Monday August 1, 2016
We arrive in Manila slightly ahead of schedule at 6:30 AM rather than 7:30 AM. Since we are arriving in the daylight we get a great view of the fisherman’s shanty town that lines Manila Bay. Before exiting the ferry we speak to the front desk about leaving our luggage somewhere while we explore Manila until check-in time (3:30 PM) for our next 2Go Ferry connection to Cebu at 7:30 PM. No problem - the porter could help us with that.
It turns out the porter couldn’t actually do anything for us. Can we stow our luggage here while we go tour around Manila? No. We could sit in the waiting area, waiting for 7:30 PM.
*Aside* We definitely didn’t like that answer. The seats in the waiting area are in a competition for the most uncomfortable seats in the world and at a minimum are tied for second.
The ticket office didn’t open for an hour. When they open, we’ll see if they can help us.
Tom checked his email, discovering we had a message from 2Go Ferry! They are really sorry but the ferry we’re booked on hasn’t left Cebu yet. It will not arrive until 9:00 AM tomorrow.
*Aside* We think the guy on St. Augustine of Hippo, the ferry we just left, knew about the delay but didn’t want to be the one to deliver the bad news. Later we found out there was a typhoon that interrupted the schedule. Really? Why not just tell us that?
We find there is no help to be had on any level from any part of 2Go Ferry. We would like to have our tickets reissued with the correct information on them. No, the tickets we have will be fine for boarding. Can we stash the luggage anywhere until tomorrow? No, there is no place to stash the luggage. Do you offer any help with accommodations? No, you are on your own.
More than a little frustrated we search to find a hotel nearby for overnight, settling on The Orion. It’s now 9:00 AM. Our room costs us about $45.00. Early check-in costs us another $11.00, but we really want to dump the luggage. In our room we discover that the large windows covering one wall look out onto what seems like a wholesale mall. With our luggage stowed in the room and a place to stretch our legs we start to research our next destinations: what to do in Cebu and where we might want to go in Moalboal (our next planned stop). It’s suddenly later than we thought. Research is absorbing and exhausting, especially with limited internet access. We take a break to search for lunch. We walk through the three floors of mall to get to the street to get to another mall that has food.
*Aside* I could spend a week just looking at all the stuff in this mall. I check the price on a very fancy beaded dress: first quote $36.00. I’m sure if I wheeled and dealed it would end up less than half that. There are a huge selections of fabrics. There are fancy bags and fancy shoes to go with the fancy dress. There are tons of cell phone accessories. There is every gaudy do-dad you could ever imagine. When the feather hats caught my eye, Tom grabbed my arm, stopping me. He was right: we really needed to eat. Our lunch in this mall cost us less than five dollars for both of us: rice, veggies and a meat entrée with a small cup of iced tea and an even smaller cup of soup, and one dollar for some pudding cake.
*Aside* The pudding cake looked very delicious, but like many sweets in the Philippines it wasn’t very good. However the hot chocolate is stellar!
Back on the street we look more closely at the vendors lining the street on either side. This is the really cheap stuff. It’s new stuff but very cheaply made and very cheap to buy: panties for about forty cents; shoes or sandals for a dollar to two dollars; all kinds of “designer” tee shirts for one to four dollars. This is interspersed with people selling food and cigarettes and hair barrettes and nail clippers and every other imaginable thing for nearly nothing.
Back in our room we discover another email from 2Go Ferry: our ferry, St. Leo the Great, will actually be departing at 7:30 AM not 9:00 AM. This means that we will have to get up at about 3:15 AM for check-in at the pier. We do more research on Cebu, Moalboal and lean ahead a little to Malapascua then our bellies remind us that it’s dinner time. We need a place to eat. As we research dinner locations we suddenly realize we are right next to Binondo. We could have walked to Chinatown for dumplings. Now it’s 5:30 PM. It would mean coming back to the hotel after dark: probably not a good idea. So we opt to go back to the food court in the other mall.
*Aside* There are vendors that sell noodle soup. They have all different kinds of noodles - rice, wheat, udon, soba, thick, thin, you name it. Then you add vegetables and choose from an assortment of little dumpling-like concoctions, like shumai or siomai (or a number of other spelling variations), that look a lot like fake food, but aren’t. Well maybe they are fake, but the people don’t know it.
I wanted to be adventurous enough to try the fake food, but settled on something more recognizable: wonton soup. It was delicious. It took me back to my childhood when my mother took me to Ho Toy Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio (way back when it was beside the old bus station on Third Street - when it was still good). The broth was perfect and the wonton wrappers were soft, almost melting in your mouth with chopped bokchoy for color and thin homemade noodles to finish it. Actually it was even better than the soup I remember.
