Philippine Adventure – Part 1
This records my first visit to the Philippines in March this year. It is split into three parts, Cebu, Bacolod and Bohol. I am no expert, this just records my impressions. I fully accept that my impressions could be very wrong. I provide it to suggest an alternative holiday destination to Thailand.
London – Hong Kong – Cebu by Cathay Pacific. I am 6ft and had plenty of leg room in economy. The reclining seats were designed to cut your own legs off rather than hit the face of the person behind you.
No problems changing some Dollars into Pesos at the airport.
The heat and humidity hit me as I staggered out of the airport in Cebu. Whoever invented the modern air conditioner deserves a knighthood. It was straightforward to find a taxi and get to the hotel.
The Montebello Villa Hotel is in a good location and cheap if booked via Agoda. I am in the old wing in a ‘Superior’ room. The room is large and clean, but the fittings are past their sell by date. The towels were once white, but are now a clean grey. Hot water is available, but as the hotel cannot have a hot water ring main it can take 5 minutes to arrive from the hot tank (I was in the last room at the end of a long corridor). The grounds are very nice and there is a large swimming pool.
Montebello Villa Hotel
After checking in and a quick clean up and change I departed to Ayala to get shopping and cash. By this time I had been awake about 24+ hours. The taxi driver must have thought Christmas had come early as he received a generous tip. Ayala is huge and the first job was to find a cash machine.
The Terraces – Ayala Shopping Mall
Plenty of cash machines, but none liked the PIN on my cashcard from FairFX. This card contained my holiday money so not being able to access it was a bit of a disaster. Too late I realised I was using the wrong PIN. Used the Visa card in Citibank and I was able to withdraw cash, but this cost me an arm and a leg in interest and commission.
Ten T-shirts, various sizes, ten colouring books and ten packs of colouring felt tips later and I have what I need for the orphanage. Next job, ring the driver, Danny Noy, to confirm the pick up time for the trip to the orphanage and then confirm my pre-arranged visit the next day with the manager of the orphanage.
Hungry, I decided to try Jollibee, a McD lookalike whose mission statement must be 'we aim to give all our customers diabetes'. Everything was so sweet, I was thirsty and ordered a large cola, liquid sugar with a faint hint of flavour. Even the burger must have been packed with sugar. Having been awake for some 30 hours and on a massive sugar high I took a taxi back to the hotel and tried to sleep.
Breakfast was packed with sugar – why am I not surprised!
The orphanage like many places is desperate for funds. My daughter’s cuddly toys were very popular with the kids and they enjoyed the puppets. The T shirts were a mistake, I should have bought a sack of rice instead. They seemed genuinely pleased that somebody from abroad was interested in them. It seems a Canadian benefactor donated a PC and pays for the internet time.
Danao Children's Orphanage
The Director has a plan to start up a small local industry making traditional jewellery to sell. The profits helping to fund the orphanage whilst providing employment for some of the local women. I suspect the market is already saturated and he needs to get one of the big aid agencies interested to help with marketing if this project is to get off the ground.
I took lots of photos at the Orphanage and wondered if I would be arrested as a potential child trafficker on return to Heathrow if the over zealous powers that be looked at my laptop.
A question that was never really answered satisfactorily was what happened to the kids when they reach 18 or whatever age they have to leave the orphanage. In the absence of the welfare state, family is so important to provide support. What happens when there is no family?
The journey to the orphanage revealed that the traffic in Cebu was ‘entertaining’. It must be essential for drivers to have eyes in the back of their head. If there is a space on the road all race for it. Pedestrians amble across the road in front of you looking neither left nor right, moped riders have conversations with people they are passing so they pay no attention to what is in front. We passed two funerals, one presumably for somebody important as it was followed by a huge crowd. The local Harley Davidson riders went past on their 'hogs', all dark glasses, huge beer bellies and unfettered exhausts. Amongst all this the little local jeepneys weave in and out dropping off and picking up passengers.
After the visit all I could find open for very late lunch was Diabetes Central (Jollibee) where I had chicken and rice. Not quite so much sugar as the Burger. The evening meal was in the hotel, a buffet by the pool with a local playing guitar and murdering Simon and Garfunkel’s songs.
A frustrating day of increasing panic as my two bits of plastic refused to work and give me cash. An amazing situation when you cannot afford to check out of the hotel! Visa refused to perform, despite receiving assurances from them that it is cleared for use in the Philippines and had not had any transactions refused. Somewhere the wires were not linked up in the middle.
After a fair bit of time on the phone I have to give full marks to the FairFx staff who corrected my crass stupidity and unblocked the card.
Whilst I ate, I noted the interesting mix of guests in the hotel. Western families (various European Nationalities), Filipina families, a group of four Western gents, I suppose about 30 years old and about 4 elderly Western 'gents' who appear with young Filipina ladies. I am not certain always the same ones.
After a bad night's sleep as the air conditioning unit seems louder than Concorde. Danny Noy did not turn up for the City Tour, but sent a replacement confusingly also called Danny (getting that established by phone, as English out here is not as we know it, was entertaining for those not involved).
