Monday, August 30, 2010

My First Trip to the Philippines, Day 1

Day 1

Stayed at the wife's aunt and uncle's house in Manila. Tita Conchita and Tito Willy live in Quezon City, a suburb of Manila. The plan is to come back here a day or two early before we fly out so Conchita can show us around Manila a bit. I'm looking forward to that as I really am more of a big city person and I've never seen Manila. Tito Willy drove us to the nearest bus station early this morning and we were dismayed to find that the next bus leaving for Pangasinan did not have air conditioning. It was 8 am, that one left at 9 and the next one with AC left at noon. There was no freaking way I was riding in a bus for almost 5 hours in this extreme heat and humidity and the thought of sitting outside a bus station for 4 hours in the heat waiting for a bus was equally unappealing so Virginia's mother hailed a taxi to take us to another bus station. No luck there either so we went to a third station. The taxi had AC and the driver said he would drive us all the way to Pangasinan for 4,000 pisos (about $90) and I actually considered it but fortunately the third station had a bus with AC leaving in an hour. It worked out well as the bus was a lot more comfortable than a taxi would have been. The bus stopped a bunch of times on the way up for bathroom breaks and such and every time it stopped, a handful of street vendors hawking all kinds of different food items would come on board and try to sell them to the passengers. The most popular items seemed to be pork rinds and some kind of special pie called Bako pie. I know it was special because every time a guy would come on board selling them he would say repeatedly "Special pie...special pie...". I did my customary hand wave at each one and they left me alone but at one stop the wife bought a little plastic bag filled with what I thought were some kind of large, speckled gumballs. Turns out they were hard boiled quail eggs, she said Luca loves them. I tried one and they were good, basically tasted like a mini boiled egg. The whole bag cost like 50 cents for 10 eggs. The wife had bought a roll of toilet paper at the bus station in Manila which I thought was strange until she told me that the public bathrooms in the Philippines don't have any. Yikes. Manila is dirty and looks run down but the drive got more interesting as we got further from the city and into the provinces. At one point we passed by what used to be Clark Air Force Base. Clark was closed back around 1991 when a nearby volcano (Pinataubo) erupted and covered the area in ash and soot. I've always been fascinated by US military bases - especially those in other countries - so I felt a bit saddened seeing what must have once been a bustling area and a great place to be stationed. Continuing on, you start seeing enterprising Filipinios selling all kinds of stuff in little shacks and stands right on the side of the road. Snacks, drinks, coconuts, anything they think they can sell. You literally see them one after another all over the place.

After several hours we finally arrived in Rosario, La Union, which is the closest bus station to Boloen, the little Baranguay where the wife's family lives. Rosario is a big public market town so the place was crowded with people and every single one of them was staring right at me. I got the feeling none of them had ever seen a white person in person before. It was a little disconcerting but I did my best to ignore it. A few minutes later the wife's father and sisters pulled up on a couple of tricycles. Here, a tricycle is basically a motorcycle with a sidecar attached. They're very popular as they're the cheapest way to get around and they can go on the little roads and dirt paths that most cars cannot. You see them everywhere, especially in the provinces. They remind me a lot of the "Tuk-Tuks" you see everywhere in Thailand. Anyway, after nearly 8 years of marriage, I finally met Virginia's father, Herminigildo. Herminigildo is a very small but muscular man. He's been working the fields his entire life and it shows. His skin is so dark that he could almost pass for a black person and it's just as weathered as it is dark. You can tell just by looking at him that he is a hard man and an extremely hard worker. He's probably no more than 4 foot 10 or so but he looks as strong as an ox. Since we were right next to the market, we did some shopping first to get some fish and other stuff for dinner. I held Luca as we walked through the market which was sort of indoors as it had a low hanging tarp covering it. Inside there were all manner of fish and meat, all caught or killed that day, and tons of different fruits and vegetables. The wife chose some shrimp and some fresh fish and haggled with the vendors while every single person in the place stared at me. Again I did my best to ignore it but imagine walking around in a place where everybody just stares at you. My brother works in Africa and I'm guessing he deals with this as well. Definitely takes some getting used to. Across the dirt road from the market were bulidings with shops just like in any other town in Europe and also a decent sized supermarket where we bought coffee and other stuff that I can't live without. Unfortunately it's instant coffee as I doubt anyone here has ever even heard of espresso. I'm prepared to sacrifice certain things for a couple weeks and it looks like my morning coffee will be the first to go. *Sigh*. I was quite surprised to see an actual supermarket in such a small, austere place though. Perhaps it's the first of many misconceptions about this place that are sure to be shattered in the next couple weeks.

