Manila - The Philippines
May 5th - 7th, 2016
Manila, the dirty, smelly, sweaty capitol city of the Philippines and home to about 2 million people across this sprawling city. Not our favourite place so far! Upon arrival at the airport you could tell this place was much more geared up for tourists than anywhere in Borneo had been, for a start all the ATM's charge you for having a foreign card! Our time in the city was plagued with people touting for business, taxis, tours etc as well as many children whom, after seeing you were a foreigner chased you round holding their hands out and rubbing their tummy's...they didn't do this to any Philippinos though so they can't have been too desperate. Saying this, the number of people living rough on the streets was staggering, everywhere you turned there were men, women and children crashed out of pieces of cardboard or newspaper at all times of day and night. It was hard to tell who was homeless and who was just taking a rest from tending the myriad of stalls that over run the pavements, selling anything and everything from little packets of freshly roasted peanuts (yum!) to fresh fish (not so fresh after a couple of hours in the sun), typical tourist tat to everyday essentials like toilet roll.
Having made an early start to try and avoid the worst of the heat (we failed...it's always hot!) we took a steady walk from our hostel to Rizal Park, a large expanse of not very green space with a few trees dotted around that the locals find shade under. It has a few attractions such as a huge relief map of the Philippines in the middle of an artificial pond with bridges criss crossing it, the large and imposing Rizal Memorial and a Chinese and Japanese garden, both of which you have to pay to enter. The other highlight of the park it it's respite not only from the taxi/bici touts but also some of the choking exhaust fumes that permeate the city and make you feel dirty the second you walk out the door!
Having had enough of dashing from one crowded patch of shade to the next we started to walk along Bonifacio Drive, a tree lined street that runs parallel to the crumbling walls of Intramuros, the old Spanish Capitol built in 1571. A short way along here we were hailed by an older couple who, having arrived via cruise ship were without a map and seemed quite lost, taking pity on them and enjoying the chance of conversation with people other than the touts, we explained where we were and what we were heading to see, saying they were more than welcome to join us as long as they wished. It turned out to be quite interesting, learning about how they travel everywhere via cruise ships and if they find somewhere they like, returning there for a holiday at a later date, kind of like a more luxurious version of what we do (except we haven't got around tot he returning to places bit yet, though we have a list!) and also food for thought for when we are older and don't want to be carrying rucksacks around with us any more!
We entered Intramuros through one of the many bridges under the city walls right by Fort Santiago which we decided to come back to explore once we had had a look around. We ended up at Plaza Roma which is flanked by the Governors Palace and Manila Cathedral as well as more bici taxis offering tours than you could shake a stick at! To escape both the annoying cries of 'taxi, taxi' everywhere you turned and the oppressive heat, we went into the Cathedral for a look around. It turned out to be very pretty, with some of the most vivid, colourful stained glass windows I have ever seen as well as some amazing carved doors and a large set of organ pipes almost hidden at the back. The Cathedral, originally erected in 1581, has been destroyed many times by fires, earthquakes, typhoons and WW2 to name a few culprits so it is actually quite modern having been most recently rebuilt from 1954-58. It was here that we said goodbye to our cruise ship friends and went our separate ways, us to Fort Santiago and them I believe on a tour of Intramuros, having finally succumbed to the pestering touts!
Fort Santiago, or what remains of it, was originally the seat of power of both Spain and the US as well as being a fearful prison during the Spanish regime and scene of many atrocities during the Japanese occupation. It is a sad looking site, apart from the vast walls, many of the buildings are in complete disrepair and it seemed that every other 'exhibit' was closed due to maintenance (or lack of, we believe) meaning that other than walking around the perimeter there really wasn't that much to see apart from the Rizal Shrine. This is where Jose Rizal was held before his execution and despite a whole 'mini museum' including excerpts of letters and many boards telling of how he was innocent of charges of conspiracy...we couldn't actually find out the significance of this man, his trial (or lack of) or what he was supposed to be conspiring against, this all apparently supposed to be prior public knowledge...maybe I will google him sometime! Anyway, it was nice to escape the heat (sorry, this will be a recurring theme throughout this Asia blog I believe!) and get a look inside the old fort before going on to explore more of Intramuros. We walked down cobbled streets, saw pretty San Aguustin Church with it's attached museum, took pictures of old colonial style buildings and perused various artefacts for sale in some of the many gift shops before heading out of the 'City within a City' and back towards our hostel for the night.
That evening we joined the throngs of locals on the harbour wall to watch the sunset over the South China Sea, made all the more spectacular by the ever present blanket of smog which reflected the light in fantastic arrays.
The next morning, as dictated by the way things in Manila seem to work, we walked 3 miles to the Ohayami bus terminal for when it opened at 8am to purchase tickets for that evenings trip to Banaue. That job done, we took our time heading back, to (I can't say admire) look at the various suburbs we were passing through, despair of the litter and rubbish that clogs the gutters and waterways and marvel at the way all the different forms of transport seem to negotiate around each other solely by the beeping of their horns! By the time we had been into the large Mall to buy some lunch and food for the journey later that day we had had enough of Manila and spent the rest of the day at the hostel.