At 322 miles in 6 days this was not a big tour measured by distance or
time, but it was a very "big" tour measured by the experiences that
fell my way. The overwhelming impression I came away with was of the
incredible friendliness of the Filipino people. I have already
mentioned that everywhere I went people would smile and wave and yell
"Hey Joe!" And when I say "everywhere" I mean EVERYwhere. For 6 days
I had people constantly yelling "Hey Joe!" or "Hi Joe" all day long. I
estimate I averaged at least 4-5 Hey Joe's a mile for all 322 miles!
Sometimes it would be "Hello friend!" or "Where are you going?" but
usually it was "Hey Joe!" I spent 6 days smiling and waving back. I
felt like a circus performer. An amazing experience.
Usually it was the guys who would yell "Hey Joe!" The gals would generally just smile and maybe wave. I've never had so many pretty girls smile at me in my whole life!
And it wasn't only when I was riding. Whenever I stopped people would want to talk. Even walking in Iloilo people would often smile at me on the street, something you rarely see in an American city of comparable size.
The Philippines is a poor third-world country, which is reflected in
low living standards and a creaking infrastructure. But I don't
remember seeing people who looked like they were starving. No Biafra
babies with bloated bellies here. My guidebook says that's because of
the strong place the family holds in Philippine society. If only one
member of the family works, he gives his salary to grandma who makes
sure nobody in the extended family goes hungry.
The roads are poor by US standards, but quite usable. Traffic looks chaotic to western eyes, but in fact everyone obeys a set of unwritten rules which seems to work surprisingly well. Bicycles are common and well-accepted by drivers. Two or three times I had inter-city busses follow me for 20 to 30 seconds until it was safe to pass. I never felt in danger even when I was pedalling through major cities. True, I didn't try downtown Manila. I've heard horror stories (probably exaggerated) about the traffic there.
One difference between the Philippines and most other third-world countries is the high level of education of the people. It seems like it would be a perfect place for multi-national corporations to set up factories. Less worker training would be required since almost everyone is literate and can speak English. Wages are low. For example, the doorman at a local restaurant makes less than $60 a month for a 7-day-a-week job. The country is well-situated on the major shipping lanes between Japan, Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. It has a long history of democracy and a relatively stable government. One reason the multinationals are not more interested may be that, for nationalistic reasons, the populist government is not very supportive of foreign companies. For example, I understand that foreigners may not own land in the Philippines. Widespread corruption is also a factor. It's a shame - the people need the work and the companies would benefit also.
I'll probably never get a chance to return to the Philippines, but I will always have fond memories of the place. If you have a spirit of adventure and don't mind hot humid weather, it is a great place to tour by bicycle.
Alan Bloom, September 29, 2000
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