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An Island in the Sulu Sea with Spencer Crookes

Leaving Hong Kong, it was on to Manila, near the end of our six-week tour of the Far East. Little did we suspect that an adventure to a remote tropical Island lay ahead. Spencer and Betty Crookes had been living in Manila for a couple of years, working with the UN. Knowing Spen I should have suspected that our visit to the Philippines would not be routine. But to head south to Mindanao the very evening of our arrival seemed strange. We soon learned that time was of the essence as the Crookes were scheduled to leave for the States within a week. Why it was essential to visit a remote island a hundred miles off the southern coast of Zamboanga would remain a mystery to us for the next few days. Spencer had carefully arranged all the details to coincide with our arrival and his departure.

So it was off to Davao in a brand new French airplane to land on a small airfield and to be taken by an old Chrysler sedan and driver through the jungle to a brand new hotel set in a coconut grove on the beach. This was a six-million peso establishment, on the order of Hawaiian Village, with miles of clean, white sandy beach and gently rolling waves. The other four or five guests in the hotel may have been shills, as the combo in the lobby was activated as we entered.

The next day it was off to Zamboanga and the Embassy Hotel where it turned out that the manager is a cousin to Modesto, our employee and friend in Seattle! We were in the real tropics, the air hot and damp. This is rural Philippines with old style charm. The hotel, more like an old-fashioned motel, had small cinder- block rooms, each with a very noisy contraption dripping water. At dinner we met a Peace Corps man from San Jose College, using his fish and wildlife expertise to reorganize science teaching in the schools. Spencer became engrossed in conversation with this guy. Could he be the reason for our being in this God- forsaken corner of the world? Was my UN buddy really an undercover man on a secret mission? Was he using Jen and me to make him look like a tourist? Listening carefully with perspiration flowing, I realized that they were discussing the impact of the Peace Corps on the Jolo Moros. It is from there that the term 'running amuck' derived. We had been told that Moslems believe that killing a Christian guarantees their entrance to heaven. For whatever reason he planned this trip to Jolo, was it possible that Spencer needed us as companions in order to masquerade as a Jew? It was to bed early with the scent of orchids and gardenias for the early morning flight to Jolo (pronounced Holo), the seat of Moro culture.

The 30-passenger ancient DC3 took off on schedule heading south over the Sulu Sea. The passengers included an American Army Colonel, his wife and son, the Peace Corps guy from San Jose and four or five Philippine businessmen. A fifty- minute ride landed us on a gravel runway in Jolo Airport where we were met by a student from the Catholic College of Jolo, and a handsome, westernized, young driver. We were presented with flowers and joined by the American colonel in flying suit. Breakfast was at the local restaurant operated in their home by a doctor and his doctor wife. The frontier town of Jolo suffered a bad fire several years previous, so was newly rebuilt, but sanitary facilities were still primitive with those open sewers. It was hot and dusty. Transportation is by jeepny and pedicab of which there are hundreds. Women were colorful with draped batik skirts and shawls.

Then by jeepny into the bush to a Moro village. Here we were invited as guests into the one large house where the Moslem chief introduced us to his family; his many wives served coffee. Later in the day we were served Pepsicola by the Mayor of the city of Jolo. From him we learned that most of the 12,000 inhabitants are fanatic Moslems so removed from Manila that the law doesn't apply to them. Smugglers bring merchandise from Singapore, especially duty-free cigarettes. The bulk of taxes collected are from the licenses of thousands of pedicabs. With no private bicycles or cars these three-wheel tricycles with a passenger or two on the back bench were thick on the city streets. Many homes are built on stilts over water with bamboo bridges for streets. The children are scantily clad; small boys dive down deep in the water for oysters. And the Bajaos, a subculture of people living away from shore out in the sea in shacks built on poles sticking up out of the water. The children naked and the adults almost, are in the water or in small wooden boats most of the time. Subsisting from the sea they had moved into modern times by learning to use dynamite for underwater explosions to help catch fish. They could stay underwater for minutes looking for shellfish and other food that could be gathered. The American GIs from the war years talked about the barnacles on these people.

Halfway around the world, three different airplanes to transport us from Manila to this remote tropical island, and we were leaving the day of our arrival. With his tight schedule, Spencer was booked to Manila in a night flight out of Zamboanga with a stop in Davoa. He would arrive in Manila just a few hours before the family departure for the good old USA. Our tour was to end with a banquet where all the dignitaries of Jolo and several Peace Corps people were in attendance. It would be back to the field where the DC3 would be waiting after this affair. It is true that the three days getting here and the day visit of this island was an invigorating experience, but I still had the feeling that there was some ulterior motive for this whirlwind tour. I was soon enlightened. Like royalty, we were served a delicious seafood meal with piles of tropical fruit in baskets on the huge table—mango, papaya, guava, cheremoya, bananas of all colors and a variety of melons.

Then, with great fanfare, we were introduced to the strange smelling 'durian' the super breadfruit. The size of a football, with sections suitable for individual servings, this fruit, so plentiful in Jolo, was unknown in most parts of the world. The odor is so offensive that it was prohibited from airline transport despite its extraordinary reputation: to enhance the virility of the human male and to slow the aging process. Every Philipino man hoped that someday he could afford to visit Jolo and partake of this exotic fruit known to smell like Hell and taste like Heaven.

Well, Spencer brought out a tin can with a large opening that could be sealed like a paint can and deposited two of these footballs into it. The risk of being apprehended was slim. He had checked it out; the can was hermetically sealed so that no odor could escape into the airplane. The United States of America was going to get its first durian. If our friend was apprehended, Manila would get its first UN jailbird.

The three of us took off for the short hop to Zamboanga during which I convinced Jen that we should pick up a few rolls of film and return to Jolo. We would sell the pictures to The National Geographic to help pay for this adventure. Spencer and his trophy took off for civilization; he never did admit that this acquisition was his reason for bringing us to this remote Island. Jen and I made arrangements to visit in Zamboanga for a couple more days and then return to Jolo. This so excited Philippine Airlines that they provided us with a taxi and guide for the two days we would spend in Zambo City. Spencer had accomplished his mission, and we had a most extraordinary adventure with almost a week in this little corner of our planet.

Harry and Jeannette Glickman, Jan. 10, 1999

Written from Jen's diary of Feb. March 1963

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