My second day in Manila was a lot more interesting than the first. (The first having involved long hours spent at a bank, cooking, and going to bed very early). Nelienne had her heart set on exploring Chinatown. Besides being crammed full of treasures from every corner of Asia with fruit stands spilling into the clogged streets, it wasn’t really like any Chinatown I’ve ever been to. In fact, one of the city’s most beautiful Catholic churches and a gorgeous mosque are the focal points of the area. And almost nothing was in Chinese! But I did score a new shirt for about $1. And discovered that Nelienne’s favorite fruit, which I would have mistaken for Durian, is actually a mutated version of my beloved Pinha from Brazil! They only come in “large,” here, apparently – about the size of a small watermelon, but heaps more dense. We shared ours with the street children who kept demanding money – they loved it!
Afterwards, we headed for Intramuros – the (walled) center of the city during the Spanish occupation hundreds of years ago. Most of the district has been rebuilt thanks to being ravaged several times over during periods of war (the Americans claim one devastating blow). Once we finally found our way inside, we discovered an oasis in the chaos of Manila. Here, the firing of “tricycle” engines is decidedly absent, replaced by pedal bikes. What remains of the Spanish architecture was a tidy sight for sore eyes. We happened upon a cafe up a cobbled alley and treated ourselves to a much needed cold San Miguel Pilsner. (I’d read claims from many guide-book-writers that it’s the cheapest beer in the world. So far, I haven’t found a can under 90 cents!)
After a hilarious journey home during rush-hour, packed like sardines in the metro car, we turned in early in anticipation of a special party the next morning. A Filipino boxer, of whom the country is very proud (Pacquio or Pacman) was going up against Mexico’s Marquez. The bout was being held at night in Las Vegas, which is mid-morning in the Philippines. We paid $25 for an all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink spread at a fancy hotel where Jap’s friend works. Apparently the whole country stopped for the event, and we had an awesome time getting to know Japs’ friends, trying new foods, and of course enjoyed bottomless beer. It was well into the afternoon, before Nelienne and I left with Adrian to go swimming and eat dinner. I finished off the night with a healthy dose of Texas Hold ‘Em. Japs, Kris, and a bunch of Japs’ family members gathered around a
table in a car port. We played for hours. I bought in for $5 and limped by on horrible cards as long as I could. Japs’ uncle kept buying me back in until I finally hit a good streak (not much bluffing going on at this table). Since I didn’t technically earn the pile of money I’d managed to collect, I played through until it was gone again!
When Nelienne and I finally left Japs’ house, I thought I was bidding those wood floors a final goodbye. We were slow getting out of the city. We rocked up at the mall doors just before 9 a.m. to acquire communication technology – she a cell phone, me an internet stick. To our shock and horror, we found the mall didn’t open until 11 a.m.! We burned a few hours on the free wifi at a nearby cafe and began a long, arduous journey just after noon. It was a full 24-hours before we landed at our intended destination with one night spent in a seedy hotel along the way. We rode the Metro, the LRT train, a jeepney, a bus, a boat, a trike (motorbike with sidecar), another jeepney, and a another trike to the sands of Sabang. From there, we walked a kilometer down the beach to Small Laguna where we rested our weary bones for awhile. I wasn’t that impressed with the (rather small) beach, but I was psyched to try out some snorkeling in the marine reserve and to spend an afternoon at Bikini Bar, a pontoon float complete with water slide anchored a few hundred meters offshore.
Unfortunately, Nelienne received a devastating middle-of-the-night phone call. Her grandmother, her best childhood friend and confidant, was potentially hours from death thanks to a slew of health complications. Emotional challenges are the most brutal piece of traveling alone. I couldn’t let Nelienne face the long journey back to the Manila airport by herself. So we packed our bags and rode the range of transport in reverse as early as possible the next morning. Thanks to the Beach Boys, I’d heard of the small island where Nelienne grew up and where her grandmother still lives. As N booked her flight to Aruba, I learned that anyone who travels by plane through the U.S. (not just to, but THROUGH) has to pay a $14 processing fee and obtain pre-clearance from immigration. Even if they’re never leaving the confines of the airport!
Nelienne checked us into an out-of-our-budget-range hotel so she could rest up before her 60 hour journey across the biggest ocean and back to the Southern Hemisphere. Goodbye, my travel buddy, and may your grandmother get well! [As of late November 2011, Nelienne’s grandmother has recovered and is in great spirits with her beloved granddaughter by her side]. ♣
There are some semi-associated photos on facebook.