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Can Anything Good Come Out of Manila?

This is my first post from a series on the Philippines. There is just too much to write about, so I'll start with my first destination in this amazing country, which only lasted about 2 days: Manila.

Can anything good come from Manila? Ask anyone from Panglao island and they would either say no or "how the hell should I know I can't afford to fly there."

I think Manila is worth visiting, but only for a day or two. Believe me, it does have its own beauty, but there are thousands of islands to visit, so it doesn't make sense to stay unless you have a ton of time, are enamored with the place, or decide that your true calling in life is to be a Manilian (I have no idea if they call themselves Manilians, but it sounds cool as hell).

Initial Inpressions

It reminds me of Juarez, Mexico mainly because of the traffic, but also because of the smells and abundance of people. It does not have a kind smell generally speaking, at least where I stayed and ventured to, and  the air was warm with smog. *Note to my Filipino Manila friends: I don't mean to offend, I'm offering my honest impression of the city. I spoke with a very kind, intelligent, and gorgeous Cebuana (a Cebuana is a girl from Cebu) recently who informed me these things can be taken the wrong way. Much love to you and your country.

The place where I stayed is called La Verti residences, and it was pretty decent, especially at around $30 a night. It's an upper middle class (I think) high rise smack dab in the middle of craziness. Walking around that area could be somewhat of a nightmare with so many buses. I think there are just as many buses in Manila as there are dogs in Costa Rica, which may as well be called infinite. I had a pretty great view of the skyline. The ocean was usually obscured, though you could make out the outlines of boats in the distance through the oft orange-ish haze. Once I walked outside of the high-rise, reality and the way of life for many living in the city always struck me. There is strife and 7-11's. Yes, 7-11's are abundant in this city, for better or worse. American commerce knows no bounds, and neither does strife. Hi America! I love ya but damn you're everywhere son. 

The view from my Airbnb balcony

The view from my Airbnb balcony

I was surprised to find that the time change is not completely unpleasant, though for a couple of days it seemed as though I kept falling sideways to the left. Maybe my body was confused about being on the other side of the planet. The change in time induces a sort of haze, and taking a nap at any given time becomes the norm for a few days.

My other view, facing the sea

My other view, facing the sea

Shotgun Arm

What the hell does this mean? This is a note that I made while in Manila, and I have no idea what it means. You would the phrase "shotgun arm" would be a powerful enough mnemonic device.  

The Streets

There is a lot of poverty in Manila. Infants can be seen sleeping on cardboard a meter away from a sleeping homeless dog. There are quite a few homeless individuals and families scattered throughout the city. It's not the same type of homelessness that we often see in major cities in the states, if I may be so bold as to classify homelessness. In U.S. cities we get used to seeing many homeless persons in rags emanating a sewer-like smell and talking to no one in particular (yes there are exceptions and I'm generalizing/stereotyping here). In Manila, like other cities in developing nations there are many people of all ages lying around inert, sitting quietly as a family, or begging. This is not to say that every square inch of the city looks like this. Quite the contrary, however, it is substantial enough that it's worth noting.  

I won't sugarcoat it; much of the city is dirty, and no, children should not be sleeping on the sidewalk.

There are some things that I feel a city just shouldn't ever do without. One of these things is having trash cans made available to the public, trash service, and no infants sleeping on cardboard in the middle of a hot day. 

I spoke with a few native Filipinos later and found that, surprise surprise, many of the problems in the Philippines are a direct result of action or inaction by greedy corrupt politicians. I'm merely an outsider looking through an admittedly distorted lens. I would love to do a deep dive akin to what Tim Urban does in his ridiculously awesome site waitbutwhy.com, but I know I won't anytime soon. I have a very limited knowledge about all of this, including the social-economic state of things, as well as political. So take my initial impressions for what they are: fragmented, real, narrow, honest, and likely out of context.

Some things aren't easy to see while you travel. Questions enter your mind like: "should I stop everything that I'm doing in life and try to do something about this crazy shit?" In the end you become an Observer Of Society, an OOS if you will. One of the great things about travel is that it can open your eyes to things, and can act as a catalyst to get you involved in positive social change.

Okay, enough on that subject. I'm not ready to be a revolutionary just yet. Anyway if I did it would more closely resemble Don Quixote as opposed to a Che Guevara or [insert revolutionary of choice here]. 

