Siargao: A motorcycle and the open road

The dusty road stretched out as far as I could see, its rock and gravel terrain framed by towering coconut trees. Farmers and construction workers on the side of the road gave a friendly wave as I passed. Every so often, a habal-habal, with two or three passengers aboard would rumble by sending a cloud of dust and debris at my face.

I was traveling solo and I wanted to see Siargao’s less-beaten paths. So I decided to rent a motorbike for the afternoon and explore the island on two wheels.

The red XRM was easy enough to maneuver even though the some sections of the roads were pretty rough. I couldn’t help feeling glad that I had gotten some experience driving an off-road ATV in Legazpi earlier this year, because the roads felt the same. As I made my way through Siargao’s roads, I recalled the conversation I had earlier when I rented the motorbike.

“May problema yung starter ignition nito kaya kelangan mo lang siyang biglain pag-kickstart,“ said Jun, the motorbike’s owner, as he demonstrated how to jolt the engine to life after a few failed attempts on my part. I was standing on the kickstart pedal with both feet, putting all my weight on it, and it wouldn’t even budge. “Kung magkaproblema ka, maghanap ka na lang ng lalake at magpatulong.”

Hearing those words from him, I vowed to myself not to ask help from anyone at all, and to only park in places where no one else would see my clumsy attempts at kickstarting. He gave me further instructions on how to work the foot clutch pedal. “Iwan mo na lang sa 4, pero pag akyat ng bundok, kelangan nasa 2, kasi baka mahirapan yung makina.”

I admitted to him that I only had experience driving a fully automatic scooter on paved city roads and never a semi-automatic with a clutch. “Kaya mo yan,” were his last reassuring words, as he handed me the keys and walked away.

Thankfully, he was right, and I found myself riding easily enough on the motorbike, heading first to the row of resorts in the Cloud 9 area. Siargao is known mostly as the surfing capital of the country, and most tourists spend their time on the shores for sand, sea and surf. During the height of surfing season, the right breaking reef waves resemble a thick, hollow tube, which is how the place got the moniker Cloud 9. In fact, a lot of surfers get around the place using customized motorbikes with built-in racks just for surfboards.

I noticed a lot of high-end resorts in the Cloud 9 area, with the room prices starting at 2000+. I was glad that I had scored a single fan room in Pesangan Lodge in General Luna for only P500/night. Compared to Cloud 9, the area of General Luna offers more affordable accommodations for local travelers, and has a whole strip of good eating places like Ronaldo’s Inn & Resto Bar, Driftwood Surf Shop and Cafe, and Patrick’s on the Beach.

After acquiring a map of the island at the souvenir shop of Patrick’s, I headed towards the direction of Pilar, where I was told that a natural pool called Magpupungko was located. After a brief stop at the church at an intersection, I fuelled up at a small gas station to be sure I didn’t get stuck on the road without gas. Loading a full tank cost P160.

Most of the earlier parts of the roads near General Luna heading to Dapa (the port) were paved and a real joy to ride. I couldn’t help feeling pretty good about myself as I overtook tricycles on the road. The refreshing landscape of green fields and trees of the rural countryside just whooshed by as I rode on.

The path snaked on in a winding road, with green markers helpfully pointing out the way to Pilar counting down the number of kilometers left to go. Then, at a junction, the smooth gray pavement suddenly turned into patches of unforgiving rugged road where I had to slow down. Half of the long stretches of the road were being bulldozed and cemented over, leaving the other side a tricky mess of stones and gravel.

With its uphill ascents and sudden steep descents, the roads in Siargao would probably be a joy for mountain bikers looking for interesting terrain. I heard there’s actually going to be a mountain biking orienteering event as part of the Siargao Adventure Race this October. I wouldn’t mind going back to try mountain biking to some of the other towns of Siargao like Del Carmen, which is home to a vast mangrove forest and Santa Monica, a fishing town in the north of the Island that’s said to have white sand beaches, waterfalls, caves and islets with beautiful coral reefs. There weren’t a lot of people on the road to Pilar except for the occasional habal-habal motorbikes with makeshift roofs over them made of planks of wood and tarpaulin, ferrying passengers to and from the distant towns.

After about an hour and a half of steady driving, I finally reached the serene town of Pilar, its main road fringed with houses on stilts and mangrove forests. After asking directions from some locals on the main road, I turned right towards Magpupungko, where I paid an entrance fee of P50.00 to enter.

