A Walk on the Wild Side: Masungi Georeserve, Philippines Geotourism

by Lori Blackburn
A Walk on the wild side

I took a deep breath and adjusted my helmet. My face was flushed from humidity and exertion. I stood on a high jungle platform scanning the skyline. My friends and I were halfway through Masungi Georeserve’s (wwww.masungigeoreserve.com) exhilarating eco-adventure experience. Gianna, threw us a crazy grin before disappearing over the cliff’s ‘no joke’ rope wall. I peered over the steep drop as she manoeuvred the ropes with style that would make Spiderman jealous. Trish (nicknamed ‘Trish the Dish’ because she’s hot) went next with a carefree wave. I rubbed my sweaty face. How did Trish still look sexy in this heat? The boys, Mike and Carsten, were long gone to the sound of Carsten’s words, “My son would love this!” Vicki and I looked at each other and laughed. She threw me a high-five. Wow. This was beautiful… and wild. Yup, definitely wild. We loved it.

wildlife

Over the last few years, I’d heard about Masungi Georeserve from Manila friends. Their social media posts proudly shared, “We just booked our Masungi spots! Can’t wait.” Their excitement was palatable. Several weeks later, their photos showcased dramatic jungle punctuated by jagged limestone formations. The mountains stretched wide and wonderful. Big smiles played upon their faces as they traversed ropes far above the trees. You could feel their energy in each photo. I was awestruck and wondered, “Where in the world is this?” Well, it is Masungi Georeserve, a conservation area within the mountain rainforests of Rizal, Philippines. This wildlife sanctuary is located an hour’s drive from Manila, the capital city. I had followed stories about Masungi for years until I finally had the chance to visit. What I initially pegged as a ‘pretty cool obstacle course’, ended-up being a profound conservation story that moved far beyond our playful wilderness day trip.

experience

Masungi Georeserve isn’t an outdoor obstacle course. It is a work of art. It is a trail experience that was built to share nature, rather than exploit it. In addition to exceptional concept and craftsmanship, the trail reflects Filipino heritage. It was created by an all Filipino team who have loved this land for years. They used extreme care and determination to build a course that enhanced the landscape without altering it. The practical rope courses allow people to move around with minimal environmental impact and without creating too many permanent fixed structures.The trail is inspired by nature (biomimicry) with points-of-interest named in Filipino language. This means that you can walk over the Sapot, a giant metal spiderweb which hangs over immense limestone shards. You can rest in the bamboo Patak, a raindrop-shaped air house located along a hanging bridge. Finally, end the course on the Bayawak, a massive rope wall shaped like a monitor lizard.

The landscape offers rich biodiversity, eerie caves, lush rainforest, and 60 million year old limestone formations. Wildlife includes stunning plant species and endemic animals (wildlife only found in one specific area) such as the Philippine Serpent Eagle and the Philippine Flying Dragon Lizard.As artist and cultural icon Andy Warhol once commented, “Land really is the best art. I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want.” Andy Warhol is famous for his iconic pop art and 1960s New York City bohemian enclave, The Factory. If decades ago in one of the world’s biggest concrete jungles, Andy Warhol could see the value in preserving land, then he is one more voice urging the world to listen.

Bridge

If we travelled a hundred years before Warhol’s swinging 60s and headed for the California coast, we’d meet mountain man, activist, and ‘Father of National Parks’, John Muir. Old man Muir worked endlessly to preserve majestic forests such as Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park. One of his famous quotes is often plastered upon nature t-shirts and memorabilia: “The mountains are calling and I must go.” This inspiring catchphrase embodies a yearning for nature, but the deeper meaning is about conservation and understanding nature… to save it. John Muir went to the mountains to save the land from industrial development. He helped create National Parks to protect them.These two historical figures saw how people can ravage land. Their words also show how people can save it. This brings us back to the present day and the folks at Masungi Georeserve. The Masungi team works tirelessly to spread awareness on their never ending battle to conserve land, wildlife, and legacy. In addition to activism, their work includes intense physical labour to create geotourism opportunities.

