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Between barking scooter drivers, donuts and other weird happenings

Manila, Philippines, Saturday, 30th March 2024: Here I am sitting again and trying to use my travel time to organize my thoughts and write down some travel stories. I am sitting in the “Horizon Café” on a ferry from Manila to Coron. Horizon Café… sounds pretty fancy, right? Haha, that's definitely not it. Let me introduce: The downside of long-term traveling. Since my work visa for Australia has expired, I have to pay attention to my budget again and unfortunately that also means that most of the time I am being really cheap: Cheap as in sleeping in hostel rooms with 8 beds or as it is currently the case, in a like fried chicken smelling "board restaurant" on a ferry with background noises like at train station. But wait, it's getting better: I share my sleeping cabin with 15 others, always in semi-separated compartments of four, but since it's basically an open room, it feels like a big Filipino sleepover party: one snores, the other eats chips (maybe that's me), one is always standing at the window and watching whatever there is to see and others are listening to music over speakers or watching videos. But hey, it's kinda funny. By the way, everyone is very friendly, helps me when I don't understand the loudspeaker announcements and I've already received a few tips for my onward journey. Not as bad as you might thought. And with a 12 hour ferry for the equivalent of 45 euros, there is no reason to complain.

 

Good transition – Manila. I spent the last few days there with my friend Max. We met in Lombok in September and when it was clear that I was coming to the Philippines, I wanted to visit him for a few days. Luckily, I was able to stay with Max for 4 days and had the best start in the Philippines, that I could have wished for. Since we haven't seen each other since September, we had a lot to catch up on and spent 80% of the time eating and chatting. Our donut tradition, which we started in Lombok, of course continued in Manila. My donut conclusion: the donuts here couldn't keep up with those from Lombok. Oh god I miss Lombok Donuts...


A lot has happened since September: camping in New Zealand; surfing in Sydney; the start of my surf photography; a job as a Christmas elf in Sydney where I put plastic Christmas trees together and then delivered them to shopping malls and my return to Monkey Mia where I celebrated Christmas, New Year as well as my birthday with old and new friends. Oh and of course my short trip to Bali to meet up with two friends from home - an absolute highlight and such a nice feeling to meet a little bit of home on the other side of the world.


But back to Manila. Apart from Denpasar in Indonesia, I haven't seen any big Asian cities yet. Maybe that's why Manila was a bit of a shock for me. While on one side you find the “Global City”- the new, well-planned Manila, with an amazing skyline, huge shopping centers, green strips, cafés and beautiful residential and office buildings where everything is in order - and on the other end of Manila you find the exact opposite: Old Manila. Chaos reigns here. Chaotic market activity, loud jukeboxes on every corner, street food and market stalls as far as you can see, scooters, tuk-tuks, bicycles, dogs, cats, chickens and so many people. Everywhere. People who want to get from A to B asap; crazy characters trying to sell you things; people who almost poke you in the eye with their umbrellas; people staring at you because you're the only blue-eyed person; old women who smile wholeheartedly at you with their two remaining teeth and unfortunately also people who beg or who get a little too close to you. Let's be honest, if I hadn't had Max to show me around and give me tips, I would have probably ended up in a hostel in Old Manila and would not make a step out of there. But luckily I didn't end up in that situation.


Oh and our highlight: a woman who was grinning broadly on her bike and letting a scooter pull her along with a rope. In the middle of the worst traffic you can imagine. Maybe she bought a bike and her husband helped her bringing it home. Maybe she secretly tied herself to the scooter so that she didn't have to cycle by herself in what felt like 45 degrees. Who knows. But what we know, she had massive fun - same like us watching her.


Another highlight for me were the jeepneys. These are old, usually very crowded and colorful vehicles that make up a large part of public transport in Manila. They had their origins in the American colonial period when cheaply imported vehicles were used for transport. These were then converted to public transport. Almost like a cheap taxi to share. However, since most of the vehicles were destroyed in the Second World War, a new version was built that is now racing through Manila. You just sit in, tell the driver where you want to go and pass your money through the crowd until it hopefully reaches the driver. In most cases people are very honest and the whole thing works quite well. So my top tip for your stay in Manila: definitely take a jeepney ride!! It's so much fun.


Oh and another tip: try sugar cane juice with ice and lime. You can find this at many street stalls in Chinatown and Old Manila. The long sugar cane plants are squeezed through huge juicers and you get freshly squeezed sugar cane juice that is super sweet and refreshing for around 1,20 Euros.


I don't know if Manila is always a bit strange or if it's just me attracting weird stuff. On our last evening, Max said that strange things have been happening since I've been here. First there was the woman who let herself be pulled on the bike. But there was more going on. We were waiting at a traffic light to cross the street and in the next second I thought I was dreaming. A man on a scooter rode past us with a little white DOG sitting on his helmet!!!!! A dog!!! Without a leash. He just sat there, clinging to the helmet with his four paws. Maybe they put glue under his feet, or maybe he likes to ride a scooter. We both had to look three times to realize that this was really happening. And no, we weren't drunk and I generally don't take drugs. That was just Manila. And because that wasn't enough, the next thing happened just 3 minutes later. We were standing on the side of the road again and were waiting to cross a two-lane road. A man on a scooter stopped and wanted to let us cross the road. However, since there were still a lot of cars coming in the second lane, we didn't move. He noticed this and drove into the other lane so that he was kind of next to a car. He stopped the car and gave us a sign to cross the street. Nice of him, right? Yes, but what followed was the strangest thing that had happened to me in months. He leaned forward and BARKED at the driver. Like a dog. Really loud and a real bark. And as if he was embarrassed by himself, he drove off in a hurry. We couldn't understand what just happened. First the white dog on a person's helmet on a scooter and now a grown up man barked at a car. After this we crossed the street and decided that we should go home as quickly as possible. What a day.


I will never forget these experiences from Manila, so thanks again to Max for having me, showing me the around and for sharing these crazy moments with me. 


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