Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Holiday" in the Philippines

My 2 week "holiday" to the Philippines was a blast. You may think it is selfish of me to call this a "holiday" as I am traveling around the world. But travel and vacationing are completely different things. Travel is exhausting, complicated, but rewarding. Vacations are relaxing, easy, and kill a lot of brain cells.
My friend Jeremy came to visit me. If you remember from my "Prince and the Pauper" blog, he likes to travel well. He also has a college friend that works in Manila named Eric Calhoun and then my friends parents (the Boyce's) live there as well.
When I arrived to the airport, the Boyce's picked me up. Actually, their driver, Mario drove me back from the airport. The Boyce's have been residing in Manila for 5 years working for Emerson (a US company). Life is very different in the Philippines for them. They have a personal driver, cook, maid, gardner, and pool guy. It was a bit overwhelming for me to come from the backpacking lifestyle to this situation. Joan Boyce explained to me that it was a little strange for them at first as well, but that it is how the culture is. It isn't just the expats that have the working help either. The Boyce's lived in a very nice subarb and said that it was 95% Filipino. Some houses had security guards out front and tons of workers in the yard etc. It was just the way the society worked.
My experience in the Philippines was a unique one. I spent it from the perspective of the expat was interesting to visit a 3rd world country from that point of view. Honestly, it was hard for me to come to grips that the place was at 3rd world status. We visited mega malls with stores like Gucci, Prada, Louie, etc. We dined at upscale restuarants and everything was in English. But as soon as you got out of the "comfortable" areas, it was poverty stricken. With the few days I had in Manila, I tried my best to get a glimps of the culture and history. I didn't even skim the top of it though. But here is what I absorbed.
First of all, the Philippines is so different from any of the other Asian countries I have visited. They say...(which by the way, when I say "they", I mean LonelyPlanet guidebook) that you think you have seen SE Asia until you get to the Philippines. Well, they were right. It is this weird mixture of Spanish (yes spanish!) and American influences. Spain conquered the islands in the 1500s and then America purchased Puerto Rico, Guam, and Philippines for 20 million in 1898. The Americans pushed the english language and developed much of the urban areas of the country that are used today. The sad part of all of this, is that the Filipino culture itself has always been on the backburner and most of the progress comes from America. After WWII they gained their own independence, but it is clear today, that America is still a big presence.
So back to why it is so much different then the other Asian countries I have visited. Instead of monks walking around everywhere, you see priests. The spanish missionaries converted every island except for one, which is muslim. It is interesting how much a religion can define a culture. It doesn't have the same vibe as Cambodia or Laos in regards to the spirituality of Buddhism.
My favorite thing so far is the transport. Here, they have what is called a Jeepney. They were built in the 1950s. The front part is an American jeep from WWII and then they expanded the back into a bus. For 7cents you can go 5 blocks. This is how all the locals get around. Each Jeepney driver jazzes up the truck in their own custom-built way. They have names like "Elmer Gonzales" on the front and "In God We Trust" down the side. Some are super pimped out with shiney clean tires and music blaring and then others are pretty run down. Here is an example of one.
If I ever come back to Philippines I want to take tons of photos of the jeepneys and make a picture book. They each had their own personality and I loved it!!!
Mario, the Boyce's driver, took me and Jeremy around town for a few days. We went to the famous "Greenhill's Market" where you can barter and buy knock-offs of whatever you can imagine. Since I live out of a backpack I don't purchase many items, but Jeremy went to town. He was trying on sunglasses, shoes, Lacoste shirts, and flip-flops. I think he spent about $30 and walked out of the place with multiple bags. Joan also took us to her DVD dealer. Jeremy bought tons of DVDs for about $1 a pop. It was hilarious because the vendors have all these hand signs and eye movements with each other to communicate if the police are coming to invade and do a round up. Nothing happend when I was there, but Joan said one time there was a raid and within 30 seconds all of the DVD stores were packed up and on the move. It is a blackmarket business!!
Next we went to the American Cemetary. It was humbling to see all of the graves and lists of people that died in WWII in the Philippines. During WWII, Japan took advantage of the war going on in Europe to invade the Philippines. Many people died, but the invasion wasn't successful. I didn't really know about all of that side of history so it was pretty interesting.
