Another scooter road trip yet again. We just could’t help ourselves! This time, instead of the usual national highway—in the East coast—we journeyed along the opposite route, starting from San Remigio, through the West coast of Cebu, and then crossing the mountains via the transcentral highway and into Cebu City.
Cebu Island is a long and narrow island. It stretches 225km from North to South. Its widest point is only 45km from West to East. The island is also called a fishbone because it has mountains that go all along from North to South like a spine.
Even though we live in the West coast, we always drive along the East coast southbound. This is because the island’s national highway is there, making it the “shortest” way to Cebu City, but by no means necessarily the fastest. Almost all the buses in the North use this highway to Cebu City; commercial trucks use this highway to Cebu City; private vehicles use this highway to Cebu City—that’s why it has way much more traffic.
We’ve always been curious about the West coast of Cebu. Arthur said it used to be that the roads were unpaved and that there was no way to cross from the West coast to Cebu other than going through the South of Cebu. But it turned out that there was so much development happening in the last few decades. Roads are 99% paved and most of all, they built the Cebu-Balamban Transcentral Highway, its sole purpose, to cut travel time from the West coast to Cebu City by a really wide margin.
Early bird catches the worm
In order to reach Cebu City before the noontime heat, we left earlier than usual, at 4:30am. We had no idea how many hours it would take for us to reach our destination. The only thing we knew was that the distance would be much farther and we’d have to cross mountains as high as 1000 meters. How little did we know that the duration would be exactly as long as it takes for us to go along the East coast anyway—around 4 hours. That even includes an average speed of around 50kph, many photo stops, and a 20min breakfast stopover in Balamban. The West coast of Cebu is different; but it’s beautiful, stunning even. I had no idea Cebu Island still had so many untouched nature. There were only a few small towns and one industrial town along the way. The road cuts through rice fields, mangroves, rivers, and high mountains. The sunrise and morning mist accompanied us on the first part towards Balamban.
Driving through small towns
I really loved the authenticity of the small towns, mostly unspoiled from tourism and “westernisation”. Watching the people as we zipped by; starting their day, starting their morning activities—everybody looked genuinely happy and laid back. From the reaction on people’s faces —a genuine and friendly expression— when they noticed me on the backseat of the scooter, I assume not too many foreigners pass by too often. Many people, especially children greeted me with a joyful “Hi Ma’am!”.
Street and traffic conditions
The condition of the streets were good, just like the East coast of Cebu. It was asphalted/cemented all the way from San Remigio to Cebu City, but, minus the intense, chaotic, and stressful traffic (unlike that in the East coast). Many times we were even the only vehicle on the road. What a relaxing drive that was. We were able to enjoy nature and the surroundings slowly whizzing by.
We’re wondering why anybody would prefer the East coast over the West coast. Sure, the former is a little shorter—distance-wise, but if you take into account the delay caused by traffic (which eats up half of the total travel time), travel duration would exactly be the same. But I guess we’re applying a different goal than the typical travellers in this route which is: the choice between economy or ease. Everybody else places more importance on savings in fuel consumption. We prefer a relaxed trip.
After a hearty breakfast at an eatery in Balamban (how nice it would be if also our town’s eateries would serve breakfast. Jollibee doesn’t count), we started the mountain crossing, and it was spectacular. We were driving along serpentine roads, going up and down, enjoying the views from the mountain tops, and even driving through the clouds. This tour was unforgettable.
This was our first scooter trip where instead of the usual sweating, we actually felt a little chilly (especially up there at above 1000 meters). This was a first for us.
Up there, the nature was very different. The trees and the climate reminded us of Finnish summer. There weren’t even any banana or coconut trees, but instead, a variety of trees I had never seen before in Cebu. Such a totally different world.
We did see some remnants of landslides that probably happened recently. So in the rainy seasons one must be diligent before crossing the mountains and be extra vigilant when crossing the mountains, especially when there are rains in the area.
Red Coca-Colas along the road
I’ve noticed these kinds of things many times before: Coca-Cola bottles filled with some kind of red liquid displayed on the side of the road from some small Sari-Sari stores. I always assumed that they were some homemade lemonade or some exotic fruit juice. Oh how wrong I was. It turned out, these small Sari-Sari stores selling some red bottled thing were actually selling gasoline! How convenient is that?
So when Arthur suddenly stopped up there in the mountains with an almost empty tank, I realised quickly that it wasn’t for a lemonade break. A few pesos more expensive (per liter) than those sold at petrol stations, we bought one of the cherry “Coca-Colas” and filled our scooter’s gasoline tank with it. Another first time for me. One of many.
Fiestas and processions
So many things we saw and experience during this road trip. We passed right through a fiesta celebration of a small-town-in-the-mountains. And I mean literally right through it. At some point it almost felt like we were part of the procession ourselves. Since we had to drive very slow due to the throng of people at the procession. I even had time to greet the people, take photos, and feel some of the fiesta excitement. These in-your-face things you don’t get to experience in a car or in a bus.
Arriving in Cebu City
After 4 hours on the road, we arrived in Cebu City. One thing nice about this route in the transcentral highway is that you just find yourself in the city all of a sudden. One minute you’re enjoying the mountain sceneries and how cool the temperature is, then suddenly, urban Cebu City. You get to see the overlooking view of Cebu City in the distance as you get nearer and nearer though. First you pass by Cebu’s famous mountaintop viewing platform—Tops and then the Marco Polo Hotel. Instant urban.
Compared this to the East coast where a good 1.5 to 2 hours, or so, is spent just driving through the intense traffic of Mandaue and Cebu City. Oh and the heat. And the dust. And the vehicle exhausts. But not up there in the mountains, the air was so clear and the temperature was just chill—just the way we like our scooter trips to be.