Today, Subic is one of the biggest ports in the region and continues to reap the benefits of the infrastructure left behind by the Yanks. It's not just the town plan they left behind, either: walk around much of Subic and it'd be almost indistinguishable from a boring American suburb. Low-lying hotels and convenience stores fringe the sidewalk, people drive on the right, there's a gun culture and the music of preference is putrid hip-hop.
You're only in town for a day, and the first stop is Treetop Adventures, a zip-lined day out for adrenaline junkies, teenagers' birthday parties and tourists light on imagination. The rides/experiences aren't anything you haven't seen before, but to give it a local twist, the owners have employed an Aeta – a descendent of the native tribes – to give a demonstration on “jungle survival.” In practise, this is a lesson in the genuinely amazing flexibility of bamboo: one piece can be used to make cutlery, crockery, glassware, an insect-swatter, a back-scratcher and, eventually, to make fire. You sit watching a man who looks remarkably like Ashley Cole from certain angles, as he masterfully conjures red flame from a big piece of grass. It's all harmless fun.
You spend the afternoon back at the hotel, before going out for a couple of hours on a yacht. You've never done this kind of thing before and can only afford to do so today because the hotel offers it as a package for their guests. Still, spin it the right way and you'll be able to sound really posh to the folks back home. You were supposed to be out here for sunset, but gathering storm clouds make for much better pictures anyway.
|Photo: Wee Mo|
|Photo: Wee Mo|
You're here to experience the Puning River Hot Springs, a slightly odd mish-mash complex that offers thrills and relaxation, almost simultaneously. Here you can be buried up to your neck in volcanic ash, which does something or other for your circulation, and get painted in mud, which does something else for your skin. There are traditional foot massages too, but the real kicker is a complex at the head of a riverbed that hosts half a dozen hot springs. You jump in an ageing Jeep driven by a mad Catholic and hare off up the baking valley to check them out.
|Photo: Wee Mo|
The guide talks: “The men here are only receiving 200 pesos a day,” he says shaking his head and smiling nervously. “They work all day with the sun.”
As you look down at the men crawling over the grey volcanic rock, it dawns on you that they are all Aetas. Is that right? If not, can you do anything about it? What to do? What to think?
These fortunate men have employment in one of the poorest countries in the world. The Philippines offers no income support or healthcare and although the pay is hardly mind-blowing, it is pay. If they work hard enough, they can at least provide something for their families and by having any kind of work, they can win some self-respect. Things are said to be much worse in Manila, and realistically, they were given the same opportunities to better themselves as any other Pinoy. Hell, as they're all the same race, they probably have some kind of union and have gotten jobs here with far more ease than most folk. They likely get to borrow any materials and tools they might need for home repairs too – they'll might even steal whatever the foreman doesn't agree to as well. Yeah... yeah this is fine. Time to undress and have a dip.
You feel a little sick and can't meet the eye of any of these poor bastards, dying in the merciless heat. If they took absolutely no holiday, they might be able to buy the camera you've got hanging around your idiotic neck in 10 months. Look at their wretched fate! Breaking their backs for £3 a day, humiliated, downtrodden, shat upon, despised. This slow, grim genocide is the fate of all native people, and the fact that the Americans used to govern this place probably gave the locals form... Hell, they'd have been no better off with any colonial tyrant in charge. You already feel like you want to cry out, to do something for these dirty, dusty folk but you're further nauseated by the knowledge that this is precisely how Filipinos abroad are exploited. You stumble back to the 4x4, staring at the ground, knots in your stomach.
If you agree with Option A, turn to page 11.
If you agree with Option B, turn to page 14.