Week 47 - Darwin to Manila (Philippines)

Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
Trip End Dec 19, 2008

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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Monday, June 23, 2008

June 20 - Darwin

Finally...I've managed to book a flight out of here for tomorrow. Not the destination as planned but still cool. The only one I could get that was slightly on my itinerary was to Singapore and then on to Manila (Philippines). From there I'll head slowly towards Indonesia.

Typical, on my last day here I've come down with a kind of flu (sore throat, sneezing and headache)...probably from the excellent but cold Uluru trip and the swimming yesterday. Feeling really shitty I did what I normally do when I'm illin, and that's get a room to myself and just chill in bed. Nothing personal against my cellma...erm, dorm mates but I need peace. One of my dorm mates is a hilarious 7 foot (built like a brick shithouse) Hell's Angel. He told me quite a few tales and I told him a few of mine. Really top bloke but after something that happened in the dorm room the other night he has the power to pull a favour or two any time (nothing serious but he jibes me about it all the time...wise guy...every morning he'd holler out 'Hey guys...has everyone heard what happened to Rowley the other night', just in case any new arrivals didn't know).

So, while Stewart, Fiona and Rachel had a celebratory dinner and drinks (the girls were leaving tomorrow) I was tucked up snugly in bed reading, cursing my luck and generally feeling pissed off.

June 21 - Darwin

My last day in Darwin...well, in Australia really and I've got mixed feelings about it all but will explain in more detail later on. As things stand I'm getting really excited about the next stage of the trip...the Far East...(a big 'nice' with a chocolate topping and lots of marshmallows on top).

Spent the whole day wandering around the hostel (in a state of fluiness). Am well glad to be out of the fascist hostel that is Chilli's (which my new Hell's Angel bud Mike likens to being inside. Even muttering one morning 'Fuck this...I'd rather be locked up than spend another night in this shithole...and promptly phones around his mates and got a trailer all on his own sorted out in the sticks. Would quite happily have joined the fella but Asia beckons.

The hostel's not that bad as things go but everything costs (a lot) and needs a deposit: cutlery, cups, internet, towels...you name it, it has a deposit. And...the real shocker...no alcohol allowed on the premises (how dare you!!!!???) (apparently the people to blame for this are a group of English (sigh) who got so pissed, one of them nearly drowned in a cold water spa that is only 1 foot deep (donuts).

Said my farewells to a few of the others here and started the long night of flights via Singapore and Philippines

Everything was going rosily until I tried to board my flight from Singapore to Manila. The idiots at the Cebu Pacific desk refused to let me on the flight unless I had an onward ticket. I know for a fact that the Philippines immigration don't give a monkeys about that but it's just a way for the airlines to get money from tourists (damn them). After much debate and arguing I finally had to bite the bullet and buy a return ticket (on the promise that it was refundable at no extra cost to me).

Now, the beginning of the flight to Manila was your standard affair of sleep, food and reading but as we started approaching the Philippines the turbulence started getting worse and worse. Being a hardened skydiver with one dive under my belt I was OK in the beginning. The plane was really being thrown around like a toy and my palms were getting sweatier and sweatier (what the pilot...or anyone for that matter forgot to mention was that the Philippines was being pounded by a 45 knot wind hurricane (I found this out after landing...Dear God). The landing itself was the worst ever for me...the wings wobbled and at one point I was so sure they'd hit the runway. But, the pilot being a genius and black belt 15th Dan in flying we landed safely.

June 22 - Manila (The Philippines)

I knew I was in the kind of place I belonged (apart from being in a hurricane) when the Manila airport had a blackout (makes me wonder what the air traffic controllers were doing during the plane landing) and had to wait two hours for the luggage to be brought out by hand (rather than conveyor belt)...and the taxi driver tried to do the old 'drive the long way round' trick on me. Being accustomed to these kinds of shenanigans from South America I sat with a map of the city in the cab and chastised the driver for his poor attempt at cheating me out of my money. Did I make the right choice in coming here? Hell yeah! This is exactly the kind of shit I was missing when I was in New Zealand and Australia.

Arrived at my chosen hostel (and chastised the driver again for his poor cheating effort...I even told him to go to Colombia and learn from the masters).

The hurricane was in full swing with trees bending, roads washed out, and no people anywhere on the streets and street signs fallen over. On top of that I still wasn't feeling too good so opted for a room for the night rather than a dorm. I was a bit pissed off when they asked me to wait 2 hours until check-in time (10am).

