It was a comfortable journey and we arrived back in Manila at around 8h00 or 9h00. I cycled the short distance in heavy traffic to the Pension where I stayed before. By 10h00 I was all settled in at Pension Navadidad.
The following day I went to Makati, a completely different part of the city with a totally different vibe. Makati is the heart of the financial district and jam-packed with high-rise buildings. The area is surprisingly orderly and clean. I applied for a Taiwanese visa and was surprised at the large amount of people in the waiting room. Surprisingly enough, it seems that Filipinos need a visa for Taiwan. I patiently waited my turn and it was 13h30 by the time I walked out of there. The visa would be ready in three days’ time so I had some time to kill. I had a haircut for 150 pesos and while they were cutting my hair another lady gave me a pedicure for 100 pesos (40 pesos = $1). Not bad!!
The following morning I woke at 4h00 to paddle with the Manila Dragons. Pam, from the South African Dragon Boat team, put me in contact with Sandy. Sandy kindly invited me to join them in practice and what an awesome experience it was. I knew I was going to be incredibly sore the following day!!
It was good to be back in the boat after many years and it was equally nice to hear the familiar “Crew.……………, are you ready? Attentiooooooooooooon! GO!!!”
I bummed around town for a few days until it was time to collect my visa from the Taiwanese Embassy. Again it was a lengthy process and it was after 17h00 that I finally got out of the building. It was peak hour on a Friday in Manila City and the traffic was bumper to bumper. It took forever to get back to my Pension. I was finally ready to leave Manila.
8 December - Manila – San Fernando City - 81km
It took forever to pack up but finally I left the Pension and cycled to the waterfront where I knew the Dragon Boat races were on. I watched for a while, cheering for my favourite team, took a few pics, and then got on my way. It was a Sunday morning and the traffic was much better than in the week. It is, however, an eye-opener to see the other side of the city. The shacks encroached onto the road and the three-lane highway has become a two-lane road. It was fairly easy to get out of the city (or at least that is what it felt like). If I did go wrong I knew nothing about it, as I was blissfully ignorant whether I was on the right road or not.
I was never quite out of the traffic and it was a busy road all the way to San Fernando where I found a room, got something to eat, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.
9 December - San Fernando – Santa Juliana - 70km
I had a relatively slow start to the day as I was in a windowless room and only woke at around 8h00. I packed up and stopped for breakfast just down the road at the 7-11.
The area immediately north of Manila is so completely different from the rest of the country that I was wondering if I was still in the same country.
Along the way I met up with Ray Cayabyab who was cycling to his home town at San Carlos. He was doing quite well on his old bike with a basket in the front. He had to stop at every petrol station to pump his back tire. We chatted away (when the traffic allowed) as he spoke quite good English.
I wanted to visit Mount Pinatubo and soon had to wave him goodbye and turned off for Santa Juliana. Mt. Pinatubo is a volcanic crater lake. On April 2, 1991, people from the lower slopes of Mount Pinatubo witnessed small explosions, followed by steam coming from the upper slopes of the supposedly dormant volcano (the last known eruption was 600 years ago). On June 12, the first of several major explosions took place. The eruption was so violent that shockwaves were felt in the Visayas. A giant ash cloud rose 35 kilometres into the sky.
It was quite an interesting ride as I noticed the kilometre marker-boards for the “Death March”. A short while later I found the Death March Memorial site.
Santa Juliana is a rather small settlement with just a few houses and a tourist office. They gave me all the info and pointed me in the direction of Bognot Homestay, a rather comfortable place run by Alvin and his wife Angie. As it is the only place where one can stay, I soon met other travellers and we made arrangements to go to the crater together in the morning, as it is much cheaper that way.
10 December - Santa Juliana Mt Pinatubo
We were up shortly after 5h00, had breakfast, and then took a walk down the road to the tourist office where we got into a 4x4 for the hour long drive to the crater. It was a rather bumpy and dusty ride along a riverbed. The scenery was stark and barren with just the odd water buffalo.
