are plenty of us out there. A transnational tribe of kindred spirits compelled
to collect new memories, experience and sensation the way other people
collect shoes. Individuals who’ve decided to ‘screw the system’ and stretch
their legs on the road less traveled.
for sure; when you drift around, you meet people from all walks of life.
The good, the bad, the ugly and the interesting (which fall somewhere in
between). Along the way, I’ve encountered plenty of people who’ve seen
the dark side of life and traversed the line of what’s considered to be
acceptable behavior. Usually, once they cross that line, they don’t go
back. They keep on moving forward until they find a spot where they can
blend into the background. Become invisible.
The world is
full of people like that. That doesn’t necessarily mean these people are
bad or dangerous, it just means they’ve negotiated life on the edge. You
might assume that I wouldn’t hang out with people like that, but you’d
is the best teacher. Through experience, one learns to interpret these
situations. To read the people. To ask the right questions and to
know when it’s best not to ask. Ultimately, they’re often the most fascinating
people, because they have a story to tell.
in mind, let’s get back to my own tale - Part 2 of my quest for an island
after my failed shell-buying enterprise (see
Part 1), I finally met up with Fabrice (my husband) in Manila.
His idea of the perfect adventure necessitates surfing in a peaceful, off
the beaten track, eco haven. Needless to say, he already had a fairly
good idea of where he wanted to go and as usual, he didn’t let me in on
the secret. “It’s a surprise”, he said. The French have a way
of being, which can be incredibly liberating and equally frustrating if
you don’t happen to be moving to the rhythm of their groove. “Don’t worry”,
he said, and “don’t think too much, just loosen up and go with the flow”.
“No problem”, I declared, deciding not to plan anything more than my next
lunch from there on in.
I did, however,
manage to badger him into exploring the famously romantic, albeit touristy
Boracay, to which he graciously agreed, under the proviso that we ultimately
end up on his secret island paradise. This type of situation is known as
There are two
ways to get to Boracay. The easy way is to jump on a plane and fly
there within 40 minutes (from Manila) and the other way is the long-winded
overland route via Puerto Galera, which entails buses, chickens on boats
and plenty of patience. You guessed it, there’s no point in even attempting
to do things the easy way when you’re pretending to go with the flow. Overland
it was to be.
Galera, a small town on the northeast coast of Mindoro sits 130 km south
of Manila. Directly translated, that means a 3-4 hour bus ride from Manila
to the port of Batangas City, followed by a 1 hour boat trip to Sabang
Beach. Once there, you can take your pick
between Coco Beach, White Beach, Tamaraw Beach or the Big and Small Lalaguna.
affordable slice of heaven is surrounded by shimmering seas and lush mountains
and loved by tourists and locals alike. Known as a top diving destination
in the Philippines, you’ll find 30+ diving sites less than a 5-10 minute
banca ride from Sabang Beach. And though there are 115+ resorts to
choose from, you can still find isolated coves, forests, waterfalls and
remote crystal bays with beaches ranging from powder white sand to smooth
stones and coral rubble. As one would expect, we decided to hang around
for a while.
side of Sabang Beach was to become our temporary home away from home (no
blaring dance music 24/7). Bellevue Cottages (one of Puerto Galera’s quiet
achievers) is a tiny resort perched high on the hill above the beachfront
and surrounded by lush tropical plants and trees with an unforgettable
view (just walk to the end of the beach and follow the signs that lead
to an uphill, winding garden path to the restaurant/reception area).
of Filipino native-style cottages are a fair distance apart and contain
basic bamboo furnishings and amenities, including a private veranda and
hammock in which to while away the afternoons with a good book.
Apparently, prices range from 1500-2000 pesos per night but depending on
demand, everything’s negotiable - especially if you stay longer.
We stayed for 2 weeks and paid 750 pesos ($17) per night for a slightly
smaller cottage without a kitchen.
the course of moving in, we bumped into our new transient neighbors. Bill,
a 60-something Dutch eccentric sporting long white rock-star hair, a black
cowboy hat and an easy grin - and Lisa, his Filipino ‘wife’. Instantly
seduced by his humor, manner and joie the vivre, as well as her easygoing
nature (not to mention her cooking), the four of us became fast friends.
We never asked
too many questions but he did volunteer (after a couple of local rums)
that he used to be a bank robber who now trained police dogs for a living,
and that for the past few months he’d endured some radical chemo treatment
for various cancers - of which he spoke no more. From thereon, he said,
he was only interested in raising the roof and blowing off some steam.
When you potter
around the tropics, the days are inclined to blend, but there’s one day
and night I won’t forget in a hurry. The four of us decided on lunch at
a nearby German restaurant with swimming pool. Within minutes, a flock
of young Filipino girls invaded the restaurant; they plunged into the pool
and began splashing about in peek-a-boo bikinis. The performance was admirable.
Demure smiles and poses for cameras in-between makeup touch-ups using tiny
hand mirrors. One thing’s for sure, that day, Fabrice and Bill received
a lot more attention than the ‘schnitzel and potato salad’.
To my fellow
female travelers, I hereby declare the following:
In case this type of emergency ever happens to you, you have to dial a
sense of humor. It’s really all you can do. “Do they have a school here,
where they teach them tricks to capture the attention of the male species”,
I asked Lisa. “Not hard to do”, she said, “Most of the men are ugly and
old but have money”. Indeed, I thought, spying plenty of podgy looking,
sun- scorched lobsters with seemingly healthy retirement funds.
madam in charge of the pubescent flock proudly looked on (mentally calculating
the pesos), as her protégés gyrated enthusiastically on blow-up
dolphins, providing plenty of bait by which to trap the salivating red
lobsters. On that day, nobody was eating his or her schnitzels and
potato salad. Nobody, except Lisa and me.
