The Land of the Great Yellow Envelope.
08.02.2013 - 11.02.2013
I won’t go on too much about Manila, as I may find myself singing the same verse as my previous blog about Bangkok. There is, as often the case in third world countries, a stark contrast in the rich and the poor. Lying on the street in front of a convenience store advertising their desperate need for new employees was a dishevelled man, a vague lifelessness in his eyes, hand outstretched seeking the smallest of donations. A child followed us for two blocks in the grandiose Chinatown, pleading for food with a frightful desperation in his eyes. Unlike the old man, the wearying experience of decades on the streets had not yet claimed his enthusiasm. We bought him some mangoes and the smile that rose on his face made me wish we could do more.
We wandered into a large department store and the employee to aisle ratio was almost of a comical nature. There were at least two workers to every aisle of which there was at least twenty. It was warming to see one organisation over-employing, yet still so many lined the streets.
Sophie’s faith was crushed one afternoon when, walking back from the store carrying two bottles of water, a young boy ran past her and snatched one from her hand. Still stumbling back from his hefty shove, she sighted a middle aged woman approaching for what she thought would be a helping hand or at least a word of comfort.
“Can I have the other one for my son?” she questioned, motioning at the remaining water.
Now of course, it wasn't all just doom & gloom for us in the Philippine capital. We took an early evening walk down to the esplanade in Malate that showcased the beauty of the sunsets on offer here. What seemed to be Millions of Manilians (thanks Andy Long for this cracker) lined the esplanade, taking a much needed exhale from the relentlessness of life in the busy city.
Sunset over the Malate Esplanade
Rizal Park was also a cool scene, with a live brass band (generally not my cup of tea but all the same,) a few food stalls, smiling locals by the bunch and a colourful fountain that mesmerised the little ones, and um, me.
The spectacular fountain at Rizal Park
We decided to escape the city the next day and climb Mt Taal as a reminder of all the happy reasons for travelling. Mt Taal is Philippines second most active volcano. Located about two hours south of Manila within the vast Taal Lake (Philippines 3rd largest lake), the easiest way to reach it is with a private driver if you are willing to part with a few extra bucks (by this stage we would have sold our secrets to get out of Manila.)
Concealed in the volcano’s core is a sulphuric crater lake, which is quite picturesque, although being sulphuric the overwhelming smell of bad eggs is always a pleasant reminder of why we don’t live on volcanoes. The fact they sometimes erupt with molten lava which can reach temperatures high enough to melt your mother in law’s heart is also another deterrent. I would like to take this opportunity to say that my mother in law is lovely, and she reads this blog.
In aforementioned crater lake lies a tiny island named Volcan Point, which in turn makes this an island in a lake (Volcan Point in the crater lake), in an island in a lake (Volcano Island in Taal Lake) in an island (Luzon island, home of Manila).
An island in a lake, in an island in a lake
Once on the island, you can choose to either walk up to the peak (a 45 – 60 minute walk,) or ride one of these poorly ponies…
The chaos of dozens of undernourished horses surrounded us
Please do the right thing people.
A few great positives to be taken out of our first taste of the Philippines were …
a) They are obsessed with basketball
b) They are obsessed with Bon Jovi
c) They are obsessed with Bryan Adams
I realise this may not be that exciting to most normal people on this planet Earth but for Soph and I this is seriously awesome. To see young kids everywhere shooting hoops on the streets listening to “Bed of Roses” on their portable stereos was pretty cool.
Another thing that makes me smile is their hilariously woeful television advertisements. My favourite so far included a… how should I put this delicately… portly young lass who is visited at her front door by a genie/home invader dressed up as a genie, who offers her a marshmallowey caramel treat. I’ll give those of you with a cynical imagination a moment to process this………
One good thing about this ad is that they are advertising treaties with the nutritional value of Elvis’ last meal using a little tubby kid with bad teeth. In Australia, you would find a Miranda Kerr doppelgänger scoffing these treats by the handful and washing it down with a pint of coke.
Anyway, we were having some issues plotting our course around the Philippines. It seemed that no matter which course we took, it was going to be pricey. Also, a word of advice if you are looking to visit this part of the world, BOOK EVERYTHING IN ADVANCE!! Taking the backpacker course and flying by the seat of your pants is very difficult and will prove costly. Eventually, we bit the bullet, booked a ticket and flew to Coron.