There are 7107 islands in the Philippines. We limited ourselves to just one of the nearly 4000 inhabited ones so I suppose you could say we didn’t really explore much of the country. We still explored as much as we were able to with our limited time.
At 30.5 weeks pregnant, there probably aren’t too many women willing and wanting to get on a plane. To be honest, I’m not sure I wanted to either, but the flights had been booked since before I got pregnant, and I was already going to have to miss out on a trip to Macau in August, so the necessity of requiring a letter from my doctor didn’t deter me from the trip.
My first impression of the Philippines, upon looking out the window of the plane as we landed in Clark, was that it didn’t really look how I might’ve expected it to. In fact, I felt as though I could’ve almost as easily been landing in Australia. That impression didn’t last too long, though, once I experienced the congestion on the roads and realised they drive on the opposite side of the road as they do in Malaysia – that is, it seems the Philippines has taken more of an United States influence rather than the British like Malaysia. But this was perhaps to be expected, given their electrical power points and past histories individually… not that I was aware of the US’ specific involvement until later in the week. More on that later.
One of the things we like to do when visiting a new country we haven’t been before is to try the local foods – and fast food chains. When we arrived in Quezon City, where we were to stay for the duration of our stay since that’s where the friend we were visiting works, it was well after lunch time and we were hungry. Reileen (our friend) took us to check into our hotel and then to a nearby shopping complex to find some food. We would’ve eaten at Banapple, but it was too crowded, so instead we stopped in at the local fast food chain Chow King, which is basically the only fast food chain we’ve ever seen that serves Chinese-style food.
After lunch, Reileen had to head back to work, so we just stuck around the hotel until she got off and we could go to dinner – at a group of food stalls known as turu-turo (turo meaning point). Jeremy thought it would be good to try some local food at one of the cheaper local vendors. I ordered sinigang, which is a sour soup type dish, but I couldn’t eat. According to Reileen, they didn’t make it very well. Because I couldn’t stand to eat the sinigang, and Reileen said it was her favourite dish (before trying mine), I swapped it with her lechon silog, which is short for lechon kawali (deep fried pork) with sinangag (fried rice) and itlog (fried egg).
Since we had no specific plans for our trip beyond visiting Reileen, our morning was very lax and spent at the hotel until we decided to go out for lunch and see if we could get a table at Banapple again. This was mainly because the lasagna rolls I had seen on the menu the previous day had seemed too tempting to resist. They were so delicious that I will almost certainly have to see about making them myself.
I was going to get a pedicure next but I didn’t have enough time to before we were due to meet Reileen again, so Jeremy went to have his haircut instead. When we did meet up with Reileen again, she got us a taxi and took us to a museum at a nearby university. The museum had paintings by Filipino artists, as well as an interesting sculpture display in a kind of native basket weaving style that was making a statement about the Filipino film industry. We were told by a friend of Reileen’s that the film director who had overseen the project was expressing his disappointment about how their films were too Hollywood-styled and that they should be making more films that relate their own culture better. It was nice to have it explained to us. Doyle was just impressed by the figures with big penises.
Following the museum, Reileen walked us through the university campus because she thought it would be fun to take us to Malcolm Hall, which was the College of Law building – appropriately named considering our surname and the fact Jeremy studied law.
Though it was hot, we continued walking a little further until we got to a small shopping area, which was mostly filled with places you might need to go as a student, and some small food and drink shops. Outside the complex, we saw a man selling balut (cooked fertilised/empryo duck or chicken egg) but we were not interested in trying that. I did, however, get a nice strawberry flavoured drink from a shop called Zagu, but requested the removal of the tapioca pearls.
We then took a jeepney (public transport that is kind of a large tuk tuk, where passengers jump on board through the opening at the back – there is no door – and sit on a long bench on either side, squeezed between a bunch of other passengers) to TechnoHub, a shopping area in the IT district, in the hope that Reileen and I would be able to get pedicures. Unfortunately that didn’t work out so well, so we just took a taxi back to the area where we were staying to get pedicures there. We didn’t go to the cheapest place we could have, but considering we only paid the equivalent of about US$6, when I’m used to US$10 priced pedicures in Malaysia, or US$38 priced pedicures in Australia (none of which I had ever actually had), I was quite content to pay it.
Since Jeremy had gone back to the hotel with Doyle in the mean time, Reileen and I just picked up some supplies for our dinner, figuring Doyle would be asleep by the time we got back, which he was. I suppose after the lack of success with the Filipino food I tried the previous day, I was a little hesitant to try again. Though we did have some leche flan Reileen had made for us for dessert, which was quite delightful.
Reileen figured an early 7am start was best in order to avoid the worst of the traffic congestion since she hired us a driver for the day to take us down to Tagaytay, which was about two hours away from where we were staying. Our first stop in Tagaytay was the People’s Park in the Sky, which included a derelict, unfinished building/palace for a former Philippine dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos, and overlooked the town and nearby lake and Taal Volcano. Our second stop was to get a closer look at the lake and volcano from the back of a famous hotel in the town’s history, which was our driver’s suggestion.
