The Philippines. For us, it was not “more fun in the Philippines”…
As scheduled, we flew from Kuala Lumpur to Clark airport outside of Manila to enjoy a month in the Philippines. As it turned out we stayed for just over a week and were pleased to be heading back to KL early.
Airasia, being a budget airline, use this airport because it is cheap I suppose. It called “Clark (Manila)” but is actually over 4 hours away from the city. The best option was to get a bus (we were quoted about £70 for a taxi!) and that was not too bad. It was more of a coach and they put 2 films on but the screen was a bit too far away for us so we just sat back and tried to sleep.
When we eventually arrived in Manila we were dropped off at Pasay, in the south of the city. It was very very busy. Walking along the cracked and crumbling pavement it felt a little bit like India, except without the Indians. Perhaps it was the horns, the traffic, the immediately obvious poverty, the heat… I’m not sure what it was but Manila had the mental vibe of an Indian city straight away. I was still feeling quite poorly so we wanted to find a hotel as soon as possible. A resident American had suggested a few a short walk away from the bus depot and we settled on the first one we came to, the ‘So Clean…So Good’ hotel, it looked fairly new next to the neighbouring buildings and had a big sign boasting “free WiF”. After nearly 11 hours traveling from our apartment in Bangkok we were ready to put our bags down. It was when we walked in that we realised we were in a very different place to India.
The big sign above reception warned all guests to deposit their firearms with the staff for safe keeping, that was the first time we had come across that! Also, the fact that that staff had to check perhaps 3 times that we wanted the room for a whole 24 hours. Most of the guests were making use of the ‘short time’ room booking available – 1, 2, 3, or 6 hours was far more common. Also, all of the other people checking in had no luggage whatsoever. This was odd and demanded some research. Using the intermittent, slow WiFi in our tiny windowless room we discovered that this sort of hotel is very common in the Philippines. Although the rooms are used by men employing the services of prostitutes, the majority of users of these short time rooms are unmarried (or sometimes even married) couples looking for a little privacy. One website summed it up well
“Imagine living in the 1950’s and/or with strict catholic parents – thats the Philippines for you.
In the western world if you are not married you have sex and if you live with your parents you will have sex in your bedroom which you don’t share with your brothers and sisters and or your parents. If you are at college or working most likely you will have a room of your own.
If you live in the Philippines you will share a room with brothers sisters mum dad uncle auntie grandad and grandma and when you do get married you still end up living with your parents and still have to share a room with others in your family.
So apart from guys who want to sleep with hookers there is a need for places where boyfriend/girlfriend/husband and wife can go for some boom boom without running the risk of knocking the CR (bathroom) door off its hinges.” –
bl0ss0m, Thorn Tree Forum Member
We were too tired to go out and, intrigued by the firearms sign, spent the night reading quite a few horror stories about crime in Manila and the Philippines in general, how foreigners are targeted, kidnappings, unsafe transport and street crimes like muggings and snatching any jewellery, phones, cameras etc. The FCO’s website (which currently advises against all travel completely to one island in the south) was also a little alarming. (To be fair the FCO makes all countries sound a little alarming but it was far worse than usual.) Every travel website was hamering home the warnings and dangers far more than for anywhere else we have visited so far.
Going to an unknown dentist is always going to be a gamble. The one I had chosen (via a recommendation from an Australian online) was a one man operation – he had no receptionist or assistant. After a quick check up he agreed that the tooth needed to come out and said it should be simple. Well, his initial assessment was wrong! I won’t go into the details but it took nearly 2 hours to get the tooth out; it needed cutting into three and he had to go into my upper jaw bone in the end. It was horrendous. Still in the chair, I was already worried about the pain that would strike once the injections wore off. He prescribed some much stronger anti-biotics, painkillers and 4 days worth of pills to stop the bleeding. After collecting the prescription (£11) and paying for the work (£38) we went straight back to the hotel and I felt sorry for myself for the rest of the day while trying not to overdose on painkillers. I don’t think it was the dentist’s fault really, he was a qualfied in dentistry and surgery and had years of experience. Maybe at home I would hope that if I ever needed anything like that again I could be knocked out completely, it would be far less stressful.
Everything we had read about Manila had put us off staying. Also, we had just spent so much time in Bangkok and then seen Kuala Lumpur we felt it was time for a break from the city scene. Trains were not a good option (many of the train lines are just not working at the moment after flooding/landslides a few years ago, or, have not been built yet) and although most of the guides we read advised against getting a bus (due to the safety of the vehicles, driving standards and the risk of landslides) it was pretty much our only way out. We trudged through the rain to another depot and caught a bus to the city of Olangapo.
