Party time in Pinas!!!
11.02.2010 - 23.02.2010 36 °C
So who thinks they know what the Top 3 questions I get asked here are? Well, wait no more for I am about to tell you what exactly I have been asked (continuously) since I arrived here in the Philippines just over one week ago:
1. Why are you travelling alone?
2. Where is your husband?
3. Are you American?
My reply goes something like this: "I'm alone because I don't like hanging out with tourists. My husband is not here. I am from England." (yes, I know that I am not married to Mr Micallef but it saves time in my response, believe me!) These questions are always asked while I'm walking towards or past people...seriously, if I stopped every time I was asked something here I'd still be in Manila.
Since I have been here I have taken 5 long-distance coaches totalling a whopping 26 hours, 10 jeepneys, 8 tricycles, 5 taxis, 1 Habu-Habu (extended seated motorbike, sorry mum), 1 mini-van, 1 boat, 1 plane, and of course had Roberto's pinsa - cousin Lawrence - drive me here and there (including my airport pick-up!) As you can probably tell, travelling here in the Pinas seems to comprise a major part of my time spent here. My favourite journeys are definitely those spent in the jeepneys though (minus the staring). Apparently they are made from US military jeeps that were left over from the World War II, except they now have the Philippino signature of graffiti-spraypaint all over its exterior and interior; chrome hood ornaments; R&B music blasted inside them; and of course the driver and his assistant shouting at you in the street as to the intended destination of the jeepney. All this commotion serves as a way to 'entice' you to get into 'their' jeepney - no one elses. Yes, the competition is fierce, which is why the price is certainly reasonable (7-12 pesos = 10 - 17 pence).
You might ask, "is all this travelling really necessary, Miss Nadine"? But you see this is the only way I can get to see as much of the 7,107 islands in 3.5 weeks. "Yes, but surely it's better you stay longer in one or two places than trying to see everything?" Yes, yes - I see your point, which is why I have decided to visit 4 islands - Cebu, Negros, Siquijor and mainland Luzon (the other, 7,103 can wait till another time).
So I spent my first week traveling in North Luzon (north of Manila) to some beautiful places such as Baguio, Sagada, Banaue...My favourite of the three was Sagada because it was the most peaceful, most clean (and cheapest), and the most fun. I got to visit some ancient (and also quite recent) hanging coffins attached to the mountain-side; the deepest and darkest cave I've ever been to; see some breathtaking rice terraces; and meet some lovely local Filipinos, who invited me back to stay with them should I ever come back here again. Result.
My worst day was spent on a bus from Banaue to Manila. This journey took 11 hours. Yes, 11 hours of sitting on a bus where the seat in front of you has been horizontally collapsed and the only thing to look at, other than the pitch-black darkness outside, is a violent DVD featuring some awful American action-"hero" on full-blast (and played in the presence of small children). I did get to watch another (not-so) awful film '2012' afterward this one had finished, which did its best in keeping me awake. So eventually after numerous comfort-break stops along the way, we arrive in Manila at around 5.30am. Before I even step off the bus I am surrounded by taxi drivers - all there of course to assist this stupid tourist with where she wants to go. So I pick one. This 'one' tries to charge me 800 pesos for a 5 minute journey. Bearing in mind that the Filipino Fire Chief that I'm sat next to on the bus had explicitly told me NOT to pay more than 200, I knew I was getting ripped off. I just start laughing at this ridiculous price and settle on 400. Yeah, I know it's not quite 200 but look now: it's almost daylight, I haven't slept....as long as I'm not paying 800...ya know? He then proceeds to drive like some crazed man to my hostel (where I have no reservation), making sure he ran as many red lights as he could and beeping his horn at everyone we're supposedly 'stuck' behind. I then realise that my door is locked from the inside and so 'in an emergency' I would be trapped. So I wind down the window right to the bottom so as to plan my escape route before he whizzes his head round as if to say "what the hell are you doing ruining my air-con b*tch!" I decide to keep the window wound down. Next thing you know we have arrived at 'Malate Pensionne'. The only reason I chose this hostel was because I met two kiwi ladies on the jeepney from Bontoc to Banaue who recommended I try there first...Well, it was good timing (on the taxi driver's behalf), because had I arrived there 2 minutes later, I would not be finding myself checking into the last remaining room available at 600 pesos. Another result.
