Monday, June 27, 2016

Conquering Masungi

The Web.  © Almary de Ocampo

For all its fragile beauty, there are very few things that would make one feel insignificant as the majesty of nature. This was my main takeaway from a weekend trip with friends to the Masungi Georeserve, a conservation area hidden away in the rainforests of Rizal.

Torn from beneath the sea by volcanic activity about sixty million years ago, Masungi Georeserve features limestone features jutting out the forest throughout its vast territory, most of which are reachable within four hours' worth of trekking (and picture-taking, for those so inclined).

Limestone Formations. © Almary de Ocampo

The trek began at a base site, which was essentially a garden which had a few covered areas for briefings and debriefings. We were introduced by the park staff to the ranger who was assigned to guide us through the rainforest and we were reminded of a few rules for the trip.

Masungi was a dying landscape as recently as 1999 and was restored with a great deal of effort over a decade by some very passionate individuals. The reserve opened to the public late last year in an effort to raise consciousness for its continued preservation (despite some significant struggles that threatened its existence only a few months ago), thus most likely ensuring its place amongst the better nature retreats easily accessible from Manila.

Scarier than you think. © Almary de Ocampo

A lot of the views are spectacular and (literally) breathtaking, such as the famous sapot (spider web) and the duyan (hammock), where everyone is suspended several hundred feet in mid-air over rocks or the forest canopy overlooking the park.

Duyan. © Almary de Ocampo

Masungi is laid out like a Dark Souls level - most of the landmarks visible in the distance were reachable on foot, and it was really cool to make mental notes (of personal achievement) as we reached each feature we saw just hours prior.

Nanay, one of the two major 'peaks' (along with Tatay). © Almary de Ocampo

It was a relatively easy trek, as the trails have been clearly marked (although there was a good amount of 'alternate' routes that the rangers warn newcomers about) and a path was painstakingly laid out through the rainforest for both trekkers and folks who just wished to retreat into nature.

While not as physically demanding as the 'easy' peaks like Pico de Loro, Masungi requires a decent level of fitness during the trek. In addition to the rainforest trail, we had to climb up (and down) several rope cargo nets as well as walk (and crawl) through caves - of which some of the crevices were rather small - to move forward.

Yungib ni Ruben. © Almary de Ocampo

The park was a combination of both natural wonders and human engineering. A lot of the artificial landmarks were built by hand over a long period of time, such as the duyan (which took three people ninety days to build) and what I could only describe as a 'rest station that was held up by a hanging bridge over the forest'. It's a testament to the engineers' and rangers' passion to help to raise public awareness for the reserve.

No, seriously. © Almary de Ocampo

I've been to several treks and one of the biggest things I've noticed was that there was not a single piece of litter throughout the trail - something that I was consciously trying to find. The park rangers were adamant that we should leave the place just as it was when we arrived, and the fact that they didn't sell any souvenirs reinforced the idea that they were doing what they did for a singular cause and they were not running the park for profit.

Masungi Georeserve's primary goal was to raise awareness for natural conservation and sustainable eco-tourism, and I believe that they were spot on in providing people with an opportunity to commune with the natural world. It was a gentle reminder that we humans are all but fleeting travelers through this life, and the world will continue to exist long after we move on.

Lame. © Almary de Ocampo

The Fine Print
They charge PhP 1,400 for a minimum group of seven, with a group of fifteen as the largest batch they'll take. Book in advance through their website, as it could take weeks (or even months) for a slot to open up. The cost includes the services of the park ranges (who'll also serve as the guide), as well as a liter of water and a sandwich (and some refreshments) at the end of the trek.

Safety gear will be provided along with a knapsack to carry things around. I'd recommend bringing only the essentials, but I think bringing extra water would be a good idea as the physical activity could lead to some mild dehydration despite the shade from the forest canopy.

I'm not sure if they'd provide ponchos in case it rains. It actually did pour down when we got there, but thankfully the weather cleared up before we were scheduled to start.

The trek isn't as hard as it seemed (despite the pictures) and overall, I'd say it was definitely well worth the price.

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