Sunday, April 27, 2008

Those daredevil Skylab drivers in Montevista, Comval, Philippines

By Charlie V. Monforte

COMPOSTELA VALLEY- They seem to glide and fly with their fast, winged TMX single motorcycles.

They’re tough and agile in taking a highly risk-taking ride on rough and steep road of the interior highland villages in Montevista, Compostela Valley Province.

Not even the rainy season when the road becomes all too muddy and slippery could dampen the daredevil “Skylab” motorcycle drivers of Montevista. The motorcycle ride on the ascending road leading to at least seven highland barangays east of Montevista poblacion may just peanuts to the town’s Skylab driver, who with one single motorcycle could carry a maximum load of 10 passengers.

This isn’t for Ripley’s. True enough, the Japan-made single motorcycle built supposedly for a single or two passengers has undergone serious evolution here for the past two decades out of local ingenuity and road’s necessities.

But the road’s hazards posed by stones and rocks, cliffs along during dry days, the slips during rainy days and the possibility of a tumble and mishap often give a frightening experience than a thrill for the first-time passengers of the some 80 Skylab motorcycles in town.

The Skylab motorcycle started to evolve as an alternative means of people’s transportation during the Martial Law period. It later earned its moniker “Skylab” with the town folk joking on the vehicle’s figure as similar to the wrecked US Skylab space shuttle that went back crashing to earth in the early 80s.

At the height of the country’s scare to the falling debris of the space shuttle, the town’s Skylab was establishing itself as the popular means of transportation of the highland barangays.


Montevista Skylab motorcycle first appeared to be “winged” by its flat wooden plank rope-tied at the driver’s back seat. Later the plank was screwed tight to the cycle’s rear with protruding wooden hump fit to hold passengers’ buttocks during descent, and bolted with steel handgrip.

At present, the town’s Skylabs seem to have already come full circle of its evolution when drivers started to mount three years ago a slender plastic cover to shield passengers from the rain or scorching sun rays.

Other designs have two rows of elevated cubicles balancing both at the motorcycle’s sides to enclose passengers’ feet that are always left hanging while on the road in the usual designs.

It was the few hog buyers in motorcycles who put the plank to carry and deliver the hogs they bought down to Montevista poblacion for slaughtering, recalled Buenaventura Toledo, farmer in barangay Canidkid.

“But the Skylabs started with perennially bad roads leading to the barangays of San Vicente, Camantangan, Sambayon, Lebanon, New Dalaguet, New Sibulan, Prosperidad, Canidkid, Mayaon, Banlasan and Camansi,” he said.

Some of these villages especially the remote ones were known as no-man’s land sometime and mass base areas of the New People’s Army during the 70s and 80s.

Montevista’s Skylab was the first and the model pattern of other similar vessels which were later plying routes in other upland areas like those found in the near San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, in Babak, Samal Island, in some areas of Misamis Oriental or in other parts in Mindanao.

Eufrosenio Nalangan, a former kagawad of Barangay Canidkid, said that he was first afraid to ride the vehicle especially when scaling about 45 deg. ascending road. Later he said he developed acquaintance with the Skylab’s fittings and would just ride in the timing of the driver’s balance, with breath held on for a moment of thrill especially when there are loose rocks and stones in so uphill paths.


Nalangan now says the vehicle is so indispensable to barangay people’s mobility, their products as well as for nighttime emergencies like the ferrying of a mother about to give birth or an ill person needed to be brought fast to the hospital downhill.

Roel Dablo, a Skylab driver for eight years now, said that since when he started driving he did not heard of any passenger being crashed to death. He said he knew only of at least two Skylab accidents in the past where passengers sustained serious bone fractures.

Regularly heard however here are unfortunate passengers getting bruises, cuts and sprains particularly from incidents of Skylab’s falling down at its side especially when negotiating uphill climbs.

Most of these side falls have been driven by a newcomer or start-up drivers, Dablo said. “The unfortunate passengers just shrugged off the accident as part of the ride.”

But the Skylab offers the fastest means of conveyance compared to the few public utility jeeps that tried to operate a few years ago in the highland barangays here, which would only start running after getting many passengers. Later the jeeps were no longer seen anymore while plying Skylabs keep on picking up passengers and cargoes on the road, Nalangan said.

As the town’s Skylab now proves to be the king of the road traversing the once hotbed villages of the longest-running Maoist insurgency, there’s also sustainable livelihood generated from it.

A Skylab operator-driver in town earns a daily average of P200 to P300 during normal days and P500 to P600 during Saturdays when villagers go to Montevista poblacion for the tabo (market day), said Dablo with a smile. (Sunstar-Davao July 20, 2004)


Blogger Lilia said...

For the first time I have riding the SKYLAB,it was a laughping experience in my life that I almost wet my pants,And I have swear not to ride again,But I did, of not having another choice.To those people who"s living in Montevista including my Family have no fear to ride this trasnportation SKYLAB,To any person have not yet experiencing this FUNNY,SCARY,LETTLE SKYLAB transportation PLEASE U SHOULD TRY IT..

6:21 PM  
Blogger SB said...

They are great.I rode on one in th Compotella valley some years back.Can anyone telme which motorcycle (brand/model/engine size) is used?Thanks.

10:02 PM  

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