February 7, 2014 by melcogger
After a grueling 15 hour flight to Hong Kong and 1.5 hour connecting flight to Manila, we were in two minds, half excited, half anxious and half worried about our bikes (i.e. that one goes out to my (Jonty) under 15 rugby couch who famously said: “half of you go with him, the other half go that side and the rest come with me”). We waited and waited at the carousel but no boxes slid by. This was until three men popped up from under the carousel where the bags were coming from and physically handed them to us. Once again, all was well AND we had personal service.
My mother-in-law had warned us that the Manila International Airport was busy and we laughed when she told us that we had to wait under the letter of our surname or the surname of the person collecting you to be found. But low and behold it was true. It was a special moment when Melissa met two of her family members in the Philippines for the first time. It was Farrah and Melissa’s uncle Emerterio who greeted us and gave us warm embraces. A moment she has dreamed about for many years.
Anyways, without beating around the bush, we arrived safely and made our way to our guesthouse in Malate, Manila which was shut down serval weeks ago. It was one of those ‘I told you so’ moments but being the gracious husband that I am, I kept my mouth shut. I also knew that someone would probably be on the loosing end of a fight (most likely me for mentioning anything at all). We quickly found another budget hotel for P900 (R225) which was in itself over our daily budget, but wait! Look how small it was! Approximately, 2×3 meters and our bikes managed a cosy squeeze.
We then had a quick nap, went to a nearby by mall to buy maps and a watch and returned to our little cave to resume the bicycle experience. That entailed unpacking our boxes, assembling the bikes and organizing all our tools, clothes, toiletries, water bottles and Melissa’s ukulele.
Our first night’s proceedings went as follows (lawyer talk): street food, walk about, sort map out for the daunting task of getting out of busy Manila, and late night skinny dip in the pool located on the top floor with spectacular views of the city.
We couldn’t afford to stay in Manila another night so although we were jet lagged and missing 12 hours of sleep because we were too excited to sleep on the plane, we resolved to set off bright and early after the free hotel breakfast at 7am. While loading the bicycles I discovered our first obstacle – a flat tyre on Melissa’s bike. Byron and Zander’s training was put to the test and might I say, if you would give me leave to boast, it was sorted out in a matter of minutes. Yes, go team Cogger. Now we could finally set off. We tried to find the guy who had inflated our tyres earlier that morning but he wasn’t where he said he would be so we gave a his friend the link to this blog so that he can contact us. So tyre guy, please can you give us your banking details so we can deposit that 5 pesos into your account and if you don’t have a banking account please act swiftly and get one.
Getting out of Manila is a story in itself. Traffic everywhere; little to no traffic lights; and we had to learn fast firstly to behave like we belonged and then how to act like a car or another motorcycle. This was the moment, I am sure, that Melissa’s mom had dreaded the most since we told her of our travel plans in Manila. In addition to the the traffic mayhem, we didn’t actually know where we were going. We had to stop constantly, pull out our map and ask people for directions. Luckily, however, most people speak some English so getting directions wasn’t that hard except for one curious thing. We found it common that Philipinas mix up left and right so after sometimes going in circles, getting directions from then on involved elaborate hand gestures and lots of pointing. Despite Manila’s roads being crazy busy and constantly competing with the local transport Jeepneys, we were treated like equals on the road. Usually a safe following distance and room to breath in the smog while someone overtakes you. In addition to this, most cars / tricycles / Jeepneys and motorcycles don’t go much faster than (1) ourselves and (2) the traffic. It feels a lot safer to ride here than it does back home.
We eventually made it to the service road that feeds the South Luzon Highway and headed south from there until we met the shoreline of Laguna de Bay. However, despite being a picturesque lake view while we cycle, the area was more akin to a shanty town (not dissimilar to Diepsloot in Johannesburg). Far from being deterred, we ventured on and it paid off well in terms of cultural exposure and general scenery. Here’s a photo of Melissa on a street colorfully decorated with ribbons suspended between the buildings. You will note that she is covered from head to toe so that no sun will get to her.
That day was slow going and we only managed to clock in 40km while being jet lagged and completely foreign to our environment. Air pollution is thick in the cities, so we had to cycle with our buffs covering our mouths the whole way. We eventually settled in the town of Calamba and took a refreshing swim at nearby resort for P50 (R12).
Apart from a surprising start, the next day was fairly uneventful as we peddled along towards Batangas City. We don’t really know why but all hotels work on a hourly basis. You can venture a guess but our initial thought is because of prostitution… Anyways, we booked 12 hours at 16h30 and were abruptly woken up the next morning at 4h15 to ensure we made it out of the room for the long long line of awaiting guests (jokes). We wanted to get an early start in any event so it didn’t really bother us except that it was still dark, stars and all, and for some strange reason peak hour traffic was in FULL swing. I put on a brave face but honestly it was terrifying. We also didn’t know what time the sun would eventually rise and by that time we had already been cycling for an a hour. For the record and for future Coggers (us), it rose at 6h00. Traffic soon died down and our expectations of what Philippines would be like came into view. That is, a rural, provincial atmosphere rich in culture and pleasing to the eye. The further away from Manila, the more beautiful and cheaper it is.
We arrived in Batangas City in good time and embarked on the usual tussle to find the cheapest accommodation, which we did for P550 (R137) with aircon. This time we took the overnight option, ready for a day of rest and to recover from our jet lag. Waking up on Friday morning, Melissa was suffering from sinusitis and post nasal drip. We decided not to cycle from Puerto Galera (on the island of Mindoro) to Calapan (53km) and took a ferry straight to Calapan to get time for Melissa to rest and recover. Tomorrow we are heading on a long 120km cycle to the port town of Roxas in Mindoro.