Pictured above are some of the personable ladies that welcomed me to the Philippines when I bought a drink in a bar in the city of Angeles. They helped me adjust to the culture and taught me some basic Tagalog words like “Kumusta ka na?” (How are you?), “Mahal kila,” (I love you), “Cherry Girl,” (Virgin), and “Buy me drink” (I get ½ of the price of the drink you buy me as commission.)
This was my first adventure in the Philippines. I was a virgin to the erratic driving, language (English mixed with Tagalog), culture and nightlife. Arriving after dark I adhered to my personal touring rule of not riding a motorcycle when there is no sun. The traffic in and out of Manila looked maddening, made worse by 100-degree temperature and soup-like humidity of nearly 100%. It was also the eve of a major coup attempt to toss out the President so tensions were running high. The military and police were starting to get heavy handed with traffic.
Rather than try a bus or jeepney, I opted for an air-conditioned taxi to get me to an inexpensive hotel near where I was to rendezvous with my motorcycle. The front desk hotel manager told me it would be OK to explore around the area on foot as long as I did not join any marches or standoffs with the police. I cautiously walked to a nearby bar to watch the unfolding news on TV and wash down a couple thousand kilometers of air travel.
Bar life turned out to be fascinating research for my 'in the works' book MOTORCYCLE SEXPEDITIONS – ABSOLUTE RIDING. Most of the ladies in the bar were “working ladies.” They worked hard at trying to sell me on their company, and once decided they could not, then trying to make me blush or buy them drinks. One introduced herself, then immediately informed me that she was a cherry girl. If I wanted to pay $500.00 USD she would go with me to my room and I would be her “first time.” I told her this was my first time in the Philippines, so I should be a cherry boy. This news brought several more of the ladies to my barstool and I bought them all a drink as I laughed and they tittered like lovely birds. We were having a good time making jokes, they trying to braid my long hair, and me wondering why none were seemingly concerned about the attempted overthrow of the government that was taking place.
The lady in the above picture showed me what she thought of politics, obnoxious Texans and rising gas prices.
The mamma-san made the ladies go back to work dancing and I was left sitting at the bar listening to a drunk man from Great Britain tell me why he preferred Asian women to Western women. It was a rant I had heard before so I paid more attention to the titterers dancing than him.
From my left a Filipino man rushed at me and swung a beer bottle, hitting me just above my left eye. It was not a direct hit because I saw hurried movement to my left as he rushed at me and turned slightly to see what it was. In the movies the beer bottle breaks, which would have probably been bad for me. The bottle the drunk or crazed Filipino guy hit me with bounced off my eyebrow with a “thunk” and he stumbled into me.
Generally I like to describe myself as a warm, sensitive, caring, communicative guy with a fondness for puppies, girlfriend’s cats and teddy bears, who just happens to ride motorcycles. Hit me on the head with a beer bottle and I suspect the fool who did it might describe me as a snoozing grizzly bear with a hangover from too many fermented berries someone had just poked with a short stick. My reaction was neither intelligent nor brave. I merely reacted. My punch was a solid one and he went down. He started kicking me and threw the bottle at me, hitting me in the chest. The result was he had the boots taken to him and got a ride to the local hospital. The bar owner suggested I become like smoke and dissipate in the wind to another bar, which I did.
When I returned the next day both the bar owner and momma-san told me the man I had sent to the hospital would be singing soprano with a cast on an arm. They said he had mistaken me for an Australian man who had not paid for the short-time rental of his (the Filipino’s) girlfriend. Mixed with booze and drugs, his wanting to teach a lesson to the “Cheap Charlie” Australian had gotten him what they felt he deserved. I was treated to several rounds of free drinks for getting the boyfriend out of the bar. The girlfriend thanked me, saying her boyfriend was “crazy, no good!”