The bus was another coach type vehicle and looked pretty new. It was privately operated and we could not decide if it was a good or bad thing that with our ticket we got free insurance, another first. It had seatbelts which I’m sure we were the only ones to use and played 2 films during the journey. On the bus was the first and last time in the whole of the Philippines that we saw other Caucasian females (a group of Americans).
Although it was raining, this journey was far more scenic. We wound around narrow roads, through national parks and saw plenty of lush greenery topped by the cloud shrouded peaks of mountains though the mist. I was glad of the seatbelt though as some of the corners were pretty tight and the drops off the barrier free road were very steep.
Olangapo / Barrio Barretto
We arrived and dodged the taxi drivers who thought we might fall for paying way over the odds and caught a jeepney to Barrio Barretto near Subric bay, a few kilometres out of Olangapo. It is on the beach and during the season a number of dive centres operate to explore the wrecks of the ships in the bay (the whole area was an American base for years and a lot of fighting took place in the bay). We thought it might be a bit touristy but out of season it was a seaside town without a soul.
Our ‘hotel’ was chosen by me on the internet based on price and WiFi. It was not a good choice. We had known it was above a bar but not what sort of bar… We checked in at reception in full view of about 5 very bored looking girls on stage in bikinis, dancing slowly next to poles but not actually pole dancing. This was at about 6pm. We had another windowless room and the WiFi did not work. By this point the rain had become truly torrential. This was due to ‘Dindo’; the tropical storm with a friendly sounding name. (I later found out Dindo was chucking down 25mm per HOUR and had gusts of up to 83km/hr.) Areas we could see outside were more than ankle deep in questionable water. We rested for a few hours then went to check out the bar as there was nothing else to do.
It was a smallish bar with cheap drinks, young and sort of young ladies dancing, ladies circulating the bar and a few white men (mostly older) watching them and nursing drinks. It was weird. We sat in the corner and had a few drinks. Everyone except the drinks waitress left us alone for most of the night, we watched the goings on with interest. You could, as a customer, pay about £30 to pull a cord and release a basket full of plastic balls at which all the female staff (there was only one male member of staff – the bar man) would scream, giggle and run around collecting them all. They were then carefully counted back and each girl’s ball total recorded. The music was decidedly 80’s for most of the time we were in there save for a few songs by Wyclef Jean.
Near the end of the evening a middle aged lady came and chatted to me. She wanted to know if we were going to ‘barfine’ (take home) any of the girls that night and if it might be her. Once we’d established that was not going to happen she asked if we would buy her a ‘ladies drink’. We did and I started chatting to her about normal stuff. It got quite sad quite quickly though as I heard about her bringing up 3 teenagers alone, having to work in the bar but not wanting to, her mother recently dying of dementia, the madness of the bar owner (Australian) when drunk… It went on and on… Feeling a bit bummed out by it all and a little drunk from the cheap drinks and medication mix I was on we went up to bed, grateful that we were on the second floor, a little further from the noise.
The music went on late into the night and it was only the fact that we had had a few drinks and earplugs that allowed us to get any sleep. The next day we went over the road to another hotel with WiFi, tested it before we agreed to stay, and then settled in there for the day. Apart from to get some food we stayed in all day, watching the rain. It really was too wet to go out and about. I researched a few things we could do in the area that were not bar related but most of them were not running at this time of the year. There is a local voIcano that would have been great in better weather but no visits were running due to the risks of landslides, I would have been more worried about simply being washed down the side of the mountain by all the rain. I started to research earlier flights too as the Philippines was not quite what we thought it would be.
We knew from research that Angeles was a city for nightlife, a lot of it based around the ‘girly’ bar scene. There was plenty of that sort of action going on in Bangkok though and you could easily avoid it. Here, it has infected the whole city with a sadness that you just can’t put your finger on. We were dropped off in the midst of it, about midday. The coach we were travelling on contained older western men, several of whom were pawing a young Filipino girl at least half their age for the whole journey. From the back of the coach we had too good a view of the bald spots and big hairy hands, eugh!
Our first night was spent in an ageing but spacious hotel that seemed promising and had clean sheets at least (the ones within budget we had looked at before were quite grim.) It was not great though. There was a bar very close by that blasted out tunes from about 7pm ’till 6am so loudly that earplugs could not block it out. There was also no hot water working. The noise was enough to make us relocate and we moved in the 1 hour window of dry weather the next day.
