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By David Haldane

Oct. 11, 2018

It was the kind of thud that breaks your heart. The kind that gives you a sinking feeling, both literally and figuratively. The kind that says, in menacing terms; ok, bud, you’re stuck! Now let’s see if you can get yourself free…

My gut told me loudly that we couldn’t.

We had set out earlier that day in our 2011 Toyota Fortuner to see a surveyor in a distant barangay that we hardly knew. To get there we had taken a circuitous route along highways fronting the ocean and busy passages through a cluttered downtown. Now we had turned onto a very narrow street with huge clumps of its pavement missing on one side. To avoid the resulting potholes, you had to navigate to the left between them while the oncoming traffic –quite considerable given the road’s condition – waited for you to pass. Then quickly return to your rightful lane so that the flow of traffic could continue.

“Wow, this is insane,” I remarked to my wife’s young nephew who, thankfully, had offered to drive.

It was then that we heard the thud. Not a loud one, mind you, but soft, almost gentle, as if not wishing to offend. Followed by a sickening jerk as the car suddenly halted, careening wildly to one side. It wasn’t difficult to glean what had happened; in avoiding the huge potholes, we had eased too far to the left forcing our front tire into the unmarked gully traversing that side of the road. Now it was stuck there, buried up to the middle of its hubcap in mud and debris.

Hoping against all hope, I commandeered the driver’s seat, threw the gearshift into reverse and stepped hard on the gas. Only to hear, just as I had feared, the back tire spinning fruitlessly against the pavement as the smell of burning rubber permeated the air. Yup, I uttered to myself in disgust, there’s no other way to put it; we are definitely stuck. “Damn!” It seemed as if there was no way out.

Anyone who’s seen a Fortuner knows that it’s no small car. Back in the USA, of course, my next move would have been to call the auto club. Or, for sure, someone would by now have already summoned the California Highway Patrol as we were blocking traffic. But this was the provincial Philippines, about as far from California – both geographically and culturally – as you can get. And so a young Filipino man, perhaps the driver of a vehicle inconvenienced by our dilemma, stepped up to help.

He was but the first. Over the next several minutes they kept coming, seemingly out of nowhere, materializing as if saintly spirits charged with our protection until there were no fewer than, I swear, fifteen men. Without a word they organized themselves into a team; one man at the wheel, another jacking up the disobedient tire with a stick and stones gathered from the roadside, the rest forming a muscled squad of pushers to force the car from its trap. One heave-ho and the deed was done. Then, just as quickly as they had appeared, our army of saviors dissipated into the undulating afternoon without a trace, leaving before we could say either thank you or goodbye.

So what have I learned from this experience?

First, that there are roads in the Philippines in worse condition – and far more dangerous – than most Western countries would allow. More importantly, though, I have witnessed firsthand a perfect example of Filipino self-reliance. It is necessary. It is pervasive. And, perhaps more than certain other things in this country which I’m sure we all could name, it is utterly decisive.

Bottom line: there are far worse things you could do in life than getting stuck in the Philippines.


Also Published in Mindanao Gold Star Daily






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A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the chronicle of that adventure.






  1. That is the way of it here, isn’t it. Fortunately, I haven’t gotten a car stuck while out and about. But in the days before we had a 4 wheel drive vehicle, we hired a carabao to haul picnic supplies up the hill to our ranch. The water level in the river crossing was up higher than the level of the carabao sled. All of the foodstuffs would have been ruined. We were a good kilometer away from the populated area of the barangay, but suddenly, half a dozen young men showed up and helped carry the stuff across. Of course we invited them to the picnic!

    Many more years ago, I was driving Army tractor trailer rigs all over central Europe. One day in a crowded city in Belgium, I had to make a left turn against traffic onto a divided street. The street sign was positioned right at the end of the dividing traffic island. Try as I might, I couldn’t make the turn without the street sign tearing into the canvas top of my trailer. I had cheated over to the right as much as the heavy traffic would allow. Bumper to bumper traffic had crowded in behind me, so I couldn’t back up and try again. Suddenly, a young guy with a spiky Mohawk, and wild punk rock clothes, sprinted forward and shinnied up the sign post. He twisted the road sign 90 degrees, allowing me to squeak by. I gave him a toot on the air horn in thanks, and bugged out before the cops could arrive.

    Take care,

  2. Rob Ashley says:

    David: Nice piece. You are very right. Filipinos are extremely helpful in lots of ways. If you are polite and kind here, people are accomodating, smiling and gracious. Something I love about the Philippines. -Rob

  3. John Reyes says:

    David –

    You may not have realized it, but, as you stood helpless by the side of the road that day, watching your army of saviors rendering you with unsolicited assistance straight from their heart, you have witnessed first hand a demonstration of that admirable Filipino trait called the “bayanihan” spirit – a selfless sense of fellowship and community cooperation Filipinos are known for. This tradition is normally observed in the provinces.

    I’m pretty sure you’ve seen it before, this community cooperation where everyone pitches in to work towards a common goal by providing assistance, usually in the form of labor and materials without being asked. For example, during your renewal of vows in barangay Caridad, and, in some limited way, during the construction of your magnificent villa by the sea at Punta Bilar. Both events, I’m sure. have spawned some form community effort in your and Ivy’s behalf to help make the events a smashing success.

    The late Fernando Amorsolo (1892 – 1972), a prolific painter of Philippine rural scenes may have expressed the spirit of “bayanihan” best in his famous paintings depicting men of the barangay, in a community effort, literally carrying a nipa hut on their shoulders to move it to another location.


    • Rob Ashley says:

      John: I love knowing these cultural touchstones and traditions. Thanks for this reference. -Rob

    • David Haldane says:

      You’re right, of course, John, we have seen many examples of this before, including in the two cases you cite. Thanks for providing the cultural context!

  4. Peter Devlin says:

    Hi David. My car once broke down on the main highway to Riyadh. Major engine problem and my car needed to be towed. The road was very busy, and many cars drove past at high speed. Within 10 minutes of breaking down a car with 4 guys stopped to help me out. Needless to say, they were Filipinos working as OFWs. Their willingness to help out is global.

  5. update says:

    What duplicate content?