Monthly Archives: September 2007

Hola Vigan!

Posted by on September 30, 2007

I arrived in Vigan. It really is different from anything else in the Philippines. Sadly, the 200-300 year old buildings are better structures than what people live in, in most of the country.

I have developed a bad cold from the temperature drop and rain in Banaue and Bagiuo. The long bus rides I’m sure didn’t help any. I’ll be here for another day then I’m off to Palawan. I will be flying to Taiwan on the 6th or 7th now.

Back in Bagiuo

Posted by on September 29, 2007

I’m back in Bagiuo for the night. I spent most of the day on the bus coming back from Banaue. It turns out that I picked the rainy season to visit. Tomorrow I’m off to Vigan north of here, then to Puerta Princessa. I may have to say here a few days longer than expected. The bus system is slow and confusing, but I think I got the hang of it.

The Manila Folder

Posted by on September 27, 2007

Manila Harbor - Philippines (by Everything Everywhere)
Manila Harbor and Skyline

There are some cities in the world which can only be described as great cities. Cities where you can walk around all day and never cease finding good street food, restaurants, parks and shops. The people are nice and the streets are clean.

Manila is not such a city.

Day 1

I learned the hard way that there is a difference between Manila and “Manila”. The Manila metro area has about 10 million people. Manila proper has maybe 1/10 that amount. Most of metro Manila consists of other municipalities. I told my cab driver in the morning to “take me downtown”. Bad move. He did exactly what I asked, but he didn’t take me to Manila, he took me to Makati. It is near Manila, but it is the equivalent of being dropped off in Brooklyn if you are trying to get to Times Square. For purposes of clarity, when I refer to Manila, I will be referring to the metro Manila area.

The first thing I noticed after getting dropped off were the guards. There are armed private security everywhere. The McDonald’s has a guy with a gun who is in front. It was sort of odd to see a uniformed and armed guard, busing tables. In front of the banks downtown there were guys with shotguns and M-16s. Some had helmets and full body armor. It seemed as if every business had an armed guard out front. As far as I could tell, they were all private security guards, not police or military. The percentage of people employed in the security industry dwarfs the number you see in the US. Even the rise the last several years of security in malls and gated communities doesn’t approach what I’ve seen in Manila. (I found this to be true outside of Manila as well. Every establishment able to afford a building seemed to have at least one armed guard.)

The other thing I noticed were the street vendors. Street vendors per se aren’t that big of a deal. You will see them in most big cities. In New York they are all over selling everything from roasted chestnuts to rip off sunglasses. What did surprise me was street vendors selling locksmithing services and notary public stamps. The locksmiths literally had a cardboard sign and a small grinder set up on the sidewalk. The notaries had a small mobile stand set up in front of banks, which if you think about it, is pretty brilliant.

To get to Makati to Manila I figured I would just start walking. I knew the direction where I wanted to go and where I was on the map. Taking a taxi is pretty cheap, but I figured that it would be better to just walk and get a feel for the city. I walked through several residential neighborhoods and got a lot of looks. I’m guessing a lot of white guys don’t walk down their streets, especially carrying a camera bag. The neighborhoods I walked through were very densely populated. Most of which were very poor, but nothing as poor as I saw in Honiara. Many people had cars. Everyone seemed to have electricity.

Transportation around Manila is very interesting. There are bicycles with sidecars you can get hire for short trips. Motorbikes with side cars, taxis and buses. The uniquely Filipino thing however are the jeepneys. The jeepneys are small privately owned buses that are literally built on the bodies of old jeeps. It started after WWII and has keep on going since then. The jeepneys are tricked out and individualized. Most of them are named and most are covered in chrome. While not all the Jeepneys are in fact jeeps (some are mercades or Isuzus) they are all nonetheless called jeepneys. I’m going to write more on this subject in a few days.

