Just got back from a whirlwind trip to the Philippines. Taipei embraced me with sweaty armpits and a sunny smile–a 37°C (99°F) smile. I am now so longing to be back on the white sand beach, ice cold piñacolada and fresh turon in hand…if there is a fantasy land, it’s Boracay.
I was lucky to have the most wonderful tour guide there is to have in the Philippines–Miss Jackie, my friend from NCCU. She gave me and a couple other friends a real gift of a visit; how could we not decline, especially when Cebu Pacific’s promo fare was a mind-boggling $3000NT round trip?
Sigue. We began in Manila, a city I can only describe by two extremes: a shopping capital with rampant poverty. There are more shopping malls–beautiful ones too, at that–in that city than anywhere else (even Seoul!). But the poverty the country suffers from is everywhere to be seen, from the children sleeping on sidewalks of busy streets, to old men trying to sell anything they can while weaving through bowls of polluted bumper to bumper traffic–feather dusters, steering wheel covers, bananas…you name it. Which is also why crime is quite pervasive. Anastasia, the other friend I was traveling with, had the very unfortunate experience of having her purse stolen in a restaurant in broad daylight the second day we were there. Lesson learned the hard way, and after two full days spent in foreign embassies (not something I wish upon anyone), we were ready to begin the rest of our vacation…
Next stop was the northern provinces of Manila. We landed in Tuguegarao and then made our way up to the tiny village of Ballesteros, Jackie’s hometown. There you can find a very unusual black sand beach and sample ice cream sandwiches made with real bread buns. We also took our first tricycle ride, a must-do while in the country.
Next day was spent on the white-sand Pagudpud beach in Cagayan. We had the place practically to ourselves, though Jackie mentioned it can get quite crowded during the summer (January-early June) and on holidays. After thanking her parents profusely for keeping us, we left Ballesteros and jaunted across the valley to Ilocos Norte and Laoag City. Laoag is a smaller city and still has some remnants of the country’s Spanish heritage left intact. We met up with Jackie’s aunt, Auntie Yollie, who generously showed us around. The day was basically spent eating a lot and sampling regional specialties, like empanadas and longanisa. Truly, the Philippines is a haven for carnivores.
Our next journey was to Vigan (about 1 1/2 hours from Laoag). Vigan is a heritage city, its Spanish cityscape amazingly kept intact after hundreds of years. We visited many old mansions (now converted to museums) and an old ceramics factory via riding a kalesa (a Filipino version of horse and buggy) through the cobblestone streets.
I feel very humbled by the hospitality I received by Jackie and her friends and family. They went out of their way to give us a real Filipino experience and treated us to the best parts of their hometowns and culture–I was stupendously spoiled. Whether luck or fate, meeting Jackie and having the opportunity to explore parts of her country that most people like me would never dream of receiving, was a real treat I will never forget. Maraming salamat po!!
Soon enough, we found ourselves on an airplane again; this time, Boracay–renowned for its pristine white sand beaches and thumping nightlife. A veritable paradise, again, if you have the unique ability to look past the poverty that dots the island. For me, it was a hard disparity to grapple with; but if it weren’t for the tourism that feeds the island I am at a loss to say what the locals’ lives would be like.
I recommend *at least* three full days there–we had about 2 1/2 and it was much too short. Let yourself fall into Eden. It’s vacation. Be pampered. Smile.
All too soon, we are here again in Taipei. It marks the homestretch of my journey to the Far East.
Sound off: Twenty-eight days.
Time to turn up the heat, Taipei. This is it!