Back on the Road – Banaue to Manila

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March 23, 2014 by melcogger

The first day back on the road was met with a grueling 7km uphill. When struggling at a snail’s pace it’s tough to reach deep for the energy to out-sprint packs of dogs who took an unfavorable liking to our bicycles. My strategy was to sprint as fast as I could and return a mock charge to assist Melissa as the pack turned their assault on her. Melissa’s insurance however was to collect a bunch of stones and return the unpleasant greetings with a flurry of vicious stone throwing. Revenge on the uphill was sweetly achieved with a 15km weaving downhill which has been so far the highlight of the cycling component. I even got to overtake a motor cyclist and a truck – a strange experience for the both of us. We rolled into the next town and rewarded our efforts to pizzas and a burger for breakfast (when the body craves, you know, it craves).

We knew that the day presented steep climbs and rolling hills so we elected to ease ourselves into a short 60km to a town called Solano. We arrived at around lunchtime and instead of nourishing our bodies with some needed rest, we jumped onto our trusty steeds and cycled 5km back the way we came to a small to medium seized stadium to witness some cock-fighting. We had heard stories from fellow travelers that it was blood sport where the cocks fight to death so, being out last Sunday in the Philippines we simply had to. We also resolved to pay an entrance fee, something our cheap-stake mentalities winched at. However, on arrival at the entrance gate, to our utter amazement we were informed that the P200 (R50) entrance fee was only for locals and that foreigners could go in free of charge. Now, any traveler will tell you that 9 times out of 10 it’s the other way round and most often disproportionally so. The cock-fighting was more enjoyable for this. Blood, feathers and aroused Filipino men shouting at the top of their lungs placing bets to who knows who. Melissa was the only woman for miles. As soon as the fight started silence fell on the crowd and the cocks whisked into the air jabbing each other with elongated knives attached to their feet (hence the blood). The procession was brief and money exchanged this way and that. We stayed a while and then caught up on our sleep, rest assured that at least another tourist box had been ticked. Our room was equipped with cable tv so we didn’t mind slumbering away in front of it, getting up to speed with world affairs. That plane is still missing I see. Another benefit was seeing a MacDonald’s tv ad advertising a free egg and bacon MacMuffin for national breakfast day the next morning. We instantaneously agreed to wake at the crack of dawn and attempt our luck. We were sure we wouldn’t succeed as stampedes of locals would probably be thinking the same thoughts, as would happen in SA should should an unbelievable event occur.

The next day proved to be our toughest. 110km to a town called San Jose with a big mountain pass and numerous hills to traverse but at least we could perhaps get a free breakfast or if not witness the mayhem at Macdonalds. When we arrived, to our utter bewilderment not only was there no que but we were first in line. We gratefully received our free meal, refused to order anything else on the menu and proudly left. The countryside was a pleasant distraction though and being in the north we didn’t have to contend with as much traffic. We made a silly mistake and neglected to map the distances between the respective towns as we usually do. When cycling big distances in successive days, little things become a source of inspiration without which simply niggle at reassuring positive inspiration. Knowing how far we have come and what distance still needs to be claimed is one of those little things for me. By 11h30, we both were eager to know our whereabouts. We asked locals but with variations between “San Jose, yes it’s 4 hours away” and “No, only 1 hour”, we were reminded that we can very rarely rely on the Filipinos for accurate estimations. Eventually after an early lunch in Santa Fe, we did the maths and calculated that we still had another 50 odd km left and could see the mountain pass climb before our eyes. The Coggers dug deep, and we created false illusions of strength and hope and carried on. It must have worked because the 10km pass briskly sailed by as we joyfully chatted in the large shoulder provided by the Filippino Government. The descent was again vengeful and we treated ourselves to pleasant swim in the river at the bottom.

The best part about a cycling tour, we think, is the snacking. We do this insistently. Soft drinks, cookies, ice cream (sometimes straight after breakfast) occasionally and, as you see, naughty western delights such as burgers and pizzas… Our justification is obvious: we are expending huge amounts of energy so naturally need constant replenishing.. Haha. Despite this, we have lost a lot of fat and gained muscle!

