Brown Pants in Manila
My first time to Manila proved to be a shorter than expected trip and not the best experience. I appreciate it was probably a bit naive on my part and possibly a bit of bad luck. I chose to stay in Malate in a fairly nice hotel ($40/ night) as it was my first time I wanted a bit of security. From the moment I got off the plane I could see that Manila was not exactly a paradise and made parts of Vietnam look salubrious. It was a world away from the comforts of Bangkok or maybe I am just more street savvy in Thailand. For those that do not know, in Manila guns are a popular accessory and every shopping centre has metal detectors at the entrances. The same goes for all government buildings and some hotels.
As I was alone I was a target for every piece of street vermin in this dirty town. I attracted some of the most undesirable characters at every turn and must have refused drugs on at least 20 – 30 occasions. Everyone is trying to extract money from your wallet whether it be for a legitimate transaction or to take the shirt off your back. The taxi drivers are devious soles but fortunately my hotel had a dedicated taxi service. If you chose to use a non resident hotel taxi then the security guard would ask you to sign a disclaimer acknowledging that you had put your life in the hands of the gods! The main taxi driver I used was a Pakistani gentleman who went by the name of Mohammed. He was very genuine and one of the first things he said to me was be very careful in the Philippines because anything can happen here. I should have paid more attention to that comment as he was not exaggerating. I asked him how he got to the Philippines and he told me that he got thrown out of a plane! I think some of his exaggerations made me discount his initial warning as he also told me he could have gone to the Olympics in 1988 as a weightlifter!
My first day in Manila I was wondering the streets and some rogue PR guy latched on to me and for the sake of the story we will call him Mr A. Mr A was trying to get me to go to some exclusive back street bar but I was not interested. He would not take no for an answer and continued walking beside me for at least 20 minutes. He would drift between casual chat and then switch back to the salesman role. His strategy was not working with me and I pointed out that I was going for some food and thanked him for his time. I took a sharp right into an oriental looking restaurant and as I let the door go behind me I could tell by the noise that had not closed. Mr A has decided to follow me into the restaurant and follows me to the table! I explained one more time to him that I was not interested but he persisted and took his seat opposite me. What an unusual couple we must have looked like to any onlookers! As the waitress brought two menus out I was quick to express that I only required one menu and my new friend was not going to be eating at my expense. I ordered and he hung around for another 5 minutes before handing me his business card and setting off for his next victim.
The next day got off to a better start during daylight hours but come night time I was soon in another strange situation. I ended up spending the night in my hotel from 23:00 as my safety had been breached! Going back a few hours I was on my way around Malate looking for a decent bar for some beers. A guy who I recognised from my hotel (I think he was the night security) stopped me and he seemed very pleasant and spoke very good English. We will call him Mr B! It was obvious that he must have spent time in the UK as he spoke about certain attractions with a lot of detail and was familiar with the geography around the south of England. He was also well travelled showing me places he had visited in Malaysia and Hong Kong on his mobile phone. He asked me to come and see his bar on the next street and I had not found anything decent to this point and this guy seemed trustworthy enough. His bar was a few streets off the main drag (I broke one of my golden rules here to always stick to the main stretch) which was a bit further than I felt comfortable with and this was the point where my alarm bells should have been ringing if it wasn’t for already having a few Sam Miguels! It looked like a bar and as I entered he pointed me to the left of the main bar. The lighting was poor and before I realised it I was not in any kind of public establishment it was too late. The bar was just a front for an indoor shooting range! I went through and before I realised where I was there were 3 guys holding pistols in there! One of the walls had about 50 different firearms as if it were wallpaper! They were trying to get me to have a go on an Oozy but I kept refusing. In the end they were a bit forceful so I decided the most cost effective escape to the scenario was to agree a reasonable price and fire a few bullets. We agreed on 1000 Pesos ($20) so I had a quick few shots (~10 – 15 bullets). When I finished up they charged me 4000 Pesos ($60) and I was panicking a bit at this point so was more than willing to pay. I was 1000 Pesos ($20) short though so I said I would go ATM and one of them followed me (Mr B of course)… They were trying to get me to use some dodgy ATM close to their bar but I convinced Mr B that my card only worked at certain banks. I led him around a bit trying to put some distance between us and his three friends and then drew the minimum amount out so he couldn't shaft me further and paid him the 1000 Pesos.
He then said that I owed 30,000 Pesos ($900) as the 4000 Pesos was just the deposit! I told him there was no way I was paying this and then guess who turns up? Mr A walks over and it turns out these two cockroaches are good friends. I am now out numbered and Mr B is on his phone no doubt trying to create a more intimidating atmosphere for me. I just thought fuck this and started running up the street and managed to pull a taxi over and got in. They were running after me and tried opening the door but the driver pulled off, luckily for me realising the tourist was in trouble. The scary part was that these two knew which hotel I was in so I made a fast escape first thing in the morning. On reflection it was partly due to me being a bit naive and walking around alone is not so wise in Manila. A good story for the grand kids one day though!
There's little I enjoy more than wandering around big cities, wandering aimlessly, wondering what will be around the next corner. This is something that Bangkok is brilliant for because it is safe, it isn't that difficult to walk around and there's heaps to see at ground level. It's therefore disappointing to hear that Manila is not a city where you can get around like that. From what I have heard from friends who have visited, the Philippines is not somewhere I am keen to see.