If you’ve stuck
with me so far you better grab a glass of water because the menu’s gonna
to get a little spicy. I’m about to take you on a tour of Puerto Galera’s
sex industry - as witnessed through the eyes of a female schnitzel.
is not my intention to promote the sex industry, nor do I want to pretend
it’s not there, as one doesn’t need to look twice to notice the seediness
underlying the country’s vast beauty.
it or not, the country’s sex industry most certainly rivals the one in
Thailand and most countries around the world for that matter.
Men, (and occasionally women too) congregate from all corners of the globe
knowing very well that a girl (or boy) costs no more than $15 per night.
For that price, they can buy pretty much anything they want. At any
age. And what’s more, contraception is virtually unheard of. It’s
a risky business for anyone involved but it doesn’t stop anyone either.
Scores of ‘Bargirls’
as young as 13, gyrate and jut their underdeveloped hips to the beat of
mind numbingly boring pop music. Their bodies are on automatic pilot.
They smile on cue and know exactly what to do. Strangely enough,
their potential customers don’t always know that the deal is a technical
exchange. That they’re in fact paying for a service, like having one’s
car tuned I suppose.
though, the men fall in love because there, they receive the type of attention
they’ve perhaps never experienced before (at least not at that price).
One can only hope they realize that most of the girls are only interested
in their masculine dollar; that in fact, they’re being taken for a ride
– so to speak.
My friend Lisa
told me that over 60 per cent of girls in the Philippines become prostitutes.
It’s a poor country and for some of these girls there’s simply no choice.
Yet not as many as we’d like to think. Mostly, she said, the girls are
just lazy and it’s an easy way out.
I was beginning to develop a strange fascination with the seediness of
this place. I wanted to know more. “No problem”,
said Lisa, “I take you out”. Needless to say, Bill and Fabrice volunteered
to come along for the ride - wanting to make sure we’d be safe. Isn’t that
the funniest thing you’ve ever heard?
night we visited a number of girly bars and clubs. Lisa introduced me to
a friend, a mother of 3. I started chatting to her and she confessed that
she was in fact a local ‘Hunter’ girl. Hunter girls, she explained are
girls who work independently, actively seeking out men for money.
Whether it be a one-night exchange or something more long-term didn’t matter.
Of course, the number one objective was always a long-term relationship.
Preferably, with someone who would get them out of the Philippines. “Wouldn’t
you miss your family?” I asked. “Sure”, she said, “But at least they
will be taken care of”. I was told that if a foreigner marries a
Filipino woman he’s then obligated to take financial care of her entire
family – extending all the way to aunts, uncles, third cousins and the
rest of it.
asked me to dance with her. Happily, I obliged
over the next hour or so while my husband, Bill and Lisa observed the spectacle.
Without a doubt, that girl could literally dance the pants off anyone.
Splits, cartwheels and other bodily contortions you’d be hard pressed to
witness at a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza. In time, she told me she’d
better push on and get on with business.
I said goodbye
and thanked her for spending the time to chat. She then proceeded to ask
me for money to feed her children and I soon discovered that her local
friendliness was actually an unsealed business deal. Clearly, on that night,
I had become the hunted - and the poached. To make matters worse, Bill,
Lisa and my husband had known all along and didn’t say a word. Howling
with laugher, they poured me a double vodka and nothing more was said.
out a couple of karaoke numbers, Lisa said goodnight. She’d had enough
and asked Bill to baby-sit for the rest of the night. “Bill wants to play
with other girls”, she said. “Me, I’m tired and sick of him”.
“Don’t you get jealous?” I asked. “No way”, she said. “I’m happy to be
rid of him for one night”. No wonder Filipino women have a reputation for
being the best wives on the planet.
you’re looking for a bit of action, you don’t have to look too far.
As soon as Bill hinted at wanting to meet girls, a dodgy ex-pat guide crawled
out of the woodworks. Inevitably, he steered us around a number of bars
and poky dark rooms, where young women straddled steel poles, flinging
their tiny bodies around the stage with booming leg-split-crash-landings.
I couldn’t help but notice that the girls looked seriously bored. By that
stage Bill got a little feverish. He wanted to ‘book’ one of them, but
was told that she was off limits because she was too young. Yeah, well.
Whatever. We finished our drinks and moved on to the next black hole.
he managed to secure himself a date for the night. While Bill was
checking out his investment, I briefly chatted with the ex-pat guide, who
claimed to be one of the original songwriters for the Rolling Stones. He
was quite emotional, if not teary as he spoke, saying that this was the
reason he’d lived in Sabang for 15 years. In order to forget about being
dumped by the band. Whatever his case may be, this Rolling Stone had obviously
run out of royalties. In the end, he gave Bill a ‘herbal’ Viagra handshake,
a wink and a smile, and wished him a pleasant evening.
time, Fabrice and I quietly escaped the ensuing proceedings, hoping our
friend would survive the excitement without a massive coronary. On our
way home, we ducked into a Disco for a quick nightcap. Inside – a beauty
contest. 10 girls in microscopic bikinis strutted awkwardly down the stage.
Again, they where too thin, too young, too...automatic pilot. Eventually,
and thankfully, the foreign ‘judges’ picked a winner. And just why the
majority of the judges ended up backstage at the end of the contest, I’ll
never know. Hmmm.
no moral judgments intended. What people do with their bodies, money
or time is their own business. All beings should be free to do as they
choose. One can only hope that they have a choice.
end of our 2 weeks, we’d seen more than enough of Puerto Galera and felt
it was time to move on. The promise of a more romantic, Boracay was sweet-talking
us both, and we decided to press on in our quest for the perfect island
paradise. Stay tuned...