Getting Around – It Was Easy Then
There was a time when I really enjoyed riding motorcycles here in the Philippines. Actually, I still do. It is the easiest and quickest way to get around… when it is not raining. Though it is not necessarily the safest. There is nary a day goes by when you don’t see or hear of a motorcycle accident or death here in our area. I suppose it is a similar situation in most areas of the Philippines. A total disregard for driving laws and safety by most locals is a killer here, and good defensive driving skills and knowledge of the “makeshift” rules of the road are absolutely necessary to stay out of the hospital (or the grave) here in this country. Driving in traffic here takes skill, mostly in common sense and collision avoidance. But it is hard to drive slow all of the time. I know.
Going Way Back
I began driving motorized two-wheel vehicles when I was 15 when my best friend Mark and I configured a two-cycle chain saw engine onto a bicycle frame. It was belt driven and had only one gear and speed… direct and wide open. One person had to be sitting on the contraption in the ready position while the other person cranked it with a rope. Once it was started, you had to hold on for dear life. The only way to stop was to ride it into a bale of hay or lay it down in a freshly plowed field. It was like riding a rocket. It was Evil Knievel-like. Did I mention I was 15?
When I was just a young sailor stationed in Guam in 1974, and shortly after my arrival there, I was quick to make a choice. I could do like all the other guys in the barracks and spend all my money on the latest and greatest sound system and related peripheral equipment (which was really affordable and duty-free in the overseas PX’s in them days), or I could invest my hard-earned money into transportation. So, I purchased a motorcycle. I didn’t buy just any bike, I bought a Kawasaki F9-350 (above) which was really made for both street use and off-road riding. I remember taking the bike up to the Guam motocross track during the weekdays when it was empty, just to have some daredevil fun. There I would hone my skills as an off-road rider. I use those same skills today to stay alive in the Philippines, the only thing lacking is power! Here I ride a Honda Supremo 150. It is gut-less but it does gets me around and through traffic quickly.
Back in the mid 80’s when I lived and worked at Cubi Point Naval Air Station (Subic Bay), I rode a Honda Magna 700 (above), which at that time was a rather large bike in the Philippines. Actually, not many Filipino’s owned motorcycles back then except for the ones who were in business with sidecars (trike drivers). That Honda cruiser allowed got me to where I needed to go in style and having that large motor was important as it allowed me to navigate with more confidence, with power when I needed it. Also, all the young ladies seemed to enjoy sitting in the “Queen” position of the King/Queen seat (I was single then). Eventually, one gal never gave up that seat… I married her.
When we settled here in the Philippines in 2013, I purchased the “Supremo” 150 new. It was our primary mode of transportation for about a year, when we decided that a car would keep us much drier (and safer), especially during the more rainy times. We could also complete our errands and grocery shopping in one trip rather than making multiple runs. The car is also our “emergency” vehicle should we ever need one. (You should never count on an ambulance in this country to keep you alive. Nor is there a functional 911 system here.) Up until recently, I still used the bike when I need to make a quick run somewhere, or when the wife has the car. Some days, I like just heading out-of-town for a leisurely ride.
Close Calls – All Too Frequent
About two years ago I was headed into Calbayog City on my bike. Another motorcyclist (with passenger) made a left turn from a cross street onto the roadway directly in front of me. I quickly moved to my right to avoid hitting him and gave him a blast off my horn… which he mistook for something else apparently, and then quickly moved from his left position in the lane to the right, and collided with me. His right handle-bar hit my left handle-bar and, while I did not panic, I was able to maintain my stability. He overreacted after contact and went down hard with his female passenger. It was a good thing we were both moving at a lower rate of speed as they suffered no serious injuries. They had some cuts and scrapes and I think the ladies ankle could have been sprained. I stopped and immediately scolded him for pulling out in front of me, while he was picking his girlfriend up off the pavement, and before he had a chance to blame me. It was not my fault but I was not taking any chances. I let him know he was wrong, asked them both if they were both okay (which he acknowledged “I think so”) and I was on my way. I was adamant in my actions that he was in the wrong. I made my point and I was not sticking around, even though there were many witnesses. Here in the Philippines you will always contend with unskilled, unlicensed, ignorant, and sometimes arrogant motorists, many times driving unsafe equipment and vehicles. Where I come from, “road-rage” is prevalent. Here, it is “road-risk!”
I’ve always been lucky. I was lucky that time and I’ve been lucky since. These days though I feel like a cat that has used up eight lives. I know I can still ride but have taken notice that my skill level is diminishing. I think that is natural. I’m just not as reactive and quick as I once was and, even though I usually always wear a helmet, the risks are becoming greater with age, especially here in the Philippines.
I’m Done With Her!
Because we have recently decided to locate to Guam for a while, and rather than have the bike sit here for months on end without any operation and care, I have negotiated a good deal with my brother-in-law. I traded him the bike for cost-free labor on the house. He would provide all care and maintenance and we will provide all and any materials. It’s like killing two birds with one stone. Two concerns have been eliminated – actually three… I will survive! We will still have the car to use for transportation. My days of taking two-wheeled chances are over here in the Philippines. My relationship with riding motorcycles here in the Philippines is over. But if I ever do have any serious riding withdrawals, I can simply borrow the bike and go for a leisurely ride to the north along the coast, where there is little traffic. And while in Guam, if a Harley Davidson happens to fall in my lap, I will ride again. I never said I would give it up completely… only in the Philippines.
Already a Problem?
Yesterday, my brother-in-law came to me and explained that he thought there was something wrong with the bike. He said he was having trouble overtaking other vehicles and the motor was cutting out when he accelerated. He again asked whether he was supposed to use unleaded or supreme fuel. I then walked over to the bike and the first thing I looked at confirmed my suspicion. He had been riding with the throttle nearly fully choked. When I pointed it out to him, I swear, it was the first time I ever seen a Filipino turn beet red!