Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Clearing trails and taking hikes

If you like hot, humid weather, then you’d love Corregidor about now. It has been sunny most days, with the very occasional time when it will cloud up, then clear again. Watching basketball has been pleasant except that on a couple of windless evenings, there have been tiny black bugs – maybe a type of beetle – that don’t bite or anything, they just land on your skin and “bug” you.

We have also watched a few games where the players have had to consider the wind-factor for their longer shots. The regular season only has a few games remaining, and already Battery Grubbs has clinched first place. They will play the winner of the game between the fourth and fifth place teams next week. The games have mostly been exciting, with Battery Way losing two games this week in overtime. Battery Geary looks very strong, being the only team to beat Grubbs so far. We think these two teams have the best chance of meeting in the final, which will be a best-of-three event. One other note: Battery Crockett, one of the weaker teams, has a player who scored 45 points in their 71-69 overtime win against Way.

It is back to trail-clearing time now that rainy season is over. Last week, we took our friend Gilbert to help us clear the trail from Battery Way to Battery Hannah. We were hopeful that it would not require much clearing, and for the most part that was true. However, there were complete blockages due to 1) downed trees from Typhoon Pedring, 2) bamboo, and 3) rattan. Where the trees were large we left them alone and made paths around them or cleared for hikers to go over or under, hoping that someday we can get a chainsaw to complete the job. Bamboo is usually easy to clear if you don’t let it get too mature, since when it is young the shoots are soft as grass. Later of course, they harden and can take serious bolo (machete) work. The frustrating part is that, no matter how well you clear, the bamboo will grow back, sometimes rather quickly. The same is true of rattan, which has nasty, sharp little thorns on its fronds and vines. Even gloves do not always help. We got the trail cleared about two-thirds of the way, and then realized it was time to head down for lunch. From that point, we just slashed our way through to the trail’s end, knowing that we’ll have to go back or hire someone to finish clearing it.

You can also start hiking from Battery Way and choose go to James Ravine, so we decided to check out that trail from the three-way intersection to the ravine. Unlike the Way-Hannah trail, which was worse than we had hoped, this section wasn’t too bad between the intersection and the ravine. The worst part was near the bottom, where we ran into, you guessed it, bamboo and rattan. Steve used a bolo (machete) and Marcia used a sturdy garden shears, and we managed to get through with no problem, although we both got a few rattan “bites.” Just to make sure we got it well cleared, we returned the following day and walked it again. It definitely was an easier walk without having to hack our way through obstacles.

Along the way we took some photos that we will include and describe now.

1. As many times as we have walked the trail from Middleside to Battery James, this was the first time we noticed this staircase from the road up to what was once the trolley line. However, there it is, if you know what to look for.
2. Several years ago, there was an authorized project moving mature male-female monkey pairs from Corregidor to other Philippine islands. You may have heard that there are 3000 monkeys on Corregidor. Having learned that Philippine long-tailed Macaques live in colonies of 30-50, and since we have only been able to identify 6-10 colonies on the island, the numbers are probably more like 500, and certainly not more than 1000. In any case, if you want to see one badly enough, spend some time at with us at Middleside. Photo is of the abandoned monkey quarantine area.
3. A typical Corregidorian monkey.
4. There are hibiscus bushes all over the island, and they date back to pre-war landscaping. Here is one blossom along the trail, likely descended from that era. Sometimes they act as signs alerting us to ruins in the jungle.
5. One-hundred-year- old guardrail extends along the road near Battery James, both on the way to Middleside and down to James Ravine. Some broken sections are evident, and could be due either to war damage or falling trees.
6. We love the roots of some of the trees on this island. This is an example of one of our favorites, with Marcia standing alongside for scale. Absolutely huge.
7. This tree branch, about a yard/meter long, lay on the trail above the 1918 tunnel. Isn’t it beautiful?
8. There is a very large retaining wall at the three-way intersection. If you look closely you can see Marcia standing behind a bush at the top-left of the photo, and can get an idea of the size of the wall. We didn’t measure it but it’s probably close to 30 feet high at its maximum, tapering to follow the slope of the trail. In the photo, you can see several of the drainpipes placed in the wall to prevent it from water damage. A part of the wall is missing, almost certainly due to a bomb dropped by the Japanese in 1942 or an the Americans in 1945.
9. Vines, vines, everywhere vines. Some make hiking difficult, since you are constantly tripping over them. Some are larger than Stone Cold Steve Austin’s forearm. Occasionally you come across two identical vines that decided to intertwine each other, as is the case here. Notice that Steve cannot encircle the vines with his long fingers.

We saw many fruit bats flying overhead. They were so quiet that we did not hear them, unlike their noisy behavior at night. However, their giant shadows caught our attention, and looking up into the trees, we were able to spot a few.

A much rarer sighting is the sulfur-crested cockatoo. Although we hear them often – their natural call is obnoxious, like loud ducks with sore throats GACK! GACK GACK! – they are extremely shy, and this is only the second time that Steve has seen them. After leaving the trail, we spotted a pair flying across the road at treetop level. Unfortunately we could not take a picture, as they were there and gone too quickly.

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