young woman is to tired to walk any more.
Maybe carry this one?
It’s 4:15 am, it’s pretty safe to say that everyone’s is tired.
It’s pretty safe to say that no one will fell perkier until they’ve had some sleep and some coffee.
30 more minutes of Tagalog and “Di-da-di-da-Da-di-da-Da-di-da—Da-Da-di-da-Da-di-da-Da-di-da“ and ignorant orc muttering.

Here is a biologist, stuck in a jungle forest reserve, on hour before dawn. Owls hooting, loads of exiting flowers, mother nature blowing a gentle wake up wind to the creatures of the forest who respond with a cacophony of merry sounds. Nowadays I actually go up early and drive up to the outpost just to hear those calls and watch some birds. Then, all I could manage was Orc-mumbles.

Finally we get up, and walk for I swear no more than three feet before tired No 1 sits down again. (I am the Orc that loses his temper and gets his insubordinate head chopped off by the Orcleader). I give up and walk ahead for another 50 or so meters, far enough to avoid the embarrassment of smashing someone’s cellphone if “Mexican hat dance” comes on again.

At 5:45 am I reach the car. At 6:30 when everyone has come down, we go. At 7:15 I’m home again with my loving wife. At 8:15 I sleep.

I’ll always remember that night, and if I was invited again (fat chance) I would go in an instant. I even have aspirin in the first aid kit now. But I have yet to figure out why we didn’t carry the ones who couldn’t walk for themselves.


*I find Strider cooler than Aragorn. I think It’s a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll thing, you know, “Well, they’re OK, but I remember their early stuff. That’s way better, more raw energy. I remember a concert I went to back in 1987...”

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