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.
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.