Sabang Part 1: Diver's Paradise & Other Bola Bola

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At-Can Hotel

Flag of Philippines  , Mindoro,
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sabang & White Beach are located on the NE tip of the island of Mindoro. A (semi) idyllic place where westerners come to dive, lounge on the beaches and drink like mad.  And oh yeah, the old men come to sleep with the young Filipino girls.  So this place has it's charm and it's stink.  I arrived a few days ago and here is what I found:

****WARNING***:  For those that are overly politically correct, please skip this post.  I do in no way condone illegal activity but merely include my reflections on the presence of it.  My personal opinion is that these descriptions are quite tame.   Should you feel that any descriptions contained here-within are inappropriate to the standards of Travel Pod, please send me a message directly and I will consider removing the given section of my posting for the purpose of the blog community at large. 

I arrive at the organized chaos that is the ferry terminal in Batangas.  I'm routed every which way and the fees are small but multiple - fee for the ferry itself, environmental fee, visitor's pass fee and of course the mandatory tip for the guy who explains to me all of the fees that I have to pay.  But the whole thing adds up to around $7 CAD and I'm in the waiting dock for the ferry.  A bored and friendly ferry terminal worker insists that I pull out my acoustic guitar and play him a song, so after some persuasion I cave in and oblige.  He strums a few chords, a haphazard effort at the ever-popular "Hotel California", but gets bored quickly and moves on.  I don't really notice but all the electricity is off and everyone claps weakly when the lights come back on - we've casually endured one of the Philippines infamous "brownouts".  A brownout is when the local electricity grid simply shuts down for a limited amount of time, typically no more than 20-30 minutes.  These happen everywhere (apparently even in sections of Manila from time to time, a city of 11 million people) but in the smaller cities/towns/villages they usually happen once per day.  People certainly don't make a fuss about it as it is expected and besides, what the hell are you going to do about it?

We finally board the ferry and it's a painless ride over to the island of Mindoro.  The picturesque islands and hot blue sky stream by as I lazily smoke a cigarette.  I meet Susie and Angel, two nice local girls who sing in one of Mindoro's many karaoke-type bar bands.  They're typically sweet Filipino girls who laugh allot and invite me to come see their "band" down at Angelique's Restaurant that night.  Before we hit dock I meet yet another nice Filipino girl (can't remember her name, let's call her "Janet"...this is easily a Western name that a Filipino girl would pick) who offers to point me towards some decent accommodation.  Upon reaching dock we are met by the swarm of advertisers, hopefuls and other touts looking to ply their wares.  "Vacant Room!!"..."Motorbike!!"...” T-Shirts, I give you good price!!”…"Massage!!" though a massage is the first thing I need when I make it to my destination.  To be fair, this group of salespeople is not half as bothersome as those you might find in Thailand or Vietnam and are brushed off quite easily.  We quickly wade through the crowd and cruise into town.  Sabang is a small place with the center of town nestled directly in the middle of a bay that spans perhaps 3 kilometers.  There is no beach to speak of right at Sabang and the bay is quite crowded with boats of all shapes and sizes, mostly those servicing the many dive shops.  There is a decent beach I'm told in the bay just past the main bay where Sabang sits.  And a truly magnificent white sand beach is found at the appropriately named village of White Beach, about 10 KM away – it’s an easy jeepney-motorbike transfer ride and takes all of around 30 minutes altogether.  But by far the main draw here is the world class scuba diving which I intend to get involved in right away.  Rooms are booked solid at the first place so I stumble around in the glaring sun, and finally end up at the At-Can Hotel.  It's decent value: Proper double bed, kitchenette, clean private bathroom, deck with table and 2 chairs and a clear view of the harbor and surrounding islands for only P700 for the night ($16 CAD).   I catch a decent shwarma for P50 ($1.15 CAD) and loaf around for few hours before the transformation from day-time Sabang to night-time Sabang sets in, and what a transformation it is.

Around 8 PM the stream of "girlies" starts to flow from unknown destinations towards the girlie bars on the main strip of town.  I had no idea that such a small location could host up to 6 girlie bars but apparently this place can handle it.  Around 9 PM I'm hangin' on my small deck when two local "freelancers" as they're known (street prosties), approach.  I'm playing my guitar to pass the time and their interest is piqued.  They invite themselves up and I pour them a beer.  They excitedly request that I play them a song.  I suggest a love song because that's all they really like around here.  They suggest a couple of obscure songs from an unknown time that I'm not familiar with, so I play the first love song that comes to mind, "Invincible" by the fantastic English band "Muse".  The chords are strummed and the "girls" are enraptured.  I use "girls" in quotation marks as only one of them is actually a girl.  The other is clearly a boy and tries extra hard to look femmie.  Some might call this person a Lady Boy but that would really be disrespecting boys who actually look like ladies.  He's got a thin veil: bucktoothed smile, no breasts, ratty hair combed out long and that zealousness that only a boy trying to be a girl can embrace.  I end the song and the duo starts to paw at me, suggesting that certain services are available.  I had known already that I was being too friendly but now the shit-tasting fruits of my off-handed efforts are more than obvious.  I politely suggest that I'm busy and they have to vacate the premises.   They linger but I’m persistent that I’m not in need of any services, and the girl moves on.  The boy in the dress however is more steadfast and continues to try to invite him/herself into my room, insisting that something is “free”.  My barrier of politeness finally drops and I have to physically assist this weirdo off of my balcony with a light escorting motion.  Disappointed, he/she shuffles to the walkway where he/she pauses at the corner of the building, making blowjob gestures at me and mouthing just above a whisper….”I come to your room later!”…I insist that this will not happen but it would be nave to think I’ve seen the last of this one.  A nagging feeling sets in:  I know I will have to deal with he/she again later tonight.

