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The Philippines – Manila

Tuesday, April 22nd.

The 13 hour flight went rather well, better than expected. Although the sleep-eze tablets we took didn’t work, we managed to pass the time and arrive wide awake enough to spend the day exploring, before crashing before 8 pm Manila time (15 hours ahead of PST).

Manila air and weather is probably the worst part of visiting here. Smoggy, muggy and hot – reminded us of Mumbai. The best part of Manila is probably the friendliness of the people – always greeting us very politely – sir and ma’am.

Driving is reminiscent of other Asian cities – lots of honking, jostling and slow. Busses, cars, trucks, jeepneys, trikes, pedi-cabs, pedestrians, construction workers and street cleaners within the street, all vie for openings to move a little bit in their general direction.

We soon found ourselves dehydrated and drinking beer at around 9am Manila time – only a little more expensive then soda. We walked to Intramuros, the old Spanish center of Manila, and took in the architecture, especially of the oldest stone church in the Philippines (St. Augustine) and the Manila Cathedral. We strolled the Manila Bay shoreline, which is home to many poor people, lots of floating garbage, kids swimming and few respites from the heat. We found one – the Harbor View restaurant and cooled down with beer and a chocolate shake. We ended up walking close to 10 miles so we treated ourselves to mani/pedis for less than 10$ each. Doug got smiley faces painted on his big toes.

Wednesday April 23rd. We were both awake very early, not having adjusted to the time difference. We reveled in the lack of worries and pressures compared to previous weeks. We headed out to see the Coconut Palace, one of the more famous boondoggles of Imelda Marcos – made totally of coconut products, for the Pope to live in when visiting. He refused to stay there and admonished her for the extravagance and waste.

We were surprised to see joggers and cyclists in the area, as everywhere we had been was too crowded or uneven to accommodate such activities, but near the Cultural Center there are some areas with smooth pavement and no cars allowed – it’s not a lot so the joggers/cyclists must be pretty passionate about their sport.

We then headed to the MOA (not the Mall of America – but of Asia) – fourth largest in the world. It felt at least as large as the MOA in Minnesota and was enjoyable to see the sameness (an ice rink) and differences (lots of shops). Manila has many of the North American stores but many specific to Asia as well. The same goes for the food – much of which we are too squeamish to try, like duck embryo, blood, and many types of balls.

As our walk to MOA was further than expected we took a Jeepney to the LRT to get to the Chinese cemetery and were pleasantly surprised – total trip cost 1$, for both of us, and the train was nicely air conditioned and uncrowded. We then took a tour of the famous Chinese Cemetery – all types of mausoleums, expensive – can only be leased for 25 years before having to pay again or remove the body, following which the spot is sold to a new buyer who demolishes and rebuilds their own mausoleum – many with toilets, and even one with a shower, to accommodate visitors.

Our trip to Mercy Corps (a charity we quite like) was delayed due to hotel having an error in their address on their website (you’d think they’d get that corrected!?). Then the traffic was some of the worst we’ve experienced. We finally got to Mercy Corps’ offices and learned about their activities in helping the typhoon victims of last November. Of most interest was the structuring of financial help to enable banking solutions unique to the victims’ needs that are increasing access to banking and loans, and thereby increasing the money supply.

Our return trip was just as slow and prevented us from taking in sunset on Manila Bay – supposed to be spectacular, due to the smog. The timing on the traffic lights contributes to the congestion because the lights are not coordinated and are much too long (over 2 minutes on some) – this results in police trying to direct traffic, contrary to the traffic lights – you can imagine the confusion. Manila also uses a driving rationing system to allow driving only every second day, but enforcement is not strict nor is the system well understood, e.g. certain areas and minor streets are exempt. The system also leads to some having people with different plated cars for the different days.

We enjoyed some Philippine beers, Pina Coladas and pizza for dinner and strolled the entertainment district, trying to understand what goes on in the Karaoke bars with all the “showgirls” – it seems they offer all you can drink for a fixed price and the girls aid you in Karaoke, “but touching is not allowed”?!

Thursday the 24th

Again we began this day early.  As we have most days we have breakfast at the hotel, check email for news about Fran’s mom etc.  Today we headed to check out a market and the President’s Palace.  Another long hot walk but always lots to see.  En route we wandered through Rizal Park which is one of the few green spaces in the city and were pleasantly surprised.  It has a few nice fountains, statues, benches, music, both Chinese and Japanese Gardens and lots of trees and singing birds.

After crossing the river we found the market but it was more of a locals market with fruit and veggies and meat and fish.  It was very hot and abundant with odors!

As we had to check out by noon and had already walked five moles it was time for some AC.  Heading back to hotel we made a few stops at a couple of the plentiful 7-11’s for wet refreshment and rather than one around a huge mall we cut through it for gelato.

Back at the hotel we showered, changed and caught a cab to the airport a bit early to avail ourselves of WiFi.  That proved an adventure.  We had told our hotel we needed a cab for a domestic flight but still we were not taken to the correct domestic terminal.  The Manila airport is not  well designed.  We had told the hotel we were flying to Palawan which is domestic, on Philippine Airlines.  So they told the cabbie Terminal 2.  Turns out it was Terminal 3 and so when we got there a different cabbie told us we needed a cab as it was seven kms away.   We found that hard to believe and went to ask about a shuttle.  We found there was one and told the second cabbie we were taking that. He was disappointed.  But when we got to the shuttle stop we learned that the inter terminal shuttles ran only about every thirty minutes unless you were a connecting passenger.  We finally got on a shuttle and, get this, it leaves the airport and goes on city streets in Manila traffic to get to Terminal 3 after passing through Terminal 4!

Glad we weren’t in hurry!