Manila, June 7
We left Sydney three days ahead of schedule and flew to Manila, with our final destination being the remote island paradise of Boracay. We walked out of Manila's International Airport and stepped into the hot, moist smell of Manila. I was instantly reminded of the time when I first stepped out of the airport in Singapore five years earlier, coincidentally also in the month of June.
There is a certain smell and air about Southest Asia. I can't quite put my finger on it, but it's a combination of obnoxious motorbike gasoline fumes, hot rotting garabage baking in the heat, smokey BBQ street meat, and sewage water with a hint of fresh tropical vegetation. After spending nearly two months in the western countries of New Zealand and Australia, it was great to finally be back in the chaotic and unpredictable world of Southeast Asia. Although we will miss the comforts of Sydney, we were charged up and excited to be in Philippines as it was a place that we had not visited on our last trip to the region in 2004.
Before leaving Australia we found cheap flights (only $50 per person!) flying Cebu Pacific airlines from Manila to Caticlan, which is the closest airport to Boracay. We decided to only spend the one night in massive metropolis of Manila, and immediately get out of the big smoke and head to the remote island paradise for some fun in the sun. At nearly 40 pesos to the CDN dollar we are back in a country where our currency will stretch a lot further, and the plan is to get the budget back on track after two very expensive legs on the trip.
We had to laugh because the petty corruption of SE Asia hit as soon as we tried to book a taxi at the airport. It really wasn't a big deal, simple overcharging and 'special' pricing for the white tourists, but it reminded us that we were no longer in a Western society. We must be getting better at detection though, unlike the time in Buenos Aires when an $11 cab ride mysteriously turned into $25 because we were in a different 'type of taxi'. Or the time in Montevideo Uruguay when an 80 peso trip was actually 100 pesos because of some weird, laminated matrix pricing system that adds costs due to km's travelled...hmmm, then what was the original price on 'the meter' based upon?
Nevertheless, we ironed out the pricing, hopped into our taxi and headed to 'The Green Mango', our hostel for the night. Aside from the opportunistic nature of people in third world nations, we both agree that the Filipino people have been some of the friendliest and most helpful people we've come across on our journey so far. One of the things that stood out the most in Manila were the shiny, tacky taxi/buses that look like a cross between a tuk tuk, a small American school bus, and a circus vehicle. And they're everywere! We unfortunately did not get a chance to ride in one of them, but will make sure to leave some time upon our return to Manila to experience this truly Filipino mode of transport.
While still in Sydney we purchased a universal converter for our NZ/Auz plug that powers our new mini laptop. Leaving the South Pacific for good, we thought that after several inquiries and price shopping we had finally found the perfect solution to our power source struggles (we visit a lot of countries with different power outlets and voltage requirements). Now lets be clear, it is the right solution for everything else that we have that requires power. However, we bought it specifically for the computer.
But...the plug has that extra grounder on the bottom, making it a three prong plug, and of course this new 'universal' converter does not accomodate this third prong. Essentially making it useless! Nevermind the fact that we purchased this piece on 'special' with a 30% savings from a major Aussie retailer, only to also find it on the Qantas Airlines duty free magazine for 2/3 the cost! I can say however, (being from the future and all) that we managed to sort out this problem when we got to Boracay; ironically an extra 'universal' extension for only $2 (gotta love SE Asia prices!).
So we're back to hostels with only a sheet on the bed and a bucket in the bathroom to flush. We're back to the paradox of Americanized shopping malls with bright lights and big-brand franchises squeezed between a poverty stricken ghetto that houses hundreds of families with tin roofs and little electricity and running water. We're back to rice and noodles, and rice and noodles.
We're back to dusty roads, honking tricycles and motorcycles, obnoxious street peddling, discriminatory 'tourist' pricing, slight paranoia while walking the streets, unknown street-meat and hole-in-the-wall food dishes, wild dogs with far too many nipples, $1 beers, insane taxi drivers who wish they were in the Formula One, and hot, sticky, humid weather... and we couldn't be more excited about it!