THE LONG RIDERS’ APAYAO ADVENTURE

Last February 25, 2017 we rode on our trusty big bikes to Apayao in the farthest north of the Philippines. The road route took us towards Aparri and we rode through Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela, Cagayan Valley and onto Luna Apayao.

Imagine, riding and being on the road for 14 hours (with stopovers). And we were just getting started.

There is something about blasting through the Philippine roads, with all its obstacles and hazards. The speeding buses, the slow moving tricycles who insist on driving in the middle of the highways, the chickens, dogs and children who cross the roads while we pass at 120 kph (or more hehe). Passing thru the towns’ traffic also gets tricky.

Adventure riding with The Long Riders Motorcycle Club is always an epic adventure and the Apayao ride proved to be just that.

We arrived in Luna, Apayao just before dark. We first went to the Luna Police station where Restie Renia, the TLR’s ride commander, made arrangements for the next day’s activities. Then we checked in at the nearby Java Hotel for only 1500 pesos /night per room with free breakfast.

Tired from all that riding, we retired after dinner and a few rounds of San Miguel beers. Sael Requierme was hoping we wouldn’t push through so early at 5:30 am, saying that the van we rented had backed out.

But this bunch of riders are game. At 5am the next day, still sore from the previous day’s riding, Restie and Theirry Sbaiz (our french daredevil) was already up and they gave us the wake up texts, “We leave at 5:30. Wake up!”

The van we rented for the day was already downstairs. At the appointed time, we boarded the van and set off for the day’s adventure. But first, we stopped at the local grocery and had some hot Nescafe 3-1 coffee, some hot pandesal and pande “regla” with Libby’s canned sausages and chiz whiz.

Hot Coffee and Bread

There were 11 of us. All zany and game. Restie Renia, Thierry Sbaiz, Randy Ypon, Sael Requierme, Glenn Latorre, Lee Uy and his wife and backride Maro Uy, Wern Asprec, David “cigar” Norman, and Robert Cataag aka Father Robert and me, Ricky Montecillo. Initially TLR’s dentist Doc Von Evangelio joined until Nueva Vizcaya but his new toy, the KTM 990 super moto had an oil leak so he had to bail and ride back home alone.

From Luna, we rode to Barangay Marag, the jump-off point to the Dupag Rock formations. Marag was once called the “No Man’s Land”. Back in the 80’s and 90’s it used to be a hotbed of the Communist Party’s New People’s Army. Not anymore. Now it’s becoming a tourist destination for eco-tourism.

The road to Marag is paved but there was this one portion which had a recent mud slide. Some of us had to go down the van for them to be able to cross the muddy portion. It was a bit tricky because the right side was a deep ravine. With the wheels of the van slipping and turning sideways, there was some danger. But our driver knew what he was doing. It would have been ironic to have a van full of motorcycle riders falling into a ravine.

Mudslide going to Marag

In Marag población, we met Lani. She was to be our guide to the rock formations. She conducted a safety briefing, gave us some helmets and gloves and then we rode to van to the nearby jump-off point.

Meet Lani. Our guide in Marag.

Marag Barangay Hall

We had to walk and cross the river towards the rock formation. The weather was rainy and cool. It was better than having scorching summer heat weather, we would have toasted. The cool weather and light showers made our trek comfortable.

Rainy Day in Marag

The climb up to the Dupag Rock Formations was tricky and technical. Good thing we wore helmets and gloves as the rocks were sharp and slippery. There were also tight inclines where we had to wedge our bodies in between rocks. It felt like being lizards slithering through the nooks and crannies of the rocks.

Dupag Rock Formation

It looked difficult but we were able to climb high enough to enjoy the view of the landscape from atop. What a great work of nature. These rocks must’ve popped up from under the earth during some pre-historic volcanic eruption. Or is it some extra-terrestrial phenomenon? Depends on what weed you smoke.

Technical Climb. Wedge your bodies in between rocks

Doc Glenn Latorre at the Peak

View from atop of the Dupag Rock Formation

Going back, we stopped at the rest area at the foot of the formations. The place is very good place to camp out next time. It also has a natural rock garden, which will give any landscaper a run for his money. Scenes like this in the outskirts never cease to amaze me.

Rest / Camp place at the foot of the Dupag Rock Formation

Natural Rock Garden

Thierry poses with the oldest vine. Well, older than him.

The next stop was the Wooden bridge about a kilometer away. We chose to walk going there as the weather was cool. While walking, Lani showed me where the new High School was. She said that when she was growing up, there were no roads yet and they used to walk 5 hours a day just to attend high school. Marag, she said used to be “no man’s land” until the time of President Ramos (1992-1998 term).

Lani was visibly proud in pointing to the High School up the hill. It was sometime in the 90s when the Engineering Brigade of the Philippine Armed Forces came. They developed the place and started to build roads and bridges. And they also set-up military camps. Eventually, the rebels in the area started to leave. Now, the people of Marag live on rice crops, corn, vegetables and some fishing.

Hopefully, their eco-tourism will also pick-up.

In Marag, we also got to see the local wooden bridge by the Sumige river. It’s about a hundred meters long and it connects Marag to the rice fields across. The river is said to be a breeding pond of fishes.

Sumige River

The river is so clean. I wanted to swim but it was a bit chilly. A young boy dared to show us his stuff by jumping from the bridge into the clean river. I thought about too but it was too scary, it was about a 30-foot jump.

Marag Wooden Bridge

Marag Wooden Bridge

We walked back to the poblacion after the wooden bridge trip. We had a hearty lunch prepared by the locals. Sinigang na baboy, grilled carp, ferns (Pako) and lots of rice.

