Epic Ride: Biak na Bato and Norzagaray Adventure Ride
On one fine Sunday I and my rider friends from Newbie Riders Club, a club that caters to training and welcoming new motorcycle riders to the world of touring, organized a group ride towards the first province up north – Bulacan. I didn’t mind waking up very early to make it to our meet-up point in Balintawak. By 5 am, I was already on my way to Shell Balintawak via EDSA as I eagerly anticipated the trip ahead. Come 6 am, most of the riders who will be part of the trip were already there and so we all started to gear up, with most being excited while some nervous as it would have been their first time to go on a long motorcycle trip. Although we were going only one province way up north, it was a challenging one for the newbies as the jeepneys and tricycles of MacArthur Hi-way are notorious for not following basic road rules, even though they are the ones tagged as “professional” drivers. Anyway, when we took off, we took the National highway starting from Monumento towards Valenzuela going to Bulacan.
The travel from EDSA to Valenzuela up to Marilao was very suffocating, to say the least. The stench coming from the Valenzuela roadside combined with the black smoke that comes out of the passenger jeepneys (I wonder how they passed emission testing which is a prerequisite in registering your motor vehicle?) made me want to go back home and just enjoy my Sunday morning sleep, but what the heck, I am already here and getting dirty and a little bit smelly while riding is supposedly all part of the experience but of course I could make do without it, if given the choice. With our group having 9 riders, it was quite impossible to maintain an organized riding formation in MacArthur Hiway with all the ruckus every single one of us would encounter – the jeepneys, the tricycles, pedestrians, animals, and all. Our first stop was at the Jollibee store under the Baliwag bridge as we all needed to rest by this time because of fatigue and the rising temperature. We also had to gas up as most of our bikes are underbones. We also took this opportunity to share our thoughts on the 1st half of the ride, basically on how dreadful it was, but even though it wasn’t the smoothest of rides, we were all still smiling and excited to reach Biak na Bato National Park. From Baliwag, it was only 40 kilometers to our destination via San Rafael and San Miguel so it would only take us about an hour only so we should be there between 9 and 10 am. That’s what I thought and it probably was correct. I was travelling solo already for the last 30 minutes due to us having different paces while some got stuck in traffic.
Travelling solo meant that I wouldn’t know where they were and add this to the fact that this would have been my first time to go to Biak na Bato as well. It was supposedly a group ride but what happened was nagkawatak watak nalang kami. With the pace I was running, despite me using only a 100cc underbone, I knew I was faster than most of the guys so it surprised me that I was under the Nueva Ecija arc in Gapan. Our destination was only in San Miguel, Bulacan so what am I doing under the provincial arc of the next province? What happened was I missed a right turn going through the off-road area leading to the national park. It was 20 kilometers of wasted time and gas but that was just one-way so it was a total of 40 kilometers extra on my speedometer. Since it was my first time, I then made a call to Jojo, our group’s ride director asking for instructions on where to actually go. They said they will just wait for me at the clock tower before turning to the off-road part. It was embarrassing because I do not feel comfortable being the cause of delay of a large group. But then, you can’t call it an Epic Ride if the trip was too comfortable or too straightforward so I’ll just take this experience and learn from it.
Finally after another 20 kilometers of rough road, we have reached our destination – the Biak na Bato National Park. Here is a short description from Wiki – Biak-na-Bato National Park is a protected area of the Philippines located almost entirely within Barangay Biak-na-Bato in San Miguel, Bulacan from where it derives its name. The park also extends to the nearby municipalities of San Ildefonso and Doña Remedios Trinidad covering a total area of 2,117 hectares. It was declared a national park in 1937 by President Manuel Luis Quezon by virtue of its association with the history and site of the Biak-na-Bato Republic. The park consists of a cave network and a system of rivers and trails of both historical and ecological importance. Situated only 80 kilometers northeast from Manila, it is fast becoming a popular weekend eco-adventure destination for the city dwellers. Biak-na-Bato National Park is centered on a mountain gorge sliced by the Balaong River in the Sierra Madre mountain range. More than a hundred caves of varying sizes and crystalline mineral formations are spread across the park. Among the most explored caves are the Aguinaldo Cave, once the headquarters of President Emilio Aguinaldo, and the Bahay Paniki or Bat Cave, said to be home of at least six species of winged mammals: kabag-kabag, ngusong kabayo, bungisngis, sibsib, bayakan and pakibu. Nido birds or swiftlets also call the park home, as do monkeys, wild boars, eagles, monitor lizards, and other species of birds that nest in towering trees. Orchids, trees, shrubs, ferns, bushes and bokawe (buho) are some of the flora than can be found in the park.
Observation outposts of the former republic as well as ruins of stone fortifications also abound within the park, including a stone cliff with carvings, possibly over a hundred years old. Mount Susong Dalaga and Tilandong Falls are also popular attractions inside the park. The pact of Biak na Bato created a (temporary) ceasefire between the Spanish and Filipino revolutionaries. The name of the park is from the very important event during Emilio Aguinaldo’s time where the first Philippine Republic was proclaimed under the first president.
The entrance fee is an almost negligible 30 pesos. Upon entering, the first thing I noticed in the park is the presence of natural formations. There is a river with a hanging bridge that was good for photo ops and was offered a nice viewpoint in seeing how large the Biak na Bato National Park is. This place is so huge that you can’t see most of it even if you are situated that high already. There’s also the presence of a huge rock formation that should be a feast for rock climbers. Rob, one of my club mates, had a fun time climbing and jumping from one huge rock to another. One can easily get lost here due to the ground area the place covers so make sure to check out the huge posted map by the entrance. Maybe take a photo of it so that you will have a reference once you are inside already or better yet, get a tour guide. The guide fee costs only 300 pesos per group if you would be doing some serious trekking or hardcore exploration. There are more than a hundred caves in this area although not all are open to the public due to safety reasons. If you will be exploring Biak na Bato anytime during lunch time make sure you bring an extra shirt or cap because the heat could get very intense in spite of the presence of trees surrounding the area.
After touring a small part of the Biak na Bato National Park, we then proceeded to tour a couple more destinations in Bulacan, this time in Norzagaray. We checked out the Hilltop and Angat Dam, this time in Norzagaray. Generally referred by riders as “Hilltop,” this area in this part of Norzagaray is challenging for some motorbikes as it involves steep climbs and sharp turns. Though generally paved, there is also an alternative route going up that features an off-road path. At the end of your climb is the now famous Bitbit river bridge that gives one a terrific view of the natural surroundings of the area. You may swim in the river below should you wish to. The Angat Dam meanwhile is a water reservoir that supplies Metro Manila with potable water and gives also a fantastic backdrop for a photo opportunity.
Approximately 100 to 140 kilometers from Manila, Norzagaray and San Miguel aren’t the most famous of Bulacan towns but it is worth spending time exploring it if you want to see the natural beauty of Bulacan. I would definitely come back to the places mentioned in this article as one whole day wasn’t enough. It is worth more than that, believe me.