Outside Manila Cathederal - Manila (by Everything Everywhere)
Manila Cathederal


I had massively underestimated how far i would have to walk. My goal for the day was to reach the Intramuros, so I decided to take a taxi. As I sat on the corner trying to hail a cab, I was picked up by a horse drawn carriage. They normally cater to tourists, so I figured “what the hell” and went the rest of the distance by horse. I can now add horse to the methods of transportation used on this trip.

The Intramuros is the old, walled, Spanish part of Manila. This is where the Spanish governed the Philippines for several hundred years. In fact, while the Spanish were in control, native Filipinos were not allowed inside the Intramuros. Many of the original buildings in the Intramuros have been destroyed by earthquakes over the centuries. A significant amount of damage was done at the end of WWII during the Rape of Manila by the Japanese. There was still one building that was nothing more than a shell from bombing.

San Agustin Church - Manila, Philippines (by Everything Everywhere)
Inside St. Augustine’s. 5 exposure HDR photo

The primary goal of my trip to the Intramuros was to visit St. Augustine’s church. St. Augustine’s is the oldest church in the Philippines and the primary site for the UNESCO “Baroque Churches of the Philippines” World Heritage Site. St. Augustine’s had somehow survived WWII and over 400 years of earthquakes mostly intact. It is really the first “old” building I’ve visited on my trip so far. Had I started my trip in Europe, I probably would be sick of old churches by now. It was interesting to see not only the building and the neighborhood around it, but the artifacts as well. In the choir of the church they had an enormous book which was used by the choir in Spanish churches. It was cheaper to make one big book with enormous type than it was to make books for each choir member. (If you are ever on the coast of California and visit the Hearst Castle, look at the lampshades in the library. They are all made from the pages of the big choir books from Spanish monasteries in California.)

It was here that I first noticed the mass of people trying to sell me stuff. Everywhere I went, I couldn’t go more than a block without someone hounding me to buy something. They will sometimes literally follow you for a minute or two trying to guilt you into a purchase. If I was here for work or just a vacation, I would probably have bought something, but I can’t really afford to constantly be buying stuff and carrying it around. The real cost for me when I buy stuff on the road isn’t the cost of the item (which can usually be pretty cheap), it is the cost of sending it back to the US. I’ve seen some really neat, cheap items that would cost me hundreds of dollars to ship home.

Jose Rizal Footsteps- Manila
The last steps of Jose Rizal

The last thing I saw in the Intramuros was Fort Santiago. This was the original military garrison for the Spanish, but that is not what it is known for now. It is best known as place where Jose Rizal spent his last days.

Who is Jose Rizal? I didn’t know either until I walked into Fort Santiago.

Jose Rizal is sort of the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson of the Philippines. He was a medical doctor by training and wrote extensively on Filipino independence. In 1898 he was tried by the Spanish on trumped up charges and executed. The photo you see with footsteps in the pavement are permanent markers showing where he last walked from his cell to the firing squad. His cell and the building containing it are now literally a shrine. There is a fragment of one of his bones on display. The building has a very reverential atmosphere. I was told to take off my hat while inside. It is sort of like being at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery.

All of the school groups in the Intramuros were there to visit the Rizal shrine. His death is a national holiday in the Philippines and you can see monuments and parks dedicated to Jose Rizal all over the country.

Mall of Asia Skating Rink
Having visited the Mall of Asia, I am one step closer to visiting the Seven Mall Wonders of the World

Changing Hotels

I stayed in a hostel in the city of Tambo, just south of Manila proper. I’m used to run down hostels. I can deal with hot, stuffy rooms, cockroaches, I can deal with no internet. I can deal with no electricity. I cannot however deal with no water. The hostel I was in had the water in my room sort of stop working, which made it hard to flush the toilet. Wanting my poop to go away it turns out is my tolerence level. That coupled with everything I listed above (the internet was dead, there were brownouts, there were cockroaches..), so I moved out to a new hotel. I picked something cheap on-line that was more in the heart of the city, so I picked Makati.

