Sea legs is the last thing I expected to get at Masungi Georeserve, the eight-month old conservation sanctuary and rock garden deep in the mountains of Rizal province, some 90 minutes drive east of Metro Manila.
And yet that’s exactly the sensation I had as I walked Duyan, the fifth of nine picture-perfect spots of Masungi.
Full disclosure: Before doing Masungi, I’ve only trekked a grand total of three times. I don’t go to the gym, and I have only started wall climbing a month before this, erm, adventure.
Finding my balance on the long rope hammock, as I held onto handrails hanging from above made me feel like I was in the middle of the sea, being buoyed by water.
But there is no water nearby. Duyan is perched way up in the mountains of Rizal province; below is a young forest — roughly 20 years old — and around it is lush foliage punctuated only by spiked limestone rocks, some as old as 60 million years.
These limestone rocks are what exactly inspired the name of the conservation project. Masungi, which is derived from “masungki” or “sungki-sungki,” or in plain ol’ English, jagged.
Duyan is just one of the things that’s made Masungi something of a social media super star. It opened in December 2015, with only a viral photo of a barkading hanging out on Duyan alerting everyone that there is such a place as Masungi.
But Masungi Georeserve has actually been around for longer; since 1996 in fact, as a residential development project. When the project didn’t particularly take off, the owners decided to turn the 300-hectare property into a conservation project, with their efforts extending to the 1,500 hectares that surround the area.
“The decision to open it to the public took a very long time,” admits Anna, an administrator who passed by our pre-trek briefing on the random Tuesday that we visited. “But we realized conservation is a very hard thing to do. We needed to involve the public.”
And so in 2013, Masungi started to carve a trail. Two years later, the conservation project was deemed ready for public consumption.
Since opening, Masungi averages about 17 groups of 7-10 people a day, with weekends seeing an average of 21 groups. Tours start at 5am, with 30-minute intervals between groups. Pro-tip: book for an early morning slot. Apart from a spectacular view of the sunrise, you’ll have better chances of bird sightings.
The trail promises about four hours of intense cardio workout amid nature’s splendor. And because a weak cellular signal is the best that Masungi can offer (too many dead spots here, truth be told), the park also promises something of a digital detox. Says Junjun, our assigned park ranger, Masungi aims to reawaken in their visitors a deep love and respect for nature.
Nine attractions pepper the 10-kilometer trail. It starts with a climb up Lambat, a rope ladder course that immediately sets the playful obstacle course tone of the trek.
From there, visitors will have to walk through an ascending trail to reach Sapot, Masungi’s second attraction and quite possibly, the rock garden’s second most Instagrammed spot.
It’s easy to see why: Sapot is a metal wire platform made to look like a spider web. It is peppered with wooden steps to help you cross it. It hangs just above a limestone peak, providing a magnificent 360 view of the surrounding Sierra Madre.
From here, it’s a long and arduous trek to Patak, a shed that looks like a tree house, and immediately after it, Ditse, which is a little too similar to Sapot. The two attractions feel as though they serve a double purpose: first, to let visitors catch their breath and second, as a preparation for Duyan, Masungi’s super popular long hammock.
Because to get to Duyan, visitors will have to rappel down two flights of a daunting rope course, which, IMHO, is the most extreme leg of the trek. It is here where I started to get sea legs; something that doesn’t feel too good, considering your several hundred meters above sea level.
While visitors have no choice but to endure crossing the long rope-knitted bridge, over at Duyan, they will be reminded of the good ol’ life lesson: take your time, sit awhile, enjoy the ride, and while you’re at it, to take a gazillion photos to remember everything by. The rich tapestry below and around you, plus occasional sightings of unusual birds, will make you feel like all, really is alright with the world.
From here, you enter the second and harder part of the trek. It begins with Yungib ni Ruben, to reach Tatay, Masungi’s highest peak comprised of five layers of limestones, and Nanay, a collection of five limestone peaks brought together by man-made bridges. In both peaks, you’ll be amazed at how far and wide you’ve trekked already, catching glimpses of the parking lot, of the Duyan, and of the last hanging bridge that you’ll need to cross to exit Masungi.
From there, you trek up the forest and will be greeted by Liwasan, the last attraction of the park, which will remind you of the Banaue Rice Terraces.
It is here where visitors get the snack — a DIY sandwich, calamansi juice, and bananas — that actually comes with the PHP1,400 cover charge. It is also here where they can freshen up and prepare for that hellish final ascent to end the adventure.
It all sounds extreme but truth be told, it is not. It’s only a 10-kilometer walk that for experienced climbers will feel like a walk in the park. For urbanites, Masungi is a chance to bring their treadmill routine into the real world. For everyone, it’s a place where they can escape the doldrums of Manila and commune with nature.