Entry 61 - The Philippines: beautiful volcanoes and beautiful bikini babes

volcaned

We bounced into Legaspi's airport cum airstrip and I immediately thought, well, this is a bit more like it. The sun was shining, it was a scorcher (at 10am) and the volcano was looking fine. The volcano I refer to was, of course, Mt Mayon, the world's most perfect volcano™. In all fairness the WMPV is a pretty arresting sight. At 2500m, it's not especially high as mountains go, but the thing is it rises to this height from sea-level; no foothills, no plateau, no sir. It is also geometrically perfect, just as its people promise. So, hats off to Mt Mayon. It's well worth a 45 minutes flight just to enjoy its pleasingly conical form.

At the airport a taxi driver tried to charge me twenty times the going rate setting a new record for proportionate rip-offs. I probably would have taken him down by half, and congratulated myself on a deal well struck, but a voice behind me said. 'No, it should be P40, not P800'. This was Hoji, a Japanese Aid worker. So I shared a tri-cab with him and wound up staying at his hotel-cum-apartment complex.

Once ensconced in Jennifer's Garden Apartments I headed downtown. You quickly realize that Legaspi is not much of a tourist destination. 'Are you a missionary?' people kept asking. I had to say that no I wasn't. 'Are you Andre Agassi?' they then asked. I am assuming that this was a reference to my sparse rug and not my on-court prowess.

mission out

Anyway, pretty soon I had bumped into some real life missionaries. I was wondering what missionaries were doing in these parts. After all, if anything the Philippines has a surfeit of religion; it is a country pretty much as the Catholic Church would like it. But these guys were Mormons. I guess their pitch was that instead of having eight kids, you could have eight wives.

The mormons seemed nice enough. So I asked them how long they'd been in town. About two years they said. Great I replied, could you tell me where I can find information on climbing the volcano? Nope. OK, could you tell me where a man might get a decent meal in these parts, a good restaurant? Nope. Perhaps a good cup of coffee. Nope...then he blessed me.

What it must be to be so utterly incurious about everything. I guess that's what happens when God has all the answers. Later I bumped into the older of the missionaries again, in a hairdressers where I noted that the Lord had blessed him with a fine rug, like a young David Hasslehoff, in sharp contrast to my rather patchy and Godless covering. After my haircut he blessed me again, rather harder this time.

misguided

Mountains are not there to be looked at, so I set about finding a guide to climb the comely volcano. He was called Emille and seemed a pretty straight up sort of chap. We struck a price and I gave him a 10% deposit. After sitting out a tropical cloudburst trapped in a Dunkin Doughnuts (retribution for not enjoying my double blessing enough) I went back to the hotel. There I told the manager I was going to climb Mayon. She gave me a funny look and told me to phone the volcano observatory. I gave her a mañana look; she dialled the number for me and thrust the reciever into my hand.

The volcano scientist at the volacno observatory told me I was most welcome to climb his sttlish and beautiful volcano if I signed a waiver saying that my death was my own stupid fault. The WMPV was on alert level 2 he explained, adding that alert level 3 meant lava was coming out of the top and level 4 meant that anyone within ten kilometers should run like hell. The WMPV was not to be trifled with, he added, saying that Mayon had killed several hundred people over the last five years, many of them stupid enough to be climbing it during periods of heightened alert.

So I phoned up my guide. 'You didn't tell me that the friggin' volcano was limbering up for another explosion,' I said.

'Who told you that?' he asked, piqued.

'Professor volcano at the volcano observatory.' I replied.

'What does he know, he is not a climber?'

'No, dumb-ass, he is a vulcanologist.'

'But he is not a climber...'

'Yes...'

Eventually I just put the phone down on him, decided to forget about my deposit and looked forward to the day when he pitted his climbing skills against some lava.

Naturally I was saddened. There's not much to do in Legspi apart from love the volcano and, at the moment, it was smoking a little but hardly erupting, the worst of both worlds. I gazed at a few pictures of full on eruptions but it didn't look like one of these was in the offing.To kill time, I visited the Casawa ruins, the bell-tower of a Catholic church near the base of Mayon and the scene of a rather spectacular eruption. Here, in 1814, 1200 people sheltered in the church while the volcano did its thing. In this case its 'thing' involved burying the church in pyroclastic gunk and killing everyone inside. It is a highly illustrative example of both the destructive power of volcanoes and the practical limitations of religious faith.