Road Transportation

*I didn't try out the rail system, so maybe that's a better way to get around, I don't know.

In any case...

The buses are these little trucks called Jeepneys, which are very antiquated looking, but also cool in a cartoonish kind of way. They are ubiquitous in the Philippines, and especially so in Manila. There of course trikes and taxis, but be prepared to negotiate on the price. 

Uber is available in Manila, which is the way I recommend getting around the city. The ride rate is always going to be reasonable and you can trust the drivers (more than the taxi drivers anyway). Independent of the type of road transportation you use, know that it is going to take a while to get to your destination. The streets are just too congested AT ALL TIMES. This leads me to my next point, which is: fuck taxis in Manila. I just had one experience so it's purely anecdotal, but it certainly was asinine enough to stop me from ever taking one again the this city.

The Taxi Ride

I was trying to get to Paco Park. The driver that pulled up at the ATM kiosk I had just failed to use wanted to charge me 100 dollars to go a few kilometers (this was after I had already gotten in). I admit I made the mistake of asking him if he took U.S. currency. In response to his request for $100 I started laughing, thinking that he had to be joking. I told him fuck no, and he kept going down, all the way to 10 or 20 dollars. I wasn't even negotiating, I just kept saying no...to everything. Believe me, that dude wanted to get the Benjamins that I didn't have real bad. All the while he was pulling away at his cigarette that dangled from yellowish brown lips in front of a few brown rusty looking teeth. He kept leaning in as if proximity was going to somehow sway me one way or the other. After about 1 minute I told him to stop and let me off.

He didn't stop.

Instead, he offered to bring me to a whore. I told him to stop again.

He still failed to stop the car.

He wanted to take me to some bars. I told him to stop and let me out.

He. Kept. Driving.

By that point I was pissed off and told him to stop the fucking car and let me out. I gave the guy a dollar. He was incredulous at getting only a dollar. Whatever.

Filipinos are awesome, don't get me wrong, but there are always a few questionable characters anywhere you go. Evidently the taxi drivers are somewhat notorious in Manila for being a tad batshit crazy. It worked out though, as I found a cool restaurant to chill at, after which I used Uber. Thanks old smelly crazy taxi guy!

The Sights

To be honest, I just picked a few of the top Tripadvisor attractions and went with that. This included Rizal Park, Paco Park, and Intramuros. It was definitely worth seeing these places and exploring them. You can read up on them, but I'll relate just a couple things from my time at these places.

Paco Park

Paco park is beautiful, though the experience is somewhat sullied by the loud music playing through PA speakers around the entire little place. There were a couple nooks in the back that I decided to explore. When I went into one there was a group of schoolchildren hanging about. They started chanting "selfie, selfie, selfie." So the first selfie shot in the Philippines turned out to be a group selfie.

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Group selfie with the Paco Park Crew

Rizal Park

It's a big park with cool things, and tons of people go there to hang out. 

Rizal park at dusk

Rizal park at dusk

Intramuros

From Wikipedia: Intramuros (Spanish, "within the walls") is the oldest district and historic core of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. Also called the Walled City, it was the original city of Manila and was the seat of government when the Philippines was a component realm of the Spanish Empire. Districts beyond the walls were referred as the extramuros of Manila, meaning "outside the walls".

This is a must see if you're going to be in Manila. It's fun to wander around there and just soak it in.

When I'm traveling I usually end up talking with a number of different fellow travelers at tourist destinations, but that day turned out to be a bit different.

As I was walking out of Intramuros yet another group of school kids appeared. Instead of chanting for a selfie they asked if they could interview me.

I told those kids to scram and get a job or something, and work on Christmas in a coal mine.

Not really...of course I said yes. 

When I said "sure" they were ecstatic. I could tell right away that this was for a school project, and was happy to provide my uneducated answers.

They asked me a number of different questions about social and cultural differences between my country and theirs, you know, the kind of questions you'd expect from a homework assignment. They recorded the whole thing from a tablet and took notes. They were very kind and respectful. It was really really cool.

At the end of the interview every single one of them shook my hand and thanked me. They told me that I was the only one who even acknowledged them.

This is sad and kind of messed up.

I get it, you can't really trust anyone, and a lot of times anyone of any age might be trying to sell or steal something (read about how I got robbed in Buenos Aires). But come on, you can use some discernment and common sense. If a group of schoolchildren in uniform ask to interview you, don't be a douchebag. 

