We’ve always been told the same old line over and over again, Australia is the capital of 4WDing. The point has been driven home so long you could almost be forgiven for thinking we’re the only country in the world with mud tyres. But the truth is you’ll struggle to find a single country on the map that doesn’t have a thriving off-road scene. One full of passionate outdoors men and women, skilled fabricators, breathtaking views, and tracks that would leave a comp truck scrabbling for traction. What you might not be surprised to know is Australia has a reputation among 4WDers the world over as one of the most remote places on earth. We’ve earnt a reputation as tourers, overlanders, and bushmen, at home in one of the most remote places on earth. Yet for some reason whenever we travel overseas we fly into a city and park ourselves on the beach right near the hotel, all while the locals are less than an hour away, climbing a winding, rutted track to the summit of mountain ranges that would make the High Country look like just a bunch of hills. We want to change that.
"A highly modified 1989 Mitsubishi Pajero, modified with a solid axle swap up front, 35” tyres all round and bar work custom built for the tight tracks he often finds himself down."
We recently caught up with a good mate of ours, Justin Parco. Like most off-roaders he lives for the weekend, heading off-road at any chance possible. Unlike most off-roaders, when he heads bush it’s normally in the jungles of the Philippines, just outside of his home in Manila. His weapon of choice? A highly modified 1989 Mitsubishi Pajero, modified with a solid axle swap up front, 35” tyres all round and bar work custom built for the tight tracks he often finds himself down. Every weekend he and his mates head out to the local tracks, ready to air down, lock in the diff locks and flex their way through terrain eerily similar to Tropical Far North Queensland.
While Manila may be your typical modern day city with the hustle and bustle of any other capital, it’s not unusual to be sitting in traffic behind a behemoth of a HiLux, clad in 54” boggers with a lift that’d see it fitting in at the local monster truck rally. Necessity breeds innovation, and when you live in a country prone to flooding having the ability to plow through anything is a good excuse to get modifying. “We don’t really have specific laws that prohibit us from using a certain size of tire or having a certain amount of lift,” says Justin. “It’s pretty much unrestricted here, but of course we ensure that we stay within reason with regards to our lift and tire size so that we don’t force the government to impose stricter rules.”
The Philippines has a diversity in its trails rivalled only by the ludicrousness of its vehicles. Within just a few short hours you can be scrabbling up loose volcanic rock, slipping and sliding along a deserted tropical beach, or foot to the floor wheel spinning your way up a mud lined hill in rolling country side. “The off-roading scene in the Philippines is quite diverse,” Justin tells us. “But most of the off-roaders here focus on the jungle trails, which we have in abundance.” It’s no wonder the Philippines is starting to boom as the manufacturing hub for both new 4WDs and their aftermarket accessories. “Some of the trails that we have near the metro are Junge Base, San Ysiro, Sta Ines, Mt Balagbag, Mt. Maarat.” He says. “All of which are located in Rizal province, we also have trails with volcanic ash which are similar to sand dunes like Sapang Bato, and Mt. Pinatubo. Other famous trails farther from the capital include the vast Sand dunes in Ilocos Norte, and rocky trail in Mt Tapulao.”
Like most countries, the Philippines has a thriving 4WD club culture. And just like Australia they normally group up by the vehicle type, and give each other plenty of ribbing in the process. Justin says there’s clubs for every make and model of 4WD, from Feroza’s through to Patrols and FJCruisers. He spends most of his time off-road with the guys from the Pajero Club of the Philippines and Nissan Patrol Club of the Phillipines, although there are much larger groups like 4x4 Philippines, Rhino Outdoor club and the Manila Offroaders.
If you’re interested in the extreme side of things the Philippines has you covered front to back as well. There’s a thriving custom fabrication industry there which feeds a serious competition scene. “We have a good number of shops that do customization work on 4x4s, some of the well-known shops are 199 Offroadhouse, Macam 4x4 shop, Monsterworx, Top4x4, and Jeff’s Offroad. And a lot of smaller shops that are also selling 4WD products such as Speedtrap 4x4 garage, Inline Motors, Alpan, and Rex 4x4 . Berrima diesel even has a branch here. Fabrication is a lot cheaper since labor is cheap and talent here is crazy, most of the fabricators are well trained and talented, as long as you have an idea, they can realize that idea given you have sufficient resources.” If you ever get the chance, head to a NASFOR (National Association of Filipino Off-Roaders) event. With a motto of “Off-Roading for Real Men” it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear the races are extremely high-level events with custom buggy’s, coilover’d 40 Series LandCruisers and roll-cages in every direction, much the same as our winch challenge events. With the prices of vehicles in the Philippines it’s surprising to see more Australian’s aren’t building their own jungle rigs and heading over there to race.
If you’re keen to take touring to the extreme instead of another trip to the local 4WD park the Philippines is definitely worth a look. There’s ten months a year of rain, red mud and tropical jungles. It’s like Cape York on steroids.