The first sound I hear when arriving at Manila Airport is a christmas song. Well, I have been warned. Filipinos take christmas very serious and it is not only an event in late december but lasts for several month. So I try to get used to the christmas songs and the decoration that can be heard and seen everywhere, although it is not even november yet.
The ride out of Manila is not really what you would call a pleasant ride. But I soon have that behind me and it gets more quite on the road while I ride along the coast to the north. The traffic is mainly dominated by the Jeepneys. With their colorful and cheerful decoration they are an fitting symbol for the Philippines.
‚Hey Joe’ is the usual phrase with which I am greeted here. Certainly one of the more likable salutations I have encoutered so far. I immediately like the Filipinos and their open, friendly and incredibly cheerful way. It makes traveling very relaxed.
This would all be perfect conditions for a great trip. If it was not for the climate. That cycling in the tropics would not be easy I expected, but never that it would be so tough.
With 35ºC it is not that hot in absolute terms. I have cycled in much hotter conditions. But in combination with the humidity, it is brutal. At least for me it is. I suffer terribly, can hardly cycle for a longer distance without being totally exhausted. The amount of fluids that I drink and then immediately sweat is reaching absurd levels. I pretty much drink constantly. Because of the enormous sweating and the loss of mineral salts that I can impossibly replace so fast, I have muscle cramps day and night. Even a small climb brings me to my limits and atop I need a long rest to recover.
For a couple of days I continue to the north and hope that it gets better and I somehow get better used to it. I start earlier, make shorter days but it only gets worse. I am just about to chuck the whole business.
Actually I came here to the north of Luzon to see the Cordillera. There in the mountains it should be cooler. Somehow I torture myselft and reach Baguio. At 1400m it really gets cool at night and I am happy again. In Baguio the Halsema Highway starts. A 150km long road straight through the Cordillera and simply one huge collection of switchbacks. It is a great ride and I totally revive as I reach 2255m at the highest point.
The Cordillera is also know for the terraced rice paddies that have been built here 2000 years ago at the steepest possible slopes. Most impressive are the ones in Batad, where resemble a natural amphitheatre.
Back in Manila I fly to the next island: Palawan. On Palawan everything much smaller and that is a good thing. I have hardly left Puerto Princesca and it is already wonderfully quite on the road. I ride through dense jungle passing some rice fields and little settlements. Coconut, Bananas and Mangos grow here right next to the road. Most of the tourists head straight for the very north of the island. But as so often, the way to get there is the best. The ride across Palawan is simply a joy. I feel like every single person I meet gives me a smile and a friendly greeting. Along the coast there are small fishing villages. In one such I spend a night and see how the fishermen go out in their outrigger boat to catch flying fish. With the climate I have arranged so much as that I only ride between 5 and 11 anymore and I do shorter rides.
In the very north of Palawan is the Bacuit Archipelago. A collection of small islands made of karst rock with lots of great lagoons and beaches. Here I rest for a couple of days before I hop onto the next island.
Many of the over 7000 islands of the Philippines are small, but in the center of all of them, there are steep mountains. That is also the case for Bohol and I am challenged by some real tough climbs. In the center there are the famous Chocolate Hills which, although rather green at the moment, are spectacular. Tarsiers live In the forest. These cuddly, saucer-eyed and only 12cm little creatures are some of the smallest primates existing.
Siquijor is already that small, that I can ride all around in one day and see the whole island from the highest point. The sunsets here are absolutely breathtaking.
While I was in Bohol, there was already a Typhoon that hit the island. Next to very heavy rainfall there were a lot of fallen trees and branches on the road the next day. When I start for Negros, something really big is brewing off the coast. Super Typhoon Ruby is getting closer.
For days we study the weather maps. Only a year after the devastating Typhoon Yolanda that claimed over 6000 dead, the then worst hit areas are again in most danger of getting hit. Fortunately there is much less destruction this time. When the storm is over I continue my ride.
After only 4 days of cycling in the Philippines I was about to give it up. Fortunately I did not do it. The main reason I now finally stayed almost 2 month are the Filipinos.
It is such a lot of fun, cycling here. Nothing but smiles and friendly greeting at every corner that really make you feel welcome. The cycling itself was maybe not always that much fun, rather constantly a little bit of suffering. Still I can recommend a cycling trip in the Philippines to everyone, unless you have a problem (like me) with 90% humidity.