Danny2, was excellent. He had what I call the policeman's waddle. That way of walking that involves the shoulders also moving backwards and forwards and implies don't mess with me.
I visited the Taoist Temple, guide books say you must show respect, be silent, cover arms and legs. I had worn a long sleeve shirt and bought long trousers with me. Danny2 and the Temple Security Guard laugh when I get out the trousers to slip on over my shorts and say don't bother. They were correct, rightly or wrongly I would have been the only one. Unfortunately the upper reaches were closed, but what I saw was very colourful. Japanese tourists happily photographing the no photography signs!
Carbon market, Danny2 says I am not to get out the car and the doors are kept locked. A huge teeming market area that would have been a dream to photograph. Horse drawn carts are still used. The only reasonable quality photograph I took was of baskets of dried fish.
Magellan's Cross, across the road from Cebu City Hall. Apparently still a risky area, I was told to be aware and keep a tight hold on the camera. The cross on view is a copy with the original in a Church in Cebu. Nice painted ceiling above the cross. I was also shown a building near the cross, Basilica Minore del Sto. Nino.
The old Spanish Fort, Fort San Pedro where I met my Security Guard stalker. He latches on to tourists, tells you the obvious (I realised I was standing on the wall and could see the sea) and insists on taking your photograph with your camera. Once the camera is handed over he goes mad, snapping away like some demented fashion photographer. "Stand there, look there, smile". I eventually wrestle my camera back from him and delete some 20+ photos, keeping around six.
Fort San Pedro
A Bishops House, now a museum was interesting, no photography allowed inside.
Ayala, for the fourth time. Into Citibank – will the plastic work. Yes – Fairfx worked and I now had 15,000 Pesos. I had a huge grin on my face. I think Danny2 thought I was mad. We ate at Ayala, Danny2 showing me a small Japanese restaurant that I would never have thought of entering. I was not hungry, just thirsty, but ordered a starter of Cucumber in vinegar, very tasty.
Flights were then booked for Bacolod on Thursday, returning Monday. The bad news, the flight is at 8:30a.m., at the airport by 6:30a.m.
Then on to the Lapu Lapu monument. The Cebuanos seem to struggle with Magellan and the Spanish as they brought Catholicism to the Philippines, yet were agressors. I get the impression they celebrate both Magellan and the local chief, Lapu Lapu, who killed him. The monument is in very pleasant gardens on the coast of Mactan Island. A school party was there and a group of schoolgirls wanted their photo taken. Thank goodness my teenage son was not with me, if the Filipina schoolgirls appreciated him as much as the Thai girls did we would have been there for hours.
Finally to the Tops. A highpoint over looking Cebu. A hair-raising drive with traffic overtaking round blind corners.
The best traffic incident had been earlier in the day, when a large truck, seeing the fast lane in the opposite carriage way was free, used it to get round the traffic jam in the direction he was going. Size matters!
It was pleasant at the Tops, cool away from the muggy heat lower down. We waited while the light faded and Cebu City lit up.
Cebu City from the Tops
A lazy day. Getting ready for the flight to Bacolod and swimming in the hotel pool.
I ate at the Ching Palace, according to a review Cebu's premier Chinese Restaurant with a nice decor of fish tanks and panels divinding the room. The fish tanks were a murky green and built into the walls of a large room with no dividers. I opened the menu and it was not structured like anything in England. I discovered that what you order comes all at once, no structure such as starter, etc.
Emboldened by a very nice Tsing Tao beer I asked the waiter what he suggested. Chicken and sweetcorn soup, Lapu Lapu fish and a Lobster dish. After another Tsing Tao a waiter appeared with a plastic bucket with a live fish in it – "was this OK?" Fine by me as long as I did not have to kill and cook it, though it looked smaller than the Lapu Lapu I had had a previous night at the hotel, which had been like cod with large flakes of fish (served in a very nice sweet and sour sauce – I only had it because they were out of pork, I tend to avoid eating anything that swims in the sea).
I next see the bucket fish with a surprised look on its face, a tomato shoved in its mouth and the raw flesh neatly sliced for me to remove, all served on a bed of ice, all salmonella and nematode worms. I look round in panic for a burner so I could cook it at the table – not a chance. More Tsing Tao required. I understood from the waiter, lips curling in I think contempt, that I eat it raw dipped in a sauce. All I can say is the sauce was nice and the bits of what felt like rubber I chewed and swallowed.
The soup was delicious and the lobster could have been anything in a shell, but tasted very nice. In the intervals I continued to read a Wallender detective novel, though spent most of the time watching the other patrons. A group was obviously celebrating a birthday, the waiting staff bought out a guitar and cymbals for the diners to use as they sang happy birthday. I assume the diners had bought them and the instruments were not usual practice. Did I mention the Tsing Tao was good.
Finally back to the Montebello to sleep and head off the next day to Bacolod.
Continued in Part Two.
Nice start. It's interesting to hear about the Philippines away from the bar areas.