After a scrub up I head into “town”, which is essentially one long, meandering strip of markets, diver shops, bars, restaurants and makeshift street vendors of every variety.  The main strip is dissected by a secondary road that leads up the hill and disappears out of town.  As per the usual scenario, I’m offered everything under the sun.  A group of 8-10 ladies loaf out front of one of Sabang’s many spa parlors….”Hello Sir, you want massage?”….”No thank you ladies”.  To be sure, these are legitimate masseuse type services although I’m sure that the infamous “happy ending” would become available quite quickly, here or somewhere else close by if one were to seek it.  The shoddiest looking nick-nacks, necklaces and other assorted junk are shoved in my face every 2 minutes…..“Motorbike!”  If I were to take only one out of ten motorbike rides that were offered to me I would no doubt be on two wheels for 90% of the day.  This puzzles me slightly.  In a town this size, how could there possibly be the necessity for what is literally hundreds of teenage boys who sit around in the streets offering motorbike rides?  But I realize that it’s not about necessity.  These young men all have motorbikes, and otherwise very little opportunity for regular employment, so motorbike rides is the order of the day.  Cellphones, Ipods, Iphones, waterfall tours,  Viagra, Cialus, freshly caught fish and DVDS of questionable origin and taste are but a few of the items that are very readily on offer as I stroll around.  The selection of stuff, mostly useless, is somewhat dizzying.  This island town reminds me somewhat of Ko Pangang in Thailand, but in most ways, a decidedly lower key version. 

I keep strolling and surveying the amusing scenarios that continue to play out.  A group of dorky Koreans sing atrociously out of tune to the sounds of the omnipresent karaoke box.  Two local girls in a spat have it out on the street corner.  A boy of perhaps 5 years old rakes spiders out of the street rafters with a self-fashioned “spider catcher”, presenting them to his father who is nothing short of  horrified.  Ladies who are more wide than they are tall balance a cornucopia of fruit in the baskets on their heads.  I head on down to Angelique’s to catch Susie and Angel’s “band”, which of course is a karaoke style arrangement.  They smile and wave when I walk in and I attempt to ramp up the enthusiasm by clapping loudly and belting out over the top compliments when each song ends.  My attempt to raise the level of interest in the band falls relatively flat as there are a total of about 8 people in the “crowd” in a restaurant/bar that could easily seat 60 or more.  But I can tell the girls appreciate it and they suggest, while looking straight at me, that someone in the “crowd” make a request.  I offer the most obvious option…yes, yes,…Carless Whispers.  In less than 2 seconds Careless Whispers is pumping through the amplifiers and they are hamming it up a little for my sake, obliging me to sing along heartily when the chorus kicks in.  The song ends and they recommend that I join them on stage to sing a song, but this is where I clearly draw the line.  Perhaps if I had about 12 more beers in me then……maybe.  But now, no. 

After what seems like an eternity, their hour long set finally ends and they take a bow and sit at an adjacent table while they catch their breath and discuss their affairs.  They ask hesitantly if it’s OK that they join me for drinks out on the town.  I shrug with a questioning look…”Of course, why would that not be OK?”…..”Because you pay.”….Right.  Of course.  Because I pay.  OK then, I will pay for a round or two.  They guitarist from the band joins us as well.  After a few minutes I tap Susie on the shoulder and make it clear to her that I’m happy to pay for a few drinks but I will not pay all night for an endless flow of booze for the group.  She’s mindful of this and does not seem to be offended at all.  We head on down to one of the most central and popular party joints, The Broadway.  The Broadway is that odd mixture of dozens of young, cute and playful Filipino girls and equal numbers of crusty, blazing drunk, mostly over 50 western guys.   Actually this isn’t that odd here in the Philippines.  In any case, we chat casually and enjoy the karaoke-girl-band (which I will from this point onwards in my blogs refer to as the KGB).  This band is like most, there are three of them and one is clearly the front-girl who hits the high notes, directs the other two and generally has run of the show.  The front-stage girl notices Susie and Angel, talking directly to them in her microphone between songs and sharing laughs from a distance.  The kinship extends to me simply because I am with them, and the front-stage-girl prods me for a song request.  I’m in a Michael Jackson mood but I can’t be arsed to get up and plunk a tip in the jar on stage.  So I subtly draw my eye contact away from the front-stage-girl and she moves on quickly.  I can’t help but notice one particularly sad looking geezer, who looks to be 200 years old if he’s a day, sitting 180 degrees behind me.  He’s all slouched over his drink which he’s not touched in the last 20 minutes, with a dejected and truly sorry look on his face.  He’s all alone with distant eyes that are loosely focused on a time and place that the rest of us do not see.  I’m drunk enough to be in a nasty-humour sort of mood, so I lean over to Susie and suggest that this old clunker had better peel off to the hospital before he expires.  Susie laughs heartily, but I can’t help but feel a little remorse for this pathetic looking case.  Sure, it’s just my impression, but this senior citizen looks to have ended up in the wrong place for the wrong reasons, all alone, with on one that cares to pay attention to him, even in a place where attention is quite easy to come by. 

