Quezon City, the Philippines

May 8, 2010

This particular summer has been a scorcher; I’d give my front teeth for some cool and breezy respite in this microwave oven milieu. Now there’s the wisdom in having more of the jungle in concrete jungle.

Shade and the City: La Mesa Ecopark in Quezon City

Lucky me, I live in Quezon City, one of the leafier cities in not-so-tree-friendly Metro Manila. Less than 15 minutes from my house is a forest reserve called La Mesa Ecopark, tucked away behind a residential community and beside a landfill (of all places!). It is actually a large swathe of area around the La Mesa Watershed, the water source of the metropolis that this forest protects. This sylvan enclosure is covered by both city ordinance and a canopy of trees. I have not been there before even though it’s practically in my backyard.

There is an entrance fee of P50, less P10 if you can prove you’re a Quezon City resident. Practically peanuts, but it still feels like that Joni Mitchell classic where she bemoans having to pay a dollar and a half to see trees in a tree museum. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you got till it’s (almost) gone?”

Wooden Bench in the Woods: La Mesa Ecopark

Oh, Joni will quit kvetching here. The trees are lush and gigantic. They have eye-level ID tags, announcing both their common and scientific names (a nod to Joni’s tree museum?), but I have to cock my head 90 degrees to appreciate them in their entire splendor. Their tops loom overhead forming a capillary network of leaves and branches, a tenuous cover with a potent cooling effect. I can almost feel drafts of oxygen emanating from the trees if not for the breeze-less afternoon.

Hang your head down and you will still not miss nature’s glory in the undergrowth. A small roadside creek supports a whole ecosystem in itself. Ferns, grass, weeds, moss, and tiny insects just beg to be macro’d.

Fern, Golly!
Circle of Life

And of course, the common but beautiful Corazon de Maria stands out. It’s a kind of herb with distinct heart-shaped leaves. It grows just about anywhere so people don’t give it much thought, but this weed is unfailingly fascinating. Just how can a thing of such symmetry and cordate beauty randomly sprout in prosaic places like the roadside gutter?

Wearing Your Heart On Your Leaves: Corazon de Maria

All is not peaceful and quiet in the woods though. Other people always want to DO something in a place. I’m just content to BE in it. There is a flurry of activity at the swimming pools, zip line, paintball field, rappelling wall, and lagoons. Commerce can’t be far behind. There are bamboo huts and wooden stalls that sell everything from virgin coconut oil to native handicrafts.

Proudly Pinoy

Other bloggers would have tried any of those activities, but what do I do? I make a beeline for the flower terraces instead. It resembles a hillside but it is actually the dam wall, cloaked by a field of flowers with dancing colors. Cutting through the middle is a steep flight of steps flanked by pink-flowering shrubs that goes all the way up to the reservoir. The windless heat drenches me in sweat.

Stairway to La Mesa Dam
No Camera Taking: Only in La Mesa Watershed

Two rows of perimeter fences keep the reservoir out of reach. Even “camera taking” is strictly prohibited, go figure. On the way down, I succumb to flower power; I go fluttering in the sun-kissed field, hopping from one flower to the next like a jolly bee (good thing there are no real bees!). But also, I am wilting in the heat, amidst of all the blossoming.

Field Blanketed by Flowers: La Mesa Ecopark
The Colors of Crotons
Mamang Sorbetero (Ice Cream Vendor)

Even leaves can hold their own. A hedge of crotons can give any artist’s palette a run for its pastiche of colors. Blood reds, luminous yellows, and ink-blot patterns add drama to the veins and their ramifications on leaves such that they mimic floral pulchritude. Plants with monochromatic leaves, on the other hand, are planted en masse to form landscaping patterns. This artful use of plants has only been minimally employed in public spaces. Sadly, I think it’s because people here have a penchant for vandalizing and stealing public property. Plants will never stand a chance.

Cropped Circle
Leafy Lounge

The water features are actually green, color-coordinated with the rest of the forest. For extra fees, you can either go boating or fishing. I do neither. I just take in the soothing sights with both my naked eyes and Leica lens.

A Creek Runs Through It: La Mesa Ecopark
Little Boats Should Keep Near Shore: La Mesa Ecopark
Boats by the Berth: La Mesa Ecopark
Boating at La Mesa Ecopark

Space issues and the economics of real estate development notwithstanding, it is undeniably healthy to have greenbelts to hold any city together, especially since urban areas are where most people live. Trees and flowers allow urbanites to breathe and to think, not only under the stifling sun but also under the constrictive claws of concrete. I hope Quezon City will live up to its original plan as a green leafy city.

It’s Raining Roots
A Bevy of Bamboo
Green Jeepney at La Mesa Ecopark