Monday, 27 February 2012

Hong Kong and the Philippines Part 4: Vigan, Badoc and Batac


I'm back from Poland now after sampling the delights of Krakow and the surrounding area. It was a brilliant week away and one that I'm sure will find its way onto this blog sometime over the coming year. However, for now, we're Pilipinas, not Polska and so let us head south to the mountain city of Baguio...

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt
Links to all the parts of this travelogue:

Part 1: Hong Kong

Part 2: Manila and Lapu Lapu

Part 3: Cebu and Bohol

Part 4: Vigan, Badoc and Batac

Part 5: Bagiou, Montalban and Manila

We arrived in Manila mid-morning and took a cab right across town to Quezon City where all the bus stations are located. Randy had told us to head for the Dagupan Bus Station but when we got there we found that they did not run services to Ilocos Norte so instead we headed next door to Dominion Bus Services, (slogan 'Our buses are protected by angels'). They too did not run as far as Laoag, the destination that we wanted but they did go to Vigan, a town just south of Badoc, (where our hosts, the Corpuz family lived), so we booked onto their trip scheduled to depart at eight that evening. It been only the hour of two at that time however, we decided to leave our bags in the ticket office and head into the city for the afternoon.
Earlier I said that the Manila LRT had only one line. This is true, but to confuse matters, the city has another light rapid transit system called the MRT (Manila Rapid Transit?), which runs from Quezon to Edsa on the LRT line. The two are different since the MRT is private and the LRT state-owned but to the traveller the experience is the same, and so we walked along the dusty street, pass shops full of pirate DVDs and cheap cassettes to the MRT station.
The MRT is an interesting ride to take and a little pleasanter than the LRT since all it's trains have air con. Our journey took us through Quezon to Makati (the business district), and then onwards, over a river to the Edsa Terminal, (Edsa is famous as the place where the people rebelled and ousted Marcos). I consider both systems, both L and MRT's, (will the next one be the NRT?), as great ways to see the city as both tracks are elevated and you can can good views of the surrounded cityscape. We changed onto the older train there and went as far as the Central Terminal from whence we walked to Intramuros.
You may remember that we'd intended to visit the Spanish-walled city during our previous sojurn in the capital, only to be thwarted by the actions of a jeepney-riding pickpocket. I'd gone anyway, but Ryan was still green to the city's Spanish charms so it was his turn to look around there.
We went first to the Cathedral and once more it was filled with a wedding party, (I've never come across so many marriages in one holiday!), so we moved swiftly onto the Santiago fort.
San Pedro Fort in Cebu had been the smallest Spanish fortification in the Philippines. Santiago is the biggest so the contrast was interesting. Once inside we came across yet another wedding party, (they were having the reception in the grounds), but the place was still peaceful and pleasant anyway. Before coming I'd heard a lot about the dungeons where many notable revolutionaries had been held by the Spanish, Americans and Japanese over the years. When we found them however we were most unimpressed, no chambers of gruesome torture, just mere holes in the ground with an iron grille over the top.
One famous inhabitant of the dungeons had been a certain Jose Rizal. I'll forgive you if you've never heard of him before, no one has outside of the Philippines, but there is the main man without a doubt; the number one National Hero you might say.
