January 23, 2003

Misadventures from the Philippines Part II

By Señor © 2002

"There's a Red Bird over yonder"

What more could go wrong? My first night in Manila was enough to make me want to leave the country forever. But I wasn't ready to condemn the whole country for one bad night in one city. I decided to stick around the Philippines, but you can be damned sure I got the hell out of Manila ASAP! One of the Philippines claims to fame is the rice terraces which are considered to be the 8th Wonder of the World. So I headed up to North Luzon and a small town called Banaue. Banaue is only 150 miles north of Manila but it might as well be in a different world. It took 9 hours by car to get there. The single lane dirt road, which weaved up and down sheer cliffs, was not for the weak of heart. But the scenery was spectacular and we made it in one piece.

Banaue and the entire region are home to the indigenous people of the Philippines. It is an area where very few households have electricity. Cell phones and the internet are unheard of and tribal warfare is still common. And Banaue is considered there to be the big city! In order to really see the most spectacular of the rice terraces one must go to a small village called Batad, home to 30 natives. Batad is only four miles from Banaue but they have no roads. The only way to get there is to hike up and over a mountain. It was strongly recommended that I hire a local guide to take me there, as I am not familiar with the route or local customs. Early the next morning I hired a local guide who spoke very little English. A man who wore nothing but a loincloth and carried a bow and arrow and a shotgun accompanied the two of us. OK! By the way, he spoke NO English. I was surprised that my guide carried a tent with him and many bags full of food. After all, I figured a four-mile hike couldn’t take but a few hours. Little did I know!

Forty-five minutes later we were three quarters up the mountain and making pretty good time. All of a sudden a beautiful red bird flew across us, coming from our west and heading east. As this occurred both my guide and the loin clothed man let out a shriek. From what I could understand from their broken English was: if this red bird flies across your path from the west heading east it means death is lurking. The only way to avoid the death is to retrace one's steps. I was sure they were kidding and continued up the mountain. I looked up to find the barrel of the loin clothed man's shotgun pointed at my face. It was then I realized they were very serious and down the mountain we went. When we got to the bottom we turned around and headed back up. This time we only made it a half hour before the bird flew by again. We must have hiked a good 15 miles that day but by nightfall we were no closer to Batad than we had been at the start of the day. We set up the tent and that was that. The next day we set off again and encountered more of the same. Day Two did see us arrive at the top of the mountain and even a quarter of the way down the other side, but the fucking red bird kept coming! As day two ended we slept in the same spot as the night before. Would day three be a charm? It didn't start out that way. By noon we had already had to retrace out steps four times! I was very fed up with this never-ending hike. But to be quite frank, I was much too scared of the loin clothed man to say anything.

Things started to get interesting. Three-quarters up the mountain and here comes the bird again. However this time I realized I wasn't the only one fed up. The loin-clothed man threw down his bow and arrow, aimed and cocked his shotgun and just before the bird could cross our path he shot the bird dead. The man winked at me and proceeded up the mountain. I guess the death that was lurking was that of the bird! One and a half hours later I arrived in Batad. The natural beauty awaiting me was sensational and I had never been happier in my life to arrive anywhere! My only fear is that I would not make it back to Manila in time for my departure flight in two days.

Apparently our favorite loin-clothed man had killed the only red bird in the area. We had no trouble hiking back to Banuea and I made it back to Manila in plenty of time for my return flight to Bangkok. Ah, Thailand! How I longed to be back in Thailand, my utopia home for the last five months. As I got to the front of the Philippines Airlines check in line I was asked to produce my onward ticket to my next destination after Thailand.

"Thailand is my final destination. I have no onward ticket," I told them. To that they replied that it is Philippines Airline's policy not to let anyone with a non-Asian passport board a flight to Asia without an onward ticket. Just my luck! Most of the time I am scrambling to find ways to stay in a country. Here I was in the one country that I was very ready to get out of, and they were not letting me go! After much arguing they agreed to let me on board under two conditions: I had to sign a waiver saying that I have no onward ticket and I release Philippines airlines of any responsibility for allowing me to fly into Bangkok and they called Thailand immigration, telling them my name, passport number, flight information and that I was arriving with no onward ticket. The lovely Filipino women helping me told me that she had no clue if I would be allowed into Thailand or not, but it was now out of her hands. As I flew the three hours back to Thailand all I could think about was are they going to let me in the country? And if they don't where are they gonna send me?

Fortunately for me the person working at Immigration was a young beautiful Thai woman. I am not able to ask, "Where is the bathroom" with my limited knowledge of the Thai language but I can sweet talk a Thai woman in Thai with the best of them! In Samui the Thai girls all call me "dau chew" and "ba quan" which means flirt and sweet talker respectively. In a matter of five minutes with this lovely lady, not only was I allowed in the country but I also had a date for later that night! It was good to say "Farwell to the Philippines" and even better to be back in Thailand!

Señor is a pants dropper from Koh Samui, Thailand.

No comments: