Fear and Loathing in Sabang

I’m in a small beach town in-between rocky cliffs on the northern shore of the Philippine island of Mindoro. All available space – about a kilometer – along the seaside is used up by two or three-level resorts, restaurants and bars. This is the most easily navigable place I have ever seen: every hotel, dive shop and culinary establishment has their name painted on the front in large letters visible to arriving visitors. When the boat I took across from Batangas approached Mindoro, I comprehended within ten seconds where the hotel I booked was, and where I’d have to walk to the good food and party places I had read about.

There are maybe 50 diving and passenger bankas in the bay, anchoring just beyond the algae covered rocks which are exposed at low tide. The space behind the first level of buildings is a labyrinth of narrow alleys leading between high-end dive shops, not-so-high-end-looking dive shops, sary-sary style convenience stores and the smokey back-rooms of restaurants. The goods and services here are advertized in English, Korean and Chinese.

Within an hour of stepping off the boat I was offered – several times – certainly-fake Viagra and weed overpriced by a factor of 20. I had not seen as many Germanic mullets since Vienna in 1989, when I had one myself. And there is also a sizable population of plus-sized Arabic boys in town. On the other end of the scale of human beauty, Filipina lovelies play billiard in a beachside-pub, clad in shorts made from slightly more cloth than would be needed for a single glove for my big weightlifter hand. In case you haven’t seen anybody play billiard lately: you occasionally have to lean forward over the table to reach the balls. Nice.

I’m in Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera. This place won’t win the must-see stylish-travel award from Sophisticated Yuppy-Couple Traveler Magazine. But I like it. And I haven’t even started to explore the diving, which is supposed to be ultra-high-biodiversity, high-current. My kind of diving!

The only thing so far which is irritating me is that many of the souvenir stands sell these beautiful large marine shells, which should be attached to beautiful large marine mollusks crawling on the ocean floor, and not sitting in a booth next to the sidewalk, dead. There have been very noteworthy successes in marine conservation in the Philippines in the last decades, but there is still some way to go in other areas!

SabangThere are more Arabic tourists in this part of the Philippines than in the Visayas further south – I guess Puerto Galera is easier to reach via a flight to Manila and a relatively short transfer. Some of these guys are slim and stylishly dressed, with hip hats almost like out of a 60s blackspoitation movie. They seem to be having a good time in groups, sometimes spontaneously starting to sing and cheer.

The stylish Arabs mix with the aforementioned super-fatties: What are these guys doing here? Are they sex tourists? Can you even get it up when you are 80+ kgs overweight? Even with chemical aid, wouldn’t the effort of a sex act bring them to the edge of cardiac arrest? And if that happens, how do you fit such a humongous fatty on the stretcher of a Filipino ambulance?

Keyword fat: There is good food in Sabang. The many Koreans who come here seem to like to eat food like at home. The Germans and Aussies have similar tendencies. But, I’m not judging anyone for eating kimtchi at home in Seoul and on vacation, Wurst in München and in the Philippines, or beef pies down under and in Mindro. No, I am not making fun of such culinary conservatism, especially because I love Korean food, and I can get it in Sabang thanks to the home-sick-ish Korean dining preferences. The spicyness you get in a good Korean seafood soup is, in my opinion, unlike all other types of spicyness. And I always enjoy the array of starters you get in Korean places – very interesting vegetables amongst them. The German places also serve good food. The waitresses even know how to properly pour wheat beer in one place! You know, by tilting the glass, pouring slowly, and shaking out the last bit of yeast at the end. Good job by the restaurant owners for teaching her this crucial cultural skill!

In-between the anchored dive boats in the bay float two neon-lit floating bars. I had the extraordinary pleasure to head out to one of these bars in the company of two lovely Filipina ladies – deep dark eyes you would probably give at least your left arm for type-of-lovely. The taxi boat to get to these bars has a big fancy orange neon light on top and a chubby dude with no shirt as the boatman. The ocean at that time of the night was perfectly flat and the bar’s light’s reflections in the water looked psychedelically spectacular.

This being the off-season, the weren’t that many people in the bar but those surely knew how to rock. The music in the place fit my tastes veeery well. When we arrived Ozzy’s “Mister Crowley” was playing at full volume. What a classic and what a monument to the historic Alistair Crowley! They also played lots of electronica, AC/DC and Rammstein. The German owner and I both knew the lyrics by heart and we barked them into the hot & humid tropical night. I also think I somehow succeeded in translating these pretty heavily cynical and sexually charged Rammstein lyrics for my new Filipina friends, despite my increasingly illuminated state of mind.

The memory of the rest of the evening faded in laughter, San Miguel Lights and shots. I also learned something: a middle-aged Korean dude shaking all he has to the music in front of a few Filipina chicks is not necessarily ridiculous, if he dances with enough self-confidence and has real genuine fun. I saw the same dude the next morning on the beach-walk, wearing the same shirt as the night before. He must have passed out in his party clothes and waken up with too much of the munchies to bother changing. It does not matter what age you are and if you have a good-boy salaryman-haircut: if you party that hard you have my respect.

If Sabang did not exist someone would have to invent it. Someone with a slight lack of good taste but an extraordinarily well developed sense of fun. I’d definitely apply for that inventor’s job!

So people, now get back to your office job, followed by watching TV on the couch. And check back for more reporting on the underwater world and the nightlife of the Philippines next week!