The Philippines

The Philippines
Not every day do you get the chance to ride a motorcycle on the other side of the world. So when that opportunity arises, you best take full advantage by riding fast, riding hard, and savoring every mile.

Dumaguete to Bacolod

Day 1: Bacolod City. It's close to midnight and I'm sprawled across my thin hotel mattress utterly spent. A naked ceiling bulb throws flat light on the bare walls, the air conditioner wheezes like a pack-a-day smoker, and road gear is strewn about as if a pannier spontaneously exploded. I should be asleep  -  we have a 6 a.m. ferry to catch  -  but the adrenalin of the day is still coursing. Finally, overwhelmed by fatigue, I pass out…

Fourteen hours ago. We're bouncing like Ping-Pong balls through the streets of Dumaguete, our KLRs towering above the scooters that buzz through this small university and port city. Our tour leader, Bryan rides point and weaves an expert line through traffic while Arnold, an enduro rider from Quezon City, rides sweep. After days of rain, the sky is an impeccable cerulean blue, perfect but for a few lingering clouds.

The town and traffic fade as we head north where the beauty of Negros (na´gros) Island unfolds  -  the aquamarine sea lapping the shore, the road perched on a simple sea wall, and modest homes set within the lush vegetation. We stop to admire the view and look across the Tañon Strait to Cebu Island, another one of the 7,000-plus islands that make up the Philippine archipelago. We're not the only ones who've stopped  -  a man in bathing trunks and flip-flops walks up to admire the bikes. Italian by birth, he came here many years ago and built a home. He's not going anywhere anytime soon, but we are. We bid him arrivederci and ride on.

We turn away from the coast and head into the fields and hills of the island, a working paradise blessed with natural beauty and fertile soil. Sugarcane fuels the local economy, and its influence can be seen everywhere, in the broad cane fields, plantation homes, and the ancient trucks hauling the sweet harvest along dusty country roads. Our journey inland is like traveling back in time: the concrete blockhouses by the sea are replaced by Spanish-styled wood-frame homes and eventually native nipa huts made from bamboo and dried grass prevail. Likewise, the shoes and sneakers of town give way to flip-flops, and the road reverts from pavement to hard-packed dirt.

If such a thing can be, the land is almost too lush, the hillsides crammed with palm, coconut, banana, bamboo, acacia and all manner of tropical flora. We climb the dusty, twisting road, past fields where slender farmers wearing hats and kerchiefs to protect them from sun and dust are working stalks of cane. A faded sign points down a shaded and rocky goat track that winds its way to the base of Niludhan Falls. The water spills gracefully over layers of exposed sedimentary rock to a cool, jade-colored pool below.

After a late afternoon lunch we make a beeline for Bacolod, the largest city on the island (pop. 500,000) and known as the "City of Smiles." It's not all smiles, though, as we battle an afternoon shower and a two-lane road jammed up in both directions. We've got a ferry to catch and this traffic will make timing tight. One by one we pick off slower vehicles and squeeze back into our lane before becoming the hood ornaments on oncoming vehicles. The closer we get to town the slower we go, and the further we descend into chaos, with vehicles of all shapes and sizes battling for every inch of forward motion. Bumper to bumper, door to door and wheel to wheel, it's a tangle that's challenging and exhilarating. Twist the throttle when you see a gap and hope it's still there when you arrive. Brush past, using the handlebars like cat's whiskers. Don't ask for courtesy and give no quarter. It's vehicular Darwinism, arrival of the fittest.

We get to the dock with little time to spare, and it's a zoo, too, like a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Brian knows his way around though, but we're too late: the ferry is full. Bacolod is as far as we're going today.