Friday, February 14, 2014

Far from a thriller in Manilla

Given that it had taken us two days to get up to the highlands from Manilla it was always going to be a long journey back to Manilla for the last time. First we took a jeepney out of Banaue. Unfortunately they never remain this spacious.

The jeepney was supposed to take us straight to where we could get a bus, but dropped us off in a random town because it was having mechanical problems. After a bit of a search we managed to find another jeepney that was going in the direction we wanted, and were able to squeeze in. I'm sure it was full when we got in, but about 6 or 8 more passengers boarded after us.  With some help from the friendly locals we got off at a roadside restaurant where we were assured the buses to Manilla would stop as they pass.  We killed some time by chatting to a group of local kids who were clearly intrigued by the tall pale people and so approached us and asked “Hello...why are you here?”. We gave them some playing cards that we hadn't actually used all trip, but they seemed more interested in playing some very random videos on a mobile phone.

I think the phone may have belonged to the father of one of the kids, because the title of more than one video stored on it included a western female name followed by the number 18!

After a fairly long wait a bus headed to Manilla finally stopped, and we were happy to find that there were some empty seats. The journey to Manilla was supposed to take about 7-8 hours, but due to the wet weather actually took about 10 hours or so. This little fella seemed to find us interesting for the whole journey, and it appeared that he would never get bored of playing peek-a-boo no matter how long the journey was.

Although the journey was long and not particularly pleasant, things went downhill when we arrived in Manilla. It was late and pouring with rain when we arrived, but we managed to hail a taxi before we got too wet and were taken to a hotel where we thought we had a reservation, only to be told in a rather unfriendly fashion that they had no record of our reservation by the receptionist who showed no interest in helping us find an alternative. We had little choice but to don our ponchos and braved the rain by foot; fortunately we were able to find a hotel with a room available and, in the circumstances, were able to overlook the slightly sleazy feel to the hotel and the rat that scurried through the reception.

So far, almost everything about the Philippines (apart from the weather) had been wonderful – beautiful, friendly, relaxed, clean, interesting, cheap. It turns out that that's because all the bad stuff in the Philippines is focused in Manilla. Manilla is busy, noisy, dirty and unfriendly. We hadn't seen any homeless people anywhere else in the Philippines, or had anyone ask us for money (apart from some cheeky children) but in the area around our hotel alone there were lots of homeless people and beggars, including whole families huddled under blankets. For the first time in the Philippines it was unpleasant to walk down the street.

Fortunately we had heard in advance that Manilla wasn't a great place, and so we had planned to make our stay there as short as possible (you may have noticed that on the two prior occasions we had passed through the capital we did so without stopping at all). We didn't do any sightseeing (I'm not sure if there are any real sights to see) but did find a good dental clinic where we both got some cheap dental work done, before eating and heading to the airport to catch our flight to Hong Kong.

As you may have gathered, Monique and I are really quite fond of the Philippines. Despite the fact that the weather had been pretty awful for the majority of our time there, and had actually prevented us from doing some things that we were really keen on doing and had prevented us moving around as we would have liked, we have completely fallen for the beauty and friendliness of the Philippines. It is definitely a country that we will be revisiting. In a way it's a good thing that we disliked Manilla so much, because if it hadn't been for that it may have been too difficult for us to actually leave.

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