When in Asia, do as the Asians do and hop on a motorcycle. In the Philippines, and for the first time ever, we rented a bike. I have driven scooters back in the States but never a full motorcycle and I have always been hesitant to try because I’ve never sat down and learned shifting on a bike.
I drove a manual transmission car for a long time and understand the concept, I’ve just never used a hand clutch and shifted through the gears on a motorcycle. Once I found out that many rental bikes are actually semi-automatic, however, my excitement grew and I knew we needed a motorized adventure.
I rented the bike from the hotel we were staying at; exchanging my passport and roughly $20 for a day of unadulterated and risky romping on two wheels. We romped all over town and eventually romped northward to explore the countryside where we could romp some more. During the ride I became more comfortable shifting through the gears with my bare feet (sandals for safety) thanks to having an automatic clutch but heavy rains added a level of difficulty once we got off the pavement and onto dirt roads. We were looking for a beach that is supposedly quite beautiful, but we managed to miss the unmarked turn-off due to the heavy showers. Instead of making it to the beach, and partially due to bad directions from locals that kept us going forward instead of turning back, we just soaked in the absolutely beautiful scenery and cruised around until our bike was running on fumes.
The roads on this adventure were certainly passable, but the rain and infrequent maintenance made for a jostling ride and constant focus had to be given to the rocks and pot holes that littered the road before us. It rained off and on for much of the afternoon. A few times we were forced to pull off the road and wait for the rain to relent but, in general, we just powered on and got wet. The cold rain on our skin was a refreshing alternative to Palawan’s regular heat and humidity. The pot holes became miniature lakes in the road and I did my best navigate the bike around them. Unfortunately, after hours of defensive driving and picking the safest paths through the mud and gravel, I guess our back tire decided that it had had enough. Although we didn’t know it at the time, the valve stem had developed a crack and a slow leak from all of the romping.
While driving along the backend of the bike started to get soupy and sloshy (I do believe these are the most correct terms possible, according to the zero motorcycle manuals I have read). We were riding on rims. Not sure what to do since we were so far out of town, we threw rocks into the woods and waited for help to find us. After 10 minutes we were approached by a group of Koreans who were around our age on motorcycles and returning from the beach we failed to locate. They stopped and tried calling for help, but we were ultimately rescued by a trike driver with an air pump. He filled us up and told us that he would be coming along behind us in case the wheel continued to deflate. Once again able to steer properly, we raced back toward town while the bike was operational, fearing that the new air would only be a temporary fix.
A short time later, while crossing a very narrow bridge, the sloshiness returned and I fought the bike to the side of the road without dumping Stephanie and myself onto the gravel. This time closer to civilization, we approached some locals and explained that we needed help. Unable to locate an air pump, he walked with us while I pushed the motorcycle and we back tracked a half mile to a machine shop where the Filipino guy worked. While pushing the bike with a flat tire was exhausting, I was so grateful of the man’s assistance and patience for the helpless foreigners. He located the leak and removed the whole wheel. Since the machine shop didn’t have a replacement tube the size we needed, he put me on the back of his 35 year old motorcycle that lacked footpegs and we sped off on the most terrifying ride I’ve even experienced. Using nothing but absolute terror as energy, I struggled through cramping to keep my feet from touching the rapidly passing pavement. Alternating sides so that I could continue to hold onto the bike with one hand, I would hold the back of one sandal to give my muscles a rest until the other leg became impossible to hold up and then I’d switch. After purchasing the new tube I was back on his bike hoping to retain my limbs. Somehow everything worked out and we were back and the repair could continue.
A short trip can become quite the adventure when traveling. El Nido’s motorcycle expedition was exciting, filled with beauty, and full of surprises. Although we didn’t get to the beach we were hoping to see and experienced some minor setbacks, this ended up being an extremely enjoyable trip. Sometimes through mishaps and happenstance do we create some of our most lasting memories. It’s stories like this that put a slight grin on our face that moment before you start retelling a story. It’s that unconscious tick as you struggle to figure out how you’ll explain your memories of a place when things didn’t go according to plan, but ended up being spectacular for reasons no one else would understand.