Manila: Rhymes with Vanilla, Smells like . . . Karma?
*Advanced warning* This is a long posting. There’s a lot going on in Manila. Monday, June 13th, 2016 At noon we left the Janus Apartelle in Angeles City on the Southern Cross Bus to Manila. Three hours later we arrived in Manila transferring directly to a cab. An hour and a half later we completed the 5.4 miles arriving at Avida San Lorenzo Tower 1, 2208 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City apartment 1421 (14th floor of a 23 story building). To say the traffic was congested actually doesn’t describe it. *Aside* Geography Lesson: About 12 million people live in Metro Manila. Approximately 3 million more make their way into the city for work, school, shopping - you know all the stuff people do - on a daily basis. That’s more than the entire population of Ohio. At times it seems all of them are in the street: busses, trains, jeepneys, tricycles (motorized and pedals), horse drawn carts, cars, vans, trucks, scooters, motorcycles, wheelchairs and foot traffic jam the streets creating a cacophony of sound and movement that makes me grateful I don’t have to drive in it, only ride. As the bus made its way into Manila the first scent that hit my nostrils was diesel. *Aside* Manila holds the dubious honor of being one of the most polluted cities in the Philippines. Most days there is a haze over the city but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone coming here. You do see many people with masks hoping to protect their lungs. As we motored along I noticed trees in the median where people slept. *Aside* I wouldn’t make a dog live under a tree, but here are people - people with their children - living under trees beside the freeway. Finding industry in the congestion and the stop and go traffic, hawkers walk in between the lines of traffic with bottles of water, newspapers and snacks, just in case you hadn’t planned on parking your car on the freeway for an hour and a half and find yourself dying for a drink or to catch up on the news. Never mind the fact that it was exactly the same thing yesterday. As motorcycles and scooters and tricycles weave in and out and around the traffic, I couldn’t help but wonder how anyone survives past the age of 30, but I haven’t seen an accident yet. Apparently the slow-moving traffic means fairly insignificant accidents and injuries, bumps and bruises.
Our condo for the next 5 days is delightful. Janus Apartelle was a step up from Johan’s in Subic. Avida San Lorenzo Tower is even better: very clean, new 23 story apartment tower with an awesome view from our 14th floor of the city all the way to Manila Bay. The train runs parallel to our building, but with the air-con in the bedroom running, we don’t even notice its sound. Well, maybe the horn. *Aside* Luckily I do not suffer from nightmares brought on by the sound of trains. You probably think it’s odd that this would even be a concern but my mother suffered from just this malaise. She once put her hand through a window trying to “save her family from the fire” in her nightmare brought on by the sound of the train whose tracks crossed the corner of their farm. After stowing our luggage we ran right next door to Walter Mart to buy some food to put in our refrigerator. *Aside* What? No, I did not misspeak: not “Wal-Mart” but Walter Mart - 5 stories of buying opportunities right next door! I feel like a Staples ad “that was easy.” Next we start making plans for Manila. We book a Sunset Dinner Cruise on Manila Bay for Tuesday night, a trip to Corregidor Island for Wednesday and a Market Tour with Smokey Tours on Thursday. Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 Tom woke up with a bellyache. His stomach was upset for several days, but now it seemed worse. Good news: the only foreign VA facility is in Manila. The bad news: The VA Facility moves glacially. It takes three hours for them to tell him that they will see him today. *Aside* The Manila VA Facility is also cooled to something like the temperature of a glacier. It’s so cold I had to go outside to sit in the blazing heat (for which I dressed) because I started to feel as though I’m going to get sick sitting in the air conditioning. About the time I think the facility will close before Tom is seen, he’s finally done. Pills in hand we walk to Manila Bay to find the Sunset Dinner Cruise has been cancelled for Tuesday but can be rescheduled for Wednesday. But this is okay. Our trip to Corregidor Island is with the same company. We’ll get back about 4:00 pm, then head out to dinner at 5:30. Actually, it should work out just fine. *Aside* I think the cancellation “due to rough sea condition in Manila Bay” was more due to “not enough people signed up” rather than the “Safety of passengers is our main concern,” especially when the water looked just as choppy as the night before when we boarded on Wednesday. Oops, I’m getting ahead of my story. With the first dinner plan moved to the next day, we opt to walk on to the Mall of Asia. This huge mall has lots of dining opportunities plus it offers an amusement park with rides tucked in between it and Manila Bay, complete with a zip-line, a mega Ferris wheel, a demon drop and other thrilling carnival attractions. *Aside* Malls do seem to be the thing here. And it’s a family thing. There are all kinds of kiosks where you can pay as little as 50 cents for your child to play with kinetic sand or Little Tykes slides and houses, or a mega load of Duplo Blocks. In the center of The Mall of Asia is the biggest bouncy house I’ve ever seen in my life with huge one and half story bouncy slides and stairs and . . . and . . . and . . . like twelve different bouncy houses all hooked together into the ultimate bouncy village. Ah, to be a kid again! Tom and Rebecca did not bounce, swing or slide, but enjoyed Japanese for dinner then watched a gorgeous sunset over Manila Bay.