Rizal was born 1861 and died, by Spanish musket fire, in 1896. He was many things, a scholar (it is said that he mastered twenty-two languages), a poet and essayist, a national hero and much more. Unfortunately, the Spanish who ruled the Philippines at that time didn't overtly like national hero type poets who publicised to the world what was wrong with their rule. That's why they shot him and that's why he's considered a superman to most Filipinos. His museum preserves his legacy well, there's copies of his writings, the cell in which he spent his last night and wrote his famous death poem, his shoes and glowing tributes to him in a multitude of tongues. The only downside was that there was also a guy at the end who required you to give a donation to the museum, something that I resented since the museum had been the best kept place I'd been to so far in the country anyway, and something makes me suspect that the Filipino government will keep it's bit of nationalist propaganda pristine with or without outside donations.
We walked a little around the walls and I was surprised that the fort had also been occupied by the British for two years in the eighteenth century. What they were doing there I never learnt. We left the fortress and took a taxi back to the SM shopping centre near the LRT station where we dined on Filipino fare before returning to the Dominion Bus Station.
We were given our first taste of Filipino bus travel in the bus station. The service was scheduled to leave at eight. With all passengers and the driver on board at that hour, it then sat there with the door open, and the choking air of Manila making me feel positively ill. Then, for no apparent reason, just after nine it started off on the long journey north. I was glad that the toxic fumes of the city were now excluded from the bus, but there was a new problem. We had been told that the vehicle was air-conditioned, but we were not warned how much. By the time we reached our changing place of Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sud, we were shivering and chattering and wishing that we’d kept our coats and jumpers on our bodies and not in our bags.
Our miseries were not over by the time that we’d restored ourselves to a normal temperature either. It was around five in the morning, we had slept little if any, and our beds for the night/ day were still over an hour’s bus ride away. “When is the next bus for Badoc due?” I asked the rather delectable yet grumpy young lady in the ticket office.
“Who knows?” she answered with a shrug and a huff. “One hour, two..?”
So we waited, for more than two it must be said, and when our carriage onwards finally did arrive we climbed onto it in a semi-conscious daze that lasted throughout the remaining hour, our meeting with the Corpuz family, and the short trip to their marvellous country house, a traditional wooden Ilocano affair with fine fretwork and windows made out of the material that they have been made out of for centuries; sea shells. We mumbled our hellos and arranged to wake up around twelvish in time for a trip to a local sports event, before climbing those proverbial wooden hills and sinking into a deep sleep in that fine old house amongst the palms.
The Corpuz family home, Badoc
The cock pit was not what I'd expected. My only prior knowledge regarding the sport was that it used to be popular in Britain until it was banned sometime in the nineteenth century. It had actually been practiced in my home village of Draycott-en-le-Moors and a cock pit still exists there, now functioning as an unusual centrepiece to someone's back garden. The cock pit there is a circular mound surrounded by a ditch, several metres across. That's what I'd expected to find in Santo Dominguez, a circle of sandy ground surrounded by around twenty to thirty old men, betting on which cock would be killed first.
The reality was far different. We knew that we were there immediately due to the hundreds of cyclos parked along the road and in the field. Then there was the stalls selling everything from bottled water and beer to spit roasted pig and chicken kebabs, (no prizes for guessing where the chicken meat came from). And beyond all that was the stadium, a huge, roofed metal construction backed to the rafters with a vociferous crowd, one thousand souls minimum. And this was a small, rural cock pit!