Several of the other ladies came over to thank me. It became apparent he had a social and bonding problem with the whole employee force in the bar. I never did meet the Australian man but the momma-san told me he had not stiffed the girlfriend. It seems the girlfriend made up the story to keep some of her earnings for herself and not have to give the money to the druggie boyfriend who spent all she made on booze, drugs and other girls. I spent a memorable evening in the bar, drinking free beer and taking aspirin for the headache I had from the crack on the head, thinking, “Who is a bigger druggie, taking booze and drugs, me or the guy in the hospital?”
The photo shows the cut over my left eye that was a bleeder. I considered stitching it until I managed to stop the flow of blood with a styptic pen I carry for shaving cuts. Over the next week the area around the eye went from blue to purple to yellow. I could scare ladies, small children and dogs by taking off my sunglasses and looking at them.
The coup attempt failed. It seemed everyone knew about it beforehand (including me) so the government was able to squash it. However for the next week there were many arrests, roadblocks and dissenters running for cover. I was told to stay out of the north where communist guerrillas were fighting with the Philippine Army and local police. Of course, this was where I had planned to go. I loafed around Subic Bay for a couple of days acclimatising to San Miguel beer, Jollibee hamburgers and Filipina humor, then pointed the Yamaha Tenere motorcycle north to the famous hanging rice terraces around Banaue and the nearby hippy enclave of Sagada.
Pictured are what the tourist books describe as “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” terraced rice fields. They were photogenic, but not in the two days of cold and rain through which I had been riding.
I had left the southern coast of Subic Bay sweating 24 hours a day from the humidity and heat. It seemed the faster I poured San Miguel beer in the faster it came out in sweat. As I rode north into the mountains I quit the beer, switched to coffee and started to wear more clothes. Two nights I went to bed fully clothed because there was no heat in the rooms, frost on the windows and the blankets were threadbare.
The women in this picture were working a parking area where I stopped to take a photograph. In exchange for their photograph they held out their hands for money. I tried to pay at first with some candy I was carrying. The smallest lady took a piece from my hand, spit on it and threw it on the ground. I did not need to speak her local dialect to understand her meaning. I forked over about 20 cents each and everybody went away happy. They laughed when I pointed at the candy on the ground and spit.
I had been warned about rebel roadblocks and told the safe way to travel further north was in a caravan. After waiting for two hours and finding no staging point for a caravan, I gave up and decided to try the gravel road alone. 30 kilometers later I came to the first roadblock. Half a dozen men were standing by the side of the road just after a curve, all with rifles. As I approached two walked to the center of the road and I slowed. They lifted their rifles from pointing at the ground to resting in the crook of an arm. As I got within 20 feet of them I decided to take a chance. I raised my left hand and waved as I sped up and rode past them. I can remember thinking I would rather be shot than robbed, taken hostage and used as their boy-toy. I hunched over the gas tank as low as I could get and tried not to wet myself. No shots were fired and I thanked my good luck or their laziness for not having been shot.
The Sioux Indians did a dance in the late 1800’s called the Ghost Dance. They believed if they wore the shirt they danced in during battle with the white soldiers their Ghost Shirts would protect them, bullets would pass through harmlessly. As I rode away I was wondering if that would apply to the AK-47’s the rebels were carrying and my Gortex riding jacket.
Another 100 kilometers later I rode into a second roadblock. This time the guerrillas were not ready for me as I rode up. They were robbing a van filled with passengers coming from the other direction. Before they saw me I was nearly on top of them and I sped up and again tried to make my back and head go into the gas tank. As before, no shots were fired. When I got to the next town I went into the first church I saw and made a donation after lighting some candles. It had either been my Christian lucky day or the Crow Indian talisman and eagle feather I carry from friends that had been doing their job, keeping me from being shot.
There is a much longer story here about my thinking as I rode through and after the rebel roadblocks. At the end of the day I was still shaking and local people expressed their disbelief that I had not been shot, telling tales of others that had been. I have reflected on that afternoon and may write a longer piece about my thoughts before and after I made the decisions to not stop. If some other motorcycle traveler were to ask me for advice if faced with a similar situation I do not know what I would tell them. Being alone with no one dependant on me probably had a lot to do with my decision. Being a risk taker also had some bearing. Not wanting to be frog-marched through the jungles while being sexually abused was also a real factor.
