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.
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.