There was a certain lull in the atmosphere as we trekked towards the reception hall — a relatively easy walk, considering the mountainous terrain the reserve is built upon. It was a little before five in the morning, so for the most part our surroundings were draped in darkness, punctuated sparsely by the light of the hall. Despite the early call time and cold atmosphere, however, my group and I were wide awake, curious to see what lay ahead.
We were slated for a nice sunrise hike at the Mt. Purro Nature Reserve (MPNR), the first item on our itinerary with MAD Travel. MAD, which stands for “Make A Difference,” is a social enterprise that creates travel experiences which bridge other people to marginalized communities. According to founder, Raf Dionisio, each package is created with the community’s needs in mind, a process that involves constant visitations and dialogue. The end result, then, is something that hits all the marks of your typical travel experience (food, adventure, culture), but in a way that helps you understand the community better and the issues they face.
For this trip, the reserve — which is located along the Upper Marikina Watershed in the Sierra Madre — is within the domain of the Dumagat Tribe, who we would meet later in the day. As practitioners of kaingin, or the “slash-and-burn” style of farming, there’s an interesting environmental aspect that comes with the issues they face. But for now, we would familiarize ourselves with the mountain; plunging ourselves into the darkness of the wilderness with only the stars and our flashlights guiding us.
Along the way, our trail guide, Camp Master Rodel, tells us tidbits about the area in between breaks. For instance, Mt. Purro was once a site of heavy deforestation due to illegal logging in the ’70s and ’80s. Its location in the watershed made it a particularly vulnerable site for natural calamities, and the balding pushed out endemic species from their habitats. Fortunately, the mountain now hosts a secondary rainforest that continues to grow, thanks to the reforestation efforts of MPNR founder Toto Malvar. A good portion of the forest contained fruit-bearing trees like rambutan and dalandan, which we had passed along the way.
The sunrise came on full-force as we descended the peak, giving the paths a nice golden glow. We then had breakfast at Loli’s Kitchen — which served a delicious home-cooked buffet — and before long we headed up the mountain again to plant some trees. We set the kamagong saplings in a clearing near more mature trees, which we learned helped shield them from direct sunlight and nurtured them as they grew. We got to meet members of the tribe right after we descended.