I’ve gone to Naga City from Manila and back countless times. I lived there growing up and still go back home several times a year. Most times I just hop on an overnight bus without a second thought. I rode the PNR Bicol Express train when it was still running. I’ve gone there by plane. My family and I used to take long car trips there and back several times for holidays.
But last Christmas was different. It was my first time to drive a motorcycle all the way there.
For experienced riders who regularly do the North or South Loop, this long ride is probably nothing. There are numerous endurance rides in the country, where people try to clock in more than a thousand KM in 24 hours or less. But I’ve never liked racing and I rarely keep track of how many kilometers I’ve done in a ride. I’ve always measured journeys in terms of meaningful experiences rather than miles.
Sidetrip to Mayon Volcano in Albay a few days after our ride to Naga
Unpredictable weather, the heat, and the possibility of getting into an accident are just a few of the reasons why I was hesitant to ride all the way. I was also afraid that my scooter wouldn’t be able to handle the trip. Chocobo, my Yamaha Mio Fino, who has served me well during the past 5 years and was Art’s regular daily commute for a couple of years now hasn’t been in the best condition. It seems like every other weekend, we’ve had to take him to the shop for some kind of repair job.
But riding to Bicol has always been on our bucket lists. Since Art got his Royal Enfield Classic, he was set to go, with or without me. I couldn’t stand to think that he would be riding while I took a bus. And since I learned how to drive a motorcycle, riding pillion for me no longer counts as riding. So, ride on.
Day 1: Trouble Up the Road
We got a very late start. We planned to leave early in the morning, but had a lot of stuff we needed to secure before we left Manila for the holidays. We were still in the house by noon. Since scooters aren’t allowed on SLEX and to avoid traffic, we planned to take the Marilaque route, passing through Tanay, Mabitac, Luisiana, and head to Lucban for the night. Based on previous car drives, Antipolo, Candelaria and Lucena are major choke points, which we wanted to avoid.
Early on in the journey, I was in trouble. It was bright and sunny when we left the house, but as soon as we hit Laguna, the rain started to pour. The carburetor cover we had installed fell off because of its flimsy aluminum connectors, and my engine started acting up. Whenever I tried to speed up, the engine would sputter like it was going to die, only to jump forward again at a slower speed. This made overtaking very difficult. Then, while driving along the highway, the engine just died on me and wouldn’t start. We spent 3 hours in Mabitac, Laguna huddled under a makeshift tarp roof in the rain while a whiz mechanic expertly cleaned out water that had seeped into the engine in between exchanging shots of liquor with his comrades. He contacted a friend who resold carb covers and reinstalled it in no time.
What annoys me the most is how everyone we met on the road would stop to admire Art’s bike, asking questions, like “ilang CC, magkano bili, pwede bang magpa-picture kasama motor” etc. while completely ignoring me. Case in point: the other guys waiting at the shop who pointed out the foolhardiness of me riding to Bicol on a scooter while praising Art’s big bike and its assumed awesome capabilities. I can’t blame them. The Royal Enfield is an incredibly bad-ass bike. If I had the height and physical strength to handle one of those, I would drive one. I really wish they made smaller models.
Despite being busy with other work when we arrived, the mechanic prioritized my bike and did a hell of a good job. It was starting to get dark when we left, but we decided to proceed to Lucban and resume in the morning.
I had no mechanical problems driving from Laguna to Lucban, Quezon. But there were some points where I was just driving on pure fear. Twisties, wet roads and traffic are a horrible combination at night. Then you see an overturned bus on the cliffside.
View from Tiwi-Sangay Road. Sidetrip a few days after our long ride to Naga
“I’m on the Highway to Hell” I kept thinking over and over again during one dark stretch with no houses or street lights for miles and miles. But instead of rock ‘n roll music, the lyrics were playing in my mind to the tune of horror music. The only establishment we came across was a large community gated with a patchwork of GI Sheets that looked like some kind of zombie apocalypse fort.
I breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of a large gas station at an intersection. We finally got to Lucban. Good call to reserve a room at Batis Aramin, a resort situated at the foothills of Mount Banahaw. We got the cheapest non-aircon attic room. But with the rain and cold, I didn’t even want to turn the electric fan on. After a quick dinner, I was ready to crash for the night.