Bikini A toll

Still not all was lost: as luck would have it my hotel was staging the Bikin Babes 2004 competition that very evening! Building on the success of BB 2003 this was aiming to find Legaspi's most beautiful babe in a bikini. Entrants had to be between 16 and 20 and over five feet tall.

Hoji and his friend June (another Japanese guy) were there as was Rane, a local friend of Hoji's. I liked Rane - she was a law student of 24 and a lively conversationalist - she certainly had something about her, possibly the fact that she looked about 15. I think Hoji liked Rane too, in a rather more fervent and desperate way. Sadly I don't think she liked him back. Hoji was one of those slightly fastidiously plump men that babes (bikini otherwise) just do not dig. June was funnier and more insouciant; I thought he might have a chance. He wasn't actually interested, which is probably why.

Our hosts for the night were the local radio hosts Romeo Tango and Rick Shadow. And our sponsors were Colt 45 beer, Chuck Norris Converse trainers and Levi's Jeans . Rick and Romeo had quite a patter going, much of which went like this.

RT: 'Whoaa dude. These girls are so hot, so hot they're sizzling tonight. Me too. I'm so sizzling I need a Colt 45 to cool down... You must be excited too Rick.'

RS: 'Yeah man, so excited I did not sleep for two nights. I spent the whole time drinking Colt 45 beer in my Chuck Norris trainers and Levis jeans.'

And so it went. The lovely ladies paraded and were awarded Chuck Norris trainers for their troubles. There was a beer drinking competition involving (natch) Colt 45. 'These men are not drunkards, they just love Colt 45 every day,' intoned Romeo Tango gravely. In fact that the winner of the beer comp later demonstrated the depth of his love by leaving his Colt 45 all over the hotel restrooms.

sing along a ding dong

After the chuggathon, Christina Viva, who had been chain smoking at the judges table got up to sing. Christina is one of the Viva girls - a sort of Philippino sub Spice Girls act. In her favour she was a lot better looking than any of the Spices. Though, in her disfavour, her singing was no better as was evidenced by her attempt to sing a Dido song without the aid of backing music.

Then Christina asked for volunteers from the audience. Uh-oh, obvious foreigner, I thought, trying to blend into a potted palm. Hoji was picked. He ran and hid, the coward. June was picked. He rose to the challenge. It really was only a matter of time. Christina's pretty eyes landed on me and I threw my lot in with June. As I would soon realise, sometimes the most dignified course is cowardice.

Christina explained that we were to dance with her, while she sung a song about groping. We had to do a routine which involved miming booby gropes, butt pats and pelvic thrusting. Well, I can't dance and moreover, I had never heard Christina's song or seen the video before. I did my best but deep down I knew my best was not good enough. Not nearly enough. Still, June and Christina did pretty well. I provided a sort of comedy third man. It was a new high water mark in public humiliation.

judgment day

Shaming over, I rejoined the audience to smirks and sniggers for the final judging, courtesy of Colt, Chuck Norris and Levis. 'Well Rick I think we can agree that all the girls are beautiful' 'Yes Romeo, I would have a sizzling erection in my Levis if only I had not drunk so much Colt 45.'

After much agonizing (and the mysterious disappearance of the one plump entrant) the results were announced. Third was number 1, a lovely girl, but only 16, making her, pleasingly, barely leal bikinibabe. Second was the averagely pretty number 12. The winner was number 6 and my personal favorite. She wanted to be an air hostess; in fact ten out of 12 wanted to be airhostesses. She made a short, but touching speech about how the world would be a better place if we all drank more Colt45 and wore Chuck Norris Trainers.

We congratulated the winner, who once off the stage looked like the adolescent she still was, then Hoji, June and I hung with Christina for a while. She was an odd mixture of pop-star player and small town girl, done up in that Christina/Britney/hooker look. I had no doubt she'd be absolutely awful in a year or two, but she was quite sweet right now - and she chain-smoked so prettily. Needless to say such a stellar gathering attracted the local media and bigwigs and Hoji, June, Christina, number 6 Rick,Romeo and I will doubtless be the faces of Colt 45 and Chuck Norris shoes in the southern Bicol region for months to come.


June 6, 2004