Sabang, Puerto Galera, a tropical beach region just across the channel from Batangas, a port city two hours south of Manila.
Our journey began during a downpour in Manila. “Turn right, go two blocks, turn right, go six blocks,” got us to the LRT (Manila’s light rail), though a bit soggy. We faced the sort of urban obstacles that made me well up with emotion when we successfully stepped foot on the light rail, headed in the correct direction towards the bus terminal. Small wins: seamlessly tackling one way flooded walkways, security checks that meant unzipping my took-me-an-hour-to-zip-up 45-liter backpack, streets so gorged with water the sidewalks were lapping with a tide, and light rail ticket purchasing that required the gentle assistance of kind Filipinos.
Long story short, we made it on the bus to Batangas with little to no issues, making some friends along the way, including Jess, who comes back into our story later.
A gorgeous hour and a half long boat ride at sunset awaited us in Batangas, complimented by a lovely German diver/young professional and the beers he bought for us. He had landed a job as COO of a tech startup in Manila, had a luxury apartment for $500 a month and still had a cool $2000 left over for spending money. A small fortune in the Philippines. Immediately, I am calculating how I could follow suit.
Sabang immediately grabbed us. The picturesque colors and shapes of the buildings sculpted into the hilly island looked like half shanty town, half beach paradise. The town had a smell of hot cooking oil, soy sauce, humid musk, and diesel fumes. We would walk up the hill to Paddy’s bar and hostel, giving us the opportunity to score some fresh off the fire pork skewers and fried calamari.
We were greeted by super-friendly Filipinos. Two would become our close comrades. We were taken to our room, but the room had not been cleaned since its last occupant. Gross. As we waited for the sheets to be changed, we had time to discover that the sink nor the toilet were working, and to also meet our neighbor Nick, a loud fellow from Canada (“BC not DC bahahahah”) with a laugh like Beavis, who was accompanied by, wait for it, a tiny Filipino prostitute in a tiny white dress.
We stumbled into our freshly “cleaned” room, plopped on the bed staring at each other with wide eyes, trying to ignore the soft moans coming from across the hall. Both of us were too tired, and too still full of optimism to make even one comment.
The suspicious, almost sweet, smell emitting from the mattress drove us to find fresh air upstairs at the bar. The view was breathtaking. A jungle village tucked into the hillside of a lush valley. Coconut trees and colorful tin roofs framed a beautiful view of the ocean just a few kilometers in the distance. The site at Paddy’s bar took our breath away as well: we gasped in horror.
Nick had said that Paddy had just gotten back from a trip, so they were partying hard tonight. He wasn’t joking. Paddy, a dive master, whom I had envisioned as a fit 40-something expat, was actually a 60-something obese Australian dude with an accent that was made no easier to understand by the hours of drinking that had most certainly preceded our welcome. “Ah, welk um mites, ware ya com from? Lucy grab deez foke a drink, ill ya?” His saggy fatty jugular wiggled around as his jaw pumped up and down with each word.
The apple didn’t fall farm from the tree. Spud, Paddy’s son, who also gave us a warm welcome, looked like a slightly less obese clone, limping around and pushing people around in the wheelchair he was supposed to be using. I was able to make out some of the story through his heavy accent and slurred words. The long and short: he was fucked up, slipped, and tore his ACL.
Next there was Pete “the criminal” who reintroduced himself to us the next morning, as if we had never met before. He was a middle-aged English guy with tattoos who kept pressing, “Do they let criminals into your country??”
Melder, or “the Dane,” from Denmark, made the pizzas, and then there was Lo and Allen, the kind Filipinos who got fucked up but kept their shit together.
And at the back, were seven Filipino women, thick make up, highly accessorized, and scantily clothed. It seemed that we had stumbled upon a reunion of degenerate boozers, made slimier by the consequences of some sort of prostitution group rate.
Welcome to Paddy’s.