Isn't that what the golden rule really is? Don't be a douchebag, that's it. World problems solved. Ha! 

I have so much more to write about, but for now I've got an island called Palawan to explore.

Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, many good things come from Manila. I'm looking forward to seeing how this scruffy giant of a city turns out in a couple years. 

The school kids who interviewed me

The school kids who interviewed me

Paco Park entrance

Paco Park entrance

Baluster de San Diego

Baluster de San Diego

St. Agustin church

St. Agustin church

Philippines flag in Rizal park

Philippines flag in Rizal park

I LOVE Buenos Aires! Even though I got robbed big time : D

It was a beautiful day in Palermo, which is a trendy and affluent neighborhood in Buenos Aires. I was feeling great, with my head held high and my back straight, as I strode down the street with my Marilyn Monroe shirt, jeans, Bullboxer boots, and my backpack. Though I wasn't thinking about it at the time, my backpack held about $4000 worth of equipment. Not to mention, it contained hours of video footage accumulated over the past few weeks.

I was going to use this day, as gorgeous as it was, to get some work done. I was (and still am) behind on blog entries, musical creation, and videos. The weather was so pristine that I just wanted to be out walking around all day, which is exactly what I’d been doing. Anyway, on with the story.

I was about halfway to my destination when I felt a splattering from above or behind, and when I looked at a bit of the stuff on my shirt I found it to be really foul smelling, like rotten eggs mixed with hot mustard. There was a lady behind me when it occurred, and we began discussing how disgusting it was and how in the hell it had happened. 

She was very kind and sympathetic to my plight and pulled out some napkins to help clean me up with. She even had some water that she soaked the napkins in and asked if she could just get some of the foul stuff off me.

Of course, I agreed to this, as I didn't want to walk into some establishment smelling like a rotting dinosaur carcass dipped in wet landfill. She was a sweet old lady, and I was grateful. Thank God for sweet old ladies. During this time I had set my bag down, not even thinking about it and the investment of money and time it contained.

She kindly gave me a few extra napkins to wipe myself off with before she somewhat abruptly took her leave.

I wiped my neck down a bit more, then I decided it was time to go. When I reached down to grab my bag, instead of my raven-black Osprey a battered old bag was in its place.

Immediately I went into I-need-to-find-the-motherfucker-who-did-this-and-get-my-bag-back mode. I was looking around for the old lady and for any sign of my bag for a few seconds when a young girl with a cell phone told me that she had seen the perpetrator go toward a street corner and that I should run there.

I had my doubts. My gut sensed something was wrong, but my mind said, "She's a concerned citizen and owns a cell phone, run and get that piece of shit who stole your bag!" So I ran. Barbarian yelps were going through my mind. About halfway down the block my gut instinct was insistent, so I stopped and ran back, finding nothing and almost no one.

I think there was definitely a 3rd (and possibly a 4th or even more) component to the team. I continued to walk around looking for any sign of the shitheads who did this, to no avail.

There was a guy sitting on a step across the street from where this happened, and when I asked him about it he asked me if my bag was the one across the street. I asked him if he saw what had transpired, and he said no. I walked around some more, then the guy went and picked up the "switch" bag. He asked again if it was mine. I said, “No, it's not mine,” and he walked off with it. (I know, I know, in retrospect I should have kept it, and he was probably in on the whole thing. I'm trying not to let myself go down the self-defeating "if only I would've done this or that" vein of thought.)

I walked around, not panicking, but really just pissed off. I was mad at myself for falling for it, and at the grandma gang who did it. My tile turned out to be of no help at all, so my next investment will be a GPS tracking device. A police officer drove by, and I flagged him down. He told me to go to the local "comiseria," which is basically a police station, if you can call it that.

So I walked over to the police station. There was one lady helping people, and a young man who shuffled papers and set things down with a "pop" to exude some sort of illusion of power. When he spoke it was with the feigned arrogance of someone who had watched way too many cop shows.

I sat down and waited while the lady typed and typed and typed. There was a TV playing shitty pop music videos, making it like a very surreal and bad dream. I looked in the "chief" office and noticed another TV blasting some regurgitated media refuse. In the office (and yes, I'm slightly jaded) there were a few self-important-looking dudes talking as if they were somehow taking down major cartels. Maybe they were, who the fuck knows.