Arriving at the house was quite a shock. We got out of the tricycles and I noticed Virginia give the young guy that drove our tricycle some money. All of us and our bags would not fit in one tricycle so they had asked a local friend if he wouldn't mind giving us a ride. I thought it was a relative but he was just a local friend and I guess they don't do stuff like that around here for free, not even for friends. I probably shouldn't be surprised, they're very poor here and need to make money any way they can. Not to mention that he's gotta pay for his gas somehow. This is how the wife's family had to get around before they bought their tricycle last year; every time they needed to go somewhere, they had to pay a friend to take them. I can't imagine how inconvenient and annoying that must have been. When their crops were wiped out last year by the extreme flooding I offered to send them some money to help them recover and they spent that money on the tricycle. I have to admit that my first thought was "We send them money and they use it on a motorcycle?". The wife assured me it was the best thing they could buy. I was not convinced then but I certainly am now. The tricycle is practically their lifeblood and I can't even imagine how they got by without it before last year. But back to the house; the tricycles stopped at a little foot bridge next to a river. We grabbed all the bags - the wife's father grabbed the biggest, heaviest one - and started across the bridge and I quickly realized that we wouldn't be able to just pull my suitcase along by the handle, we would have to carry them all the way. To get to their house you first had to cross this little creaky, metal hanging foot bridge, then walk about a half mile or so on a dirt path through a bunch of rice fields. I was immediately glad that I packed everything into one suitcase but carrying that thing all the way in the extreme heat and humidity kicked my ass, I'm not ashamed to say. Arriving at their lot, we had to walk along a narrow little path through the rice fields to get to the house which was pretty much what I expected it to be. Most of the furniture was hand made out of bamboo. There's an upstairs and a downstairs but the upstairs is completely empty since they had to replace the roof a year or two ago due to termite damage and they still haven't finished it yet. The boards that make up the floor are so thin that you can see the downstairs through the cracks. The place would actually be pretty decent if it was all fixed up and furnished. The kitchen has no furnishings except for a refrigerator which they don't put a whole lot of stuff in because they are prone to long power outages here. For cooking, there is a fireplace. They cook everything over an open flame pretty much. In the living room there's a tv but the wife says it's from 1976 and it only gets two channels. The bad part for me is the bathroom. They have an actual toilet (with no seat) but no indoor plumbing, just a bucket of water they keep next to the toilet. Basically you do your business, then dump water in the bucket until everything goes down. That will take some getting used to I'm sure but I've crapped in worse places so no big deal. The shower is just an empty cement room with a chair in it. You drag a bucket of water in there and take a field shower. In the front yard they have a big cement sink type thing with a big water pump next to it which is how they get their water. They keep a huge bucket next to the pump full of water and use it for everything; cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. Luca likes to give himself makeshift baths by taking the little dipper in the bucket and pouring it over his head, it's very cute. There are witndows but most of them are broken which isn't a big deal as the house is usually wide open anyway. You can't completely close it up because there are cracks and openings all over. And the bugs! There are more flies here than I've ever seen before. You sit down and you've got 4 or 5 flying around you all the time, it's very annoying. Mosquitoes don't seem to be much of a problem yet thankfully. The kitchen table is covered with little tiny ants. The wife said they normally spray some stuff that keeps the ants away but I can't remember why they haven't recently.

We bought some fish at the market for dinner and I bought the biggest prawn (shrimp) I've ever seen in my life. The wife had the fridge stocked with beer - she knows me so well - and I gotta tell you, there's nothing like a cold beer on a really hot day, even in the Philippines. The wife's father came by after dinner with a small bottle of brandy and he and I sat and bonded while we got slightly inebriated. It was a fun experience. He can actually speak English a tiny bit albeit in short, halting half-sentences that I have to struggle to understand. He seems to have taken to me more than anyone else in her family so far which I take as a good sign. I like him a lot, he is really cool.

So Day 1 is over and so far no snakes. We're off to a good start.

Click here for Day 2


Gia said...

Nice post Rik.

You should have packed your mokka. You could easily have bought capeng barako (a locally roasted coffee) and made your espresso over the open flame.

Enjoy the rest of your holidays!

Anonymous said...


Great description!! Reminds me of my first trip to PI right down to the toilet with no seat and no running water.

I look forward to reading more.

Tom P.