I passed a group of friendly locals picnicking by the beach, the ruins of a guesthouse and a small set of stairs underneath a cave framed by hanging vines before I stopped to enjoy a solitary view of the pool and rock formation. During low tide, visitors can see the natural pool framed by huge rock formations that look like rocks squatting on top of one another (hence the name Magpupungko, which is derived from the local word for squat “pungko.”

I learned form the tourist officer on duty that it’s better to visit the place in morning during low tide when the clear natural-pools just open up. He even offered that I come back in the morning free of charge so I could see it again in its best state. Unfortunately, the sunlight was already starting to fade and I didn’t want to be caught on the rocky roads at night. I had promised to get the motorbike back to its owner by 6pm, so I reluctantly made my way back.

On the way back, I made the mistake of ignoring one of the road signs and found myself driving across a newly cemented road with a pile of stones blocking the rest of the road so I had to manually lift the motorbike over the edge to the dirt road beside it. I also couldn’t help but smile at some of the road signs I noticed on the way back. I didn’t encounter a lot of people on the way back either.

I got back to General Luna at quarter to six, just in time to return the motorbike. Though the ride was short and sweet, I left feeling very glad to have seen a different side of Siargao beyond surfing. I vow to stay longer next time and motorcycle around the whole island.

NEXT POST: Secrets of Sohoton, Bucas Grande Island

NOTE: A version of this blogpost was republished on Rappler on 11/06/12.

27 thoughts on “Siargao: A motorcycle and the open road

  1. We didn’t get to see Magpupungko. Kinulang kami sa oras dahil na-enjoy namin ng sobra ang Cloud 9. At congratulations sa XRM driving! Wooohoo! I can only drive our automatic motorbike kung walang likuan dapat diretso, else, I’ll fall and stumble. 😀

  2. Kara, how much is the rental for the motorbike? Last time I’ve been to Siargao, it cost a lot just to travel from one point to another via habal-habal.

    Magpupungko was awesome and I was there during low-tide. A bit off to wake up really early but well worth it! Beautiful natural pools!

    Also, astig and hardcore ng trip mo! haha, kakainggit ang magmotorbike sa siargao!

    • Hi Ed! Motorbike rental in Siargao costs P300 for half-day use & P500 for whole day use. Cheaper rates if you’re there longer and rent it on a weekly basis. Sagot rin ng renter yung gas. Thanks! 🙂

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  5. I will be visiting Surigao the summer 2013. I would like to know some of the options to get from Cebu airport to Surigao. And also where should I stay.And last what Airline should I use traveling from the states

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  7. Hi, I know it’s totally off topic but do you know if it is possible to do island hopping cheaply in Siargao? I’m traveling alone and can’t find much info on that situation. Thanks!

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  10. Hello. You did say you drive an AT and w/ few instructions you got a hold of the XRM with few instructions. I dont want to risk it since my friend drove an XRM there in siargao, lost her brakes, slammed in a tree and broke her clavicle. Im going in the island for the 1st time as well, and i would like an AT bike. Is there a chance i can get one there? Thanks!

    • Hi Athame, so sorry to hear about your friend. During my visit, I did not see any fully automatic scooters, or else I would have rented that instead of the XRM. This was a few years back, though so I don’t know if motorbike shops have fully automatic ones now. According to the FAQ section on Surf Siargao, it seems that XRMs are really the most common units available in Siargao, because they’re designed for on and off-road use. Siargao Motorbike Rental and Kawil Rentals both list only XRMs.

    • I saw some people driving Small cars I don’t know what you call them it has 4 wheels they were not Atv but that would be more safe for you. Try looking at this site on this site you can see all the rental shop on the island might get some help

  11. Hello guys I had great time stay there 3 days found an place front of cloud 9 just for 199 with aircon. Also rented a motorbike for 400 a day. I found this website where I rented bike is called might be use full for other people who are going to island. I was happy to use this site I could see where the motorbike shop is and read about them

  12. Hi Kara,

    Humbly requesting permission to reprint this in the local daily. We are currently promoting Siargao as a safe destination and your article will really help in convincing no security concerns for Siargao

    Mayor JR Matugas Coro
    Del Carmen, Siargao Islands

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