Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines

SHARK TOOTH ROSARY

A Sea Story

By Malcolm Torres

PI_Jeep01

Tired of beautiful girls begging him to pay their bar fine.  Sick of hangovers from Mojo, San Miguel and ginseng laced Marlboros, Marlow was done with the peso shows and barbecued dog.  All he wanted was to get out of Olongapo City and experience the real Philippines.

This is an excerpt from Shark Tooth Rosary, A Sea Story.  It normally costs 99c but it’s frequently free on Amazon Kindle and Kindle App.  The Kindle App is free on all devices but if you send me your email address using the contact form above, I’ll send you a coupon for a free eBook copy of this story on Amazon.  I promise not to share your email address.

*     *     *

Shouting, “I have my jeep here!  Come to my bar for cold beer and hot girls!” the Filipino with a smooth, olive-tan complexion and a pink Polo shirt got right up in Christopher Marlow’s face along with a dozen other hustlers, tour guides, pickpockets and prostitutes swarming the gate outside Subic Naval Station.

A brown boy in a diaper screamed as Chris’s high-top Nike crunched the kid’s foot.  Chris bent down, put a hand on the crying child’s shoulder.  Two skinny arms, phony Swatch watches up to the elbows, reached down, snatched the boy.  A teenage mother.  In Chris’s white smile and blue eyes, the teen-mom saw youthful gullibility and the perfect sale’s opportunity.

“Joe, you no have wristwatch,” she said.  “No be late come back to ship.  I have beautiful watch for you.  Which you like?”

He dodged her.  She shifted the boy on her hip, threw herself through the crowd like a blitzing defensive end and blocked him.  “It’s nothing to look, Joe.  Look!”

Sailors pushed past on their way into town.  On this first day in port, anxiety and perspiration washed over him.  “I’ve gotta get past these people” Chris whispered under his breath, but his mind flashed on his mom, back in Philadelphia.  He knew she’d unpack all the change in her purse on this unfortunate mother and child.

“How much?” he asked.

“Twenty US.”

“No way!”  Chris said, but then he considered a watch might help with the bus schedules.  “I’ll give ya five.”

“Okay, Joe, eight dollar.”

Chris gave her a ten, chose one with a green band, checkerboard face and red arms.  She put the boy down for her next mark to step on, handed Chris the watch.  He put it on.  She made no effort to produce change.  Rather than haggle, he said, “Buy the kid some shoes, will ya.”

*     *     *

Half an hour earlier he’d run down the ship’s gangway, along the pier and across the Navy base, determined to get to the bus station at the end of a mile-long strip of bars.

Now in the tropical heat, under assault by a wave of money-hungry natives, he thought about the pictures in a geography book he’d found in the ship’s library.  One picture showed miles of dense green jungle spreading out between the pointed peak of a smoking volcano and a white sand beach on the Philippine Sea.  An urgent sense of adventure spurred him on.  He wouldn’t be satisfied until he was under the crystal-blue waves, snorkeling in a remote cove with schools of tropical fish hovering around him.

He’d been at sea for 67 days.  Out beyond the horizon, on the deep, deep ocean without women, thirsty for beer, he’d been working 12-hour days carrying chains on the black steel flight deck, scrubbing salt spray off fighter jets beneath a blazing tropical sun.

Chris’s face, his broad back and chest were tanned dark and his sun-tinted brown hair clipped short above the ears.  His wallet, thick with crisp twenties, burned in the back pocket of his baggy shorts that hung past his knees.  He wore his Melbourne Yacht Club T-shirt, a souvenir from his last port of call.

Along the main street to the bus station, teenage girls in miniskirts and bikini tops stood in the shady barroom doorways.  The lust and vice that had been dormant while at sea suddenly ached within him.

On that first morning in port, on his way to the bus station, after so many hot days at sea, he got lured in.  A girl with shiny black hair and almond-shaped eyes led him to a rattan chair, set a cold bottle of San Miguel on the table in front of him and massaged the stress from his neck and shoulders.

Heavy metal music and ginseng-laced cigarette smoke swirled in the ceiling fans.  Cold beer dissolved his desire to get beyond the waterfront bars.  The afternoon dissolved in a drunken buzz.  He forgot all about the geography book with the pictures of tropical beaches he’d seen in the ship’s library.

