Bienvenidos a Manila

Manila at dusk

Manila at dusk

The Spanish were here until the turn of the 20th century, giving the Filipino people Catholicism and a lot of Spanish people and place names, and the Americans came in world war II giving them English and Hollywood pop-culture – two invaluable contributions they have connecting them to the western world. I don’t know why or how to put it in words, but I expected something else from Manila. I arrived to an Asian mega-city metropolis, full of the pollution and traffic that goes along with similar concrete-jungles. The city was crowded but organized, shiny but dirty, and both new and old, crumbling and developing. Nearly half the highrises in Makati, the shopping district I stayed in, were still topped with building cranes. I stayed at a roof-top hostel with views over Bonifacio Global city, a neighborhood that rivals even downtown Vancouver for cleanliness, safety and dining options.

The place gave me tastes of Tokyo and Bangkok, where first-world orderliness meets oriental cultural flare. It seemed wealthier and more westernized than other south-east Asian cities, but kept that same humid smoggy stickiness and cramped buildings-on-top-of-buildings/fit-them-everywhere-you-can urban planning. But Manila was noticeably liberal in its fashion and sexuality, with little gender-inequality or homophobicness.

There was a typhoon just days before I arrived, but none of its havoc was noticeable in this neighbourhood. Distant thunder and lightning threatened occasionally, but only a few showers camee over Makati. Other areas were still dealing with flooded streets and homes, but the rainy season is supposed to be coming to a slow stop right about now. After perching in my hostel for 2 days and 1 night recovering from a cold that Philippines customs thought was Ebola (note to self: never show flu symptoms when flying in and out of asia), I was ready to leave in search of cleaner air and brighter skies.

paradise in Paniman

paradise in Paniman

After traveling less than 10 km in more than one hour, through rush-hour traffic and a purple haze, we got on an overnight bus to Caramoan and finally reached a little slice of paradise nearby called Paniman. Paniman is a tiny fishing village on the mainland, speckled with shacks, shops and a handful of ‘resorts’ (which are also just slightly fancier shacks called bungalows with shops called ‘resto-bars’). From their beach, you can go island hopping between a series of pre-historic looking islands and pristinely white beaches, and waste your abundant wealth of time cracking open coconuts and snorkeling among the corals and sea-grass. They filmed one of the Survivor series here, and all I can say is no one would have to pay me a million dollars to get deserted on one of these islands; but, I also didn’t mind paying the mere $22 it cost to rent our own boat for 4 hours and splash around our own private beaches for each of those hours.

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Two Weddings and a lot of planes

My first friend as a freshman in university was my next door neighbour Maya. Then I lived with her in they bay when I went to Berkeley for grad school. Now, 10 years later, I watched her get married to her longtime boyfriend Mike. Their wedding was in the hills of Lafayette, a beautiful wooded hillside with an open-air ceremony. The bridesmaids wore different shades of pink and Maya shone in her off-white gown. There were 6 groomsmen to her 4 bridesmaids, a friend of theirs was their photographer, another friend of hers officiated, and that friend’s husband DJ’d, so it was all a very friendly event. Other friends from UBC came too, and we danced the night away to some ridiculously bad rap and pop music from the early 2000’s.

the UBC reunion of Maya and her lady friends

the UBC reunion of Maya and her lady friends

Its wierd how I can refer to different decades and Im only 27… amazing how time flies, and people are all growing up and settling down. This was one of 3 weddings I attended in 6 weeks, and I had to leave Maya’s wedding bright and early the next day to attend a wedding in Hawai’i. We were 35 friends and family, not only invited to a destination wedding on Maui at one of the most famous wedding venues in ‘Merica, but also to a week-long vacation with the bride at groom at our very own hotel. We stayed at Mama’s Fish house, apparently one of the top 3 restaurants in ‘Merica, and rented out all the cottages around it, with our own beach, BBQ’s, patios and hammocks to cook our own delicious food. I didn’t bite for the $50-$75 chance to try eating at Mama’s, but I did get my fill of sand and surf, and hiking and roadtripping around the island. The famous road to Hana was filled with waterfalls and freshwater pools, but the road from Hana was more exciting, with unkept gravel roads clinging to the side of sea cliffs and a desolate no-mans land of dried up praries and homeless horses.

our topless roadtrip car

our topless roadtrip car

I know the groom Kyle from Semester at Sea. We were next door neighbours and shared a paper-thin wall we used to talk to eachother through. We also conquered Korcula island in Croatia together as novice backpackers, but left with a few sea urchin needles in our feet. Another friend of a friend from Semester at Sea, Orion, lives on Maui, and he took me up to watch the sunrise from the top of Halekala crater. At more than 10,000feet/3,000m, its the tallest peak on Maui, and the crater sits above the clouds, so we watched the sun light up the whole sky before it broke through the cloud line and rose as it probably rises every day in heaven.

