Back in 2017, it was my first year to dread riding a Mindanao. It was the time when I used to work in a motorcycle dealer where I visit clients all over the Philippines, and mid 2017, I found myself booking a flight to Davao City and visiting Norminring Motorbikes. My first Mindanaoan mileage clocked from Davao City, up to Bukidnon, then Cagayan de Oro and back. After that, I went Gen. MacArthur saying, “I shall return”
Beside the famous Apo View Hotel in Downtown Davao, is a multi-brand premium motorcycle store and service. You can also shop for helmets and apparel, and an ATM machine outside the main entrance. Inside, you’ll see Ducati, KTM, Kawasaki, Royal Enfield and a few rare bikes.
Norminring Motorbikes (Northern Mindanao Motorbikes) was inspired by Nürburgring, the German motor sport race track. This company led by Malabon based businessman, Mr. Jondi Lacson once dared to penetrate the Mindanao motorcycle market in Davao back in April 30, 2011. It took years of planting seeds in this region, selling one big bike at a time, until groups were made and a loyal community base was formed. Over time, Cagayan de Oro was opened, then another in Kidapawan, Zamboanga, Dipolog, Valencia, Butuan and Tacloban.
So I asked, what is the secret to continuous growth? Jondi replied, “You just have to keep your customers close. Maintain good after-sales support and always ride with them.” This answer made me think about the difference between dealership owners who really ride vs those who don’t. They understand the business, and more than that, they work as if they don’t.
Jondi leads an annual ride called the Mindanao Freedom Ride (MFR). “It is some sort of an excuse to escape, to just simply ride. Every November each year, I get invited to international conventions but still I choose MFR because there (conventions), it’s work, here (MFR) it’s not.
More than just riding, we send help to our destination. We meet new friends, groups, welcomed by cities. We promote motorcycle tourism and support businesses wherever we go, do charity work along the way, ride for a week or so, and come back to our families safe and sound. This is our culture in Mindanao” Jondi shared with a smile.
My first MFR experience was the 6th in November 2017 covering 1400+ kms of Eastern Visayas. It took me places I have never been. I have never imagined going, or riding there alone or how will I ever do it, but through MFR, I felt safe, always excited and sparked the adventurer in me. When it was all over, I’m already hooked on the next one. Sadly, I wasn’t able to join MFR2018 due to prior commitments.
Mindanao Freedom Ride 2019
When I learned that I’m booked for MFR2019 since the beginning of the year, I simply couldn’t hold back my smile whenever I talk about it. I was stoked. This year, MFR2019 will take the uncharted Mindanao Coastal Loop. 3,400+ kms that will cover every coastal road available(or not) in the whole Mindanao region. “It has never been done by any individual or group, until us MFR dared to do it.” said Jondi. Mindanao Freedom Ride is now on its 8th year, looping for 8 days, carrying 8 motorcycle brands, with 8 branches spread out in Visayas and Mindanao.
Our loop started out in Norminring Motorbikes Davao City with 20 riders or so, with 4 HPG escorts that will help us coast the loop. Our first destination is towards General Santos City. Meeting and riding again with old friends from MFR2017 makes it more fun. We paid a courtesy call to Gov. Steve Solon in Sarangani province to collect donations that the MFR group will bring to schools in Sibuco Zamboanga, days ahead of our ride. We then had our lunch in a beach in Glan Sarangani and ended our day in GenSan.
The second day is aimed to ride all the way to Cotabato City where we are expected and hosted by local riding groups, Black Hawk and Canari. Our day started passing through the beautiful coast of S. Cotabato – Sarangani. We were captivated by the seaside view of Maasim looking far out Sarangani Bay. The group ride was challenged by crossing feet-high rivers and passing old wooden bridges in Palimbang – Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat. Our lunch was hosted by the Lebak LGU. Towards Cotabato City, we went through Lebak – Upi road, which is one of the most amazing twisties of Maguindanao.
The road is packed with hairpins, switchbacks and adrenaline-raising corners giving you a good 100km action. A road to revisit sooner or later. The sun is setting at around 5pm and we arrived at the Grand Mosque, well received by Black Hawk and Canari with apples, juice, cold water and bread. Then we headed towards the People’s Palace in Cotabato city where we were warmly welcomed by Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi and Vice Mayor Graham Dumama. Have you ever tried Cotabato’s Kambing Curry?