In between moves, I also made a trip to the Mall of Asia. Walking through the neighborhoods of Manila and visiting the Mall of Asia was an enormous study in contrasts. The Mall of Asia was one of the nicest malls I’ve ever visited. It was certainly nicer than the Mall of America. It did have a few things which I found funny. There was a store called “The Pink Box” which sold school supplies for girls and a restaurant called KKK…I have no idea what sort of food they served. The big thing in the mall is a large ice rink. I don’t get the impression that Filipinos are used to ice skating based on how everyone was doing on the ice. I also went to go see an IMAX movie and the IMAX theater was the best I’ve ever been in.

Makati at Night 2 - Philippines
The neighborhood around my Makati hotel

Walking outside my hotel in Makati was sort of a shock. Everywhere I went I would be hounded to buy things. Cheap Filipino knives, fake Rolex watches, jewelry and the best of all, a guy who tried to sell me five American dollars from 1798 to 1805….which were made out of Aluminium.

What really stood out were the white guys who I saw around the neighborhood. They were all in their mid 40s to early 60s, and they ALL had young Filipino girlfriends. I was the only white man I saw in Makati without a young Filipino woman at my side. I think they are there to meet women they met through the Internet and through Filipino mail order bride services. Being in my late 30s and a white male, I am pretty sure that it was assumed by everyone I met that I was one of those guys. I had one conversation with a Filipino in a restaurant that went something like this:

Him: You got Filipino girlfriend?

Me: No

Him: You not like Filipinos?

Me: No

Him: You gay man?

Me: No

Him: Then why you not have Filipino girlfriend?

Oh! Guess what the street vendors will try to sell you in a neighborhood with tons of middle aged white guys with young girlfriends??? Viagra.

I should note that this really isn’t any of my business. It isn’t my cup of tea and I’m sure everyone out there who is dating a Filipino isn’t hooking up via mail order bride services. I’m sure there are even a few marriages that work. However, it does seem to be a serious concern here. One day I went to the US Embassy to look into getting my passport renewed. The other line near me had couples coming in and the embassy person behind the counter would grill them for 5-10 minutes on how they met and know each other. The mail order bride business is also technically illegal in the Philippines, but that still leaves a big loophole for people to meet over the internet.

I’m not saying it should be banned or that willing adults shouldn’t be allowed to make such arrangements. I just find it creepy is all. The same thing exists in Russia and other Eastern European countries too. Western men want wives. Women in poor countries want a way out of the poverty.


Manila isn’t a dirty city insofar as there is litter on the ground. You will find people all over sweeping the streets. It is however a grimy city from all the air pollution. The density of the population and the constant attempt to try and hustle westerners makes it a very unappealing first impression of the Philippines. There is little in the way of green areas in the city to go walk around in.

Manila isn’t the worst city I’ve been in, or even close to the worst, but it is definately in the bottom half. It is a shame that this is what most people will see of the Philippines, because as I got out of Manila, I was much more impressed with what I saw.

Safe in Baguio

Posted by on September 25, 2007

I’m finally out of Manila and in Baguio, which is higher, wetter, cleaner and safer than Manila. The ride up was interesting and the landscape near Baguio is very beautiful. I now need to figure out how to get to the rice terraces and Vigan.

I should have a longer post on Manila up shortly.

Please post or send me an email if you got your postcard.

Best and Worst of the Pacific

Posted by on September 22, 2007

The following lists are based on places I actually visited. If you know of a place that should be on this list but isn’t there…oh well. You will notice a big discrepancy between my top 10 and what you might find in the 1000 Places to See Before You Die. I swear the book was written by a committee of tourism boards….

