Manila, Tita Lili and Whale Sharks

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June 9th 2011
Published: June 14th 2011
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[youtube=YKXely0zXYM][youtube=mJmUbBB0sUc]Goodbye Malaysia (at least for now, no worries Yean Yean, KL is still on our "need to revisit" list) and hello Philippines.

Arriving to Clark airport we had to take a 2 hour bus, to get us to our first destination in the Philippines - Manila. As we were leaving the suburbs and getting closer to the city itself, I thought to myself "great, a couple of more minutes, and I will be enjoyin my well deserved shower, put my feet up, get some food..." Yeah sure, Manila is big people, BIG. The population in the capital of Philippines is 16 million and according to wiki it's the most densely populated city in the world! So, instead of arriving shortly to our destination, it started to look like we were never going to get to our hostel. But we did, eventually. Our room at Friendly's guesthouse was more than basic but it was definetely worth staying there as the communal area at the roof top was amazing and they made sure they stayed
true to their name. On the Friday we arrived, they had Friday's "Grilla Manila" - BBQ on the hostel's terrace. We were told they will grill the food for us, all we had to do, was to get some meat. They didn't have to tell us twice. Oh, and Jan had his first beer in a long time.

After turning the wrong way in a huge shopping mall at least 10 times, we got to the supermarket. I almost got a tear in my eye - FOOD 😊. My heart almost skipped a beat after my eyes stopped at one of the first shelves: Nutela, on promotion! Ah, heaven I tell you. Then straight to the meat counter (well, after Jan realised, to his horror, there will be no more 100 Plus drink for us in the Philippines - a iso tonic that we drank loads in Malaysia). We got 2 nice pork chops, and some pork shishkebabs, some fruit, vegies...all ready for our BBQ. I managed to persuade Jan, as we needed to self cater for breakfast,
that we need to go back to the Nutela shelf and buy it, otherwise we would perish, so I went back to the hostel with a big smile and Nutela in our bags. At the hostel, Carlos (an older Mexican guy, who has lived in Manila for years, and has developped a habit to hang out and help around the hostel) did all the work for us. So we sat down and chowed on yummy stakes. Man, were they nice. Proper meat after almost a month or more...Then we hung out with other people we met there, Jan had his first bear in Philippines, happy
as it is really cheap here, and he also found a bunch of people to teach him how to play poker. I understand he finished 3rd out of 4, so not bad for a first timer.

The next morning, as we were munching on our Nutela, we met the owner of the hostel, Benji, who is like an encyclopedia for Philippines on two legs. He gave us excellent
tips and with his help we sort of formed a plan how to get around Philippines in a month. We spent the day researching how best to get out of Manila and get to our first destination - Donsol, how best to travel from there to our second destination, The day was slowly coming to an end when we realised we didn't see much that day, apart from the hostel terrace, so we dragged our bums out and we went to see what was up at Roxas Blvd - a bayside walk pretty much. Jan spent ages taking photos of the sunset, using the tips from his photo book.

Walking down the streets you see the poverty in Manila. Families living on streets, children wandering around in packs, asking for food, money,..The signs at the hostel, warning you about how you need to be careful when walking around Manila after dark, started making sense. Apparently lots of people move to Manila from all over the country in hope they would be able to find jobs in the capital. Unfortunately it is not as simple and whole
families end up living on street corners trying to make ends meet. A lot of petty crime stems from there and tourists are always the easiest victims. I think this is the first time on our trip that we actually became more careful when walking the streets. I guess that is also why you would find a security guard in almost every street store, venue and street corners.
If you are looking for something they are the go to people, they seem to know their neighborhoods. Filipinos
Port SantiagoPort SantiagoPort Santiago

After Krakow (Poland), Manila was the 2nd most bombed city during WW2
are really nice though and aparently love to party and they share an inexplicable passion for karaoke - we haven't tried that yet although Jan knows already what song he will sing when we get to it 😊. Also, when driving through Manila - I have never seen billboards that would be so huge in my entire life. And I mean they are B I G.

We hurried back to the hostel as Saturday was "wine appreciation night" - free wine, rum, brandy...It just made so many people happy to be alive and to be staying at that hostel, that is all I will say 😊.