When it was my turn to report the theft by the grandma gang, I had some trouble communicating with the officer. With some people it's more difficult, and the Spanish in Argentina is very different from the various dialects of Spanish in the rest of Latin America. Anyway, a girl offered to translate, and I was grateful for it. She communicated the story, and when the officer went into the chief room for whatever, I asked the girl if everything was all right with her. She said no. There was some creepy asshole at her apartment who kept looking in her windows and standing at her door. He sounded very much like a sociopath. Anyway, lost stuff is not as bad as getting stalked by a creepy slimy asshole. Hell, I'm alive and breathing in the still beautiful Buenos Aires.

I told the officer that I didn't expect the police to find it but that I needed their report. The next person was a kid who’d had his bicycle stolen.

The next day I went back to the same neighborhood to see if I could catch a lucky break and get near the tile. No such luck, but I did get to see how beautiful Palermo was. Despite what happened, I still recommend going.

Because I can't go back in the past and implement James Bond-type cunning, I have to accept this as a learning experience. I paid a lot for this unwanted lesson, but hopefully it helps both you and I in our future travels.

Here are some things I learned:

•Be wary wherever you are. I really thought that I might get robbed at gunpoint in La Boca, which is another neighborhood where a few other travelers reported just that: getting robbed at gunpoint. Instead I was tricked by an old lady.

•If you suddenly get splattered with something that seems like bird shit, bird shit mixed with mustard, or some other concoction on the street, clean yourself up and be super aware of your stuff.

•Don't bring your external drive with you. I have my important things all backed up in the cloud, but I still lost a lot of video.

•Before going out, make sure you have your videos backed up to your hard drive, and again, don't bring it with you.

•Find insurance that will cover stolen things.

•Look into GPS tracking hardware for luggage.

•Lock up your bags when walking.

•When you think things are just great, enjoy it. But don't let your guard down!

•If something like this happens to you, do what you can to rectify the situation, but don't let it consume your mind (I found myself replaying the event, wishing I’d acted differently and getting angry as hell at the perpetrators).

•Remember, it's just stuff. Health, life, and love among friends and family is more important. 

There are many things that are very messed up in the world, and my bag incident is incredibly minor compared to real world tragedy, so in the end I gotta be grateful. I have my health, family, friends, and freedom to travel.

Maybe the biggest lesson here is this: Just like my bag was slyly and swiftly taken away, life can be taken in the same way.

"Live right now..." Jimmy Eat World

 

 

Tips, Tricks, and Updates - Edition 1: Preparing to Go

Two weeks and two days until I’m out of here! There is a fair amount of information to cover, but I’ll try and be as succinct as possible. 

Visa Requirements (disclaimer, the info in this section is mainly relevant for U.S. travelers, but I still love all of you)

Having a passport isn’t enough in some countries, including Brazil. I need to get a tourist visa for Brazil, the Philippines, and Thailand, the latter 2 because I’m staying for more than 30 days in each. Brazil, like many other countries in the world, requires one to have a visa to merely set foot on their soil. 

Definition of Visa: "an endorsement made by an authorized representative of one country upon a passport issued by another, permitting the passport holder entry into or transit through the country making the endorsement."

There are a number of pages that house information about Visa requirements, however, the most legitimate information is from the U.S. Passports and International Travel Page. In it you’ll be able to find not just visa information, but other pertinent information about the country you’re thinking of visiting. For example, they have some pretty heady information about visiting Myanmar (or Burma). 

For a nicely laid out quick reference, I like to use the following Wikipedia page .

If you’re interested in learning more about the specifics of what is needed regarding passport requirements for Brazil, Philippines, or Thailand, feel free to contact me. 

Mobile Apps

Ahh, how lucky we are to live in this day and age when we can use our smartphone to skip the ticket line and go straight to the long ass annoying security line. It’s such a great line to have awkward stares with strangers. 

Anyway, on with the recommendations. I don’t make any commission or anything off of these recommendations, in case that’s relevant. 

