Adventures in Asia 2008

my travels through India, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

Kumusta from the Philippines!

Posted by maudholma on 28 May 2008

After our last evening avoiding getting run over and royally ripped off in Hanoi, our flight to Manila was over 2 hours delayed. A great ending to our stay in a country that was already getting on my nerves… Bleary eyed and without really knowing where we were going, S and I found a “jeepney” (a cross between a jeep, a pick-up, and a bus) to the nearest skytrain station. During our 5 minute walk, we were met by people saying hello, waving, smiling, and asking if we needed directions. And for a change, no one was trying to sell us anything. After our first 2.5 months in India trying to get used to people being friendly for no reason and the last 1 month in Vietnam trying to get used to people generally not being friendly for no reason, the Philippines had already scored major points and has kept doing so ever since.

Manila, which I had expected to be a city full of noise, pollution, and traffic, is nothing compared to what we’ve experienced in other countries. It doesn’t rank among the most beautiful cities I’ve visited – most of the parts we’ve seen so far are actually quite ugly – but the people make up for the otherwise lacklustre surroundings. There’s something about the Filipinos’ way which is incredibly genuine and I havet yet to feel as if someone is starting a conversation only because they’re out to get something from me. Besides which, people are constantly smiling, whether it’s the mall security guard checking your bag, the old lady sitting next to you on the bus who feeds you cookies, the supermarket workers who do a choreographed dance by the checkouts (to ease the customers’ boredom?!) or the jeepney driver who gives you a free ride from the airport because you don’t have anything smaller than a 1000 peso note and he has no change.

We only spent one day in Manila getting our visas extended and grinning from ear to ear at how adorable everyone was before flying to Puerto Princesa, the biggest city on the island of Palawan. We ended up staying with a slightly loony (but very sweet) Filipino woman who arranged our onward bus tickets to the town of El Nido. She offered to wake us up at 3:00 so that we could catch the 4 o’clock bus which meant that we would arrive in El Nido anytime between 11:00 and 14:00. S’ alarm rang at 3:15 and when Loony Lady woke up 5 minutes later, she informed us that the bus was actually not leaving until 5 o’clock. Still, she assured us, we should be there at 4:00 so we hadn’t gotten up in the middle of the night in vain. We got to the bus station at approximately 3:50, an hour and a half before the bus. Our enthusiasm for the Philippines waned even more during the 9 hour journey squished into the back row of a bus with 4 others, one of whom took up the space of two people. There were no windowpanes, so all the dust and dirt from the road ended up in our hair, faces, clothes, ears, noses etc. We swore we would rather walk back than repeat the journey but since the ferry schedule to the island of Busuanga, where we were planning on diving among WWII wrecks and soaking up the sun, didn’t match our itinerary, we woke up at 4:45 this morning and sat on exactly the same bus (driver, ticket guy, lack of windowpanes) back to Puerto Princesa. Fortunately, the roads weren’t as dry this time so we avoided the worst of the dust. Unfortunately, it started pouring towards the end so I ended up soaked from both the water coming in through the window and the holes in the floor.

The trip was undoubtedly worth it, however, after our island hopping trip yesterday. El Nido is the jumping off point of the Bacuit Archipelago, a host of islands, limestone cliffs, untouched white sand beaches, and turquoise waters. S and I drove around this small piece of paradise in a boat with our own driver, stopping off at different places to swim in lagoons, lie on the beach, eat fresh grilled fish, and snorkel. As well as one fish, two fish, red fish, and blue fish, there were white fish with yellow stripes, brown fish with blue dots, neon green fish, iridescent fish, tiny fish, huge fish, pretty fish, ugly fish, nice fish, mean fish – one actually bit me! I was just about to get out of the water at our last stop when something made me decide to keep going for just a minute. I put on my snorkel, swam about a meter, and saw a sea anemone when all of a sudden…a group of mini Nemos came swimming out! I would say that nothing can crown finding Nemo in the Philippines, but we still have over 3 weeks left so I won’t jinx it.

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2 Responses to “Kumusta from the Philippines!”

  1. Ingo said

    Hello Maud,
    for months now I have followed you on your extraordinary voyage and every time I read a new instalment of your impressions I quietly raise my hat in wonder and admiration. Congratulations and lots of thanks for your astute and countless entertaining observations!
    And here I was convinced that I wouldn`t ever need to go through all those ordeals you have been subjected to because I have read all about them in Paul Theroux´s many travel books ALL of which I have devoured. The sights and smells, the greasy and nifty, the friendly and hateful, all of these adjectives are found in his books. One of the better ones is “Paddling the Pacific” in which he describes how he actually paddled with a collapsible kajak-type boat from one island to the next in and around Borneo etc. Perhaps you can pick it up somewhere, I am sure you will enjoy ist. He wrote another book on his travels by train in India “The Great Railway Bazaar.” And not to forget “Riding the Red Rooster” by train all over China.
    Take care and please keep on telling us all about your adventurous escapades!

    P.S. My brother Klaus will be back in Manila as of next Monday

  2. I agreed with you

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