We went to Maarat (Timberland) last Sunday as I have some relatives whom I am introducing to trail riding. As we all know, Maarat is our Mt. Tam- the center of Philippine mountain biking. It was a few years ago when I last went there and though there have been a lot of changes even then, it was only on this trip that I came into realization that some of the trails we have ridden are rapidly disappearing- giving way to development. In the case of Maarat, it is still good to know that the property owner has embraced cycling and has still incorporated some trails within the development, but it is still far off from the way it was used to be and there is also no guarantee that it will remain as is- as the power of commerce will prevail once the development plan is given the go signal. We are uncertain until when the good things will last.
Starting with our way to Maarat (by the way, it was Maarat then prior to the development of Timberland and I think it is now popularly known simply as Timberland), as I now have the luxury of using Waze to navigate my way from Marcos Hi-way to Maarat, I was directed to pass through what seems to be the former AFP Trail. When I talk about this trail to the newbies, I was amazed nobody really know this place anymore as I guess this was developed (paved) much earlier on and was already out of the lists of the destinations for mountain biking a long time ago.
Going back to Maarat- here are some observations I had comparing it from yesteryear’s:
- The paved portion has now creeped all the way to the former junction to the Roxas-Antenna Area. Before the rough roads starts at the now gate of Timerland. Then it advanced to the Timberland Resort. One of these days, this main route called “Basic” will be fully paved.
- Most of the existing trails are newly built specific to riding. More of sections of trails rather than one continuous system. Its more of a bike park than a natural trail. Gone are the routes called Roxas, Yes-No, Ka Vergel and other places I have also forgotten now.
- From the backdoor (coming from Antipolo), the alternate road that goes to Roxas is already blocked and is no longer passable.
- During the earlier days- the destination on the Antipolo side is a store we call Mountain Dew which was eventually replaced by Giant after some boycott movement within the cycling community due to an alleged mobile phone theft by the store. Then there was Pestano and now there is Sandugo.
- The alternate wall- the road to the left prior to the steep ascent to the wall (shot-gun?- it was non existing on our heydays) is now also paved.
- And before there was Aling Tina’s store (if you don’t like Tropical Hut (which is the very first stop-over-jump-off) or Jolibee or later on- Chowking) and now some more decent cafes and a bike store- i.e. All Terra sprouted along the road prior to the wall. The left side, which was the former Divine Mercy Track where the cross country races are held are now dotted with houses. The “tambays” on these cafes on a busy weekend shows the growing social dimension (or status?) of cycling whether its good or bad.
- And of course- the SUVs and trucks lining up the road on a busy weekend- in contrast to our heydays- wherein even if we have cars, we didn’t even consider bringing cars on a bike ride. We rode from home to trail head, do our adventure, then ride back home again. Hope this is not a setback for bike-environmental advocates (the increased carbon footprint of riding a bike).
Most biking destination in the Philippines are private property. The public ones are usually not intended/designed for riding. In the US some mountain bike groups has even raised money to buy properties to ensure the trails will remain open but that is something impossible here. For private lands- we are at the mercy of the owners. For public- we need further advocacy to share the park, create bike specific trails and make it an official mountain biking destination.
Similar to any developments, the question of whether progress is better is always debatable. Looking at the bright side- this Maarat may have inspired newbies and started people into cycling. But for those who have ridden this in its earlier days, there is something missing riding it nowadays- the feeling of adventure and exploration. Of being close to nature. So the newbies who will eventually graduate riding Maarat- you better drive farther down the road to experience the exhilarating experience of real mountain biking.