Late that night, after he and his new girlfriend knotted themselves in sweaty sheets at the Samurai Palace Hotel, Christopher Marlow hung a leg off the side of the bed, placed his foot firmly on the cool concrete floor, stared at the water-stained wallpaper, struggled to make the bed stop spinning, struggled to organize his plan, his quest for adventure beyond the waterfront bars.  He laid there with the girl sleeping beside him.  A blinking neon light bolted to the building outside flashed on the sheer curtains.  He had to get out of this town.  The racket of revving motorbikes and jeepney’s honking horns on the street below reminded him he had to get away from the waterfront dives.

He hadn’t joined the Navy for this.  Sure, barhopping and whoring were fun but he’d been here, to Olongapo City in the Philippines, four times, but he’d never made it more than a few miles from the Navy base without getting sucked into the dens of iniquity.  He was determined to get beyond the bars and the cathouses.  He was determined to explore the country, to have a genuine adventure.

*     *     *

On the morning of his second day in port he returned to the ship and went straight to the galley where he ate scrambled eggs and toast with black coffee.  He washed down three Tylenol gel-caps with a glass of cold water.  Then he went to his living compartment and opened his locker.  He felt the ship, unusually still around him.  At sea it was always rocking and swaying, but now it was quiet and motionless.  He ground up two Mylanta mint-flavored tablets between his teeth, hoping to extinguish the heartburn at the center of his chest, but nothing seemed to sooth his wicked hangover.

He showered, refilled his wallet with twenties and headed back out, determined to walk past the mile-long strip of bars outside the Navy base and make it to the bus station.

Somewhere out there he knew there were sugarcane plantations and sleepy fishing villages.  He wanted to see colorful birds and little gray monkeys.  He was determined to find a jeep driver who would take him up a windy dirt road to the summit of a volcano.

At the bus station, at noon, unorganized lines of travelers stretched beneath signs stenciled with names of towns he did not know.  Every fifteen minutes, a hunched-over old man stood on a footstool and erased and rewrote the arrival and departure schedule on a chalkboard, and following this several younger men walked through the station shouting phrases Chris didn’t understand.

He watched women with fidgety, black-haired children, and men carrying boxes tied shut with twine, all waiting on a long line that led to a ticket window where every customer engaged in a complex conversation, blurting words and phrases, making urgent hand gestures.  Chris crept up close but couldn’t understand the young women standing behind the counter, behind a protective brass grate.  She shouted at each potential passenger, seeming to quiz them with a dozen questions.  What, Chris wondered, could they possibly be talking about?  Their language, Tagalog, was a total mystery to him.  Shouldn’t it just be as simple as asking for a ticket, receiving it and saying thank you?  But this was not the case at all.  Each customer seemed to argue with the ticket seller, who seemed to berate them in return.  Only when their exchange reached a fevered pitch did the woman behind the counter reluctantly, and what seemed to Chris angrily, finally hand over the bus tickets in exchange for a random pile of peso coins and bills.

Humid one-hundred-degree air, thick with dust and rattling bus engines, hung on him like a wet wool sweater.  His head felt like a tool box full of rusty metal wrenches clattering on the decks of a ship in a storm.

Outside, sitting on a bench, he held his aching head in his hands.  Belches of black exhaust smoke from busses leaving the station and the chatter of Filipinos talking all around him made it difficult to think.  He had plenty of dreams and big ideas, but no map, no plan, no destination.

From an outer reach of his mind a thought came on slowly.  He could feel it forming in the back right side of his brain, just inside his skull.  The nerves carrying electrons that sensed thirst combined with a smattering of impatience and gathered to form the essence of common sense and sudden wisdom—one cold beer, he realized, will fix this agony.

“No,” he moaned.  “I need a map and a day-pack and a water jug.”  He headed back toward base, planning to buy supplies and get some advice.

*     *     *

Back on the Navy base, he asked around and someone told him to go to the recreation center, so that’s what he did.

Chief Walker, a slope shouldered man with an enormous belly and broken blood vessels on a nose that had collided, over the years, with more than one angry fist, invited Chris into a tiny office.  Black letters spelled Travels & Tours on the frosted glass pane in the door.

