Saturday, 21 May 2011

Truly one of the best kept secrets in Asia - the Philippines Part 1...

And a good Sunday afternoon to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. GOOD NEWS!!!! The world didn't end yesterday! Preacher man - you're now 0 for 2. Why don't you give it a rest and let those actually capable of bringing about the end of the world provide the warnings next time?
Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY RICE!!!!!! Yesterday (also known as "AA" - "almost armageddon"), Brother Rice joined the Larry Bird Club. Happy to have you here, man - it's where the magic happens.
Okay, so I know that I've been a bit slack in getting my last trip update to you, so I'm going to begin rectifying that right now. And so, without further ado, I present you the Philippines Part 1 - making magic in Manila. Cue music!
Saturday: Where's Lily?
So this day started EARLY for Team Taylor - 4 AM alarm clock, 4 AM cab, 4:50 arrival at Changi airport. As fate would have it, we pulled up to the terminal right behind Sarah, who along with Lily was one of the 2 architects of this trip. We checked in smoothly, had our first Starbucks in Singapore (after FIVE months), cleared security, and got to the gate no problem. The flight was at 6:20 AM, with boarding at 5:50. And so, at 5:47 AM, I make the casual remark of, "Wow, Lily's cutting it a bit close. They might have to put her in the jumpseat." About 9 seconds later, Sarah's phone rings. I could only hear half of the conversation, but this is pretty much the recap (I've filled in what I assume was being said on the other end):
Sarah: "Hey, Lily. Where are you?"
Lily: "@#$@#$@#%!@#@!#"
Sarah: "Oh, you just woke up?"
Sarah: "No, don't just drive to the airport now. See if you can get on a later flight."
Lily: "@#$@#@!#$%@#$@#$@#$!!!!!!!"
Sarah: "Yes, I think that's a good plan. Text me and let me know."
And so, down one of Sam's Angels, the 3 of us boarded a JetStar flight bound for Manila. And so began a VERY eventful trip.
Manila - capital of the Philippines and bigger than half the countries in Europe. A city made up not of neighborhoods but OTHER CITIES, joined loosely by a confederation of rail lines, shiny open air silver buses, and more walkways than in the whole of Singapore. Before ever arriving in Manila, I'd received 3 pieces of advice:
1. Puma - "It is a chaotic mess. Get out as soon as you can."
2. Team Schott - "Buy a plastic gun from the airport and walk around with it on your hip. It's the only way to guarantee safety."
3. Jac (member of my team from the Philippines): "It's not as safe as Singapore - watch your valuables. In fact, wear your backpack in front."
Armed with only these 3 pieces of information, we arrived at Manila International airport. But let me state for the record now - MANILA. IS. AWESOME.
Seriously, we had a BLAST in this city. Manila (and the Philippines in general) have not yet been discovered for the tourist destination they should be yet, meaning that it's not yet "catering" to tourists. Consequently, it's still super easy to travel like the locals, eat tons of great local food, and truly experience the Filipino culture. This was one of the things I loved about Manila - it truly felt Filipino - nothing edited for tourists. It was colorful, vibrant, chaotic, and full of energy. My description was organized India. Sarah's description was clean and successful Jakarta. All in all, we really enjoyed our day here.
That being said, should you visit - one key point: DON'T TREAT THE MAP LIKE IT'S A MAP OF AN EASTERN EUROPEAN OLD TOWN. Here's the deal - we set out to "walk to Greenbelt," an area that Mary (another teammate from the Philippines) had recommended. Well, on the map we got, it looked to be about...oh, I don't know...20 minutes walking. However, after 30 minutes of walking in SEVEN HUNDRED DEGREE HEAT, we found out that we'd only covered about .00000001% of the distance required. And so, in true Puma fashion, we did what anyone would have done - hopped the LRT, baby!