St Josephs and Harbor - New Caledonia (by Everything Everywhere)
France + Pacific = Noumea

Best Cities in the Pacific

  1. Noumea, New Caledonia – More sailboats in port here than the rest of the Pacific combined. They are there for a reason.
  2. Queenstown, New Zealand – The gateway to much of the South Island of NZ. A really great vibe being there. Low cost mixed with high end shops.
  3. Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii – Lahaina is rather touristy. I stayed in a hostel that was very affordable, however. I met many people who just showed up and never left. Very laid back.
  4. Napier, NZ – The 1930’s meets the sea. The seaside was gorgeous. The only reason I went to Napier was because of a tip from one of the readers… please give me tips when I visit places.

Betel Juice Stains at Market, Honiara - Solomon Islands
Imagine a city where everyone uses chewing tobacco..and spits it on the ground…and the spit is blood red

Worst Cities in the Pacific

  1. Honiara, Solomon Islands – Armpit of the Pacific without question. Don’t step in the beteljuice spit on the ground. You can’t miss it….it’s red.
  2. Tarawa, Kiribati – Out of spite and because what I could see did look like a dump. Technically, Tarawa is the name of the atoll, but I’m not going to split hairs.
  3. Nadi, Fiji – Even though this is technically the city where the airport is, it is barely worth mention outside of the airport. If you want to stay somewhere, drive a few miles north of the airport to Latoka. Nadi itself is a dump.
  4. Majuro, Marshall Islands – To be fair, there is a big gap between this and Nadi. Majuro left sort of a neutral taste in my mouth, but it is the least of the neutral places.

View in Queen Charolette Sound, NZ (by Everything Everywhere)
You can’t go wrong visiting New Zealand

Top Spots I’d recommend for Vacation

  1. Palau – Best diving I experienced in the Pacific. I will note however that I wasn’t able to dive in Chuuk (Truk) in Micronesia. I have heard excellent things from other divers.
  2. Pohnpei/Kosrae, FSM – These are the secrets of the Pacific. Hardly anyone goes there. The accommodations were excellent. Great diving. The ruins of Nan Modal are something to be seen.
  3. South Island, New Zealand – I can’t argue with people who would put NZ at number 1. There is so much to do and see on the south island that it almost should be in its own category from the rest of the Pacific. You can see thermal springs, volcanoes, fiords, the Southern Alps, and glaciers all within a few hours of each other.
  4. Yasawa Islands, Fiji – This is the top backpacker, low cost destination in the Pacific. NZ may get more, but this is much more affordable.

Papeete Harbor at Dusk (by Everything Everywhere)
Tahiti is nice, but it isn’t THAT nice

Most Over Hyped Tourist Destinations

  1. Tahiti, French Polynesia – $5 can of Diet Coke, not in a hotel. Nuff said…
  2. Waikiki Beach, Hawaii – I don’t know why people go here on vacation. It’s a beach in a city. That’s it.
  3. Guam – I do not know why Japanese find this so attractive. It isn’t bad, but….

Top Representative Animals of the Pacific

  1. Gecko – I saw geckos on every island without exception. Large ones, tiny ones, purple ones, yellow ones, greens ones, spotted ones. I drank beer one night in Samoa just watching geckos on the ceiling hunt bugs as they moved towards a light bulb.
  2. Stray dogs – every island had stray dogs. I made friends with four small puppies on Easter Island. They followed me for a mile till I ran into some other people walking, then they followed them.
  3. Chickens – You will see and hear chickens everywhere in the pacific. Unlike many animals, they were actually brought by the original settlers of the pacific.
  4. Sea Turtles – I was lucky in seeing turtles on about half of the islands I visited. You can come to the pacific and not see a turtle, but you will see geckos, dogs and chickens.

