Passed All The Towns & Barangays, Headed For The Jungle!
We were traveling through Quezon province headed towards Agos-Agos barangay near the coastal town of Infanta on an eight 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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
What's on your mind? Ever been anywhere like this? Share your comments below the photos!
Those are29 of my 1,067 photos which from this trip out here. Looks like I have a lot more work to do...
If you have done much traveling you have undoubtedly come upon touts. You know those guys that hit you up every time you go to any tourist attraction. They want to sell you cheap souvenirs or that amazing antique that has a made in China sticker on the bottom of it. The Philippines is no different except the touts are hanging around anywhere that westerners stay or travel to. I see the same guys every day selling the same things and every day I say no. These guys approach one, two or four at a time. You can see them coming at you, dodging taxi’s racing to get to you. Even when you wave them away or say no when they approach they still give their pitch. Say no to the pitch and you get one more pitch. Who trained these guys, Zig Zigler?
Like I said, I see the same ones every day. They try to sell me leather belts, tennis shoes, sun glasses, stun guns, laser pointers, bamboo whistles and even guitars. Of course there is the Viagra/Cialis guy. Not that I would ever, ahem, you know have a need for such a product. But if I did I wouldn’t buy it from some guy standing in the street next to a dry cleaners. For all I know it is horse tranquilizer from China.
I try to be nice, I really do. No thanks, sorry no, not today. I have no need. But after walking a block and getting hit up 8 times I just want to tell the Viagra guy to take it himself so he can go and, well let’s say make his own happy ending to himself.
If you stay here long enough it goes from being comical to annoying to irritating to a point where you make it a game with what comebacks you can return to the various sales pitches.
Leather belt Sir? No thanks I like my pants dropping down my ass. Guitar? Nope, got any pianos? Watch sir? I have Rolex. Nah looking for a pocket watch, go find me one and come back. Then out of the corner of my eye I see him coming, dodging traffic as he crosses the street, arm extended, yep the Viagra guy. Unlucky number 8, get ready to get blasted buddy.
My first year or two of trips back and forth to the Phils to be with my [then] girlfriend Claire, I always stayed at Mango's Resort at Subic Bay. I did this for two reasons: 1) my friend Tom is the owner and I always get a discount on my room; and 2) Claire is the boss of the morn/early afternoon shift.
For you however, I would recommend (depending on the length of your stay) either a hostel or a furnished apartment. A hostel will run you less than $10/night but an apartment will only set you back $200-$250 a month, tops. But because of what I mentioned before, I am afraid I am not able to give my usual nice listing with pics/reviews. Except for Mango's, of course.
Mango's Resort @ Subic Bay
Mango's is a small establishment with only three guest rooms which are located directly over the restaurant/bar portion of the resort. The lower floor is popular with the locals (both native and ex-military) and they hold pool tournaments twice a week. But the best part is the food is fantastic and the drinks are cheap!
There is also an attached disco at the front of the resort, Rock Lobster. At eleven/midnight when the kitchen and bar closes, you are forced to get your drinks from the disco if you want to keep the night going. It's not a bad little disco, but it is small. There are several better ones within just a couple blocks.
The rooms themselves are very well done. They come with a kitchen area including mini fridge (which does come stocked with beer, soda, and water), closet, safe, and as you can see from the picture, a small living room with coffee table, extra chairs, a desk, and a large television.
Out back is a balcony that runs the whole width of the building and can be accessed via sliding doors in each guest room. There are tables and chairs there too, which make it a great li'l place to look out onto the bay or smoke a couple bowls and relax.
Jared's Thoughts On Mango's: "If your looking for a quaint bar and hotel this is the place for you- limited rooms so book early. Since there are not scores of guests the wonderful staff spends all its time making sure you have a great stay."
[ UPDATE ] My old friend Tom has partially-retired and sold several of his properties, including Mango's. While the name remains the same, the attached Rock Lobster disco has apparently — as of summer 2012 — been gutted and is currently being renovated.
Are you planning on taking a ferry between El Nido and Coron in the Philippines? If so there are two options for you.
Every day of the week you can catch the tourist ferry between these two ports. The ride will supposedly average 8 hours and cost 2,200 Pesos.
From what I have heard the boat can take longer than the scheduled time and frequently runs out of food. There are many companies that offer this service but they all cost the same and from the services advertised no real difference is apparent. I personally did not go with this option. The hefty price tag of 2,200 Pesos it was out of my budget so instead my travel companions and I went for Option B, aka the Masochistic Local Boat.
