Having a lot of vacation to use or lose before the year is up, I decided I would stop being a poser and do my first motorcycle trip ever. I didnít waste a whole lot of time on things like making plans and stuff. Everything was basically decided at the last minute. I was going to depend on luck as much as anything. For a little background on me, I am 51yo, 5Ď9ď & 160# with the strength of a 13yo girl. I am timid but at the same time love an adventure. I have zero experience with motorcycle travel. I am not a crack motorcycle mechanic either. All of this came into play in what little planning I did do. I bought a DR650 not too long ago and hope to travel on it if I survive this trip.
The first step was to select where to ride. I narrowed it down to Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, South Africa or the Philippines. I choose the Philippines because I had the time to travel that far, and it is a safe country where the people spoke enough English to point me in the right direction. It was also very cheap after the cost of the plane ticket. So I bought a ticket to Manila online. No more than 20 minutes later I picked up the newspaper and read a story about 100 gunman kidnapping and massacring 57 people in the Philippines. I guess it is too late now to change it to Afghanistan.
Now I needed to select a motorcycle. The only rental place I found online was Nice-Bike located in Angeles City which was fairly close to Manila. I wanted a bike which was commonplace and that anyone could fix. I also needed a bike I could pick up off the ground by myself, which I canít do with my DR. Of the available bikes I choose the Honda XR200. This turned out to be the perfect bike for me. Cost was 550 pesos/day ($12 US).
For packing, I wanted to take just carry on. I only took a few quick drying clothes. Everything had to fit in a technical day pack and one small over the shoulder man bag. I figured there would be very little weight on the day packís shoulder straps as the pack would rest on the seat like a passenger. I was not going to take frivolous items like tools and parts. This is going to be a minimalist tour.
The important stuff I took :
Osprey 45 liter technical day pack
Motorcycle jacket and gloves
Protective prescription sport glasses
Sheepskin butt pad
Unlocked cell phone
Mid-high hiking boots
Lonely Planet - Philippines
As a backup, I established contact with an Advrider (Hercules) I met on the Philippines thread. It was nice to have someone to call for advice or if something should go seriously wrong. Especially since I am traveling alone.
This map shows the general area I rode in. I did not follow all the highlighted route but you can follow my path by the name of the cities I went through. It was amazing how long it took to go from place to place due to the road conditions and traffic.
SUNDAY DEC 6, 2009
Arrived late last night to Manila. I was wasted with jet lag so I decided to sleep in and rest a day in Manila rather than start out tired. Bought a Philippine SIM card ($2), calling cards, watch and cap at the market, then figured out how to get to Angeles City. My hotel in Manila was ok but think I paid too much. (1870 pesos/night, $41).
MONDAY DEC 7
Started out at 6:30 am. Walked to the metro station. Metro security was checking bags before letting anyone through the turnstiles. My day pack was tightly packed with a lot of straps and buckles. The guard realized that it would be a pain to check so she told me to go on through. So I got on the metro and detonated the bomb in my pack taking out 5 city blocks. Obviously that didnít happen. Took metro (15 pesos, $0.33) to bus station. Took a nice air-con bus for a 2 hour trip to Angeles (100 pesos, $2.18). Took tricycle from bus station to Nice-Bike (50 pesos, $1.09). Get there at about 10am. Changed money, bought water and farted around fine tuning everything.
Now I am ready to go and excited to finally begin this adventure. I get on the bike, push the start button and click, nothing. The guy working there gives the bike a few bumps with it in gear and then the start button works. He says the battery is low because the bike sat around for awhile. So naturally, having no kick start or tools I take his word for it and take off. Thinking about his explanation the next day, I realized it made no sense because when the start button did work it started easily.
Nervously I head out into traffic and immediately have to negotiate the dreaded traffic circle. I head up through Tarlac and on to Hundred Islands park. There is not much to see from the motorcycle and it is about 2pm so I decide to backtrack north a little and go to San Fernando for the night. It looked to be about 100km away so I should easily make it there before dark. This was a miscalculation I would make several more times. I ended up riding 2 hours in the dark. 2 out of 3 cars drove with their brights on. This left me blinded for a few seconds every time an oncoming car passed. I could not see anything in my lane like bikes or tricycles.
I was very relieved to finally get to my hotel, the Sunset Bay resort (1500 pesos/night, $33). It was a nice place owned by a couple of Englishman. I had what is to be my standard dinner of several San Miguel lites and went to sleep.
Sunset Bay Resort
TUESDAY DEC 8
The daypack idea is not working well. It always wanted to lean to the side and it pushed me up against the gas tank. I bought some bungee cords and strapped the pack onto the tail rack. Now I was much more comfortable. I then headed southeast to Baguio. The roads are getting more fun. Lots of curves and hills now. I arrive in Baguio to be greeted by a huge traffic jam. I cruised the city for awhile. It was a confusing city to ride in.
