Oct 19, 2010

Philippines: Asia for beginners

If you have never been to Asia and feel a little timid about it, Philippines is the perfect spot to start and not for its over seven thousand islands. First of all, people are very polite, not a sentence goes by without someone calling you “sir” or “madam”. Second, compared with other Asians, Filipinos speak much better English, probably has more to do with being the only colony of the United States. Today, their English skills help Filipinos to find work on commercial ships or domestic employment in the Gulf states, as evident from all those flights to Bahrain, Dubai and Qatar despite the occasional slavery and horror stories. It is therefore no surprise to learn that 10% of the population lives abroad and sends home money like this. 

Manila airport's security signs in Filipino English.

A glance at Baywalk in Manila from the rooftops.

Cute examples of Filipino English include:
Compress (meaning get closer when taking a picture)
Comfort room: toilet
Please fall in line
Power supply outage
Off limits to well wishers
Deliveries after 8 PM will not be entertained

Nevertheless, being occupied by the Spanish, Americans and the Japanese must have left a national schizophrenia in the country: Filipinos are Asian but Catholic, speak English but have Spanish names such as Miranda, Ramirez and Ibarreta.

1 January 2007, Boracay, Phillipines.

I must say that Manila does not deserve a long stay unless you are into karaoke (called videoke locally). Really, the whole Bay Walk is full of these places and it is a national sport to sing. In a place obsessed with karaoke, it is considered outmost rude to make fun of people whose voice is bad. So good luck with that! In case you want to run away from videoke,  go to the high rise Makati for great Asian restaurants. Never missing an opportunity to stuff myself with sushi for affordable prices (does not happen in Istanbul), we went to Zen and would highly recommend it. The touristic attraction in Manila is Intramuros (walled city) and it is quiet saddening to learn that towards the end of the Second World War 150.000 Filipinos perished here. Chinatown could be an option for cheap eatery and buy green tea.

2 January 2007 at the White Beach at Boracay.

Boracay island from the airplane taking us back to Manila.

We entered the new year in Boracay, the most touristy island in the Philippines. The White Beach at the island was ours to enjoy with fireworks at night  and bare feet in the sea…what a great way to get rid of the terrible weather in the Northern hemisphere. Despite Boracay being called touristy, our dinner consisting of yummy lobster, shrimps and wine on a new year’s eve cost only 20 USD per person! So I would say that Boracay is still quiet virgin. During the day, White Beach is indeed where everything is happening with cocktails, coconut trees and the sun. Another great thing of the Beach is the massage offered for 7 USD (14 USD at the spa)! The entire island is surrounded by reef so there are all sorts of possibilities to do snorkeling but we decided to make a tour with the typical Filipino boat designed for speed. Although we got completely wet, it was fun!

Get ready for a wet ride around Boracay.

This is the beach you land to go to the Subterrenean River.

Our last stop was Palawan island which can be best described as otherworldly (Lonely Planet refers to it as the “last frontier”.  It was such another world, landing in the airport was almost like entering another country with immigration officers checking passports. After looking at mine that has a crescent and a star on it, the officer turned to his friend and commented: “Muslim”.  At that point, it was clear to me no matter who I am or how nonobservant I was, I was a Muslim in his eyes, nothing more, nothing less. After categorizing me, his next victim was my friend who has a passport from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The officer could not understand which country that was. “Russia?”, “No, Bosnia, remember Yugoslavia?”…. Little frustrations make funny stories afterwards…J.

Our guide in Honda Bay.

Approaching Star Fish island in Honda Bay.

There are many places to go in this huge and virgin island from Bacuit Archipelago to wreck diving in Colon but we did not have much time. So our first stop was Honda Bay, easily accessible in the afternoon from Puerta Princesa, the third largest town in the country. Fighting with the wind  and getting wet again, we first reached the Snake Island. Our guide gave us bread here and we got into the water to feed the fish. In their race to get the bread, their mouths and teeth touched our hands, it was crazy! Our guide then explained all the stories of corals and the fish by name. On our way back, we reached the Starfish Island and true to its name, we were greeted by big and pink colored star fish.

A view from Abortion Road to the scenes of Apocalypse Now.

Next day we realized how difficult it is to travel long distances by road which is home to many endemic species. So we left very early in the morning to go the beach which was going to take us to a UNESCO World heritage site. We passed through dirt poor villages on Abortion Road, given this name by the locals given the extent of pot holes on the road. This wild area is also where Apocalypse Now was shot. When we arrived in Sekong Beach we started to wait for the boat to take us to the Subterranean River. What was also very nice was that there is no pier on both ends so you directly jump into the water from the boat. This and wearing life jackets and helmets put us into the adventure mode. Getting into the cave on the river was right out of a Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth-aptly put by Lonely Planet. I have never seen so many bats in my life….Upon return, we were served lunch surrounded by lizards and monkeys. Otherworldly indeed. After the return ride on the Abortion Road, we decided we earned a massage in the room: 10 USD!

Ta ta! The famous jeepney and careless whispers.

I should also mention the peculiarity of transportation in the Philippines with the jeepney. It is the main mode of transportation in many towns and is the Filipino answer to the Thai tuk tuk but on a more sophisticated scale. Just imagine a regular motorcycle being wielded to a hauler for baggage and persons. Well, this is your jeepney. According to the wielder, the jeepney has lines on it ranging from “Sagittarius” (of course travelmind cannot be anything else but a sag) to “in god we trust” or “guilty feet of got no rhythm”. I would say in the Philippines, there is a lot of rhythm….just relax and let go.

Travelmind taking notes for her future blog.