Make a Difference (or MAD) for Social Tourism
Raf Dionisio founded MAD Travel as a way to raise awareness of the social, economic and political issues that tribes in the Philippines face, so that society can help alleviate their poverty. People who join these social tours or eco tours have embraced the new way of traveling: immersing, learning, and leaving no trace except a positive impact on the community. If you’re looking for an adventure that matters, then you should definitely check out MAD Tribes and Treks.
The whole concept behind social tourism is building a relationship with the tribe and understanding their problems, thus enabling us to help them. They are the stewards of the land and the first line of defense in food security from which we Filipinos benefit. A lot of our Filipino tribes are misunderstood, and some of them are passive or non-confrontational like the Dumagat tribe who used to live by the ocean but got pushed up the mountains when the Spanish came.
Raf explained that, in order to address poverty, we have to target both the people and nature. Tribes are tied to their environment; if we impact one, we impact the other. Eco-tourism entails a collaborative effort between the tribe and the tourists to rehabilitate the natural surrounding through activities like tree planting. Not only does this protect the forest and promote biodiversity, but it also triples the tribe’s external revenue through social tourism. The tribes are empowered as they learn how to produce handicrafts and finished goods with their crops.
The first ever MAD Travel tour was GK Enchanted Farm. Zambales was added later on to introduce the Aetas while enjoying the sand and surf of San Felipe. This 2019, MAD Travel has curated a new tour that is closer to the city and involves a shorter trek.
I joined the maiden voyage of the Rizal trek with my friend Karla (@karlaroundtheworld) for Php2,900 for 1 person which includes the following:
– 1 night stay at Mt. Purro Nature Reserve (MPNR)
– Buffet breakfast
– Buffet boodle-fight style lunch
– All activities
02:00 PM – Check-in
FREE DAY. Dinner not included in price rate.
05:00 AM – Meet-up + Briefing
05:30 AM – Sunrise Hike at Malvar’s Peak
06:30 AM – Reach Summit
07:30 AM – Story of Mt. Purro
07:45 AM – Breakfast
08:30 AM – Tree Planting
09:30 AM – Bamboo Cooking Workshop by the Dumagat Tribe
10:00 AM – Original Songs from the Dumagat Tribe
10:45 AM – Freshen up
12:30 PM – Boodle Fight Lunch
02:00 PM – Leave for Manila
Mt. Purro Nature Reserve (MPNR)
Mt. Purro Nature Reserve’s motto conveniently happens to be “switch off”. I was silently screaming inside when I found out that there was no Wi-Fi and Globe has completely NO Signal up the hill, though Smart does. My LDR boyfriend was going to be furious because I didn’t give him a heads up.
Owned and operated by the Malvar family. We would meet Alberto “Toto” Malvar himself later in the evening when he introduces himself over dinner.
The place was huge! There were so many instagrammable places like gazebos, swings, and the pool. Good thing Karla and I got there around 4 PM so we could properly explore the place. While we couldn’t check in yet because of the Father and Son retreat that ended late, we used the time to take lots of pictures for IG.
We were finally assigned our rooms around 6 PM. Actually, we were given the hostel at the very edge of the property. The entire first floor is an open-air function hall. The entire second floor is a dorm with bunk beds. The floor is divided into two rooms. One side is more spacious and has a normal staircase. The other side we were on had a spiral staircase with a slide! There were about 5 shower rooms and 5 toilets.
Dinner wasn’t part of the package and Mt. Purro only served dinner buffet for PHP 500. Karla and I had a bright idea to ask Loli’s Kitchen if we could avail their unlimited PM Snack for PHP 150 and have them keep some of the lugaw for us until dinner. We didn’t want anything heavy, so we just asked for a large bowl each.
As soon as stepped out of the mess hall, we ran into TJ Malvar, the son of the owners, who intervened and offered us the plated dinner for PHP 250. They don’t normally do it but they could do it for guests under special circumstances. He asked us what we want and suggested pasta, but we were like “Whatever works. Thanks, TJ! You’re the best!”
That evening, we were served carbonara, breaded fried chicken, rice and squash soup. The dinner buffet had roast pork, lasagna and other stuff that was completely different from ours. A server eventually came over with a plate of polvoron and mini cheese cupcakes when they realized we needed dessert too. Anything goes!