The Smell that will most remind me of the Pacific: burning garbage

You haven’t really experienced Hawaii until you’ve seen sunset at 14,000 feet in the freezing cold

Top 10 Things To See In The Pacific

  1. Milford Sound, NZ
  2. Palau
  3. Easter Island
  4. Pohnpei and Nan Modal, FSM
  5. Big Island of Hawaii (Mona Kea, Kilaeua, South Point)
  6. Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers, NZ
  7. Coral Reefs of Fiji
  8. Mount Tongrirro/Rotorua/Taupo, NZ
  9. Lake Tenago, Rennell, Solomon Islands
  10. Blowholes on Savai’i, Samoa

Best. Restaurant. Name. Ever. - Palau
Best. Restaurant. Name. Ever.

Top Foods of the Pacific

  1. Canned Corned Beef and Instant Noodles – Most islands in the pacific aren’t even close to self sufficient in food. These two items are a big staple of of the diets, especially in the south pacific.
  2. Papaya and lime – I was served it everywhere and it is good. The limes in the region are small and round. You take a bit and squeeze it onto the papaya. I’ve also had homemade lime juice in Kosrae and it was very very good.
  3. Banana – Bananas grow everywhere. They are not the same bananas you buy in a store. They are smaller and if sold in stores usually go by the name “ladyfinger bananas”.
  4. Coconuts – You’d think this would be number one. Outside of Rennell, I wasn’t offered coconuts that often.
  5. Poisson Cru/Motou Iki – I only had this dish in Tahiti and Rarotonga, but I really liked it and have never heard of it outside this region. I’m probably going to try and make this myself on the road at some point.

Top Things I Dislike About The Pacific

  1. Music – The music everyone listens to seems to just be covers of popular music in local languages. There is some original stuff, but it is mostly crappy wedding band quality. I’m rather sick of it.
  2. Internet – The connection in most places sucks. Even when it was free or easily available, the connection was slow. This is something I just have to get used to.
  3. Cost – Much of the Pacific is more expensive than it would be if the same place were located on the middle of a continent. Even when services are cheap, goods are often expensive. You also have to fly everywhere. I expect my daily costs to start to decrease dramatically now that I’m out of realm of small island countries.
Sky Tower at Night - Auckland
Auckland is one of the cultural and economic hubs of the Pacific

Most Influential Countries in the Region

  1. Australia/New Zealand – I put them together because I don’t know how to separate them. They get most of the immigration from the region. They are leaders in rugby. You see ANZ and Westpac banks everywhere. I was watching the ABC (Australian) news one night and they covered the elections in Nauru. I don’t think any other country bothered to do that.
  2. United States – US influence only extends to American Samoa and Micronesia. Much of this is a legacy from WWII and the fact that we have three territories in the pacific. Outside the former UN Trust Territories and American Samoa, our influence is small.
  3. France – French Polynesia and New Caledonia (and I assume Wallis and Futuna too, though I haven’t been there) really seem culturally separate from the rest of the region. They may share similar traditional customs, but the French have taken them on a very different path than the rest of the Pacific. No French territory in the pacific has become independent (well, Vanuatu sort of, but even then the French left kicking and screaming). I wonder if they will become less French if that happens in the next ten years…
  4. China/Taiwan – The few countries in the world who recognize Taiwan are mostly in the Pacific. China and Taiwan fight over them by giving them aid. Taiwan paid for the only jet owned by Our Airlines (formerly Air Nauru). China has an embassy far larger than would be expected in Samoa. I think China is pushing hard for increased influence in the south pacific and are doing it with money. Taiwan also tends to do the most illegal fishing in the waters of pacific countries. Rarotonga had seized a Taiwanese boat while I was there. Their MO is to take boats near the end of their lives and send them to fish illegally. If they are caught, then they just abandon the boat.
Shipping Container Construction - Saipan
You can find shipping containers everywhere in the Pacific