At the crack of dawn the next morning we head to the 2Go Ferry pier. The cab driver wants us to pay him 200 pesos for the trip.
“Turn on the meter,” we say.
“But you have to pay extra for the luggage,” he says.
“Nope. Turn on the meter or we’re getting out.”
*Aside* He just lost his tip. When you try to cheat me, you get no reward, just the minimum. When we move our luggage we always tip the driver generously, but not when you try to scam me.
It is again chaos at the pier but we manage to get through more easily than last time. This time we get to sit in the VIP Lounge because we have a suite!!
Our suite is amazing! We have two large windows that look out over the bow of the ship. NOTE: it is mandatory to close the curtains from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM! We have a dressing table with chair, a bench, two comfy arm chairs with a coffee table between, two three-quarter beds, a counter with a hot pot and cups, and a large bathroom with the first bathtub we’ve seen in the Philippines.
*Aside* The tub does look like something out of the electro-shock room at the state mental hospital - especially since it’s sort of salmon pink - and it would probably take a year to fill it with water, but it’s still a bathtub. There is also air-conditioning coming directly from the Polar ice cap. Even on the lowest setting I sit huddled in my hoodie. How can they even make it this cold in the tropics?
It is about 10:00 AM when we finally push away from the dock (as opposed to the 7:30 AM we were promised) but they will give us breakfast the next morning since we were late leaving. We feel very blessed with our accommodations when we go down for lunch and dinner to see the long, snaking line of people in tourist class waiting to get their lunch. The passengers in staterooms and suites have their own dining room and fresh hot food, much different from the tourist class and the cup o’noodles the economy class had available to them.
We arrive in Cebu at about 9:00 AM. After refusing a gypsy cab and walking away from a cab driver who wouldn’t even help me with my suitcase, we snag an honest cab driver to deliver us to ABC Hotel and Homes.
*Aside* This hotel is awesome! It was recommended to us by a fellow traveler who stayed in it, and what a great recommendation. There are electrical outlets everywhere (nineteen of them). We have king-sized bed, lots of storage, a mini-fridge, and a huge bathroom with lots of light and a ledge running the length of the bathroom for all our bathroom stuff!
We walk down to the mall for an easy lunch then finish settling in before we meet our new Couch Surfing friend Mayan at a restaurant named Carnivore.
*Aside* Mayan works in a micro-brewery. Yes, micro-brewing has arrived in the Philippines. Carnivore serves Cebruery Beer. Our insider, Mayan, brings us some additional samples that aren’t on Carnivore’s menu.
Carnivore is owned by Canadians who use a lot of local ingredients that are raised and grown specifically for them. The food is amazing and the beer is awesome too: Double Chocolate Porter; Cherry Lambic; Anniversary Special Edition, to name a few. We make a date with Mayan for another round of beer and more food for later in the week.
Thursday we head over to Mactan Island to see if we can talk to anyone at Scotty’s dive shop at Shangri-La Resort. Tom sent them a resume in response to an ad for an IDC Staff Instructor posted on the PADI site in June with no response.
*Aside* I personally believe that Tom needs to have a conversation to get a job. When a prospective employer meets him and understands that he is passionate about teaching and not just some old guy who “wants” to teach diving, they will love him.
We decide to stop in to visit the shop. What the heck - we are literally in the neighborhood.
Traveling the road to Scotty’s we see all the preparations for the Ironman Triathlon to be held on Mactan Island over the weekend. Wow! If we had postponed our visit to Saturday or Sunday, the bridges would have been closed preventing us from even getting on the island. However with athletes and spectators piling into Shangri-La there are virtually no divers in the dive shop so Tom is able to have an awesome conversation, learning what it would be like to work there.
*Aside* Peter, who does the hiring, was out of the country in England since the end of June. That’s why there was no response to Tom’s email. It all makes sense now. This could be a good fit for Tom. We lunch at another resort. Shangri-La would be a nice place to work but we aren’t going to stay there, even in the “cheap” rooms at over $300 a night. Anyway we have a great room at ABC Hotels and Homes!
*Aside* Scotty’s lets Tom know that they are fully staffed right now, but will need help near the holidays if we can come back or are still interested. Well, we won’t have to look for an apartment, yet!
