It's been a while since I hiked the mountains. I vaguely recall the last time that I put on my shoes and take on the view from the top. Being the beach person that I am, I find solace and peace of mind with the feel of the sand on my feet and hearing the sounds of waves breaking on the shoreline. Between the mountains and the sea, there's definitely no question to that. But now with the rainy weather comfortably setting itself in, the rain and the beach is not exactly the best combination.
So what other options do I have?
A soft ping on my FB messenger a few weeks back got my attention to explore a new trail that Masungi Georeserve was opening. Since its opening in 2015, the Masungi Georeserve has become one of the favorite daytrip venues for metro residents. Its Discovery Trail, combines trekking, spelunking, and rope activities that surely gave us the thrills and the chills. You can read more about our Masungi Discovery Trail adventure here.
On the other side of the fence or should I say the other side of the road, the Masungi Legacy Trail promises to give a different kind of experience. It gives its trekkers a more in-depth look on the conservation efforts being done on the southern part of the Sierra Madre. It combines leisure hiking, learning, and a touch of relaxation while going through the designs of its activities - Kawayan, Tree-Nurturing, and Amihan.
Hiking through the mountain trails of Baguio was part of my childhood activities, having spent most of my elementary years in the city. I guess this is where I acquired my love for the outdoors. Masungi's Legacy Trail brought back those memories with its no-frills hiking activity - no rope works and just plain trekking through its cemented and muddy trails.
The trail hike snakes through the lush greeneries of secondary tree forest covers and grasslands. Designated trail stops was an opportunity to rest and to learn as John, our guide, shared valuable information about the conservation efforts being done by their team. Its interesting that the construction of the road that passes through reserve caused the denudation of its forest covers. He explained to us that the forest cover of secondary trees, instead of dipterocarp, was evidence of the denudation of the area's forest cover. The focus of their efforts is to restore the forest cover with narra, yakal, etc.
The reserve sits within the upper Marikina Watershed, a declared protected area of the DENR. But more than the efforts to restore its forest cover, Masungi rangers also faces the problems of professional land grabbers and treasure hunters. They drive the point by keeping a fake property signage and a treasure hole intact for its guests to see how these affects the ecosystem in the area. There are even cases where these land grabbers would intentionally set grasslands on fire just to hamper their conservation and reforestation efforts.
Did you know that the presence of the tibig tree indicates that a water source is nearby? A small stream with spring water gushing through the reserve was a welcome relief for everyone. The sound of water running and the feel of the cold water on our skin was a welcome relief from huffing and puffing through the trail. And if you are lucky, you will get a chance to have a taste of wild berries and bugnay fruit along the way.
The main highlight of this part of the flight of 400 steps to the park's grassland areas. The rock steps were carved out on the steeper portion of the trail with designated pit stops where you can catch your breath and enjoy the peace and quiet that nature offers. The trail cuts through a bamboo forest where the activity derived its name. The shade and the sound of bamboo leaves husting with the wind was enough to cool us down.
At the top of the 400 steps is another pit stop with lounging chairs made from rope nets. Another IG-worthy spot to enjoy. This is where we took a short rest before proceeding to the next activity. We were lucky that day to chance upon a bird taking a bath by a pool of rainwater collected on a hollow tree trunk.
Wow! The wonders of nature is very humbling.
As we broke out of the forest covers of Kawayan, we were treated with an amazing view of Rizal and Laguna de Bay. It was a refreshing feeling to just enjoy the blowing of the gentle breeze while getting myself full with the beautiful views. We caught a glimpse of Amihan along one of the pockets of pine trees of the reserve. Our guide explained to us that the patch of pine trees is the only ones left from its initial forest cover. These trees were planted during the Marcos era and also fell prey to illegal logging when road systems were constructed.
As we moved further up the trail, we were treated with amazing landscape views of Rizal on the left, the Sierra Madre ranges on the right, and the peaks of "Susong Dalaga" in front. The sheer beauty of the rolling grasslands of the Sierra Madre was captivating. I realized how it can be more, if there was an abundance of trees. John explained that the grasslands were the hardest to maintain. The abundance of grass make it prone to fire to which some professional landgrabbers have already attempted to do. Their reforestation efforts are aimed towards the grassland area of the reserve.
