I debated whether or not to share this post, partly out of shame, and mostly for fear that my father may have a minor heart attack upon reading it (Hi Dad, go grab a beer, or scotch, or two). But in travel, everything is an adventure, and so far many of mine have been foolish, so please, read on about my foolish adventure.
My first day of surfing in Siargao, I bruised my ribs falling directly onto my board—pro tip: this is not advised—so I reluctantly opted not to surf the following day, since even lying in bed was uncomfortable, let alone trying to paddle out. So I allowed my surf instructor, Jose, to talk me into renting his motorbike for the afternoon. I learned to ride a motorcycle with the Academy of Motorcycle Operation earlier this year in preparation for my trip, and after a weekend of courses, was licensed to drive a motorcycle, but still pretty unconfident in my skills. I figured Siargao would be a good place to get practice: the road in the area is mostly paved and the unpaved portions are well packed, and the majority of traffic is dogs and goats. I’d drive into Dapa, a scenic 20km away, have lunch, and return, easy. Before Jose handed the bike off to me, in his basic English, he demonstrated the gears on the semi-automatic Honda XRM 125, which is the ubiquitous model in these parts. He mentioned something about third gear, which I interpreted as his advice on the ideal gear to traverse the road in. Great, thanks Jose, I’ll see you later.
The scenery is pretty stunning on Siargao Island, all palm trees and rice paddies replete with wallowing water buffalo, interspersed in clusters of houses hardly enough to merit the word town. Dapa is the big city on the island, where my ferry had landed two days prior, not particularly interesting in and of itself, but a fine destination for my ride. I cruised into town, found a gas station to fill up, and stopped for lunch at a small restaurant on the backside of the market area.
I was feeling particularly proud of myself as I finished lunch and got back on the bike, and started it up—at which point it bucked forward, and smashed into the wooden doors of the closed restaurant next door. Cheap wood, so I broke through, even accelerating a bit as I grabbed sloppily at the handbrake as well as the footbrake to try to stop. The cheap luan sheet door face was hung on a frame of mostly rotting wood, and the whole thing crumpled around me as I finally stopped halfway inside.
As I mentioned, this was right next to the market, and across the street from a basketball court with a ton of kids, because it was Sunday, and so in a matter of seconds, I’m surrounded by about fifty people, all staring and commenting, and pointing at my scratched and bleeding legs and the scratched and cracked bike, and running to tell any other person in the near vicinity about the crazy white person who crashed into a restaurant. So humiliating. A few guys helped me extract the bike from the doorway, and another that spoke English let me know that “it’s okay, no problem, no problem” and that the owner of the shop had been called, and she was on her way. This, by the way, is a magic of the Filipino people; people were concerned, and some laughing, but no one was angry; I was not about to be chased down the street by a raging mob of locals. The woman I’d bought lunch from brought me a chair, and disinfected my minor wounds, while kids, now at eye level circled around, and the old ladies chattered, and the men pointed out the skid marks and discussed how the accident happened.
Finally, the owner showed up on her motorbike, with her husband not far behind, and she said, “sit, sit” and pulled up a chair and sat with me, asking if I was okay, and where I was from, and telling me about her cousin that lives in Canada, was I from close to Canada? After a time we got up and assessed the damage, and she asked me how much I wanted to pay to repair it. I was immediately flustered, because I had no idea how to judge such a cost. How much was wood here? And labor? I pulled out two 500 peso bills, all I had at that point, and proffered them to her, and she took it, smiling and satisfied. “I hope you like your new doors,” I said, and she laughed.
Having decided that I’d spent more than enough time at the scene of my crime, I headed to the bike, thankfully parked facing away from the building this time. Her husband and a few of the of the guys offered their opinion to me that the reason I crashed was that I started in 1st, and that it is best to start in 4th. Um, come again? I was taught to start in neutral and shift into 1st, shifting into higher gears as you pick up speed, but according to the locals, it’s better to start these bikes in the higher gears, because it has less kick. I flashed back to Jose, saying, “third, third” as he demonstrated the gear shifting. Oh, now I get it. At least I learned something, if that knowledge is dubious in its reliability.
The husband jumped on his bike, and graciously offered to lead me back to the highway, and with a nervous but successful start in 4th, I was on my way and out of town. As soon as I got back to Ocean 101, I asked them to please call Jose and went and jumped into the ocean to wash away my shame.
When Jose finally arrived the next morning, we looked over the damage to the bike, some minor scratches alongside existing ones, and a cracked fender. He asked for 1000 pesos, and I gave it willingly: I crashed a motorbike into a building, came out alive, and it cost less than a bar tab in LA. Jose even took me surfing later, and didn’t try to drown me once.
I had every intention of returning to the restaurant on my way out of town, to say hi, check out the new doors I’d bought, and maybe even have a meal, but as luck would have it, I left on a Sunday, the day the restaurant was closed. That would have made for great closure though, wouldn’t it?
I guess it’s just one more reason to return to Siargao.