The following day, we aim to traverse 470+kms towards Zamboanga City passing through Pagadian. It was raining hard most of the day and it took quite a lot of time from us to ride slower than usual. We encountered a big storm in Maguindanao and left us dripping until reaching the Picong Tunnel, the only tunnel in Mindanao. Despite the wet and wild run, we were served such a hearty warm lunch at Portside Cafe, Pagadian City that re-energized us for the rest of the day. The weather was really not in our favor today. We caught another storm upon reaching Ipil, Zamboanga Sibugay and opted to sip hot coffee and noodles. By 7pm we arrived in Zamboanga City passing through Maria Clara Lorenzo Lobregat, a road quite slippery due to frequent fish oil spills from trucks passing through that route. Glad we all arrived safe and checked in Marcian Hotel for the night.
Our fourth day was one of the most memorable rides in the history of MFR. Dubbed as the SSS (Sibuco – Sirawai – Siocon) ride, it was the most challenging off-road, no-road terrain survived by MFR riders. Our day started when we visited a school in Sibuco, Zamboanga del Norte, where the roads are narrow muddy and requires a river to cross. By the initiative of Jondi Lacson and Sibuco ex-Mayor Bong Edding, school supplies and donations were brought to the remote town, ensuring the true MFR essence. After that, we took the SSS road towards Labason for lunch. To our surprise, the terrain was a daunting 50km trail with 45-degree climbs and descents, even locals dare to cross. There was no other way but to go through. Here is where true camaraderie was formed. Everyone helped each other out, lifting every fallen bike, coaching, cheering, laughing, cursing.
It was one hell of a day that will drain all your energy but will fill your soul. Jondi jumped off his bike and started walking, pushing, pulling stuff and asking, “Is everyone ok?”. No one gets left behind. It was already dark when we re-grouped. It took us the whole day to escape Sibuco – Sirawai and we still have to pass Liloy – Siocon road. It was all concrete along the way, and to our surprise, another 30+km loose gravel surfaced us. We were tired and hungry, with a chance of rain. It feels like it never ends, but we have to remain focused. Hours of endurance, it has come to pass. Finally, a concrete road. My eyes rolled up in sigh of relief, and learned the term “Duol na?” which means, “Are we near?” We regrouped again and started to ride around 50kms set in Labason for the late dinner, supposedly our place for Lunch. We arrived and had dinner. Each face shows what we’ve been through, few signs and smiles and everyone called it a day.
The fifth day was a long haul, since we missed out our stay in Ozamiz City. We are aiming to reach Medina, Misamis Oriental passing through Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. A full 520+kms to ride for the day is what we’re up against, but no one’s complaining. Compared from the previous riding day, this was easy. In the morning, it was sunny and bright, we traversed beautiful paved roads passing town after town. Midway through the day, we caught another rain yet pushed through the ride. Midway through the day we arrived at Iligan City and we were welcomed by Kampilan Big Bike Club at Latino’s Diner and Cafe. It was another beautiful coastal trip after Iligan, passing through Laguindingan Airport, towards Cagayan de Oro City to have a quick snack and rest at Quiltrans, owned by one of our riding members, part of Kagayanon Kruisers. The moon is out and we went on for a night ride to finish our day checking in Duka Bay Resort, Medina. After dinner, I passed out and skipped socialization and dozed off due to fatigue.
The morning after, Duka Bay is beautiful. So far, one of the most scenic hotels we’ve stayed during MFR 2019 is looking at Gingoog Bay. This day, we were riding with former Senator JV Ejercito saddled a Ducati Multistrada, en route Jabonga, Surigao City and Tandag. On this day, this is where I started to feel melancholic, that we’re nearing the endpoint of our loop.
This day felt like the bond you make with people is starting to stick like glue. It was fun, and you don’t want to feel like it’s about to end, despite all you’ve been through. Exiting Medina towards Butuan City has wonderful paved roads with sight and smell of the beach. We passed spectacular bridges in Odiongan River, Macapagal Bridge – Agusan River, and a few more in Cabadbaran before reaching Jabonga. Upon reaching the tip of Lake Mainit, Agusan del Norte, we took the Circumferential Road going to Malimono, Surigao del Norte. Again, passing a rather easy offroad, with a seaside view. For me, this was the most scenic route in our 8 day trip. Every corner is a view, roads become narrow, eaten by tall grass and some roads are high enough to see the Pacific Ocean. We took our quick lunch in Surigao City and met a few Philippine Loopers in Lipata Port to join us on the way to Tandag City. Our dinner was hosted by Gov. Alex Pimentel at VML Hotel.
Another early morning up, and we head our way towards Mati. We went through beautiful roads of Bayabas, Cagwait, San Agustin, towards Lianga. Finally found ourselves in one of the most beautiful falls I have ever seen in my entire life. It presents a multi-tiered waterfall in Bislig, said to be the widest waterfall in the Philippines. We had a boodle fight lunch overlooking the natural wonder and everyone deserves a nice massage and a quick nap after eating.
