Published: November 22nd 2010November 22nd 2010
The village of Kampowestohan marks the end of the Jeepney track; half in, half out. From the eye view of a circling hornbill it must be completely hidden, engulfed somewhere in the fringe of the rainforest. This is where I first met Adol, the illegal logger turned conservationist: “better money!” he cackled - to this day I can’t decide weather he was joking or not.
Adol tells of his childhood in Kampowestohan. What is now fringe territory was then thick forest, a man-made island that had to be hacked into shape on a daily basis. He ate the same food then as he feeds his children now - fruit, meat from a local goat, chicken or the occasional dog, and rice. The young men would hunt with guns, climbing up into uncharted ground, sleeping in hammocks in the low branches and then moving swiftly onwards at dawn; returning to the village with pig and spotted deer. The deer have been scared out of sight in recent years - Adol recollects how six months ago during a particularly adventurous jungle trek he had stumbled across a “still warm” dung pellet, and was hit suddenly with a nostalgic smell that took him back to his youth.
Even for Adol, relatively comfortable in his childhood playground, the route ahead encompasses a certain amount of uncertainty. Only nature stands between our improvised path and Negrito territory. The Negrito represent the last remaining community of indigenous Philippine Islanders, protected by the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act in their desire to remain immersed in their final retreat of rainforest. So called by the Spanish missionaries due to their dark skin and assumed descendance from Africa, the Negrito remain something of an anthropological mystery in terms of human evolution.
Adol has both witnessed the destruction around him and played a part in it. He has advertised the superiority of Philippine mahogany over other tropical woods, still proud that Negros timber has been exported across the world to build furniture in rich houses. He appears to show little remorse for his past. He was doing then what he is doing now, using his defined knowledge of the forest to financially support his family.
As a conservationist he does not look on the critical state of the forest in hopelessness, certainly not with a desperate, tree-hugger attitude. To him this is still an unconquered ocean that is too large to cross on foot. Every opening in the canopy, slanted at odd angles off the hill, reveals more layers of hills; dense and unpunctured in their coverage. The forest shimmers green in the sun, as deceptively bright and beautiful as our position must look from Kampowestohan. After four days of trekking we are wet, tired and running out of food - it’s time to turn around.