A year in quarantine just makes you want to run to the top of a mountain, breath in fresh air and surround yourself with nature. It might not be as unattainable as it seems now that a new campsite has opened in the foothills of Rizal province, a mere 2.5-hour ride from Manila.
Billed as an eco-tourism campsite, Bulod Natural Spaces was founded by entrepreneur Felix Ayque in January 2021. “At the start of the pandemic, I just wanted to escape from all the stress and, with the help of a friend who was a tour guide, we visited this untouched mountain in Barangay Daraitan, in the municipality of Tanay, where the Agos River runs,” he recalls.
Ayque liked it so much that he soon found himself there on weekends, camping and taking in the wonderful display of nature that is so elusive when you are living in Metro Manila. He also learned more about the 20-plus families living in the area, some of them members of the Dumagat tribe, whose livelihood from tourism was greatly affected because of the pandemic. “Some were displaced and got engaged in illegal logging activities because of the lack of opportunities here,” says Ayque. This led him to developing Bulod – which means mountain in Ayque’s hometown of Legazpi City – into a social enterprise.
Bulod Natural Spaces is spread across 12 hectares of land, owned by various local and tribal communities. Six hectares so far have been developed and offers glamping, camping and other recreational activities. “We empower rural and indigenous communities by providing them funding to co-develop their lands and converting these into revenue-generating spaces that help increase income and reduce poverty,” says Ayque.
The campsite, a pavilion as well as a restaurant and bar are located on one hectare of land situated atop a hill, with the Agos river just 15 meters below. It is where where six 17-ft luxury bell tents, made from light-weight Oxford fabric with flaps where you can let air in, are parked. Each tent has its designated outdoor private toilet and bath located 10 meters away. The tents don’t need air-conditioning, Ayque says, as the temperature drops to 17-22 degree Celcius at night even during the summer. It is not uncommon to wake up to very foggy mornings here.
Since Bulod wants to encourage guests to explore the outdoors, the tent interiors are kept basic but comfortable with airbeds and mattresses. Each tent can accommodate four to six people. Charging stations and WiFi hotspots are in the common area.
Campers are free to bring and cook their own food but they can also order Filipino comfort dishes such as siningang, tinola, grilled meats and coconut milk-based local delicacies at the restaurant. If a group is up for drinking under the stars, the bar is well stocked with a variety of red wine and high-end whiskeys like Yamazaki, Blue Label and Macallan.
They can also hang out or eat on wooden double swings with tables, outdoor table sets, and designated picnic areas found around the campsite. To keep the property sustainable, most furnishings and structures are built using bamboos, driftwood, and stones found on site, says Ayque. “We also use solar power energy in all our campsites,” he adds.
While walk-ins are welcome, Ayque says Bulod is better able to help the community and maintain operations under its two-tier membership program, “which allows visiting members to have access to a place where they can relax, heal, have a good time and be in tune with nature.”
For individuals, Bulod offers a limited annual membership of Php 10,000 a year; Ayque estimates that having 120 individual members can employ 12 persons per year. For group or company memberships, Ayque has devised the Private Village program where members get to build their own campsite in a private village and enjoy other privileges such as 30% of farm income in the form of fresh produce delivery, for the cost of Php 10,000 a month. Ayque believes that one group membership is enough to employ one person for a year. “The goal in five years is to empower at least 100 locals and indigenous communities living within Daraitan and Sierra Madre Mountains,” Ayque explains, adding that the bigger vision is to make Bulod into a model community that can be scaled in other places all over the Philippines.
Bulod’s guests can fill their days with both low- and high-impact activities. Nights around the campfire, quiet canoe rides and yoga sessions can be balanced with trail adventures on 4×4 vehicles, hiking up the Dumagat Summit, rafting and horseback riding.
In the coming months, there’s more to look forward to as Ayque is not yet done bringing in sustainable but exciting ideas to the campsite. “If you spend a lot of time in the mountains, the ideas just keep on flowing,” Ayque says.