After an uneventful flight, we arrived in Manila, tired and hungry. We headed to our hotel, noted the armed guards with under-the-car mirrors and dogs checking vehicles at the gate, then headed into the lobby to discover it was Prom Night. The place was packed with dressed-to-the-nines kids, age 15-17, we were told. The noise level was decibel high and Geoff immediately became focused on photo-bombing, leaving me to holler at the clerk during check-in. Lucky us paid for an upgrade to the 10th floor and missed the pranks on the lower levels, including grads repeatedly opening the “No exit” doors to enjoy the screaming warning. All in good fun but not sorry we missed it. The food was great and we only strayed from the hotel to walk to the Mall of Asia and back. As planned, we spent only two nights in Manila.
The first thing that hits you in this country is the poverty; that and unrelenting dust and buildings in various states of repair. (Ed. note: It is also the 2nd, 3rd and 4th thing that hits you.) Such was our impression driving the short distance from the airport to our hotel which was not all the way downtown but on the ocean relatively close to the airport. We flew to Cebu where it was worse. The traffic simply didn’t move, the roads were in bad shape and everywhere it seemed that the people lived in crowded, dilapidated housing. Lots of salvaged rusting corrugated iron for fences, walls and roofs, not unlike Cambodia.
There are thousands of these little buses. They are all privately owned but are granted a license to serve a particular route. They also have a devotion to the church with many having paintings of Mary on them as well as quotations from the Bible. I think they are are quite common in developing countries.
We learned from a guide that the government does not provide universal education, that only people with money can afford to send their children to school. On Bohol, another island nearby, our guide guessed that 75% of the population could not afford to send their kids to school. Bohol, however, was much less crowded and cleaner, with a slower, more pleasant way of life. Our guide earned 250 pesos a day, the equivalent to $7.03 (it is possible he was angling for a tip but still).
We saw farmers harvesting rice by hand, lifting laden baskets over their shoulders, then squelching through the mud and across the street to deposit it near the thresher that separates the grain from the chaff. All along the roadside were tarps covered with unhulled rice drying in the sun. The farmers help each other during planting and during harvest as their plots are small, passed down through the family and divided many times, like was done in the seigneurial system in Quebec.
In Cebu, I went scuba diving for the first time. It was marvellous and my teacher was positive and supportive. It is a little terrifying when you first go below the surface but he was very patient and gave me as much time and encouragement as I needed to feel quite comfortable and competent. We went for a “fun dive” which means we went no deeper than about 20′. I’m going to go several more times before we leave, but not ready to become certified.
If you go to Cebu City (which I don’t recommend you do), you could do worse than stay at the funky Henry Hotel. Some mad interior designer/artist in the style of Peter Max has painted every room and even some furniture in a unique way and the staff are young and hip and a lot of fun.
Down-side is the food–poor at best. I adopted my friend Barb’s method for getting a substantial breakfast with slim pickings: I ordered one fried egg, slapped it between a piece of toast with some crisp bacon and jam and voila, a breakfast sandwich. The good news is that there are a few good restaurant choices in the little complex near the hotel. We had amazing Italian food, of all things. Even though they didn’t really have a table for us, we asked if we could sit at the smoker’s table outside, which was just fine. Some of the best pizza ever, directly out of the roaring pizza oven near our seats (yes, it was hot and no, the smokers did not impinge on our space). The other downside of the hotel was really the traffic, which was just impossible and made it much more inviting to eat where we were.
So, after 4 days, we flew to Boracay (12 degrees north of the equator–Singapore was 1 degree north), a place that has come highly recommended by my son Joe and our friend Greg Corry. We had booked a place called Palm Breeze, which has a deluxe location with great views of the beach and ocean. So, for the first time on this trip, our flight gets us in to Caticlan and the short drives and boat connections gets us to our hotel before noon. Yay! No wasted day. We can be down on the beach in no time. At check-in we are told that we have been given a free luxury up-grade to the place above the main complex. Okay, sounds good. First, 3 flights of stairs–Geoff still struggles a bit (Ed. note: A LOT !!) with stairs. No one to help us so we tote our bags almost to the top when our host notices that Geoff is gasping. Then she calls to a young man who mysteriously appears to help, however half-heartedly. It turns out to be a complete house with numerous bedrooms, a living room, a family room, a huge kitchen, even a suspended punching bag on the deck. We can use the whole house, we are told. Our room is huge, too big really, as is the whole place. We wander around a little. In the kitchen, there is a strainer in the sink with lots of cooking remains. On the counter is a plate of leftover rice with a fly cover on it. In fact, there is a rice cooker, warm, in progress! What the heck is going on here? The young man I mentioned? He also is staying here! Bizarre. We are up for adventure but not remotely interested in sharing house with a strange man. Off I go to find the hostess and remind her that we have been confirmed for the Jasmine Suite, which we want, and not the house, which we do NOT want. She says a lot of things and confirms that they don’t have a regular room for us (it’s been double booked). When I go back to tell Geoff, there is yet another young man getting lunch in the kitchen and gives me a friendly wave. Just how many people are living here? I don’t want to know! Geoff does a search and finds that we can get into another place, which we book, then head to the office for a refund. She gives it willing, knowing full-well the situation is ridiculous. (Ed. note: Want irony? Look it up in the dictionary and see a picture of Geoff on stairs! Remember that one of the reasons we moved was because of the 3 flights of stairs? Well here we have 4 1/2 flights.)
So, we’ve moved, we’ve had a stroll of the beach, eaten a great lunch of fish tacos and cold beer, found out how we secure sun chairs and umbrellas, sussed out the best dive shop, bought some wine for the room and are now relaxing around the infinity pool, away from the crowd. The sand is incredibly white and the water warm. Lots of people, mainly young people, but we like young people. Life is good!
Another lasting impression of Filipinos–they to seem love pap music. We’ve heard covers of every schmaltzy love song ever written in the 60s and 70s–Tie a Yellow Ribbon twice already! Every cab driver plays the same station, and every song is about how much the singer is going to cherish their love every day, etc, etc. Lots of Canadian content though–Bryan Adams “Everything I Do,” Ann Murray singing a fairly risque song about waiting for her lover to touch her (really, Ann!), Celine with the most ‘recent’ tunes, plus cover cover cover of The Carpenters, Frank Sinatra, Paul Anka. We thought for a moment that we were really hearing Tracy Chapman but no. We’ll let you know when we hear a current tune. Looking forward to the live entertainment down on the strip tomorrow night but we hope it’s not what we’ve heard so far.