Interestingly enough there are some people living up in the hills and they look completely different to the Filipinos in the rest of the country. They are known as the Aeta and are indigenous people who live in scattered, isolated, mountainous parts of Luzon, Philippines. They are thought to be among the earliest inhabitants of the Philippines. One theory suggests that the Aeta are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines, who, contrary to their sea-faring Austronesian neighbours, arrived through land bridges that linked the country with the Asian mainland about 30,000 years ago. Unlike many of their Austronesian counterparts, the Aetas have shown resistance to change. The attempts of the Spaniards to settle them in reservations all throughout Spanish rule failed.
We continued on until the 4x4 could go no further and then it was an hour’s walk to the top. It was an easy walk along a stream until we finally reached the Crater Lake. The lake was much larger than expected; we took a few pics, sat chatting for a while, and then retraced our steps back to the jeep again.
By the time we got back to Santa Juliana it was already after midday and I was too lazy to carry on, so I stayed the night.
11 December - Santa Juliana – Camiling - 77 km
On my way back to the main road I stopped at the Death March Memorial and what a depressing site it was. It was the final stage of the tragic Death March and a concentration camp. Thousands died and today they are remembered by a large memorial and a wall bearing all the names of those who died. War is such a sad thing!
The rest of the day was a nice and easy ride. I got to Camiling around midday - it was boiling hot and there was a cheap place to stay and, as there was no reason for me to push on, I stayed for the night.
12/13 December - Camiling – Lucap - 88km
I knew it was not very far to the 100 Islands National Park so I took my time in packing up. I first had breakfast, my normal Philippine breakfast of garlic rice, a fried egg and a Longanesa sausage. Again the road was fairly flat and it was an enjoyable ride to where I met up with the coast at the Lingayen Gulf. I throw a left and headed in a westerly direction to the small village of Lucap.
Lucap is the gateway to the 100 Islands National Park and I was keen to see what it all entailed. Once in Lucap I found everything rather well-organized. I found a reasonably priced room at Sweet Honey’s and this family run place was rather welcoming, and they soon organised a boat to take me to the islands the following day.
When I woke the following morning the boatman was already waiting. My host had packed lunch and water (all nicely in a cooler box) and I was ready for a full day of island hopping. It was a stunning and very interesting day. The islands (there are actually 123 of them) are mostly tiny, mushroomed-shaped islands with a few shrubs. A few of them are larger and have beaches and some even have caves. We explored a good few of them and there was plenty of time to swim and snorkel. The snorkelling was wonderful and there were plenty of fish and fantastic corals to be seen. Giant clams are being reintroduced in the area after dynamite fishing destroyed most of them. I was a fantastic day - well worth the money I paid.
14 December - Lucap – Agoo - 111km
I backtracked the 35 kilometres to the junction and then headed in a northerly direction along the coast. Past small villages with interesting looking churches, past the furniture makers and the crab sellers. Again it was easy riding and the slight headwind did not bother me; it was a kind of a blessing in the heat. It was a rather fishy day as I crossed many rivers and interesting and ingenious fishing methods. I cycled past many stalls selling clams, oysters, dried fish, fresh fish, crabs, and just about anything that comes from the sea.
Once I reached the tiny village of Agoo with its Basilica it looked interesting and a good place to overnight. Finding a room was, however, more difficult than expected. I first cycled the few kilometres to the beach but only found one dilapidated and overpriced establishment. I headed back to the village looking for a “Transient Room”; a room by any other name is only for a few hours and for a completely different purpose than what I had in mind.
I find a room for 300 pesos with a rather nice restaurant across the road. I had a quick shower and then headed in the direction of the restaurant, as by that time I was starving. The waitresses, decked out in their Christmas hats, looked wary of me and I suspect that I was their first western-looking client. They kept their distance as they took my order and I was very tempted to go “BHA!!!!.... (making claws and big eyes) LOL. I refrained from any such behaviour as I was far too hungry and was afraid that I would not see them or my food ever again.