Cock-fighting in Santo Dominguez
We parked up and walked through the hollering traders to the main entrance. We were confronted by a wall of people, with some of the younger and more agile clinging to the sides of the stand. There was absolutely no way that we could enter by that route, so we went around the back and climbed some rickety stairs to the top of the stand. It was also packed there too, but somehow we managed to squeeze in and get a look at the action.
If I were asked to describe what a cock fight is like as a spectator experience, I reckon that the best description I could give is as a cross between watching a football match in the good old days when standing was allowed at stadiums and a sumo bout. It was similar to the football since everyone was crammed, standing only, into a stadium that from the inside looked rather like a football stadium, albeit with a much smaller pitch. The cock it was square in shape and the stands led right down to the edge of the 'pitch' as one might say. What's more, like in a good football match, everyone was shouting very loudly.
The fight itself however was not a game. It consisted of bouts which lasted no time at all, rather like sumo. A good, lengthy cock fight will last three or four minutes, most others far less. Yet, the tournament goes on all day long. The one we were attending had started around noon and would last until around seven in the evening. It this respect it reminded me of sumo, countless short bouts in a long tournament.
The experience started when the two cocks were brought out and displayed to the crowd. The cocks pecked each other to incite hatred and it was then that the betting started. Like so many sports, the main purpose of cock fighting is the betting. The cock on the left was always viewed as the weaker, thus if it won, it was more financially rewarding. The big difference however between betting in the West and Filipino cock fight betting is that nothing is written down. Betters signal to the bookies, (who are lined up at the side of the pit), how much they are prepared to bet, and on which cock by the means of hand gestures which signify how many hundreds or thousands of pesos they are willing to risk. They also holler their family name, though one assumes that most of the bookies know this already, it being a small, rural community. The betting then subsides and the fight begins. The cocks are placed down in the ring and their owners retreat. For the first minute or so the cocks merely strut around, apparently not noticing each other. Then they fly at their opponent with a flurry of feather, the ones around their neck standing on end like an Elizabethan ruff, which makes them look all the more menacing. Usually the fight is over within a minute or so. The referee picks up the wounded cockerel and lets it peck and it's opponent. If it attacks, it is still alive and the fight continues. Usually however, it is dead.
Then the exchange of money takes place. The losers screw the appropriate amount of pesos tightly into balls and throw them down to the bookies, who then throw balls of pesos up towards the winners. Once this activity subsides, then it's time for the next bout.
I must admit that my visit to the cockpit changed my perceptions of the sport quite a lot. I am someone who is anti-blood sports and I'm not ashamed to make that clear. I have no doubt in my mind that fox hunting should be banned in Britain for example, and I still hold to the belief that banning cock fighting was a good thing. However, I must say that the sport is far less bloody than I expected. At the absolute most, the cockerel only suffers for two minutes or so, which is hardly that long and in my mind far more humane than chasing a fox for miles across open country or even fishing and leaving a fish to suffocate quietly or with a wound in it's mouth from a hook. No, there are worse crimes than cock fighting and why it has such a very bad reputation I am not entirely sure.
For me however, it is not a sport that I can ever see me getting into. The bouts are too short to get interesting and I am not a betting man as a rule, (I did of course have a go in Santo Dominguez and promptly lost 400 pesos), so the main attraction of the sport doesn't really appeal to me. Still each to his own I suppose and at the end of the day, I like to eat the finished product so I can't complain there!
And it is each to HIS own. In the whole one thousand plus spectators I only spotted five women. The one in our party stayed in the car and slept. Like football used to be, cock fighting a male domain, father and son go to the pit together, mother and daughter stay at home or chat to their friends outside in the market stalls.
After about an hour of bouts, my tired legs suggested that it was time to move on. I don't know if the males of the Corpuz family really wanted to go, (I suspect not), but they made no objection, so off we went to the next town, Vigan. Of course we had been to Vigan  before, but I couldn't say that I'd really seen the place and that experience was one that I'd rather forget anyway. What I didn't realise then however, is that Vigan was not just another provincial capital, it is instead the best preserved Spanish colonial town in the Philippines. With that on your doorstep more or less, how could you not visit it, yet Sheree Ann informed us that despite living only thirty miles or so away, and indeed passing through the place everytime that she went to Manila, she'd never been there before, and nor had the other members of her family! I found this rather difficult to believe but it seems that Filipinos, despite being some of the biggest globe-trotters, rarely see anything of their own country. This was as much a new experience for them as it was for us.
Upon arrival in the main square, we hired a  sort of horse-drawn trap, to take us around. Myself, Ryan, Sheree Ann and Jerome got in and the others disappeared somewhere, (perhaps back to the cockpit?). The trap was a nice, leisurely way to see what is undoubtedly a pleasant town. We went past the church and towards the outskirts where we stopped at an ancient bell tower to take some photographs. We then proceeded onto a small pottery where we watched a lad of about sixteen fashion a jar. "Do you have many potteries where you live?" asked Ryan. Considering that the city nearest my home is named 'The Potteries' I would guess that we do came my reply. Actually I once did a weeks work experience in a pottery museum which was great fun, although it meant that the whole process of potting is a wee bit familiar now.
After the pottery we proceeded to the colonial quarter where we took some photographs of Spanish-style streets and explored tacky souvenir shops. It was getting dark however, so we returned to the square and met the lads who were now back from wherever it was that they'd been. We grabbed some delicious fried pancakes from a stall named empanada and then made the journey back to Badoc.
Vigan with Sheree Ann & Co
That evening was spent in a nice, leisurely style, drinking San Miguel beers with the Corpuz family and participating in the national pastime of the Philippines, Videoke. Unfortunately there were very few songs that we knew. As in Vietnam, the mysterious Michael Learns To Rock was a popular act, the allegedly American singer whom no American or European has ever heard of. So we let the Filipinos do the singing and we entertained ourselves by conversing with an old guy who was looked on with some embarrassment by the rest of the family. "He's our cousin", Winnie explained. "All he does is drink, all he knows how to do is drink."
"Do you have any gin?" asked Alkie Cousin, who then added that he was almost seventy and that we were very white indeed. He departed soon afterwards when he realised that San Miguel just wasn't alcoholic enough for him.