“Hey, big Americano, it’s time for you to be our belly-boy here in the jungle.” A belly-boy is the Filipino name for a lady-boy. I’d decided I rather be shot than get to know the guerrilla pictured above, belly-boy, lady-boy or Greg-boy wise.
Back on the paved roads and away from the guerrillas I was feeling better two days later. As I rode south towards Manila traffic grew thicker. I was enjoying the freedom of being on a powerful motorcycle able to easily pass slower moving vehicles by ducking in and out of the opposite lane on the two-lane road. I had nearly forgotten AK-47s and groups of men on a desolate mountain road.
I started to pass a truck and crossed the centerline. The motorcycle seemed to slip, as if on oil. The first thought I had was of diesel on the road because I had not seen anything like oil. The slip had taken me into the center of the oncoming lane, not the right side next to the truck. If the road was covered in diesel or some other slippery substance I knew not to do anything quick like trying to flick back across it. I started to slightly roll back on the throttle and softly apply the rear brake to slowly ease back across the centerline and behind the truck. Almost immediately there was an audible “pop” and the motorcycle’s front wheel washed out to the left. At 60-70 miles per hour the front tire had blown out. One second I was on top of the motorcycle, the next I was sliding down the center of the left lane on my hip, knees, elbows and hands looking at the bumper of the oncoming car.
I have often heard people say how their lives went before their eyes as they looked at death. This was not so in my case. All I saw in front of my eyes as I slid headfirst towards the oncoming car was the bumper coming at me. I had enough time to think, “This is either going to hurt a lot, or I won’t care.”
The car was able to swerve to the right and miss me. The motorcycle slid to a stop in the right lane, having slowed enough to miss the rear of the truck. Unbelievably no one ran over the motorcycle from behind. I scrambled to my feet and ran to the motorcycle. Before I could try to lift it off the road other men and boys who had stopped were helping me. We righted it and rolled it off the road. After riding and racing motorcycles more than 1,000,000 miles and five times around the world I had survived my second front tire blow out.
The picture above is at the scene of the crash and some of my new acquaintances that stopped to help. They were surprised to find that I had a spare inner tube, air pump, tools to do the work and that I knew how to use everything.
We found a nail inside the torn inner tube. As I had crossed the centerline it was a deflating front inner tube that had caused the motorcycle to slip or wobble. Had I applied the front brake I may not have been recounting this crash. The air inside the tube had started to rush out the nail hole causing the inner tube to rip. Next the front tire came off the rim, the motorcycle went down and I was sliding on the pavement. The handlebars had been ripped out of my hands. Replaying the crash in my mind countless times I can still think of nothing I could have done to keep the motorcycle upright at that speed, or even 30 miles per slower.
I pocketed the nail, keeping it for a souvenir. With the aid of my helpers we installed the spare tube I was carrying and an hour later I was back riding, although slower and warily. I stopped at the first town I came to and hunted for an hour until I could find a new spare inner tube, not wanting to ride without one if I could help it.
In the above photo you can see where the jean-like outer material on the pants I was wearing when I crashed had worn through to the Kevlar Cordura liner on my hip and knee, but not through to my skin. The pants were made by Leather Forever in Cape Town, South Africa and had seen me half the way around the world in the last year. You can find them on the Internet at www.leatherforever.co.za. If you write Marie or Johan, tell them you found out about them from a 200% satisfied customer. I later had leather patches sewn over the holes for $5.00 and the pants are still with me. The only pants that would have done me better, my Darien pants from Aerostich, were safely stored inside the bag on the back of the motorcycle. Because of the heat I had shed them around noon, but did not go so far as to wear only jeans. I was also wearing a Gortex jacket, real leather gloves (not the fingerless ones sold to bikers or in Harley-Davidson shops), motorcycle touring boots and a Nolan helmet. I rode away from the crash without a scratch, only some bruises.