Once a week, check departure schedule when in town, you can catch the local cargo boat between these two ports. The cost, including breakfast, is only 950 Pesos.
I took this boat from El Nido to Coron in Jan 2012. It was scheduled to leave at midnight but we were not allowed to board the boat till around 2am. This is a frequent occurence on this boat and the locals seemed to expect this.
Once we boarded the boat we were greeted with our first of many uncomfortable laughs. The beds we had booked on this "sleeper" ferry were nothing more than plywood bunk beds. I imagine prison beds to be similar. I fortunately passed out but my travel companions said we did not actually pull out of port till almost 4am.
Upon waking up due to rooster calls, I shared a few more uncomfortable giggles before setting off to find the bathroom. To my surprise they weren't as bad as expected. A head and bucket but clean enough, whew. After that was breakfast. This simply consisted of white rice, a hard-boiled egg and dried fish. I highly recommend stocking up on water and snacks for this ride.
The rest of the ride was spent reading and watching pristine beaches that dotted remote islands as we pass by. The tiny island in this remote region are breathtaking. Even to this jaded Island Girl. The other main on-board activity was touring the zoo. The zoo? You ask. Yes our boat was home to 1 pig, 2 chickens, 3 tanks of fish and clams and 50 buffalo.
Would I do it again? I'm not sure but I'm sure glad I did it once. These are the kinds of experiences I travel for. The memories I will cherish!
Do you have any transport hilarious/horror stories?
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For those that have read this blog before you know that I am a big proponent of getting off the tourist path and doing some exploring wherever you happen to be. That happened recently while in Manila where I noticed a very large compound surrounded by a 8 foot tall solid metal fence painted bright green. The buildings inside where very ornate around the rooftops and appeared to be some type of Chinese Temple.
Never one to be to shy I knocked on the small gate and a gentleman working inside answered. I asked if this was a temple of some kind and he stated it was a Taoist Temple. Then I brazenly asked if I could come in and look around. He stepped outside onto the street and looked around and asked where I was from. After I told him he smiled and waved at me to hurry inside.
He seemed kind of nervous and I asked if he was sure I could come inside and look around. He stated I could look but to not take any pictures inside the main temple. The outside prayer areas were okay though.
I was inside the compound about 6 or 7 minutes when a vehicle pulled up to the compound and honked its horn to be let in. The vehicle pulled in and the driver looked at me, smiled and went to the parking area but that's when the worker got really nervous and said I should leave. I gathered it was one of the head guys and although he smiled wasn't too pleased the worker had allowed me in.
While I was there the worker and I took turns asking questions, me about the temple and he about where I was from and about me. It was interesting, beautiful and really cool.
That is why i love exploring places on my own. You never know what you might happen upon or who you might meet.
Next time your traveling do yourself a favor, get off the tourist path and explore a little. It can be very rewarding.
The first thing to realize about Subic Bay is that the US military has had a navy base there since 1898, when we took control of the Philippines after defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War. Actually, it was the biggest overseas naval base of the United States. Granted, it was finally closed in the early 1990s, but regardless all the locals speak English and there are still many Americans that are retired military living in Subic.
Old US Naval Base turned Freeport Zone
The bay is surrounded by the town of Subic and Olongapo City, both in the province of Zambales, as well as the towns of Morong and Dinalupihan in the province of Bataan in the east. I have never been on the far side of the bay, I stick to Subic and Olongapo. However Claire and I have taken out the jet-skis and a even a boat and checked out the entire bay, which is bigger than I originally thought.
The past few years Subic has seen a steady increase in tourism, which has been beneficial for the city as they no longer are receiving the constant influx of American dollars that the Navy base provided, both in taxes/fees and in soldiers spending their wages around town. This withdrawal marked the first time since the 16th Century that no foreign military forces were present in the Philippines.
My expat friend Ron and his family
Nowadays there are still numerous American ex-military retirees collecting pension and living in Subic, many of whom had originally been stationed in the Philippines in the early '70s and '80s and just decided to just never leave. Almost all of the bars and resorts in Subic are owned by this collection of men. Through a mutual acquaintance here in Austin I became buddies with one of these gentlemen, a cool fellow by the name of Tom. He owns the resort I always stay at, as well as a disco, a real estate company, and a few other ventures around town.