Wednesday June 15th, 2016 We hop aboard the Sun Cruise’s Ferry to Corregidor Island for a Walking Tour of the historic army
base. *Aside* History Lesson: The US took Corregidor from the Spanish in 1897. The US used the island as a military base until 1942 with over 16,000 American and Filipino troops with their families calling Corregidor home. In 1942 Japan invaded, taking the island in spite of strong resistance. Forcing members of his brigade out of the line of fire, the wounded Major William Massello Jr. remained at the last of four big cannons for eleven hours until the cannon literally fused shut from the heat of repeated firing. Major Massello was captured and held prisoner by the Japanese until the US came back to retake Corregidor in 1945, which ended the Japanese occupation of The Philippines. When we met our guide, Geran, we noticed he hoped we would opt for the up-sale to the bus tour as it was very hot and humid, but Tom and I already discussed it. We wanted the walking tour. It was the right choice because we had a great experience with Geran on the tour. With only Tom and me on the tour, Geran took us all through the jungle trails, even heading up onto the upper floors of the shelled out Hospital Building. He showed us the walls pockmarked with round after round of mortar fire.
*Aside* The stone stairs to the top of the island nearly killed Rebecca, but obviously it was exercise she needed. Yeah, right. Be careful what you ask for. When we finally made it to the last stop at the lighthouse, neither Tom nor Rebecca chose to climb to the top. I bet the view from up there was awesome, but we’ll never know. We grabbed a bit of lunch at the best (and only) inn on the island then walked down to the beach to enjoy the sound of the waves against the shore, resting in the solitude of the cool breeze off the water - the only two people o the shore - until it was time to return on the ferry. The Sunset Dinner Cruise was well worth the $24 (for both of us). The boat headed out into the
waters of Manila Bay as sunset approached. By the time we reached the sea wall, the sky was delicious shades of raspberry and orange with pale, bright, blue sky peeking out through deep purple clouds. We did not expect dinner to be exciting, but it was good enough that the memory of the boat on the water as the sky darkened, the gusting wind, and the lights of Manila twinkling on all around us will probably stay with us forever. And that tiny, one and half inch square of coconut cake - that was really good!
