Touching down in Manila after a very bumpy ride I was already lol’ing to myself from the super sweet announcement that told me to:
‘Sit back and relax as we dim the cabin lights to give you an awesome view of the city’
Collecting my bag and heading out I was greeted by two of the friendliest immigration officials I’ve ever encountered. Big smiles, jokes and explanation of ‘no wang wang’ (no pushing in) later I almost forgot to take my passport with me.
Waiting for cash I was lucky to bump in to a few fellow travelers heading in to town and we agreed to share a cab to Makati, the financial district which I’d been told was the best place to stay.
What are you?
Driving away from the airport my first impressions were one of confusion. Am I still in Asia? Fast food signage at all angles, brightly colored buildings and Latino street names all gave me the feeling that I was in South America, even the local language Tagalog sounded Hispanic to my untrained ear.
I wanted different and I certainly got it…..
After settling in I took my eyes back out to the streets to try make sense of the place, only to be struck with a sense of wonder I’ve not had since I did the cycle tour in Old Delhi. This place was crazy! Wacky racer inspired tricycles (a motorbike with a car attached next to it) in flamboyant pink with names like ‘Sophia’ and ‘Lopez’ sat in a street named ‘7th Avenue’ which had a sign like the ones I remember from Sesame Street. It was like Cuba, Brazil and the US had had a love child.
You probably wouldn’t want a ride in this one..
And then there were the Jeepneys that I’d read about before coming, limo style silver Jeeps painted bright colors draped in a whole manner of slogans, two of my favorites being ‘Top Gun’ and ‘Thanks God’ on the rear.
Behind the wall
Taking a trip to Intramuros, Spanish for ‘behind the wall’ with Javid who I met in the airport, we were struck by the beauty of the old churches and Latino feel of the street life. Indeed it was here that I got my first taste of poverty which surrounds the city and the warmth of the people.
Stumbling in to an alleyway where chickens ran free around children with no shoes, there was a light, jovial atmosphere as a family generations deep played a game of bingo round an old table whilst boys played on a makeshift pool table next door.
I had been reluctant to venture in at first, not wanting to intrude, but Javied led the way taking the initiative to act as ghost caller to the Bingo man. “Sit, come play!” gestured the guy in charge of dishing out the cards. And so I did, trying my best to use my fastest finger first to get us ahead in the game. But alas! We lost and the small bounty went to a group of grinning women across the table.
Heading back to Makati for dinner the contrast was stark; all flashy tall buildings and American eateries where we had just come from ramshackle houses clobbered together with corrugated iron and a network of cables so knotted it made the ones in India look like the gold standard of safety.
Yes, it appeared this was a city of extremes, with one half living the American dream whilst the other squats by the roadside scrubbing clothes and selling deep fried bananas to make a few pesos
Guiltily perhaps we headed out in search of Manilas famed nightlife. Whilst I was keen to see ladyboys we ended up in a glitzy club playing the latest tunes with students, expats and other well heeled clientele. And let me tell you the Filipinos are a glamorous lot, I felt way underdressed in my travel threads! Here on the dance floor I was taken in by Jan and his friends, throwing shapes and drinking from a giant fishbowl. It was tones of fun and we ended the evening at 6am at a local eatery.
Massive. Just massive
Stood on my hostel roof the following morning with a biiiiig hangover I couldn’t get over the size of the place. Manila is a metropolitan volcano that just keeps on erupting. It’s HUGE with skyscrapers and tower blocks that stretch for an eternity, I had to take four pictures just to get a feel for it, and that’s probably only covering a few districts.
About 2% of the city
With so much left of the city to discover and some new friends in my address book it felt like a shame to move on, but there was so much more to be uncovered, starting with Taal Volcano…