Manic Manila

Trip Start Apr 23, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Sunday, January 23, 2011

Up early on a Sunday morning in Nathan Road and it is like being on a different planet to the one we had become accustomed to for the last week. As we exited Chungking Mansions with nary a soul in sight except for an ambulance??? and the guy washing the pavements (of what I don't want to know) it was a clear run for the 100m to the bus stop. It seemed strange not to be offered a suit/watch/whatever ever 5m.

The bus picked us up and deposited us at the airport in approximately 1 hour. A slight detour to find where we had to check in and plenty of time for a coffee.

The plane was totally full. The food was totally disgusting and I was totally glad to arrive. Still for about $100 each I wasn’t complaining. The view coming into Manila was pretty grim. It is never going to win an award for most attractive city.

We quickly cleared immigration and customs, had some issues with the one and only ATM (ending up with a grand total of about $70!), dodged an airport limousine ($40 to town-who were they kidding) and a crazy guy (according to the airport security) and jumped in an ordinary metered cab ($3) and found ourselves at the Chill-Out hostel in no time at all.

The room was OK. Nothing great but had a working air-conditioner and bathroom for about $25 and we set off in a hunt for money. There is no nice word for Ermita except for perhaps "earthy". The buildings, pavements and people all looked to have seen better days and the change in the climate from Hong Kong soon had us all sweaty and sticky.

We managed to find a Citibank and some cash before wandering back past the “Slouchhat”. Having heard plenty of stories about Manila bars we entered warily and were happy to find the atmosphere reasonably wholesome, the beer cheap and the service good. The lovely (loud and brash) Elsa kept all the clients in line and we ended up staying for dinner before heading back for a beer at the hostel and an early night. While Tim checked the internet I watched te night scene evolving from the privacy of the fourth floor window. Street kids, street girls, pimps and clients, all going about their own business on a quiet Sunday night.

The next day the street activity was way busier and noisier than Sunday and as an added “bonus” it was raining. Brightly coloured, battered Jeepneys clattered up and down the streets blasting their horns at the least provocation as pedestrians dodged around the traffic and the enlarging puddles. After breakfast we found us at Robinson’s plaza where we were astounded at the contrast. Big, bright and commercial...anything you could possibly want could be found except perhaps for atmosphere. We got a SIM card for the phone, made a tour around the shops and had some lunch. Next stop was Tourist Information to try and get a consolidated view of ferry services between the islands. Despite being very pleasant and helpful we didn’t really get what we wanted..probably because it didn’t exist. Ferry services were variable depending on the season, weather and demand. We would just have to plot a general direction and fill in the gaps as we went.

With no improvement in the weather we made our way back to the Slouch hat to plan the next leg of our journey. Our choices were to head north to the highlands or south to the beaches. The weather was totally erratic for this time of the year. The eastern Visayas were under water with about 80 dead and roads and homes washed away. The north had also had a fair bit of rain and we didn’t fancy trekking through mud. The middle of the country however, appeared to be fine and so we plotted a path down through Puerto Galera on Mindanao, down through to boracay, then onto Negros, Siquijor, Cebu and then hopefully back up to Donsol and Northern Luzon as the weather improved.

On Tuesday the weather had improved somewhat. We headed down to book bus and ferry tickets to Puerto Galera then paid set off for the old town and the fort which were both pretty interesting. The colonial buildings were all in a state of disrepair but with a bit of imagination you could see they had been quite beautiful. There was a photography course being held in the grounds with the subject matter being weddings. 15 of so avid (or is that rabid?)photographers clicking every which angle of the lovely bride and groom. Meanwhile the real star of the show, a little bridesmaid all dressed in pink was holding fort to all the tourists...including us of course.

We meandered around the fort for at least an hour and a half. It was incredibly peaceful compared to the rat race outside. The views across the river were sobering. A grubby shanty town starkly revealing the harsh economic realities for the average philipino. No wonder the toll is so high when natural disasters hit with such rickety structures built so close to the water.

We walked back to Ermita with a restful break in Rizal park to watch the locals strut their stuff. Lots of kids running amok and families enjoying the great outdoors. We watched as a workman standing in knee high water in the fountain adjusted the electrical connections. A whole new standard of work place health and safety..night

Back into the Slouch hat for a couple of coldies, banter with Elsa and dinner before crashing for the night. It was here we found out that there had been a bombing in the main part of town about 2pm. A couple of guys had left a bomb on a bus killing 5 people and injuring a whole lot more. I checked the international news on the Australian sites and found it mentioned so quickly emailed back home to allay any fears. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried as nobody even heard about it. The news is such a hit and miss thing when it comes to international events. Funnily enough, many of the Philipinos we had met knew all about the Australian floods and yet had no idea the same thing was happening in other parts of their own country with a far greater death toll.

All up, Manila isn’t somewhere I would want to spend a hell of a lot of time but it certainly did have a bold and brash character all of its own. Now to see what the rest of the country has to offer.
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