Kayak - Awesome Trip Organizer

Kayak is awesome not just for finding great flight and car deals. Their trip organizer beats Tripit and Tripcase, which is very awesome. With both Tripit and Tripcase very stupid things would happen, like marking a transportation itinerary as being in Kansas when it is actually in Costa Rica. I don’t need to be dealing with that kind of junk, and with Kayak I don’t. Also, it pulls relevant pictures of the places where you’re going, which is also a nice touch. 

With other travel organizers, it would simply pull the information of the layover as the destination. For example, if I’m flying to Sao Paulo, Brazil with a layover in Dallas then it would show up as my “Dallas Trip.” This is pretty damn unacceptable in my book. Kayak, you win. 

Anyone know how to draw? I think it would be cool to have a comic illustrating this. Let me know and I can put it up here and give proper cred. 

Google Translate: Quick and intuitive. Nuff’ said. 

Opera Mini Web Browser

I’m trying out Opera Mini because the company claims to reduce data usage by 90% compared to other browsers. When embarking on international travel, if this is even halfway true then hell yes. 

Swipes and Evernote for GTD (Getting Things Done)

Viber, Skype, or something like these for Wifi calling. I haven’t used these internationally, but when I do I’ll try and update you on how it went. 

 

Phone Service and Mobile Data

Wfheww, this was a big one. I’m pretty damn reliant on Google maps and other apps that use up data on the road, so need some decent coverage. I spent too much money in November ’14 with ATT passport because I kept on going over my limits. Where did I land in my research? 

Resoundingly: T-Mobile

 

Following is a breakdown of the options I was considering. I’m sure there are more out there, and if you have suggestions for something better, let us all know!

Note: prices vary by country, though not with T-Mobile. Brazil used in this example

   Information was sourced from  T-Mobile ,  ATT , and  KnowRoaming  sites. 

 

Information was sourced from T-Mobile, ATT, and KnowRoaming sites. 

An AirBNB Trick

If you’re going to be at a place for over a month, be sure to punch in a time frame of 1 month or more so that you’ll see monthly rates as opposed to nightly. This can make a pretty big difference. 

For example, the following studio is available by the beach for $149 for a two-night stay. If you want it for a month it’s only $534. That’s a pretty big difference. Let’s break it down. 

Two night stay = $74.50 per night. 


1 Month stay = $17.80 per night. 

Transportation

It's good to figure out how the hell you’re getting from and to places. Not every place in the world has Uber or a cheap bus to hop on. For instance, getting from San Jose, CR to Coco Beach, CR I had to do a bit of research and find a shared shuttle. It’s about $50, but you can upgrade for a couple hundred more if you want a private shuttle. In the Phillipines, I’m likely going to get a ride from an airport to my loft in a “trike,” which is basically a motorcycle with an attached carriage. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motorized_tricycle_(Philippines)

                                                                           Source: http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/pulutin63/14213235.html

                                                                           Source: http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/pulutin63/14213235.html

Medication

Let’s say you’re on meds like myself and suddenly don’t have any insurance. Kind of scary right? I now have an 6 month supply and am fairly confident that I’ll be alright in the future. Disclaimer, I’m not offering any medical advice of any kind. Please do your research before buying meds from a place that is outside of your norm.

This is what I’ve done so far: 

  • I had my doctor write out a new prescription that I could take with me and show to any pharmacy and get the right meds. 
  • I used this prescription to get meds from a legitimate Canadian pharmacy. 
  • I also used this prescription to go to MedSavers here in Austin and pickup a cheap batch. If you’re in Austin with no insurance, you should definitely utilize MedSavers. The people there are awesome, and the owner is just a rad guy who got tired of seeing the general populace pay sooooo much more for the medication than what the pharmacies paid for it. 

This has me set for a while, and I may have to figure out something in the future, but I’ll worry about that in a couple months. Siri, remind me!

Update: What Happened With My Apartment?

Remember how at first the apartment issue kept me from leaving because I couldn’t sublet or find a replacement? Well, since I couldn’t do any of those things I found a Ben. 

A Ben is a person that you're friends with who becomes your "roommate."

Ben is a friend who is moving back to Austin, and when I was talking with him I asked if he’d be interested in having a place for a couple months as my roommate. I really didn’t want to try and find a roommate on Craigslist because this would all require a modicum of trust. I trust Ben completely, and he is officially my roommate though I will of course not be in the apartment. He also bought my furniture making it much less of a hassle for both of us. 

I hope you have found some of the information here useful. 

Peace!

- Jeremy