That night the inner tube I had installed by the side of the road went flat. In the morning I found that it had a tear about an inch long from the valve stem. It was a cheap tube (made in Thailand, price in the Philippines $2.00USD). I installed the second new tube, and decided I was pushing my luck envelope. A little voice was telling me, “Maybe you had better not go as far south in the islands as you had planned. In fact, maybe you better stop for a few days and let your stars re-align themselves.”
I cautiously rode back to Subic Bay. There I found a $30.00 quiet room in a motel with a 24-hour bar/restaurant on the turquoise ocean and spent the next two days. I was questioning whether or not I had pushed my luck or mojo too far by coming to the Philippines after having survived the previous months riding in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. I knew I had escaped serious injury several times riding in those countries and wondered if I had pushed my envelope too far.
While I was trying to get back into my mental travel zone I met a German motorcyclist who wintered in the Philippines. He asked if I would like to try some off-road riding to look at what was left of the top of Mt. Pinatubo. On June 15, 1991 Mt. Pinatubo blew its head, throwing steam and detritus 40 kilometers into the air and dumping ash several meters thick in the surrounding area. I decided I did not want to muscle my 400 lb. Yamaha Tenere through the jungles so decided to rent a 200-cc Honda. For the next 150 kilometers I blessed that $20.00 rental decision as I flogged through foot deep ash up the steep side of a mountain.
Pictured above in the far left background is what remains of the top of Mt. Pinatubo. The jungle track I had to ride ran up the ridge of the mountain range to the left of the photo and in front of the volcano.
We rode from sea level to 1,450 meters high in about two hours, the last 10 kilometers taking nearly an hour. I was paddling with my feet, sucking dust and trying to get air as if I was an out of breath 70-year, two-pack-a-day cigarette smoker. Between my bad knee, some bruises and a sore wrist from the crash, the 95-degree heat and humidity and a bit of a hangover from my mental medication, arriving at the top of the mountain was not pretty. I was glad to have reached the summit without crashing but depressed to know we had to ride back down the same ugly track that was harder to ride down than up.
Roland Hahn from Nonnweiler, Germany took the above photo of a whipped rider. He asked if I wanted him to take more than one. I told him, “Take a bunch. No one will ever see me up here again to take another photo. I am getting too old for this.”
Back at sea level I decided to discard my plans to go to the far south of the Philippines. Instead I carefully rode through Manila, another grim-visaged motorcycling experience, then crossed the Verde Island Passage by ferry to the island of Mindoro. I spent a few days riding along the coast there, then headed back to the mainland. Another ride through the urban jungle of Manila convinced me that I had seen enough of the Philippines to realize it was some of the toughest I had done in the last six months, either that or the unluckiest.
While there were many small motorcycles in the Philippines, there was no where near the numbers as in Vietnam. However, there were many motorized tricycles, motorcycles modified with sidecars added. These were far cheaper than taxies, but I found them too small for my 6 foot 3 inch frame. For the locals, much smaller in stature, they were often piled or perched 3-4 people in/on a tricycle.
This picture is of a basic tricycle: a small displacement motorcycle with a simple hand made sidecar attached.
The tricycle pictured above is more typical. It was customized to include rain protection, CD player and comfortable bench seat. While most tourists take photographs of the colorful jeepneys in the Philippines, I was attracted to the colorful tricycles.
As I flew out of the Philippines I looked down at the many islands and green jungles, thinking of how little I had seen. The food was Americanized, over populated with Wendys, McDonalds, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Gas was easily found, motels reasonably priced, toilets generally clean, Internet cafes plentiful and roads in fair condition. The people were friendly and only once or twice did police try to shake me down for bogus tickets on busy roads.
I saw several Harley-Davidsons in Angeles city, cruising Fields Avenue, the riders rapping their throttles to make their loud exhaust pipes draw attention to them. A BMW F650 was parked one or two nights in a hotel lobby, but it did not look as if it had seen many miles. On the expressway I saw a Honda Goldwing going the opposite direction and once I thought I saw Kawasaki KLR 650. From the Internet and my sightings I knew there were big bikes around but most motorcycles I saw were small displacement bikes, less than 250-cc. During my travels I never saw another motorcycle traveler, an adventurer poking around on the gravel roads with wanderlust in their eyes or a set of hardened global riding gear on their motorcycles. When I would stop in a gas station or at a hotel I often had lookers and some inquiries about my life on the road. The biggest surprise seemed to be that I was an American, alone, and interested in the country of the Philippines.