So we buy our rail tickets, and the first train is more packed than the last helicopter leaving Saigon. However, when they see Jenny and Sarah, the boys are start saying, "Come on in! There is room!" Funny, because they didn't make room for me...all the same, we did manage to get onto the second train and get down to EDSA, at which point we had to queue again for the MRT (none of the train lines are connected - it's like KL that way), which ultimately got us to Greenbelt 1 hour and 7 miles later (I was pretty sure Sarah was going to either a) stab me in the FACE or b) collapse from starvation). That being said, we did manage to find some Sisig (a local pork, squid, and rice dish), and I ate LIKE IT WAS MY JOB.
After that, I whipped out the map and realized that I'd taken us EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION from all of the main tourist sites, and so we piled back into a cab and headed to the first destination of the day - Rizal Park. This 52 acre park, complete with the country's largest flagpole (notice a pattern here?), had some cool statues, an area for chess, and even a Chinese garden to wander through (entry was 18 cents USD). We then walked past many a "Congrats Manny the Pacman!" banner en route to Intramuros, the old colonial Spanish section of the city, built in the 1660's. One neat feature was the golf course IN THE MIDDLE OF THE OLD FORT, complete with hitting past Devil's sentry boxes and cannons - very cool. The highlight of the old town was the Cathedral, which has been rebuilt EIGHT TIMES since the 16th century. Now THAT is dedication, ladies and gentlemen.
At this point, it should be noted that the 3 of us wanted only 1 thing - something to drink. Granted, Sarah wanted a juice and Jenny and I wanted alcohol, but hey, there was still some solidarity there. Finding booze, however, required FINDING A BAR. THAT, ladies and gentlemen, proved somewhat trickier than expected.
After a solid hour of wandering, however, Team Taylor and Sarah struck liquid gold (literally) with this GREAT restaurant on a jet in the middle of Manila harbor. Dude - this place was AMAZING. Oysters Rockafeller (Cat - you would have LOVED it) for $1 USD apiece, complete with garlic, butter, tobasco, bacon, spinach, and cheese. It was LIFE CHANGING - so much so that we ordered 2 plates of them (along with some sushi and other nibbles). Oh, and the Bull finally made good on crossing off Kristine's (another member of my team from the Philippines) to dos - we found the beer, baby!
In case you're curious - there is only 1 name for brewskis in the Philippines - San Miguel. Granted, they do about 7 different kinds of beer, but it all comes from the same place. Muffin and I rocked Pale Pilsen, San Miguel Light, and Superdry (we didn't try Ice - next time...), whilst Sarah took down a pair of juices and we all watched the sun set. After that it was the walk home, which happened to be right across the street from...wait for it...wait for it...CASINO FILIPINO, BABY!!!!!! Heeeeeeelllllllllo gambling!!!! And whilst they didn't have craps, you could play a LONG time on 1000 pesos ($30 USD), and so Muffin and I sat down determined to retire on nickel slots. As fate would have it, I got cleaned out after 45 minutes. Muffin, however, hit some crazy ass "100 spins at quadruple value" jackpot and ended up leveling us out. I LOVE YOU, PUMPKIN!!!!! 53 WEEKS UNTIL VEGAS!!!!! Yazz - start saving now!!!! Ogas - Jenny's already requested a Pai Gow refresher - drinks are on us...
We then showered, had another Pale Pilsen (these puppies were less than $2 USD a pop, baby!!!! WOOOOO-HOOOOO!!!!!), and then watched lovely Lily sprint into the hotel lobby!!!!
That's right, folks - Lily did catch a later flight, and so she got to join us for dinner. We walked over to this GREAT Chinese joint, where we proceeded to GORGE ourselves on food (SO GUUUUUUUD - peppy cheekies). Side note - I can't say ENOUGH good things about the food in this country - every meal was was my dunlap when it was all over...
After that it was back to the hotel (we found out from Lily's cab driver that we were staying in the red light district - good times...), at which point we PASSED OUT, knowing that we had a 5:30 AM wake up call for an EARLY flight to the next spot in the Philippines. That, however, is another story for another time.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

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