Travelogue: In Search of Cheap Beer and How I Met My New Best Friend

Cebu Part Six

Michael Taylor is flown to Cebu on Cebu Pacific Airlines. Staying at the Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa, he leaves his five star compound in search of cheap – i.e., reasonably priced – beer. He gets more than he bargained for.

I see a Mini Mart across the entrance from the five star resort I am staying at in Cebu. I decide to return later for refreshments and snacks.

If I don’t, I know, I will end up raiding the mini bar in my room, and – from experience – I know that the prices of things in minibars at five star hotels are obscenely overpriced.

When I check out the price of a bottle of beer at the Mini Mart a while later, it is 40 pesos. I remember paying 30 peses for a similar bottle of beer the night before at a small shop in town.

I still haven’t come to terms with the value of the peso yet. This is my first trip to the Philippines, and it’s only my second and one-half day. I have NO idea what 40 pesos is worth. But 40 pesos sounds like a whole lot more money than 30 pesos.

I decide to take my business elsewhere.

When I emerge from the Mini Mart, I am accosted by a man wearing dark glasses. He asks if I’d like to hire him for an outing on a boat. When I decline, he asks if I’d like him to arrange a massage for me. When I decline for the second time, the yes/no questions stop and the WH questions begin.

“What are you looking?” he asks. “I will help you find it!”

“Cheap beer!” I say. “The beer here is too expensive!”

“Come with me,” he says. “There is another store down the road. Local price!”

As we make our way down the road, he tells me all about the adventures that await me if I let him arrange a trip on a boat . There will be fishing. There will be a barbecue on the beach I will meet the locals. It all sounds very enticing.

And he assures me that he will charge me the local – not the foreign – price (unlike his competitors, who will rip me off).

When we reach the shop, I go inside and ask the price of a bottle of beer. It’s the same as the price at the Mini Mart.

“Same price,” I say as I emerge empty handed from the shop.

“No problem,” he says. “There is another shop farther down the road.”

In situations like this, I’m always a bit paranoid. I mean, “Who is this guy? What does he want?”

We continue down the road, and there is another shop. This time, he doesn’t leave me to my own devices. He accompannies me inside and speaks with the owner.

“Thirty pesos!” he announces.

That’s what I paid the night before in town last night. I ask for three bottles.

When we leave the store, he grabs the plastic bag of bottles from me. Embarrassed, I say, “That’s all right. I can carry them.” He won’t let me, and I’m getting worried. “What does this guy want from me?” I wonder. “I’ve already told him – as tactfully as I can – that I don’t want to ride in his boat and I don’t need his help arranging a massage.”

Carrying my plastic bag with three beer bottles in it, he tells about himself. He has three sons. I ask if they to to school. He says yes. I tell him that I live in Hong Kong. He seems impressed.

While he carries on ruminating about this, that, and the other thing, I come to the conclusion that this is how he supports himself. He clearly didn’t escort me to the store selling beer at “local prices” out of the goodness of his heart. He expects to be paid. I should tip him for his services.

But now much?

As he chats, I reach for my wallet. I see some large bills and two 20 peso bills. I decide that 40 pesos would be an appropriate tip. I pull the two bills out when he’s not watching and slip them into my pocket.

When we reach the entrance to my hotel, he says, “Nice meeting you,” and hands me the plastic bags with three bottles of beer inside. He smiles, waves, and starts to walk off.

There are no awkward moments. From his body language it is obivous that he isn’t expecting a tip.

“Wait a minute,” I say.

“What’s wrong?’ he asks.

“This is for you!” I say, reaching into my pocket to fetch the two 20 peso notes.

“No, no, no!” he says, backing off. “Not necessary! No! Please! No!”

“It’s okay,” I say. “You saved me money.”

When he doesn’t accept the cash, I stuff it in his pocket. He thanks me, waves, and I walk into my compound.

When I reach my hotel room and put the three bottles of beer into my refrigerator, I do the math. If I had bought the beer at the Mini Mart, I would have paid 120 pesos for the three bottles. At the shop down the road, I paid 90 pesos, for a savings of 30 pesos.

Since I paid a 40 peso tip, I’m out 10 pesos.

I try to remember the exchange rate. Isn’t it roughly 40 to one? So we’re talking about something like 25 US cents!

OMG!!! Had I known, I would have just bought the beer at the Mini Mart in the first place!

But if I had, I wouldn’t have had that delightful conversation with that charming man that has a wife and three children to support.

Since then, we’ve passed each other in the street a few times. Each time he smiles and asks if I’d like him to arrange a boat trip for me – or a massage.

I’ve got a very tighlty packed schedule on this trip, so it’s not going to happen. But he gave me his hand printed card. Maybe on my next trip to Cebu, I’ll take him up on his offer.


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