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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