Exploring Bantayan Island – A Motorcycle Road Trip
One of the first things I do when visiting Bantayan Island is to rent a motorcycle for the duration of my stay. It makes trips from my resort to downtown Santa Fe and back a snap. I actually learned how to ride a motorbike during my first visit to Bantayan Island, in which I had a few close calls straddling a Honda XRM, all of them my fault – not the bike’s.
My first time, I started at gear 1, pulled the throttle, and almost lost control of the bike when it bucked and zoomed under my shorts. So I learned to always start at the 3rd or 4th gear when on level pavement. Not sure if I’ve given the bike a heart attack doing that.
Since then, I’ve proudly progressed into a mediocre rider, so I make it a point to rent a bike I’m familiar with – the Honda XRM 125cc, or its predecessor with the 110cc engine. Semi-automatic, no clutch, 4 speeds, electric start and a mini-bar. It’s sturdy, but light and easy to handle, and can take rough dirt roads well, which some of Bantayan’s back roads are.
Ask anyone in Santa Fe, and either they or someone they know has a motorcycle for rent. If you rent one for a day or two, it is PHP350.00 / USD8.00 per day. For 3 days or more, you could get it for PHP300.00 a day or as low as PHP250.00 a day depending on your haggling skills.
After realizing from google maps that circumnavigating the island by road couldn’t be more than 50 kilometers and that we could do it in 1 day at a leisurely pace, we decided to do a “Bantayan Island Loop” motorcycle road trip.
We kicked off from Anika Beach Resort at 6:00 AM the next morning and headed up north along Baigad Road. We stopped at the swampland to take in the view. Past the treeline and on the edge of the coast we could barely make out the contour of Virgin Island.
We cruised by green grasslands, coconut plantations and a lonely tree in the middle of a vast cornfield. Enjoying the sights and sounds of the rural scenery, chirping, cackling, mooing, sometimes we’d stop just for the heck of it and count the seconds before we met another human being.
Continuing along the connecting Sillion-Tamiao Road, we swung by the Bantayan Island Nature Park and Resort for coffee and more picture-taking cliff-side. Rested and fueled by caffeine, we resumed our breezy drive along Atop-atop Road, packed tight dirt roads that were not that bumpy to ride on, until we arrived at the northern town of Madridejos. For someone from a traffic gridlocked city who rarely gets on a bike, driving a motorcycle on Bantayan’s near deserted roads was like flying.
We parked by the historical Kota Park, a Spanish fort built in the 1700’s with a lookout tower to watch out for pirate attacks. Nearby was the scenic Bontay Boardwalk, filled with groups of teenagers and young couples who appeared to be out on dates.
At the public market were several outdoor stalls grilling chicken and other chicken innards. We sat down for a lunch of barbecued chicken (inasal) paired with pyramid-shaped puso, which is rice wrapped in coconut leaves.
We took the Bantayan Madridejos Road southbound to the municipality of Bantayan, wound up at a bakery near the town plaza and got ourselves a Coke and a couple of pastries. Across was the centuries old Catholic church of St. Peter and Paul. Built in the 1500’s, the church has survived attacks, fires and other natural disasters and has been rebuilt many times. Its last iteration was in the 1860’s. We went to back of the church and found local craftsmen and artisans working on paintings which presumably were for decorating the church.
Picking up again, we took the well paved Bantayan-Santa Fe Road, then made a right at Obo-ob Road. It was a breezy drive, whizzing past rice paddies and sleepy villages, until we hit the coastal Obo-ob Marikaban Road.
Hitting the southern coast, we came upon thickets of mangroves, and on the beach were rows of netting on stilts on which danggit, dried salted fish, were drying. We bought a kilo from a friendly villager, way cheaper than buying from the public market where it was already cheap. The mangroves gradually dispersed as we went further along until it was just all pleasantly beach and water. The beach had a small local settlement but there was not a resort in sight! We stopped again and sat down under the shade of the coconut trees to relax and enjoy the seascape.
Revitalized, we kept bearing right to keep close to the coast, then made a slight ascent to a cliff-side segment of the road the locals call Millionaires Row, because of the large houses here owned by foreigners. There was a break on the cliff with a mix of stone and concrete steps which we descended to a small beach.
Carrying on, we remembered to check out the oft-mentioned attraction Ogtong Cave at the eponymous Ogtong Cave Resort. Which was um … so-so. I smiled like a parent patronizing a child showing off his first drawing, just to be polite to the resort staff lingering by.
Dusk was drawing near, and we had nearly closed our Bantayan Island loop! Back in the town of Santa Fe, we parked in front of Cou Cou’s Bar, put our feet up, had dinner, talked about our ride and knocked off a couple of San Miguel Lights.
I downed just two bottles of beer. Which is a trifling under normal circumstances. But I never expected how that could alter my sense of balance on a motorcycle. I was trying to keep all my senses alive. Tess, riding tandem with me, was probably amused at my concentrated effort to drive really, really slow all the way back to Anika Beach Resort.
Exploring Bantayan Island – Tips On Making That Motorcycle Road Trip
Insist on renting a bike with side mirrors. If they give you a bike with none, tell them to put them back on. For some reason, folks feel taking off the side mirrors add to the cool factor.
Helmets are not widely used and they don’t come with the rent. You can ask but don’t hold your breath.
Take the bike for a test spin before accepting it. If anything sounds funny, or if both wheels come off, tell the owner there’s a slight problem.
Check for cosmetic wear and superficial dings on the body and have the owner acknowledge them. Otherwise, they might charge you for the damage that’s been there all along when you return the bike.
The bike owner will bring the bike to your resort to make sure that you’re indeed booked there, and will probably check you out with the front desk. He’ll also come by your resort to retrieve the bike.
Bring bottled water to last you the day and some crackers to snack on.
There are lots of other back roads heading to the sea which you could explore.
Except when you’re in the town centers You’ll seldom see 4-wheeled vehicles plying the roads of Bantayan Island, but you’ll see a lot of bicycles, trisikads (pedicabs) and motorcycles. There’s also hardly any traffic on roads between towns, and on the back roads. But watch out for kids or dogs appearing suddenly, running across your path.