I may return to the Philippine Islands and head further south to the hundreds of islands I missed. I think before I do I will store up some karma, bank some candle lighting and church donations, and then dance with my Aerostich Gortex Ghost Riding Suit.
July 27, 2000, Going Out Again - 'Round The World
October 4, 2000, Why Another Long Ride, The Plan, and Mr. Fish
October 10, 2000, the beginning, in America on an Indian
November 6, 2000, AMAZONAS-Tamed By Beasts in Brazil
November 22, 2000, Monster Cow, Wolpertinger and Autobahn Crawling Across Europe
December 22, 2000, Enfield 500 Bullet, India Motorcycle Dementia, Ozoned Harley-Davidsons and Gold Wings
December 25, 2000, Yeti on a Harley-Davidson, Nepal By Enfield, No Carnet Sexpedition
January 1, 2001, Haunting Yeti
January 25, 2001, Monkey Soccer, Asian Feet, Air 'em Up: Bhutan and Sikkim
February 12, 2001, Midgets, Carnetless, Steve McQueen on Enfield, Bangladesh
February 20, 2001, Higgledypiggledy, Salacity, and Zymurgy - India
March 20, 2001, Road warriors, sand, oil leaks - meditating out of India
April 8, 2001, Bike Cops, Elephants, and Same-Same - Thailand
May 1, 2001, Little Bikes, Millions of Bikes, Island Riding - Taiwan
May 15, 2001, Harley-Davidson, Mother Road and Super Slabs - America
June 8 , 2001, Crossing The Crazy Woman With A Harley-Davidson, Indian, BMW, Amazonas, Enfield, Hartford, SYM, Honda
January 1, 2002, Donged, Bonged, and Gonged - Burma
January 20, 2002, Secrets of The Golden Triangle - Thailand
March 31, 2002, Bear Wakes, Aims Green Machine Around The World
April 10, 2002, Moto Cuba - Crashes, Customs and El Jefe (Fidel)
May 20, 2002, Europe and The Roads South to Africa
June 10, 2002, Morocco Motorcycling, Thieves and Good Roads
July 30, 2002, Russia – Hard and Soft, By Motorcycle
August 30, 2002, USA – American Roadkill, Shipping Bikes and BIG DOGS
September 30, 2002, Good Times Roll Home, Riding With Clothes On, Team Green - USA
November, 2002, Mexico By Motorcycle - Gringos, Little Norman Bad Cock, and Bandits
March 2003, Laos by motorcycle - Guerrillas, Mekong Beering, and Plain of Coffins
July, 2003, Alaska by motorcycle – Deadhorse, Fish Story and Alaskan Bush
January 2004, Angkor, Bombed Out Roads and Dog Eaters - Cambodia
April, 2004, Minsking, Uncle Ho and Snake Wine
August 2004, Around The World Again, 1st Tag Deadhorse
February 2005, Colombia To The End Of The Earth - South America
January 2006, My Marriage, Long Strange Ride, Montana Nights
May 2006, Cherry Girls, Rebels, Crash and Volcano - Philippines
September 2006, Break Bike Mountain Ride – United States
March 2007, Kawasaki Cult Bike “No Stranger To Danger Expedition” - Thailand and Cambodia
November 2007, Lone Wolf Wanders: Bears, Moose, Buffalo, Fish
April 2009, Global Adventure Roaming: Burma through the USA to headhunters on Borneo
February 2010, Adventure Motorcycle Travel: Expedition to Alaska, then Java
Copyright © Dr. Gregory W. Frazier. 1999- All Rights Reserved.
Thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author,
and not necessarily Horizons Unlimited