When I finally settled into my room I felt a kind of déjà vu and recalled my days of sitting out a double whammy storm in La Paz, Mexico. All I could do during the day was make a brave dash for the nearest shop and stock up on supplies (in case it lasts longer than a day. I got absolutely drenched from head to toe and nearly fell into drain hole the size of my body. Shit, what a way to go...death by drowning in a drain hole in Manila). Did a lot of reading and writing in the evening and night and nuked myself with fruity vitamin C goodness.

Later on at night I made a brave effort to go out for a beer. Donning my poncho and a brolly I lasted all of 5 seconds before I was again totally soaked with the added frustration of having a broken umbrella...doh).

June 23 - Manila (The Philippines)

Clear skies today but the streets were pretty wrecked. Felt a lot better this morning so checked out and headed for a hostel for something a bit more lively in dorm style living.

Did my usual walk around town to get my bearings (not easy in Manila...a lot of the streets look exactly the same with thousands of money exchange shops and kiosks). Am already loving the atmosphere here...the hustle and bustle of people, suspect smells and aromas everywhere, noises coming from everywhere at full blast, dusty and dirty roads with huge puddles, beggars all over the place (well, not loving that part) and some new modes of transport to try out (tricycles with built in housings for passengers and Jeepneys (jeeps with hugely extended backs to fit 20 people in).

Later on in the day I caught a Jeepney (no easy task finding where to catch the bloody thing) to the Chinese Cemetery. This is quite a unique cemetery where local Chinese and some others have built multi-million Peso apartments for the dead to rest in. We're talking Italian Marble interiors, kitchens, bathrooms, drinks machines 'fire escapes' (can't quite work that one out)...all very decadent.

It was kind of like walking through a deserted town with lovely bungalows but no one around to use them. On November 1st (Day of the Dead) the families of the dead would spend a whole day in and around the dead drinking, eating and being merry to celebrate the life of the dead. When me and the guide went to the highest apartment (3 stories high) and walked out onto the roof terrace the donut had left the key on the inside and the door slammed shut. So, half an hour we spent calling for help to escape from a life of being locked in a bloody oversized coffin. Eventually got rescued and the tour continued.

The heat, humidity, smells and dust of Manila are truly stifling at times so after a lot of walking around and getting lost a siesta was on the cards.

In the evening had a few beers in the local area (the very suspect red light district where the hostel is...Malate) and knew the night was at an end when I was sitting drunkenly transfixed on old Korean and Japanese gents (supported by two tambourine playing girls) having a serious sing-off on the Karaoke machine. The Korean songs were all quite melancholy and rather depressing as were the Japanese ones...no Elvis sung here tonight. I was very nearly co-erced into singing a tune...but was worried about clearing out the bar.

There are quite a few characters at the hostel which is nice to see; an old fella from Bradford called Gerard who's been cycling around for the last three years to try and kick his drink habit. Has it worked? Well, considering beers cost about 25 pence, sadly not. Then there's a young Israeli fella who's just set up a pancake stall in the shopping centre who consistently moans about getting good staff. Then there's an old German fella who is project managing a software release here and is also always moaning about staff.

Got to say the Friendly Guest house is probably one of the best hostels I've stayed in; great location, atmosphere, relaxed, free Wi-Fi, beautiful veranda and the staff are fantastic (nice).

June 24
- Manila (The Philippines)
One big annoyance with using the budget Filipino Airline is their fascist check-in staff who refused to let me fly from Singapore to Manila unless I had an onward ticket (stating that immigration wouldn't let me in without it...absolute rubbish of course, as I later found out the immigration don't give a monkeys if you have an onward ticket or not).

So biting the bullet I bought a return ticket (even though my plan is to catch a ferry from the Philippines to Indonesia). I was promised no cancellation charge when I cancelled it on arrival and it would be hassle free.

So this morning's mission was to go to the airline office and cancel it. Of course the Philippines being what it is the office had only two staff working and literally 400 people queuing up. I took my ticket number (302) and stared in disbelief at the number displayed on the wall...38.

Ok, Rowley be patient I thought and waited for half an hour. Half an hour later the number was at 41 and gave up for today...I'll be back.

Had some cheap Chinese lunch and then had a long walk along the shore-lines promenade. My final destination was Imelda Marcos's Coconut Palace. The story behind this place is; 20 years ago Imelda heard that the Pope was paying a visit to the Philippines so she splashed out millions on this palace, as a place for the Pope to stay. It's made mostly of Coconut wood and banana leaf. When the Pope heard she had spent so much money on it he sent her a letter cancelling the tour and stating she should have given the money to charity instead. So off he went to Indonesia instead (doh!).

It wasn't as impressive as I thought it would be but some rooms were very majestic and beautiful.

