The Lahar Challenge is happening soon, slated for the first weekend of May. On April 17, 2019 the event’s organizers with Motoworld Philippines, Yamaha Motor Philippines, and Metzeler organized a media day dubbed the "Metzeler Lahar Experience" to give us a little pretaste of what can be expected. Like last year’s, the off-road competition will offer riders new challenges and rare access to the breathtaking environment of the ancestral domain of the indigenous Aeta people.
This will be the second event of its kind. Last year in April, we covered the first 2018 Lahar Invitational Challenge — a test of man and machine that took its 60 participants through ten unique challenges. This year, new sponsors and partners have joined the party to help develop the 2019 Lahar Challenge. Competitors will now be able to camp out overnight right on the sand, and some additional tasks will involve survival and navigational skills. The event will be held in an area of Pampanga made famous for its braided river of lahar — one of the many environmental results of the notoriously catastrophic 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. The place remains relatively remote, beautiful, and dangerous — despite its close proximity to civilization. In fact, an earthquake shook the region as recently as April 22.
For our sneak peek, Brando and I were ferried to Nepo Center Park in Angeles City, Pampanga with a bunch of other journalists. We sat down to breakfast at the famous Susie’s Cuisine, which has been the go-to eatery for Kampampangan cuisine since the ‘70s. After carb-loading on the amazing desserts, we walked across the street to the awaiting fleet of XTZ125s — supplied by Yamaha Motor Philippines and wearing capable Metzeler MC 360 Off-Road Mid Hard rubber — Coach Mel Aquino, who serves as the event’s race director, supervised the group and provided some valuable trail riding tips. We rode the dirt bikes through the narrow streets of villages, where numerous men demonstrated the curious local customs of cross-bearing and self-flagellation for Holy Week (in the Philippines, this seasonal spectacle is most prevalent in Pampanga). We met up at the Golden Trail Adventures office in Barangay Inararo where head organizer, Mark Laccay, and tourism officers, John Montanses and Jun Cruz, introduced us to Roman King, Chairman of the Porac Aeta Ancestral Federation. All of these people are avid and formidable riders in their own right.
Chairman Roman King briefed us on indigenous Aeta culture, with a clear focus on fostering respect for the land’s rightful owners. The route passes Aeta people and their settlements. For example, the proud people believe in an “Eye for an Eye.” Take care not to offend, injure, or inconvenience them as you traverse their territory. Don’t expect a rescue party or government intervention if you anger the Aetas as they choose to take matters into their own hands. While Golden Trail Adventures regularly offers 4x4 tours of the braided lahar rivers of Porac, motorcycles are not allowed without permission from the Aetas. This is what makes the Lahar Challenge such a unique event and opportunity. It is organized in close collaboration with the Aeta community. Trespassing into these lands without the Aetas' blessing is punishable by law.
We then left the beaten path to start the journey in earnest. After a steep descent, the pavement stopped and the lahar began. Riding in sand isn’t as easy as they make it look when all that volcanic ash is loose and dry! I dropped my bike immediately at the beginning, which required plowing through the thick, powdery stuff (the most difficult section, in hindsight). Even some of the veteran riders were challenged by the terrain. Everything that stops will sink, so momentum is key, but too much can bite you. The rear will dance, but if it swerves too much, the front will follow suit to try to compensate. I was told, “Put weight on the rear and let the front float.” “Steer with your core, not with the handlebars.”
I’m not biomechanically intuitive, so the only remedy would have been more seat time. However, after a couple more bike drops and several rocky river crossings, my inferior fitness level convinced me to ditch riding and concentrate on photography. It had to be one or the other; I don’t think I could’ve done both. I have to say though… There were moments I was grinning and laughing, ridiculously — splashing through those rivers, bounding over rocks, climbing unstable banks, and managing through the sand. I’m actually quite giddy and grateful for the experience, and I’m also happy with my shots! Riding endurance, fail. Photo coverage, win. The entire affair was incredibly scenic as expected.
Brando and I joined the optional slalom challenge which we hilariously botched. He dropped the bike, and I forgot to clear some cones. On the other hand, our team did win the fire-making contest! Survival Coach Ian Alacar gave us flint matches care of Forge, and we collected our own kindling and wood. Our glorious fire was judged as the most sustainable of the lot. Go team! The competitors of the actual two-day event will be tasked with similar challenges, and more. They’ll need a combination of riding ability, physical endurance, navigational techniques, outdoorsy skills, and most of all, teamwork — to prove themselves as “Lahardcore.”
The 2019 Lahar Challenge will be held from May 4 to May 5, but participants must attend the riders' briefing on May 3. Interested teams can head over to the official website and Facebook page for registration and other details. The event is made possible through partnerships with Motoworld Philippines as well as the Angeles City Tourism Office and the Porac Aeta Ancestral Federation.