The Philippines have never aroused any interest in me to visit them, but when I found that the cheapest way to move on (by far - like 50%) was via Manila, I thought it would be interesting to stop over for a couple of days. Cebu Pacific had me in Manila before I knew it - almost literally, as I had become convinced it was a four hour flight but it is around half that. The arrival terminal was huge, quite new, and seriously under-used.
Then the fun began, as I had to get myself into the city - I'd read awkward arrangaments can be made involving unmarked buses which drop you whoknowswehere, and was very wary of the taxis. My theory is that the more insistent they are to get you to take their taxi, the more likely it is you are being ripped off. I knew the official metered rate into town - of all the taxi drivers who pestered me to use their services, the only one who gave any idea of price was charging well over four times the metered rate.
So, I walked, not the whole way - just about 3 km over poorly formed footpaths, dragging my bag behind me. At least it was much cooler than in Hong Kong. I had maybe 100 taxis (not joking) want to give me a lift, some were extremely persistent in their attentions. My first contact with normal locals was when I popped into the good old 7-11 for a cold drink - the guy behind the counter (as he did with everyome who came in) boomed out a "Good day, welcome, come in". I stood around with my drink - there were a couple of young kids begging, but mostly it was just people going about their business. There was a fellow who could not speak sitting at the seats - he gestured for me to take a load off. After the 7-11, the road went up through a sort of street market - there was still traffic, including lots of the famed jeepneys,
but it was moving more slowly than me. Eventually, I saw what I was looking for - the jutting end of an elevated railroad, part of a project to link the airport with the centre by rail which has been caught up in political intrigue and corruption, so no-one can say if and when it will get finished. Rather than get on immediately,I celebrated my arrival with some fried chicken at Jolibees. On the train, there were three girls, teenagers, standing beside me, presumably speaking Tagalog, but I did get the gist of part of their conversation: one of them is coming to New Zealand to study and that revelation operated as a comedic thunderbolt - her two friend almost hit their heads on the ground, they were laughing so much, and then the intending student joined in.
At the other end, I had about another km to walk, but this was easy, as I walked straight through a rather nice park and into my fabulous hotel:
I had a voucher to redeem for a night in a hotel, worth $US130, which was almost exactly what the grand Manila Hotel cost. William Taft decreed that it was to be built, and it was, in 1912. MacArthur moved in for six years during the war as special military advisor to President Quezon and then used it as his command post when America joined the war. Being the best place in town for a long long time, many famous people have passed through its doors, from Nixon to Clinton to Bhutto, from the Beatles to the 2011 American idol finalists and, of course, me. The place was so incredibly nice, the staff so gracious, that it seemed a shame to even go outside (if I had known it was the middle of rainy season, I might not have). In fact the first night, I stayed in for dinner, had some adobo (marinated meat) and a tasty dark version of San Miguel and marvelled at the lobby, which was a bit beyond my normal range of experiences.
I was super impressed when I complained at about 11:30 at night that the internet was not working - they sent up a tech immediately who installed a router right in my room: problem sorted. In the morning I wandered out the back of the hotel, behind its pool, and had a small mystery solved - I knew I could not be far from the coast, but had seen no sign of it. This is what is immediately behind the hotel
I spent the day wandering the Old Quarter, Intramuros: it is on a rivermouth, so people have lived here for centuries, but it was the Spaniards who decided upon a walled city, which was built in the 16th century, damaged heavily during the War (not all the marks made have been repaired or healed). Fort Santiago was built in the river mouth - there is not a whole lot of it left - the reconstructed moat, the walls and associated features like guardhouses and a couple of subordinate buildings.
Here I learned about one José Rizal, who was incarcerated by the Spaniards in the chapel, tried for treason and put to death by firing squad. There are suggestions he was falsely found guilty, but that seems to undermine him: he worked strenuously to get rid of Spanish rule, fomenting discord, causing difficulties for the Spaniards - I can see why they might convict him, and it made him a martyr. Apart from his cell and the courtroom, his final walk out to his death has been re-created, with various groups of mourners.
Lunchtime - beside the Fort, there was a line of restaurants, all selling very similar products, but this sign was the winner
The business started during the war: apparently Max was doing a roaring trade selling fried chicken out of his home, and the business he was convinced to start is still going strong. The food was terrible, but the staff was entertaining - there were several young guys and mainly just the one girl on the floor with them: they were constantly teasing and flirting with her (and she gave as good as she got) and play fighting with each other. There was also the cashier, an older woman: the guys would try to tease her, and she'd have none of it, remaining all stern and businesslike, until the strain of being serious got too much, and she'd crack up as well. It looked like they were having a lot of fun with each other, and managed to keep serving the customers.
This shop was near the former residence of the Governor, the soon to be Treasury and a couple of other cool buildings.
I wanted to see the rest of Intramuros, but the rain got the better of me - I spent at least 30 minutes huddled under a small pice of canvas which was a sort of verandah for a tiny shop - by the time the rain cleared, the water had pooled so deeply I could not carry on, and had to make some lateral moves. I got about two blocks, when the rain started again - at least I had a proper shelter. A couple of uni students wanted me to take refuge in the church - when they couldn't get me to move, they had me do a pretty long survey about the tourist infrastructure and environmental protection measures of Manila - like I knew much about either topic! But they were sweet and thought my input would be valuable. The rain still hadn't gone off so I was eventually persuaded by a young girl to join her family in the museum across the road - I must have sat there at least an hour, waiting for the rain to stop, looking at this.
When it did, the sensible thing would have been to hurry back to the hotel, but I saw cake and a coffee machine, and that was the end of me being sensible, which resulted in yet another wait for the rain to stop. I had to find out what a chocolate cappucino was - it was important research (hot chocolate, but with milk frothed as with a cappucino, as it happens).
On my last morning, I maintained an anxious weather watch and decided I'd leave early and walk from the end of the train line - the departure terminal was not the same one I had arrived at and careful scrutiny of satellite images revaled good wide footpaths, so I thought I'd be fine. And I was, right up to the point that I could see the entrance to the airport when the rain came tumbling down - luckily I had another shop with a wee canvas verandah. Only real problem was that I'd walked to the wrong bloody terminal. A policeman (or maybe security guard) got me into a taxi, telling me it would be 200 pesos - the driver laughed and told me he'd never forget me when I showed him I only had 86. He took the lot, and of course the metered fare was more like 60.
This terminal had the worst food facilities I have ever come across - three stalls selling near identical products, two cigar stalls and a pathetic duty free counter. I really wanted a beer after allmy exertions and it wasn't until I'd walked the lentgh of the terminal twice that I discovered they had put the bar inside the smoking area - oh well, the beer was cheap.
Philippine Air, despite being very cheap, was not a bad airline to fly with. There was an incident on the runway, in which a Saudi plane couldn't handle the wet and skidded off. That delayed our flight - the airline kept us informed of develpments and after about 90 minutes did a snack service. They said they'd even do dinner service if the problem persisted, but that didn't seem a good idea to me, as we'd not be able to take off with iour tray tables down and dinner half eaten. As it happens, we were stuck in the plane on the tarmac for SIX HOURS before we could finally take off. Then we had dinner.
These are a few of the photos I took as I wandered around Intramuros and then from my hotel room, which overlooked it.