Masungi's reforestation can be summed up into two things - tree planting and tree nurturing. I presumed, like most people, that tree planting was THE key element of restoring forest covers. John was quick to correct us that, as important as tree planting, nurturing these trees was a very important aspect of the program. In no time, we were being taught on how to loosen up the soil around a seedling, take out weeds, and how to protect these small trees. The best part of the activity was being able to do it... that is learning by doing. I was able to nurture 4 tree seedlings.
With hundreds of hectares to cover and protect, local forest rangers take time to cover the whole reserve. We were told that it will take another six months before the trees that we nurtured will be visited for another hand. But hopefully with more people taking the Masungi's Legacy Trail, and also hoping to encourage and challenge you to do the same through this blog, the waiting time for these trees to be nurtured will be shorter.
It was not just all hike and nurturing, the Legacy Trail was designed to also allow its participants to enjoy and be one with nature. So after getting our hands dirty, we continued through the trail to Amihan, the rest and relaxation area.
Amihan is the section that is the most popular and the most photogenic along the Masungi Legacy Trail. Its iconic rope works and floating cottages hugged social media headlines making it one of the most anticipated part of the hike. I have to admit - it does not disappoint.
But before we went lounging around Amihan's nets, we were first treated with a very good lunch of Minalot, meals wrapped in banana leaves, and gumamela tea. The meal is composed of rice, a meat viand (usually adobo), vegetables, salted egg, and tomatoes. It was a good treat after a two-hour hike and tree nurturing activity. These meals are actually prepared by locals.
John was nice enough to give us a two-hour rest and relaxation in Amihan where you can choose between the triangular floating houses or the parabolic ones. Blankets and pillows are provided to make your nap comfortable. After jumping around and having our photos taken, our group simply opted to relax on the rope nets, instead of the floating cottages. In no time, we were already snoozing our way to dreamland.
If you still have energy to spare, you can also take a few more walks to the swing or to the campsite where you can enjoy a panoramic view of Rizal, Laguna de Bay, the peaks of "Susong Dalaga", and the mountain ranges of the Sierra Madre.
At this time, the Masungi Legacy Trail only accepts day hikes but overnight stays will soon be accommodated once the campsite is already ready.
Post Travel Notes
When we speak about Masungi Georeserve, people often make reference to the spiderweb, the duyan, and all the other attractions of the Discovery Trail. These iconic attractions are etched in our minds and have been a point of interest for many. But beyond all these is a greater fight that the georeserve is facing. The fight to conserve what is left and to restore what was lost. This is the other side of the Masungi Georeserve, both literally and figuratively.
Travel is an opportunity to learn and that is what the Masungi Legacy Trail drives its point. It goes beyond the usual fanfare and really makes its trail guests understand the deeper mission of their group. This is where you experience real deal day hiking, tree nurturing under the heat of the sun, and communing with nature under its shade. I challenge and encourage you to get your peers to try this new trail and I assure you that you will come out, not only refreshed, but with a deeper understanding that we have a bigger role to take in conservation. Beyond the sights and the sounds that Masungi Georeserve offers, it begs for you to answer one question - what legacy are you leaving the future generations?
Getting there: You can check out the website of the Masungi Georeserve for the available schedule and rates for their Legacy Trail. The ongoing rates is currently at Php1000 (as of July 2018) and it is already inclusive of the Minalot Lunch Meal. Note that rates may vary at the time of your query.
We highly suggest that you bring an car with you during the trip as commuting back to Manila from the reserve can be a challenge. Private cars may take Marilaque/Marikina-Infanta Highway from Cainta straight up to the Kilometer 47, the jump-off point of the Legacy Trail. The road will pass through Sta. Lucia, Cogeo, Boso-Boso, and Palto Alto. For those who are commuting, you can take a jeep from Cogeo to Sampaloc in Tanay. Ask the driver to drop you off at Kilometer 47 but be forewarned that going back to Manila can be a challenge.
For those who want a hassle-free with everything included, you can get in touch with FB Travel Organizer - Kilometer Zero Ph. You can use the code: ViajerongPinoy-Marc, on the remarks for the best rate.
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Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.