Should you Fear Sharks or Snakes in the Philippines?

The first time I visited the ocean in the Philippines I asked the bangkero or boatman the question, that a typical Italian used to the safe and (relatively) shark-free waters of the Mediterranean Sea, asks whenever he steps out of the comfort zone of the Med: “may pating ba dito?” (“Are there any sharks here?”). The man chuckled and replied: “wala, takot sa tao ang mga iyon, dito pinupulutan namin ang mga pating” basically meaning that in the Philippines sharks steer cleer of humans as humans like to turn them into pulutan (snack for binge drinkers).

I ventured into some remote areas of the Sierra Madre mountains where the forest gets rather thick and got rather concerned that I might run into some cobras or pythons. Well, I got pretty much the same answer “walang ahas (snake) dito: pinupulutan namin ang mga iyon”.

So, according to the claims of the mayabang (boastful) machos I ran into, it seems like sharks, cobras and pythons are no threat for tourists as they become pulutan for drinkers of Cuatro Cantos, Tanduay, Ginebra San Miguel, Emperador and other pampainit drinks.

So, if you are planning to go on some hardcore type of adventure in the Philippines, just go for it……beware of pickpockets though!

The Bus with “Pundido” or Blown Out Headlights in the Night

I spent few days in Damortis, La Union, Northern Philippines, to visit some Filipinos who live in Rome and who were born and raised in La Union.

Because Damortis is quite close to Baguio City, the Summer Capital of the Philippines, I seized the opportunity to get there by bus.

On the way back it was dark and it was foggy but we made it back to Damortis without a hitch.

When I got off the bus I noticed an interesting detail: the headlights were blown out or pundido.

Not only that: on the winding road that connects Baguio to the coastal plains I saw buses overtaking other cars and even buses in various curves. I’ve seen that happening many times.

Why am I bringing this up?

Well, I am bringing this up for various reasons.

One has to do with practical aspects: If you are married to a Filipina and visit the country, you might want to do what couples often do while on holiday, namely rent a car and go on some kind of road trip with your Filipino wife.

Theoretically the Philippines is a paradise for lovers of road trips and roads are improving, more and more expressways are being built (for example nowadays it is possible to drive from Manila all the way to Pangasinan on a new stretch of expressway that, the last time I visited the Philippines, only linked Manila to Dau) and most national roads such as the Mc Arthur Highway or the Maharlikang Daan are quite well paved.

The real challenge involves safety and the picture above I shot in Damortis, La Union is very telling: if you drive in the Philippines you might share the road with cars or buses with blown out headlights, cars with worn out brakes or overly vulcanized tyres.

In addition, you might bump into a bus that is overtaking a car or a bus in a curve and have to be clever enough to avoid a collision.

I come from Southern Italy and Southern Italy is widely known for its unruly drivers, yet, although I have learned how to drive here and I am used to drivers who turn without signaling, drivers who double park, drivers who cut you off or tailgate I got scared of driving in the Philippines.

I tried it twice and then I gave up.

Talking more in general I believe that the bus with blown out headlights is one of those symbols or metaphors that well describe the character of Filipinos

The Philippines is one of those nations where life is cheap. Filipinos cut back on safety measures as much as they cut back on taking care of their health.

It is true that health care in the Philippines is largely private but prevention is cheap. Driving slower, respecting the signs or waiting that the road gets straight before overtaking does not cost money. Abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption doesn’t cost money. Eating less white rice and more vegetables is not that expensive, especially for Filipinos who live abroad and earn enough money to buy a nice car or the latest i-phone.

Yes, way too many Filipinos neglect health and safety and take unnecessary risks and being married to a Filipina may entail being in a relationship with a person who is, metaphorically speaking, like the bus with blown out headlights in the middle of the night.