By Cherie del Rio
Living in the city and getting caught up in its fast paced lifestyle can eventually take a toll on one’s being. Your body craves for a much-needed respite from the draining physical work. Your mind desires even just a moment’s peace from the capital’s hustle and bustle. And while you normally don’t have the time and the extra effort to drive out to the countryside, you’d find that Manila actually has some remarkable nature parks that you can retreat to: an escape into the city’s green hideaways.
Luscious La Mesa
Nestled in Quezon City’s La Mesa Watershed is a 2000-hectare forest sanctuary. The watershed is made up of 2,700 hectares in all with its 700 hectares belonging to the reservoir. Dubbed as the “Lung of Manila”, the La Mesa Eco Park serves as the city’s “carbon dioxide sink”, providing the metropolis with clean air. Surrounding the shed is a well-developed nature preserve that is quickly becoming a favorite destination among the visiting city dwellers. What draws tourists to the forest, aptly named La Mesa Eco Park, is the variety in facilities and activities that it offers — add to that its accessibility (it’s just right along Commonwealth Avenue).
There are about five hectares of picnic sites in La Mesa Eco Park. Families gathering in the Lopez Picnic Grounds paint a quaint picture of idyllic life: a relaxing meal with blankets laid on the ground with a multitude of trees providing shade and a relaxing ambiance. Lovers are treated with the park’s own brand of romantic atmosphere: a delightful paddle boat ride at the Superferry Boating Lagoon or perhaps a tranquil bonding moment shared at the Fishing Lagoon after reveling in the beauty of the Shell Flower Terraces (The two-hectare floral terrace is incidentally the very wall of the La Mesa reservoir).
The Eco Park, as part of its commitment to provide healthful activities to its visitors, has opened the Salt Water Swimming Pool to the public. Since the pool uses salt granules instead of chlorine, the water is deemed less toxic. Sports enthusiasts and athletes can also commune with nature at the La Mesa Eco Park whilst sticking with their energetic routines. The Petron Fitness and Mountain Bike Trail inside the park has 17 exercise stations. The mountain bike trail spans a total of 1.2 kilometers of the forest.
Tired city residents aren’t the only ones yearning for the environmental therapy provided by the Eco Park. A number of schools and organizations have journeyed to La Mesa as part of educational trips. The Ecomuseum is an environmental education hub that focuses on “biodiversity conservation”, one of the Eco Park’s many visions. Those who have had the pleasure of meeting Mother Nature inside the borders of the Eco Park have raved about the Butterfly Trail and Hatchery. The trail leads visitors into a voyage towards one flamboyant show of the most colorful butterflies.
Guests have also voiced out highly satisfactory reviews of the Eco Park, stating that the place is really ideal for outdoor activities. They have also noted that unlike other parks and conservatories, the Eco Park doesn’t require guests to pay exorbitant fees. Those who wish to stay overnight at the park can avail of private pavilions with overnight camping facilities. The La Mesa Eco Park is likewise home to the Adventure Zone Team Building Facility and a Mini-Golf Course.
Quietude in Quezon Memorial Park
Another green refuge that you can explore as you take a break from the stressful metropolis is the Quezon Memorial Park. Unlike the La Mesa Eco Park whose vastness is dominated by woodland and lagoons, Quezon Memorial Park offers a diverse mix of landscape sanctuaries and entrepreneurial corners. The park is both surrounded and converged on by national roads, making it an ecological center: nature’s heart in the middle of a concrete jungle.
The kiosks (or bahay kubo stalls) where residents sell various products as a means to nurture the local businesses blend with the plants and trees that line the park. People come to the Quezon Memorial Park to enjoy a bit of fresh air and relish the emerging breeze and calming sounds from the rustling foliage. There are many locations wherein individuals, pairs, and groups can jog, brisk walk, bike, and exercise. The space leading to the Peace Bell is adorned by the now grown shrubs that were planted by volunteers several years ago.
Other notable landmarks in the park include the Café Amadeo, the Serye Café, and of course, the Quezon Memorial Shrine itself.
The Marvel of Mango Farm
Slowly rising into recognition and distinction (and registering on the traveler’s radar) is The Mango Farm, a two-and-a-half-hectare of breathtaking greenery that is somewhat hidden within Kingsville Court Village in Antipolo City. Bound by Filinvest to the south, Katarungan to the west, and Kingsville Court Village to the north, the Mango Farm is home to over 200 mango trees.
Although relatively younger and lesser known compared to the green destinations of the La Mesa Eco Park and the Quezon Memorial Park, the Mango Farm still has its own claim to fame. Imagine mature mango trees, in their magnificence and glory, acting as nothing less than nature’s grandiose umbrellas. Enjoy a pleasant meal under the shade of the mango trees and afterwards, go and discover the farm’s expanse. Later, take in the lovely scenery as you pause for a break in the exquisite gazebos and patios.
At the moment, the Mango Farm offers its pavilions as venues for various events and celebrations. Its Azotea Rojo is a quaint grass garden outlined by mango trees. The La Carmen is similar to the Azotea Rojo, except that it has a mini bar — a small touch of modernity within the cradles of nature. Unlike the Azotea Rojo and the La Carmen which are both Vigan-paved, the Plaza Gat Tayaw is paved with bricks but nonetheless tucked in yet another grove of mango trees. Other venues inside the Mango Farm include the Glass Pavilion and the Sunken Garden — which usually serves as the prime location for wedding ceremonies held at the farm.
The Mango Farm is a welcome surprise in the city, an unexpected hideaway from the skyscrapers, the noisy vehicles, and the polluted city air. Guests find the Mango Farm as easy to reach, being merely a 20-minute drive from points such as Ateneo in Katipunan and Eastwood in Libis.
These green sanctuaries in Manila offer not only a reprieve from the busy city lifestyle but also a chance to reconnect with nature and ultimately aid in its sustainability. In the La Mesa Eco Park, for example, guests already help the watershed just by the mere act of visiting. Whatever revenue is earned from the park goes to its maintenance and conservation. These eco parks and farms offer an escape, the interlude to life’s demands. But that is not their only reason for existence. They are truly sanctuaries that need to be guarded and taken care of.
As more and more high-rise buildings are constructed and the threats of environmental evils loom around the corner, one can only hope that more green sanctuaries are developed in Manila. After all, this is our home. You need to replenish not just yourself but also Mother Nature.