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With Manila having the main airport in the Philippines with the most convenient and cost effective flights, it meant we had to fly there to begin our journey despite having heard very few positives about the capital. After finding out a little about Manila and hearing about all the negativity, it lived up to everything that was expected, your typical hectic and chaotic metropolis of a city with not very much to rave about apart from our first couch surfing experience and traditional modes of transport, both Tricycles and Jeepneys.
Our accommodation was just outside town on São Paulo street in the Better Living Subdivision and happened to be a modern small semidetached house that had been set up to accommodate for a number of couch surfers all at the same time. New to us was also the manner in which the subdivision was set out, with each of the streets enclosed with a single manned entrance/exit creating their own small neighborhood which is watched over by security guards. Getting in and out of the city was a new experience as we had to ride on very cheap tricycles (a motorbike with a covered sidecart) which would take up to 7 people despite not being very big. The unique and generally overcrowded Jeepneys were also part of our journey along with at least 20 other people, not including those on the roof. Once in the centre there were also tricycles to get around but rather than motorbikes, they were bicycles with open sidecarts which were taken by both men and young boys.
With great surprise to us, practically everyone can speak some amount of english with a fair percentage of the locals being extremely fluent in the language. Along with the country once being an American territory, this ability is also apparently due to many schools being taught in english with only the single filipino language class. The American influence does not stop there; along with the very many fast food chains around the city, the american influence is still well evident with their main sporting interest being basketball. Despite their height disadvantage their passion for the sport is very evident with many outdoor courts scattered around the city and hundreds of randomly erected hoops wherever there is a little space to play some ball.
With just one day to kill, it was the right amount of time to visit the famous old quarter of Intramourous, a 160 acre site filled with quite a number of historic sites. With it being our only real interest in Manila, we visited the famous Saint Augustin church, the oldest church in the Philippines which has survived seven earthquakes throughout its lifetime. Although we were unable to have a look inside, with a keen interest in architecture, the impressive limestone block facade of the building was well worth the visit. The Cathedral of Manila, not too far from saint Augustine, was also a very attractive and interesting church despite it lacking even a fraction of the history.
Saint Augustin Church
Despite Intramourous being one of Manilas most historic areas, this touristic hotspot and surrounding area is still scattered with a considerable amount of poverty. Along with many locals living in small, crooked wooden houses, the streets are also home for quite a number of locals who have set up temporary shelters made from cardboard, wood or any metal scraps that they may have found. With quite a number of these homes alongside the main river running through the city, despite it being heavily polluted many of the children would enjoy themselves in the water. This very unfortunate lifestyle is apparently legal in the Philippines, and despite the government providing improved shelter to these people, it is generally overcrowded and so they leave to their preferred lifestyle back on the streets.
Although it was nice to see the few historic sites in Intramourous and interesting to see the reality of life in Manila, it was good to see the back of this uninspiring, heavily polluted city. Ready to visit and experience the true Philippines we got an overnight bus down to Donsol in the Sorsogon Province. Prior to departure we would get many vendors on the bus who would really sell for a bargain (11 Dunkin Doughnuts for 100 pesos).
Tips For Travelers:
Journey: Philtranco Bus Station
Manila – Donsol (13 Hours)