After dinner, Karla and I stopped by the Game Room and played Foosball where I destroyed her 3 times in a row. The Game Room also has Billiards / Pool, Ping Pong, TV and sungka. Lights out was 9 PM to 10 PM. I showered and went military, wearing clothes for the following day because we had to get up at 4:30 AM. Screw the purple silk night gown. Lol.
Hike to Malvar Summit
There were a total of 13 in the tour including Raf. The hiking trail itself is within the property of Mt. Purro on the northwestern edge of the property. We were led by Master Rodel. We left at 5 AM and arrived at the summit by 6 AM at 419 meters above the sea level. There were 2 rest stops, 1 water refill canister and no CR.
We came down the other side of the summit after spending about 30 minutes at the peak. We reached the base at 7:30 AM and watched a quick history of Mt. Purro Nature Reserve. 27 years ago, Tito Malvar planted hundreds of thousands of trees in Antipolo which eventually helped prevent floods in Marikina. It was because the locals were burning the forests in a process called Kaingin to plant crops. He befriended the Dumagat tribe and improved their lives by putting up a community (hospital with an ambulance, livelihood, and education). He fed them first because they can’t heal the forest if the people are hungry. Education is the long-term solution against poverty. In economics, the true measure of development is GNP. In Mt. Purro, “GNP” means “God, Nature and People.”
Mt. Purro is located at the foot of the Sierra Mountain Range at the Heart of the Marikina watershed. All the water from the rain flows into the watershed which is used for our daily lives: showering, laundry, washing dishes, etc. In 2009, the watershed overflowed and caused thousands of deaths in Marikina during the Typhoon Ondoy. Since then, Mt. Purro Nature Reserve has looked to sustainable travel or ecotourism as a solution. They engage guests in charcoal making and planting trees to help the reforestation of the Marikina Watershed. They also reduce their contribution to landfills by reducing the production of waste. During the hike, they say, “Leave no trace. Take nothing but pictures. Kill nothing but time.” The parting message is to practice sustainable living not just here but in the city in every day of our lives.
Around 7:45 AM, we had breakfast buffet at Loli’s Kitchen where they served dried fish, tocino, adobo flakes, garlic rice, pancakes and champorado! I had seconds which I did not regret!
At around 8:30 AM, we headed up the hill again for about 15 minutes where we planting tree saplings at the edge of the forest under the protection of more mature trees so they don’t get overexposed to the sun. We used the heavy metal piko and some spades. We were back down and around the bonfire for the survival training by 9:30 AM.
Daragat Survival Training
The Daragat tribesmen originally lived by the sea but were displaced when the Spaniards came to colonize the Philippines. The had acquired a nomadic lifestyle until eventually settling in the mountains. While some of them have started coming down the mountains to assimilate with the rest of Philippine society, about 60% are still uncomfortable with it and are reluctant to come down.
They taught us how they cook using bamboos. They don’t use matches to light the fire. The bamboo is blocked by a bunch of pandan leaves, and contents are slowly cooked over an open fire. You know it’s ready when the water starts dripping out and steam starts to rise. They use binukaw leaf as the sour agent for sinigang instead of tamarind.
We listened to Mang Canor’s stories from 1965 when he was imprisoned for kaingin. A couple of months ago, the wood from his land was seized by DENR and there was this whole lawsuit, but the Daragat won, but they were asked to retrieve the wood themselves which would cost them more.
We had a Boodle Lunch and invite the Daragat Tribe.
Buy local to support local farmers instead of buying imported food. Did you know that organic vegetables are available right here? They can’t really afford pesticides so everything they grow is organic. But are they as accessible?
We rode with Raf back to Manila. We stopped by multiple fruit markets on the side of the road to support local farmers. We all bought suha from one vendor and asked for the seeds when we were through with them. He collects the seeds to give them to the tribes. While tree planting volunteers are welcome, the Daragat and Aeta tribes would rather get seeds to plant themselves. Raf bought a gigantic Ube root crop to replant.
Social Tourism has helped these small communities move away from the mindset of subsistence farming. They’re now producing more than they need so they can sell these as finished products like Taro chips and souvenirs.