The Ducati desert sled before loading. Photograph by Paul del Rosario
Drive Cars and Bikes

Bantayan on a Ducati flown in by a Pilatus PC-12

With much of the world already charted and development creeping into its farthest fringes, many would think that the call for exploration has lost its allure. It hasn't.
Iñigo Roces | Sep 20 2018

Can we blame it on the Brits? This renewing of the spirit of adventure as seen in the misadventures of McGregor and Charlie in their motorcycle docu Long Way Down? Or viewing the near-disaster road trips of Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May in Top Gear and The Grand Tour? The comedic mishaps of the foolish five may just have lured us into exploring inhospitable terrain. Plus, who wouldn't want to go on an adventure with his best mates for a few days?

Getting there is not the expedition it used to be either. With more and more charter services employing ever more versatile aircraft, boats, and other modes of transportation, there are fewer and fewer places that can't be flown, floated, or driven to. Once there, there's an array of toys to play with—from the high-octane Polaris or Can-Am side-by-side recreational vehicles to a collection of adventure bikes and ofd road vehicles. If there's anything McGregor or Clarkson bequeathed to the world, it's the idea that exploration doesn't mean walking in the footsteps of the intrepid adventurers of old and surviving in impossible places. Today, a bout of extreme wanderlust can mean one hell of a story to tell friends and family—and that one bucket list item you get to tick off before returning to the creature comforts of suburbia.

 

ACCESSIBLE ADVENTURE

Adventure riding has seen one of the largest upticks in recent years. And even with little off-road experience, noobs can rely on built-in engine and traction management programs to make negotiating a slippery terrain easy. There's a wealth of routes to choose from, from the benign to the challenging, with maps easily downloadable to a handlebar-mounted cellphone. The only thing left to do is decide where you and your mates would like to go.

The Pilatus PC12's large side cargo door allows bulky items to easily be loaded

ABRIDGED WAY DOWN

We went off on our Sunday riding adventure with a shambolic plan barely in place. We had set our sights on the Visayas and decided to take an AirTaxi because we only had one day to ride and we were bringing our bikes along. Our destination? Bantayan. The up-and-coming resort island is located around 30 kilometers west of the northern tip of Cebu. It has a land area of 110.7 square kilometers and offers many natural wonders, light off-road trails, and resorts to stop and relax in between rides.

Our chosen toy for tooling around the island was a Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled. It boasts of street-friendly riding dynamics the regular Scrambler is known for, with upgraded off-road ability. ABS that works on both asphalt and dirt is also fitted as standard. The bike makes use of the capable Scrambler platform, increasing the ground clearance with longer forks and sturdier suspension, while upgrading off-road traction with knobby Pirelli Scorpion STR tires. Powering it is an L-Twin 803 cc engine with six gears to deliver the 76 metric horsepower to the ground with. Flying our bulky cargo south was Asian Aerospace Corporation's AirTaxi.ph service. With a fleet of Gulfstream jets, McDonnell Douglas helicopters, and short take-off and landing (STOL) multi-role aircraft, AirTaxi.ph suggested the Pilatus PC-12 as our transport. The aircraft company is headquartered at the base of Mount Pilatus in Switzerland.

Fitting the bike in the cabin only required removing the side mirrors.

AirTaxi.ph is no stranger to odd jobs. Besides the usual charter plane service, the company also takes on more unusual requests and vital aid missions. In the wake of the Yolanda typhoon, AirTaxi's Pilatus PC-12 was the first aircraft to land on the damaged Tacloban runway, bringing disaster management experts and aid workers to the afflicted area to assess the damage. The PC-12 has also brought journalists to the rough runway of Pag-asa Island on the very edge of Philippine territory to report on the disputed Spratly Islands and shoals just a stone's throw away.

 

PACK AND FLY

In spite of our more self-serving needs, AirTaxi.ph was happy to offer their services. Thanks to the Pilatus's massive side cargo door, a motorcycle could easily be loaded with the aid of a ramp. Four of plush eight seats can be removed to make room in the cabin, with built-in floor rails allowing us to tie down the bike with hooks. Philippine civil air regulations require gasoline, oil, and brake fluid to be drained and stored in separate containers while in flight for safety reasons, which the ground staff gladly helped with. In spite of the seemingly daunting task of prepping the bike for flight, AirTaxi's ground staff managed to drain, load, and secure the bike inside the plane within an hour.

The PC-12 is the ideal aircraft to land on Bantayan's short and unpaved runway.
Ruins of a once majestic summer home, called Kandugyap, now mark a test of mettle for adventures.

There was still plenty of room in the aircraft with four seats facing each other at opposite ends. Long queueing for take-off at Ninoy Aquino International Airport aside, Bantayan Island is just a short 30-minute flight away. We had barely glimpsed the curvature of the earth at a lofty 30,000 feet before the plane had started its descent to circle the island and line up for approach. Bantayan's patchwork Santa Fe airstrip of equal parts concrete and grass was hardly a challenge for the PC-12, gliding over the bumps and soon coming to a stop at the terminal. In just half an hour, the bike was back on the ground and we were free to explore the island for the day.

 

BANTAYAN BY BIKE

Our first stop was the Obo-ob Mangroves, just a 15-minute ride away. We opted to skip the typical kayak and walkway tours and ventured off from the narrow road into the beach itself for a ride-through tour. Eager to test out the Desert Sled's off-road ability, we headed to Paradise Beach, a secluded stretch of sand only accessible by trail. It's a 20-minute hike by foot, easily turned into a 10-minute trail ride by bike. The narrow path snakes through dense growth, with coral rocks lining much of the trail. The Scrambler managed it all quite easily, despite my lack of skill, hopping over the rocks and smoothening out the ride. Just a short ride away was Santa Fe's famous cliff diving spot. It's marked by the ruins of a summer home, called Kandugyap, overlooking clear cyan waters.

Bo-ob Mangrove park tested the Desert Sled's off-road ability with soft and damp sand.
The Kandugyap cliff-diving spot tempts adrenaline seekers with its edges overlooking cyan waters.

We stopped for a late lunch at a restaurant just a few meters from the island's famous Kota Beach and sandbar. Yet with the sun high in the sky we opted to pass on the sunbathing and see what else the island had to offer. Full with a heavy lunch, we chose a scenic and easy ride along the tree-lined Balidbid and Baigad roads. The two meet just before a bridge across a mangrove-lined river which we stopped at for a quick break. The bike made quick and easy work of the five-hour sojourn around the island, quickly ticking off many of the locale's must-sees. With our 5 p.m. departure time fast approaching, we made a quick dash back to the Santa Fe strip through some gravel roads. Splashing through potholes and sliding on some dusty turns provided some last-minute thrills before boarding.

 

HOPPING BACK HOME

Caked in mud and dust, we arrived at the strip just in time to see our Pilatus PC-12 line up for landing amid orange and blue skies. The crew didn't seem to mind our tracking mud and dirt into the plane's plush carpeted interior. It's likely the thought of getting back to Manila by nightfall after a long day that served as a soothing balm to all. Just like that, we pulled off an enviable, adventure-filled daytrip to a remote island. Facebook posts, humorous hashtags, and a crazy story to tell friends and family back home were the only souvenirs of the trip. Yet with many more islands to fly to and ride around, it's just the first item on what could be a long bucket list.

 

Photograph by Paul del Rosario

This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue No. 24 2018.