Saturday, January 24, 2015

15 Hours in Manila

The Philippine Airline check in is at the far end of the international terminal and we snake through a long line of returning Filipinos, all with luggage carts piled high with 18” x 18”  Balikbyan Boxes, filled with gifts for their families and friends back home. When we get to the counter the attendant informs me that although my bag is carry on size, it is too heavy so we do an awkward shuffle of my carefully folded clothes into John’s and Art’s back pack to bring my bag down to the allowed weight.  Checked in, we eat an uninspired Japanese bento box dinner before heading through security to wait for our 9:30 P.M. flight to Manila.
Balikbayan Box

I paid $20 additional for each of our seats in a row with an extra few inches of leg room. This proves to be well worth it and with our personal entertainment screens, we settle in, plug in and wait for dinner. Dinner is served about 11:00 P.M. and at 12:00 midnight, we toast to John’s 29th birthday.  John and Art go on to watch a second movie but I take a bite of a sleeping pill and sleep until breakfast is served. Art and John also sleep reasonably well and when we arrive in Manila at 4:00 A.M. we are tired, but functioning.  
Manila Street

Airport Coffee in Manila

Our flight is an hour early and the shuttle pick up from Swagman Hotel has not yet arrived.  We sit outside the modern terminal, drink  bad coffee from paper cups and wait. Art continually scans the arriving vans and the guides that hold up signs for newly arriving passengers.  At 5:30 we have nearly given up hope and are about to accept a van ride from a different hotel when the Swagman van arrives. We drive through chaotic traffic, our van slipping in and out of lanes with just inches to spare. We see colorful Jeepneys, Manila’s “Jeep-buses” crammed with passengers and those people who don’t fit inside, hang off the back or ride on top. 

Street Vendors and Trikes

The grey light of dawn unfolds as we drive through the congested city, past abandoned and dilapidated apartment buildings, dirty with grime, most windows and balconies waving flags of laundry out to dry.  Street vendors are setting up their stalls but the stores are still shuttered. The city street scene is not very much different from any number of other sprawling metropolis in third world countries. 

Children Sleeping in Trike
The lobby of the Swagman Hotel is nice enough and our reservation is in order, but the room is terrible. We only need to rest here for the day but it is doubtful of the sheets have been changed recently and the orange paint is dingy, peeling and depressing. We stow our luggage and head back downstairs for breakfast. Presumably, the life sized crocodile, above the bar is in keeping with the Australian name of the hotel and I am relieved that it is fake and not a stuffed crocodile. 

Breakfast with the Swagman Crocodile
Swagman Hotel Room

It is just 7:30 A.M. when we walk towards Rizal Park. Today is the commemoration of the execution of Jose Rizal, a Filipino nationalist and hero.  The park is packed with both dignitaries, families and school children, and we just miss seeing the President . 
Rizal Park, Manila
Rizal Park, Philippine Island Map

Rizal Park Fountains
Jose Rizal Commemorative Celebration

We are functioning but jet lagged and drift through the park and the streets in a hazy time warp. We stop at McDonalds for lunch, with an armed guard at the door.  The restaurant is packed, clean and cheerful and our meals  familiar and safe if not inspired. I want to stow my tray but this is not the Filipino way and the many employees scurry efficiently, wiping down tables, clearing away trays and recycling appropriately.  We walk back to Swagman's to shower and rest, returning to the Robinson’s Mall late afternoon.  John did not pack well for the trip and he buys some flip flops and chap stick at the Robinson’s supermarket. December 29th, John’s birthday, did not exist because we lost that full day in time zones and we want to treat him to a nice dinner at the Mall. (Already, we are learning that the modern, brightly lit and clean malls are a popular gathering place for the locals and offer a wide selection of restaurants.) We choose a Shabu Shabu restaurant, where we cook our own meats and vegetables. The cooking process is confusing and the food bad and we leave disappointed. 

Robinson's Mall, Manila

John and Jolly-Bee

Young Girls Outside the Robinson Mall

Swagman’s wants to charge us 500 Pesos for a late check out but they politely waive it when Art reminds them we had a late check in and we take their free shuttle back to the airport. Dusk is settling in and the afternoon rush hour traffic is terrible but the traffic miraculously clears and we arrive in plenty of time. Although we already have our boarding passes, we must pay a country exit fee of $60 but Art discovers that because our stay was so short that we are exempt and we go to a special office and get the stamp free. Jet lag has hit us hard and it is a painful 2 hour wait in the terminal and there is virtually no food available. When we finally board our plane to Denpasar,  we are all asleep before it even takes off.

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