Thanks to this blog, we contacted a local Filipino lady, who was keen to show us around and give us some tips on travelling around Philippines, but it took a lot of missed calls for us and Tita (aunt) Lili to finally get in contact. We did manage to agree in the end to meet on Sunday and spend some time together. On Sunday morning, I just came back from the local store, fetching our breakfast, when the guy at the reception said, we have a call. It was Lili and we agreed to meet in 30 minutes. Which was almost mission impossible, as a) Jan was still fast asleep (and Jan is not a morning person, to say the least 😊 and b) since we were leaving Manila that day and the check out time was at 12 we had to pack all our stuff. So, I woke up Jan and it was like someone put us on fast forward. But we managed, although Jan was half asleep all the while.

Tita Lili came and picked us up in her car and we clicked immediately. She is just so super sweet and funny and I love the fact she has this passion for travelling. She took us around Manila, and it was priceless, as when you see a city through the eyes of the local you see it in a completely different way. In China town we sampled the local specialty at, what Lili called "The whole in the wall" restaurant, because it literally was just that, where they make fresh dumplings. Mmmmm, let me just say they were yummy. All of a sudden Lili began to speak to a group of teenagers at the next table and soon enough all of them were like "Oh, Tita Lili!"- she recognised them all just by seeing their pictures on Facebook. Apparently Lili was invited to join their travelling group on Facebook as all of them were enthusiastic about travelling and all of them are keen blog writers, but they have never met before. It was really funny, and you can believe there were loads of photos taken in that small place.

Lili was also keen on showing us Makati, Manila's business area, where she and her family live. She said that she is meeting with her grand-daughter and son-in law at the local shopping mall in the afternoon and was keen on us meeting them - of course we didn't say no. When getting to Makati it was like we have left Manila and were somewhere completely different. The buildings, mainly sky-scrapers, were all new, there was hardly any traffic, the streets were clean and empty...We arrived to the shopping mall, where Lili was meeting her family and she immediately took us to the food court. I loved it as it
had a special feature - whatever they were selling, you were able to sample it, endlessly, and where there is get the idea 😊. There were so many people at the mall on that Sunday afternoon and Lili said it is how the families would spend a typical Sunday afternoon, and as there is a huge plus side to the mall - a chappel on the top floor, you
could also atend a Sunday mass without having to leave the mall. That is also where her family was waiting for her and after meeting them we left back to our hostel (Lili also made sure her car took us back). Lili, I know you are reading this so thank you again for an icredible day in Manila. We hope to see you soon.

After a nice day in Manila, we took a night bus, that would take us to our next destination - Legazpi, from where a local van took us to our goal - Donsol. Donsol is famous for one thing - swimming with whale sharks (butandings) and as the season was ending Jan and I were hoping we would still be able to see some. We got to the beach at around 8 am and there we met Susie (an English girl) and Jeremy (an Australian guy) who arrived only that morning as well. Together with Michael (from Germany), whome we met on the bus, we decided to share the costs of the boat that would take us to see the sharks. This is the way it works: there is a max of 6 people per boat. Everyone has their snorkeling gear and there are 5 locals managing the boat and scouting for whale sharks. Each boat also has a BIO (Butanding Interactiom Officer), who is there to snorkle with you and help you follow the butanding when you are in the water. The best time to spot the whales is between 7am until 10am. The first day we jumped in the water 3 times, but we were very unfortunate, as the butanding dived deep as soon as it felt us near. I saw the butanding swimming just beneath me, and it was a sight to see. Jan said he spotted it too late and all he saw was a piece of the whale's back. So no luck the first day. Our BIO approached us at the end of the tour and said that if we want to re-do the tour the next morning they would be glad to take us again, for a discounted price (I guess as it was the end of season for them, this for them
was an opportunity to at least secure some business for the next day), so we said yes. We were a funny bunch though, as none of us had a proper sleep the night before - try and have a decent sleep on an overnight bus, I dare you, and in the end, we were all almost napping on our way back to the shore.

As we were 3km from the Donsol village, we decided to go there in the evening and see what was happening. We ended up hanging out with the local boys on the basketball court - by the way, basketball is huge in Philippines, you can find at least one hoop everywhere you go. So Jan ended up playing ball with the guys, sweating and jumping and feeling
like Baby Shaq (compared to the Filipinos Jan is a giant, and so am I, if you can believe it 😊).His team won and Jan earned 10 pesos.