I found this cool motorcycle road in the city
After riding awhile I looked for a hotel where the motorcycle would be safe. I found this hotel where I could park the motorcycle right in front of the guard post (1800 pesos, $39).
Holiday Park hotel Baguio
WEDNESDAY DEC 9
Headed north towards Bontoc. I plan to stay in the town of Sagada. What a fun road this was. Continuous curves all the way with great views. I almost crashed twice on this road. There was some water runoff in the curves and the type of pavement it was made it very slick. As the bike was going down the sole of my boot hit first and the bike righted itself. That slowed me down a bit but soon I forgot about it and the same thing almost happened again.
Road slide, there was a lot of this
Views along the way
Typical gas stop
The starter button is only working about 1 out of 4 times. The little bump trick still works but it is taking more bumps now. If my stop is brief I will leave the bike running. I think the bump is just jostling the starter relay so it works. I am not too worried yet because I donít think it will be hard to have fixed.
I arrived in Sagada and looked for a hotel. Stayed at the Residence Lodge (200 pesos/night, $4.35) for less than what I paid for dinner. With the little daylight left I hiked to the hanging coffins and the underground river. I met a Filipino/American couple along the way. They highly recommended the cave to cave connection tour which links the Lumiang Burial cave to the Sumaging cave.
After dark I had dinner at the Log Cabin restaurant. Curfew is early in this town. When I walked back to the hotel all the lights everywhere were off and the security doors closed. I did not even recognize my hotel and walked right past it. The San Miguel didnít help things either. A local with a flashlight helped me find my way.
THURSDAY DEC 10
I decide to do the cave to cave connector tour early in the morning before I continue my ride. What a great call that was. I found a guide (600 pesos plus 400 pesos tip, $22) at the tourist center and we took off on the motorcycle to the first cave entrance. The cave was almost totally undeveloped. We had to crawl through small openings and do some rappelling. There was lots of anxiety producing moments. The limestone rock was extremely slippery with my hard soled sandals. Surprisingly, flip flops work the best. Most of the time I couldnít see how far I could fall, which probably was a good thing. I did not see a back-up flashlight so I think if the guide dropped his lantern we were screwed. Being low season it may be days before another cave to cave tour came through.
Coffins at Lumiang cave entrance
One of several small openings we had to crawl through
One of the rappels
One of the interesting cave formations, or was this in Angeles?
After the cave tour I headed out to Banaue. Banaue is a World Heritage listed site with 2000 year old rice terraces. I stay at the Halfway Lodge (300 pesos/night, $6.50). It even had hot water.
Road to Banaue
Hotel in Banaue
FRIDAY DEC 11
I took a day off from the motorcycle so I could do the all day hike to Batad. This was another good call. Batad also had spectacular rice terraces and is only accessible by foot. Some of the trail required sure footing, especially in the area of the terraces.
Batad rice terraces
View from other side
Trail along the way, and my guide ďBingĒ
Village along the hike
Another Village along the way
I mentioned to my guide Bing about the problem starting the motorcycle. At this point I have to roll it down a hill and jump start. I am going to a very remote area tomorrow and donít want to get stranded at the bottom of a hill. As luck would have it, his nephew is a motorcycle mechanic. Bing will take me to him after the hike.
When we get back to Banaue, the narrow street is now very busy with pedestrians and tricycles. I have to roll the bike down the hill to jump start it while trying to avoid a million moving obstacles. This was very amusing to the many by-standers. After several attempts it starts before I reach the bottom. Relieved to get that over with I load Bing on the back and we head for the motorcycle shop. Then the bike suddenly quits. I had left the gas off. Now I have to repeat that embarrassing routine all over again. At the motorcycle shop Bingís nephew diagnoses the problem to be a failed starter relay. We canít find a 12V relay in Banaue so he totally bypasses the starter relay and the bike starts within a second every time for the rest of the trip. Bypassing the relay didnít seem to hurt the starter button or anything else.
I see Bing later that night at the Las Vegas restaurant. I already had a few SM litesí and he invites me to join him at Friendlyís bar for some live music. I show up at the bar a little later to hear a Filipina woman singing country music. She sounds just like an American country singer. Another of Bingís nephews is with him. His nephew is already half passed out. He must have had a few before I got there. I think he was drinking Red Horse and not the sissy SM liteís I was drinking. After a few more SM liteís I stumble back to the hotel to sleep. I know I will have a long ride tomorrow.
SATURDAY DEC 12
The plan today is to go from Banaue and spend the night in Vigan. Along the way I will go to Bontoc, Lubuagan, Balbalan and Balbalasang. I estimate 10 hours and leave early to make sure I get there before dark. I miscalculated by about 4 hours. This is the most scenic and remote part of my tour. Most of the gas I get today is out of liter coke bottles.
