We checked out of Yn Hni and said our goodbyes to Nick and Martin, we'd spent all of our time together in Vietnam and had an amazing adventure; hopefully Nick will get his passport sorted and we'll meet them both in Melbourne (July).
The hotel owner fixed us up with a taxi and before we knew it we were boarding the plane for the 2.45 minute flight. The food was pretty good, chicken in oyster sauce but the in flight entertainment was quite poor so I resorted to using the netbook to compose my second Vietnam bike movie.
Our bags as usual were the last off the plane, we hauled the 20kg bags onto the trolley and headed outside stopping at one of the ATM's to get some cash. We were ushered into a taxi and heading towards central Manilla, my first impression of the city was 'capitalism'; large adverts dominated the streets and I spotted a host of western fast-food and coffee establishments within minutes, the only thing telling me at this point that we were in South East Asia was the people and their crazy driving methods.
The taxi pulled up on Adriatico Street and we entered 'Friendly's Guest House', it was like an underground car park and we had to get into a lift to go to the reception. We got an AC room for £16 per night or 500 Pesos which is the Filipino currency derived from the Spanish silver coinReal de a Ochoor Spanish Dollar wide circulation in the Americas and South-East Asia during the 17th and 18th centuries, through its use in the Spanish colonies and even in the US and Canada. The guest house was pretty strange, we had to walk through a common room past a dormitory and then through the kitchen into our one bed cell. We were too tired to look anywhere else so we took the pokey little room and dumped our stuff there before heading out for some food, the street was crawling with hawkers, hookers, street kids and traffic, we found a small classy restaurant and ate outside, the pasta was delicious but the sight of cockroach scurrying on the floor was a bit off putting. The walk back to the hotel was quite tiring as hawkers tried to sell us watches and girls tried to redirect us into bars, we made it back in one piece and had a power nap before skyping home; my mum, dad, Mel, Roge, Becky, Lucy, Jude and Flash were having a party without me :(
After a lie in we ventured out onto the busy streets of Manila, our first stop was the banks but none of them changed traveller's cheques, we eventually found one that did but it took around half an hour to complete the chore. Everyone was particular politecalling us sir and saying 'good afternoon' in their Americanised accent, the only off putting thing was the amount of arms around, the banks were guarded by three security guards all packing pistols, we ate breakfast / lunch in Wendy's burger bar and the two security guards there had a pump action shotgun each, I mean how many times does a burger bar get raided.
Our next stop was the immigration office to extend our visas, upon entry British citizens get 21 days however we were here for 42, we were told to fill in a form each but there seemed to be an abundance of black pens in the busy establishment. We asked a young Filipino chap from behind one of the many immigration counters whether he could help us, he asked us if we would be willing to pay him a bit more and he would ignore the paperwork which everyone else was filling in and also put us at the front of the queue saving us a couple of hours of waiting. We nervously slipped the extra amount into our passports and slid both passports to the dodgy official who told us to take a seat. Within five minutes he'd stamped both passports and we were on our way.
The immigration office was near the cathedral so we popped in to have a look. The cathedral with its great cupola is the Philippines most significant Catholic Church. It is in the Plaza Roma Intramuros. The building which was destroyed in WWII was rebuilt with the help of the Vatican from 1954 to 1958; some old walls were restored and integrated into new construction. On the outside of the building stood a guard; again clutching a pump action shotgun.
In the evening we ate dim sum in Pearl Garden; a Chinese restaurant located on the next street from our hotel and after a few drinks in friendly guest house we decided to call it a night. We would have probably gone for a few drinks on the main street but we were sick of getting hassle from the drug pushers, w****s and street kids.
The plan was to head two hours North to Angeles to visit Mt Pinatubo, so we headed to what we thought was the central bus stand via a taxi and jumped onto a AC bus for a couple of hours ending up in a place called Dau on the outskirts of Angeles, from there we had to catch two Jeepneys which is the most popular form of transport for short journeys. Originally they were reconstructed Jeeps which were left in the Philippines by the US army after WWII. After a lot of walking and sweating we arrived at Marble Inn which was located in a funny place but seemed very reasonable and friendly.
