Monday, 12 May 2008

A fortnight in the Philippines. Calapan and Sabang.

I left home 700 days ago, only one month shy of two years. This time last year I had just arrived in Vang Viang, Laos for eight days of tubing down rivers, hiking, cycling and drinking - both beer and magic mushroom milkshakes.


I find myself back in Taiwan after an amazing 15 day trip to the Philippines. This was my 5th visit. I had free food at the maiden flight party at Kaoshiong airport before boarding. I spent my first night in the Malate area of Manila with an American lad who runs a bar in Taizhong in Taiwan.

We negotiated a shared room and spent the entire night drinking 25piso bottles of San Miguel until the early hours. My buddy went for a special massage at some point in the evening. I had a good night as I'd not had a beer in five weeks. I woke the next morning with a head like Birkenhead and decided to get out of Manila quickly.

I was meant to go to Calapan on my first night but immigration took one hour and I was tired so I thought a night in Malate would be an interesting change from my regular Manila hangout of Baclaran. It was OK but I never considered the gruesome hangover I'd have to endure on my island-hopping journey the following morning. I headed for a taxi and had no trouble persuading the guy to use the meter so I tipped generously. I always tip well when they use the meter and don't try to screw you. I wonder if Manila taxi drivers will ever learn this?

Batangas Mayor

I take a bus from the Pasay area of Manila to Batangas pier. I've done this a few times now so I'm totally au-fait with everything. I laugh at the prices the hawkers are wanting for things like snacks and drinks. They think I'm crazy but I now know how to say 'Hindi, you baliu' (No, you're crazy) in Tagalog and they soon bugger off. I book a SuperCat ferry ticket to Calapan for 180piso after waving away the touts but I have to wait an hour at the ferry terminal.  Here, bizarrely, I meet the Mayor of Mindoro Island while I'm smoking a tab outside. I even get to shake his hand. I wonder if this is a good thing or not as I fight the hangover.


I take an upper deck seat next to a woman and her kid from Manila and a local guy who works in Saudi Arabia. This guy was very interesting. He is one of millions of balikbayans (overseas Philippine workers). He has a PhD from the US and currently works on complex global financial fraud issues. He couldn't give too much away but he left me with the feeling he has investigated hugely well-known terrorist outfits for money laundering etc. Canny interesting lad like! He was going home to Mindoro to marry his childhood sweetheart deep in the barrios. He was more shocked than impressed that at 34 I've never been married.


We arrive at Calapan and I'm chuffed to see Don waiting on the jetty. We take a sidecar directly to the bar we liked the last time and proceed to drink my hangover away. We discuss Taiwan, teaching English, Chinese, the Philippines, football, the Royal Navy, hassles living in paradise among a whole litany of other stuff. We find another bar with live music and karaoke. We both like to sing karaoke (as is the way here) and end up smashed after a top night of being the only foreigners in the sticks.

We stumble back to his new house which is a vast improvement on his old one. The traffic noise is gone and you can hear the TV. We spend four nights in Calapan mainly sitting on Don's sofa watching TV, listening to English music we've downloaded and drinking 750ml bottles of Tanduay Rhum with a 2litre coke for just over £1 between us. I think Don misses speaking real English as much as I do. Weirdly, we've both ended up being the only foreigners in the sticks of two different countries where we both live.


One thing worth mentioning was a thunder storm one night. I've seen hundreds of electrical storms in the Philippines but this one, in Calapan, blew my socks off. Using the standard speed of light and sound calculations I knew the storm was approaching us. However, I wasn't prepared for the next strike which was right on top of us. I've never seen a flash of lightning and heard the thunder clap simultaneously before. It was like someone had dropped a bomb.


On my sixth day we embark on a two hour jeepney ride to Sabang. I loved this journey. I'd done it once before around Xmas so I knew from experience it's better to sit on the roof. If you sit inside it's cramped with no view. However, on the roof you can lie back and relax as you pass by incredible scenery. I sat on the roof alone with a big smile on my face as we passed huge waterfalls. I looked on in awe as the jungle dropped off and gave way to the tropical blue sea. Clung on to the handrails for life as the jeep meandered its way along treacherous mountain roads. Waving at the bairns in the bamboo villages we passed. Pretty good.

