I remember the first time I drove past Mount Makiling. We were newly arrived in Manila and on our first trip out of town to Hidden Valley Springs. We approached a large mountain, dark against the Horizon, clouds hovering across her peak. Our guide pointed to her and said that is Mount Makiling and there is folk lore about it. As our guide spoke about Maria, the heartbroken fairy, the hairs on my arms stood up on end. I enjoy a good love story and that night at home I researched the myth. It was mysterious and creepy.
I remember SB saying he wanted to go hiking up Mount Makiling once and I begged him not to go. He thought I was silly buying into fairy tales. Maybe I was, maybe I still am but I can’t help but wonder sometimes, where these stories came from. What initiated them?
Since the start I have been drawn to her, to that mountain. Every time we drive down to Laguna I cannot take my eyes off her. Then I learnt that there are Botanical Gardens at the base, where the UP University Campus is, and you can go there and walk around, explore and have a picnic. It has been on my list for quite some time and for Adventure Saturday this weekend that is where we went.
The drive down the expressway is familiar now. It is when we turn off and travel through the local streets that our interest is peaked. There is so much to see, so much to capture. The roadside was crammed with sari-saris selling everything from pool toys, car parts to fruit and vegetables. The community was bustling, out and about for the day. Something new we saw down here was how the street was lined with men holding long, narrow and colourful signs saying ‘Private Pool’. Apparently they rent out people’s private swimming pools for use when it is hot. And it was hot on the weekend.
Soon we began our ascent up into the mountain and the town faded behind us. We drove around winding mountain roads and past sari-sari’s selling fruit and flowers high up in the mountain. The cliffs and rugged landscape loomed over us and it was dark, perhaps because it was cloudy but to me, this mountain has an eeriness about it. The caps were covered in clouds and I felt excited as we drove deeper into this mysterious place. We stopped at the sculpture of Maria with the wild animals so I could take her photograph. I felt shy walking up to her, and I said hello, and thank you. Then I spoke to the children about Maria and how we must be respectful of the landscape.
We arrived at the main entrance and as we stepped out of our car the humidity and heat hit us. It was overwhelming and sweat poured off our skin. A peddler selling ice candy came to the car and I was instantly attracted to the pretty coloured treats in tube bags in his box. When I learned it was icy and cold and sweet, it was a done deal. This ice candy was flavored Buko flesh, which is coconut. There were flavours such as chocolate, pandan, ube, cheese, cookies and cream and Buko salad. I love pandan so I went with that. The peddler cuts the top of the plastic bag and you simply bite your ice candy out from the top, as you push it out of the tube bag. It was delicious. Creamy, icy, super sweet with that gorgeous pandan flavour. It was the perfect way to cool down.
We paid our entrance fee of 20php each and walked on through. To our right was a decline and below was a picnic area. Music was blaring from an undercover croft next to it where a wedding was being set up, and I felt the noise spoiled the majesty of where we were. We looked at a map on display and saw another picnic area further up a walk way and decided to go in that direction.
There are little hiking trails all throughout this area. You just have to look for them. Some are obvious with staircases leading off the main walkway. Others are more discreet. We headed up the mountain to find the picnic area from the map. As we walked up the music faded and soon we were left with just the sounds of nature. Distant tropical birds let out their whooping call, cicadas ticked loud and fierce and raindrops tapped the giant elephant ears making that glorious pitter patter sound. The children started to complain, they needed a rest so when a group of visitors came down the opposite direction I scoped out the UP Guide and asked about the picnic place. He told me no, there is no picnic area. We kept walking to see if we could find anywhere suitable to lay out our picnic blanket. We came to the end of the trail as the rain started to pour down and to my delight found we were in an old derelict area. It looked like it was the old horticultural area for the park, with massive greenhouse frames now just rusty skeletons. Vines hanging off them. A tin shed covered in forest growth was hidden and we cautiously ventured in there, out of the rain for a bit. All around us were signs that someone had been living here. Makeshift benches and tables made out of scraps of wood lay about, empty tins, and an old fireplace told a story. I walked out to the back of the shed and found hundreds of old clay plant pots piled up. Covered over with growth they looked gorgeous sitting there, forgotten.
When the rain stopped we walked back down the hill and we finally found the picnic place on the map. It is at Molawin Creek. There was an old cement derelict building roadside, a few steps up and then a few old cement tables and benches. Long forgotten, this building, these tables were covered in vines, moss and fallen leaves. As I walked around this area, I instantly thought of Great Expectations. I remembered the description of Miss Havisham’s garden, how it was overgrown and neglected. And I remembered that awesome description of her house, about how everything had stopped at a moment in time. It felt eerie and I wondered what had happened here, what was the history. I found it ironic that Great Expectations came to my mind in the place of Maria Makiling, the fairy guardian who was heart broken, just like Miss Havisham.
SB walked ahead over a crest to see what was on the other side. Down more steps, and across a small river, there were more tables and structures sitting amongst the trees. Walking paths peaked out from between trees and I was instantly curious as to where they might all lead to. We found a round cement and stone table of sorts, lay out our picnic blanket and had our lunch. Light rain drops cooled our bodies that were steaming with the heat.
After lunch we slowly made our way back down the mountain to the main area. We admired the tropical flowers growing in abundance as we slowly ambled back down the mountain side. Arriving back to the entrance, the wedding was now in full swing. Music swapped with the loud voice of the MC on a microphone getting the crowd ready to play games. Icy cold water from the admissions counter helped cool our steaming bodies and we packed up the car to leave.
Driving away I thought about how the whole time we were walking around all I could think about was Maria. There was just a feeling about this place. It was not a bad feeling, it was just a feeling that somehow this was different to the other mountain places we have visited, and I silently thanked Maria.
We stopped roadside to buy fruit from a sari-sari we had passed on the way up. A trike turned up filled to the brim with freshly cut tropical flowers to sell. A baby lay in his bassinet crying, the crudely made bed woven with rope and bamboo was swinging from the ceiling of this small building. A mother with her young daughter sat huddled in the darkness behind their fruit stall, just sitting and waiting for people to stop and buy their fruit. A local dog that looked like he had seen better days wandered aimlessly around.
Mount Makiling is a place where time seems to just stop. A place that feels forgotten, a porthole to a world of myth and mystery. I don’t care what the skeptics say. Maria’s presence is there. Her essence flows through the trees and her breath is on the wind. Of that I am certain.
Mt Makiling is down in Laguna, about 1.5 – 2hrs drive from Manila.
The Botanical Gardens are lovely but limited. You can buy fruit at the many Sari-Sari’s heading up, and bottles of water from the admissions counter and the odd peddler selling something small, but that is all. Pack a picnic.
Entry is 20 peso’s per person.
When the weather is wet, the walkways are slippery. Wear sensible shoes and pack for rain.
The mountain is the biggest down that way, standing at 1,090m above sea level. If you go to the Botanical Gardens then it is suitable for all ages as you can choose where you walk.
This is one of the best kept places we have visited so far, however with anything here in The Philippines, conservation and management are a work in progress. So please, take back what you bring, leave only footprints and show respect. Besides, you really don’t want to piss off Maria, there are tales of men disappearing here…