Subic Bay Subic Bay « The Joys and Sorrows Of a Life At Sea

Subic Bay

After arriving to the yacht club, we were met by the marina employees. They told us to come to the office to sign some papers and also helped the owner of the small speed boat, that towed us in, argue for his reward.

“This boat is private, you must pay now. It’s 5000 pesos (120 USD).”

“The tow was organized by the port control and tomorrow they will want us to pay once again. We don’t want to pay twice. Couldn’t we wait till tomorrow, we pay the guys from the port control and they will then pay the speedboat owner for his service,” suggested Petr.

In the end it was agreed that we will pay immediately and the marina office will write us a receipt, that we could show the officials at the port control the next day. At least we now had a rough idea how much they could ask for the tow, i.e. we knew what was the highest price we would be willing to pay. We sent the marina workers back to their office saying that we will come once we organize ourselves and the boat.

While still underway we read about Subic in the cruising guides we had in our boat’s library. Most of them mentioned high bribes to officials and one of them even vividly described the situation in the yacht club – a huge complex with 500 berths, cost a fortune to build, but recently in a serious financial crisis. How accurate!

The yacht club is full, we haven’t seen so many masts in one place for quite a while, nevertheless this is probably the only indication of a living and soundly operating yacht club, that we saw here. In the office located in the tower of a dilapidated pink building and consisting of two wobbly tables, scrawly notice board and two shabby armchairs, we were told that the stay here would cost us 33 USD a day! The plan was obvious – find a mechanic that would be able to diagnose what was wrong with our engine first thing tomorrow morning and leave here asp. In case is was really a broken feed pump, we were resolved to somehow slog down to Puerto Galera and have the pump sent there.

Since when we arrived to the Subic Bay Yacht Club (SBYC) it was already past midnight, we first of all longed for shower and some sleep. Once we signed the documents in the office, we asked where we could take a shower.

“Showers next to the swimming pool are already closed but you can use the crew showers just round the corner. The surrounding are not that pleasant but if you don’t look around, it’s bearable. And the water is clean. We will call a mechanic first thing in the morning.  No worries.”

We thanked them and went straight to the crew showers. At first we couldn’t find it for a while but then we smelled the horrid smell of urine, it was beyond doubt that the showers must be nearby. Carefully we peaked into men’s showers first, but a single glance was enough to put us off. We turned towards the women’s shower. They didn’t look much better, if nothing else at least the smell was not that unbearable. Clogged toilet bowls, leaking faucets, broken and dirty tiles. The water in the shower couldn’t be turned off and around the half clogged drain a nasty looking pool of water was forming. We watched this for a while and then turned away. This was just too much.
However, we were so sweaty, our bodies covered with salt, that we summoned all the courage we could find and returned to that pigsty. Luckily we were wearing crocs, i.e. a cheaper Taiwanese version of the footgear, and so we took turns taking shower wearing our shoes. On our way to the showers we noticed a 7-11 just opposite the yacht club and so we decided that we the least we could do was to reward ourselves with a beer before we go to bed. We had to fight our eyelids real hard to even finish our drink.

The next day about 8 am we were woken up by knocking on our hull. Well, to be honest, Petr was woken up, I was still fast asleep. But once he jumped out of the settee, it frightened me enough to pull myself up as well. Mr. Mendoza from the customs was already waiting outside. We invited him to our cockpit and nervously waited for him to ask us for a bribe. However Mr. Mendoza was really a nice guy, he asked us where we came from, what we did in Taiwan, how old are we and how many children we have.

“So far none,” was our answer.

“Good Lord! You must bear children! You are not young anymore, it is necessary for you to bear children!” emphasized Mr. Mendoza couple of times.

“So far we have been studying, so there was no time, but we will work on that,” we tried to calm his worries.

And then it came.

“Here it’s customary that customs, immigration and quarantine take 50 USD each.”

“We can’t afford this. This is too much for us. And now our engine is broken, otherwise we wouldn’t even come to this expensive yacht club in the first place.”

“How much you can afford to pay?” Mr. Mendoza wouldn’t be put off that easily.

“We just can’t pay and that’s it.”

“Well, you are no businessmen after all, just students. The truth is, we don’t have to take your money. So I don’t want anything from you and I will also tell the others not to ask for money from you.”

“Thank you, that will be very helpful!” we thanked the good man.

Well, for starters, that was not that bad, hopefully it will be that easy with the immigration officer who should come around 9.

We had a quick breakfast and nervously waited for the immigration and quarantine officers to come. But nobody came and then a guy from the marina was sent to tell us that we should come to the office and then go straight to the port authority. They are already waiting for you, we were told. Most likely they want to charge us for the tow, we though. We finished our breakfast and went to the office.

