A giant spider sculpture greets us when we arrive at Sapot, a web-like viewing platform of steel cables stretched over limestone peaks at Masungi Georeserve, a 1,600ha conservation area in the municipality of Baras in the Province of Rizal, 45km east of Manila. The eco-tourism spot derives its name from the Tagalog word ‘masungki’ (meaning ‘spiked’ in English) – apt, given the limestone pinnacles on the grounds.
Dense vegetation (above) blankets the landscape before us, and the air resounds with the calls of birds and cicadas. But things weren’t always so idyllic. Two decades ago, these foothills along the southern end of the Sierra Madre mountain range were overridden by quarrying and illegal logging. Thanks to better stewardship since, the forest recovered, and in late 2015, the protected area opened to the public, offering appointment-only guided tours.
“The sound of chainsaws once overwhelmed the song of birds,” our guide Romeo Delasada, who hails from the indigenous Dumagat tribe, tells us as we make our way along the Discovery Trail At Night. Launched by the geopark this August, the trail lets visitors experience the rainforest after dark, when it truly comes alive, echoing with the call of frogs, bats and crickets.
The trail itself features pathways and structures named after the natural elements or native fauna that inspired their form – such as the hanging tunnel bridge Sawa (python; above), cliff-side climbing net Bayawak (monitor lizard) and elevated raindrop-shaped shelter Patak (droplet). As we move along, we ogle at the fireflies and dwarf wood scorpions that glow neon green under UV flashlights.
Demonstrating his mastery of the forest, Delasada points out particular plants and unusual flora, sharing interesting titbits such as the plants’ practical or medicinal uses. To up our chances of encountering wildlife, we tread as quietly as possible.
Halfway through, we spot a Luzon hornbill hopping in the treetops ahead of us. Towards the end of our nighttime excursion, we spot the elusive Northern Luzon giant cloud rat – a tree-dwelling rodent the size of a house cat – lumbering across a branch before disappearing into the dark canopy.
An oasis of biodiversity perched on the threshold of an ever-growing metropolis, Masungi Georeserve reveals how nature can really bounce back when we champion the environment.
Book private group tours for seven to 10 people in advance, at www.masungigeoreserve.com. Conservation fees are 1,500 pesos (roughly US$29) per person on weekdays, and 1,800 pesos per person at weekends.
PHOTOS: MASUNGI GEORESERVE, EDGAR ALAN ZETA-YAP, WILLEM VAN DE VEN
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.