Paradise or PrisonbyHoneyLips©
"Whatever you do, don't scream," the flight engineer instructs in a hushed tone so not to break the concentration of the studious pilots. The P3-Charlie turns in a 45 degree angle to port as the pilot and copilot manipulate the 4 propeller naval aircraft for landing. Looking out the double-paned glass at the heavenly view, it's difficult to imagine the irony behind the beautiful "fantasy island." The never-ending expanse of sapphire blue that is the Pacific reaches in all directions, interrupted only by the white crests of waves as they roll back from the emerald jungles emerging from the sea.
"The Philipines is like an adult Disneyland crossed with McDonald's, man. You're gonna LOVE it! For 20 bucks you can eat 'til you're stuffed, drink enough San Miguel to fill San Francisco Bay, find a brown sugar piece of ass willing to fulfill your wildest fantasy, AND leave with change in your pocket." The anxious first-timers sit on the edge of their seats waiting to dive in. Each listens intently to the words of wisdom from the "old salty dogs" and wonders if such a place could really exist on earth.
The ancient bucket of bolts straightens for its final approach to the "slash-marks" in the distance. The engines drone on as the magnificent, mountainous jungles pop-up, ready to grab the hollow air foils and hurtle them towards the snowy-white sandy beaches. As the horizon disappears over the top of the mountains, the intertwined branches disguise the rapidly rising ground.
Stepping out of the blue-gray naval aircraft, I'm hit in the face with a blast of blistering heat as if I'd arrived in hell itself. My senses absorb the green giants surrounding Cubi Point Naval Air Station, the same shade of green as steamed broccoli. Twelve steps down on the ladder and rivers of perspiration race down my forehead and back until the olive green flight suit is plastered to my skin.
"You like to be in ‘Pillipines?’" The taxi driver's VanDyke brown eyes never leave the road as he manipulates the musty, white taxi around roller coaster curves. Odors of rotten eggs and raw sewage invade the nostrils on the bridge over Olongapo River. The specific smells are difficult to distinguish in the soupy mixture of "jeep-me" exhaust, animal feces, and the stench of a population without personal hygiene.
"Dolla, mo'm. Please...dolla," chants a crowd of 8 to 10 dust encrusted pocket pickers, their ages between 3 and 9.
Olongapo bustles with activity similar to that of ants scampering for survival when their hill is disturbed. Streets lined with dirty shop windows display wicker picnic baskets with embroidered linens in red checks, blue plaids, green calicos, and white with lace ruffles. Wooden bowls, platters, beer kegs, and figures of eagles and bears appear to be everywhere. Tattoo parlors advertise posters with various images of snakes, dragons, roses, eagles, and cartoon characters. Fluorescent lights illuminate the clouds of dust announcing the location of the main night life attraction, the bars.
Upon entering the third bar on the left side of Main Street, it appears like any corner bar in Price Hill--until the entertainment arrives. Girls ranging from 13 to 22 climb the three steps at the end of the fifteen-foot bar. Some wear string bikinis, and some wrap their underdeveloped bodies in near-transparent scarves. They move suggestively to American top 40 songs from 10 years ago. Around the neck of each toffee colored "dancer" hangs an ordering number from 1 to 24, as if she is an extra value meal from McDonald's.
"How much for number 18?" lustily slurs the sex-starved sailor at the end of the bar.
"Five dolla short-time, ten dolla she love you long-time." The bar girl offering me another brown bottle of San Miguel beer says, "I don't do that. I only work..." her childlike hand pats the bar, "to go to doctor school." Her hair hangs to the middle of her back and sparkles in the disco lights.
The dawn breaks with the shocking discovery of a strange "wonderland" crawling with violence. The rebel uprising of December, 1989, inflicts a dramatic change in just 6 hours. Tension strains the air as the bread truck, configured as a passenger transport, speeds for the runway. Every fifty feet along the parameter fence topped with barbed-wire stands a low-ranking seaman, alert and ready, with rifle in hand. Unsettling feelings of insecurity creep up the spine, leaving a chill that could freeze an erupting volcano. To think, "A chain link fence and a handful of inexperienced sailors stand between me and an irate army with guns. I'd rather be anywhere else on earth!"
Crew and passengers alike pay close attention to the mission commander at preflight. He announces a change in route back to Okinawa, Japan, to avoid any possible fire from SAM (surface-to-air) missiles. The stone-cold silence instills the severity of the situation.
"Prop 4 rotation," the starboard aft observer nervously informs the pilot that the propeller of the fourth engine turns. The confusion in his baby-blue eyes reads the same in everyone's face. Not more than 24 hours prior to take off, the joyous, exciting touchdown in paradise is long forgotten as the P3-Charlie makes its escape back to freedom. I'm left to ponder the reasoning behind the adversity of the innocent children imprisoned in this tropical prison.
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