Cross-posted from Filipinovoices.com
I’m supposed to be up in the crater lake of Mt. Pinatubo last weekend, but our trip was canceled at the last minute. Apparently, the RP-US military exercises known as Balikatan is being held in that particular mountain range, and no hikers are allowed up the mountains for safety reasons. With the odds against us, we didn’t insist on pushing through with the trip. We didn’t want to be caught up in
US military operations against the NPA live-fire exercises anyway. Tourists: 0, US and RP Militaries: 1.
My wife and I have gone through many trips all over the Philippines for the past two years, and one of the many lessons that we’ve learned over those trips is that when you’re outside of Manila, Cebu, and Davao, never expect your food to be served promptly. Manilans are so spoiled with fastfood that even gourmet restaurants in the metro have a standard waiting time of 15 minutes. In the provinces however, customized orders take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. So if you’re going on a trip to the provinces, especially in places that aren’t the usual destinations (e.g., places other than Boracay, the Metros, provincial capitals, etc.), take my word for it — pack some biscuits in your carry on. Tourists: 0, Laid-back Provincial Restos: 1.
Those are peanuts though, compared to the ordeal a certain friend of ours (who doesn’t wish to be identified) went through. He and his friends went to a popular northern resort town and checked into a hotel which is the namesake of the Arab-sounding beachfront it sits on. He has had bad experiences with that resort before, but hoping that things had gone better, he was willing to give it another chance. They got terrible service for their four day stay anyway — the scuba diving services advertised in the resort’s website did not exist, the food was bad, their requests of beer in the evenings went unheeded although the resort had three days to restock, and on the last day of their stay, water was cut off just when they needed to bathe before heading back to the Imperial Capital.
Our friend, a person who wouldn’t let such things go without giving a piece of his mind, demanded to see the owner of the resort — the "honorable" vice mayor of the northern resort town, to tell her the kind of service he is entitled to. A shouting match ensued — owner/vice mayor told our friend that if he had found their service lousy before, he shouldn’t have returned, and that she didn’t need his money anyway. Friends hurriedly left the resort and were given their money back, only to be flagged down in a military checkpoint. They were held for two hours for no reason (well, no reason other than the incident, obviously), until one member of the group managed to contact certain celebrities associated with Big Bad Media Outfit, which made the officer in charge flinch. For the purposes of my own safety, considering the violent gun-totting feudal-lord nature of politicians from said northern provinces, this is all hearsay evidence which cannot be accepted in the proper forums. Also, if someone issues me another death threat, you are free to figure out who has motive — Google is your friend. Tourists: -10, Philippine Tourism: -100, Northern Resort Town: -500, Vice Mayor/Resort Owner: Dante’s 7th level of hell.
Don’t get me wrong though — the natural beauty of these destinations, as well as the graciousness of local guides and townsfolk you could find within them make all these troubles more than worth it. This is especially true in places where indigenous tribes strike a balance between promoting their home and culture and preserving their way of life, accommodating tourists who want to see things that are unique, new, and special. I felt this strongly when we were in Sagada — where the guides are Igorots proud of their heritage. In an 8-hour spelunking tour that was, to say the least, a momentous challenge to my portly frame, we were going up and down rocks as high as a hundred feet, and slipping through crevices as narrow as 3 feet wide. I could not for the life of me explain how I got my 220 lb self through that hole, but to say the least, being able to go through it was such an awesome experience.
The following day as we were doing a two hour trek down a thousand-foot slope of majestic rice terraces to see the Bomod-ok Waterfalls, I asked my guide why Sagada has not turned over management of the destinations to the Department of Tourism. He said that if they turn things over to the DOT, they wouldn’t be able to share their experiences as a people to the tourists . They wouldn’t want a clear, cemented path will be cut through the cave complete with stairs and lighting — it wouldn’t be challenging anymore, robbing tourists of the chance to appreciate nature’s beauty. They wouldn’t want a cable car going down the waterfalls; it would rob tourists of the experience of climbing the rice terraces and the communities nestled there, as they do everyday. Once we got to the falls its raw, awesome power and beauty made me understand why — it was much, much more worth it to be seeing those falls after the descent. That evening, in the light of a bonfire, these same guides demonstrated traditional Igorot music and dance. The whole ordeal, including the cave trip, made me 5 lbs lighter as well. Tourists: 1, Philippine Indigenous culture: 1.
It’s a great experience everyone, especially Filipinos, should be entitled to have.