Banaue in the morning
Road to Vigan
Saw a lot of mud. The XR200 handled it very well, or maybe it was just rider skill.
Road to Vigan
Road to Vigan
More terraces. It is getting darker now. I am way behind so no more picture taking.
I had my first crash. It was a thrilling 0 km/hr. I parked on a slight incline and before I could get off, the kick stand sunk in and I fell over. Luckily no damage. I struggled to get the bike up. I was so glad I did not choose a bigger bike.
The road now is getting much rougher. There are many more rocks and they are slippery since it had just rained. Soon all the houses and people disappear. The road starts climbing up and up when I was expecting it to go down. I can tell I am nowhere near Vigan since it is near the coast. All I could see is more mountains with no lights shining anywhere. I now realize I will have to ride on this road in the dark and maybe stay in the woods tonight. After an hour of worrying I see some power lines. Soon I am in the town of Lagangilang. On my map I see the big town of Bangued. I think I can spend the night there. It looks like I am almost there since it is only a half inch on my map. I ask a local how far it is and he says 2 hours! 2 hours to go a f*#@^ing half inch! My heart sinks but I eventually make it to Bangued and find a hotel for the night. It did take 2 hours too. Today was 14 hours on the bike and I still didnít make it to Vigan. Of that time about 11 hours was off-road riding. Later I take the bike down to the central park for some street food. No San Miguel tonight.
SUNDAY DEC 13
In the morning I found a hose behind the hotel to wash off bike.
Now that it is daylight I see that Bangued is a pretty town surrounded by mountains. I wondered what I missed in all those hours riding in the dark last night.
View from Victoria Park
Road to Vigan
Cock fight arena
Historic Vigan street closed to traffic
Church in Vigan
Parked bike in front of grocery store. Having guards in every business entrance was very convenient for parking the bike in a secure place so I could walk around.
Left Vigan for San Fernando to stay at the Sunset Bay again. Saw several parades today but donít know what was special about today.
MONDAY DEC 14
Traveled down the Zambales coast to the town of Iba. Stopped for gas and checked the oil. Oil was low so I had the attendant put some in. I assumed he knew what he was doing since there are so many motorcycles there. I wasnít paying attention and he ended up putting the whole container in. The level was 2 inches above the full line. We had to siphon the excess out.
Typical in-town traffic.
Hotel in Iba (300 pesos, $6.50). Mattress was super soft. Had to get a second mattress added and also double it over. My 160# body still sank to the bottom. I didnít get much sleep that night.
TUESDAY DEC 15
Continued down the Zambales past Subic Bay. Took the highway down the Bataan Peninsula to Mariveles.
Mt. Samat memorial. It was a nice drive up to this monument. Inside there was an elevator to the top with a viewing room.
Bottom of monument
Picturesque village near Mariveles
After Mariveles I went back up to Angeles to turn in the bike and wash every thing. Stayed one night in Angeles until everything dried and left the next day for Manila. It seemed like all the rooms available nearby the bike rental had small enclosed rooms with no window. Being a little claustrophobic I had to hunt to find one with a window. I finally found one on my 7th try. The town was quiet when I picked up the bike a week earlier. After I cleaned my stuff and took a nap, I went out in search of my San Miguel and boy was that town lively at night!
View from Hotel in Angeles
This was the end of my motorcycle tour. Afterwards I went to Mindoro and SCUBA dived a little and did a short motorcycle ride.
To sum up my trip, the Philippines is a great place to ride. Prices are cheap and the people are helpful. One can get by with English only. I was never given bad directions. The XR200 was the perfect bike for the road conditions. I was rarely able to go fast anyway because of traffic and road work. The only downside is that several highways are limited to bikes 400cc and up. I would take some soft saddlebags next time if I can do it as carry-on. But then it wouldnít work as well for the times I was not on the bike. The man bag worked well for stuff I accessed often, like the camera. Sometimes I had to hunt for a hotel where I felt comfortable parking the motorcycle, especially since the steering lock didnĎt work. I thought I did a good job of not over packing, and I used most everything I brought.
I learned quickly that motorcycles can go anywhere and do anything they want here. You canít break the rules because there are none (enforced at least). You can go where ever you can squeeze your motorcycle. The only limit is how much nerve you have. You also have to pay attention because there was so much risk taking in passing situations. I had to be ready to get out of the way when an oncoming car or bus was coming at me in my own lane.
In total my trip was 1,850km. It doesnít sound like a lot for 8 days, but it really took a long time to get from one place to another. I was lucky with the weather since it rarely rained. And when it did it was only briefly. I originally planned on doing zero night riding, but due to bad judgment I had to ride at night 3 times.
Another thing I would do different would be to travel with someone else so I could stiff them with writing the trip report.
Thanks for reading my report.