Philippine Battlefield Tour

Discussion in 'Philippines Road Trip Reports' started by Barry Neves, Nov 28, 2010.

  1. Barry Neves

    Barry Neves Ol'Timer

    Having just taken delivery of a brand new V-Strom 1000 I needed no excuse to make a long-awaited road trip from my hometown of Cebu City (on Cebu Island) to the neighboring Visayan islands of Leyte, Samar and Bohol. I was particularly keen on visiting the Leyte landing sites of the US-led invasion to retake the Philippines during WWII, where some of the bloodiest battles were fought by the US troops and their Philippine allies to dislodge the Japanese from the archipelago.
    Having obtained the necessary paperwork to transport the bike and two passengers from Cebu City to our starting point of Ormoc on Leyte the previous day, myself and my pillion duly presented ourselves at Pier 3 to board the 11am Lite Shipping roro ferry to Ormoc.
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    Having secured the bike on the car deck we made our way to the boat deck to select our bunks for the five hour crossing. This is one of my favorite features of Philippine ferry travel, lying on a comfortable bunk and enjoying the sea breeze while sailing on a flat calm sea through picturesque islands - an extremely enjoyable way to travel!

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    The ferry pulled in to Ormoc at 5 pm and we rode a total of 500 meters off the pier to the Don Felipe Hotel where we would overnight prior to an early start the next day. This is a very nice hotel situated right on the Ormoc seafront with a terrace overlooking the ferry terminal and landscaped promenade – an ideal place for people watching. We paid 850 pesos (550 baht + or -) for a double room with ensuite bath, aircon and cable tv.
    The following morning we had an early breakfast and were on the road by 9am, heading for Tacloban, the capital of Leyte, via Red Beach in Palo, some 150 kms away. The road is well surfaced all the way, predominantly cement with a few tarmac sections, and having run through rice paddies for a few miles outside Ormoc, winds its way across the mountainous spine of Leyte in a series of twisties that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. However, I would emphasize that due to the nature of Philippine roads, which are usually restricted to one lane in each direction, distances travelled in a day’s riding are usually much less than one would expect to cover in Thailand in a similar timeframe. Hazards come thick and fast, in the shape of jeepneys driving erratically, motorcycle tricycles pulling u-turns on you, suicidal dogs and farmers drying their rice crops on the road itself all encourage a very defensive riding style! Having said that, when compared with Cebu City or Manila, riding in the provinces can be a joy as some areas can in fact be virtually traffic-free. Some 130 kms later the road drops down in a series of sweeping bends leading into the coastal town of Palo, 12 kms south of Tacloban and the site of Red Beach, where general Macarthur’s US troops first gained a foothold in the Philippines prior to fighting their way inland to drive out the occupying Japanese. The Filipinos have erected an impressive statue of Macarthur and his entourage wading ashore with the liberating forces.

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    Nearby is a museum dedicated to the events of those tumultuous days, including many photographs taken of the landings themselves, and a visit is highly recommended. From Red Beach we could look across Leyte Bay to neighboring Samar, and as the storm clouds were gathering we decided to cut short our visit and press on to Tacloban and Samar in the hope of outrunning the approaching storm. From Palo you can effectively by-pass Tacloban and head straight for the stunning San Juanico bridge 24 kms away that joins Leyte to its neighbor Samar.
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    We crossed the perfectly-surfaced San Juanico bridge and took the left fork off the bridge on the Samar side to head to the provincial capital of Catbalogan, some 80 kms to the north.

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    On a previous trip three years earlier I had ridden this road in the opposite direction and my memories of that ride were still vivid. The stretch from the bridge to Calbiga (about 20kms) was perfect tarmac, but once Calbiga was passed the road all the way to Allen on the northern tip of Samar was a horrendous combination of broken cement slab and axle-breaking potholes. What a difference three years makes!! The road has been totally resurfaced – with tarmac – not cement – and is now a perfect scenic coastal rode with stunning views and ideal for riders of sportbikes. It appears that the decision to use tarmac was based on the fact that there would be too much pilferage if cement was used, as the contractors would likely use it for house building on the side rather than the road itself! A truly stunning stretch of blacktop and a very pleasant surprise.

