I am a member of a Philippine cycling club. More accurately, I am an honorary member of two different bicycle clubs based in Liloan, Cebu, Philippines, where we are currently staying for seven weeks.
These are the first organized groups I’ve been involved with, and I’ve found adventure cycling as an American retired budget traveler is one of the best ways to experience local culture and everyday life in foreign lands.
It usually starts with a bicycle purchase. Often, when we arrive at a new location where we have a month-long apartment rental, I will immediately set out to find a cheap used bicycle. Usually, I can negotiate a purchase at a bike dealer/renter or pawn shop. Occasionally, a bike will be included with our rental.
I’ve had a bikes in Tulum, Mahahual, Ajijic, and Mazatlan, Mexico; Corozal, Belize; Zagreb, Croatia; Kotor, Montenegro; Nha Trang, Vietnam; Chiang Mai, Thailand; Penang, Malaysia; and Bali, Indonesia.
At each place, a junky $20 to $40 bike has allowed me to see and experience the locale and the people on a deeper level.
If you’ve ever rented a bike on a vacation you know the feeling. Riding around some new, exotic place with barely a care in the world. Taking pictures, sampling food and drink, stumbling into unforgettable people and exchanges. Welcome to my everyday life. What fun!
Here in the Philippines I have been on several hours-long, group adventure cycling rides along the seashore, through cities, past farms, and up mountains. I’ve been places where few tourists or travelers ever visit. And I’ve experienced a kind of male-bonding with total strangers that seems hardly possible at home in America.
The Parola (“Lighthouse” in Tagalog) cycling club and the Alpha Dogs, another local group, both use the nearby Bikingdom shop as their ‘home base’. It’s where I purchased my salvaged, 10-speed, mountain bike and befriended the proprietor, Edgar, shortly after arriving here in Cebu. Over the next couple weeks I got to know a handful of guys who would gather at the shop at closing time to share beer and laughs. The American who was always buying brews was immediately accepted into the club.
Within a few days I was being asked if I wanted to join the Sunday morning adventure cycling of 20-30 kilometers, followed by breakfast and beer drinking. How could I resist? The guys graciously provided me with a spare, high-quality bicycle and helmet for these rides. They would even bring the bike to our apartment at 6:00 a.m. to begin the adventures.
The rides are fun and scenic and strenuous. There are always some steep hills involved. Being a ‘road cycling’ novice, I’ve had to walk uphill at a few points. But I can also say, I am not the slowest or least-stamina guy in the group. These are all Philippine men between 30 and 60. Only a few of them speak some English. They are bus and taxi drivers, furniture makers, factory workers, husbands and fathers. Hard working, blue collar, low wage kinda guys. Roger, Amil, Allen, Tommy, Jimmy, JR and Edgar; I now think of them all as friends.
In fact, the most memorable part of the adventure cycling has probably been the ‘after-rides’. Each time the group of about a dozen riders will stop at a local eatery for breakfast at about 10:00 a.m. It’s been a culinary education for me. The menu has consisted of octopus, eels, fish, pork belly, and other pork parts — served over rice. Then some hours of beer drinking and karaoke begin.
I’ve also attended the ‘Christmas party’ held by each cycling club where various freshly butchered pig parts were served along with octopus, rice, noodles and vegetables, and boiled chicken feet. I ate it all – and washed it down with many liters of shared San Miguel beer. All the while, the karaoke machine was blasting away at high volume. I’m now the designated ‘Hotel California’ singer.
It’s safe to say, there has never been a Parola or Alpha Dog club member like me before. Very few Americans ever visit the town of Liloan, let alone hang around the corner bike shop buying beer. It’s obvious the guys in the clubs don’t quite know what to make of me, but I feel accepted as one of them. Indeed, it’s safe to say, in four years of global wandering and bicycling, I’ve never had an experience like this either – or as much fun on bike rides.
Happy trails and more beer! Life is now!
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