Trip Start Jul 08, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Monday, May 4, 2009

Arriving in Manila was quite surreal. It did not feel very Asian at all. It felt more like landing in a large South American capitol. Apart from a brief two year spell by England the Philippines was first colonised by Spain bringing with it a deep routed following of Christianity - 90% of the population are Christian and over 80% are Roman Catholic. At the beginning of the 1900’s the Spanish/American war resulted in America capturing the Philippines and introduce a strong American influence. Apart from a couple of years occupation by the Japanese, during the end of WWII, the Americans remained in control in the Philippines and invested heavily in the education on the Filipinos (Pinoy’s) raising the literacy rate from virtually zero to approximately 50% with 35 years. As part of the education programme English was also taught extensively and the Pinoy’s speak excellent English with American accents. The result is a strong mix of Spanish and American culture. Strong Spanish Catholicism mixed with a strong American culture. Religion dominates daily life along with an equal love for basketball, large malls, American style food (pizza, pasta, grills etc) and lots if hi-fives. NBA rules the roast here and the national dress for males is virtually basketball attire and basketball is played extensively throughout the country wherever it seems possible to hang a hoop.

For the last three years of WWII the Philippine’s suffered under Japanese rule. Manila was once rated one of Asia’s best cities but the result of America regaining control resulted in Manila becoming one the cities in the world that suffered the most damage during World War II. The Philippines has one of the fastest growth rates in Asia. With the church playing a large part in this as forms of contraception are condemned. Unfortunately the economy’s growth is much slower than the population growth and the Philippines remains a poor country and Manila has never been able to fully recover from the devastation suffered during the war. Manila is a sprawling jungle of concrete. That said large malls, fancy shops and western style eateries are common but they sit alongside poor run down areas. Nearly 25% of the population is aged between 17 and 25 and one in eight Pinoy’s live in Metro Manila - creating a vast city.

The jeepney is a strong symbol of the Philippines. American jeeps left over from the war have been converted to create the jeepney. They are usually brightly decorated, fitted with benches in the back and hold daily competitions for the most number of people squashed inside. They shuttle people around predefined routes but can be picked up anywhere and cost pennies to ride. Once inside you pass you fare along the line up to the driver and rides usually involve playing a game of passing peso’s up and down the bus. The belch almost toxic fumes and are not the most combatable rides in the world but they certainly bring with them a unique character of the Philippines.

I arrived in Manila a couple of days after the fight between Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao and the country was still on a high. Manny Pacquiao is a national hero here. Apparently when he fights the streets are a joy to drive as the traffic decreases massively and the crime rate also noticeably decreases. I spent a couple of days in Manila but did not really explore around that much. I have some sort of infection were bits or cuts are not healing. Also Sarah brought me some new flip flops out in Bali and I switched to them in HK. As with most new sandals they rubbed a bit and the wounds also did not heal which made it painful to walk. So I spent most of my time chilling and planning my route around the country.

The Philippines is a collection of 70000+ islands. Manila is situated roughly in the middle of Luzon and is one of the largest islands. I wanted to head to north Luzon and into the mountains first for some trekking so my plan was to rest my feet and start some antibiotics to sort them out. Thankfully I found a great place to stay in the heart of the city. Unfortunately a typhoon was a couple of days off the coast and meant to be quite serious. It was due to hit north Luzon and the tail end of it was meant to hit Manila so I quickly changed my plans and headed south instead. This was a pain as the rainy season is fast approaching and might ruin chances of heading north upon my return. The guest house (Friendly’s Guesthouse) was the perfect place to hangout for a couple of days though. The owner (a Pinoy) is a traveller and has the perfect set up. There is a huge living room to chill and watch movies and a nice balcony overlooking the madness below. Of an evening Benji opens a couple bottles of red wine for guests. Also there is a kitchen where you can cook. The kitchen was a godsend as the Philippines in the hardest country I have encountered for eating veggie food. Veggie food has become a daily search for me as they just don’t really do it. I can find a nice eggplant dish with rice but it can take a lot of hunting to find it and usually whilst here I have struggled to find food. In Manila desperate not to eat another pizza I spent an hour waking into restaurants asking if they serve anything vegetarian. One of their more exotic dishes is Balut or ‘eggs with legs’. It is a duck egg with a nearly developed duck embryo inside. It includes feather, beak and bones!! It is common to find and eaten extensively throughout the country. Not for the faint hearted, or vegetarians.

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