Later on I had big plans to visit Rizal Park and also the 500 year old city wall near to it but the heat got the better of me (no sane person walks around the city at peak heat time (2.30pm). I holed up at the air-conned hostel till dusk and then went for some beers. I thought I'd save a bit of dough on dinner so went to a barbecue stall and ordered a meat stick. It was only after biting on the first bit of meat that I thought 'hmmm, bit fatty this'. I asked what it was and was told it was pig's ears (for the love of God). It was pure fat and gristle. Didn't want to waste it though so gobbled it down pretending it was tasty. Well, it wins hands down on taste factor compared to a Wichita Grub anyway.

The first day I arrived here I was chatting to a street hawker and since then I have my own personal follower and stalker. He follows me bloody everywhere and suddenly pops out from the middle of nowhere 'you buy watch today Rowley?'. He's harmless but a tad annoying.

Early night tonight...got to catch those Cebu Pacific airlines rascals in the morning. I'm pondering some Oceans 11 type scam to get a good numbered ticket for the queue...bribery may be an option.

June 25 - Manila (The Philippines)

Manila is starting to feel like a place I could stay and get trapped in for ages. Although its streets are filthy with homeless people everywhere, beggars, touts (Viagra seems to be their main trade...hmmm, wonder why?) and smells you could turn a corner and there would be a spotless 5 star hotel or a gigantic shopping mall. Robinson's Shopping Mall is our local mall. Although I truly dislike shopping malls this place is a great refuge from the stifling heat. It's like walking into a fridge and is hugely popular with the locals. They all slip in for a cool down. I wonder if anyone actually buys stuff here.

Walking around Manila feels pretty safe for me although after midnight it can become shady.

Armed with my nu-needed flight ticket, passport and a single-minded determination I went to the Cebu Pacific office at 9am, only to find it doesn't open until 10am (nooooooo). So, as I needed some booster injections I thought I could get them done at the local hospital and get back in time for the airline queue. No such luck. I waited for 4 hours and the jabs cost me $45 (same as UK prices nearly). Rushed back to the Cebu office and it was déjà vu time...400 people queuing.

Did some chilling in the afternoon and the evening. At dinner time had some dinner and drinks with some Filipino girls who sold me a cheap pair of swimming shorts in the shopping centre. Had a good laugh and watched them sing (in the broadest possible terms) away on a Karaoke machine. I was quite happy just to watch.

June 26 - Manila (The Philippines)

Again, first thing I headed to my nemesis that is the Cebu Pacific office. Ok, I'm wasting a lot of time here but the ticket was $200 (much needed at the moment). Managed to get the number 72, even though I was there from opening time and the wall number was 36 (can't figure that one out). So after 2 hours I finally got seen and was told there's a $50 cancellation charge and I would get the refund in 6 months (oh how I laughed). I did the usual 'I refuse to move until I have a guarantee of a refund within a week at least. This seemed to work so at some point when I return to Manila I can hopefully pick it up.

Went for a walk to the Rizal Park where they have a huge pond with a floating map of the Philippines Pretty impressive and a good way to work out plans. Also popped into the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. Very beautiful and seeming to be a secluded place for love bird couples to meet.

The skies opened up for a tropical downpour so most of the end of the day I just relaxed at the hostel. We had a new arrival today. An old fella called George who's been cycling around the world for 4 years. He looks like an old grizzled ship captain with a gray beard and tattoo's all over. I knew sparks were going to fly when he met Gerard. As expected they met and immediately started challenging each other; 'so, you're a cyclist then. Where's your muscles then?' 'You cycled in China eh? Well, I cycled in the deserts of Libya' and so it went pretty much all day. George even started boasting about his military training and how he could kill someone with his little finger. It was better than TV watching this interchange. I get on really well with Gerard so when I'd say him in the kitchen he'd shout out 'He really is a prick that George...SAS training, my arse'.

I'm really liking the Filipinos who I've met so far (a few at the hostel now). They are very outgoing and quite cheeky at times. They are a nation of survivors in my eyes. They constantly get hit by natural disasters but just pick up the pieces and carry on as normal. Then contrasting that, they are one of the only countries in the world that still has piracy on the seas. There have been quite a few attacks on ships and boats, especially in the China Sea (hmmm, the life of a pirate eh...sounds tempting to me).

The next week I'm going to leave my new home that is Manila, before I settle here for good and head north to Banaue, where there are breathtaking rice slopes (8th wonder of the world apparently). Then it's back to Manila to maybe get my flight refund. Then the beach is calling me and I'll start doing some island hopping (please let the weather be sweet).
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