Eduardo stood, waiting patiently. Leaning on his bamboo stick, his face was hard. He seemed distant, off in his own world. What was is that he was thinking about standing there, so still. Dressed in military gear, a scarf around his head and his boots tied firmly, this guy knew how to disappear and I wondered if that was what he was waiting for. To disappear into the jungle, away from the civilized world.
Just a few minutes earlier I had watched Eduardo as he presented to the class of students and parents. His face softened, became less intimidating and his eyes sparkled a little as he smiled and made jokes. This is no joking matter to him though. You can tell, this is his heritage and he is proud of it. He is protective and you know you would rather be standing next to him, not against him in the jungle.
Edwardo, along with his nephew Nomer, lead groups through the JEST Jungle Survival Training in the mountains of Subic. These men led us, along with the children’s school on a camping expedition. This isn’t just any old camping, it is getting down and dirty camping. This camping trip was for a school excursion and it was rather timely as SB and I had been planning on heading off camping as soon as possible. When we saw the itinerary we both jumped at the chance.
Held at the JEST Survival camp in Subic, we were to learn essential jungle survival skills. The JEST camp claims to be the toughest survival school in The Philippines. It was set up back in 1960 by members of the Aeta people, of the Zimbales region near Mt Pinatabu. Subic was a large American Military base back then and one of the elders, Iking Bulatao had been hired as a guide for some military personnel. During the Vietnam War these Americans were captured by the enemy. They did manage to escape and decided to stay hidden in the jungle for a while until they could get to safety. It was the jungle survival skills they learnt from their guide that helped them survive. On their return it was mandated that all military persons would receive training in these survival techniques. That is how the school was created, and headed up by that original guide ……. To this day, the JEST camp is responsible for training military personnel from around the globe and that guides ancestors are the ones who run the camp. The business offers a range of programs depending on what you are wanting to get out of the course. This is such a fantastic experience for both children and adults.
On arrival to the JEST Base Camp, we received basic training by Eduardo, who is Iking’s Grandson, and Nomer, Iking’s Great Grandson. We learnt how to use the Bolo knife, which is basically all you need to survive in the jungle. Aside from how to use this bloody big knife, I now know a few other important survival things thanks to the training we received over those few days. How to make fire with bamboo, make cups, bowls and cutlery with it. How to catch my dinner and cook it, either using the bamboo or just by skewering it up the bum and holding it over an open flame. I can make a hat with a giant leaf, and shelter too. Not to mention making a comfy bed on the forest floor to lay on. I have learnt about a range of plants that can help me if I am sick, can help me to pee, help keep me alert, and that can provide me with water and soap to wash myself in the river. I have taught the children how to do a poop in the bush, and how to sleep in a tent. I think I can safely say I am set now…for anything…okay, perhaps not everything. I might leave the really hard stuff up to these men.
Once we had gone through the basics of using the knife and making bits and pieces, we were driven to the start of the hiking track where we commenced our trek to the camp site. The trek was great. Following the narrow pathway through bamboo thickets. The path was rocky and steep and the sounds of insects and birds filled out ears. Colourful butterflies flittered past us as we listened to that wonderful natural sound of whinging children. ‘Are we there yet, it’s too far, I’m tiirrreeddd…muuuuuuummyyyy carry me…’
When we arrived at our camp site all was forgotten. First things first, we kicked off our shoes and went to the river. It was gorgeous. Flowing cool, clean waters. A river bed filled with colourful river pebbles. The kids were in there exploring. SB sat on a rock in the middle of the stream, cooling down and taking in the sights and the sounds. Being in the middle of the jungle, free from the sounds of civilization. Just us with the wind in the trees, the monkeys, birds, insects and the sound of trickling water. Gorgeous. There was a slight cool breeze and I put my face up to it, and breathed long deep refreshing breaths.
The Aeta Elders came by to sell soft drinks and snacks as we set up camp for the night. They sat with their people cutting bamboo, observing, taking it all in.
After we had set up camp for the night we learnt more about bush survival. Then we got busy preparing for the evening meal. SB took part in the fire lighting contest and he came second. We were very proud. The look on his face when he got a flame was priceless. It was happy shock, as if he never thought it would happen.
SB and I took the children back to the river for a bath. We stripped them off to their undies and they went straight into the water, splashing and playing as SB sat on a rock in the water building balancing rock sculptures. I sat on the rocky bank and thought to myself if ever you were going to bath somewhere, in a mountain forest stream really is up there with the best of places.
The kids were washed and dressed so it was time to help with dinner. FB and BB got to help prepare the rice in the bamboo. FB carefully filling each shaft up, before it was filled with water and sealed up. While dinner cooked the children explored and played. The sounds of happy children playing filled the air as the chirping crickets became louder.
The four of us sat in our tent by torch light eating our meal and then SB and I showed the children how to toast marshmallows on the open fire. They got busy stuffing their mouths with the sweet treat.
At bed time the children we exhausted but so excited. They picked ‘wee spots’ in the toilet area and thought it was excellent to wee in the bush. They got into their tent, into their sleeping bags and spent the next half an hour playing with their torches, singing made up songs to celebrate their excitement. They just loved the whole experience. Soon after I was in bed, tired from the day. I slept in with the kids as our two-man tents were designed for little people so SB slept on a diagonal to fit his 6’4” frame into it. We slept on the ground, pillows made with sleeping bags and our tee-shirts from the day.
I lay in the tent and looked up. I could see the almost full moon through my window. The sky was black. A strange animal made his night call in the tree above us. I learned later it was an owl. The distant responses echoed through the forest. Soon the campsite was quiet as everyone succumbed to the day.
We woke just before six in the morning. The fire crackled and we drank native tea out of our bamboo cups. We ate breakfast and cleaned up camp. It was soon time to leave. We bid farewell to the river, to the bush and this lovely place and trekked back to the drop off point. The walk back was harder because it was steep. FB was in her element, our adventurer girl. She took the lead ahead of us and directed us all which way we should go. I commended her on her outstanding leadership skills and she loved that. Her chest puffed out with pride as she spoke of how much she enjoyed leading the way.
Back at the camp we were all presented with a certificate and badge. I thought FB would burst with pride. She said she loved earning the badge and that she earned it for being a good leader. I thought I would burst with pride too. After presentations we got to hang out for a few hours. We walked around the base camp, checking out the displays. There was an insect display, a butterfly enclosure, a bird enclosure and bird display section. We had lunch and then it was back on the bus to head home to Manila.
We had a great time. SB and I both grew up with this lifestyle, okay, perhaps not as rugged. I did grow up with a blow up mattress to sleep on. But we got the basics. Pee in the bush, wash in the river, cook on the fire, toast marshmallows, accept that dirt will get everywhere. Get smelly, sweaty and just go with it. We thoroughly enjoyed being taught jungle survival by Eduardo and Nomer and we loved that we got to introduce the children to camping in this way. They did us so proud.