Over the trips I have made countless other friends with American locals there. Most are surprised that someone my age not in the military has stumbled upon the fun in the Philippines (and with the base being closed, everyone is a little surprised to see a young American around town again -- I still get stares). One of my best buddies in Subic is Ron, who is pictured to the side with his Filipina wife and two kids. He and I like to slip away from our ladies and hit the town or Angeles City when we have a chance. Actually, his wife Elsa (who is friends with my ex Claire) is from Angeles, so they have a sweet gig worked out: once a month the two of them take a long weekend and go to Angeles, with Elsa spending it with her family and Ron spending it around town, no questions asked.
That, in a nutshell, describes the vibe over here. Prostitution is completely normal and acceptable, although no one ever utters that word or mentions the fact that it is technically illegal. As the American locals describe it, it is more like charity. I mean the girls cost next to nothing, and usually they are sending the money back to their home province to help their family. Besides, the girls don't seem like hookers either. If you have never been with an Asian or experienced the Asian mentality, then I am sorry but you do not know what you are missing. It's different. Those ladies are all about making you happy, it is easy to believe that she genuinely likes you. Compare it to a one-night stand after going downtown. You really don't feel like you just purchased the lady of the night.
And no, there are no pimps over there, at least not in Subic or Angeles City or anywhere else I have visited. All the working girls are affiliated with one of the bars or discos. They will show up every evening looking tempting and are impossible to miss or mistake. It works like this: when you go to pay your tab for the night, after you have chosen a girl and are ready to take her home for the night, the bartender will add a thousand or two pesos to your tab. This is what is known as a bar fine -- 50% goes to the bar and 50% to the girl. Better numbers than a pimp will give you anyway.
The working girls get annoying fast...
Because the girls are always affiliated with a bar or disco, their beauty and availability and health are what consistently brings people out every night. Every week the working girls will go and get a test from the local clinic, certifying they have a clean bill of health. If you ever seen any of the usual girls sitting on the sidelines, not dressed up (or dressed down, as I suppose the case would be), well then you know why. Many of the locals joke about how back in the day, in the '80s for example, the guys would find out what days the bars tested all their girls and then make sure to hit that bar on that night, so they always had a guaranteed clean girl. Tricky sons of bitches ha ha ha...
All that having been said, Jared and I were a little surprised by our first visit. From the second we got out of the van and followed the luggage guys upstairs to our suites, the women were on us like we were f'ing celebrities. It was incredible! We stayed at Mango's Resort, which had an attached disco, so the girls were always close at hand. Hell, the first trip we only stayed for a week because we did not know what to expect. At the end of that trip we had a good half-dozen of the locals all ask us the same question: "So, how many girls did you take home this week?"
Jared and I were a quite shocked, but not as shocked as the local guys when they learned that we had not taken any of the girls home, having shot down all their advances even while completely drunk. In our opinion we are both young, hip, good-looking guys, why should we have to pay for sex when we can get it for free?
My Opinions Were Mixed At First... To Say The Least
But I Quickly Fell In Love With The Philippines!
Arriving at Manila, Jared and I had a private driver waiting at Ninoy Aquino Int'l Airport with an aircon van full of beer. Originally it was supposed to be full of ladies too, but as our host told us upon arrival, had he done that there would have been nothing left of us upon arrival... we would have been eaten alive!
(And how right he was — I was literally nearly raped by a prostitute my first night in the Philippines).
Before reading, let me just say please don't get disillusioned and stop halfway through. This was written in 2008 while I was living in Tokyo, the biggest, cleanest, most advanced city in the world. But partying seven days a week for a couple months on end was starting to wear my buddy Jared and I out, so we decided to fly to the Phils. However we were expecting to land in somewhere that looked like Boracay, not Manila. Clearly we had not done any research, just trusted some friends from back home. Regardless, I am still a fan of "first impression" posts because they become that much funnier when you re-read them later. Especially after seven or eight more trips through the Phils LOL. What, I really used to think that?!?
From A Blog Post My First Day In The Phils
Although my views have changed, the text remains the same...