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    We passed one PNP (Philippine National Police) roadblock complete with chase cars and officers armed with assault rifles, who looked as though they meant business, but as soon as they saw that I was a foreigner it was a case of “No problem sir, have a nice trip”. I have mentioned before that all my experiences with law enforcement in this country has been pleasant, with none of the headaches associated with the BIB in LOS! The road was traffic free until we hit the outskirts of Catbalogan, where we had to share it with the ubiquitous pedal tricycles and habal-habals (motorcycle taxis with extended seats that carry 5 or even 6 passengers) which are the provincial equivalent of a taxi – 5 pesos to any destination in town! Those guys who do the pedaling are fit blokes, believe me.

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    I have seen five or six school kids piled on one trike, with people even sitting on the roof of the contraption, unbelievable! We stopped for a snack at the local Jollibee (Philippine take on McDonalds) which wasn’t there on my last visit. Catbalogan is obviously firmly on the map now that it merits a Jollibee. As we were about to leave the heavens opened, and we were forced to sit out a torrential downpour that lasted some 30 minutes and saw the VStrom almost up to its axles in floodwater. Once the squall passed we pressed on the final 70 kms to Calbayog City with the weather alternating between showers and sunny spells. Suffice to say that we were drenched by the time we pulled in at the I’s Plant Hotel (850 pesos) for the usual ensuite room with aircon. What became immediately apparent was that I had lost my interpreter, as my girlfriend pillion passenger speaks Cebuano, whereas on Eastern Leyte and Samar the language is Waray-Waray, a dialect which has little in common with that spoken in Cebu. In these circumstances, the language used is Tagalog, the official generic language in the Philippines, but some of the locals were not particularly up to speed and communication was a tad awkward!

    However, Calbayog is a pleasant sleepy city with a thriving harbor area and a beautiful church that dates back to Spanish times.

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    The main purpose of our visit was to try and trace some of my gf’s family on her grandmother’s side who originally came from Calbayog, but enquiries at the local Barangay Hall (amphur) at Barangay Carayman drew a blank. However, we did make some new friends!

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    And so it was that we turned round to retrace our route back to San Juanico with a view to spending the next night in Tacloban City, the lovely Imelda Marcos’ home town.

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    In contrast to the previous day, the weather was picture perfect and we had a fast, dry and very enjoyable run through to Tacloban, arriving at the Tacloban Plaza Hotel (1050 pesos) early in the afternoon. In spite of the usual feeding frenzy of trikes that all provincial Philippine towns have in common, Tacloban is notable for the discipline encouraged by its traffic enforcers, who are to be found at every street corner, wearing their distinctive red uniforms. Woe betide anyone who crosses the street (jay walks) anywhere other than the marked crossings! The fine for this offence is 200 pesos on the spot – don’t ask me how I know! However, this policy makes for a far safer environment than is the norm in other parts of the country, where the roads are a free-for-all of pedestrians, livestock and trikes!

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    We spent a pleasant afternoon roaming around town and headed back to the Plaza after dinner for an early night.

    The next morning dawned fine and clear and after our usual Jollibee corned beef, fried egg and rice breakfast we loaded up and headed off on the Tacloban – Southern Leyte highway, destination Maasin on the southwest coast, were we intended to overnight before taking the morning boat to Ubay on the northernmost tip of Bohol island. Our route took us through Palo and on to the town of Macarthur. A few miles before the town limits we stopped at the monument at the foot of Hill 120, the spot where the Stars and Stripes were first raised on the Philippines after the allied landings at Red Beach.
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    Then it was on to the mountain road which recrosses the central mountain range, dropping to the coast near Bato, some 30 kms north of Maasin. This is another attractive road to ride, combining rice paddies, twisty mountain roads and a few fairly sharp switchbacks before hitting the fast and empty west coast highway.
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    We discovered that a roro leaves Bato at 9am every day for Ubay so we decided to press on to Maasin for the night as Bato is short on accommodation, with a view to returning early the next morning. The 30 km run to Maasin is a fantastic fast sportbike road, with smooth surfaces and fast sweeping bends, with little to no traffic or hazards. A safe stretch to blow out the cobwebs!
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    On arrival at Maasin we checked into the Southern Comforts Hotel (600 pesos). This place had all the usual requirements but a less than comfortable bed! However, the staff were lovely and the other hotels in town were booked up due to the wedding of a local dignitary so we were glad to have found a vacancy at all! Maasin is a sleepy hollow of a town, the people are very friendly and there is a strong Spanish influence in the local church and plaza. A very enjoyable and relaxing stop-off.

