Night two in the Philippines after our first day of cycling we were abruptly awoken by someone knocking on our hotel room door with the announcement, "It's 4:18, fifteen minutes until checkout." Drat, they were enforcing the twelve-hour rule. Tomas and I had ended up in hotel that had rates for three hours, twelve hours and twenty-four. We had opted for twelve hours, not expecting it to be rigidly enforced and also slightly irrational, drained by the day's effort in the ninety degree heat. We had planned to be up and out by six a.m. and were hoping for some grace, if only for being out of the room for a couple hours over dinner. Not so. Rather than scrambling to beat the deadline we elected to fork over another five dollars for a couple more hours of sleep. We'd already had eight after turning in at eight, but we could still use some more as neither of had fully recovered from jet-lag.
Night one was also a night of abbreviated sleep spent in a hotel, though a more standard hotel near the airport that even offered free shuttle service. I checked in at one a.m. after my midnight landing, a day after Tomas. I had gotten some sleep on my fifteen hour flight from Chicago to Hong Kong and also on the 90 minute final hop, but not much. We were up until two discussing our plans and could have stayed up much longer, but knew better.
We were so eager to be underway, we had no problem arising at six. I had assembled my bike and was all packed by seven when a friend of Tomas arrived to take hold of our bike boxes until our return flights, a friend from his days when used to regularly fly into the Philippines to check on the quality control at the factory that manufactured micro-chips for his company based in Greenville, North Carolina. Tomas had been coming to the Philippines on business since 1981, a year after we met in Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Tomas had biked down the Pacific coast from San Francisco, his longest bike trip ever. I was hanging out with a few racing cyclists from Canada maintaining our conditioning. I joined up with Tomas for a three day ride over the Sierra Madres to Oaxaca. We have wanted to do another ride ever since, but his entanglements in the working world always interfered. After he finally retired this past summer, a trip to the Philippines seemed a natural.
We began this trip infiltrating the eight-lane wide Roxas Boulevard along Manila Bay just a few blocks from our hotel. It had been designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham over 100 years ago, one of the few remnants of his master plan for Manila. The boulevard emulaties Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, except that bicycles and other slow-moving vehicles are not excluded. Despite the bumper-bumper traffic we didn't feel threatened in the least, as the speed was moderate and motorists were clearly accustomed to us slower-moving vehicles, even guys pushing carts.
It was five miles to the city's sprawling central park named for national hero Jose Rizal, who was executed just a little to the left of this monument in 1896 by the Spanish, two years before the US gained possession of the country. The park too was part of the Burnham plan.
We proceeded north continuing on Roxas Boulevard for some ten miles and then on over to MacArthur Boulevard, the traffic still thick, but manageable. More of a menace was the horrific pollution, a heavy haze, worse than anything I had encountered in China or anywhere else. It was accompanied by a wide variety of noxious odors, including urine. The slums and disorder rivaled that of India. When we stopped after two hours and twenty miles for a soda we were immediately surrounded by a cluster of barefoot urchins all with their hands out, but without muttering a word.
The poverty was counter-balanced with a regular chorus of friendly guys along the road and sticking their heads out of passing vehicles commenting, "Nice bikes," and "Where are you going?" When we'd mention a town fifty miles away, the standard response was "Too far." Though it wasn't the most pleasant of cycling we were still excited to be part of a throng of traffic unlike any other we had biked in with distinctive Philippine vehicles--the sinister-looking jeepnays (an elongated jeep with benches that is the Filipine version of an urban bus) and two types of tricycles, one motorized and the other pedaled that servie as taxis and also cargo vehicles. We had to contend though with not so good signage. Fortunately there were frequent traffic cops who all spoke English and could direct us. Sometimes we had to negotiate intersections of main arteries designed by senseless traffic engineers that did not continue straight through, but rather sent traffic we knew not where, as we could slip through the barriers that blocked motorized traffic.
It was thirty miles before we saw our first patch of green, a small rice paddy, but it did not signal an end to the urban mayhem. It did not look likely we'd be wild camping our first night, not that we particularly wanted to unless it was on the beach and we could wash off all the grime from the air and the layers of sweat. By the time we reached San Fernando, a city of over 300,000 after fifty miles we were too drained to continue, even though we had a couple hours of light remaining. A cyclist directed us to the hotel we ended up at on the outskirts of the city. Even though it had no hot water and only a bucket shower, we didn't care to push on. Our chief complaint was that the cold water wasn't as cold as we would have liked. It would have been nice too if there had been Internet.