Halekala sunrise

Halekala sunrise

Kyle and Kali’s wedding was also a little slice of heaven. It was held at an old sugar mill called the Haiku Mill, and only our party of 35 got to call the place our own for a few hours. We were served on by probably half as many staff, engineering cocktails with succulent plants frozen in ice to cool us down. The ceremony was short and sweet, the cocktail hour was nearly 2 hours, and then dinner was just a slight delay to the dancing night we were all so looking forward to. Even though the dance floor was made of red bricks, we shook it hard, and sweat poured so heavily from every square inch of our bodies that we had a hard time gripping onto our fancy cocktail glasses and lost a few of those to the bricks.

the bridesmaids and co.

the bridesmaids and co.

Our last day together in paradise was spent trying to finish all the food and alcohol 35 people had over-bought for the week. I invited Orion and his girlfriend over to help us, and after probably a dozen beer, they were a little intoxicated. That wouldn’t normally have been a problem, except that they were running a 42km marathon the next day at 5 am, so I saw them off the finish line, hungover or drunk, Im not sure, then drove myself to the airport to hop on another jet plane.

City hopping in ‘Merica

I love being Canadian because they basically treat us as Americans when we fly into their horribly unorganized airports. I don’t need to fill out some I-94 form or ESTA waiver and I can stay up to 3 months without any hassle. I still get fingerprinted everytime, and  from time to time, asked for proof of departure, but I can always just say Im driving to Canada after and then I dont need to show any flight booking. And I learned never to have an e-ticket or electronic boarding pass, since you’re not allowed to use your phone in any customs hall, even if its to show your flight out of the US.

Me and Clio at Minnehaha Falls

Me and Clio at Minnehaha Falls

After some 10 weeks straight of horse back riding in the Icelandic highlands, summer finally met me in Minneapolis. Its a direct 6 hour flight from Iceland, over Greenland and northern Canada, that plops you right int he middle of a thousand lakes. There are lakes everywhere, which makes it a very green and bike friendly state, but like Iceland, the summers are short and most things are dead, frozen and/or snow covered for more than half the year. I’d been twice in the winter to visit my best friend Clio, and this was the first time I had seen the city in bloom, and it made a much better impression on my summer-seeking soul. Of course we rode bikes, and swam in lakes, and then we satisfied my culture side with some visits to the strange-looking Wesiman Art museum, the Walker Art Center Sculpture garden, and the fancy schmancy Nordic inspired  restaurant Bachelor Farm.

Sculpture garden selfie infront of the spoon

Sculpture garden selfie infront of the spoon

I had $900 in American Airlines vouchers to try to use up, so I hopped over to Seattle for a short visit. I can count the number of hours I was there on my fingers and toes, but it was still worth the visit to see my photographer friend Mike Reiter settled into his new home and peek into his working life at corporate giant Amazon. Apparently everyone takes their dog and bikes to work, so Seattle is also a hipster-lifestyle friendly place, but Oakland-native Mike Reiter is anything but hipster. But the Chocolate factory and whiskey distillery that he lives between makes up for it, since he gets to wake up every morning to the sweet smell of chocolatey whiskey. He was proud to show me Pike Place market in downtown Seattle, but I’m not sure I fully appreciated the highlights: men throwing fish and a long line up outside the first ever Starbucks.

boating on the Delta

boating on the Delta

My next destination was San Francisco and the east Bay, back to the hills I used to live in 5 years ago. It was crazy to come into this highway congested bay and see two road-kill deer on the side of the road, but just behind the hills are huge forests and parks with lots of open space for wildlife. There’s a severe draught going on, but in the valleys behind the bay theres a series of canals called the Delta where boaters take their little yachts for joy rides. My friend had a little speed boat we took out to soak up some sun, and water, and I finally got that sun-kissed bronze glow on my skin that my body’s been missing in Iceland.