We were happy to make it through the Manila airport without a hitch, the whole process of immigration, customs, and getting our bags took maybe 15 minutes. This was a pleasant surprise, Manila airport has been ranked one of the worst in the world and we'd heard several horror stories about it. The only annoyance was the friendly cab driver constantly asking to take us all the way to our destination Olongapo instead of to the bus station.
While we hear that Manila is an underrated gem of a city for the true adventurer, we decided to just pass through quickly this time. We headed to Baloy beach, Olongapo, a town on the main island of Lizon in Northern Philippines. Most of the four hour bus-ride was just to get out of Manila due to major traffic and infrastructure issues.
We were instantly struck by the similarity to Central America in everything from the cultural vibrancy to the style and color schemes of the buildings. It must be the hundreds of years of Spanish colonialism. The economic divisions here are stark, especially compared to Taiwan. We passed areas of modern skyscrapers and upscale malls with Western shops and shanty neighborhoods with houses made of pallets, tarps, and tin roofs. The people here seem quite vibrant and friendly, but unlike Taiwan where street crime is pretty rare, caution is warranted. One expat told us that some guys were going to rob him or worse, but he threw some loose bills into the street and quickly jumped on his motorcycle and drove away when they dove after the money. We also heard about people getting their heads bashed in for a few hundred pesos ($5.00)
The coolest thing we've seen so far are the colorful “jeepneys”. These little privately owned buses are decked out by their owners and are all over the country. Another popular form of transportation, which we used to get from the bus station to our hotel are rickshaws, they have both bike and motorized versions.
Unfortunately two tropical storms arrived at about the same time we did, so we've been mostly holed up in the hotel during our first days here. We ventured out a bit to see the beach. It is very close to the small town we're in, and almost reaches the doorways of the hotels and homes that line the beach. I imagine this place gets some serious flooding when typhoons pass through.
I'm only doing impromptu shows here, so I've been taking in the culture, learning some skills, practicing, and taking care of administrative type work (dealing with website related issues mostly). We're staying at Baloy beach, Olongapo. There is a wilderness survival school nearby where the U.S. sends soldiers to learn about jungle survival. We're gonna need some survival skills during our 4 months living in the jungle in Fiji. And you thought The Wilderness was only about music!
Although the Philippines has some of the most beautiful beaches and wildlife in the world, it turns out that this area is not the best for sightseeing. It seems that this area attracts the seedier element. We hope it doesn't have something to do with the fact that the US naval base was close by. There are a lot of older expat men here, primarily from Australia. One of them described the area as "Disneyland for old men." There are also a lot of brothels and strip clubs, and with the cost of living, a pension allows them to take full advantage.
Still, in our few days here we got to know the place a bit and it's got a pretty interesting cast of characters such as the local smart-ass, "Lucky Mike" and his family.
He's a Filipino-American who was raised in California and has the best food in town at the best prices -great American, Mexican, and traditional Filipino dishes at about half the price of other restaurants. Though he couldn't beat BBQ, rice and veggies for two at $1.50 at the stand down the road.
Well, that's my adventure so far. As always, thanks for coming with me on this adventure, and feel free to leave a comment or send me a message!