Young girl

Most of all, Masungi Georserve promotes nature awareness so that people can behave responsibly. The more we know about nature, the more we can help preserve it. Since 1996, Masungi has protected the land against mining, illegal logging, land-grabbing, and quarrying. In 2015, Masungi welcomed the public to learn about conservation through geotourism. So, what is geotourism? National Geographic describes geotourism as “sustainable tourism and destination stewardship – where tourism also takes care of the land and community.” Right on. Masungi provides an interactive opportunity to learn about nature. Masungi’s name originates from the word masungki meaning ‘spiked’. This refers to the area’s ragged karst rocks. The most popular way to explore the conservation area is through a day or night Discovery Trail experience. On this guided 3.5 hour hike, visitors can expect rock scrambles, suspension bridges, rope climbing, and cave walks. Although Masungi is working on a child friendly course, current requirements state that guests must be at least 13 years old to participate.

Cave

Visits to Masungi are confirmed through prearranged, online reservations. Walk-ins are not allowed. This private-group booking system helps preserve the land’s integrity while providing a quality experience. Reservations are easily processed through their website. Just book ahead as weekend slots fill-up. Weekdays offer more options. The admission (Conservation Fee) starts at Php1500 (Philippine Peso) per guest. Transportation options include driving independently, booking a car/van and driver, or checking Masungi’s website for more options. Before arrival, eat a healthy breakfast. Bring your own refillable water bottle and trail snacks. Admission includes post-hike sandwiches.Upon arrival, a Park Ranger briefs guests in the beautiful Silungan, sheltered garden area. Masungi works hard to create an environment that ensures wildlife is respected. Even the bathrooms are beautiful and feature organic materials such as rocks and huge snail shells. The message is clear – Sometimes the simple things are best.

We left Masungi Georserve exhilarated, inspired, and excited to spread the word. Nature should not be observed from a car window. It should be inhaled from a mountaintop, explored within a thriving jungle, and felt in the damp earth of a cave. Most of all, it should be protected. If you have the heart for adventure and nature, then Masungi Georeserve invites you to play.

Conservation Crusaders

Meet the people behind Masungi Geoserve…

In an age of industry and development, we often wonder, “How does land become at-risk? Who are the people taking care of the environment? Who stands-up to big businesses, government, and policies to make positive changes in conservation?” A few of these individual share their stories.

Spider

Victor Y. Rodriguez // Project Manager  

I’ve worked for Blue Star (the development organisation who initiated Masungi) and Masungi Georeserve since 1996. This is my second home. I want new generations to see its true beauty. My tasks include Masungi’s development, restoration, and conservation. My job is challenging and takes courage. If you are not brave enough to face challenges, then you can easily give-up and leave. Conservation is important because this area is east of Manila. Its mountains feed water into the surrounding communities including Metro Manila. Land stripped of wildlife and trees can have terrible results both on humans and nature. Around the 1990s, land squatting syndicates migrated here. They illegally occupied and sold large tracks of land. Their caretakers cut trees for charcoal. Quarrying companies also altered the landscape and extracted resources. This was area was devastated when we arrived.

Masungi worked hard to restore it. We started by planting trees to reduce the risks of floods and landslides within lowland city areas. In 2006, Typhoon Ondoy was horrible as it flooded many places. Stripped land was part of the problem. We want to prevent this from happening again. The challenges exceed just planting trees. It involves steadfastness, courage, and integrity in confronting illegal groups, facing legal battles against offenders, and tirelessly lobbying for positive change. Personally, Masungi is an interesting workplace as it lets me integrate my job with my sport. I’m an ultra-runner. Masungi is one of my favourite training grounds. In addition to regular training, I help my fellow workers bring heavy materials like seedlings, cement, and gravel long distances and heights within Masungi. If I didn’t really love my job, I would have resigned already. The job and lifestyle can be hard, but it’s not a reason to give up. I love Masungi. It will always be my home.

