You might remember that we have sailed with Seabourn before. It has been two years but I still remember rather fondly (to say the least) the free and unlimited supply of bubbly, the free and unlimited supply of all alcohol, the free and unlimited supply of caviar and the incredible service. Add Gordon to the equation and it is the perfect way to travel. Of course the term “free” is relative. The cruise costs a small fortune, but we paid for it months ago and the pain of doing so has subsided. Now we are on board and we don’t have to pay for anything, it all seems such a deal!
As we board the ship we are told our stateroom is not ready for us. We go to the coffee bar for a sandwich. Behind the counter is an attractive young woman with wavy jet black hair pulled back behind her head, striking black eyebrows, a heart shaped face and a lovely smile. She looks at Gordon and stops dead in tracks. Her face goes crimson, as she clasps both hands over her mouth. It takes a few moments for her to recover. She lowers her hands and says
“Oh my God! You are a Rock star aren’t you”
Gordon leans in conspiratorially , raises a finger to his lips and goes “Sssssssshhhhh”!
I can’t believe it. Am I going to have to deal with another round of Gordon adulation.
I say to the lovely young lady “He’s Keith Richards”
But she doesn’t hear a word I say.
She just stares at Gordon with an adoring smile on her face.
We have picked this cruise because we will be returning to Borneo and paying our first ever visit to Brunei. But first and more importantly we will be exploring the Philippine Islands, and stopping at four of them as well as at Manila.
Sail into Manila and it looks like a huge vibrant city.
One of the world’s natural harbors, the long gentle bay is ringed by an 8 lane highway, lined with skyscrapers, office buildings, casinos and luxury hotels. At night it glitters and shines. A huge ferris wheel dominates the skyline, pulsating with flashing lights
It’s full of colour and life and excitement
But scratch beneath the surface and the colour turns to grime, the excitement turns to crime. But we don’t just scratch the surface, we crack it wide open.
Manila is not easy. It’s incredibly hot with temperatures in the 90’s and the high humidity makes it seem even hotter. It’s over crowded, over heated and sweaty, with unpleasant odors seemingly seeping into every pore. You have to weave your way through a sea of people while watching what you step in.
It’s a city where crossing the street requires courage, catching a jitney requires agility and a tolerance of body odors, taking a taxi demands strong bargaining skills and a watchful eye on the driver and just walking the street requires careful surveillance of your surroundings.
Sadly the the taxis are the first problem the tourist has to deal with. The drivers are surly and rude, refuse to turn on their meters and demand exorbitant prices. If they do turn on their meters, rumor has it that they can click up the charges with a little switch by their feet. But more than that there are many stories about them not being safe. We hear of the drivers pumping sleeping gas through their air conditioners to knock out the customers so that they can be robbed, or worse. We are advised to watch for the driver switching on the air conditioner but opening his window and sucking in mouthfuls of fresh air. It sounds too far fetched to be true, but every time our driver takes a deep breath we start to worry.
The alternative to the taxi is the tricycle.
Here, the drivers are easier to deal with and way more pleasant, but getting in and out of them in a dignified manner is impossible, and actually riding in one is the most unpleasant way to travel I have ever experienced. They are decrepit motorbikes with a very low slung sidecar contraption that appears to be made of tin, and bends and buckles alarmingly when I get in. It is not uncommon to see 6 or 7 locals crammed into one of these things, but Gordon and I can barely squeeze in. The roof is so low that I can’t sit upright and end up hunched over my knees with my face almost at street level. If I turn one way, the view is between the drivers legs
the other way and my face is at the level of the exhaust pipes of the cars around us.
As the traffic hardly moves I just sit there sucking in fumes. I feel like a suicide victim after he shuts himself in a car with a hose pipe running from the exhaust.
The other alternative is the jeepney, Manila’s famous and fabulous minibuses are based on an extended jeep wheelbase with a personalised and much decorated body.
Each one is different and there is no doubt that they add vibrant color to the streets of Manila. Apparently they are designed to hold twenty four people. There are two benches facing inwards and running the length of the jeepney. Each bench appears to seat seven, which to me means the jeepney comfortably seats fourteen. But comfort is never an option. If both rows of seats are full, then the next passenger just straddles two laps until space is made for them. There is an open doorway at the back and open windows on the side designed to give airflow. However as you all sit facing inwards it doesn’t work too well.
Again the ceiling is very low and you have to enter at a crouch. There are literally hundreds of jeepneys and every one is always full. But this never stops the driver from collecting more passengers. If it is impossible to squeeze one more person onto the benches, then they hang off the back. When there is no more room on the back, then they move to the upper deck
Manila is one huge traffic jam
Driving in Manila is a challenge, but there are simple rules of the road that every local driver strictly adheres to
1. Never allow anyone to get in between you and the car in front of you
2. Always attempt to overtake the vehicle in front ignoring the fact that they are busy implementing rule #1,
3. If you are on the wrong side of the street, pay no heed to the traffic coming straight at you. It is their job to get out of your way
4. There is no wrong side of the street
5. Always remember pedestrians crossing the road are merely an irritant to be ignored – chicklets in the game of chicken
6. Never look at a policeman signaling you to stop, or pullover. If you don’t see him, you don’t have to do what he wants.
7. If a policeman is standing in the middle of the street directing traffic, it is not necessary to follow his instructions, but you should make an effort not to hit him.
8. One way streets are for other people
Tomorrow we are going to venture beyond the streets, the traffic jams and the crazy drivers.
Tomorrow we are going to crack open that surface I was talking about.
Tomorrow we are going to the infamous slums of Manila