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Published: October 6th 2009
(Day 538 on the road)
The guidebook had called Manila airport dirty, chaotic and dark. I was expecting the worst, but instead after arriving here from Taipei I found it super-clean, well sign-posted and modern. Maybe they have recently upgraded it or I arrived at a different terminal? Leaving the airport I braced myself for the usual army of taxi drivers and other hawkers but I found - nothing. Not a single person approached me, and I had time to get my bearings. How nice!
Shunning the expensive coupon taxis I took a shuttle bus that took me to a broad avenue and then a jeepney (in essence a jeep converted into a van) to where I wanted to spend the night. A word of warning at this point: I stayed at the Townhouse Manila - don't stay there. It is filthy and crammed, and it allows prostitutes to be taken into the dormitory! The only good thing about it is the proximity to the airport, which suited me fine as I was about to catch another flight the next day. The dorm was open to the street at all times with no lock and no lockers available either, and fat
older men were too cheap to get a single room and instead brought their young Filipino prostitutes into the dorm. Very considerate, and what a nice introduction to why so many older men visit this country.
Twenty minutes after arriving at the guest house I was picked up by Lili (liliram
), who is Filipino, lives in Manila and likes to travel a lot. We had read each others blogs for a few weeks now and had exchanged tips regarding the Philippines and Bali. So realising that our paths would soon cross we had arranged to meet up for the evening. Lili picked me up in her car and we we drove to the largest mall in Asia, aptly called "Mall of Asia". We had a great chat whilst strolling along the water front behind the mall and later Lili took me out for a delicious Filipino dinner.
Back at the guest house, I tried to spend as much time away from the awful dorm as possible, and ended up chatting to three Filipino girls in the guest house's common area. It turned out to be a very interesting evening, and before I knew it it was four o'clock
Rainbow around the sun
Yes, there was a real rainbow there, it is not a reflection on the camera lens. I have never seen anything like this before, it was amazing...
in the morning. Luckily the action in the dorm had stopped by then, so I finally went to sleep.
The next morning I took the advise of one of the girls on how to best get to the airport. It turned out that her route required three different jeepneys and took considerably longer than how I had reached there the day before. Strange, wouldn't you think that the people living there should know best on how to get around? I have encountered this phenomenon countless times here in Asia, and it never ceases to puzzle me.
My plan for my three weeks in the Philippines (that's all the time the immigration department gives you unless you want to spend about 40 Euros for a longer stay) is to spend almost the entire time on the islands of Palawan to the south-west of Manila, which seems just about the right size to explore without rushing it. The flight to Puerto Princesa, the main city of Palawan, was smooth, and on the flight with me was adventurous and funny Evgenia from Russia. We got chatting after the baggage claim, hit it off straight away and soon decided to tackle Palawan
I have to say that I admire Evgenia's way of travelling: She has no guidebook and speaks literally no English save for "how much" and similar simple phrases (but perfect German as she has been living in Germany for the past seven years), but that does not deter her at all however from travelling across the Philippines for five weeks. She has the most street-smart and unorthodox approach I have seen in a traveller so far.
On our first day in Palawan we chartered a boat to snake island, one of the 7107 islands that comprises the Philippines. The official rate for a boat was 1300 pesos, and we were told decisively that this was the only rate we would get anywhere. Walking literally 20 metres down the road we met a a fisherman who agreed to take us for 600 pesos. He also brought his friend along, knowledgeable marine guide Eric, who showed us around and explained to us the various kinds of fish during our snorkeling. On our way out on the noisy pump boat we saw an amazing rainbow that went all the way around the sun in a perfect circle. I have never
seen anything like it, and am quite amazed that my camera was able to capture this.
Snake island itself was simply beautiful: Shaped like a snake it is about three kilometres long but only about ten to fifteen metres wide, and during high tide large parts of the island disappear completely under the water, leaving only the mangroves visible. And counting the large island of Luzon where Manila is located and the main island of Palawan, snake island thus is number three of the 7107 islands I could in theory visit in the Philippines. Only 7104 more to go!
The snorkeling here was also great, and I am forever taken in by territorial fishes. They basically claim their own territory and attempt to defend this against all intruders. In practise that means that if you come too close they will swim towards your mask pretending to attack you. Only at the last instance will they change their course to avoid a head-on collision. How brave of these tiny buggers! They are similar in a way to clown fishes, only I find the territorial fish to be a lot more aggressive and thus much more fun to play with.
On the way back to town in the afternoon we caught a ride on the back of a huge empty lorry. It seemed like a good idea until we realised that it happened to be an cement truck, and by the time we got back to town we were covered from head to toe in grey cement dust . After a much needed shower back at the guest house we finished the day with a leisurely stroll across Puerto Princesa's great central market, where I was quite amazed just how many different sorts of rice they were offering for sale. It counted well over 30 varieties, all with their different prices. Most of them looked completely alike (to me at least) - if the difference in taste is really that noticeable?
Next stop: Bacuit Archpalego (El Nido, Palawan, Philippines).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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