MANILA, Philippines - The dusty road stretched out as far as I could see, its rock- and gravel-riddled terrain framed by towering coconut trees.
Farmers and construction workers on the roadside gave a friendly wave as I drove by.
Every so often, a habal-habal with two or 3 passengers would rumble from the opposite direction sending a cloud of dust and debris my way.
I was traveling solo and I wanted to see Siargao’s less-beaten paths beyond its famous surf.
So I decided to rent a motorbike for the afternoon and explore the island on two wheels.
My first stop was the row of resorts in the Cloud 9 area.
Siargao is known as a surfing destination and tourists spend their time on the shores for sand, sea and surf.
During the height of surfing season, the right-breaking reef wave resembles a thick, hollow tube, which is how the moniker Cloud 9 came about.
While the resorts in Cloud 9 cater mostly to a foreign crowd, the nearby area of General Luna offers more affordable accommodations for local tourists. It has a whole strip of good and affordable eating places like Ronaldo’s Inn and Restaurant and the pleasant Driftwood Coffee Shop.
After getting a map at the souvenir shop of Patrick’s by the Beach and fueling up at a gas station, I was all set.
Following the map, I headed towards the direction of Pilar, a town on the eastern seacoast of the island, where I was told that a natural pool called Magpupungko was located.
Although it’s only about 30 minutes by boat from General Luna, it can take up to an hour or more to drive or get there by public transport.
Most of the roads near General Luna and the road heading to the port of Dapa were paved and a real joy to ride. The landscape of green fields and trees in the rural countryside was a refreshing sight.
The path forked to a winding road heading to Pilar followed by another junction where the smooth gray pavement turned into patches of rugged terrain. Several stretches of the road were being bulldozed and cemented over, leaving a tricky path of stones and gravel for me to navigate over.
Mountain bikers would probably have a field day riding over the rolling terrain of Siargao’s mountain roads.
There weren’t a lot of people on the road except for the occasional motorbikes with makeshift roofs over them made of planks of wood and tarpaulin, ferrying passengers to and from the distant towns.
It was an exercise in balance and focus to ride over the roads, and I tried to make sure the motorbike’s tires wouldn’t slip on the rocky terrain.
A sense of relief washed over me as I finally reached the serene town of Pilar after about an hour and a half of steady off-road driving.
Pilar was scenic, its main road fringed with houses on stilts and mangroves. From there, it was a short drive and a sharp right turn before I arrived at the entrance of Magpupungko beach.
After parking the motorbike and paying a tourist fee of Php50 at the entrance, I passed by a group of locals picnicking by the beach, the ruins of a guesthouse and a small set of stairs framed by hanging vines.
I stopped to enjoy the view of the Magpupungko Rock Formation. I learned from the tourist officer on duty that it is much better to visit the place in the morning during low tide when a natural pool of turquoise waters becomes visible underneath the huge rock formations.
Still, I enjoyed the scenic and peaceful site.
The sunlight was already starting to fade when I reluctantly made my way back to the town of General Luna.
As I road my rented habal-habal back, I felt a sense of fulfillment after being able to drive on the open road, armed with only a map.
Although my trip to Siargao was short and sweet, I left feeling glad to have seen a different side of it beyond surfing.
1) According to locals, it’s possible to motorbike around the whole island of Siargao in just a day. Start early in the morning if you want to cover more ground.
2) Many hotels, lodging houses and restaurants offer motorbikes for rent around Siarago.
3) Motorcycle rentals can cost Php500 for a full day’s use and Php300 for half-day rentals.
4) Long-term (weekly or monthly) rent can be arranged with locals for those staying longer and want their own mode of transport around the island.
5) Surfers can even rent customized motorbikes with a rack for carrying surfboards.