Usually, it’s brutal. The first few days of travel in developing countries generally leaves a “westerner’s” head spinning. Lucky for me, the Philippines hasn’t! Even with a long arrival process! (It was 10 hours to Singapore where we laid-over for 12 hours, then 4 hours here.)
As an aside, I do have to say the Singapore Airport did not live up to the raves I’d read about it. In a country known for it’s almost-sadistic cleanliness, I expected shiny and immaculate surroundings. Really, it was pretty gross. The carpet design made the whole place look dirty, many of the seats were cracked/faded/stained, the tables in the eating areas were covered in rings of sticky stuff… Look. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying it wasn’t the shining oasis in the traveler’s desert that I expected. I did have some yummy chicken soup, napped on the (tiny) loungers provided, adored the tiny 10 cent coins, and resisted the urge to buy a $10 can of beer. (Singapore is not one of those countries where you can get more bang if you have one of the world’s three most popular bucks.)
But back to the Philippines being a comfortable transition. The country has a lot of Spanish history. Having spent lots of time in other countries with Spanish histories, lots of the architecture, pieces of the language, and the dominant religion (Catholic) were all familiar to me. The country also has a streak of American history – some of it not so positive. But a holdover of the latter is that almost all signs are in English and nearly everyone speaks enough English to help out with critical moments. It’s made for the perfect mix of cultural adventure without the moments of longing for the comforts of home.
Pat and I parted ways at the airport. I always cry when we say goodbye for longer than a few days. He’s such a great person, and I love him so much. Why are we parting ways then? We’d planned from the beginning to spend at least 25-30% of our indefinite trip traveling alone. We mostly failed to travel alone in New Zealand because of the associated, daunting costs. There are so many amazing benefits to traveling solo that just don’t happen for people traveling in pairs or groups. Being alone opens you up to a whole host of experiences and presents challenges that promote personal growth. Pat and I both agree that you can’t give as much to a relationship if you don’t nurture your own individuality. So, finally, we are doing just that!
I arranged to couchsurf (couchsurfing rocks!) with a Filipino guy before we left New Zealand. Thankfully, he’d mentioned what I should expect to pay for a taxi (airport taxis are one of the biggest ripoff schemes in the world!). The ride to his place passed by a whole host of neighborhoods, including an open air market. Fun! And of course I had to cheerfully talk the taxi driver into allowing me to pay the fair rate. Oh, corruption.
My host’s roommate was home sick, so she and I had a nice chat before I headed out to explore the neighborhood. I got a lungful of city smog, and an eyeful of the classic Filipino transport mode – the jeepney. These are basically stretch, jeep limos with open air sides. The body is stainless steel, generally covered in all manner of gaudy, loud paint. They are diesel and contribute plenty to the chaos of the city. I spent essentially the entire day at the bank (a brother of a friend of a friend works for the bank and thought I would be able to get an account, but it turned out to be far more difficult than either of us could have imagined). Across from the bank was an enormous shopping mall. The basement grocery store had a shocking array of products – more than half of which were American labels! It was really creepy, after being out of the U.S. for so long, to go somewhere so far from home and see so many things the same. I felt like I was in a time-warp. Christmas music on speed played while I browsed through the Tillamook cheese, Earth Organics lettuce, and more.
Back at the apartment later, another couchsurfer from Holland had arrived. Nelienne (Nelly-enn) and I made a yummy dinner, chatted about the gaudy Christmas decorations and hilarious pop-Christmas music, and crashed. We planned on napping and going out with our host, but his attempts to wake us at 9 p.m. were reportedly met with the silence of two women in deep sleep.
Traveling from New Zealand to the Philippines has the same effect as a New Yorker traveling to Los Angeles. Attending a 6 p.m. event in Los Angeles feels like bed time to Ms. NY. Add to that the fact that I’d slept (attempted to) the night before at the Singapore airport, and you’ll understand why I was out of commission. Let the jet lag begin! ♣