Yesterday we were finally able to trek the Masungi Georeserve, a conservation protected area in Baras, Rizal. Situated in the southern part of the Sierra Madre mountain range, the Masungi Georeserve project aims to heal the forest and serve as a wildlife sanctuary. The drive to Masungi takes about a couple of hours from Makati City, and the highlights of the trip includes communing with nature, walking through caves and limestone trails, rope courses and hanging bridges, while learning about the different tropical trees, potentially encountering tropical wildlife, and learning about how to contribute to the conservation of the environment. It took us a long time to book a trip to Masungi, as they require reservation and a minimum number of participants per trip. Slots were easily filled especially on weekends, so we had to book three weeks in advance through Klook, paying PhP2,600 per person. My friend from previous work joined D and me in this adventure as she was likewise keen on seeing the place up close.
At 7AM we headed off to Tanlines PH’s roofdeck meeting place along Makati Avenue. Tanlines offered breakfast (choice of Filipino and Continental) for a fee of 150 pesos. We skipped that as we already had a hearty breakfast, but we were able to enjoy their free coffee and ice cold water. Tanlines limits the group from 7 to up to 14 people only. We were only 10 people yesterday, which I think is a good enough size for the trek. After a briefing at the Tanlines roofdeck we loaded the minibus and drove off to Baras, Rizal. Luckily traffic was not bad, and we arrived at Masungi about half past nine.
At the onset I was already impressed by the colorful flowers, the mountain backdrop, and the sound of chirping birds. We were welcomed by the Masungi staff who gave an introduction and history of Masungi and their efforts, as well as what to expect for the day. Masungi was derived from the Filipino word “masungki” which is a word used to describe crooked, spikey teeth — because that’s how the limestones of Masungi look like. The limestone formations of the Masungi Georeserve are estimated to be 60 million years old, when they emerged from the ocean following movements of the earth’s crust post the dinosaur age. It was in 1996 when the conservation efforts were started for the area, and today, the payments made by each visitor goes into planting trees. The Masungi staff told us that at the end of the trek we were to be given a certificate and hopefully in ten years we can get an invitation to see the trees that have been planted as a result of our visit.
We were reminded to always wear our helmets as there would be instances of walking through caves and climbing ropes; the leave no trace policy; sticking close to the group at all times and not wandering far; not petting or feeding any wildlife we encounter; and maintaining silence so as not to disturb other visitors and the nocturnal animals who are sleeping during the daytime. There were to be 9 destinations for the trail, and we were to walk around the conservation area, not going back to where we would pass through. Before heading off, our guide, Jackie, reminded us to load up on water and use the restrooms if we had to, as there were no sources of drinking water nor restrooms along the way. The trek was to take 3 to 4 hours.
As we walked through the trail, Jackie showed us different trees and their uses. I remember she showed us the 4 different species of bamboo in Masungi, as well as the morning glory, tibig, balete, tangisang bayawak trees. Boy was it hot and humid that day, and I was thankful for the canopy provided by the trees, and welcomed every breeze of the wind. And then we had the “practice” climb on a sapot (a rope-woven spider web). I felt like I was a kid once again, climbing my way up a playground. And then we made it to the first stop – Rick’s Sapot I think is what it’s called. It’s like a big spiderweb overlooking the Sierra Madre range to the left, and the Laguna Bay to the right. Spent about 15 minutes here to take in the view, and of course to wait for everyone to take their selfies.
We had several rest stops (thank goodness for that). One that struck me was this old logger’s saw that was left behind by illegal loggers, and then beside it was the remnants of a tree that they cut. It was heartbreaking, but I got a sense of hope as I saw a seedling of a baby tree that was growing halfway between the old saw and the cut down tree – it was planted in 2016 as part of the conservation. As I gazed at the seedling, I thought of how fast it is for man to just cut down a tree that takes years, maybe decades, to grow, and how long it is for one to be able to repair that damage driven by need for money.
The one stop that I liked the most was the Yungib ni Ruben because the moment we got to its mouth, I smelled the fragrant scent of Ylang Ylang oil. Jackie said they diffused the fragrant oil to mask the smell of bat urine. I liked the dramatic shadows and their effect in the cave. At first it was so dark I had to grope my way around, but then the staff placed candles to illuminate the corners of the cave and it was magical.
Other stops we passed through were the Tatay (highest peak of the limestone rock formation), the Nanay which was the second highest peak. There was also a meditation trail where Jackie asked us to hide away our gadgets and listen to the sounds and look around us for about ten minutes. And then we walked through hanging bridges and climbed down the Bayawak which was actually kind of scary because I literally had to hang on for dear life.
The carrot on the stick was knowing as I reach the bottom of the climb down the snacks prepared for by the Masungi staff was going to be just a few meters away. And boy, did I quite enjoy the snacks – boiled banana, tuna sandwich, calamansi juice and ice cold water. The staff also handed out frozen towels. And then as we got back to the bus, Tanlines rewarded us with free fresh coconut juice. Yum!
As we drove back to Makati, I reflected on how great it was to do this type of walk – good for the body, the mind and the heart. My heart went out to the earth, as I saw mountains eroded and converted to subdivisions. We do not have much of these nature trails, let alone parks, in Metro Manila – something good to do also with family and friends. We need more of these protected areas, where trees grow abundantly serving as homes for birds and wildlife.