Capturing the essence of my initial amazement and naivety :)
Oh man oh man where do I start? So we arrived in the Philippines a few days ago and there was immediate shock. The airport in Manila looked like it was built in 1950 and never upgraded. There was not so much as a single computer anywhere throughout the terminals, even at customer service. The signs announcing arrivals/departures were still those old ones with the letters you have to physically change yourself. I expected the airport to be bigger, just because Manila is the capital of the Philippines and does at least some international business, but nope — a whooping like half-dozen terminals, that is it.
Going out into the city was another shock. I tell you folks, I have never seen anything like; no other country compares, not Mexico or Costa Rica or Honduras, nowhere! The roads are a cluster-fuck of old vans, smoke-spewing buses, motorcycles that barely run, all driving crazy like. People swing from lane to lane non-stop, will even pass on the shoulder, and there are no rules like in the States: first come first serve. It is a wonder more accidents do not happen.
And when I inquired with our driver, he said people in the Philippines drive crazy, so you just have to driver crazier! And what a fucking crazy ride it was. We were passing people in the on-coming lane, sometimes coming so close I thought we were about to have a head-on accident (I mean literally within a centimeter or two a few times). And as if all that is not bad enough, you have people constantly crossing the street and even–believe it or not–standing in the middle of the street trying to sell bottled water or fresh fruit. Unbelievable shit, unbelievable!
As for the condition of the city, Manila is a shit-hole. Even the locals here in Subic realize Manila is the shitter of this beautiful country. We have heard nothing but horror stories from the locals. Crime is rampant. The buildings — if you can call them buildings — are sometimes just slapped together pieces of sheet metal. Clothes are strung up every which way out to dry. But they are drying in smoke that just pours off the road from all these old and shitty cars tearing up the street. People everywhere walk with handkerchiefs across their mouths to try and breathe in less of it. Along the coast there is a few tall nice-ass hotels for traveling business people, but at the entrance to each is a guard armed with a mother fucking assault rifle! An assault rifle for God's sake! They built a tollway a few years ago on the outskirts of Manila, for people heading to San Fernando, a city we had to pass through to get to Subic Bay. They have so few highways here that was called Route 3! And at each of the booths where you have to stop and pay to get on the tollway there are also guards armed with assault rifles! Like seriously I can understand them outside of hotels, but at a tollbooth? Oh, and don’t even get me started on the banks. All the banks have two armed guards at the front doors, again with assault rifles! We were lucky enough to witness a money pickup in action. The armored truck looked like those military vehicles that have eight wheels and can drive through water as well. It was like a fucking submarine on wheels actually! And there were an additional four guards armed with assault rifles covering it while the money was being brought out by more guards. Ridiculous and crazy crazy shit!
~Derek, 2008, from his old blog of drunken ramblings, Shibuya Daze.
Toll Roads In The Philippines
The tollways in the Philippines, despite being newer, lack all of the amenities that we Westerners are used to on tollways. Don't get me wrong however, they work fantastically and get the job done — allowing you to bypass the traffic and wandering roadside vendors and random small motorcycles and pedestrians — so you can't complain.
So as you finally start to break free from the traffic in Manila, the road separates into 12 or 16 lanes, each complete with a toll booth. Pulling up, you realize none of the toll booths are automated, but each one staffed with a meager individual inside the booth and then secured by an armed police officer (again, armed with an assault rifle mind you) outside the booth, posted up front, nearly unmoving -- almost like those British Palace Guards. In addition, there are signs at each lane reading "TRAFFIC DISCIPLINE AREA" (i.e. drive the right way you crazy locals) and another reading "Our good roads keep your mood good". The way the locals drive, they definitely need this reminder.
Anyway, unlike every other modern toll I have been around the world, this one still operates solely on paper slips. You take your slip at the first window, then whenever you finally exit the tollway — which is, keep in mind, secured by chain and barbed-wire fence, cement walls, and armed guards the entire way, to prevent both fraud and smuggling — you submit your tollway ticket and pay the difference. Rates are based upon three different classes, depending on your weight and industry: personal/commercial.
Tollway from above (from G Img search)
There are occasional rest stops along the way, each complete with a couple of fast food places, public restrooms, and a gas station -- but even there an armed guard always checks your slip on the way in, before granting you parking, to ensure you are authorized to be on the tollway. I took a few pictures from the main one on the Westbound side, which you can see below, as this is the stop we hit every time on our way from Manila.