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    The next morning we made an early start to run back up to Bato and book on to the 9am boat.
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    This was a painless procedure and we then settled into our aircon tourist recliners for the two-hour crossing to Ubay on Bohol Island.
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    We actually arrived at Ubay at midday, so the first priority was lunch at a local eatery. Then it was a case of filling up the tank and heading off on the Valencia – Jagna coast road through to Tagbilaran City, the capital of Bohol, nestled on its southern tip some 140 kms away. This road was the highlight of the trip from a motorcycling point of view – wide, empty and perfectly surfaced sweeping blacktop where high speeds could be enjoyed in absolute safety, combined with stunning coastal scenery. Bohol is a truly beautiful and very well maintained island, a picture postcard setting with almost no traffic outside of the few towns we passed enroute.

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    After several photo stops we arrived at the Tavers Hotel in Tagbilaran at around 3.30 pm. 950 pesos per night gets you a beautiful extremely large room, aircon, ensuite bathroom, cable tv and secure parking for the bike, along with the most helpful and friendly staff to date. A marvelous place to stay – highly recommended.
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    We planned on staying a couple of nights at the Tavers, with a view to relaxing on Bohol’s famous beaches on Panglao Island and visiting the nearby Chocolate Hills. We would then ride up the west coast to Tubigon, from where we would hop on the roro back home to Cebu City.
    The next day we divided into a morning spent relaxing on Alona beach on Panglao Island followed by an afternoon ride out to Carmen and the Chocolate Hills, some 53 kms from Tagbilaran itself. Alona beach is a delightful if somewhat overpriced white beach, with a wide choice of options for both accommodation and eating. The water is clean and diving gear is available for those more adventurous types to explore the offshore reef. Alona also caters to the scuba enthusiasts with a selection of dive tour operators in the resort. It lies approximately 14 kms from Tagbilaran across the Panglao causeway from Bohol proper.
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    The Chocolate Hills are situated near Carmen, 53 kms from Tagbilaran. The ride up there is a scenic winding uphill route that passes through Bohol’s rafting and extreme adventure hub of Loboc, before plunging into the perpetual twilight of a densely forested area where the temperature drops noticeably and the road is completely covered by the foliage overhead, creating a tunnel effect.

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    Arriving at Carmen, the entrance to the Chocolate Hills complex is on your right, and 100 pesos pays for your admission. Refreshingly there is none of the “falang” pricing here that I found so irritating in LOS!
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    The hills themselves actually look green, they only take on a chocolate hue in the dry season when the vegetation turns brown due to the lack of rain.
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    The climb up to the viewing point is an event in itself, some 213 steep steps that certainly increase the heart rate and show up any lack of fitness!
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    A slow ride back capped off the day nicely, followed by dinner at one of the many bar-b-q outlets in town and an early night.
    The next morning we checked out of the Tavers and rode up the west coast of Bohol on another perfect traffic-free fast road through the town of Looc to the port of Tubigon, where we boarded the midday Lite Ferry roro to Cebu City.
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    We were back alongside Pier One in Cebu City by 2pm.