We then made some other stops at a local market and Catholic church before stopping into a Filipino food restaurant chain named Densio’s, ordering a selection of foods to share. The best thing I had was probably the pineapple shake, but we also tried crispy sisig (pig ears, which thankfully we weren’t aware of until we finished eating), pinkabet (a vegetable dish with ampalaya and okra, squash, string beans with shrimp paste), kare-kare (oxtail in peanut sauce), and more sinigang, which I refused to try again. Though we were full by the end of such a large meal, we also ordered the Filipino dessert halu-halo (which literally means mix-mix, since it’s a mixture of lots of different things like jelly, jack fruit, tapioca, and other things, and was served with yam ice cream).
On our way back to Quezon City, we stopped in to buy some buko (coconut) pie, as well as pineapple and apple pies. We didn’t eat them right away, instead saving them for the next few days, but I would say the pineapple one was my favourite.
We also stopped in at the Mall of Asia in Pasay City, which is said to be the 3rd largest shopping mall in the world. I’m not really sure how the judge these things because although the Mall of Asia takes up a lot of land, it’s only two floors high, and felt comparable to Malaysia’s Sunway Pyramid, which might not use as much land, but still has a fair chunk of it, plus a lot more floors. Both malls have indoor ice skating rinks, probably of similar size.
From the mall, there was a magnificent view of the ocean, and the sea breeze was excellently strong, which is demonstrated by my hair in the following photo.
We detoured off the main highway on our way to our last stop, where I noted quite a few streets had been named in an American fashion – from Connecticut St to the numbered 11th, 12th, and so on streets. Is there any part of the country that hasn’t been influenced by the US? Our last stop before returning to the hotel was Reileen’s house, where she collected a movie for us to watch in the evening after Doyle went to bed. Dinner was simply leftovers from the previous night.
After a long day on Saturday, and expecting a long day on Monday, we decided not to get up too early today. The first thing on the agenda was to head out to a market for breakfast and to look at the stalls. This was actually where I found my first Filipino dish that I loved – embutido, which is like a pork meat loaf roll mixed with eggyolk, pickles, capsicum, raisins, carrots and celery. I ate it with a serve of white rice and a spring roll on the side.
There was a wildlife park across the street from the market, which we decided to visit next. Here we got to see a few native species to the Philippines, as well as some non-natives like Australia’s cockatoo.
Plans were made to meet some of Reileen’s friends in the afternoon, so from the wildlife park we took a jeepney to a train station, had lunch at a Jollibee (another Philippine fast food chain) at a nearby mall, then took the train to meet them. Unfortunately their plans to take a ferry down the river had to be cancelled due to the fact that the ferry didn’t run on Sundays.
After some quick thinking, the plans were changed, and we took a couple of taxis down to Manila Cathedral, which I believe was the first church built by the Spaniards in the 1500s.
From there it was just a short walk to Intramuros, which is the Wall City built by the Spaniards in the 16th century and houses a museum about the national hero Dr. Jose Rizal, who led the Philippines to their independence from Spain 112 years ago (the anniversary being June 12th, the day before we visited). At this location is where I learned the US occupied the Philippines not long after, which is why the Philippines seems so influenced by the US. I also learned from Reileen that the reason there are so many Filipinos in the US state of Hawaii is because the Americans wanted to basically steal the superior Filipino way of growing pineapples. Before we left Intramuros, Doyle decided he wanted to go on a horse and carriage ride.
Our last stop for the day was Ocean Park, a mall that overlooks the ocean, in the hope of seeing the sunset. Unfortunately it was a little too overcast for that, but we still enjoyed some drinks overlooking the ocean. Then we went indoors to a mostly Asian food court styled restaurant, where most people ordered Malay food and were unsatisfied. I was the only person who ordered Western food, and the only person who didn’t have anything to complain about.
We rose at 6am this morning since we had booked a cruise to Corregidor, only to be told when we arrived that I was “too pregnant” to board. Despite saying I was fine and would sign a waiver, they insisted that the lack of medical facilities on the island meant they weren’t willing to take that risk. This ended up being a wise decision by the cruise company since I fell ill only a few hours later, but in the mean time we wandered around some buildings nearby and eventually took a taxi to a Jollibee. We stayed there until we would be able to walk to the National Museum in time for it to open at 10am.
Unfortunately we were unable to explore the entirety of the museum since that’s when I started to feel sick – possibly from the heat (my face had been soaked in sweat even sitting outside at 7:30am), dehydration, or something else entirely. I don’t think it was something I ate, but who knows? It was a pretty bad stomach bug. So without getting to see any of the 4th floor of the museum (which was interesting, what we did see), I insisted we take a taxi back to our hotel, where I stayed for the rest of the day. In the evening we met a couple more of Reileen’s friends, ate a giant pizza, and watched Doctor Who. So much for trying to enjoy the local culture!
Since I was still unsure of how I was feeling from the previous day, I pretty much spent the whole day at the hotel again until we went out to have dinner at a Turkish restaurant across the street. Had it not been raining so much, I am sure we would’ve attempted something else, but as with most travel, you really must be flexible when the weather doesn’t allow.
The following day was another early start and simply included a trip to the airport. Jeremy had already left at 3am for a flight to the US, so Reileen rode the bus to the airport with me and Doyle.
The main lesson I learned is that sometimes it really is better not to have specific plans about what to cover when you’re travelling.