Seriously, 5 am is a terrible time to arrive in a new city! The airport staff are struggling to finish the graveyard shift and are quite cranky. Everything, including the conveyor belt moves with lethargy. And then there’s the endless que outside the toilet.
I arrived in Manila at quarter past five in the morning. I’d flown Bali to Jakarta, spent 6 hours in the airport and then hopped on an over night flight to the capital of the Philippines.
Yes, I know that’s a silly title for a post, but I saw an ice cream shop in Manila by that name with a caricature of a white rapper. Totally cracked me up!
I’d booked myself into The Melting Pot hostel in the Makati area. They’d emailed me precise instructions for reaching there from the airport. But at 6 am, I got in the cab and passed out. The driver woke me up when we’d reached and handed me the receipt that was at least 40% more than what the hostel staff had suggested as approximate fair. Oh well, live and learn!
This was a pretty fancy hostel. From the few listed on Hostel World’s website it was certainly the most well located and rated. The hostel is actually an apartment in a swanky part hotel- part residential building. The owner Ronald and his partner were extremely gracious hosts and gave tons of advice on how to plan my time in the Philippines. The only agenda I’d come with was to get to Boracay island. But more on that later.
The first night there, one of the hostel’s employee- Poi cooked an amazing Pilipino meal for which about 6 of us split the cost. Sour pork, fish cooked in tamarind broth, a vegetable stew, salad and obviously rice. No meal in this part of the world is complete without rice. Including breakfast! Sharing a great meal together was the perfect ay to get to know the other residents and the food was fantastic!
At about half past eleven a girl checked in to the hostel. I was just about to crash but we managed a quick chat and I took an instant liking to her. She was chatty and quick to a laugh and was traveling by herself. What’s not to like!
Her name is Lai, she’s Vietnamese-Canadian and has been living in Australia on a year long working holiday visa. The next morning we decided to hit the town together. We managed to cover pretty much everything there was to see in Manila.
We started from Rizal Park- a massive public space with many national monuments, smaller themed parks and plenty of local people chilling. Great place to bum around and people-watch. Lots of kids cutting school were ducking out there.
From there we went to Manila Cathedral. Which was packed in the middle of the day on a weekday. Philippines is a Christian country and there are some beautiful churches everywhere. If you’ve been to the Vatican in Rome, you will have seen Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Manila Cathedral has an exact replica of it and it’s just as beautiful.
Close by is the Makati Cathedral where Lai and I lucked out and walked in on a Pilipino wedding party! We weren’t allowed inside but it was nice to watch the family pouring in and the excited bridesmaid and anxious parents.
From there we proceeded to Fort Santiago- a museum dedicated to Pilipino hero Jose Rizal. Then onwards to the massive theatre and film center where one of the production staff let us have a sneak peak into the final dress rehearsal of ‘Cats’. It looked grand and cost a few as well. Oh well… I’ll see it when the show comes to India. I hope.
We ended the evening with a walk down the Manila Bay. By now Lai and I were like long lost girlfriends. She was a fabulous companion and completely my kinda girl. We were both ‘Asians’ with vastly different life experiences. But, Lai and I had a lot in common- we both come from mildly conservative cultures, both were on extended trips at a time in our lives when you’re expected to buckle down, get a steady job and a husband and hang up your travel boots. There was plenty to talk about and even more to carp at. By the end of the day, I knew I’d be seeing her again.
Philippines was a Spanish colony for 333 years. There is such a strong Spanish influence in the food, the accent of the Filipinos and their culture. Most of the streets in Manila had Spanish names… as did the people actually!
At night we had dinner with a lovely local girl called Leslie Perez. This firebrand had become a friend through Couchsurfing and took us out for a fabulous dinner, and didn’t even allow us to split the tab. Leslie is a diver and quite the adventure girl. Three of us talked about all our travels and the people we’ve met and how much it had changed our lives. Needless to say- the three of us were hysterical and possibly made some patrons in the restaurant leave early!
Back at the hostel, Lai and I got busy planning the rest of our itineraries in the Philippines. And we realized that beautiful Boracay was on both our agendas.