Memoirs of a Philippine Mongerer
Americans, Aussies and lahar. Welcome to AC.
So there I was enveloped by pitch black night, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by about twenty Filipinos whom I had no idea how to communicate with. Was this a scary situation, you bet it was, especially since I had absolutely no idea what to do about it. I could see the Filipinos looking at me but luckily I didn’t sense any hostility, so deciding to push my luck I ambled up to one of the guys and asked, “excuse me, could you please tell me how do I get to Dau”? The guy looked at me and replied in perfect English, “I was thinking same as you. Wait here and I will ask someone”. Hearing him say this was such a relief and I gave a silent prayer thanking my lucky stars that I had met a friendly Filipino who spoke my language. Without him things could have gotten quite tricky.
My new found savior approached three other Filipino guys and jabbered away in Tagalog at the end of which he came back to me and said, “those are local guys, they tell me wait here and trike will come, then trike take you hotel”. Upon hearing this I gave a sigh of relief, thanked him profusely, and plonked my ass down on the rucksack to wait for a trike to arrive.
I had waited about thirty five minutes and had been watching the other passengers load themselves onto jeepneys and trikes and then suddenly I looked around to realize that I was the only person left. So now here I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, with only pitch black night to keep me company, and just as I was beginning to worry a trike pulled up from nowhere and the driver asked, “hey Joe what hotel you stay”? I was about to reply my name is not Joe it’s Martin, but I realized I was hardly in a position to be picky, so I simply gave him the name of the hotel and then piled myself and my rucksack into the trike.
Back in those days Angeles was very different than what it is today simply because it was a much smaller town and because it had been mostly destroyed due the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. The trike traveled along the main road for what must have been a couple of kilometers and then took a turn of to the right to travel along what was basically a dirt road full of potholes and lahar. We traveled on this road for close on thirty minutes moving at a snails pace as the trike jolted its way in out of bone jarring potholes. From inside the trike I tried to look out and survey my surroundings but all I could see were giant black shapes which I was to later find out were hills of lahar.
Upon reflection I realize these hills were probably only twenty or so feet high but from inside a trike, in the middle of the night and surrounded by a thick film of lahar, making it hard to breath let alone see properly, they sure seemed like mountains. After about thirty minutes the trike driver stopped and informed me that he wanted to talk with a group of guys that had suddenly appeared. I asked him why and he replied, “I get direction Bonanza Hotel”. When I heard this the alarm bells started ringing in my head and I had visions of being mugged and left battered and broken in the middle of the lahar fields.
While the driver talked with the three guys they kept on looking over at me and I was sure this was going to get nasty. To be honest I have had only a few fights in my life preferring instead to walk away and avoid them but I knew instinctively if these guys came for me there would be no walking away.
I sat in the trike for about five minutes sweating my ass off wondering what was the best way to handle this situation when suddenly the driver turned around and proceeded to walk back towards the trike. Here comes the demand for money I thought, but instead of doing anything threatening he merely smiled and said, “I know way now, Bonanza 10 minutes”. The feeling of relief that swept over me must have been visible because the driver looked at me and asked, “you okay Joe” to which I replied, “yes very okay just a little tired so want to get to the hotel”.
After another fifteen minutes of bone jarring travel in the trike we finally pulled up outside the Bonanza Hotel and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. This trip had been a real worry, especially the Angeles half of it, and I fully realized I was extremely lucky to be here in one piece. I paid the trike driver two hundred piso, thanked him profusely then lugged my rucksack over my shoulder and entered the Bonanza Hotel.
The Bonanza in those days was nothing flash but at least it had survived Mount Pinatubo’s explosion relatively unscathed, the rooms were basic but decent, the price of 300 piso a night was perfect, and there was a distinctly Australian feel about it.
The Bonanza in modern times is called the Ponderosa Hotel and you will often see the hotels jeepney delivering patrons to Fields. It is not exactly in a centralized position being positioned in a back street in Mountain View but back in those days the issue of being close to Fields Avenue didn’t really matter because everyone seemed to get a trike or jeepney around, and nobody seemed to care less about a hotels proximity to Fields.
This of course has all changed now and closeness to Fields has become a major selling point for many of the up market hotels in Balibago. Back in the day there were only 5 or 6 major hotels and of these only the Orchid Inn was situated within close proximity to Fields. Just as now the major hotels offered a sort of resort feel and the emphasis was on providing the guest that tropical holiday feeling. Instrumental in creating that feeling was the hotel swimming pool together with the tropical garden surrounding it. The big players then were the Maharajah, the Oasis, the Clarkton, the Premier, the America Hotel and the iconic Aussie hotel, the Swagman. These were then followed by what I call the second string hotels which were establishments like the Executive Hotel, the Orchid Inn, Genesis and the Bonanza.
At that time the American influence was waning as they were getting ready to pull out of the Philippines and the Mount Pinatubo explosion with the destruction it had reeked, was merely the icing on the cake. Everywhere you went mounds of lahar varying in size could be seen and there was always a lahar haze in the air, causing people to cough and wheeze.
