Trip Start Nov 02, 2011
178Trip End Ongoing
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'Happy Birthday to Me, Happy Birthday to Me'... I've never flown anywhere on my birthday which makes the trip to Manila in the Philippines even more special, I never thought I'd visit here, it wasn't in my plans, but because I wanted to visit Borneo, well I was just next door... Before I arrived I had been looking into some volunteer opportunities to try and help aid the recent Typhoon Haiyan disaster and it looks like there are placements available while I'm here so it's maybe time to give something back!
My first impression on Manila is fantastic, instantly I love it, it's chaos..
I hooked up with a couple of western guys at the airport and we decided to share a taxi to our destinations in the city and I'm pleased that I'm dropped off first. I've booked into the Pink Hostel because it has a pool on the 5th floor, but it also has cheap dorms, a cool chill out area, bar, restaurant, and lovely staff that are extremely helpful. On check in the receptionist notices it's my birthday today and congratulates me with a hug which was sweet, apparently there's a crowd from the hostel going to a 'Christmas Light Switch On' in town tonight and I'm invited along which was nice.
Around 15 tourists and staff met up around 8pm and set out in taxi's to the 'switch-on', the roads are manic and I love all the lights on the way, there are stalls set up with decorations and because it's a Catholic country there's plenty of Christmas displays and Nativity Scenes and lights which is completely different from other countries I've visited recently
It's fun hanging out with a younger crowd and I was delighted when I was presented with a muffin cake which has a candle on top and they all sang Happy Birthday to me which was lovely and very kind of them. The cake was delicious and after a bite I passed it round the table for everyone to celebrate with me and we actually managed two rounds before i was done! After the display a number of them went off to other pubs and clubs but I was looking forward to getting back to the hostel to use the wifi and catch up on all the amazing messages I've been sent for my birthday which is a an absolute delight when I'm away from home and some of which were real crackers.
My young sis Diane made me sing Happy Birthday out loud as she wasn't here to do it for me, and my brother Eddie wrote me a lovely poem which I'll share with you now, but can I just say 'Thank You' to all my friends and family who took the time to think about me on my day, and made it very special indeed
A sign in the hostel is looking for volunteers and when I enquire what for, it's the Red Cross looking for people to help package up clothing parcels to be sent to Tacloban which was one of the worst hit areas of Typhoon Haiyan. I'm given directions from the hostel of how to get there which entails walking to the LRT line and catching a train a couple of stops before crossing the road at the exit for a jeepney going the opposite direction and I'm ecstatic to jump on board, straight into the front seat next to another couple of passengers beside the driver.
Ive information written down from the hostel and the driver nods and takes me to my destination which was the most incredible fun, the madness of the trip driving through Manila was just fabulous... now this is my kind of traveling, exciting, fast'n'furious and manic, ha ha I love it! The driver shouts me when to get off the jeepnay and points me in the right direction and I arrive full of zest for the days ahead at the main HQ for the Red Cross in Manila.
As I've only general skills to offer, I'm sent to another building and check in and given instructions of what is required, the team I'm working with are making up family parcels of clothes and they need the parcels to contain two top and bottom set of clothes for mum, dad, br other and sister plus a young brother and sister too
I'm working with Filipinos who have come from further south of Luzon to help and are all lovely friendly people and delighted that a western helper has joined them, and they chat away the days. In one day alone we managed to pack around 230 family parcels which was a lot I would say, we just kept going and going and I felt like I was doing something finally worthwhile to help the disaster and was pleased to do so. Unfortunately the couple of volunteer places I had been in touch with could no longer accommodate my services which was disappointing, so I just concentrated on what I was able to do in Manila.
I explored the main tourist areas of Manila but actually the jeepney's are my favorite thing of all, they're fan-tas-tic. I get to visit Intramuros which is a walled city in Manila and is the oldest part which has a Spanish 'colonial' influence and is lovely to wander, cycle or jump on a horse cart to explore around! I didn't realise it at the time but Manila is the 'most densely populated city in the world' with 1.7million people squeezed into 38.5sq km area, it's really quite something else, did I say it's manic?? Well believe me, it is!
Because It's near Christmas-time there's a great vibe in the city and I love all the Christmas Markets around, the decorations and gifts galore 'cheap, cheap price madam', it bustling and exciting and packed full of people which is fun
The crew at the hostel are fun and apart from my birthday celebration I head out with them a couple of times and strangely end up in a 'dwarf boxing' place which they boys strangely all seem to like which I can't quite get? As well as music venues in Makati and nearby night markets which is all good fun, it's nice being able to hang out with everyone which I've enjoyed. I've decided to spend a couple of days in Donsol while I'm here in the Philippines as I would love to see the whale sharks, so I arrange an overnight bus south which will take around 15 hours and I was pleased I managed to sleep.
I'll be back in Manila briefly but so far so good, it's been fun, interesting and a worthwhile visit with my favorite part being the 'jeepney's'... love it!