Climp

Danilyn Monzada/Park Ranger

As a child, I loved plants. They made me feel happy and at ease. I would talk to plants when I felt alone. It may seem weird, but I feel like they also talk to me. When I discovered Masungi, I was curious about joining the team. Initially, I thought I would only be in-charge of a garden, but little did I know, my task would include talking to different people. At first, it was hard, but I got used to it. By working here, I began to know myself better. I overcame my fear of talking to people. My weakness now serves as my strength. I’m grateful that I’m part of Masungi’s conservation efforts and have the opportunity to share my knowledge with others. The work can be hard and tiring, but I don’t give up because I know my work will bear fruit.

Masungi has many challenges as it pursues conservation. One of these is illegal logging. Conservation helps people understand that illegal practices should be prohibited because we are the ones who benefit from our natural environment. At Masungi, we accommodate guests and share knowledge to bring them closer to nature. With this, they can understand the importance of conservation. If we continue, we might prevent calamities such as flooding from over logged land. This work also helps broaden youth knowledge, including mine. This knowledge can be shared with future generations.  

Visitor Perspective

What were your impressions about Masungi Georeserve?

Walk

Anna Patricia ‘Trish’ Xavier

Masungi is doing it right. They limit visitors, respect nature, and adhere to strict guidelines. They are passionate and serious about conservation. It sets a great example. I would definitely recommend Masungi. I had no idea that Masungi had such a terrible past. It was heartbreaking to hear that illegal loggers stripped the land of precious, ancient trees that affected the ecosystem. This also deprived us of the opportunity to ever see such a landscape. I hope that eco-tourism spreads widely in the Philippines to educate the young, stir public emotion, and raise awareness. My favourite part was the limestone Masungi Rock. It is 60 million years old and presents a powerful connection to our past. It is a magical experience to be surrounded by landscape that has lasted for millions of years.

Gianna Kessler von Sprengeisen-Stormer:

I had heard about Masungi and was excited to experience the reserve. It was spectacular to be immersed in nature, experience the landscape, and explore the fun, artful obstacles. I would certainly visit again! The Philippines faces may challenges in illegal logging which the government must address. Our forests are in a very bad state. At least 90% of the primary rain forest has gone. There is always big talk about conservation and eco-tourism, the Masungi Georeserve has done things right. Everything is possible with vision, funding, and community support. The trek was more challenging than expected. It is 3-4 hours depending upon your pace, but very do-able for someone who is not very active. The climb was an artful experience. The courses were done in good taste. I commend the designers. The whole experience was breathtaking.

Relax

Carsten Stormer:

Before the trip, I had seen pictures of Masungi and thought, ‘Wow – that looks great,’ but I didn’t know what to expect. I was just excited to hang out with friends in a natural, protected environment. Afterwards, I felt that Masungi is awesome. It is something close to Manila that you can experience with friends and that supports conservation. The people who work there are dedicated. The place is beautiful. It’s really worth visiting. I love their work with environmentalism, planting trees, and great eco-tourism. Masungi serves as an example for other places in the Philippines and beyond. It is also affordable. The course had an Indiana Jones feeling because of the bridges linking the rugged areas. I found the course easy and pleasant. My family enjoys hiking in the mountains around Manila. This is a fantastic addition to Philippines’ eco-tourism.

nest

Vicki Abary:

This was my second trip to Masungi. This visit made the course easier because I knew what to expect. I was also with a smaller group which made it easier to navigate and enjoy the scenery. Masungi is a hidden gem located only one hour away from the city. I truly enjoyed being with such a lovely group of friends who enjoy eco-tourism, new discoveries, and all care deeply about our environment. We all had a wonderful time exploring and learning about beautiful Masungi. I love how nature allows you to bond with your environment and friends.

Mike

Mike Feldkamp:

Masungi is truly a unique experience. While there are some places that have suffered from over-tourism in the Philippines, Masungi has really managed to avoid this by focusing upon conservation and a sustainable experience. I loved the fresh air. It was great to get exercise while seeing the natural beauty of the area. The diversity of plant life really makes an excellent contrast to the typical beach experiences we’ve enjoyed in the Philippines. I look forward to returning and trying Masungi’s Night Trail where you spend more time in the caves.

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