Destination: Mount Makiling Forest Reserve, Los Baños, Laguna

Last Tuesday was the first-time ever that I went climbing solo. I had to go back to the Mount Makiling Forest Reserve (MMFR) to collect some fruits that we needed for our experiment. It was just a 1 ½ hour walk to the forest – quick but gratifying. When you are alone, you tend to hear and see more, the constant background noise of the cicadas and the several bubuli (skinks) along the trail scurrying away from you.

A huge balete tree 10 minutes from the Jump-off point

A huge balete tree 10 minutes from the Jump-off point (click to enlarge)

The MMFR is actually one of the last remaining good forest patches that are accessible from Metro Manila. Peak 2 of Mt. Makiling is a little over 1000 m asl but it transitions from a lowland forest to something that resembles a montane/mossy forest with dwarfed trees. It is a Protected Area and this became really obvious to me just last month when I encountered two wild pigs crossing the trail! We heard shuffling in front of us and then, suddenly, two wild pigs were running to cross the trail 10 meters ahead of us. I’ve seen wild pigs in Cordillera before but they were already domesticated, so this was the first time that I actually saw a wild pig in the wild. The MMFR also has astounding fig diversity! Within its boundaries, you can encounter 27 species of the plant genus Ficus, five of which are found only in the Philippines. This represents a quarter of all the fig species that we have in the Philippines! Imagine, walking for less than five hours and already being able to see one-fourth of the Philippine fig species. Cool, huh? :p

Ficus variegata, tangisang bayawak in Filipino
Ficus variegata, tangisang bayawak in Filipino (click to enlarge)

One of the interesting species found here is Ficus variegata. It is locally-known as tangisang bayawak. Tangis means to cry and the bayawak is a monitor lizard. The bayawak cannot climb these trees because of the extremely smooth bark, straight trunk and absence of low branches. This prevents them from reaching the clusters of ripe figs on the top branches and, because of this, it is said that they cry under the tree. I’ve never actually seen a bayawak do this though!

Map of the Makiling Trail, showing the 30 stations

Map of the Makiling Trail, showing the 30 stations (click to enlarge)

If you have never been inside a forest, I highly recommend that you visit Mt. Makiling. It is an easy climb from the Los Baños side, even for kids. Also, you need not aim for the peak since MMFR has other attractions, such as the Flat Rocks, Mud Springs and Rainforest Park. From the Jump-off point, it takes about an hour to reach Station 7 (Rainforest Park, where you can hold pique-niques). From there to Station 10, it takes another 30 minutes. The trail then narrows down and you will start seeing the natural vegetation of the mountain. Up to Station 14 (Malaboo campsite) is another 1 ½ hour-walk. The trail from Malaboo to Peak 2 is more technical (steep ascent, climbing on rocks) and will take another 2 hours. This totals to about 5 hours of walk from the Jump-off point to Peak 2. However, you have an option to ride a habal-habal from Station 1 to Station 10, which takes only about 30 minutes. Please give me the liberty to suggest that you ride a habal-habal every now and then. I know that it contributes to carbon emissions, but the locals actually benefit from it. As a compromise, I usually walk going up the mountain, and ride a habal-habal going down (less gas used because they usually turn off the engine in parts of steep descent).

The trail is very wide from Station 1 to Station 10

The trail is very wide from Station 1 to Station 10.(click to enlarge)

Mt. Makiling was badly affected by Typhoon Glenda last year. Many tree s were felled by the strong winds of the typhoon.

Mt. Makiling was badly affected by Typhoon Glenda last year. Many trees were felled by the strong winds of the typhoon. (click to enlarge)

Resumé (Summary): Mt. Makiling is a natural gem that we absolutely need to conserve and protect. That it is so near Manila is a huge bonus. I hope that you do consider visiting Mt. Makiling, if you haven’t been there yet! And if you do, say hi to Maria Makiling for me 😉 a+ -> diwata sa balete — The MMFR is managed by the Makiling Center for Mountain Ecosystems (MCME) of CFNR-UPLB (mountmakiling.cfnruplb@yahoo.com). If you want to do research inside this area or if you plan to collect specimens, you need to submit a written letter and a proposal to MCME for their evaluation and, hopefully, approval. Please remember that without an approved permit, it is absolutely prohibited to collect any life form from the MMFR. — Necessary expenses: Bus (DLTB Cubao to College, Los Baños) – 99 Bus (Olivares to Cubao) – 107 Jeep to Forestry – 8 Jeep to Olivares – 8 MMFR Entrance Fee – 10 (waived if trip is for research) TOTAL – Php 232 Optional Expenses: Guide Fee – 700 per day Habal-habal (one-way) – 70

Mabuhay! Welcome!

I am a fig biologist at heart and in practice. I study the big balete trees and the tiny wasps that they are in close association with. It is in the great outdoors that my job and my hobby meet! This allows me to travel to a lot of places, especially in the Philippines, that are not mainstream tourist-y areas. Thus, this blog will be a tribute to the beauty of the world as seen through the eyes of a young ecologist. An ode to the marvels of nature, one of our greatest blessings as a species.

Nonetheless, being a fig biologist is not easy in the Philippines. When they learn I work on figs, the first question is always: “May figs ba tayo sa Pilipinas?” (“Do we have figs in the Philippines?). My answer is always: “Marami po! Nakakita na po kayo nun, hindi niyo lang napansin.” (“We have plenty and I’m a hundred percent sure you’ve seen one at least once in your life.”) And so we come to one of the main reasons that I wanted to start a blog, to popularize science. We think it’s high-time that our society trust science and use it for its betterment.

I hope you enjoy reading through this blog and that you learn some new stuff. Ultimately, as my late mentor Dr. Dan Lagunzad put it, I also hope to cure you of your fig (plant) blindness 😉

a+

– diwata sa balete