We freshened up and headed to the restaurant / bar which was full of older men consisting of ex pats and blokes just out here for the women. We chatted to the Swedish manager Henry who told us that anything was possible here; Henry told us you could buy anything from an elephant to a baby, sad but true a baby would cost £150. We ended up drinking with Henry and the locals that evening, Henrys 13 year old son Phillip played the guitar so I brought mine to the bar to teach him some blues which was quite appropriate for the type of bar we were in, it definitely had an old American feel to it. One bloke aged around 60 was sat at the bar and didn't smile or talk all night except for a "goodnight" as he exited the Marble inn, Henry told us that he was ok and that the local comes in and drinks all day - everyday. James and I ventured out onto the w**** crammed streets and into a huge casino which was like one you'd see in Vegas. We met a Canadian / Filipino family and spent most of the evening playing on the same black jack table as them.
I thought Henry was joking about the man in the bar but sure enough the next morning at 9.00 there he was supping a nice cold San Miguel beer. The beer Henry was serving was the best we've tasted but 9 in the morning seemed a bit early for even us rapscallions to be boozing.
After breakfast we headed into town and walked down the seedy Field Avenue, even at 10.00 the road had hookers trying to lure us in to the bars; the street was full of old men walking hand in hand with young girls. We found a place which rented bikes for about £8 a day so we hired two nice Honda XR 200's dirt bikes and road back to the Marble Inn through the smoggy traffic with a big grin on our sun kissed faces. We set off to visit Mt Pinatubo and before we knew it we were out of the city, carving our way through the county side surrounded by paddy fields and a mountainous landscape.
In April of 1991 Mount Pinatubo rumbled awake, two months later it violently erupted sending clouds of steam and debris 40km into the stratosphere darkening the sky. Flashes of lightening rent the daytime darkness eerily, accompanied by rolling thunder and endless earthquakes. It wasn't until the beginning of September that the volcano finally settled down again, allowing the full extent of the natural catastrophe to become clear. James and I rode as far up to the volcano as possible before being stopped by armed guards, the guards told us we needed a ticket to go further. We rode back along the dirt track for five minutes and entered the ticket office; the woman behind the reception told us it would cost £30 each as we needed a guide and Jeep. I tried to explain to the women that I was a volcanologist and that our dirt bikes could climb the trail to the summit, however she wasn't having any of it, we even tried to pay the armed guard off but he also refused admission.
Back at the Marble Inn we ate food (spag bol) and again chatted to the locals, the bar quietened down and all of a sudden became quite quiet, a blues track was playing in the background and I think everyone was ready to call it a night when a loud Australian burst in with two drunken hookers. I didn't know if Henry knew the middle aged Ozzy or not but the mood seemed to change and I thought there was going to be trouble. The Australian asked Henry if he minded him being there but Henry just ignored him and carried eating his supper, the Australian came and sat beside me and I soon realised he was a gentle giant and he invited me over to the bar for a drink which I felt obliged to do; James was playing pool but soon joined us at the bar for a free drink. One of the hookers had almost passed out using me as a prop, but she was soon awaked by the Australian who insisted that the night was young and that the two young girls still had work to do, the three of them left together. The security guard insisted that we brought both bikes inside; we couldn't resist taking the bikes around the block before calling it a night.
I woke up pretty early excited to get back on my bike, we packed a small bag each and secured it to the back of our bikes before heading north on a 4 day adventure. We stopped off in Capas for a McDonalds breakfast and refuelled before riding around 150km to Baguio. Every hour we'd stop for a drink and apply sun cream to our scorched hands, you couldn't really feel the intensity of the sun on the bikes but as soon as we stopped the heat was incredible. Mid afternoon we passed through Rosario and took an alternative route to Baguio, our bikes were 200cc and therefore not allowed on the motorways which suited us as the route we took was beautiful. The bikes had knobbly tires and on the road they weren't too bad but it was off road where the bikes came into their own, many of the roads were under construction and we had to ride across sand, rocks, grass and general dirt, we were filthy but we didn't care; we were in love with the bikes and the roads.
