Most of our summer road trip plans screeched to a halt with the whirlwind slide of Metro Manila from the general community quarantine (GCQ) to becoming NCR Bubble Plus under ECQ, and then later MECQ in a span of one month. With the varying interpretations of the Bubble Plus by the so-called “bubble gangs” manning the checkpoints, going to the Plus provinces is like passing through a gauntlet.
And with most of the leisure destinations in the Plus areas closed, the practical alternative is to rediscover the not-so hidden hideaways in the megacity we took for granted for so long. The Department of Tourism and the Automobile Association of the Philippines even positioned the NCR into rebuilding into a global brand being the gateway to the archipelago.
It may also interest you that Metro Manila was featured a few years back at a 48-hour travelogue by London-based Independent newspaper, and was named as among the world’s 10 Fastest-Emerging Global Cities by The World Post. Could it be that the Britons are seeing some things that we don’t, or are we overlooking charming spots because our eyes have been set on other destinations far, far away.
One location which evokes an out-of-town ambiance is Muntinlupa, NCR’s southernmost city and doorstep to the Calabarzon Region which has seen lots of tourist influx from lockdown-weary urbanites.
Lest we be confused by its name which roughly means “small land” is among the biggest cities in the metro at 47 sq.km with a population which isn’t as dense as the other urban centers.
Synonymous to Alabang, a posh district which is a merry mix of business, residence, and recreation, Muntinlupa takes pride in Filinvest City, a pioneer township which has lots of open spaces, landscaped walkways, and tree parks with freestanding sculptures.
If you feel like hitting the fairways, there’s the 18-hole Alabang Golf and Country Club, and the 285-yard Southpoint Driving Range with 28 covered bases if you just want to work on your swing or be initiated to the sport.
Of late, the area has become a haven for cyclists with its 9-km mountain bike trail in Filinvest’s grasslands. The central business district itself has bike-friendly roads which they integrated into the master-planned “city within a city” to promote a healthy and earth-friendly mobility and community.
Outside the CBD is Muntinlupa proper which has retained its Old World charm despite its rapid gentrification. The 587-hectare New Bilibid Prison Reservation is an intriguing enclave which seems to transport you to the olden days when it was still a suburban town of Rizal province.
Just minutes away from the main entrance is the picturesque 1.5-hectare Jamboree Lake, reputedly the smallest body of water in the country. Surrounded by a sunken garden, this is a refuge in the urban jungle where you can go fishing, or just gaze at the still water and avians flying by.
Apart from the stigma that “Munti” brings, the complex is a virtual urban park dotted with greeneries and historic nooks which figured during World War 2 when it was used as a prison camp. Among these are the Japanese Cemetery and Memorial Hill, the burial site of a former prison director.
The sprawling NBP is also an emerging bike destination, particularly for those seeking challenging “ahon” or uphill terrain.
Another pleasant surprise is Bayanan Baywalk which affords you a front-row seat to the Laguna De Bay and a panoramic vista of the Sierra Madre mountains in Rizal province and the eastern metropolitan skyline just across the placid lake. The multipurpose public park has adjacent huts on stilts, aquaculture tanks, and bamboo rafts run by the city’s lake management office, and can be used for free by small groups, mostly for lunch picnics.
Situated beside Alabang’s lakeshore portion, the Baywalk also has a mini-fishport where freshwater fishes are unloaded and can be bought at rock-bottom prices.
The park is ideal for biking, jogging, or a lazy stroll, particularly at twilight time. Kayaking is a potential recreational activity on the lake, something that I have been contemplating with my photographer-paddler buddy Harvey Tapan who has already tested the waters, quite literally, long before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
This stunning vista, which has been hiding in plain sight for so long, is the same bucolic spot that inspired thousands of visual artists and musicians in Angono town, just on the other side of the Laguna Lake.
While waiting for the NCR’s Bubble Plus to burst so we can move more freely, Muntinlupa can be your serendipitous southern sanctuary.
A true-blue day tripper since age 19, he has travelled across the archipelago by land, air, and sea. As a communications trainer, travel photojournalist, tourist mapmaker, scuba diver, environment advocate, or simply a family road tripper, he has imbibed the diversity of the Philippines by learning the basic way of life of the places he visits.