Chris explained his predicament, then Chief Walker said, “You’re not going to find a bus schedule in this town.”  Walker spread a map on his cluttered desk, a desk that came alive with ruffling papers under paperweights each time the fan oscillated.  Walker tapped a blunt finger on the map.  “We’re right here on the island of Luzon.  Its two hundred and fifty miles long and between thirty and a hundred miles wide.  You can go north to the mountain resort town of Baguio and from there venture to the beautiful beaches of Aparri on the Babuyan Channel.”

The way the chief said Babuyan Channel, it echoed in Chris’s mind with an enchanted mysteriousness.  He had a vision of himself spear fishing with natives in a blue lagoon.

“Or,” Chief Walker snapped Chris from his daydream, “you can go south to Legazpi City and Mount Mayon on the Philippine Sea.”

Chris thought about the pictures in the geography book in the ship’s library, the pictures that had sparked his desire to travel beyond the waterfront.  “I want to see a volcano and rice paddies,” Chris said earnestly, “and tropical beaches.”

Walker made an X on the map near Legazpi City.  “Right here you got Mount Mayon, it’s a smoking volcano over eight thousand feet high.”  For ten minutes Walker told an animated tale about a tour he’d taken to Legazpi City years ago.  Their bus had gotten trapped for two days on a narrow dirt road between rivers of hot lava flowing down from Mount Mayon’s summit.  “Right outside Legazpi City you’ll find the beaches you’re looking for,” Walker said.

“What about the place with the rice paddies dug into the mountainsides?” Chris asked.  “Where’s that?”

Walker made an X half way between Baguio and Aparri.  “Here in the highlands of Northern Luzon, this is where the Ifugao and the Bontoc people live.

Holy shit, Chris thought, the Ifugao and the Bontoc people!  He could barely believe this adventure was within his grasp.  He saw himself trekking on a narrow trail alongside steppes of rice paddies dug into a mountainside.  All he wanted was to see a little brown kid, knee-deep in water, walking behind an ox pulling a primitive plow.  Chris knew for an instant that if he just saw that kid, even from the window of a passing bus, if he just saw the kid behind the Ox in the rice paddy, well then he knew his life would be complete—at least the nineteen years of it he’d lived so far.

“They’re different from other Filipinos,” Walker explained.  “They’re tribes.”

Tribes.

The word lit up Chris’s mind.  His heart picked up a beat at the thought of actually seeing such mysterious people.

“They wear handmade clothes, feathered headdresses and sandals and they talk different dialects.  But they’re friendly, and in Baguio you can find a guide with a jeep to take you up to the rice terraces.”

The old chief sat back and twirled a pencil like a tiny baton in his meaty fingers.

Confidence surged inside Chris.  Momentarily he was certain he could go back to the station and hop on a bus.  But then he remembered the unorganized lines in the sweltering heat and the old man rewriting the timetables.  No, the chief made it sound too easy.  “Like I said, Chief, I tried the bus station.  The place is a total cluster fuck.  It’s impossible to get a ticket, and even if I did, I’ll probably end up on the wrong bus.”

Walker’s pencil stopped twirling.  He smiled, leaned close to Chris over the corner of the wooden desk and whispered knowledge gained on many travels and tours across the Philippine Islands.  “Maps and tickets don’t mean jack shit, sailor, if you don’t know the language and the customs you’re screwed.  What you need, is a travel companion.”  Walker winked and started to sit back, as if this cleared up any confusion.  But Walker saw the look on Chris’s face and realized Chris didn’t have a clue, so Walker leaned forward again and whispered, “Hire a girl to travel with you!”

“A girl?” Chris asked.

“Yes, a young lady out of one of the bars in town.  She haggles with the drivers, waiters, hotel clerks, anybody who wants your money.”

“A girl to come with me?”

“Yes.  A personal tour guide,” Walker insisted.  “Without a girl you’ll get out there in the country and these Filipinos will separate you from your money in a New York minute.”

*     *     *

This is an excerpt from Shark Tooth Rosary, A Sea Story.  It normally costs 99c but it’s frequently free on Amazon Kindle and Kindle App.  The Kindle App is free on all devices but if you send me your email address using the contact form above, I’ll send you a coupon for a free eBook copy of this story on Amazon.  I promise not to share your email address.

Shark Tooth Rosary on Amazon

SharkToothRosary_large

Malcolm Torres is the author of original sea stories and nautical novels available online at all major book and eBook retailers.  Read Malcolm Torres’s blog, which is full of free sea stories, nautical fiction, US Navy adventures and Coast Guard Thrillers.