Finally we could look around the yacht club in broad daylight. The desolateness of the whole place that was partially covered by the darkness the previous night was now more than evident. It must have been a nice place once, but now obviously no one maintains it, the planks on the pontoons are rotting off, cement plaster falls down, the lights on the fingers won’t work and don’t even think about asking the guys from the marina for something. You just call us on channel 72, we were told. However, the truth is that you can call them the whole day and in the end you just have to stand up and go directly to the office to make something happen. For those 33 dollars, that end up who knows where, we were mercifully allowed to use the showers next to the pool, which is by the way empty most of the times, but in case we wanted to take a swim in the pool, we would have to pay extra for that!

To get to the showers you have to walk by a huge hotel with a posh restaurant, where on each table you will see two bottles of wine, napkins and a set of silver cutlery. Yet same as the swimming pool, the hotel and the restaurant are just deserted most of the time. Just next to the showers there is a huge room with ceiling maybe 10 meter high and massive marble pillars, in which you’ll find several whirpools. And yes, you guessed it, no water, no customers here, either… On the one hand, they try to establish a sense of luxury, on the other hand half of the doors don’t have a handle and if you want to wash your hands in the washbasin, you must first try several before you finally find the one that actually has running water from the faucet.

A similar atmosphere of decay can be spotted all over the Subic Bay port. It seems that once the American soldiers left, the locals suddenly lost a major source of income and haven’t find another way of living yet.

In the office they first surprise us by having us sign the same documents we already filled in last night once again. When we asked if they already called a mechanic, nobody knew anything about it and when we suggested that we go directly to the boatyard next to the club and ask ourselves, they mercifully gave us their blessings.

“Yes, that would be best. But now you must go to see the port authority.”

“But the immigration and the quarantine officers haven’t come yet. Nobody gave us permission to even step on land.”

“That’s ok. When you come back, we will call them and ask them to come.”

We sighed and head for the Sea Port. It was not far away, maybe 20 minutes by foot. First we tried to find someone whom we could ask about the towage, but they send us to get the port clearance. When this was done, we went back to the 3rd floor, where they again asked us what we wanted. We explained that we were towed into the port yesterday, first by patrol boat Triboa and then by a private speed boat arranged by the yacht club. It was obvious that the guy doesn’t know what to do with us and so he took us to the 2nd floor. In a moment another Filipino guy, probably his boss, appeared and once again we had to explain what happened.

“First you go downstairs and get the port clearance.”

“We already have it here,” we showed him the official document with the stamp.

“So you have, then everything is fine, isn’t it?”

Evidently he was not interested in our tow at all. Big victorious smiles on our faces we ran down the stairs and fled the place before someone had a chance to change his mind.

In the park just next to the Sea Port we met a group of taxi drivers, who were dosing in the shade. Elmo, their boss, approached us and asked us where we wanted to go. Why wait for the immigration to come to us, let’s go directly to their office, an idea struck us. In the yacht club they explained that the officers ask for special “fees” because they have to come to the boat and their office is just sooooooo far away in Olongapo City.

At the Sea Port we asked for the address of both the immigration and quarantine and told Elmo to take Department of Health that was just nearby. Unfortunately the doctor was away and when we asked his secretary to call him, the guy gave us an apologetic smile and said that his credit only allows him to send SMS but that he will write him and let him know that we will come back around 2 pm.

The next stop was immigration. Elmo turned the car and after 5 minutes we were crossing the bridge with armed guards, that separates the small Olongapo City from the duty-free zone of the Subic Bay port called the Freeport. We left the deserted area of huge department stores and seemingly posh restaurants and entered the crooked narrow streets lined up by half dilapidated small houses. Here we could finally see some bustling activity.

Crowds of people everywhere, in between the tricycles, small busses that you board from the back and rusted vans were passing through, everybody was honking and trying not to collide with each other. The colorful atmosphere of the city was further emphasized by the posters featuring the faces of local politicians that decorated almost every inch of any free space on the facades. Again and again the name Gordon popped up, even on the people’s T-shirts. They have a whole avenue named after him, as well as a hospital, basic and secondary school and what not.

Roughly after 15 minutes ride we arrived to the immigration. So this is the so called “sooooooo far away”, we frowned. We informed the officer behind the counter that we came on a sailboat and that we want to officially enter Philippines. We already have the visa from Kaohsiung, all we need is a stamp in the passport. The guy looked caught off-guard, we probably surprised him by showing up here by ourselves. First, it looked promising. In a moment, they will stamp our passports, the officer informed us. We already started to rejoice over the fact that we will avoid another bribe but  in a moment the guy called us to the counter once again and informed us that the officer that can stamp the passports is not here at the moment and that she will come to our boat at 4 pm. What else could we do? Disappointed, we left back for the yacht club. But first we made a quick stop in the boatyard to ask them to send a diesel mechanic to have a look at our engine. Also not available today, but will come tomorrow, we were promised.