For dinner a few of the nights, their cook Lisa would make an outstanding meal for us. I couldn't imagine having my own personal cook each night. Every day they would wash and iron our clothes. Even my underwear was ironed!!!! And not to mention, I had my own room for the first time in 6 months!!! It was a nice few days in I said, the perception was interesting...3rd world country, but the poshest I have traveled since I started my journey.
For 2 days, the Boyce's took us a few hours away to this place called Puerto Galera. It is this gorgeous fishing and beach island where you can scuba dive. I have not been diving in 5 years so I was a little worried about getting back into it. Luckily, I felt relaxed underwater and rememberd just how amazing scuba diving is. The marine life was awesome! I saw tons of nudibranchs (little colorful snails), coral reef fans, lion fish, eels, etc. The colors were so vivid. On our 3rd dive we went to this place called Verde Island. Normally you have to be a little more advanced to dive there, but no one said anything to me. When we got down in the water they realized the current was super strong. We were being pushed out everywhere and trying to stay together. It was a pretty intense dive and Jeremy said it was one of the hardest he had dealt with. I was excited that I handled it so well. The reef that we were on was filled with 1000s of fish. I was swimming amongst them and thought to myself, if I were ever a fish...this is the place I would want to live. It was AWESOME! Here is a pic of a nudibranch.
After Puerto Galera, we headed back to Manila to meet up with our friend, Eric Calhoun. We were going to go with him to this destination party island called Boracay. Just google image Boracay to see what type of place this is.....freaking awesome!!!!
We were flying on this super sketch prop plane called SeaAir. We said our Hail Mary's and borded the plane. It was definitely a scary take-off and landing, but we made it ok.
As I mentioned before....we were on "Holiday", so we splurged for a nice hotel and ate at swanky restaurants. The beach was gorgeous!!!!!! Seriously, if you ever need a place to relax and beach it up, come to the Philippines. We spent our days lounging on the beach, drinking cocktails, and getting massages. The massages are so cheap here that I decided to get AT LEAST 1 a day. I'm talking hot rock, thai, swedish, body scrubs....anything you want...they got it over here for cheap!
On the beach, we met a few local waiters who hooked us up with drinks. We tried to give them a tip, but they just said they would rather come party with us and buy them a few drinks later instead. The next day we met up with them and they showed us the town...all the hip bars and fun places. It is always cool to go out with a local.
We decided to go scuba diving one day. It was another interesting dive for me. I was swimming around when all of a sudden this trigger fish started biting on my flippers. The fish was about 2 feet long and angry. Apparently, I swam over its nesting area and it was full-on attacking me. I screamed and tried to swim away but it kept coming after me...finally I got out of the nesting area. After the dive, the instructor said I was lucky that it did not bite my flesh, because it would have been a big chunk out of my leg. I am really glad that did not happen....not sure how well I would have remained calm in that situation. I have been more concerned about my breathing technique and boyancy, that I forgot about the possibility of getting attacked by some sea creature.
After relaxing for a few days, I decided to take Jeremy and walk around the island. I knew there was more to it then just the touristy spots. We found our way to where the locals lived. Like I said before....step a little bit outside the comfort zone and it gets rough real fast. It was neat though to see the "local" part of town.
Philippines has been a fun 2 week "holiday". I really enjoyed the people and getting to see a bit of the culture. But most of all, it has been nice to see some familiar faces. Two weeks just isn't enough time to get a grasp of a country, so I hope to come back here someday.

Well, only a few more days of the nice life and then I move on again. I am going to spend some time in Thailand on my own. I am looking forward to getting back on my own again. I am hopeing to do some site seeing, yoga, and preparing myself for Nepal and India. Time flies by soooo fast, but there are still some amazing countries ahead of me.

1 comment:

  1. That trip sounds AMAZING!!! I totally know what you mean though about 3rd world being so unexpectedly glamorous. It reminds me of when I lived in Honduras working at the school. My students didn't have shoes on their feet, but I had a king size bed, satellite tv, a live-in cook and a daily maid, Oh, and a weekend "hacienda". Talk about lack of socioeconomic division. It's crazy and I don't think you can ever get used to it.

    Ummm...SUPER jealous about the DAILY MASSAGES! My back is killing me and I'm dying for one! Philippines, here I come!