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!
Let's get the basics out of the way first, for those of you new to the region (for the rest of you, just skip down two paragraphs). The Philippines is the world's 12th most populous nation, with a population of over 90 million as of 2008. An estimated figure of half of the population resides on the island of Luzon. Manila, the capital city, is the eleventh most populous metropolitan area in the world. Life expectancy is 71.23 years, with 73.6 years for females, and 69.8 years for males. Population growth rate between 1995 to 2000 was 3.21% but has decreased to an estimated 1.95% for the 2005 to 2010 period.
All together a combined 7,107 islands make up the Philippines. The country is divided into three island groups: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. These are divided into 17 regions, 80 provinces, 120 cities, 1,511 municipalities, and 42,008 barangays. A barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village.
My final destination in the Philippines is always Subic and the neighboring Olongapo City. I used to fly in through the capital, Manila, which is not the most convenient thing as it then requires renting an "aircon van" for the four-hour drive to Subic Bay. Not only that, but Ninoy Aquino International Airport is old and lacking in all the modern conveniences you would find at other airports worldwide. However, there is also a new and still expanding airport in Angeles City, Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, which I use now.
DMIA was formerly known as Clark International Airport, having been expanded from the original Clark Air Base, which was closed and relinquished by the US Air Force in 1991. Not only is DMIA closer to Subic, but it is also located in Angeles City, the place to go to have fun. While in Subic women will flock to you 10-deep, but in AC the ladies will surround you 100-deep easy.
Yep, Angeles City -- the City of Friendship -- is truly a paradise for anyone with a love of fine Asian women. Trying to enjoy the night out and the local ladies while in Manila can sometimes get you into trouble with the law, but in AC you have nothing to worry about. Its slogan is "the city of friendship" and is the hub of the Southeast Asia sex trade, where prostitution is not just a lucrative business but a dominate industry.
The infamous nightlife scene in Angeles originally sprung up to service nearby Clark Air Force Base. The US military left in 1991 after nearby Mt. Pinatubo erupted, but a crackdown on prostitution in Manila promptly restored the industry's fortunes, and today Angeles has the biggest nightlife scene in the Philippines.
Balibago district is home to many bars and karaoke joints. It has of a number of clubs which fit any budget and personality. There are traditional clubs with DJ's and the live band clubs. For endless evening of dancing and pulsating music, head for the bright lights of Balibago. Fields Avenue and McArthur Highway are the places to head for go-go bars, comedy bar shows, sing-along or karaoke bars, nightclubs and drinking beer - it is a non-stop pleasure seven days a week, every week of the year!
But don't get me wrong, despite the pictures, it is not all about women in Angeles City (just mostly). Besides having a booming nightlife, the city is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination, particularly for visitors from South Korea. Its center, Balibago, is especially known for its fine restaurants, hotels and shopping malls. Within Balibago is neon-lit Fields Avenue, known for its bars, nightclubs and what may be one of the world's largest concentration of go-go bars. Adjoining Clark Freeport Zone is the site of world-class resorts, casinos, duty-free shops and beautifully landscaped golf courses. The city, and the rest of the Pampanga region, is known both as the "Entertainment Capital of Central Luzon" as well as the "Culinary Center of the Philippines."
Subic Bay, which collectively refers to Subic, Barrio Barretto, and Olongapo City, is much more tame than Angeles City, although the underlying sex trade is still obvious. At any resort you stay at, come sunrise you will always see a couple girls come down from the rooms upstairs and quietly make their way out. Hell, that is how I got busted -- my ex-girlfriend works at the resort I stay at, Mango's. That's why I fly in AC first now, ha ha ha.
Subic has plenty of touristy things to do during the day, such as parasail, trek the jungle, visit Ocean Adventures, fly over the volcano, or even just shop the markets in Olongapo. But once the sun sets, the discos, the go-gos, and the bars all come alive. There are plenty of good places, such as Down Under, The Hot Zone, Harley's, Doc's, Baby One Bar, Broadway, etc -- the list goes on and on.
All the resorts in Subic border the water, either beside Mango's on National Hwy or just past it, on Baloy Beach Rd. All of the nightclubs are scattered just blocks away, along the opposite of National Hwy or scattered down the side streets. Everything is within walking distance, but there are always jeepneys and trikes available for transportation as well, just as in any other city in the Philippines.
The iconic Filipino jeepney -- no two are painted the same
The jeepneys (essentially small buses) were originally made from discarded American military jeeps after World War II, although newer ones have been manufactured since which still resemble the original jeepneys. They are color-coded depending on the route they follow and are most certainly the most affordable way to get around downtown. They run available 24 hours a day and it is the most famous mode of transportation throughout the country. Since jeepneys tend to be overcrowded with passengers, tourists carrying bulky luggage should consider traveling by taxi (as the joke goes, "How many people can you fit on a jeepney?" Answer: "One more!").
Trikes (often spelled 'tryks' by the locals) are nothing more than a basic four-speed motorcycle with a one-wheeled cart attached to the side to carry passengers, much like European sidecars. The trikes are slightly more expensive, but provide you with a more peaceful ride instead of being packed in 20-deep on a small jeepney. Like the jeepneys, there are also trike drivers operating 24 hrs a day. In addition, the trikes will take you anywhere, door-to-door, unlike the jeepneys, which must stick to a straight route, just like a bus. In those terms, consider a trike a taxi. Although they do have "aircon" taxis and vans in the bigger cities, they are expensive and charge by the kilometer.
