We were traveling through Quezon province headed towards Agos-Agos barangay near the coastal town of Infanta on an 8-hour drive past Manila to the eastern side of the island. And you better believe it was a trip! This was my first experience at spending a full week literally living in the jungle, with almost everybody in bamboo-type huts, no running water and no electricity. We had a few neighbors with intermittent electricity, usually 4-6 hours a day at most, and they were usually the families with little shops built into their huts. These shops will sell small snacks, toiletries, cigarettes, even beer or (the fancy ones) ice.
Even though I only had a faint idea of what I was getting into, there was one aspect I was a little worried about. No, not meeting the girlfriend's parents and extended family for the first time. No, I was more scared about what I would be eating during this trip. Luckily my cast iron stomach ended up having no issues. Although to be fully honest there was one dish that I repeatedly passed on, balut. While supposedly delicious, I found balut too disgusting to try — despite countless people, even little girls hardly old enough for school, all swearing that it's "so so good!"
Balut is a fertilized duck or chicken egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside that is boiled and eaten in the shell. You see, chickens gestation period is about three weeks, so halfway through that you raid the henhouse to collect your eggs and boil them. Balut is common, everyday food in some other countries in Southeast Asia, such as in Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack, balut is mostly sold by street vendors in the regions where they are available. They are often served with beer.
What you do is slam the flat end of the egg against a table or other flat surface, then suck the partially formed mass of feathers and beak out with your mouth. All the locals seemed to quite enjoy this delicacy, and even some of the young girls proclaimed how delicious it was. I myself decided to pass. Repeatedly.
[ UPDATE ] In January 2014 I finally ate balut and captured it all on video. Watch out for the 1:30 mark, where I gag and nearly throw it all up ;)
Anyway, I'm rambling. Agos-Agos is a very small barangay in the eastern part of Quezon province and the only reason I even spent time there was because it is where my ex's family lives. To even get to the barangay requires traveling a stretch down this rough dirt path (I can't even call it a road, and its certainly not on any map) that you can reach by following the only road west out of Infanta, the only nearby village. Just when you think there is nowhere left to go you come upon small clusters of bamboo huts and various trails connecting them. Some of the trails were so narrow it was hard to get our little vehicle down it. People there either walk or use motorcycles.
Home sweet home...in the jungle...in the middle of literally nowhere
There are no big places, nor even any medium-sized ones. The houses are small buildings made of usually bamboo although a few of the lucky ones had cinder-blocks and a corrugated metal roof, never more than one-story tall. The house my ex was raised in (along with her three siblings and parents) is maybe 15-ft square absolute tops, with a plywood wall dividing it in two main rooms. A couple sheets of plywood are slapped upright in one corner for the bathroom, which is again just a couple buckets of water. There is a small corner in the back that I guess would be the kitchen, with a water pump out back.
A few years ago they got electricity for the first time, thanks to the efforts of the current Governor Arroyo, who worked her hardest to uplift the country and bring power to the places without. I have not been back in almost two years now, since the ex and I split, so I have no idea if the planned improvements have continued.
Our neighbors across the river have a freakin' mansion!
A ten-minute ride away is the town of Infanta. There is not much there, but at least it is a real village that has been in existence for nearly 200 years, complete with a small hospital, several churches, and plenty of streetside vendors and marketplaces. There are no jeepneys in towns like this, only trikes and motorcycles.
It was very interesting my first time there with Claire. Whether walking around or riding on the back of a cycle, everybody stopped and stared at me whenever I passed by. It was like I was the first white guy they had ever seen in life. Suppose that is entirely possible, actually. There are no airports near here and were not any resorts until recently. Even now I believe the total count is at just two or three, and they are located down the street from Infanta on that little peninsula.
Claire and I went into town every other day, usually just for minor things like fresh meat for the day. One afternoon her family asked if there is anything special I would like to eat while there. Having already tried most of the local food, I went for something I love but had not had, despite seeing an abundance of pigs around the barangay: bacon. So her brother went into town and came back with a chunk of — no, not bacon but pork fresh from the slaughter and threw it in a drawer. I'll be damned if that thing didn't sit there at room temperature for about 16 hrs before it was cooked the next morning. I was a little skeptical eating it with my eggs and rice but it had some damn good sauce on it (oh, you thought I would be skeptical about it sitting out all night?) and actually was not bad. And I didn't get sick from it either!
Water Bison...mmmm dinner. Wait, he's a pet!!
So does that mean we eat him now or wait until later?
I tell you, to this day there have only been two times in my life where I have gone a week without pooping — and this my friends was the first! (The second wouldn't happen until two years later, in 2011.) I thought about "oh crap what am I going to have to do if I have to poo?" the first minute I saw the pail and laddle in the bathroom that made up toilet / shower. My answer to the problem was to simply watch my intake of food.
One thing I have long since noticed when traveling is if you eat less processed food and other unnatural bullshit, your body maximizes the food intake, using all it can. The end result is less waste and therefore you have to "drop a load" a lot less than the average American. Eat McDonald's or Taco Bell all day and night, you could take three, four dumps a day — maybe more! That's easily 20+ loads a week! Anyway, moving on...
Now I thought prices were cheap in Olongapo and Barrio Barretto. Wow, Infanta had them beat threefold! Stuff cost pennies and it was awesome. And the coast is just minutes away, the beach is pristine and free from tourists — so heavenly! Now this is what I like, not places like Angeles City.
Yes, Infanta is just far enough away from Manila to be off the beaten path and therefore inexpensive and tourist-free yet also close enough to still be feasible. Like fishing? Got it. Like good Filipino food? Oh boy do they have it! Want to live like a true Filipino? Well what are you waiting for, go visit Infanta!