Our arrival in the Philippines
We arrived in Manila on the 11th of January. We arranged to stay for a few nights at a Couchsurfing host. He told us he lives close to the airport. We arrived in the night so we had enough time to find our way. Just as in Malaysia, public transport is nearly non-existant. We had to get off the airport to get away from annoying taxi drivers – we try to avoid taking taxis, especially from pushy drivers.
Apart from taxis, there are two ways of transport here: trikes (actually scooters with a sidecar) and jeepneys. Jeepneys are old jeeps used for public transportation but again, there is no way to find timetables, routes or any other information. So, from the airport, we just started walking, hoping there would be a bus stop or something driving in our general direction. After sunrise, the walk started to get a little harder but we kept going. First, we passed a lot of military areas, then areas where people live in guarded residences but nowhere on the way was any shop to get water or food until we arrived at a pizza place by the road called Shakey’s. If you’re ever in the Philippines – don’t go to Shakey’s. We decided to go for the cheapest pizza (which was still over € 6, a fortune for this place). We were very hungry and decided to pay the price. Then, when our order finally showed up, it was a bit of a shock. How could they seriously charge us such an amount and bring us the tiniest pizza ever made? It was just ridiculous.
We had to continue our journey. We made it this far so we decided to keep walking. Just half an hour left. There were no more sidewalks from here so we had to follow the busy main road a bit and ended up in a poorer area. We thought the area had a South American look to it. Little houses and shacks, food being barbecued everywhere and a lot of people greeting us. All kids enjoy shouting “Hello friend” or “How’s it going?”
In the middle of all this poverty, we found our place: Royal Palm Residences, a gated community surrounded by security guards, a swimming pool in the center, nannies looking after the children and workers cleaning and guarding everywhere. We were expected and got up to the 16th floor, from where Manila’s skyline was visible in the distance.
We had no plans to stay in or around Manila. As our host said, the only reason people come here is to continue their journey. Manila is just another huge city full of traffic. Walking around and taking trains is not easy with a lot of luggage. Our host had an appointment in the city however he offered us to join the drive to the center. We waited in a huge mall, consisting of several buildings. As in our residence, every building, parking lot and shop you enter is guarded. They seem to check for bombs and often check people’s bags. Somehow, they usually let us pass through. Still, there are lines for everything in this country. People seem very patient – they are made to wait for no reason everywhere.
Cebu and the Sinulog festival
We were glad to leave Manila behind. We took the ferry to Cebu. At the time of booking, it was cheaper than a flight and besides, airports are an annoyance so we wanted to try a ferry anyway. Again, we had to deal with all the unnecessary waiting. We had to be at the ticket office at least 5 hours in advance; one hour is needed for getting the ticket, paying the terminal fee and checking in. A terminal fee has to be paid at every port and has to be paid separate from the ticket, meaning you have to wait in line twice. As for the other 4 hours – the ticket says you have to be there – they just want people to sit there and wait. There was free drinking water, noodles and chips for sale but nothing else. No information, no entertainment and no possibility to get outside anymore.
Unfortunately, the ATMs at the port didn’t work. We didn’t have any cash and had to find another ATM somewhere. The trike drivers couldn’t tell us where to find another one, they didn’t seem to know any. But, they could drive us to one for a ridiculous amount of money. So, I had to walk. Back through the slums we just walked through, except now it was getting dark. Next to the piers were the poorest areas we’ve ever seen. Full of street kids, stray dogs and many staring eyes. I tried to be quick. There was one ATM there that luckily worked with our card. Afterwards, I didn’t feel like walking back in this area. Dogs already jumped up to me and it didn’t seem like a good idea to walk with all the money. I took a trike back. From here, the price was 100 pesos. Although too much in my opinion, is was six times cheaper than what the guys from the port were asking for.
After hours of waiting in the port, the boarding finally began. Row by row, people were escorted outside. Although it seemed like the boat was right outside, we all had to get into a bus. We thought we’d maybe get in another boat somewhere but no: the bus backed up to make the turn, drove about 50 meters down the pier and stopped by the entrance of the boat. Everyone had to get down to collect their luggage from the bus again and our tickets were checked on entering the bus, on leaving the bus and then, on entering the boat. The tickets had been checked 6 times since buying them.
On the boat, we were staying in a large dorm. There was only one small shop on board and two restaurants. Meals were included, but to get the food, we had to stand in line yet again. The line of waiting people extended through the whole restaurant, through the hallways all the way up to the lobby and there was barely any movement. We decided to just pay for a meal instead. We met two Americans who did wait in line but never ate – the restaurant ran out of food.
Despite all the noise – there were TVs everywhere and parents really don’t care when their kids are shouting – we slept all right. There was an empty bed next to us so we could keep our luggage there. The next day took a bit longer than expected. The ferry was delayed by 5 hours so we arrived at midnight, 28 hours after leaving Manila. Our host in Cebu was nice enough to stay up for us. We had to take a taxi to some remote, quiet area where our host picked us up. Although we initially planned to pass through Cebu to find the more interesting places, we were just in time for the Philippines’ biggest festival: Sinulog. For this, we extended our stay a couple of days.
We, with our host and five other couchsurfers staying at his small home, all went to a meeting point to start the festival. From there, we tried to explore the city on our own. It was crowded everywhere. There should have been a parade in Brazil carnival style but we didn’t see that part. What we did see was people partying everywhere, high-fiving passer-bys like us and shouting “Pit señor!” Pit señor or santo niño refers to baby Jesus. The festival celebrates the conversion to Christianity so they are actually honoring Jesus Christ.
January 26th. Finally, we arrived on one of the islands we actually came for. We had to take a ferry again so it was a hassle as usual but it wasn’t a very long way to go. We had to stay one night in the island’s main city Tagbilaran. Finding accommodation online isn’t easy here either. The current prices were nowhere near the prices online. We had to look around and ask around and ended up in a room for 500 pesos/night (Center City Inn) without internet and no plugs to charge our devices.
Now, we just got better accommodation and a good price for a scooter rental. Now, we will explore and update later.