With only 5000 Dutch visitors a year, the Philippines is still unknown to the general public. Most visitors immediately dive into the beautiful blue ocean and enjoy the great beaches on one of the 7,107 tropical Philippines islands. As true motorcyclists we stay on Luzon, the main island of the Philippines and drive into the Cordillera mountains.
We begin our journey in Angeles City, just above the capital Manila. With one of the many sidecar taxi-motorcycles, we drive into town to find our prearranged motorbike rental. There is no suspension on this sidecar and the roof agains rain and sun is actually too low for larger Europeans, so the first bruises are a fact. Between the many Go-go bars we find our motorbike rental, where our Honda dirt bikes are already waiting for us. Especially for this trip the bikes did get new tires, and a extra compleet check-up. We are ready to go.
We drive to Clark Air Base, a large (37 km²) American airbase and a major logistics base during the Vietnam War. In 1991 much of the base is destroyed by the second largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. The eruption of the Pinatubo Volcano turned the Air Base basically into a dusty ghost town.After some years the government decided to rebuild the Base into a Duty Free shopping area. Despite all the efforts the roads are still empty and old soldier barracks are becoming large spooky ruins.
The next day we leave Angeles City and drive north to San Jose. Along the way we are suprised about the large numbers of sidecars. A local Filipino tells us that most people simply can not afford a car and a motorcycle is also more practical on the bad roads. Funny to see that the sidecars are used for transporting really everything. It can easily transport 15 (!) persons, but can also be used for transport of a cow, two pigs, 100 chickens or anything else. Strange that we see so little sidecars in Europe.
After an hour driving we reach the Bataan Death March memorial. A memorial site for thousands of American and Filipino prisoners of war, who died during a World War II transport by the Japanese army. That the inland of the Philippines was not very touristy we already knew, but seeing not one visitor at this beautiful monument is sad. The grass grows meters high and paint is clearly not used for years.
Once arrived in San Jose we eat at the ‘Philippines McDonald's', also known as ‘Jolibee’, thé fastfood chain in the Philippines. It remains strange to eat a burger while 10 meters further 20 people are living in a corrugated iron shack, with just enough money for a bowl of rice. This is clearly one of the characteristics of the Philippines. Rich and poor living side by side and the differences are enormous. Remarkable is also a drive-thrue funeral shop, selling nothing else but wooden coffins. If you like the coffin you can directly put it on your truck or sidecar and take it home. The sky's the limit.
We meet quite unexpectedly another motorbiker from Alaska. As a true adventurer he is driving alone through the mountains on a rented Africa Twin. He tells us that the coming days we can enjoy some pretty rough roads. Four days only bends, landslides and broken roads, according to our colleague from Alaska. After exchanging our addresses we drive over the rough Dalton Pass, where during the Second World War was fought fiercely. A monument at the top that says "Forever Peace", let us reflect on the 17,000 soldiers who were killed.
After several good hotels we encountered a hotel using only rates by the hour. The red lights in the garage makes also expecting the worst. Since there is no other hotel available we check in and try to get a quiet night of sleep . The next morning we agree that it was a perfect hotel. The plastic sheets on the mattress were a bit sweaty, but it was clean, silent and cheap. Next we drive to Banaue where we visit an original Ifugao village called Tam-an.
Tam-an is situated halfway up a small mountain and is only accessible by 323 steps carved into the rock. The inhabitants belong to the so-called Ifugao tribe, which until the beginning of the 20th century were known as headhunters. Another tradition is to preserve the skeletons of family in home. The idea is that a deceased person stay’s a part of the daily family business. Immediately at the first home we are introduced to someones deceased grandfather. We sit down on a bench and a beautiful silk carpet is taken from a closet. The carpet is respectfully unfolded and some seconds later we look at the skeleton of grandpa. We briefly hear his life story and then the carpet is put back on the closet. Shokking? No, a respectful cultural difference.
We continue our way to Bontoc, the northernmost point of our journey. Frequently the road is one big Swiss cheese and some roads are partially blocked by landslides from the mountains. However our Honda's take each hurdle without any problem. Along the way we admire the beautiful hand built rice terraces at 1700 meters altitude. Since 1995 those rice terraces are a part of the UNESCO world heritage and given all the heavy manual work that kwalification is fully justified. On the local market we wonder about the normal daily activities, such as slaughtering a chicken on the street between happily playing children. The chicken is then stripped of skin and feathers with a gas burner(!), giving the meat an intense burnt taste, which the Filipinos apparently find very tasty.
In Bontoc you only see sidecars, with occasionaly a Jeepney. The Jeepneys are actually the taxis from the countryside and are extended Jeeps with just like the sidecars beautiful paintwork and gleaming chrome. When we want to leave Bontoc in the morning my front tire is completely flat. After some searching we find a compressor and some minutes later we are back on the road. After 10 km the tire becomes again pretty empty, so we stop at one of the many vulcanization businesses along the way. Three young men who do not speak a word English, understand the problem and with brute force the wheel is removed and the tire is professionally glued. The cost: less than 50 eurocents for a half hour working with three people!
We drive straight along the top of Mount Pulag, with its 2922 mtr the highest mountain of the Cordillera Mountains. Special is that we drive most of the time on the slopes of the mountains and not like in the Alps or Dolomites each time ascending and descending mountains. Thanks to all the beautiful curves and stunning vistas, the day passed quickly and we need to spend the night in the mountains. We find a hotel at 2310 mtr altitude on top of the mountain ´Mount Data´. We are the only guests, but especially for us the lights are turned on and a meal is cooked. The night in the mountains is verry cold with only 4 degrees Celsius, but luckily the sun is shining again at 6:00 am, bringing another beautiful hot day.
We leave the Cordillera Mountains and drive along with hundreds of sidecar motorcycles to the westcoast. After some considerable searching we find a nice beach hotel and enjoy a few days of empty beaches and warm seawater. The Philippines is definitely a perfect place for all motorbikers wo want a little adventure combined with the finest beaches in the world.
English is the official second language and is therefore generally well spoken and understood.
Best described as the oriental smile combined with the Western pragmatism. Very striking is the difference between rich and poor. In the inland of Luzon 2/3 lives below the poverty line, the remaining 1/3 is rich to very rich.
The Balut(Baloet) is a known delicacy. This is a fertilized egg, which includes cracking bones and is eaten as a snack. Restaurants and hotels are serving everywhere good eastern and western dishes.
In the Inland you don’t see many cars. There are more sidecars, buses and jeepneys. Traffic is relaxed but the roads are sometime a mess.
For the mountains is a small dirt bike is the best choice. Beware that when renting a motorcycle your passport is taken as collateral.
Ranging from a board without a mattress to real 5 star hotels. On the outside it is often difficult to recognize a good hotel, so sometimes you have to search for it. On the west coast there are only a few good beach resorts.