15 - 18 December - Agoo – San Juan - 50 km
I had a quick bite to eat down the road and then ambled along to the tiny village of San Juan. San Juan is known for its surfing and I was keen to take a lesson or two. At first I cycled around looking for a room, and in the end settled for a rather pricy room (but known as a surfing hangout and a place where one can get surfing lessons). I found the place rather dreary (maybe it was just the “cool surf” attitude, looking bored and disinterested).
The next morning I moved to a cheaper and friendlier looking place. While having a bite to eat I also bumped into Lionel (from Coron) again. It was a pleasant surprise to see a friendly, smiley face amongst all the other emotionless faces.
I had the grand plan of taking the bus into the mountains to see the rice terraces and the famous hanging coffins. I packed up, arranged to leave my bicycle and bags at the Inn where I was staying, and with just a small bag headed to the bus stop. I waited and waited for the bus, got so irritated and decided there and then to give it up and return to my room!!
The following morning I woke with a sore throat and blocked nose. The weather came in and it was raining and the wind howled. I stayed put in my room, took a few flu tablets, and hoped that I would feel better the following morning. I looked into the options of cycling north to the city of Laoag and fly from there to Taiwan, but it did not look like a good choice as all the flights from there appeared to be going via Manila, making it rather expensive.
19 December - San Juan – Urdaneta City - 100 km
I was getting bored and was happy to be back on the bike. I swallowed a few flu tablets and headed back in the direction of Manila along a slightly different road. The day was marked by slow traffic, road works and loads of dust. It was a frustrating and dusty day, and by the time I reached Urdaneta City I was ready to find a room. I found a good room, went looking for food, and then spent the rest of the night watching TV, something I have not done in a long time.
20 December - Urdaneta City – San Fernando City - 120km
Cycling with a cold is probability not the best thing to do but I swallowed some more flu tablets and got back on the road. Fortunately, it was easy cycling. I passed some rather interesting roadside stalls, some selling dried fish and all sorts of interesting things. I even passed a place where they were making huge statues! In the end I found myself back in San Fernando and at the same hotel where I stayed on my way north.
21 December - San Fernando City – Manila - 76 km
The last leg of my Filipino journey in Manila was marred by slow moving traffic and more dusty road works. I cycled into the city and somehow found myself in the middle of China Town, midday on the last Saturday before Christmas!! My word, what chaos! I ducked and dived and maneuvered through the traffic, avoiding Jeepneys and tricycles like a pro.
22 December - Manila
Back in Manila I found the city in a festive mood. The waterfront was packed with food stalls, people strolled and biked along the promenade, and hawkers peddled their wares.
I achieved very little in the way of organising my trip to Taiwan, as both the bike shop and the travel agents were closed on a Sunday. I did, however, find out that I can upgrade my luggage to 45 kilograms for a small fee. That was good news as flying with the bike is always an expensive affair.
23 December - Manila
I finally bought my ticket from Manila to Taipei, Taiwan. I took the bike to the bike shop so they could box it and spent the rest of the day sorting out my gear. That evening I went down to the promenade again and I can understand why Manila was called the “Pearl of the Orient”. It was a stunning evening, and the sun set like a huge ball of fire, not a drop of wind and a very agreeable 28°C.
24 December - Manila, Philippines – Taipei, Taiwan
My flight was only at 10:40 p.m. so I had the entire day to play in Manila. Actually, I did not play much but rather did some much needed catching up on both my social and business side of things. I went to the bike shop to pick up my bike and had to take a Jeepney back to the Pension. LOL, what a performance.
I went to the airport rather early as I thought I could still have my bags wrapped but the wrapping stall was deserted. Fortunately, there was no restriction on the amount of bags one may load, and as I upgraded to 45 kilograms of luggage I was not worried about being overweight. I jugged well as my baggage came to exactly 45 kilograms. Not bad, taking that it included the bike.