Saturday, November 17, 2012

Getting to Manila

My camera wasn't working and I still don't have it back as I write this. I'm hoping it will be fixed in Manila somehow. I looked for a new camera when I got there but couldn't find a good deal, so I'm making do with giving my memory card to people to take a photo or borrowing a camera from family. Anyways...

The boat to Manila was supposed to leave Romblon at noon. It didn't leave till 3pm. I went back into town in the morning looking for bits of food to supplement the food I made the night before for the boat. I found bananas, peanuts, and pastries. Typical snacks for me here. I found this one pastry in Romblon that was amazing. Ube is a purple potato also called Taro that usually goes into desserts. I found an ube cake with coconut flakes on the edges. Five pesos each, I bought two, and added them to the pastry bag. I didn't realize how special this particular pastry was or I would have bought ten of them. The coconut on the outside is mixed with a sweetened syrup making the edges slightly moister than the already fluffy, moist, purple inside. They are made fresh every couple of hours, and I noticed the locals flock to whatever pastry shop had them. I will pay more attention to that kind of movement in the future, let me tell you. This thing was amazing. I savored them as best I could on the boat later.

The rest of the time I waited in the terminal alternating between watching whatever action movie was on the TV and talking to other travelers, something that I'm beginning to find really fun. The movies were terrible as usual, and I got to see Children of the Night for the first time... More memorable was one particular traveler I won't soon forget. He is a backpacker similar to me, but 67 years old and very experienced. He has been to almost every single country in the world between work and travels. Before he retired, he had worked for most of his life as a scientist. I asked him what kind and he said he was a vulcanologist. He studies volcanoes, not Vulcans or mind-melds. As he explained his work, "Have you seen those guys on National Geographic, the ones who get helicoptered to the crater of a volcano flowing with lava wearing a shiny heat suit? That was me. When locals start to worry about their volcano, they call an expert like me, I get flown into take samples and I predict whether a volcano will erupt usually within two weeks of accuracy." I make him sound arrogant, but he was the most humble guy simply enjoying his current life and describing his past life. We only chatted for fifteen minutes, but we learned quite a lot about each other in that time.

By the time I thought my boat was getting closer to ready to leave, the space for vehicles filling up and fewer passengers boarding, I joined the queue. Turned out to be another two hours before it left. I paid the student fare (I'm still brandishing an old student ID) of P778 for the economy space. The cheapest possible fare gave me an assigned bed with clean gymnastics-mat covered foam pad higher at one end for a pillow. There was a CR (bathroom) and even a cool shower with a shower head. It was more luxury than I'd had since Cebu City! I smoked a little roll-your-own tobacco from the US (American Spirit, a once every two weeks treat) out of a small pipe gifted to me by a clay worker in Bacolod. A group of teenage boys on some sort of school trip was certain I was smoking weed, which I gathered from their mixed Tagalog and English. I slept the entire 17-hour trip waking only to eat or use the restroom. We arrived at the port in Batangas, Luzon just as the sun was rising. I wound my way through an unusual maze to find a jeepney to the central market, where I was expecting to find some good knives and things.

The central market was a let down, Batangas was dirty, gray, and crowded, and there were no knives to be found at the market, so I found the jeep towards Tagaytay. Along the road were shops proudly brandishing the balisong (butterfly knives illegal in most countries) for which Batangas is famous, and connected to a bus north to Tagaytay. All of the fares were more expensive than in the Visayas, the bustle and crowding of people, and the cheaper food and clothes signaled that I had arrived in Luzon.

Tagaytay is a 20km-long town on the ridge of a large dormant volcano, with beautiful views of the lake in the middle and the smaller active volcano peeking up in the middle of the lake. It's one of the Philippines' most famous attractions, and it was appropriately touristy. The neighborhoods are poor copies of American upper-middle class neighborhoods, complete with names like LuxurE Estates and Californian architecture, both of which simply do not function here. There were many beautiful banzai trees lining the rim road, though. After arriving in town proper and admiring the view from between bars of a railing, I found out about this place called People's Park in the Sky. It is a popular picnic spot for locals, and it sits appealingly high and out of town proper. It was originally one of many summer homes of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. On the way there, I picked up a buko (young coconut) pie at the most famous pie-ery of the area, Colette's. Once at the picnic spot, I ate an ENTIRE pie by myself. I was hungry and it was damn good straight out of the oven. Thoroughly satisfied, I perched myself on a rock and strummed Josephine for more than an hour, with a small crowd gathering. I even sang a screaming baby to sleep and continued playing at the behest of the parents who had never seen the likes of it. It was before noon, and I was expecting not to arrive in Manila until the next day, so I let my uncle in Manila know I was coming a day early, and headed to Calamba.

Calamba was supposed to be a 1.5-2 hour jeepney ride from Tagaytay. It took more than 6 hours. Traffic was atrocious the entire way and with no clear reason. I finally made it to the birth house of Philippine legendary hero, Jose Rizal twenty minutes before 5pm when it was supposed to close. They now close at 4pm. I talked the security guard and museum director to let me in anyways and was pleasantly surprised by their flexibility as well as the simplicity and power of seeing where and how Rizal grew up. He's an inspiring person. He lived in the latter half of the 1800s, spoke 22 languages fluently, and was essential to the Philippines' break from Spanish rule, work which led to his execution by firing squad at the hands of the Spaniards in 1896. Activists like me stand in awe at people like Rizal.

Not wanting to make my uncle in Manila worry, I almost decided to try to find a police station to sleep at in Calamba, but decided just to push on. It took 3 hours to arrive at the terminal in Manila, where I took one jeep to meet him at 8 pm just half a block from his house. I'd never met him before, but my uncle Rolly and I understood each other completely in less than an hour of conversation. He's a quirky and interesting fellow who loves company. His friends and his family who live with him reflect his personality. He lives in an area of Manila called Quezon City, which was a key point of landing and departure for much of my family in the last century. We found a vegan curry at a Thai restaurant (on the first try too), then went back home to drink a couple beers, talk, and play music with his son Cris and his friends, and Rolly's friend Jo-jo. It had been a long day but I was simply happy that I hadn't caused my uncle any inconvenience or worry.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Feel free to comment!