Next up is a walking tour of Metro Colon market with BackStreet Academy. We eat Shomai (dumplings) on plates covered with a plastic bag for easy clean up with another plastic bag on our hands instead of cutlery. We sample fish soup, sticky rice with cocoa, rice “meal” (this looks like what is sieved out of the whole rice grains and sold at a discount price) and many things that I can’t even identify. We also come home with one kilo of fresh lychee and one and a half kilos of mangosteen. These mangosteen are fresher than the ones I got before: the skin is soft and the fruit is very juicy and delicious.
*Aside* We saw but did not ride in the horse-drawn carts. We were supposed to taste Durian, but couldn’t find any. According to our guide, Jobs, the worse the durian smells, the better it tastes, but we may never know. We also saw men stripping the plastic off copper wire then scrubbing it to reuse it and walked past the place where used toilets go to be refurbished or destroyed. Who knew?
*Aside 2* Later in Moalboal a woman walks up to our table while we’re making reservations for Malapascua and says, “Rebecca?” It’s Ann who owns Backstreet Tours from whom we took our Metro Colon tour in Cebu. Our guide sent her a picture of us from the tour so as she walked past us she recognized my shirt, stopping to speak to us. More proof that you should never have an affair because no matter where you go in the world someone will recognize you.
Next day we visit SM Seaside City Mall. This makes every other mall we’ve seen so far look like chopped liver. They are still in the process of building it, including the multi-story tower that will be “Opening Soon.”
Rebecca needs shoe solutions (preferably sandals so her feet can breathe) as her shoes are actually wearing out! She finds one pair in the Sketcher’s store and another pair in Dr. Hong’s. Dr. Hong’s sandals have removable, washable insoles which should help with the dust and dirt picked up in the street.
*Aside* While climbing up on a bench for the photo opt, Rebecca “pops” her knee. To say it hurt doesn’t even begin to describe the pain. It takes a bit for Rebecca to be able to even hobble back into the mall.
Depending heavily on Tom’s arm, we slowly make our way back to the room.
The next few days are low profile, trying to give Rebecca’s knee space to rest and recover.
We meet Mayan again at Sugbo Mercado near the Cebu IT Park.
*Aside* Cebu IT Park is where all the call centers are located, so there is a 24 hour a day presence here. However Sugbo Mercado is a form of pop-up test market with all kinds of food and other things. People set up here to test their products before jumping into a full storefront.
There is a table with Butter Beer (non-alcoholic) which has a remarkable number of steps to produce the very delicious (and probably caloric) product. There are delicious tiny blueberry and Dutch apple pies. Tons of Lechon (roast pig), yummy Cuban style sandwiches and soooo much more amazing-looking food, we can’t dream of sampling it all. Mayan brings more beer for us to sample and we bid her goodbye, not realizing her work would bury her so we would not see her again.
After a couple more day of rest and a therapeutic massage, we decide to risk the knee to visit the Taoist Temple in (you’re not going to believe this) Beverly Hills, Cebu.
*Aside*There are some nice houses in the area, but not at all what the name would imply.
The temple was built in 1970 and is beautiful, serene and quiet: an oasis in this busy city. There are about 80 steps to the very top, but we opt to only go up about 40 of them so we don’t tax the knee. We stand and watch as supplicants go before the alter to pray to the Deity, lighting incense, and throwing wooden blocks to seek divine guidance. Signs requesting silence surround the temple and are respected.
We enjoy our last meal in Cebu at Maya, a Mexican Restaurant. Most “Mexican” food in the Philippines is miserable, but this is run by a foreigner who imports all the cheese and much of the ingredients. We were excited to discover that it was “Taco Tuesday” with a “buy three, get three” deal. Tom had brisket and I had fish then we finished with mango cheesecake. What a great meal to finish our time in Cebu. Tomorrow morning we will pack the suitcases to head to Moalboal, Cebu, Philippines.
*Aside* This is just one of the confusing things about the Philippines: there is Cebu the city which is on Cebu the island. What? You ran out of names and just used it again? Don’t even get me started on Roxas. Then I remember every state in the Union has a Washington somewhere, right? Although there doesn’t seem to be a city named Washington in the State of Washington.
Cebu like Manila is a big, sprawling city, but it’s cleaner and easier to navigate. I’d like to say the taxi drivers are more honest, but I don’t think the taxi drivers are honest anywhere in the Philippines unless the passengers force them to be honest. The ABC Hotel was the nicest hotel we’ve stayed in and was really reasonable for the accommodations - about $26.00 a night - not the least expensive (at $15.00) but certainly not the most expensive: definitely a great value. Perhaps our accommodations colored our enjoyment of Cebu, but I could to go back to Cebu again.
Hummmm - perhaps I could live there.