Bryan: Comic Relief in Ozamis City, Philippines

Ozamis City is the city we’ve flown into this morning (in late July) for our days in Mindanao. We had a 5 AM flight – possibly the only flight of the day to Ozamis from Manila. Landed before 7. We were on a decent sized jet. 6 seats across. The runway was one strip. So the pilot has to do a U-turn at the end and go back to the single-gate terminal. We exit and go into a holding pen to await our luggage. We are separated from the actual luggage area by a high steel bar fence. In the fence are hanging probably 25 shouting, screaming potential porter choices. With so few flights, they get very aggressive over who they help. Being the only non-Asians in probably a 20 mile radius made us a really desirable target. Oh joy.

On the other hand, we have our posse to accompany us. It took 5 plane tickets and 3 hotel rooms for Team Ware to get situated in Ozamis. We’ve got our guide and two bodyguards flying in with us. The bodyguards are very watchful of their checked bags, as they contain the tools of their trade. We get the luggage loaded in the van and start off for the city proper a little after 7.

It quickly becomes apparent we’re on a different planet than Manila. Manila is a large, crowded, developing city full of electronics, McDonald’s, cars and opportunities to spend money. Ozamis is a backwater that time and development seem to have forgotten. At first I was looking for the Philippine equivalent of Barney Fife. But then I realized that, if he had ever existed, he would have had a coronary from the traffic lawlessness long ago.

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I took the above out the front windshield of the van we were riding in. Of note:

  • Lane usage is random. The lines in the road are nothing more than a gentle suggestion.
  • The local gent driving us has found it necessary to have a crucifix hanging from the mirror and not one but two plastic Jesuses on the dash. A short ride helps me understand.
  • Most of the vehicles on the road are either motorcycles or motorcycles with sidecars (tricycles). The local version of the Jeepney.

We get to the hotel and check in. I’ve been in a lot nicer hotels. Such as every previous one on this trip. But, the Ritz doesn’t typically build hotels in places where armed bodyguards are the fashion accessory of the season. I have to book an extra room, for two, including breakfast for two. It runs slightly under $35 per night.

Our room, the Imperial Suite, comes with two rooms, at least two 2” cockroaches, may they rest in peace, and a shower with faucets that to the end had me completely baffled. After three showers, I honestly couldn’t tell which handle was hot and which was cold. Turn on either handle and a very lengthy warming up period ensues. Then it is pure hot. But the view of the street made up for it. Better than any TV I’ve seen for years. More on the view below.

We hire a van and take a tour of the city. Below is a shot on the shoreline. It is very tropical. The humans, left to right, are Ginger, Avito (our guide) and Bob (Ginger’s bodyguard.) Ginger is staring my direction, not because she misses me after the two minutes we’ve been apart, but because I’ve got a naked boy running up behind me yelling obscenities at me. Thankfully, my bodyguard, Gerald, didn’t find a naked 10 year old enough of a threat to deserve shooting him. But he was really, really annoying!

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We walked along the walls of a fort built to protect the harbor. This is a view of the tin roofs of the houses in the neighborhood.

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And then, there’s the traffic. Ozamis isn’t big enough to have huge traffic problems, like Manila (or many other cities). But its problems are unique and stem from the fact that traffic isn’t required to obey any rules. Anything goes! For that matter, it appears to be a truth of the area that any naked 10 year old shouting obscenities has the skill set to grow up to be a tricycle driver.

Our hotel room looks down on a busy intersection. The below picture is about average-to-below-average for traffic in the street and intersection. The motorcycles and motorized tricycles move fast and randomly. The pedal trikes just move randomly. Whoever gets to a spot first has the right of way. In a city of probably at least a hundred thousand, there are no stop signs or stop lights. Count ‘em: zero! It’s basically an ant farm with horns.

And it’s not unique to this town. We traveled 44 km up the highway to another town: the provincial capital. The only stop sign or stop light we saw the entire time we were on Mindanao was held by a construction site flag man.

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And then, there was a parade. (Ginger’s note: At that moment, I was trying to take a nap.) I hear the police siren approaching while I’m in the room. Slowly. I look out the window and see the car approaching. (The only cop car I spot in three days.) With a marching band behind it. Nothing has been blocked off as a parade route. It just is. So between the cop car and the paraders, several trikes scoot through, endangering the toes of the band members.

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The band isn’t large, so the parade isn’t long. Trikes and motorcycles are going by the other direction the whole time. But the motorcycles start piling up behind the parade. The motorcycles are the fastest vehicles in the city, so they pass everyone else and pile up.

My theory is that the reason they won’t pass the parade is because of the cop car. They have probably never seen one moving, either, and don’t know what to expect.

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Then the trikes start piling up behind, as well. The side street traffic (trikes) is building, as well. They can’t get a big enough gap to cross.

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Then various other random vehicles. Notice in the picture below the little scooter with four adults riding it. (The driver has a yellow sweatshirt on.) I think that is an awfully cozy maximum capacity. On the trikes, I saw six passengers, plus the driver. Two riding sidesaddle behind the driver; two in the sidecar, two riding behind the sidecar.

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Both nights we were there, we went to the same restaurant. It was a trike-ride away. Two trikes, to be exact. One for my guard (Gerald) and me. A second one for Ginger, Bob, and Avito. At the restaurant, you pick out your meat to go on the grill. Various skewers, fish parts, scary-looking squid, organ meat skewers, pork belly, sausages. Anything your heart desires! Plus Mongolian noodles – the best part. They cook it all up and serve you.

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The first night they had taped karaoke playing on the big (movie-sized) screen. The second it was live pro singers, singing to the karaoke machine. Fairly strange.

The tab for five adults was in the $24 range.

Published by Ginger W. Ware

Bryan is an executive vice president and chief actuary for Employers Insurance Group in Reno, NV. He also enjoys reading, driving his 1972 Fiat Spider, and practicing tae kwon do. He holds a fourth-degree black belt in that martial art. Ginger is an oil painter (gingerwware.com) and amateur musician currently studying cello and voice. She also enjoys reading, keeping an almost daily journal, and seeing what God is up to today. The Wares met in college at Wichita State University in the early 80s, and married in 1988. They have moved 8 or 9 times, raised 2 wonderful children (Lila and Cameron), and currently cater to 4 cats, Panda, Highwire, Charlotte, and Ethyl.

3 thoughts on “Bryan: Comic Relief in Ozamis City, Philippines

  1. Wow! Armed body guards?!? Did you ever learn why you, Bryan, were to target of the naked boy’s obscenities? Did it have anything to do with your being a foreigner? Re the traffic situation and the parade, comic relief, indeed! Your wonderful description beautifully augmented by your bird’s-eye photos! Bravo, Bryan!

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    1. LOL Because of Bryan’s job with a publicly traded company he’s a kidnap target, thus the bodyguards… the naked boy was cursing him because he’d refused to give him money. There were very few Westerners in the area, so I think the automatic assumption was we had pockets bulging with cash. :)))

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