Baguio is the summer capital of the Philippines but it looked a little like a shanty town and every vehicle seemed to be pumping out black smoke, our plan was to sleep in Baguio that evening but it was only about 16.00 so we decided to press on. We rode through Le Trinidad and on to the Halsema Road, which is a trail running between Baguio and Bontac, in the 20's the civil engineer EJ Halsema supervised the widening and improving of the trail through the mountains the reason for this enormous undertaking was to provide access to the mineral resources (gold, silver, and copper) of the Central Cordillera. To this day the work still hasn't been completed and a significant part of the route is bumpy, dusty and very steep; we were soon riding over some pretty hairy passes where landslides had split the trail in two.
17.00 we were both now pretty wet as we'd travelled through a number of clouds were visibility was limited, we were running out of daylight so stopped off at one village seeking accommodation however like a biblical story there was no room at the inn nor in the next village, the villages seemed to consist of vulcanised rubber and live stock shops. 19.00, It was getting pretty cold so much so that we were both shivering, I was getting slightly worried preparing my body for a night under the stars, but we were now both hungry and tired and needed shelter; if the next village couldn't accommodate us I was contemplating breaking into a church (desperation).
The fog was now limiting our visibility to a few metres, large vehicles sneaked out of the fog like ghostly monsters, we were at an altitude of 7400ft / 2.255m which is the highest highway in the Philippines and praying that soon we'd find a friendly person who'd take us in. We arrived in a small village and as soon as I spotted a sign saying inn I stomped on my rear break skidding to a halt, a young girl told us she had a room for us, we dumped our bags in the room consisting of only a bunk bed and went back up some steps and into the restaurant area were the young girl like an angel made us a hot coffee and some noodles which soon warmed us up. 21.00 we were washed and in bed, it took me about five minutes before I was in a deep sleep.
7.00 I was woken up by a number of cockerels and opened the curtains to a magnificent view, the previous evening we'd been riding for two hours in the dark unaware of the beautiful landscape surrounding us, mountainous scenery combined with lush paddy terraces. The young girl made us breakfast and told us that we were in a place called Buguias, again the place felt like a small American village, Christian songs belted out of the young girls stereo and after eating my bacon and eggs I wandered out onto the street and could hear workers listening to country music. Across the road was a small church which I visited before heading back onto the roads, if there is a God he was definitely on our side last night. We set off riding but had to stop every ten minutes to take photographs, Halsema pass was like no other road I've been, the views were out of this world and the road was a like a bikers dream, smooth newly surfaced roads then off road again on to rocky dirt tracks, mountain on one side and a shear drop on the other side. Some parts of the roads had barriers stopping vehicles from falling down the drop other parts of the road had nothing to stop you even on the corners, if we'd known that the drop was so steep there was no way we would have ridden in the dark the previous evening.We eventually entered Bontac at an altitude of around 900m; Bontac is the capital of Moutain Province and is right in the middle of Central Cordillera however we wanted to stop in the more scenic village of Sagada but had missed the turn off so after a drink we made our way back on to the pass to find the turn off. A girl in Bontoc had advised us to take the first right which was a steep dirt path, only a 4 x 4 could have made it up the rocky accent but our bikes blasted up it and into a pine forest, we approached a group of workers felling trees and realised we'd taken the wrong turn off again so we had to ride down the dangerous path, back on the road my hands were shaky because of the force on my wrists when descending on the steep dirt path. We took the next right and followed a dirt track to Sagada which was a pleasant tranquil little community in the mountains 1480m above sea level. We checked into 'Residential Lodge' dumped our bags and headed past the local church an onto a narrow trail into the cemetery and parked our bike next to a large cross on a hill called Calvary named after the site just on the outskirts of Jerusalem where Christ's crucifixion took place. We walked down a trail into Echo Valley and spotted a few coffins hanging from a cliff face, we headed through some plantation for a closer look and stumbled on a small cave, and one of the coffins had been placed on the cave wall but had fallen down revealing the bones of a dead Filipino. After viewing the coffins we climbed back to the top of Calvary and rode into town to eat at Masferre Country Inn where I sampled a Filippino dish called Adobo, a national standard dish consisting of pork, vegetables cooked in vinegar, pepper, garlic and salt - simple but delicious.
Later that evening I went outside to bring my washing in only to find that some young scaly wag had thrown my boxer shorts and vest into the rockery, I had to laugh. After washing my clothes (again) we ate egg plant noodles in a local restaurant, most of the bars and restaurants shut at 21.00 so we grabbed a couple of beers from a small shop and supped them in the room before yet another early night.