Monday, September 26, 2016

(Features) Ligao City puts spotlight on little-known Mt. Masaraga of 'Magayon Trio'
By Jorge Hallare

LEGAZPI CITY, Sept. 26 (PNA) -- At 1,328 meters above sea level (masl) Mt.Masaraga has been described by mountaineers as one of the “Magayon Trio” or the three beautiful mountains of Albay that include Mt. Mayon (2,463 masl) and Mt. Malinao (1,450 masl).

Ligao City Mayor Patty Alsua said the city government wants to implement a tourism plan to promote the beauty of Mt. Masaraga which is little known but has a potential to be one of the city’s tourist destination areas.

Naturally gifted with caves, hills, lakes and coastal areas, Ligao City is more well-known for its Kawa-Kawa Hill and Natural Park, a pilgrimage site for nearly a million faithful who flock during the Lenten season each year to the hill, famous for its hollowed top resembling a giant cauldron, the English term for “kawa.”

Alsua, however, believes the city also has a jewel in Masaraga.

As attested by mountain climbers and bikers, who have explored the trail to Mt. Masaraga’s summit, the trail gets steeper and steeper as they make the ascent.

They say there is a final challenging assault but the visual rewards when the backpacker reaches the summit is well worth the arduous climb.

According to the climbers, the visual feast includes a “stunning view of Mt. Mayon” and “spectacular views of the north, revealing Mt. Isarog, Mt. Asog, and Lake Buhi”--the last three located in the neighboring province of Camarines Sur.

Early this month, more than 150 professional bikers from various parts of the country joined the first biking challenge mounted by the Ligao City government in Mt. Masaraga.

Aside from bikers from the Bicol region and elsewhere in the country, there were also five Singaporeans and a New Zealander who participated in the first “Mayor's Cup National Enduro Bike Challenge.”

Alsua said the enduro bike competition, a form of mountain bike racing, was part of a tourism program that is anchored on launching sports events to promote Masaraga and the city.

There were four bikers declared as champions in their respective categories in the bike competition held on Sept. 4.

Eleazar Barba of Dumaguete City topped the “open elite” category while Karlo Akdol of Iloilo City dominated the pack of bikers in the “curious” category.

Joel Ducanti of Legazpi City outclassed the bikers in the “executive category” while women bikers, who followed the same route as the male bikers, produced their own champion in Joyce Del Socorro of Quezon City in the “feminino category.”

Alsua said part of Ligao City’s program is to give the villagers around Mt. Masaraga an extra income by selling their native food and agricultural products during such occasions as the bike challenge.

According to her, the activity also seeks to send the strong message to the the villagers to take care of the natural beauty and environment of Mt. Masaraga.

"Mt. Masaraga has endemic trees that can be found only in the Philippines such as the apitong and the red and white lawaan species,” she said.

She added that even the locals attest to sightings of the "opon" or wild pigs, monkeys and a variety of endemic birds that can be found in some areas of the mountain.

“The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has declared Mt. Masaraga as one of their National Integrated Protected Areas in the Bicol region,” said Alsua.

Because of this, the local government of Ligao has organized the village officials around the mountain as a "Bantay Kalikasan Group" (environment watchdog) to help the DENR's forest rangers in protecting the whole area.

Albay third district Representative Fernando Gonzales said his office is very supportive of the city government’s plans for Masaraga.

“I want to have some program to generate employment and livelihood for the villagers around Masaraga,” he said.

Gonzales said the enduro bike challenge could be an eye opener to other environmentalist hikers to come and see the beauty of nature through a trek on the mountain.

He said their next plan is to invite motocross enthusiasts to conduct their sports challenge in Mt. Masaraga.

Gonzales assured that even as they are promoting tourism and income generating programs in the area they will be pushing hard to protect Masaraga and its ecological balance.

Alsua believes that now that Mt. Masaraga has been discovered by some sports enthusiasts the mountain is more than ready to embrace other adventure-seeking visitors.

A major jump off point to reach Masaraga is Sitio (sub-village) Sabluyon, Barangay (village) Amtic in Ligao City, which is located northwest of mainland Legazpi City.(PNA) JMC/GVR/JH/CBD