The first time I came to La Mesa several years ago, I couldn’t believe that there was such a place right inside Metro Manila. I had heard a lot about the place, about the beauty of its trails, and the postcard (or is it Instagram?) perfect scenery you get to enjoy while biking there. But nothing compares to seeing it for yourself.
Let’s just get something out of the way first. The biking destination I am talking about is the La Mesa Nature Reserve, not the La Mesa Ecopark. The former has kilometers upon kilometers of well-maintained fire roads and singletrack which can take you a whole day to explore. The latter (the Ecopark) is a smaller park which features boating, paintball, and a few kilometers of biking. It’s more suited for family picnics instead of mountain biking. It’s easy to confuse the two parks because both are maintained by ABS-CBN’s Bantay Kalikasan.
Last July 6, I was able to visit La Mesa again thanks to the invitation of my semi-regular bike buddy Bong. He was biking with some officemates and invited me to tag along. Hell yeah, I said and was at the gates of La Mesa at seven in the morning.
Our bike guides warned us that the trails would be a bit tricky that day because of the rains of the past few days. He said it would be slick and very muddy. Maputek talaga, he assured us. I had just finished scraping several kilos of mud off my bike from the King of the Mountain race a few days before, and was not looking forward to repeating that chore.
But neither was I about to let a bit of sissy loam get in the way of a great weekend adventure. Besides, I’d already experienced the worst mud that La Mesa could dish out during the Offroad Duathlon held there last year. Back then, the mud was so thick it jammed your derailleurs and turned your bike into a de facto singlespeeder. My instincts told me that it couldn’t possibly be that bad that Saturday.
We took off at a leisurely pace from the parking lot because our group included newbies to La Mesa. As we pedaled through beautiful singletrack, I couldn’t believe how much I missed riding in this place.
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La Mesa is often referred to as the last remaining rainforest in Metro Manila. It’s hard to argue with that. Here, you bike under the ever-present shade of the trees. Unlike the trails of San Mateo, where patches of forest alternate with grasslands, La Mesa is almost wholly covered by trees. Bantay Kalikasan really did a great job of keeping this place as pristine possible.
Besides the forest, La Mesa’s other great attraction is the reservoir. This man-made lake is so picturesque, you can easily mistake it as something yanked from Palawan or Bohol. This lake would be a great place to go kayaking, if only the park’s managers would allow it.
La Mesa is also one of the few places in Metro Manila where you can actually hear different types of bird songs, if you’ll just keep an ear out for them. The park even offers birdwatching trips.
I also love La Mesa’s wooden bridges. It’s a hoot speeding down these ramshackle viaducts and then mashing your cranks like hell as you try to ascend the slope on the other side. This could get technical depending on how muddy the slope is.
But strictly speaking, La Mesa is not that technical. Any mountain biker who has had a month of trail riding experience can handle La Mesa. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It has plenty of difficult ascents and tricky descents, but nothing as difficult as the climb up to Timberland. The trip to the infamous Tower One may slowly leech the energy out of your legs. But don’t worry; it’s nothing like Daraitan or Sta. Ines or even Shotgun. Also, if a member of your group needs to bail out for whatever reason, your guide can always radio for help and a pickup truck will fetch him/her at the nearest trail exit point.
We finished our ride at around 12 noon. As expected my bike looked like it was dunked repeatedly in a carabao watering hole. I was muddy all over too, but I had a smile on my face. To cap off a great day, I had some sinigang na bagnet (yes, that’s right–crispy bagnet cooked in sampaloc soup!) and ice cold SMB for lunch at Qubiertos in Kalayaan, Diliman.
Tips for bikers going to La Mesa.
- You need to make a reservation. You can call Bantay Kalikasan at:
(02)410.9670 (02)415.2272 loc 4551(Bantay Kalikasan Head Office) or inquire directly with Mr. Mar Zeri Ramirez at 0926.6700320 or 0908.493 8239. For more info, click this link to the Bantay Kalikasan website.
- You can’t go in solo. The recommended minimum is five bikers per group. You can go below this minimum, but you’ll have to pay extra.
- Yes, this trail ain’t free. Be prepared to fork out 200 pesos per person for a group of 5, or 1000 bucks total. If you have more than 5 bikers, each extra rider also forks out 200 bucks. If your group has fewer than 5 bikers, you’ll have to split the burden.
- Bring water and snacks. There are no establishments that sell food and drinks in La Mesa. Sometimes there are vendors selling bananas, water and Gatorade at the Violago station. But sometimes the vendors take a day off.
- Bring a standard repair kit.
- Stash your trash.