Always a quick but very bumpy ride
All in all, while there is plenty of ways to kill time and enjoy yourself in both Subic and Angeles, but it is undoubtedly the nightlife that takes the gold, always. Part of the problem lies with the fact that the only foreigners that live in the Philippines are almost exclusively ex-military, primarily American but also many Australians. Each and every one of them owns their own bar or disco, always stocked with some go-go girls. The women over there are used to having these countless older men around, and it is fairly common for a 60-yr-old American to marry a 25-yr-old Filipina. As the navy base at Subic is no longer active, they do not see the younger men like they used to. That was another reason why my repeated trips while only in my early 20s have caught the attention of all the girls there.
Take for example Hope In Heaven, a recently released documentary about a girl named Mila who "dances" at the Heaven Bar in Angeles City. Despite hating what she does, she is a working girl who dreams of an American guy one day finding her and rescuing her from her terrible life. That summarizes the dream of essentially every girl in the Philippines, and while not every girl will decide to follow Mila's path and whore themselves out as a working girl, quite a few do.
My ex-girlfriend is a born-and-raised Filipina and she had some of the same dreams. Although she was one of the good girls, one of the "cherry girls" as they call them over there, and worked legitimately at a resort in addition to going to college. That used to put a lot of pressure on me, because in her eyes I was "her prince," a role I don't think I ever really lived up to. But in the end, it was not meant to be and we have since gone separate ways. Not a day goes by that I don't think about her though. She is the one that got away, the only girl I have ever truly loved. Anyway...
In closing, because a few of my friends question how I can put up with all these older men taking advantage of these girls, let me first say I never expected to. The very first time Jared and I went to the Philippines, we did not like it. It was poor, dirty, and in coming from Tokyo, we just did not feel like there was that much to do. As a matter-of-fact, when departing from Manila the first time, we both swore we would never return to the Philippines. How wrong we were.
It was definitely because of my talking with Claire that I have been returning to the Philippines -- we had traded email addresses the last day of my original trip there. However, upon returning to the Phils I came to accept and even appreciate their way of life. That and I have become friends with many of the ex-military guys there, which I am sure subtly influenced my thinking. As they put it, these working girls are almost always sending money back to their home province, to help out their families, so you are really just helping the poor (call it donating to charity if you want) by spending the night with one of these ladies. Besides, the girls don't seem like whores, although to quite a few of you I am sure that will make absolutely no sense. It has to do with the Filipino culture, and the way a Filipina woman puts the happiness of her man in front of everything else, even herself. So when you do take one of these girls home, you feel more like you just met some girl downtown and are taking her home, not like you are paying for a hooker.
Be that as it may, I am not a cheater and was not about to cheat on the love of my life, even after learning that all the working girls are tested regularly and will get a pass signifying their clean health that allows them to work that night. So, your chances of taking an extra souvenir home to the missus are somewhat diminished. Additionally, if you are at one of the go-go bars and see one of the usual girls standing off to the side, not working that night...well you know her test came up positive and she is sitting her time out, taking her meds.
But despite all of this, make no mistakes: prostitution is illegal in the Philippines.
|(2008 numbers, no 2009 yet)||Philippines||United States|
|Area > Land||298,170 sq km||[69th of 238]||9,161,923 sq km||[3rd of 238]|
|Population Total||96,061,680 residents||[13th of 242]||303,824,640 residents||[3rd of 242]|
|Population Density||266.11 ppl per sqkm||[42nd of 256]||29.77 ppl per sqkm||[168th of 256]|
|Largest City Population||Manila - 9,286,000||[12th of 174]||New York City - 16,332,000||[4th of 174]|
|Population Below Poverty Line||30%||[27th of 46]||12%||[40th of 46]|
|Gross National Income||$80,844,900,000.00||[36th of 172]||$9,780,000,000,000.00||[1st of 172]|
|Exports||$49,320,000,000.00||[49th of 189]||$1,148,000,000,000.00||[4th of 189]|
|Economic Importance||0.1||[ UNLISTED ]||197.9||[1st of 25]|
|Comparative Price Levels||14||[ UNLISTED ]||109||[7th of 30]|
|Technological Achievement||0.3||[41st of 68]||0.73||[2nd of 68]|
|Cannabis Use||1.94%||[104th of 126]||12.3%||[3rd of 126]|
|» New Zealand comes in 1st with 22.23% and Australia 2nd with 17.93%|
|Oil > Consumption||340,100 bbl/day||[19th of 212]||20,680,000 bbl/day||[1st of 212]|
|McDonald's Restaurants||235 locations||[13th of 39]||12,804 locations||[1st of 39]|
|Tsunami > Foreign Tourists Missing||1||[37th of 37]||456||[6th of 37]|
|Prisoners > Per Capita||94 per 100,000 ppl||[96th of 164]||715 per 100,000 ppl||[1st of 164]|
|Suicide Rates||26.7 per 100,000 ppl||[7th of 17]||13.3 per 100,000 ppl||[13th of 17]|
Numbers pulled from NationMaster
I may have limited my excursions to the Philippines to the main island, but there are many other beautiful places to go visit all throughout the country, some more touristy than others. If you want to get a taste of the real Philippines, check out Olongapo, a great little town with an active nightlife and occasional shows or festivals at Pier One or the Freeport Zone. If you are looking for working girls, go to Angeles City. But, whatever you do, spend as little time as possible in Manila. Trust me on this one.