From there, we went past Lingig and Boston, making a quick detour to see Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel. The protected landscape is one of the country’s highest waterfalls. I felt proud how this side of Mindanao is really beautiful and there is no other way to do it better, but on a motorcycle. It was a really good day until the sun went down and the skies threatened an incoming rain. We needed to take another 188 kms to get settled towards Mati. Halfway through, rain started to fall hard. Due to hard visibility, we had to take cover and let the rain ease out a bit. We were then trying to recall the kind of week we’ve been through. It was fun and full of adventure. This time, I’m starting to feel anxious that the ride is about to end. But it’s not yet over. About 50kms more towards Mati, in the cold dark mountainside of Tarragona, my bike’s front tire got flat. I had to stay and wait for the back-up vehicle for a quick fix. Luckily, Brian Flores stopped to check if I was OK, and he stayed with me until the vehicle arrived. Funny, he said I can ride his bike to Mati so he can comfortably ride the vehicle to the hotel. Unfortunately, the trailer can only carry one bike, so we had to unload the spare Multistrada, and tie the Guzzi, since we can’t fix a tubed tire late in the evening. Safely, we arrived at Blue Bless Resort at around 10pm.
Our last and final day, we are heading back to where we started. It’s the last 174 kms before we complete the Mindanao Coastal Loop. We took our 8th riding day easy. We went to ride and visit Mt. Hamiguitan, a wildlife sanctuary and national park inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first in Mindanao. From there on, the group stopped at San Isidro National High School, where our Ride Spear, Marlon Montera’s hometown. The MFR Group donated for the school library and planted trees in the school grounds, and our lunch was hosted by the school officers. Afterwards, we stopped by a small house beside the main road. Outside were two elderly people greeting us, it was Marlon’s parents. We all stopped to say hello, and went our way afterwards.
We then encountered another wild adventure towards Tagum. We were caught in a wild storm with strong crosswinds. It’s funny that this ride never runs out of surprise challenges, when we all thought that this day should now be easy. Suddenly, it started raining hard. Ironically, we’ll be stopping at Berns for a nice cold halo-halo. We were all wet when we arrived at the store. The halo-halo was so good, we never mind the weather. We just needed to sip coffee after. For our final 30 kms towards Norminring Davao, we were greeted by long traffic jams, signs that we are really nearby. You can actually feel it now, the streets are starting to get busy and the roads are getting narrower. We went past Panabo, then Buhangin, then you can now see “Welcome to Davao City”. It felt ecstatic and triumphal.
The whole 8-day ride played back in my head and thinking, “is it finally over?” All the fun, laughter, challenges, adventures shared laughter, stories, people, views, sceneries, troubles, waiting, spending, eating and sleeping, it all flashed back, because of the big sign. It felt unbelievable, and my rear tire was starting to feel flat. Oh God, this ride surely is full of surprises. My rear tire was flat entering Davao City. This time I was thinking, “I’m taking this baby home by all means possible. The traffic is getting worse and riding the bike gets more and more heavier. I was like dragging a heavy cow home in time for dinner. A few more turns in the puzzling streets of downtown Davao, I finally saw Apo View Hotel. My eyes rolled back and sighs of relief. I parked the Guzzi in front of Primo Pop Grill, disembarked the bike and gave out a breathful shout of accomplishment. I can see it on everyone’s faces, the same faces I was with when we started in the same spot 8 days before. The bikes, all muddy and dirty, our clothes, all wet and smelly, but our spirits all glad and happy.
We all freshened up and gathered back to the restaurant to summarize and celebrate. It was a night full of stories of their own experiences, shared adventures, and different point of views in the 8-day coastal ride. Each table is a topic, but still within the MFR2019. A lot of us have concluded that it will be one of the most memorable MFR’s ever that will go down in history. For me, this is a special batch and so far, one of the toughest adventure rides of my life. We all committed to do something that has never been done before. We all expected the unexpected. Jondi mentioned in a statement, “Collectively and individually, we endured distances, withstood severe weather, braved total darkness and traversed roads least traveled.
You see with your own eyes, the unexplored beauty that Mindanao has yet to offer.” Mindanao Freedom ride is all about touring on a motorcycle, witnessing the beauty of Mindanao, helping along the way and no one gets left behind. MFR, now in its 8th year is always unique. The question asked after every ride is, “where else can we go?”. As of writing, I’m already looking forward to November 2020. I have never thought of looping, or at least ride in Mindanao, and I have Norminring Motorbikes to thank for the grand opportunity. MFR is all about riding, and riding is all about MFR.