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If camping with a pup tent, freeze-dried food and water-purification tablets is too citified for you, try trekking into the Philippine jungles surrounding Subic Bay.
Leave your usual camping gear at home. You won’t even need the backpack and canteen. “The jungle provides all you need—food, water, utensils, soap, insect repellent,” advises Jun, your camouflage-clad leader.
Surely he jests?
No, he J.E.S.T.s.
Jun teaches JEST, Jungle Environmental Survival Training. He is an Aeta, an indigenous Philippine, many of whom taught JEST to American military forces during the US occupation of Subic Bay. (See Sidebar: From Military Training to Eco-tourism).
One afternoon he entertained and impressed a group of expedition cruise eco-tourists with a taste of his overnight JEST course.
Clad in camo T-shirt, long pants and boots, he carried only a sharp 14” inch curved knife and a pocketful of uncooked rice.
“The jungle will provide everything else I need.” He gestured to two 5-foot long stalks of bamboo about 2 inches thick. “Green bamboo can be made into a water source and utensils. You can make fire from dry bamboo and use vines as soap.”
He picked up a straight bamboo stalk. His curved knife, a daguhong, made swift, sure cuts into the bamboo. In less than five minutes, a bamboo drinking cup, long-handled spoon, plate and lunch box sat next to him. A bamboo rice cooker rested on a bamboo tripod. He emptied his pocket of rice into the “cooker.”
“We must have water for our rice,” he said, selecting a crooked bamboo stalk and slicing it on the diagonal. Water dripped from the fibers into his cooker.
Holding another freshly cut bamboo above a volunteer’s open mouth, he let a few drops drip into onto her tongue. “How does it taste?”
“It’s fresh water,” she reported with a surprised smile.
Jun returned to his cooker. “We need to boil the rice.”
Holding a stalk of dry bamboo, “the fire starter,” he bored a hole in one side and scraped the outside to the inner bark, creating three piles: fine shavings, longer slivers and long sticks.
“The fine shavings are kindling, the longer slivers hold the fine shavings and the long sticks, for rubbing.” Cutting a piece of dry bamboo lengthwise in half, he drilled a tiny hole in one half piece then made a thin sharp stick “to rake the embers.” He rolled the shavings into a ball then divided it in half. One ball went over the tiny hole with the shavings holder on top. He began rubbing the long sticks together inside the ball.
The audience neither moved nor breathed. In seconds, a tiny wisp of smoke appeared in the ball. Everyone let out a collective breath.
Jun encouraged the tiny flame to grow. He poked the ball out with the sharp stick, caught it in the shavings holder and blew gently. Seconds later a small fire burned under the tripod and rice cooker.
“You want more than just rice for dinner, so we could catch a wild bird or maybe a fish to put with it,” he said as he placed the bamboo lid atop the rice cooker.
“After dinner we need to wash up.” Laying a piece of vine on a rock, he beat it with a piece of bamboo until it was pulpy. He removed the bark and added water that still dripped from the long bamboo stalk. Immediately his hands foamed. “This soap will not only wash your body, it washes your hair, is good for dandruff and head lice. We call it gu-gu, the soap vine. Not all vines are soap vines. Look for a vine that grows twisted, like a telephone cord.” He rubbed more vigorously. “The soap bubbles are an insect repellent. Dry and burn the vine. The resulting smoke drives away mosquitoes.”
Standing in the midst of his freshly made utensils, fire, soap and insect repellent, he sheathed his daguhong, smiled at his admiring audience and repeated, “The jungle provides it all.”
“In 1960 American military forces selected Subic Bay as a training site for its Special Forces and Navy Seals preparing for Viet Nam,” said Jun. At the time, the US maintained a large naval base at Subic Bay. When the US closed its naval base in 1991, the base became Subic Bay Freeport and jungle survival training became available to civilians and eco-tourists. If overnight jungle camping isn’t your forte, enjoy a one-hour jungle survival demo, the mini-zoo and butterfly garden. www.subicbay.com.ph
After the jungle survival mini-course, Yvonne Lanelli (EVLanelli@yahoo.com) retreated to the expedition cruise vessel for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.