Our next place became a sanctuary. My Garden Inn run by Myra, a lovely lady, and all in all it was great. It was small, clean and very friendly. She could not do enough for us. There was fast, free WiFi, hot water, quiet air con and most importantly, peace and quiet. We stayed in, booked a flight and apart from a visit to a mall where Henry got some magic trick cards we only went out for food and water and an ill fated jeepney ride.
The jeepney ride was the last straw. Jeepneys are public transport that basically drive around in a big loop all day (different routes are shown by the colours) and they were left by the Americans as a sort of present to the Philippines. They are very cheap and we decided to hop on one for a ride around on one (in fact, the only) sunny morning to take some snaps. We were getting photography withdrawal as the cameras had just not come out so far (it had either been too wet or did not feel safe enough after all we had read and seen.) The driver said he was headed downtown and as we didn’t really mind where we went we climbed in and started to enjoy the ride.
The first alarm bell came when he refused to stop for a man trying to flag him down. Then, at least half an hour later we were headed out of the city and I recognised the road we had come in on from Olongapo. This was not downtown this was the way to the middle of nowhere. A few minutes later we queried our destination, were we not supposed to be heading back by now? No, he said we’re going to Subric! Well, we did not want or expect to go there, we had not even had our breakfast and had already been there so a bit of an argument ensued. He wanted about £130 for the trip! Henry got all firm with him and said we wanted to go back. He drove back towards town and then tried to drop us in the most deprived area we’ve seen in a long time. I refused to get out. Henry made him drive us back to where he dropped us off and then he wanted 80USD for the morning’s ride! We gave him 50 pesos (76p) which was twice what the fare should have been and got out. He told Henry he would make trouble for us and then followed us along until we cut down a side street… Scary!!
We stayed in after that and wrote a few emails, caught up on the blog for Thailand and waited for the flight out of there. Another tropical storm was brewing and we were worried the flight would be delayed. The torrential rain hammered it down continually until we left.
The country is beautiful and most of the people we met were lovely but we just didn’t click with the Philippines. Perhaps without the rain our views would have been different. It is a very very poor country and as I said before we saw some familiar sights from India. The shops selling individual sachets of shampoo and washing powder and the conditions of some of the roads and pavements for example were very similar.
On the other hand the shops in India you were actually allowed into, whereas here most small shops have just a hole through some jail like bars to serve through and everything is locked up. There is barbed wire everywhere and I’m not sure we saw any in India. There, everything was left unlocked and open; piles of things for sale on the road unattended, bikes and motorbikes left unchained (sometimes with keys in) houses open, personal belongings like mobiles left unguarded on tables in restaurants while the owners went to the loo, the list goes on. The atmosphere there was just so much more relaxed.
The obvious sex industry also disturbed me. After reading a little I was so saddened to learn that as well as having loads of girls bought from their parents at a young age to work in the bars and live basically bonded to their ‘Mamasan’ forever, paying back the debt for years and years, Angeles is also the child porn / cybersex capital of Asia. Children are sold by their parents at about age six. There was actually a proposal for UN intervention because the numbers involved are so high. Most of the customers are white, western men from the US, Europe or Australia. There are also men visiting from Japan and Korea.
In my opinion, all this poverty is not helped by massive campaigns run by the Catholic Church and other groups still proclaiming the evils of condoms. Surely families of 10+ children contribute to the poverty and the subsequent sale of children…?
It took us two jeepneys, one public and one private, to get to the airport (looking out for the other diver all the time!) Once there we remembered what a rubbish airport it was. Because I had booked our flights online we were able to make use of the self check in system again, scanning a barcode on my phone and printing our own boarding passes. This not only eliminates the queueing but also the weighing of the bags. The self check in facility is possibly the only good thing about the airport.
It is not a shiny, clean new airport and it is not large. There are only 2 departure gates and this means that there are not a great deal of people to watch or shops to browse.
After clearing the first stage of security, checking in, using the toilets etc we decided to go through immigration to the departure lounge. Well, little did we know there is an airport fee to pay. 600 pesos each to leave the country! We had done pretty well at budgeting our money in the last few days so we had to go back out again, trek to the arrivals lounge, get more money out (another £3 charge,) go back through security again and basically pay to get out.
To top it all off at the second level of security (where we had to put our shoes through the scanner – another first) they confiscated my umbrella!! Well, I tried to argue it and say that no other airport had ever stopped me (this umbrella was from Thailand so had already flown to KL and then into Clark) but she just kept repeating “not allowed, not allowed”. Gutted.
We were tossed around by turbulence like we were on the inbound flight but made it to Kuala Lumpur in one piece. I don’t think we’ll be back to the Philippines in a while, and certainly not in the rainy season.
The Philippines, 26th June – 4th July 2012