We changed jeeps at Puerto Galera and hung on the back for the last 8km along this paradise peninsula. To think this place is only a few hours away from the awful urban sprawl of Manila! We arrived in Sabang where I was struck by feelings of de-ja-vu having visited here in December. It was a simple stroll down memory lane before reaching the same family home I stayed at the last time. Don and I shared the room for £1.50 each after I negotiated a discount. Most tourists spend in the region of £15-50/night so local knowledge is important.


After exchanging pleasantries (Are you still in Taiwan? Your baby is much bigger etc.) we headed off for some booze on the floating bar. It'd been upgraded since I was last here with a slide and a diving board - cool. Not that we used those. We were solely interested in what alcohol the gorgeous bikini-clad lasses had behind the bar. We witnessed another tropical sunset before I drove the small putt-putt boat back to the shore.


The nightlife consists mainly of discos that have many sexy women dancing in bikinis. Most of the girls are working girls. The mamasan (normally an old fat battleaxe ex-whore) will come and ask if you want a girl. If you did you would have to pay for expensive ladydrinks  just for her to sit next to you. You could then barfine your chosen sweetheart which means taking her home to do the business for about £25 for the night. All this was explained by every mamasan I met. It sounds great but you quickly get sick of it. I prefered quieter bars.


Also, it was here that I met Ben wearing a Southampton FC T-shirt. I shouted over and we laughed how they're NUFC's bogey team. We were remembering all the classic goals Matt Letissier scored against us. Ben's on his way to Palawan and we hung out for a week. We were chuffed that The Saints managed to avoid relegation on the final day.


I spent one day with 'snorkelling' with only goggles because I didn't have a snorkel!  Underneath the floating bar is like a natural aquarium - awesome.

The rest of the week was spent making cheap mackerel sarnies and continual drinking to avoid the onset of any potential hangover. All in all an excellent break from the monotony of Taiwan. I'll never forget Sam and Axel!

Calapan - scary ferry

The three of us headed back to Calapan for another couple of Tanduay nights before Ben and I left for Manila. Me bound for Taiwan and Ben for Palawan after a night in the TownHouse dorm in Manila. Worryingly, on the ferry from Calapan to Batangas, a Priest said a prayer over the mic. This really unnerved me as we were locked in and the seas were pretty rough. Ferries often go down here so my fragile state of mind was not helped by someone bashing out Please God, don't let us us sink today!

It was depressing saying goodbye to Don this time. Saying goodbye to Ben was pretty crap too and I'd only known him a week. I think I made a Freudian slip as I left my entire wash bag, some clothes and a wedge of cash at Don's house! I suppose I'll have to go back and get them on the 7th June.


To try and highlight the differing standards between Taiwan (fully developed) and the Philippines (developing). These are the spacious single seat buses that cruise down the smooth 3-lane highways. These armchairs have a TV and can even massage you as you recline to an almost horizontal position. Top class. Better than anything I've seen in Europe.

On the other hand, after a 90 minute flight you can squeeze yourself into a packed jeep with people, chickens and a guaranteed sore arse as you squirm for breathing space on the wooden benches. You will cruise at walking space along the pot-holed roads. Also class but in a different way!

The family I stay with in Calapan. The little lad calls me Lolo which means Grandad in Tagalog. Grandad? Cheers like.

The view from their house. Their rent is about £25/month and they're lucky this time because I paid more than half of it to stay four nights.

The next door neighbour is from Singapore and I barely know him but that didn't stop him asking me for money. A nice twist though was that he asked in Chinese which made me laugh. I also said 'Sorry' in Chinese! He said 'I'll give you it back - honestly'.

I reckon he honestly thinks he'd give it back but I know from experience out here that I would never see a peso of it again, so why strain our already tenuous friendship? I told him I'd give him my cellphone plus cash for his phone as his is about better than mine but he said no! He merely wanted free cash from a foreign idiot.

Don sitting at the Sisig place near his house. We ate here most days as the food isn't bad and the lasses are a laugh.

Cold food Tagalog style. Filipino food is rubbish.

A view up the street from the Sisig place. As you can see Calapan is definitely not a tourist destination.

A Calapan Filipino in a Toon top. This could, quite possibly, be the strangest thing I've ever seen as nobody's interested in football in the Philippines.

The waterfalls between Calapan and Puerto Galera on Mindoro Island. Too big to get them all in one pic.

Zaijian. I'm off to teach disinterested, unmotivated kids how to speak English.

Balu balu - You talk bollicks

1 comment:

  1. I hope you're still alive and kicking. I enjoyed this little read, wey aye man.


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