The night leading up to my birthday was spent in Malate (where my hostel was) with Lawrence. Part 1 was spent eating sweets and Balot. Now let me tell you about Balot. It's a white-shelled duck's egg. And inside this egg is an (optimum age of 12 days) nearly developed duck embryo. I watched as Lawrence cracks open the top of the egg and starts drinking whatever's inside. He tells me to try it. "I don't want to! I know what it is, I can't!" You have to try everything, Miss Nadine. He's right. I take a sip from the egg. It tastes like watery gravy. I'm not sick at that point so I get a bit cocky. I pinch a bit of white stuff from the inside of the egg (trying hard not to notice what would have been the baby duck's head) and after a few chews of what I can only describe as being like (or what I would imagine to be) a bit of brain I start to feel my stomach playing games. "That's it. I'm not trying anymore Lawrence. Give me more sweets!" After that little episode, I needed a drink. Together with Lawrence, I drank a rather large amount of the strongest Filipino beer (Red Horse, and it actually tastes rather nice) in a restaurant/bar called 'Cowboy Grill'. The only hint of a cowboy in here was from our waiter who was wearing his cute little cowboy hat. Great atmosphere in here, the live bands were very entertaining and I even got a "Happy Birthday" song just for me. After we finished our buckets of beer, we "walked" in search of our nightspot. After speaking to a lovely little Filipino man called 'Abel' selling cigarettes on the street, we were directed to a club. We get there and then "that's 80 pesos please". Not sure what exactly I said to the lady on the door, but I think I told her that it was my birthday and that I wasn't going to pay until I checked out the club. Next thing ya know, I'm on the dancefloor and surrounded by a group of "he-she's" who are copying my moves and introducing themselves to Lawrence (and I). Yes, the only reason they are talking to us is to 'get close' to Lawrence. I leave him to it - poor Lawrence - and just keep dancing, dancing, dancing. At this point of the night, I had no idea that they had followed him into the toilet and were 'watching' him. No drama here, he's ok. After a couple of hours in the club, we decide to head back.
Next day, on my actual birth"day" I'm in TayTay (about one hour from Malate) at a festival street parade with Roberto & Lawrence's family (I should mention here that Roberto is a friend of Camilla's who I have never met - only Skyped with - who, if it wasn't for him, would have not been introduced and welcomed into his big family - thanks Roberto!) This street parade happens only once a year and it just so happens to fall on my birthday! Yay! Well, I get to see military bands performing, elected and prospective councilors looking their best, lots of wanna-be models, as well as witnessing the Filipinos going crazy upon seeing their home-grown and famous singers/dancers/actresses, etc. A very entertaining birthday to say the least.
What happened yesterday was probably one of the most memorable and enjoyable days of my life. I had the opportunity of swimming alongside THE BIGGEST FISH IN THE WORLD...enter the non-human eating 'Whale Shark'. Oh mi goodness. It was terrifying. But soooooooooo exciting. We (me and five other tourisits) paid just 885 pesos to swim with 6-10 whale sharks between 3-8 metres in length in the waters of Donsol (South Luzon). I hired snorkelling equipment, a life jacket and big yellow flippers! Everytime our guide instructed us to get into the water, we would jump one by one, as if flying out of a plane, into the sea and swim as fast as we could to catch up with the whale shark that was floating and feeding on fish beneath us. They are built like TANKS! The biggest are 18 metres long. Can you imagine something that size swimming towards you?! At first, I wouldn't go near it; it was just too terrifying to see its spotted-white and black-body swimming just a few feet beneath. What was even more fascinating was how they just didn't seem to care about what the stupid humans were doing swimming alongside them; watching them eat with their mouths wide open as little fish met their end and bigger fish were sent out from its gills. We spent 3 hours out at sea with these mammoth creatures and it didn't take me long before I was rushing to swim by its side to be close to it. I will never forget this day.