Southeast Asia Map

Southeast Asia Map

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Philippines - First Impressions

Philippine Airlines is the best! Plenty of legroom for tall people and the kind of service that is rare to see these days. Well okay, our flight was delayed by almost an hour which at 2am in the middle of the night is no fun at all. Our tummies were grumbling as we boarded the plane; a midnight snack was well overdue! But we were pleasantly surprised to receive immediate dinner service. And three hours later we also received breakfast! Love is ... food!

Our experience in the Philippines differs to our travels in other southeast Asian countries because we have an extended family member living near Manila. In an exceptionally generous gesture, Ronnie accompanied us everywhere, thus providing us an intimate knowledge of his country and customized transportation. It was great to finally meet him and very nice that we didn't have to think about the logistics of getting around.

Ronnie collected us from the airport and took us to our home base; a house owned by Dennis's uncle and his fiancée in nearby Marikina City. The house is a thin four stories tall with the topmost floor being an outdoor kitchen and eating area. The view is expansive in all directions and fantastic for enjoying cocktails and sunsets! The neighbourhood is lively and friendly; small houses clustered tightly together and everyone socializing in the street.

Jessie, a family member who lives in the house, took great care of us while we were there and cooked some amazing meals in this tiny kitchen!

One of the first things Ronnie did was take us to a hilltop viewpoint where we could look out toward the incredibly busy city of Manila. It was a very hazy day but the cloud of smog is typical. Manila has one of the poorest air qualities in the world and despite government intervention and various clean-up programs, there has been little improvement in the last ten years. It's very unfortunate that the poor air quality extends for miles in all directions.

Filipinos regularly do their shopping at crowded noisy, hot and humid markets, in stark contrast to what we're used to; a sterile supermarket environment. It was fascinating to move through the narrow aisles, watching people laugh and interact with the vendors. Very friendly, very helpful and very relaxed! There was an incredible variety of food and other items for sale, all housed under a massive tin roof with open sides. Much larger than any Walmart or Hypermarket!

We visited historic Rizal Park on a gorgeous day! This is a very large urban park in downtown Manila, popular with locals and tourists alike as a place to relax and meet friends. A refreshing breeze lifted the haze and cooled the temperatures sufficiently that we could appreciate the sunshine. This is winter! We succumbed to a pleasantly lazy afternoon; leisurely strolling the park, admiring the sights and impressed with the cleanliness of the place.

A monument enshrining the remains of national hero, José Rizal, is the symbolic focal point of the park. It's a flagship of freedom and courage for the Philippine nation and is protected by a 24-hour guard. Sombrely watching the changing of the guard we were reminded of a similar ceremonial routine in Washington DC - USA, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The admiration of courage and those fighting for freedom unites us all.

The park was once notorious for its public executions by the Spaniards and most famous of these was that of José Rizal. These statues depict his execution on the actual spot where it occurred.

The puffball fountains entertained us for a while!

Apparently rules are merely suggestions here too!

The park is also a popular gathering place to practice all kinds of sport, in this case a form of martial arts. The wooden sticks simulate more dangerous weapons such as swords.

Our first jeepney sightings. These colourful vehicles were initially US military jeeps left over from World War II. They are often lavishly decorated and we can't wait to have a ride in one!

Our first weekend ended with happy smiles and a good feeling about the time we were about to spend in the Philippines! We'd been warmly welcomed and the open friendliness of everyone was lovely. Looking out at the sunset over Manila Bay I quickly grabbed a passing tourist and to everyone's amusement, gave him precise directions on how to take this photograph of all of us!

From left to right:
Ronnie, Nicky, Jenica, Romalyn, Arra, Karen & Dennis

Note on current exchange rate: US$1.00 is about Philippine Peso P45 is about ZAR10.80

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