In terms of the bars there were only about ten bars on Fields including Dreams, Hobo Bar, Air Wolf, Club Fantastic, Birds of Paradise, the Happy Hooker, Ziggys, Stinger, Legs and Maverick City. There were probably a couple of others but their names escape me. These bars were complemented by numerous smaller bars scattered throughout the entire area including the now delightfully infamous blow road bars.
The general feel of the place was an eclectic mix between American and Australian which was perhaps best summed up by the street vendors who would firstly assume you were American and greet you with the classic, “hey Joe” and then if this didn’t work they would try “gooday mate”. The bars were generally speaking less commercial than they are today and the emphasis was on a bunch of guys just hanging out at their local as much as it was on casual prostitution. This was evidenced by the fact that a lot of bars had pool tables and the various pool leagues represented a regular and steady income for the bars. In fact I think there was probably a greater percentage of excellent pool players in Angeles than anywhere else in the world.
Just as is the case with Perimeter Road bars today the main emphasis was on daytime, early evening trade. Many of the bars would close by ten or at the latest midnight, and the thought of partying all night, or a bar being open 24 hours, was totally unheard of. Back then the scene was a lot smaller in nearly every way. The bars employed less girls and there was significantly less customers, plus the customers who did come had nowhere near as much money. The result was a laid back little town covered in volcanic dust mixed in with some brown skinned, hot blooded Filipinas, who rocked your world day after day with never a complaint.
The result of the smallness was a feeling of the town being less commercial and consequently more friendly. Most of the regulars knew each other and there was very much a social feel about the place. Groups such as the Hash House Harriers predominated and bars would compete with each other for the Hash business. Nowadays the Hashers are seen mainly as ‘Cheap Charlie’s’ and you will mostly find them drinking in the smaller bars or even the outside bars where the beers are cheaper and they can sit and watch the world go by.
As I have said the bars back then had a less commercial feel, it was very much amateur hour with girls wearing a cut off shirt and jean shorts together with high heals and a smattering of garish makeup. In Manila the scene was a lot more sophisticated with the girls wearing classy shoes, the right amount of makeup and bikinis. This was not the case in Angeles. The Angeles bars were somewhat of a time warp harking back to the eighties when America ruled the roost but this was also mixed in with the Aussie influence as more and more Aussies discovered the Philippines and specifically Angeles. The Aussie invasion was to some extent inevitable because their country was closer geographically and the scene in Angeles represented sex with beautiful, hard bodied Filipinas, at a very reasonable price.
In terms of the hotels there were several establishments catering to the Australian market, including the Orchid Inn, the Bonanza, the Executive Hotel and of course the iconic Swagman with it’s big sister hotel in Manila. A number of the bars were also Australian owned including Dreams, Club Fantastic, Ziggys and Stinger. The music in the bars also reflected the mix of American and Australian influence. The emphasis was on music for the customers and a large amount of Rock and Roll was played. Typically one could expect to hear bands like ACDC and INXS through to the classic rock of Led Zepplin, Deep Purple and the newer big bands such as Bon Jovi, Van Halen and Motley Crue. Back then just as today the girls didn’t really relate to this music but nobody seemed to care as the customers were having a great time listening to it and that was all that mattered. Manila bar music was more for the girls with an emphasis on them dancing but Angeles was still very much a rock and roll town where the customer ruled and the girls were there whenever we needed them.
Back then A. Santos Street AKA Blow Road, was in full swing. Bars with blatant names such as Super Head, and Mega Head were common place and some of the girls working in the blow job bars were the biggest earners in town. Some years later when I was working in the bar named Illusions seven girls from an A Santos BlowJob bar came to work in Illusions. The owner at the time predicted they wouldn’t last long because they could make more money in a Blow Job bar. I looked at him as if he was crazy and asked, “why would you say something like that. How can a girl working in a shitty little dive with no air-con and a lousy location make more money than working here in one of the premier bars on Fields Avenue”. Upon hearing this Wolf looked at me and said, “Martin you don’t really understand Angeles. Do the math. Working in Illusions she will get one bar fine a night that equals 400 piso in her pocket throw in a couple of ladies drinks and her salary and she is on about 600 piso. If she works in a BlowJob bar she can have at least five customers in a day and for each customer she will receive 250 guaranteed possibly an extra tip and maybe a ladies drink or two”. I listened to him, promptly did the math and decided as usual old Wolfy was right, and I still had a lot to learn about Angeles.
Another thing I liked about Angeles back then was the fact that the bar managers were definite characters. There was none of these behind the scenes operators and all the managers were up front in your face party guys who liked a drink, were always quick to tell a story and in general larger than life characters. The so called personality managers were predominant and guys would come to drink with them as much they would come for the girls.
In the early nineties Angeles was less vibrant than Manila, it was more laid back, there were less girls, less money to be made and in its own way a much more dated scene but I managed to slip right into it and thoroughly enjoyed myself. For me Manila with its large party clubs, bright neon lights and thousands of girls would always be number one, but when all the partying in Manila became a little bit to much Angeles was a very pleasant laid back alternative.