Drinks and karaoke with the Corpuz’s in Badoc

Little did I imagine that the following morning was what I would look back on as the highlight of our trip. During the hours whilst we were in the Land of Nod, Sheree Ann had decided to organise a Christmas Party for the neighbourhood children. Of course, a Filipino Christmas Party is quite different from a British one, no crackers or hats, or sitting inside someone's living room playing musical chairs. The sun was shining so everyone was outside on the basketball court, the only concreted area in the hamlet, and a place that served as a Recreation Ground for all.
Perhaps the biggest difference between third and first world countries these days, is not the wealth gap, but the number of kids. Whilst every developed country these days has a more or less stable population, those of the third world nations rocket ever upwards. Being from a developed and what's more Protestant tradition we tend to view that as a bad thing, sentiments such as 'they'll never sort themselves out if they keep on having all those bloody children' are common back home, and indeed big families are looked on as being a bad thing. Yet here, the situation is the reverse. The Filipinos are good Catholics, and whilst some do use contraception, most do not, and big families are the norm. At the party, which encompassed all the inhabitants of the hamlet, I counted well over thirty children; there were only ten adults, including myself and Ryan. Whether big families are a good thing or not I don't know, twenty-four years of British upbringing tell me that they're not, but I must admit that there are some advantages. No village in Britain could hold a spontaneous party for the local kids so successfully, and I suspect that growing up in a Filipino village is a happy childhood with no shortage of playmates.
Their party was more like a school sports day. Races and competitions were held and Sheree Ann and the other adults gave out small prizes of sweets or low denomination notes to the winners. The older boys also had a game of basketball, the national sport of the Philippines, and although Ryan took part, I diplomatically stepped back, as I did not wish to embarrass myself. The British are not renowned as basketball players.
I did take part in all the rest however, and it was great fun. I introduced them to the egg and spoon and wheelbarrow races, and we also tried out something we'd learnt in Japan, a 'Janken Relay'. The Philippines was occupied by the Japanese for around three years but the only legacy they seem to have left is that kids use the Japanese terms, ('Janken po'), for the paper, scissors, stone game that the Japanese adore. Our race involved three teams. Each member had to run up to a chair at the other end of the court and play janken with whomever was sat there, if they won they could go around the chair and the next member of the team went up. If they lost however, they had to run back and start again.
All in all we had a brilliant time, giving the cute village kids piggy-back rides and playing clapping games with them. In the end however it was time for lunch and so we retired to the house, where we ate home-cooked food heartily before setting off for a trip around the locality with Cris, Winnie,Sheree Ann and two of her nephews, Jerome and John Shane.
Kids’ Christmas Party, Badoc
Our first stop was Badoc, at the shop of the oldest sister, Josephine where they had to drop off some chain saw oil. We got out of the car and bought some drinks, which we consumed whilst Cris showed us the fighting cocks that Josephine's husband bred. Then we were off north, along the National Highway, to the next town, Batac.
When anyone talks about Filipino politics, there is one name that always comes to mind, that of Ferdinand Marcos, President of the Republic from 1965 to 1984. Marcos is undoubtedly a mammoth figure in the Philippines even today, and his legacy is rather controversial. He was elected to power in 1965 and was re-elected in 1969. In 1972 however, he declared martial law and cracked down on the crime and corruption rampant in the country. He also joined several major international groupings and made friends with foreign states both capitalist and socialist. At home he implemented many reforms and also supervised the building of some huge civil engineering products. Sounds good, doesn't it? In many ways it was, but Marcos these days has a