April in The Philippines: Warm People and Strange Bands

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The Philippines is full of the loveliest people ever. They are so warm, friendly and plain trusting in their hospitality. There was the breakfast lady in Coron who gave me the best and cheapest morning meals ever who told me that it was dangerous to travel as a lone girl (not once in The Philippines did I feel at all unsafe) with that look of earnest concern on her face. There was the friendly shop assistant at the mami stand, where I stopped for a quick snack, who insisted that the water wasn’t safe for delicate stomachs like mine. There was the friendly security guard who gave me directions in the middle of nowhere (more on that in a bit).

Most crucially, there were Natalie and Derrick, a couple I met in transit at Manila airport. Our planes were delayed as usual and we somehow struck up a conversation. Natalie was Filipino and Derrick Australian, they returned to The Philippines often to see her extended family. After just about an hour of chat, they gave me their contact number and invited me to stay with them in their service apartment in Manila when we three got back into town.  Natalie even suggested making arrangements to let me in should I get back earlier than them!

Taking things on the cautious side, I went to visit instead when I returned to Manila and we went out with Natalie’s niece, Anne-Marie and Pristine, her daughter. It must be pretty cool for Natalie to be such a young grandaunt. Pristine was such a sweet 8-year-old. She held my hand and called me Tita (aunt).

After dinner, I adjourned with Natalie and Derrick to a bar for some drinks. Here’s where we met the T-Rex. It was rather amusing as I had to peer past it to see the rather bad but amusing cover band. The girls wore midriffs, which was fine for the slim ones, but one of them had way too much baby fat still. The boys weren’t hot at all and the lead singer couldn’t help but hog the limelight even when he was doing backup for a girl song. So amusing.

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Natalie and Derrick later sent me back in a cab right to the doorstep of my guesthouse. They also insisted that I text them the moment I got safely inside. It was another moment where I felt guilty for not trusting enough.

April in The Philippines: Intramuros

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I spent my last days in The Philippines exploring Manila, the most interesting of which was Intramuros. It’s the old part built in the Spanish walled-city style.

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I enjoyed how faded the area looked. Somehow none of the buildings in the area looked very restored at all.

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The decay reminded me of the faded decadence of Havana.

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To me, the highlight of Intramuros was the San Agustin Church, supposedly the oldest church building in The Philippines. Its baroque facade was beautiful despite the decay and overcast day.

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The interior was even more breathtaking with its domed ceiling and trompe l’oeil paintings. It’s amazing that this cathedral is still in daily use.

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There were other nooks in the place with more beautiful decorations, like this side chapel.

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What impressed me most was the area towards the back of the cathedral, where the organ was.

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See the huge music books on the stands? There were four of them.

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While not illuminated to the degree where it’ll be a treasure to be kept behind glass, these music books showed the art and incredible workmanship involved. Beautiful.

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April in The Philippines: Puerto Galera

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Puerto Galera was the first stop for the first real backpacking leg of my trip. I eased into it by joining a group of dive friends to Puerto Galera and Donsol before heading off on my own.

It’s a dive town strung out against the coastline, with most things of beauty being the coconut trees leaning gracefully over the water towards the newly painted outrigger boats. Looking out to sea on one of those bright, almost unbearably sunny days, it really looked and felt like paradise.

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The town itself was nothing much to shout about. The most interesting thing about the town in the day time was this faux medieval castle masquerading as a high end hotel. One afternoon, we pretended that we were looking for a room and went in for a look. If you’re up for dark hardwood floors and claustrophobic winding staircases, this is the place to be! A nice gimmick.

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The other interesting thing about Puerto Galera were its many nightspots and drinking places, all populated by an incredible number of pole-dancing girls. This, contrasted against the rules for the town. (Click on the picture for a larger image to read each one.) I suppose it comes under Rule #10,  teach kids to love your town.

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Well, we came here for the diving and it was superb! It helped greatly that we had some very excellent dive guides who were professional, friendly and gave some of the most comprehensive briefings I’ve had. Here’s Oying, the head dive guide, with one of his beautifully drawn maps of the dive site.

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Too bad I don’t have any pictures of the diving as I’d not bought my underwater camera and housing till much later. I’ll have to leave you to go there yourself first. Yes it’s a copout, so you’ll have to check out my next post for more interesting stuff.