Monday, December 12, 2016
Travelling in the Philippines
Do you have a hobby? Perhaps one that involves enjoying beer? Obviously you are part of the beer culture, else you wouldn't be wasting your time reading this drivel. We actually have 2 hobbies, that we manage to combine into one. Obviously beer is the first, but we also have a love for travel, so as often as we can, we tie them together into a rolling drink-a-thon. This time we decided to try somewhere quite unique, a bit risky, a bit .... raw.
This is not the first time that we have visited a third world country, in fact there have been several, but none quite so third worldish as this. As with many countries once ruled by the Spanish, there is a huge gap between the haves and the have nots. Manila is a huge city of 13 million people with hordes of desperately poor people living in the shadows of shiny glass high-rises. Even as poor as they are, they are always quite respectful, which actually is a bit disconcerting. There is a reverse racism that we noticed after several days which took aback a bit. "Hello, sir", "good morning, sir", will come at you from almost everyone that you meet, but they don't speak that way to each other, only to people who are obviously westerners. Should you be one of those deluded souls who believe in white race superiority, this is the place for you as that they fall all over each other to serve you. There are beggars, to be sure, any city with this much poverty has many, but just smile and wave while saying nothing, and walk on you way, they will leave you alone. The child beggars are a bit more aggressive and will follow you for a few blocks with their hands out, but just keep your eyes straight ahead and keep walking. In a country as desperately poor as this, you are a target, so leave your bright and shiny things at home (i.e. jewelry, expensive watches, etc), dress modestly and do not wave cash around. Most people speak at least some English, and should that fail, try a bit of Spanish, after all, the Spanish ruled here for several centuries. Money is all counted in Spanish as well.
Your first contact with hustlers will come as you leave the airport. There will be an army of hawkers trying to convince you that the $1,800.00 Peso (about $36.00) flat rate cab is the way to go with traffic as bad as it is in Manila, and man, it is bad, stunningly bad. However, a Taxi is also stunningly cheap, and you a typical cab ride, even in really slow traffic, will cost you less than $500.00 Pesos. Don't bother trying to find a bus or the subway, there aren't any, just take a cab and be happy. Other than a cab, the only public transportation is the ubiquitous Jeepney. These diesel exhaust spewing monsters are all privately owned, all competing for the same riders, all on the same routes which are printed on the sides of the vehicle. In theory the amount charged for the ride is figured by distance. You get in and pass the money forward, but for the life of me I never mastered the pricing and am quite sure that I was royally screwed. To be completely honest, with an exchange rate of about 50:1, a royal screwing amounts to only a couple of bucks.
"WHAT ABOUT THE BEER!"
To be sure, we have not really visited a country that doesn't have a thriving underground beer scene ... until now. Craft beer is a luxury that a country full of desperately poor can ill afford. San Miguel is by far the largest brewer and has little competition. Why? Because it is frigging cheap, that's why. A bottle of San Miguel will set you back about a buck. The San Miguel Cerveza Negra (5% ABV) is a quite serviceable dark lager that will do in a crunch, but the craft breweries were really scarce, in fact, we only found one simply because we were lost and took the wrong exit from the Robinson's Place Mall (like I said, confusing), and there it was. It is true that you can find a few craft brews around town in the bottle, but our goal was to find a brewery where we could sit and chat about beer with locals.
The Tap Station on Adriatico Street was honestly the only place that we could find within several miles of our hotel serving craft beers, and luckily, it was quite fine for our needs. Their own beers, CraftRevolt Brewing, are color coded on the board on the board by price along with a few guest beers. You will find most of their beers are session-able brews with modest alcohol content, but with familiar flavors and at reasonable prices.
The bottled craft beers that we tried were quite sporadic in quality. The Tarsier Wheat Beer (4.6% ABV) made by Crazy Carabao Brewing had the funky armpit foulness that you get from unclean brewing equipment, or perhaps unwashed kegs. Brew Kettle Belgian style Wit Bier (5.3% ABV) by the Asian Brewery, Makati, Philippines, is as good as any American knockoff of a Belgian classic. In our not so humble opinion, the best craft brewer that we found was Joe's Brew out of Manilla. The Fish Rider Pale Ale (5% ABV) has a super drinkable balance between hops and malts.
We did get to spend a bit of time on the island of Boracay, about an hour's flight south of Manila. Here you will not find the masses of desperately poor .... poor to be sure, just not desperately poor. You will still find the hawkers trying to sell you anything that your drunken ass will buy, but the beggars are not so prevalent. You will see gross, fat westerners with their tiny Filipino lovers .... male or female, but try not to judge, they need money and gross, fat westerners have it to give. You will also see gloriously blue, clear water and swaying palm trees. Hotels range from cheap dives to shiny new resorts
We will give you one last piece of advice that should satisfy all of your cravings for finding good beer in the Philippines, consider, if you will, that the exchange rate is about 50 Pesos to the Dollar .... do the math.