We reached San Jose at 17h00 and commenced our search for accommodation. We won’t go much into this town but suffice is to say that we think that there’s some serious collusion between the hotels and lodges. Rates were out of this world (not actually, being P600 ( R150) for 12 hours but on principles, we kicked up such a fuss with all the guesthouse owners.

The next day was extra special as we were meeting more of Melissa’s family in a small rural town called Talavera in Nuva Ecjia Province. We spent an unforgettable day and a half with Mel’s cousin, Christine, her husband Jonathan (“Tukao”) and their two sons, Justine and Jiro. The moment we arrived they lavished us with warm hospitality and mountains of food. I think they invented an additional 3rd meal inbetween lunch and dinner camouflaged as a Filipino tradition just to beef us up because they were so worried about us cycling. All the neighbors and friends arrived in drips and drabs to the “Americanos” most of them demanding proof that we had cycled from Banuae. Melissa’s cousin herself wasn’t aware of “our adventure” (as they called it) and thought we were arriving in a land cruiser. Once evidence was established, the questions flowed which we gladly answered. We ate a local chicken slaughtered before our very eyes and prepared by Christine’s neighbour. After dinner, a drinking frenzy was suddenly thrust upon me. Tukao hadn’t informed us but it was actually his birthday so celebrations commenced among all his friends. Drinking wasn’t what I expected though. Usually when guys get together back home, we just commence all at once and in no apparent order. When I sat down I assumed this position and cracked one open. The other men’s faces seemed slightly disappointed however and they soon educated me in their drinking tradition. There’s one glass, a jug filled with ice, a host of eager men and a driver. The responsibilities of the driver are to conduct proceedings. He pours tots of beer in turns to all the men, cleaning the one glass at each interval. His role is so strictly adhered to that even if he’s to take a piss or collect snacks, the other men won’t dare continue drinking. Getting drunk inevitably takes a lot longer but the chatter was full and celebratory. We learned a lot about Melissa’s family, stories of which we will be able to tell our children one day. Melissa will say more about the family but from my side, it’s been an absolute honour being with her as she meets cousins, aunts and uncles (who she has thought about for her whole life) for the first time. A truly unforgettable experience.

The next day was a long and uneventful day of 94km to Baliwag. We knew that as we approached Manila, traffic would rise but you have to take the good with the bad. We’ve chosen to travel this way and although a bus easily covers 350km overnight, a 4 day journey of mountains and breath-taking slights trumps a bumpy sleep on a hard seat. We easily made it to Baliwag and stayed at a drive-in lodge. Melissa wanted to watch Big Bang Theory in a room with a flat screen still occupied so we waited 2 hours. Stupidly I expected a huge flat-screen tv in a glorious, well furnished room. Unsurprisingly I was wrong and walked into a simple room with miniature tv about 4 meters away from the bed. The room was also mosquito infested. It was one of those per hour lodges and we were interested to put our “curiosity” to rest about if the lodges were adapted for prostitution or not. If not prostitution then definitely men having affairs with younger women was the information we gathered from the staff. You see, divorce is illegal in the Philippines. We slept in a room where a 60 year old man had been with a 30 year old woman, who visit 3 times a week. Kinda creepy.

Traffic again was awful the next day. Like cycling Bree street (in Johannesburg CBD) the whole day. We were only 55km outside Manila so we steamed away as fast as we could. We met a local man who commutes to work every day while we were dodging Jeepneys, buses, people, motorcycles, tricycles and road works. After a while of talking he offered to show us the way into Manila, a 30km detour for him. We were amazed by his kindness and wanted to say its ok but cycling into a huge city with only the vaguest idea of where to go had caused some anxiety the nights before so we acceded. Just as we were getting to the traffic laden parts of the city Melissa got a flat tyre and we lost our friend. The most inopportune moment. I wanted to try and get to our destination without changing the tube and on this stubborn advice we pumped it every 200 meters until Melissa’s supremely enhanced intelligence prevailed and in a tuff I changed the damn tube. We eventually arrived in familiar territory, found a cheap backpackers and settled for the day.

We’re leaving for Ho Chi Minh today. Can’t wait to say “good morning Vietnam!”

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