FROM BAGUIO TO ZAMBO BY BIKE ON THE STRONG REPUBLIC NAUTICAL  HWAY

MANILA, May 5, 2005
 
(STAR) By Rick San Juan - Danish architect Hans Peder Pedersen, who was part of the team that carried out the UNDP sponsored Tourism Master Plan of the Philippines, thought it would be an exciting journey to travel on his Harley Davidson bike from Baguio City to his home in Zamboanga City. It was his first time to try the governmentís Strong Republic Nautical Highway (SRNH) on his annual bike cruise of the country.

Often, he would bike from Baguio City to Manila and take the Super Ferry back to Zamboanga City. Once, he even traveled from Davao City to Baguio City via the Pan-Filipino Highway that runs through the eastern part of the Philippines. Last February, he decided to experience the new western gateway to Mindanao.

This is his story.

From Baguio City, Hans took the western coastal road through Zambales, via Olongapo to Manila, instead of the shorter, direct route through Tarlac. He says this road is ideal for biking, since there are not that many trucks and buses on this route, and the roads are good with its sweeping curves.

When he reached Manila, he had his Harley serviced in Manila. After that, he was ready to go. Leaving Manilaís traffic behind was the hard part, but as soon as he went up the Skyway at 9 a.m. heading down the South Luzon Expressway, it was a piece of cake. The stretch to Batangas was mostly expressways, and the Harley loved it. At 3000 rpm in top gear, the 1200cc engine thrummed along with the good vibrations and the deep rumbling Harley sound: Feels great, lots of torque. Down-gear to fourth, roll the wrist, full throttle, he says, and the bike took off like a rocket-propelled grenade, safely overtaking a truck in seconds.

Hans reached the Batangas Pier in time for the 10:30 a.m. departure to Calapan, Oriental Mindoro. The Ro-Ro here was very efficient. There are departures every hour. You drive on board, get a ticket and you are ready for the two-hour trip, he says.

From Calapan, the road to Roxas runs on the coastal plain past large rice paddies. He rode against a strong wind that bit his face and brought to his nose the sharp smell of pesticides. The road is good though, and allowed him to zoom at high speed. There are many new bridges to cross here, and it was an easy ride to Roxas, where Hans arrived early for the 5 p.m. departure to Caticlan town on Panay Island. The port facilities are still under construction, but work is evidently progressing. The Ro-Ro here worked without any problems.

Hans says it is premature to give a final evaluation of the SRNH project because work is ongoing at many stops, as evident from the pictures of President Arroyo wearing a hardhat on many billboards along the route.

Whenever Hans stopped his Harley, it drew a crowd. Itís a rare brand outside Manila, and it does look sexy and powerful. However, the myth and subculture around the Harley Davidson are as powerful as the bike itself.

The boat trip takes about five hours. As they approached Caticlan, they sailed past the coastline of Boracay. The long string of lights and neon made it look like a mini Vegas. Hans recalled the time he was in Boracay in the mid-70s when there were neither power nor motor vehicles on the island, only kerosene light and parties under the full moon.

From Caticlan, he drove towards Kalibo, Aklan. It was dark and the road was tricky, with many unmarked road repair sites. He had to slow down after a stockpile of gravel left alone in the middle of the road almost sent the heavy loaded bike off the road into a billboard with this sound advice: "Drink Tanduay and drive carefully."

Mr. Bike Cruiser reached Kalibo at midnight and had to drive around town for about an hour to find a hotel with vacancy. He eventually ended up in some kind of motel, alone, with his Harley parked against the door. Fifteen hours of traveling translated to sound sleep.

At 7 a.m., he was ready to continue on his way to Iloilo. Here, the landscape and ecology are different from those in Mindoro. There are small terraced rice paddies and contour farming. Whenever he drove through towns, he noticed the differences in the local tricycle design and the postmodern ornaments on new buildings in various kinds of Pinoy Baroque style.

The roads in Panay still need to be repaved and are generally not as good as those in Mindoro. In a modern car, you would hardly notice the road wear, but on a big bike, every pothole and washboard pavement gives an instant impact on your butt. He ran into traffic at the outskirts of Iloilo that slowed him down, but he managed to make it to the pier in time for the 12 p.m. departure to Bacolod City. Stopping there for lunch, Hans was surprised to find a bistro that had a fancy international interior design and a menu that even served his choice of vegetarian food.

The first part of the drive towards Dumaguete City ran along the west coast of the island. Approaching southern Negros Oriental, one enters into sugar country. Trucks heavily loaded with sugar canes start showing up. The road and shoulders are littered with sugarcanes that fell off the trucks. These could potentially be dangerous to bikers. From Kabankalan, the road crossed the mountains to the east coast at Bais. It was dark now, and a reddish full moon was rising. After a bend in the road, Hans drove through newly harvested fields of sugarcane that had been set on fire. It was like driving into a painting by Turner. Solids dissolved into smoke and flames, a dramatic and beautiful space. The drive was quite tough. Even the low beam of the loaded sugar trucks speeding towards him were pointing at the sky, blinding him momentarily and forcing him to slow down. He arrived in Dumaguete City at about 9 p.m., cruising along the beautiful waterfront with its many cafes. He started looking for a hotel.

Hands went to the Ro-Ro ferry office to inquire about the 7 a.m. departure the next morning, and here he encountered the first and only bottleneck on his cruise down south. The clerk told him to report at 3 a.m. since the ramp of the ferry could not reach the pier at departure time when the tide was low. He checked out this info with a guy from the Port Authority who said it was possible to drive on board the ferry even at around 6 a.m. He drove to the ferry at 5 a.m. to play safe and embarked without problems. He then walked back to the ticket office where he lined up behind walk-in passengers. When it was his turn, the clerk told him he needed Coast Guard clearance. So, he went there where he got a rubber stamp on the registration. Then, it was back to the ticket office and on the same line again. When it was his turn, the clerk went to a typewriter and issued him a bill of lading. The Ro-Ro concept was sadly lost on the ferry people in Dumaguete City.

But finally, Hans was off to Dapitan. The Nautical Highway project only goes to Cagayan de Oro City. He doesnít know why, but he was headed for Zamboanga. The roads in Zamboanga del Norte are well paved and great for biking: First, a scenic ride along the coastline, and then over the mountains to Ipil. After a short pit stop, he continued towards Zamboanga City. The road in Sibugay was new and perfect, and soon my Danish friend was at the boundary where a sign read, "Welcome to Zamboanga City." The next 20 to 25 kilometers past Vitali was among the worst he experienced throughout his trip. At 5 p.m., Mr. Harley arrived home in Zamboanga after an exciting 1,500-kilometer road experience, hopping in and out of relaxing ferry trips.

Hans highly recommends traveling by land from Luzon to Mindanao. He thinks itís a great way to see the beautiful and diverse country. The Strong Republic Nautical Highway is a great concept, he says. There are improvements to be made that are well under way.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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