Then we just sat and chatted, it was quite nice and relaxed. The following morning we were up early again and ready to finally see a butanding. But we didn't have any luck that day. Ah, well, we tried, and it was a nice experience. And on the up side, we did see
a bunch of dophins, really unexpected, but what a sight. The people who do see the butandings apparently get to swim alongside the whales for up to 15 mins, which I am sure is an incredible experience.

We left the beach hostel and moved to a local gust house in Donsol that day, and we pretty much rested the whole day, after the morning adventure. Well, Jan did something interesting - he saw the proper Filipino style cock-fights.

Jan: I was siting in-front of the guesthouse when Jeremy came around and asked if I wanted to go see the cock-fights. I read that this is a huge part of the Filipino culture so I agreed. The brain behind the operation was Kimbo, an older Australian guy who Jeremy met while buying a beer. The three of us (girls were not interested) jumped on a tricycle and drove a few kilometers out of town. At one point we turned of the main road and on to a dirt road where we heard a lot of loud cheering and soon we also saw the whole venue. There were a few hundred people there to see the fights, drink, eat and of course bet.

The whole thing is quite brutal and I can say I don't agree with it, but I still wanted to see it. The way it works is that they strap a sharp hook on the cock's leg and let two cocks fight. They would fight each other anyway (alfa male thing, I guess) but the hook makes it lethal. The fight doesn't end until one of the birds is dead. The first fight we saw lasted only a couple of seconds, some lasted longer than five minutes. You can watch the attached video, but be warned, its not pretty.

The owners of the cocks (have to load how this sounds) don't get anything for putting their birds forward to fight, they just bet on their birds to win (around 1100 pesos or so, depending on the fight). If they win they win back their money plus whatever the odds are (from 80% to 120% extra). The winner also gets to keep the dead bird. So money and dinner, while the loser walks home empty handed. Usually each owners brings more than one bird.

Before the fights starts the whole place goes mad, people shouting out their bets to the bookies walking in the inner circle. Kimbo was betting on every fight and was lucky. I am not a betting man and was not even tempted, while Jeremy who loves to bet just refused to do it out of principal. Kimbo was so lucky that he even shared a bit of his luck with the locals, letting them bet and if they win sharing the winnings. He got a bit carried away 😊. And the more he won, the more beer we drank.

After seeing two or three fights I sat back and started talking to the locals, didn't really want to watch more birds killing each-other for people's amusement.

We left after a couple of hours. Besides the birds the day had another victim. Jeremy got lost after we returned to the village and we found him later in the evening fast asleep on the couch in the guesthouse. We tried getting him to bed but took him to the toilet first (just in case). The problem was that he fell asleep in the toilet and there was no way for us to get him out (he was blocking the door). The next day we found out from the locals he was wondering around town, throwing up and breaking beer bottles. Yayks! Still funny. He was alright the next morning and didn't remember any of it 😉. Back to Polona.

The next day we decided to take it easy and thanks to the local boys, we met at the basketball court the night before, we agreed to see the fireflies that evening. I know is sounds lame, but it's actually amazing. We took a boat and we left the village. As we were coming closer to the mangroves, the trees light up and I swear they looked like X-mas trees, there were so many fireflies. It was quite mesmarising. We spent our last night, chatting and hanging out with the boys again, and the next day we left Donsol as we were heading back to Legaspi.

Another sight that we were thinking of seeing in Legaspi was the local volcano - Mt Mayon. But as the treck there would be lenghty and quite expensive, we decided to just take a tricycle to the view point and see the volcano from afar. The view point is set at the Cagsawa ruins, where you can see the remains of the church, which was completely ruined by the volcano erupting in the 18th century. It is interesting, how the volcano keeps
dissapearing and reappears again, as every couple of minutes it is covered by clouds. Looks like someone would be playing magic tricks, making the volcano dissapear. It is however supposed to be the most symetric volcano in the world. And
the last time it errupted was in 2009. That evening we took another night bus back to Manila, where we flew to our first island in the Philippines - Coron.

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18


24th June 2011

Hi there
You must be somewhere up North by this time. Hope you are enjoying/enjoyed Banaue and Sagada, notwithstanding the weather conditions. Stay safe, you two. You know how to reach me.[photo=6192039]
26th June 2011

We are just waiting for a night bus now to go to Banaue. We spent the last two nights in Manila because of the weather. We will be back in a few days and will give you a call. We went back to the dumpling place today as the "whole in the wall" was closed. Just our luck to be there twice and both times on Sunday :)

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