Note: I visited Manila in Dec 2013.
I was walking along the coast of Manila when I came upon the local marina. Half of it was filled with small yachts and the other half was littered with old wooden fishing boats. That one image, in my mind, summed up Manila.
I had wanted to explore Philippines in more detail but Super Typhoon Haiyan messed up my plans. No Coron (no diving in beautiful waters), no Bohol (no Tarsier monkeys), no Donsol (no swimming with the whale sharks).
My hostel was located in Makati district. It was clean and A/C-ed but like most hostels, the quality of your stay will be dependent on your roommates. One night, I was trying to sleep when 2 guys busted in with their bags, turning on the lights and chatting away. With them came a smell (that I would later figure out to be body odor) that was so foul it wouldn’t go away, even after they took a shower. It was not easy trying to get back to sleep as these guys had no consideration whatsoever for their roommates.
The next morning, I found a group of about 12 black people downstairs, eating breakfast. They spoke English but with very unique accents. I usually have a good ear for accents and having travelled extensively, I can sometimes pinpoint an area of the continent (and maybe even the country) where someone’s from but their accent was absolutely foreign to me. I asked the front-desk who these people were and where they’d come from. They were from Papua New Guinea, visiting Manila for a Christian convention. Of course, I applied and got a room transfer. I just couldn’t take that B.O. for another night.
On the streets of Manila, the first thing that really stood out were the vibrantly-decorated Jeepneys that zoom past you, honking its way down the streets, picking up passengers at every other intersection. These Jeepneys were leftover by American army after their time spent in the Philippines in WW2. The key to utilizing a Jeepney as public transport is to know what part of Manila you’re going, then look for the signs that are painted on the Jeepney’s sides. They tend to make quick stops so be ready. The “conductor” and driver won’t take the time to stop long enough to answer any of your questions about its route. Unless you’re a beautiful woman who speaks Tagalog. (Because every man will stop long enough to answer questions asked by beautiful women. It’s universal.) BTW, although English is a main language, I rarely heard it being spoken on the streets; most people revert to their native Tagalog.
It is very cramped inside the Jeepney. I hand my fare to the person next to me and they pass it down the aisle all the way to the conductor, sitting in the front with the driver. (Sometimes, the driver is the conductor. Talk about multitasking.) If there is change to be made, the conductor will pass it back down the aisle until it reaches your hands. The driver, I believe, will make it as a pro driver because he is very good at weaving in and out of heavy traffic at high speeds.
There is a variety of food in the Philippines but most of them are variations of foods I’ve had in Southeast Asia. But the one food I had to go seek out was “balut”, or aged duck embryos. It is a popular snack among the Filipinos (and I later learned, in other parts of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam and Cambodia, each with their own aging techniques which control the developmental completeness of embryos. Scientific-sounding enough?). “Balut” can be terrifying, especially with first-time consumers. Most people first eat visually. When they see a half-developed baby duck, what would they think?
I went to the local night-market to find this nasty-sounding snack. There were several stands which had plenty of them and plenty of people eating them. Some became amused when I started to ask about it and how to eat it. A foreigner trying “balut”? That, they had to see. I was taken through the process of removing the shell, exposing the embryo, and was then advised to sprinkle some salt and add a dash of vinegar to it. I then thought “Here goes nothing” and took a bite. It tasted a lot like… egg. What a surprise (not). Even the embryo portion merely tasted like hard-boiled yolk. It wasn’t that bad. I ate about 2-3 and called it a night. I could see the Filipinos around me were happy that I had passed the test. I was now one of them. (OK, that’s not true.)
Could I have done more in Manila? Sure, it’s a massive city. Do I like Manila? Not really, it’s a massive city. I will make it back one day though, for a visit to El Nido and Coron, as well as visit Bohol for those darn adorable looking Tarsier monkeys.