The view along the way is spectacular, almost entirely countryside except for when you pass through San Fernando and have to take the toll exchange. We always pass all sorts of rice and suger cane fields, in addition to lots of lovely mountains. The pics down below do not do enough justice in my opinion. It really is a beautiful country, they are just so very poor. The scenery was definitely nice, that's for sure -- I'll post a photo gallery soon.
Luckily the four-hour drive through the countryside passed easily enough, even without any women. It was nearly sunset by the time we first arrived at Subic Bay, but when we did we were immediately the subject of attention with all the ladies, being two young, good-looking, and obviously loaded guys. Jared and I spent a few minutes unloading and checking out our rooms before heading downstairs to play a cpl laid-back games of pool while switching to liquor. However it took only seconds for word to spread and the next thing you know about a dozen "working girls" started one-by-one coming inside from the attached disco to see what was up with us young gringos.
Two of them basically put the other girls in check and claimed Jared and I as their own. Next thing you know we are playing a team game of pool with the "working girls" as our partners. The booze keeps flying, now the girls are drinking, and next thing you know they are making out with Jared and I. I had been awake for something like 48 hrs though so I called it a night right around when the prostitute kept asking to go upstairs. No way you are getting my money six hours after I landed in this country, no way! Even after she tried to ask Jared what room I was in so she could go upstairs and crawl into bed with me. Luckily he didn't tell her. However little did I know at this time that within a cpl months I would soon be dating a Filipino and flying back already.
Ok so since I've been here my mind has just been going and going so much to think about. Ok so I consider my self a left wing liberal progressive person with that being said I think me and Derek are literally the only guys to vacation in Philippines with out having sex with a local girl. You think hepatitis would be enough to stop most guys but not the case. Ok with that being said everyone here is ex military old and love McCain and love to do drugs and fuck young hookers all day make sense? Palin is a right wing conservative fanatical Christian so all these people are saying they love and support a women that literally thinks they are going to burn in hell for eternity make sense? Yeah and to think leave it to the Agnostic guy to be the only one with morals here...~Jared, 2008, from the old Shibuya Daze blog
Needless to say, Jared and I had very mixed first impressions of the Philippines. It was a lot different than we'd told by our friends back home and even the Subic region itself just seemed kind of lacking of any real substance or anything really exciting to do. Oh yeah that and seemingly every girl is a hooker. That first night in Subic Bay was a total surprise. Apparently the pros were all over us because they are used to only having old veterans and seniors as johns. Either way, we definitely felt like celebrities our first week there.
Jared enjoys a cold San Miguel
See, any and all foreigners living in the Philippines are ex-military, usually almost always American but we did also meet a couple Brits and a few Australian guys. They are all in their 50's and 60's now, beer-bellied and weathered from the years and the things they have seen. Most of them own the bars and discos around town, financed by the wonderful salaries we give our troops. But, as they all say, "the Philippines is a hell of a place to spend money, just not to make it!"
I mean, at roughly $.50 (US) a beer, $2 for a full meal, $20 a night for a nice suite, you'd have a hard time finding a better quality product at such a low price, except for maybe Thailand. But what I have found is that while the Thai don't really like foreigners — despite their economy thriving off them — the Filipinos absolutely love foreigners. Well, for the most part; there are always a few people to give everyone else a bad name. Besides, in any country in the world you can always find a couple people trying to capitalize on the fact that you are an American tourist, sad as it is to say. What is even more sad is that not enough Americans even realize just how good we got it, just how spoiled we sometimes come across, to be able to grasp how it appears from other peoples' eyes, why they have this hostility towards us.
Anyway, after talking with Claire and after having spent so much time in the Philippines, I have come to see the brighter side of it all, and come to actually enjoy my time there. Now, if I did not have this gorgeous Filipina angel waiting there for my every return, would I feel the same love of the Filipino culture? That is a hard one to answer, but I do believe that I would... Yes.... Yes, I believe I still would.
[ UPDATE ] Well, Claire and I have gone our separate directions. I want to return to the Phils to see some other friends but not now, too many memories. Hmmm...maybe one day further down the road, I hope...
It's More Fun In The Philippines
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 (Filipino; baraŋˈɡaj), also known by its former Spanish adopted name, the barrio, is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village.
Relaxing... Filipino Style...
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, Claire, 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
Places To Visit In The Philippines
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.
View The Philippines [Daze Style] in a larger map
Planning on visiting Angeles City? Check out the Angeles City Portal to make some local friends before you go.Photo Credits: Google image search. Today was a lazy day.