When I started writing this column, I swore to be honest and not sugar-coat anything. Say what I think, good or bad. Here’s a mixture of both. About ten days ago, we went to Cebu. I was getting a weird vibe before we left… At the airport, I looked at Rebecca and noticed that she was listening to “Screaming for Vengeance”, by Judas Priest, on her iPod. Hmmmmm….The Carpenters is usually more her thing. Were the Gods angry? I had a business meeting in Cebu and decided to bring Becky with me so she could go to Sto. Nino, shop, and so on.
So, we arrive in Cebu, I rent the car, drive to drop Rebecca off, and go to my meeting. Next thing I know, the guy in front of me stops for no apparent reason, and I hit him… No one was hurt, and no damage, but…
I have a good business meeting. Contract coming, next trip in few weeks… Happy as a pig in s**t. We get to the hotel… Waterfront Casino was full and Mariott being renovated, so I give an unknown a try. Have you ever thought “This doesn’t look like the hotel described on the Net”? Well, welcome to the dingiest, darkest, most ill-described hotel in Asia. Costing only $150 per night. Rude staff, Rebecca unhappy that there was no tea in the hotel, much less the room, swimming pool that looked like a jacuzzi (Where were the palm trees, pool bar, diving board, and so on described in the ad?). OK… We won’t be in the room much… We’ll settle.
Go to Sto Nino… besieged by beggars. One puts his hand in my pocket. We just want to go pray. Say prayers and leave. Time for dinner. Hotel recommends restaurant. Buffet only, but we give it a try. Think pancit glue, old bananas, and unidentifiable bones in gloop. Let’s just get some sleep… tomorrow’s a new day… We’ll have fun.
Next day, marvelous drive. We’ll explore the island (We had both been to Cebu city before). We had fun. Beautiful island. Met some very nice people. Gave an old “lola” a ride while we were in the mountains and she gave us some mangoes from her tree as “thanks”. Met a small boy on the beach who developed a crush on Rebecca and killed a big spider that was in her path. Thought all the bad juju was gone. God was happy with us again.
We arrive at Kawasan Falls. Four people try to charge me 50 pesos to park on the side of the road. Barangay police come up and say that I have to pay since I stopped (Don’t get me started on that… I did get a receipt though). 20 “guides” come up and we pick two. 1 km walk, past 4 “gift” shops, buko sellers, ice cream sellers, water seller, picture takers. We get to the falls and they are beautiful. The water is pristine. We sit down on some chairs there and the Barangay cop comes up with someone who supposedly owns the chairs. 300 pesos each to sit down and we had to buy two 100 peso bottles of water, besides. I start to tell the cop where he can stick the chairs and caught myself. I told him that this was not right. He said, “You are a foreigner. You are rich and these people need the money.” I tell Rebecca, “Let’s go, I’m tired of being treated like some dumb as***le.” She’s angry with me for paying the “fees”. (We get into an argument later… I remind her that I am the foreigner here, and with a policeman there, crooked or not, at best we were going to be in Cebu a few more days until things got sorted from Manila, in the event I did not pay.)
Now, I am not stupid. There is simply a point where you say, “Enough!”. I have been to many famous landmarks around the world, and I generally deal with stuff like this pretty well. I also know that the locals are poor, and, yes, they need the money. It is for these reasons that the Philippines does not have more tourists. When travel becomes more hassle than it’s worth, people stay away. It is also why I refuse to go to Boracay… I just don’t want to deal with it.
After all this, I finally lost it when returning the rental car. The guard would not let me park in the “rental car return” space and I had to drive around the airport to end up parking in my original spot. I became the ugly American… For the first time ever. After travelling to over 60 countries over many years. I hit the horn, and in a very angry tone said, “F-ing Philippines!!!!”. Am I ashamed? You bet. Did I apologize to my fiancee? You bet. It was not right to say such a thing in front of her. I hurt her feelings. She understood, but that does not make it right. I thought about the “why” I exploded. The situation was a trigger, and nothing more. It could just as well have been some store clerk saying “Sorry, out of stock” again at the wrong time.
Why did I write this article? Well, if someone like me, with a lot of “abroad” experience can let it get to him, then others certainly can also. My expectations were realistic, and I normally “go with the flow”. However, being an outsider, no matter how experienced you are, can eventually get to you. Make no mistake about it… If you are a foreigner here, you may be accepted and liked as a person, but you are, and always will be, an outsider. All the “living in paradise” and good intentions will not change that simple fact. It is something that everyone who moves here will eventually have to deal with… and will need to be prepared to accept. Some pictures from our trip (Next time, I think we’ll just stay at one of the “brand” resorts on Mactan… Same price, or slightly more, but no hassles. It’s a shame, but I won’t waste the money on substandard minimal service):