    Conclusions – Every year sees more roads asphalted and the options for biking increase. The Philippines is a magical place to ride big bikes, with the exception of the Metro Manila area, which is as unpleasant as Bangkok, but more polluted! Touring is still in its infancy here, and big bikes something of a rarity, but can be hired from Roland at Nice Bike in Angeles City (Pampanga)at reasonable rates. http://www.nice-bike.com
    XR200’s and step-throughs (Honda Waves, etc) are available for rental at Alona Beach on Panglao.
    There is also a very professional tour outfit based on Negros island (Dumaguete) run by Bryan Pines, an expat US ex-serviceman using late model KLR 650’s that I rate head and shoulders above any other operators on the archipelago. I would stress that I have no personal involvement in this operation, but I know the bloke and have seen his bikes, and he runs a first-class operation. Bryan can be contacted at http://www.philippinemotorcycletours.com/
     
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  3. daewoo

    daewoo Ol'Timer

    Barry,

    Thanks sooo much for taking the time to post this great report...

    I can't believe it is 12 years since I have been to The Philippines... damn work and family gets in the way of travel so quickly...

    I found the shots of the roads very interesting, they seem a lot narrower than in Thailand... Do you think that is because you gravitiate towards smaller roads??? Is there something between them in size, without ending up on a freeway/highway???

    Also, a DL1000... what made you choose the 1000 over the more common (in Australian anyway) 650???

    Cheers,
    Daewoo
     
  4. Barry Neves

    Barry Neves Ol'Timer

    @ Daewoo

    Thanks for your kind comments! In answer to your questions - the roads you see in these reports are all you will find in the Philippines with three exceptions - The North and South Luzon Expressways and Star Tollway (all in Manila or near Manila on Luzon) that actually have two lanes in each direction and are restricted to 400cc + machines. The narrower national roads are what make travel here so much slower, combined with the fact that very few towns have bypasses - so you usually have to pass thru the center of each and every town on your route!

    I chose the 1000cc Strom purely coz I have a KLR650 already which is really the ideal machine for the Philippines but I just missed having the extra power on tap! The 650 Strom is also available in Manila and would probably have been the more sensible choice, but when did sense ever come into it when buying bikes lol!

    Cheers - Barry
     
  5. daewoo

    daewoo Ol'Timer

    I was the Communication Systems Design Manager on the North Luzon Expressway (but unfortunately, my company closed down it's International Arm before I could get a junket over there)...

    I hope you admire the robust design of the comms network and the electronic information signage... and for any Aussie's reading this... the inteligent re-use of the poles we had left over when OneTel colapsed, leaving us with a warehouse full of stock...

    Does seem like a wonderful place to strap on a bike and head out for a few days...

    Cheers,
    Daewoo
     
  6. burnjr

    burnjr Ol'Timer

    great report...nice thanks for sharing brothers. :happy1:
     
  7. amzahsulaiman

    amzahsulaiman New Member

    Hello Guys!,
    Nice report that is. Just to add (or you can also get from other sources), Mindanao island is indeed another very interesting island for adventure bikers. I lived and work in Cotabato, Mindanao between Sep 2007 till Dec 2008 and had the opportunity to travel most parts of the island. Yes, there were some trouble times and episodes but there are enforcement agencies to keep travellers safe. If anyone is interested to know about my experience there pse contact me at my email ([email email=amzahs@hotmail.com]amzahs@hotmail.com[/email]) or follow my travelling blog (rideabiketravel.blogspot.com).

    Safe Ride
     
  8. Barry Neves

    Barry Neves Ol'Timer

    @amzasulaiman
    Hi buddy! I quite agree with everything you say. Mindanao has a lot to offer and will featuture in a coming ride report. I also lived in Agusan del Sur in Mindanao and thoroughly enjoyed it. As you say, there are some areas that are best avoided but that also applies to most parts of the world, not just here in the Phils! Cheers - Barry
     
  9. DavidFL

    DavidFL Administrator Staff Member

    :thumbup: Thanks again Barry.
    How is the knee holding up - everything ok now?
     
  10. Barry Neves

    Barry Neves Ol'Timer

    @DavidFL

    Pleasure to contribute is all mine! And the leg has mended well thankfully - very grateful to be back up and running on two wheels again! Kind regards and stay safe - Barry
     

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