I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of steady rainfall on the roof and a sickening feeling in my stomach. It was most likely a stomach flu. I felt like I was burning up yet felt so cold at the same time.
Day 2: Another Day, Another Mile, Another Highway
When will this town ever end? While driving from Manila to Naga City in Bicol, time seemed to just drag on. Miles felt like hours. The highway just seemed to stretched on and on. Boredom set it.
I normally love riding, especially in new places or when the scenery is good. But it seemed like I had to fight a lot of things during this ride to Bicol. Hulking trucks and buses ate up the whole lane and slowed down our pace, potholes just appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the road. Searing heat, sudden rain, hunger, traffic, sleepiness and boredom.
The highlight of our second day was driving through Bitukang Manok in Quezon. This old road that passes through the Quezon National Forest Park is named after chicken intestines because of the way it zigzags through the mountains in the towns of Atimonan, Pagbilao, and Padre Burgos. With its sharp turns and elbows, this road is considered to be a test of one’s driving skills.
This is also where you can find people on the road known as “Hagis-Barya”. They direct traffic and signal you to drive forward. In exchange, you’re supposed to toss loose change or coins to them as you drive by.
The stretches of Atimonan and Gumaca were pretty scenic too. The sight of water and the open sea is always refreshing even in the heat of high noon.
But after that, the scenery started to look all the same to me, as if we were looping through one portion of the matrix. Rice fields, trees, small town centers where we’d encounter bad traffic, more trees, more rice fields, more traffic. I would rejoice every time we’d cross some kind of welcome arch, but some towns like Calauag and Tagkawayan just seemed to stretch on forever.
We stopped for lunch in some roadside eatery but I just didn’t have an appetite for carinderia food so I settled on Skyflakes and Gatorade instead. I think the heat and rain got to me, and I didn’t feel that well while driving. I just wanted to curl up somewhere on the side of the road to sleep. But we had to make the most of the daylight, so we drove on.
Welcome arch in Camarines Norte (too tired to stop at arch in Naga City)
Some random realizations came to mind while on the road. Why am I doing this again? I will never be an endurance rider. I could have just slept on a bus.
But despite feeling sick and all the hassles on the road, there was still that feeling of being alive and in control of your own fate. I pushed on and made it! 400 plus kilometers later, we finally crossed the arch to Naga City, my hometown. There’s really something different about just being a passenger in a vehicle shuttled from one destination to the next to being the one driving. Normally, this journey from Manila to Naga would be a non-event before reaching my destination. But I felt like I earned something from that ride.
Yes, I could have taken the bus, but no good story ever starts with riding a bus, right?
TRAVEL TIPS & USEFUL INFO:
- From Quezon City in Manila to Canaman in Camarines Sur, Bicol, it’s 424 KM (one way) based on the route we took on Googlemaps.
- It’s possible to do this ride in just one day if weather is good and you leave really early in the morning. Some riders can do it for 7-8 hours. 1.5 – 2 days is recommended for a more relaxed pace.
- If you want to stay overnight along the road, the best towns (where you can reserve accommodations ahead of time) would be Lucban, Lucena or Tayabas.
- There are also a few inns and resorts along the road in Pagbilao, Atimonan, Plaridel and Gumaca.
- In Lucban, we stayed in Batis Aramin Resort & Hotel. The Attic-fan room (1 Queen sized bed, with common CR) cost P1,500 (good for 2 pax, with free breakfast). The resort has secure parking for all types of vehicles. Facebook: Batis Aramin Resort & Hotel. Website: http://aramin.ph/
- There are lots of gas stations along the road. I stopped to load a full tank twice. Total cost of gas for my scooter (one-way) was less than P400.
- There are vulcanizing and mechanical shops along the way in major towns, but it’s better if you have tools and extra gear with you just in case of emergencies.
- Be extra careful while driving through the twisties and tricky corners.
- The weather can change very quickly as you cross one town to the next. Waterproof your bags. Bring plastic bags for your gadgets in case it rains. Rain gear would also be helpful.
- For safety purposes, it’s better to have a companion when doing this ride.
- Ride safe!
Shadow selfie at Mayon Volcano in Albay. Side trip before heading back to Manila
NOTE: All photos taken with the Samsung Galaxy S6 powered by Sun Cellular. For Sun promos and postpaid plans, visit http://suncellular.com.ph. #ChooseBetter