very bad reputation in the west. The reasons are simple, firstly there was his wife, Imelda who was as flamboyant as they get. Few people can forget that when Marcos was ousted from power, it was found that she owned over 3,000 pairs of shoes, at a time when many Filipinos went barefoot. Secondly, Marcos was corrupt, and thirdly he had a habit of terminating his political opponents, most notably his main rival Benigno Aquino, (who's widow Cory, later became President), who died by an assasin's bullet on the tarmac of Manila Airport, (never has a link with Marcos actually been proved mind). Anyway, it all went to pieces for Ferdinand in 1984 when he held elections and lost overwhelmingly to the opposition United Nationalist Democratic Opposition, headed by Cory. He announced however that he had in fact won, the people unconvinced, hit the streets in Edsa (Manila), and with the support of the influential Catholic Church they managed to make sure that their former President and his glitzy wife took a fast copter out of the country.
A leader, corrupt as they come, and ousted by people power you would expect to have left a pretty bad memory in the minds of his people. But not it seems. In the Philippines, everyone that we spoke to, rich or poor, male or female, admires him. "The best president we ever had was Marcos" says Arlene. Even the pious Red agrees, despite the fact that the nuns took to the streets to oust him. Ok, so Arlene and the rest of the Corpuz family are Ilocanos, like Marcos, probably local pride getting in the way. But Randy in Manila agrees, and so do the taxi drivers in Cebu. In the end we asked every Filipino we met what they thought of him, hoping to find just one who didn't like him. We failed, the harshest criticism we got was that, "he had perhaps been in power too long."
But why was he so good?
"He helped the poor," explains John, the Aussie guy we met on the Superferry. "Maybe Cory and Ramos created some economic growth, but the poor, which is most of the population, felt non of the benefits. he built them hospitals and houses."
"What about the corruption?" I asked.
"All Filipino politicians are corrupt. That huge sum that he siphoned off for himself, it's only the same as every other President has done. Take Estrada for example. He was a good Catholic right, like every Filipino at church on a Sunday. Yet he had huge houses built for all his mistresses, and amassed an enormous personal fortune."
"But what about his mistakes?" I continued.
"They blame those on Imelda" replied John.
Marcos came from Batac, the town we were now visiting, and indeed he's still there, his body frozen in an elaborate mausoleum, complete with chapel, (after all he was a man who embodied all the Christian virtues, right?), next to his family home, which is now a museum. We filed solemnly round the body along with lots of respectful Filipinos before being treated to an exhibition detailing his life as a military hero, an exemplary scholar, a sage senator and the greatest President that ever there was. At the end there was a photo opportunity with a life size replica of the great man and a chance to purchase T-shirts emblazoned with 'Batac: Home of Great Leaders' (Yes, of course I bought one).
Me and Ferdinand Marcos, Batac
'Leaders' is in the plural because the Marcos family was big in politics long before Ferdinand came along, and is still going strong. His father was a senator, and so is one of his daughters. Imelda is a big cheese still in her home province of Leyte, and his son, Ferdinand 'Bong Bong' Marcos is the Governor of Ilocos Norte. We left Marcosville for the beach resort of Fort Iliocadia, a five star affair catering for mostly Asian tourists. Oh yes, and it's built on land owned by a certain family named Marcos, and that huge mansion we passed on the way there, that's where the Governor lives.
On the beach we made sandcastles only to see them destroyed by the tide, before heading further north to Laoag, the capital of the province from whence we were to take a bus south to Baguio. We arrived at four and there wasn't a bus until half six, so we went to a restaurant and sang videoke whist eating Filipino fare. Then it was back to the bus station and goodbye to the Corpuz family who'd made us so welcome.
And what's more, the bus was only forty minutes late in leaving. This had been a successful day!

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