Late in the afternoon on day two of our travels we hailed one of these serious-looking cyclists and asked if he could recommend a bargain-priced hotel in the vicinity. We had just passed through Subic Bay, a former American naval base. We had seen some nicer hotels for those vacationing on a bigger budget than ours a ways back and also a trio of hotels that had some appeal but passed them hoping for something closer to the town center. But now we appeared to be leaving the town and didn't really care to go back. He said he knew of a hotel that catered to locals twenty kilometers further down the road in the next town, but none nearby. That was further than we wished to go.
As we were talking, another cyclist stopped to offer assistance and to make sure everything was okay. He was a slightly suspicious sort, and immediately flashed some credentials identifying him as being retired from the American navy. He was concerned that the cyclist we were talking to might not have our best interests at heart. He later told us that an American cyclist had disappeared along this stretch six months ago and his disappearance had yet to be solved. He feared we might be the next victims and thought maybe he could solve the crime. But both these fellows were well-meaning and good-hearted. The ex-military man took charge and said he could take us to a handful of hotels back the way we had just come that catered to Americans for a reasonable price. Loathe as we were to double back, we accepted his offer.
He introduced himself as Andy. He was wearing a Saxo Bank jersey of Alberto Contador's team. I asked him if he was a Contador fan. He said he didn't know who he was and that he just liked the jersey. He admitted a friend of his had made a copy of it and that it was contraband. It was steamy hot in the nineties, but Andy was wearing a black Lycra hood under his helmet. He said it kept the sun off the back of his neck and kept him cool. I glanced at his cyclometer and noticed he had biked 154 kilometers, almost 100 miles, for the day, so he had to know what he was doing, though Tomas and I couldn't imagine wearing a layer under our helmets and around our necks in such heat.
Andy took us four miles back, further than we cared to go, and past the three somewhat rundown hotels that looked no worse than our hotel of the night before. "What about those?," I asked Andy. He said they weren't safe, even though they were along the main highway. He wasn't the first local who had warned us about the dangers of their country. It was no different than what Janina and I experienced the month before in our travels in the southern US, with locals warning us about venturing into certain neighborhoods, though we did and without experiencing any alarm. Local concerns may not be totally unfounded, but they always seem exaggerated and unfortunate. Paying them much credence could paralyze one from ever leaving the safe confines of their home.
Andy did find us a respectable hotel, but no bargain. It was in the heart of a string of hotels catering to single, sixty year old white guys who may have served in the military at Subic Bay and taken a liking to it. Before Andy left he gave us his telephone number in case the hotel threw any surprise charges at us or if we needed his assistance in any other way.
Unlike our hotel of the night before, this one had a water cooler in the lobby meaning we didn't need to filter any water and could drink and drink to our heart's content. Cold, filtered water has actually been one of the great amenities along the road. All of the small cafes have a cooler of cold, clean water. I have yet to resort to a soft drink for something cold. I am awaiting my first coconut though. I thought I might have had one last night, as the campground we stayed at along the beach was full of coconut trees, but this is the off-season for camping, so the staff wasn't gathering coconuts for guests. We had the entire complex of bungalows all to ourselves, just as we had been the night before at another campground, with no one to share the sunset with other than a stray dog. The beach resort season doesn't begin for another month, though its plenty hot now.
Tomas' friend Edwin had advised us it would be wise to be equipped with pepper spray to ward off the dogs. We had seen quite a few scraggly dogs along the road, but none have given chase or even snarled. There is so much traffic and congestion there is no need for them to bother. And maybe they are deadened too from the heat.
We've stayed at campgrounds the past two nights as wild camping has been a virtual impossibility. With over 100 million people packed into a land mass the size of Arizona, there is not much spare land. The country is parceled into small land holdings. There are not even large pastures for cattle. Rather cows are staked out in unfenced fields. Maybe if we were bicycling until dusk rather than letting the heat cut our days short much earlier, we might have been able to find some nook to disappear in to, but during the daylight hours there is always an abundance of people out and about.
After five days of the heat we're finally becoming somewhat accustomed to it and don't need to take as frequent breaks as we initially did. But in two days we'll be climbing up to Baguio and the cool of the highlands and then to the UNESCO rice paddies of Banaue, crossing the highest road in the Philippines at almost seven thousand feet. The twenty-mile climb to Baguio at nearly 5,000 feet will be a good test of our conditioning.