This entry was posted in Sea Stories and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines

  1. Jack says:

    Best modern sea story about US Navy sailor ashore I have ever read. Authentic and written with heart.

  2. JoePR says:

    I enjoyed this story, brought back many memories of my trips to the PI.

  3. RichS says:

    The best account of shore leave in the PI that I’ve ever read.

  4. Thanks Barry. My goal is write sea stories that entertain people, especially old sailors from back in the day.

  5. BarryS says:

    I’m glad I found out about Malcolm Torres, great sea stories.

  6. CPO Ret. says:

    I spent over 20 years in the Navy and I’ll tell you, this story rings true in every detail. Well written. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    • Thanks Chief. The PI is an amazing country with some of the nicest people in the world. I enjoyed it immensely, especially when I manged to get away from the Navy base and out into the jungle and to the amazing cities and beaches.

  7. GE says:

    Well written story did not expect it to be so good. Grabbed this on my iPad with kindle app.

    • My friend, I’m glad you liked it and I’d greatly appreciate if you posted an short honest review on iBooks. I’ve given away thousands of books on there but for some reason I never get reviews on there. Reviews really help out, they raise me up the list of books and hopefully more people will see and enjoy my work.

  8. Barry Smith says:

    I just read all the stories in this series, they were well written and brought back some great memories.

  9. Ronald Phillips says:

    I really enjoyed Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines. It almost told the story of my bride of 44 years and I. I like it enough that I splurged big time and bought the set. 🙂 Thanks much shipmate.

  10. Vince says:

    Holy shit great story shipmate.

  11. ShpMty says:

    This is how I remember it. We partied so hard it was actually good to have a duty day and stay on the ship. The first couple times in the PI were a blast but after a couple visits I wanted to do something fun. I got certified to SCUBA and took a bus trip to Baguio City. It is an amazing country, very beautiful and the people are very friendly.

    • All True, totally agree. I got my PADI SCUBA cert in Subic Bay also, The waters there were amazingly clear and full of colorful tropical fish. I write about SCUBA in my books Sailors Delight. If you would like a free copy, send me a note on the contact form above and I’ll send one to you.

  12. GFLE says:

    Great story, and it was free on Amazon. Thanks for sharing. 5-stars for sure.

  13. Bri-yan says:

    –> THIS IS EDITED WITH CORRECT SPELLING AND WORDING. DELETE THIS LINE
    –> PLEASE USE THIS COPY. DELETE THIS LINE
    Thank You, Malcolm Tores. Your verbage clearly brought back memories of 90° torrential rain pelting bruises on my back, the pungent smell of rotting jungle vegitation mixed with smoky sidewalk barbeque, the wonderful taste of cold cold San Miguel Beer, feeling strong hands of wonderfully talented, and oh so beautiful dark skined, raven haired beauties massaging muscles knotted after month after endless month on and under the sea, the sounds of “pfst pfst” love calls and jeepnies honking their way up Magsaysay Drive and turning right onto Rizal Road. I’ve taken jeepnies and motorcycle covered sidecar and bus trips outside of “Po Town”. Almost always with a local beauty as my guide, security guard, translator and companion for the duration of the trip, usually longer.
    Thanks again, for reviving cherished memories

  14. Bri-yan says:

    Thank You, Malcolm Tores. Your verbage clearly brought back memories of 90° torrential rain pelting bruises on my back, the pungent smell of rotting jungle vegitation mixed with smoky sidewalk barbeque, the wonderful taste of cold cold San Miguel Beer, feeling strong hands of wonderfully talented, and oh so beautiful dark skined, raven haired beauties massaging muscles knotted month after endless month on and under the sea, the sounds of “pfst pfst” love calls and jeepnies honking their way up Magsaysay Drive and turning right onto Rizal Road. I’ve taken jeepnies and motorcycle covered sidecar and bus trips outside of “Po Town”. Almost always with a local beauty as my guide, security guard, translator and companion for the duration of the trip, usually longer.
    Thanks again, for reviving cherished memories

    • Thanks for the kind comments. You have quite a way with words, have you ever written any stories about your experiences? I’d greatly appreciate if you posted an honest review on Amazon. It doesn’t have to be a book report or analysis, just a few honest comments would be greatly appreciated.

  15. Buddy says:

    Great story thanks for sharing. I just grabbed the other stories in the series.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *