So here are a few things I've noticed thus far. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are weird.
The Fruit - One of the best things we've found here in the Philippines is the fruit markets. They're everywhere, and they all have inexpensive, delicious fruit. Especially the mangoes. For some reason, all the mangoes here are about half the size of those you find back in the states, however, they're much sweeter. Imagine all the goodness of a regular mango, then condense that down into half the space. That's more goodness per square inch, and at 20 cents a piece, you can't beat it.
The People - As far as I can tell, Philipinos are the friendliest people in the world. I heard horror stories from people back home about how everyone is out to get you, never let your bags leave your sight, etc. Yeah, I'm sure there are people who would take our stuff, but you find that anywhere. What we've experienced so far, is nothing but smiles and friendliness from almost everyone we meet. 80% of the people we pass on the street will say hello, good morning or good evening. When walking through some more rural areas, people working in the fields 50 yards away will stand up and yell hello and give a big wave. It makes us feel very welcome and comfortable. Everyone seems to ask where you are staying, where you are coming from, and where you are headed. At first we were wary that they wanted something from us, but they're just being nice, and seem to be curious about what we are doing here. When we go on hikes, people ask where we are going, and are always telling us that we are on the right path, or that they will take us there. Our hotel in Puerto Galera (the Mountain Beach resort) gave us a big discount, (800 pesos for a room that was normally 1500) and treated us very well. On the boat ride to Boracay, I met Dexter, who was an activities coordinator type guy on Boracay. He helped us through the ferry system, got us a great discount at the nicest hotel we've seen, recommended some great restaurants, and even tried to set up some mountain bikes for us at a discount price. Dexter, if you ever end up reading this, thanks so much. We had a great time in Boracay thanks to you. I'm rambling, but in any case, damn nice people here.
The Weather - What can I say? 90 degrees during the day, 80 degrees at night. It took a bit of getting used to, but now we can walk around without dripping sweat constantly. Any time of day is great for a walk, and the water in the ocean is perfect. It generally rains once every two days or so for a few hours, but it is usually very refreshing.
The Nature - Though our current location (Boracay) is not exactly a nature paradise, (except for the beaches/oceans) numerous waterfalls, jungles, and beautiful views have kept us content. I've also been surprised at the lack of bugs. Mosquitos have not been a problem, and we have only come across one cockroach. I hate cockroaches.
The Transportation - So far, my only complaint has been the transportation. There are three main forms here: the jeepney, the tricycle, and the minibus. Jeepneys are jeeps with extended cabs (or maybe just condensed school buses) that have two long rows of seats. They are real cheap, and real uncomfortable, especially for two hour trips. It's like sitting on the bench at at sports arena, only the roof is so low you can't sit up straight, and you're crammed in with 20 other people on a bench meant for 10. Though they are cheap, jeepneys are definitely not built for the sensitive American ass. Tricycles are motorcycles with attached sidecars. They generally cost a bit more than jeepneys, but are a bit faster and they only fit two people (well...two white people. We've seen up to seven Philipinos on one.). Minibuses are air-conditioned, and are the way to go, if they're available. They only run certain routes between cities, but the drivers absolutely fly. They blow through towns at 60 miles an hour (at least it feels like it. I'm never sure because every speedometer I've seen has been broken), zooming past tricycles, pedestrians, dogs, and small children. It's usually better not to look out the front window. Our last minibus ride was a three hour trip from Calapan to Roxas. The minibuses are about the size of VW buses, and we had 22 people stuffed into ours. Philipinos definitely have a different definition of personal space than we do in the states. Oh, and it seems like every form of transportation will almost always have at least one live chicken stuffed away somewhere. We usually become aware of them about halfway through the ride when they start to cluck, or cock-a-doodle, or whatever chickens do.
The Creepy Old White Men - It's sad to say that 90% of the other white people we see are older white men, 40-60 years old, with much much younger Philipino women. The girls are usually pretty, and the guys are definitely not cream of the crop. The only encouraging part is that so far, none of the guys have been Americans. I'm sure there are plenty, but it seems like we only see European and some aussie guys. I don't know if these couples are actually married (it seems that some are) or if the guys are down here for a good time. Either way, it creeps me out. I apologize to any single white guys in the Philippines who are not here for that reason (but I don't think there are many, sadly).
The Phones - Everyone has cell phones. There are kids who don't have shoes, but have color phones with flashing lights, and little charms hanging off them. And everyone is ALWAYS using them. Our jeepney and tricycle drivers drive with one hand and text-message with the other. It's best not to think about it when you're in the seat behind them. I don't know what it is, but Philipinos love their phones. I read that in one day, Philipinos send more text-messages than all of Europe. Crazy.
The Language - I still can't figure it out. English is an official language, along with Tagalog, but no one seems to really speak it. Everyone has a basic understanding, and most people can carry on a broken conversation, but everyone speaks Tagalog. This is fine with me. However, all of the radio commercials are in English, but the announcers speak Tagalog. And every once in a while, they throw in an English word in the middle of their sentences. We hear, "blah blah blah EXCLUSIVE blah blah blah YOUTH ORGANIZATION." Even the tv shows are half English, half Tagalog. Oh well.The Food - For the most part, the food has been great. We are trying to experience as many different foods as possible, and we have found quite a few dishes that are darn tasty. However, the meat that accompanies almost every meal is usually pretty questionable, though we eat most of it anyway. Ordering the same dish at two different restaurants can have very different results, so you never really know what to expect, though by the time we actually make it to a restaurant, we're usually pretty hungry, so anything goes. And yes mom, we are taking ice in our drinks, and eating the salads, and drinking pretty much whatever they give us. No one has gotten sick yet. I'll keep you posted.
The Bathrooms - I knew bathrooms/toilets would be different from those at home. But there are quite a few things that we still don't understand in there. The shower, toilet and sink are all in the same tiny room, so taking shower means that the toilet and sink get soaked. It's no big deal, just one more thing that we didn't expect. Every bathroom also has a big 5 gallon bucket with a small scoop in it. We aren't really sure what these things are for, so we've just been washing our clothes in the bucket, and not using the scoop. Any suggestions for fun things to do with the scoop would be welcome.
The Videoke - Wow. Before coming here I read that Philipinos love karaoke. I mean who doesn't? But man, these people are nuts for it. The hotel staff all sing every night. The bars are always going. No one seems to be embarassed or ashamed. And (those of you who hate hasty generalizations had best stop reading now) Philipinos are terrible singers. I haven't heard one good one yet, though I'm definitely not one to talk. What makes it worse, is that they all sing American pop songs (Celine Dion is huge) and with their accents, you can't even understand the words. My personal favorite was on the ferry ride to Boracay. From where we were sitting, we could hear someone singing Linkin Park in the next room. The speakers were turned up all the way, and I think everyone on the boat could hear it. I went out to get a snack, and found only one person, sitting all alone in the room, singing loudly and poorly. He wasn't singing to impress anyone (although everyone could hear), or trying to be funny, he was just bored, and figured he'd sing. My hero.
I couldn't get the pictures from Boracay working, so I'll deal with those later.Ã¯Â¿Â½ Hope you're all doing well.