Thursday, June 16th, 2016 We walked to The Greenbelt Mall. This is a beautifully landscaped outside space surrounded by, yes you guessed it, a mall. Tom picked a small restaurant for us called the Mary Grace Café. Mary Grace traveled to the US to learn about baking then returned to the Philippines to perfect recipes for traditional sweets and treats to serve in her restaurant. With tin mechanical birds flapping their wings overhead, the creamed cheese pound cake was beyond fabulous, leaving us with very little desire to try other Filipino sweets as they could never be so good. Rebecca enjoyed a cup of thick drinking chocolate in the traditional Filipino style while Tom had his first cup of brewed decaf coffee in weeks: Smiles all round! Walking back to our condo Rebecca found a Passport on the ground. Upside-down it looked exactly like an American passport, but when she turned it over she found it was a Filipino Maritime Passport that is issued to sailors for travel on cargo ships. We asked several people along the street what we should do with it, coming to the conclusion that they probably couldn’t even read it. Finally someone directed us to the Maritime School several blocks up the street. There the officers took charge and said they would try to find its owner. *Aside* I know it can be very difficult in other countries to get a passport replaced. I’m sure the young man to whom it belonged had a very bad day when he found it missing. It looked almost brand new. I’m guessing so new that he hadn’t gotten accustomed to putting it in a safe place. We worry that he got in trouble for losing it, but hopefully less since it’s not gone for good. Next we made our way up into the Market District of Old Manila. There are so many things we can’t identify so this should be fun! Our guide, Tessie, meets us under the train station at the KFC. Yup, the Filipinos love some Kentucky Fried Chicken. The other couple doesn’t show up, so again we have a personal guide. We sampled some suman - rice wrapped in coconut palm leaves, then boiled or steamed, topped with dark brown coconut syrup. Then we sampled some kalamay (this can also be spelled with a “c”) which literally means “sugar” - made of coconut, brown sugar, ground glutinous rice. In my book it could also mean “really sticky,” but both were tasty. We tasted jack fruit, two different kinds of mango, bright magenta preserved eggs (VERY salty), of course Buko juice, and halo halo which means “mixed together” made with shaved ice topped with boiled sweet beans, sugar palm fruit, coconut strips, plantains, jackfruit, jellies, tapioca, cheese, pounded crushed young rice, and milk flan. Condensed milk is added, then it’s topped with purple yam ice cream. When it arrives, mix it all up to eat it. From what I’ve heard this is a highly addictive dessert.
We visited Quaipo Church, the home of the Black Nazarene. It is so named, not because it was originally black, but because it survived two fires which turned it black. *Aside* This is a highly religious country. Whenever we peek inside a church it is huge, with many pews and many people in the pews praying. We burned five different colored candles for prosperity. There were several cages of beautifully colored birds: finches, parakeets, love birds, small parrots, all for sale and small woven basket cages in which to take them home. A woman in the plaza read Tarot cards for Rebecca. *Aside* My reading was all good - much money coming my way, travel too - well that was an easy one - but I shouldn’t loan any of that money to anyone because it won’t come back. So don’t even ask. But I think they took all the bad cards out of the deck so they only give good news. We walked through Chinatown - one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world established in the 1500’s; saw the statue of the favorite Mayor Arsenio Lacson and Rebecca bought a souvenir fan. Tessie showed us pito pito leaves. Tea from this leaf supposedly cures everything from ulcers to diabetes. The tour was fabulous. We learned so much, experiencing things that we would have never been able to understand without a guide. Finally Tessie showed us the way to the train telling us how to get on. When I told the owner of the condo that we wanted to ride the train she said we shouldn’t: it’s very bad. I did some reading and it seemed much the same consensus. But Tessie told us that cabs going out of the Market District would almost surely rip us off, costing way too much because the traffic is at a standstill. The train will take us back downtown. From there we can take a cab to Avida Tower from an area where they won’t take advantage of us (“stupid foreigners” is unspoken). We buy our tickets, turning to realize we don’t even know which direction to go. Tom goes back to the window for more information while Rebecca falls into conversation with a young man in line for the train. Where are we headed? Oh yes, he says, we want to go to the right. It happens that he is heading that direction: he will show us where to get off. Perfect! His name is Walter. He is a Maritime Sailor (just like the passport we found, although not the one who lost it) in school -7 days a week - studying to be a navigator. When he completes his studies he will be an officer. This is his career: he is 30 years old. Via cargo ship he has visited the American ports of Vancouver, Tampa, Jacksonville, New York, and Houston. We get on the train finding it quite full with standing room only. Lots of bodies pressed together. Then at the next stop about 15 more girls squeezed onto the train, squealing and squeaking, making room where there was none. The good news is now I don’t have to hold on anymore there is no way to fall down. Walter, true to his word, tells us where to get off. He explains his sister actually works near where we are staying. Would it be okay if he helps us find a cab, sharing it with us? Brilliant! He explains everything to the cabby who deposits the three of us at the door of our building. We want to pay the cab to take Walter to his sister, but he declines, explaining that it’s only a short walk away. He gives us his email so if we have any questions about the Philippines he hopefully can help us with answers. Seriously, it doesn’t get any better than this. By the long arm of chance we helped one sailor while another sailor helped us. Walter Mart was not named for or owned by the Walter we met.