Shuffling out onto the street, we ramble down the pathway that leads to the centre of town.  After a few non-decisions Angel eventually suggests that we head into the “Sabang Disco” which, to be certain, is not a disco at all.  For the sake of salvaging my reputation , I will make it clear that Angel finally insisted that we go into this place.  The bar is in fact a strip joint with an oval shaped stage where girls who appear to be anywhere between the age of 14 and 30 strut around in monotonous circles.  The lighting is low and the atmosphere is murky.  Luckily for me Angel and Susie sit on either side of me, thus shielding me from what would most certainly be immediate advances from the girlies on duty.  We sit and chat for a while about whatever kind of stuff local girls and foreigners chat about – the silliness of the bar, funny stuff that happened recently and their music career.  Susie in particular seems transfixed on the dancing girls, her conversation lapsing off regularly as her attention gets continually drawn to the stage.  Angel is impressed by the shoes that one of the girls are wearing – a hybrid of converse all-stars and hoochy, high-heel stripper shoes.  I agree with her, the shoes are pretty cool.  Susie and Angel finally get absorbed in a personal conversation about some imminent unfolding scenario-drama, which I have no interest or business in.  They politely ask if it’s OK if they excuse themselves and I of course oblige.  I’m sitting alone and I can feel the eyes on me.  I know that if I sit here for much longer the girlies will start to swarm, so I guzzle my beer, settle up and head for the exit.

Ambling down the path to my hotel, I feel the dread of the inevitable he/she that is waiting for me somewhere between my current location and my safety spot.  It’s only about 100 meters to my hotel, but it’s an imperative 100 meters really.  Cunningly, I make a sharp left into a beachfront bar which I know has an exit on the opposite end which is that much closer to my hotel.  The idea being that I can hit one last beer here and move easily on to my safety spot.  But I’m caught in a tranny-style trap.  Who is lingering around the bar in question of course but my serenade friend, the very he/she that I was trying to avoid.  He/she calls towards me as though we are long lost friends and I rudely turn my back towards this person, initiating a beer from the bartender. 

He/She:  Hellllllllloooooooooo!

Gerry: Hi.

He/She:  Where you go?

Gerry:  I went out to the bar for a few drinks.

He/She:  I come to your room.

Gerry:  No, I’m not interested.

He/She: Whhhhhyyyyyyy?

Gerry:  Because I’m not interested.

He/She:  I come to your room.

Gerry:  Like I said, I’m not interested.

He/She:  Ooooohhhh……(disappointed)…..(Pause…..)….Free!!!!

Gerry:  No really, I don’t want that.

He/She:  OK……maybe later???? 

Gerry:  No, not later, not at all.  I am not interested at all.  Not now.  Not later.

He/She:  Ooooohhhh, OK….(Pause).  Tomorrow????

Gerry:  No, please!  Not now, not later, not tomorrow, not at all.  I sorry, I’m just not interested.  

He/She:  Ooooohhhh……OK.  Maybe tomorrow!....(finally walking away)…..

This whole thing isn’t as bad as it might sound but to discourage he/she from circling back around, I down my beer quickly and make a dash for the hotel.  When I’m 100% certain that he/she is out of sight I slip back onto my porch to have one final goodnight beer, the extra-strength Red Horse.  I sit for around 30 minutes drinking my beer and in that time, I see no less than one dozen older, foreign men walk back to their hotel rooms, each one of them accompanied by a young Filipino girl.  I would estimate that in most cases the ages of these girls range from anywhere to 1/3 or of the respective man’s age.  It’s like a parade of perverts.  I finally retire for the night. 

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eajun on

awesome post, Ger! funny, i don't ever recall Marge Simpson wearing that 'outfit' before.... heh.
sounds like quite the adventure, man. your posts are quickly becoming my favourite blog to read! i think the best is that i can hear you telling the tale as i read it and i know exactly how you're laughing as you say it all. makes me laugh out loud! wicked stuff, man...



kano on

"A boy of perhaps 5 years old rakes spiders out of the street rafters with a self-fashioned "spider catcher", presenting them to his father who is nothing short of horrified."

He's 7... Nicely spotted!

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