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See the real PHILIPPINES with delightul Mr. K.

By John Edward YoungStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 30, 1988



Taal, Philippines

GEN. DOUGLAS MacARTHUR enjoyed a posh suite at the Manila Hotel when he bunked-in during post-World War II visits. Today, rooms are usually available there for visitors who can afford them. Nice. But the only Filipinos you're likely to encounter are the desk clerk and busboy. Here's an alternative.

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``Call me `K.','' said Kealoha Kelekolio, as he greeted us here in rural Taal.

Mr. K. is a gentle man with a quick smile, a wit like a whip, and a penchant for grand opera, songwriting, and raising gamecocks.

After traveling in Asia for some time, K. - a native Hawaiian - found this area ``much like Hawaii must have been 50 years ago.''

So Mr. K., along with a partner, founded the Philippine Experience, this country's first community-based tourism program, about six years ago. The reason: ``We just weren't pleased with the way tourism was developing in the Philippines,'' he says. ``You know, large groups of tourists being herded around.''

Bad timing slowed takeoff

But the timing couldn't have been worse. Just as the program was getting off the ground, anti-Marcos opposition leader Benigno Aquino was assassinated. The ensuing political turmoil put tourism, and the Philippine Experience, in a tailspin.

As things began to settle down, tourism slowly began to rise.

Here in Taal, just 2 hours' drive from Metro Manila's staggering congestion and pollution, is a chance for visitors to spend a day or more in a Filipino home.

Actually, ``People can stay as long as they want,'' K. says.

It's not fancy. No air conditioning - and it can get hot! - no telephone, or newspapers. No Time, Newsweek, or National Geographic magazines. Just a library of dogeared paperbacks, assorted issues of Opera News, and the latest journal on cock-fighting (a sport that's popular here even though Stateside animal-rights advocates rank it among the cruelest).

Real people, real bugs

And yet it's real. Real people. Real life in a typical, sleepy, rural town. Wonderful home-cooked meals, and all the mosquito netting you need to keep the buzzing insects at bay.

Oh, and the shower is strictly a barrel-and-bucket affair.

K. lives in a house of the typical old Spanish style. The bottom level, opening onto the backyard, is dirt. It houses a maternity ward (for brooding hens and chicks) and separate coops for the cocks.

As in most houses of this style, the people's quarters are upstairs. High ceilings with weathered wood and large shuttered windows coax the evening breeze through the long, inviting living room. Floors with wide, polished boards are smooth as moleskin. ``We like to have a get-to-know-you session,'' says K., passing around some eagerly snatched glasses of iced tea.

Customizing a tour

``Too often tourists are just dictated to. This way we find out your interests, and what you want to do. You get to plan your own itinerary. Maybe you want to get away from the city and just relax. Maybe you never want to see the inside of another cathedral.''

Right on, Mr. K.!

Learning that native food was a particular interest of ours, K. planned a cookout dinner at Balayan Bay, a five-minute drive away. We watched the sun set into the South China Sea as dozens of fishing boats slipped across the horizon. Each dangled a large lantern to attract fish. After we took a quick dip, Mr. K.'s three young apprentice cooks grilled dinner at the foot of a coconut tree while local kids played their own brand of Frisbee with freshly caught blue starfish.

For dinner, we supped on succulent clams, grilled until they peeked through their shells, then dipped in vinegar flavored with garlic, onion, and hot peppers. They were followed by pork shish kebab brushed with ``seven-secret-spices'' sauce. A compote of cool fresh native fruits was served for dessert.