A sign outside a bar called “Eruptions” in the prostitution capital of the Philippines advertises that exotic dancers can earn as much as 200 pesos a day. About $5. To me, this city, Angeles, is a dirty, disgusting place. None of the gambling of Vegas and 500 times the in-your-face sex. The U.S. Military paid millions in rent over several decades to maintain the Clark Airforce Base here. Until 1991 when the Philippines finally said, “We don’t want yo money no mo! Out!” Since then, the old facilities have been converted to civilian commercial use and budget airlines have flocked to the runways.
Of course Angeles, developed its reputation during the U.S. military presence. Sickeningly, not only are women trafficked here, but child trafficking is a huge problem. I’m told Angeles is blatantly and shamelessly advertised as a pedophile’s dream destination in European and Japanese magazines. To me, that’s devastatingly sad.
Our arrival in this nasty place was fraught with the kind of exhaustion and helplessness that must be character building. After about four hours of sleep, we had woken to a 3:30 a.m. alarm. We got into a taxi, then a plane, a shuttle, a metro car, and then a bus. All before 1 p.m. We stepped off the bus with no map, no idea where we’d stay, and no idea where we were. (Lonely Planet was extremely unhelpful.) In attempt to avoid the intensity of the touts shouting for our attention, we ducked into Jollibee (Filipino McDonald’s).
After 30-mintues on Google, we still had almost no answers and only a very rough plan. Rooms in the sex capital are outrageously priced. Elsewhere a room that would go for a maximum of 700 pesos is well over a thousand here. In our insomnia-fueled desperation, we seriously contemplated avoiding the nastiness and just going straight to the airport where we’d spend the night on the lounge chairs.
After riding a packed jeepney to the mall, we tried a door to door approach with all the hotels in the area. Thinking farther from the main drag would equal cheaper, we got more and more strange looks as we plumbed the depths of a run-down neighborhood. Finally we u-turned onto a more promising street, but our luck didn’t last. At one place I price-checked, they actually told me, “Well, she’s with a guy right now, but when she gets done, she’s switching rooms. So then her old room will be free.” Then they actually showed me a room, complete with the occupant’s luggage contents strung about and the bottle of whiskey on the night stand. Oh, and the smashed cockroaches in the hallway. Um, no. Hell no.
Finally we happened upon “America” one of the three “it probably won’t kill you” budget hotels listed in Pat’s guidebook. As promised, the 1970’s vibe permeated. It felt like a porn set from that era – dirty old men in speedos with gross tans. Greenery. Pool. Sleazy carpet. Enormous sex mirror reflecting our entire king size bed. Peeling, faded, stained signs taped to said mirror on topics such as: third person is a 50% surcharge, any stain on the sheets – blood or otherwise- will incur a charge. EW.
But besides being seedy and generally icky, Angeles wasn’t all bad. Down the street on a dinner wander, we found a joint serving amazing curries full of normal people. (And one surreal, beautiful woman – white (like see-through skin), black hair, stunning in her to-die-for elegant/casual dress. Somehow linked to the locals – holding their children, chatting, laughing – and totally out of place among the peeling paint and smog-stained walls.) There was coin-op karaoke. When they asked for our permission to sing, my enthusiasm earned me an invitation to join them!
We called it a night early, finally got all the sleep we needed, and awoke to fight off ridiculous airport scams. We actually ended up getting there for free – realizing after the jeepney pulled away that we never paid. “Fair is fair,” we thought. Probably, annoyed that we skipped out on their scam (250 pesos for a ride to the airport doors or 8 pesos to get dropped off at the main gate), they “forgot” to tell us where to get off. When it was obvious we’d gone too far, we jumped out the next time the vehicle stopped. After retracing the route for half-a-mile, I asked directions from a police officer in the intersection watch tower. He flagged down a security truck who delivered us to the front doors and insisted on no payment.
So… a sweet goodbye from the lovely Philippines after all! And I topped it with another sugary tid-bit -my first Mister Donut donuts in the departure lounge. I ate four for lunch. It was that, a hot dog, or an empanada with mystery meat.
Hasta Luego, Philippines. Until we meet again! ♣
Click for a picture of my black and blue foot and Pat carrying all our luggage.
Read the “retrospective” here for my final thoughts on the Philippines.