In the afternoon after quite a hassle we finally managed to make the guys from the marina to let us use the water from the tap that actually belonged to the boat next to us. They sent someone to take a reading from the water meter and then we could finally start the process of Janna’s “desalination”, since she was all crusted in salt after the ride during the surge of the NE monsoon. We wondered how much water we need for washing the whole boat, but one hour later when we went to check the meter, we found out that it still was at 657. So the meter doesn’t work either, ha…

In the evening we originally wanted to go for dinner somewhere, not so much in order to celebrate since the experience from Subic Bay so far didn’t  make much for a festive mood, rather to have some rest and sample some local cuisine. But it was almost 6 and the immigration and quarantine still nowhere to be seen. Actually we shouldn’t  even be walking ashore before the two checked us and now it was almost 24 hours after our arrival and nobody was interested. We called the office again, they say they roger our inquiry and never called back as usual.

At about 6:15 finally a man in a black and white uniform followed by a plump lady with a bright pink lipstick from the immigration appeared. Without further ado they climbed into our cockpit and buried us in a heap of papers to be filled. You take some, you take the rest so that we settle this as quickly as possible, it’s already quite late. Wow, we wouldn’t have noticed if they didn’t remind us, right!?

“Actually, we have been chasing you the whole day!” Petr noted.

At first both of them were quite nice. The uniformed doctor maintained a strict face and repeatedly emphasized to us that he should be even more strict, that it’s very serious and that in the Philippines they are very uncompromising as far as the sanitary measures are concerned. We should have sent him to have a look at the marina crew showers! Not to mention that he enthusiastically shook our hands right after boarding our boat and now he tries to pretend how serious his inspection is. He surprisingly ignored our basil that was swinging next to his head in the evening’s breeze.

“And now the fees,” said the doctor.

“We won’t give you any money, these are not official fees, these are bribes. Everybody knows that you take them in Subic.” Petr was furious.

“No, these are official fees, here I will show you the law saying that when we work overtime, we can claim special fees,” protested the lady from the immigration.

“But we came to both of you today by ourselves, just as it is done everywhere else in the world, we didn’t want you to come to our boat.”

“No, here in Subic, we come to the boats and since we are doing “field work” we have a right to claim these fees,” jabbered the lady.

Then I tried the tactics suggested by Mr. Mendoza.

“Your colleague from the customs Mr. Mendoza, who came in the morning, told us that you don’t actually need to collect these fees. We are no businessmen, we are students, we have no money for such fees and now our engine is broken. Mr. Mendoza said that he would make an exception and also ask you not to take money from us.”

“But then, we will have to explain it to our superiors. So no, you will pay. And by the way if you say you have no money and you want to stay here for two months, here you can have a look at the list of persons that can be banished from entering Philippines: illegal worker, prostitutes…”

“So now you are threatening us?” we just couldn’t believe our ears.

“No, but if you say you have no money…”

“We have money,” Petr interrupted her. “But for food and traveling not for your bribes. If you want some money from us, you first give us an official receipt and I will send it to our embassy in Manila and ask them to verify its authenticity.”

“This is official fee, of course we give you a receipt,” the already raving doctor shrieked out.

So Petr climbed unwillingly inside the cabin to fetch a 100 dollar bill and with a disgusted face threw it to the doctor.

“So we will split this,” said the relieved lady from the immigration.

We were speechless when while filling up the receipt she suddenly asked the doctor: “So how much did they actually give us?”

When they finally left, we were so disgusted and tired that we didn’t want to go for any dinner and so we made ourselves noodles with an already precooked sauce from our food locker and after quick shower went straight to bed to sleep off those horrible experience.

The mechanic should come tomorrow and hopefully he will free us from the clutches of these vultures!

2 comments to Subic Bay

  • todd

    Petr and Jana,

    Sorry to hear about this experience. I guess the sailing stories and blogs about Subic Bay are true. I visited the yacht club there a few times and found each visit worse then the last with a noticeable state of poor repair everywhere regarding the yacht club. I was interested in a membership once and keeping a sailboat there after all the horror stories about the place I will avoid it like a case of the clap.

    Thanks for letting us know,


    • Petr

      Thanks Todd, it’s best to stay far away from that place. It has very little to offer indeed. But it’s a lesson learned :) It made us stronger, I guess 😉

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