With our tummies full, we set-off to go to Pudtol. From Marag, we drove back to Luna and onto Pudtol.

Pudtol Boundary

We drove on looking for a rock formation and after about an hour we saw this red bridge in Lt. Bilag in Pudtol. There is  a wide clean river underneath in between the mountain ridges of limestone and marble. What a wonderful view! It looked like nature scene from Canada or something.

Bridge in  Lt. Bilag, Pudtol, Apayao

Restie and I explored further down from the bridge and as always he approached a small hut with people. He befriended them and took pictures with the family in the hut. He even jotted down their names on his cell phone. They said that we should go further down the river to check-out Bacat.

Jean Young

The lady said her daughter and son can take us there in their small wooden canoe. The boat ride was against the current and Jerick and Jean Young, together with their little cousin steered the small canoe upstream using long wooden poles.

Restie and Me (Ricky) on a Canoe to Bacat

And yes, Bacat is wonderful. It was like being in the Amazon. It was serene and peaceful. The blue green river, the lush mountain side and the misty air. It is so awesome that Restie gathered the kids and formed a small circle to say a short prayer to thank God for allowing us to experience his wondrous creation. It was another special moment, feeling the presence of a higher being in a remote paradise.

God’s wondrous creation, Bacat

Bacat

Now this is adventure! When one just keeps going-on and exploring what nature has to offer. Who would have thought that not so far from the highway, is a secret paradise around the river bend. The artists in Pixar would have a field day seeing Bacat and maybe the artists in Walt Disney productions can make a movie out of our pretty boat girl Jean Young.

Jean Young steered her small canoe for us to go see Bacat

The Long Riders adventure man, Restie Renia

Someday we want to go back and camp there. That would be some experience.

The day was about to end and the rest of the guys were waiting for us at the bridge. We headed back up to end our short surreal adventure to Bacat. Thank God for cameras and unli-pictures, we have some images to remember the scenes.

River bend. Seems like the Amazon

By the time we returned to Java Hotel, it was about 5 pm. Just in time for Happy hour. After dinner and after downing the bottle of brandy and rounds of beer, we headed for the sack to get some much needed rest.

We again woke up early and had a full breakfast consisting of Tapsilog. The ride home would take at least 12 hours…or so we thought. We are the Long Riders and we don’t ride short. The longer the better. And so instead of taking the route we took from Manila, the guys decided to take the road to Kabugao-Tabuk. It was more scenic and had less road hazards.

It took us to mountain twisties with scenic views. Riding those big awesome bikes up and down those roads was such a joy. We also encountered some muddy portions due to road and bridge repairs but it just made our ride more adventurous and exciting. Robert learned a thing or two riding through mud. Just “accelerate!”, Thierry the Frenchy would shout.

Robert learned a thing or two riding through mud

Muddy portions

At a road stop in a place called Leneng in Kabugao, we gave away some toys and goodies to the children. And at the hilltop where a small chapel stood, there was a Sunday service on-going. We somewhat disrupted the service with the gift giving and before we knew it, Sael told me to get my camera because Resty was already on stage with the microphone! He introduced us to the churchgoers, who we were and he explained that we usually give toys and goodies to the children we encounter on our trips.

Restie goes on stage

A promise to return, Amen!

And then he announced that we, The Long Riders, promise to conduct a Medical / Dental Mission there! The crowd applauded and cheered! One of the senior ladies approached Restie and proclaimed that we were their answered prayer! Apparently, they have been praying that someday some group would hold a medical mission for their congregation.

And so, with a promise, we plan to return on a Medical / Dental Mission.

The weather was friendly because we rode through the mountains. After several hours, we made it to Tabuk where we saw a nice place to eat lunch and rest for while. The Ethnic Boutique and Restaurant had a nice view of the river and it was breezy.

Ethnic Boutique and Restaurant in Tabuk

Power nap after lunch

After eating and resting a couple of hours, we headed off to the Tabuk City where we gassed up. From Tabuk City, we were to take the road down to Isabela homeward bound. But oooops! The lead pack of Sael and Glenn took a U-turn! With a wink and a nod of their heads, Restie and Sael led the group to the mountainous roads of Paracelis!

The long way round! Just when you think you’re on your way home, the group decides to traverse more mountains!

It was a sudden call for more winding roads and majestic views. A 100 kilometer side trip! Boy, our schedules had just suddenly been pushed further. But hey, we are The Long Riders. We don’t take the short cuts.

100 km U-Turn and Magnificent mountain views of Paracelis

Sael Requierme lies down for much needed rest

All in all, it took about 18 hours for us to reach our respective homes. The night was silent and nobody was awake. Even the dogs were already asleep at about 2 am of Monday.

Rides like this are always epic and fun. You get to ride all kinds of roads, from wide highways and toll ways to barrio fire roads with broken bridges and trails and muds and of course the ever exciting winding twists and turns. This is motorcycle riding at its best. This is the best teacher in riding. Saddle time with The Long Riders.

More than the rides are the fun and bonding with each other. There is non-stop commentary, banter and joking around. From Theirry’s “napleonic” jabs at the Ducati riding couple Lee and Maro Uy to his constant twits with American rider David Norman. It’s always a fun experience riding with this group of middle aged men (and a lady) from diverse backgrounds, sharing a common interest in riding awesome machines in between their legs.

David, Thierry and Restie always joking around

This is another one for the books. This blog is meant to preserve this experience and so others may know about it.

Yes we lacked sleep and were dead tired. But the images and memories of the Apayao adventure ride will linger on for many years.

David Norman

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