Top Things Found In Front Yards

  1. Graves – All over the Pacific people had the tradition of buying relatives in the front yard. I’d often see people out front sitting on the graves of their parents. What I don’t get, is that there are only usually 2-4 graves in a yard, all of which tend to be people who died recently. I didn’t see any graveyards on most islands. I don’t know where the not recently dead are buried. I’d think they’d run out of front yard space pretty quick.
  2. Shipping Containers – One of the unsung miracles of the 20th century was the standardization of shipping. Modern shipping containers allow for cargo to be loaded and unloaded in a matter of hours off ships that would otherwise have taken days. You can also easily get containers onto trucks and trains. Many of the containers that go to the Pacific never leave the island. They end up as sheds or other structures. I saw several shipping containers being made into a store in Saipan. I saw one with patio doors in Palau. I think you could make a business out of instant shelters for disaster relief or onsite construction from shipping containers.
  3. Old cars – Like a roach motel, cars come to an island but they never leave. The cost of shipping worn out cars off an island aren’t worth they benefit. They simple just rust out

Top Ways of Driving

  1. On the Right – Guam, CNMI, FSM, RMI, Samoa, American Samoa, Palau, Hawaii, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Easter Island
  2. On the Left – Tonga, Fiji, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Nauru,
  3. On the Right With Cars Designed To Drive On The Left – Korsae, Palau

Total Estimated Distance Traveled 42,065 miles (67,698 km) – This shocked me. I literally measured out each leg on Google Earth, including distance traveled by car when possible. If anything, the number is probably a bit lower than what I actually traveled.

Philippines First Thoughts

Posted by on September 19, 2007

Here is a list of random first thoughts:

  • I’m surprised that there is as much English as there is. Almost all the signage is in English. I was expecting much less and more Tagalog. The Philippines is a big place with a large enough population that they should have a critical mass of speakers so they wouldn’t need much English. Perhaps there are more minor languages in the Philippines than I realize or perhaps it is just being in an urban area. I’ll learn more over the next two weeks.
  • The air is very dirty. I’m also here at the tail end of a typhoon. Maybe the clouds and rain are trapping the smog.
  • There are some absolutely fantastic jinty buses here. They are almost totally covered in chrome and tricked out. I will have to get some photos of some.
  • Manila is cheap. I saw a billboard on the way from the airport for a Big Mac value meal for P99 (about US$2.17). There is also a slew of small street vendors near my hostel.
  • I saw a sign at the airport that said “Stop Child Sex Tourism”.
  • I am now 11 hours away from home.

Something I realized on the flight into Manila. The Philippines is the 12th largest country in the world. I cannot think of a single Filipino movie I’ve seen. I can’t think of a single athlete or musician from the Philippines. I’m sure they exist, but I’ve never eaten in a Filipino restaurant. Almost everything I know about the country is political.

Tomorrow I’ll be off to do the downtown Manila tourist thing. There are several other things in the region I might consider seeing, including Mt. Pinatubo and Subic Bay.

Part II: A New Hope

Posted by on September 18, 2007

Outside Night Market - Taipei
I was last in Asia in 1999

Tomorrow I leave for Manila and start a whole new adventure.

The past six months I’ve been visiting the obscure, the out of the way, and the places you’ve only heard of from Survivor (oh, btw, they are going to shoot another season of Survivor on Palau. They are constructing the set now.). When you think of generic visions of foreign travel, you might thing of a bustling exotic city, ancient ruins, medieval churches, a quaint countryside, or street food.

I have experienced almost none of that in the Pacific.

With the exception of Easter Island and Nan Modal, there were really no ruins to speak of in the Pacific. There is very little in the way of architecture to see. There are no large cities. Until Palau, I haven’t seen any street food (and in Palau it was a guy selling $1 kabobs and a really good burger stand).

The Pacific was the last part of the Earth settled by humans. They had no metal tools or written language. Most of the things to see in the Pacific are natural or cultural, not historical, architectural or urban. The appeal of the Pacific is very different than most places and that explains why it gets so little tourism.

Manila and the Philippines will be the start of something new. Manila is a city of 10 million people. It has 500 year old churches. In the countryside there are rice terraces that are thousands of years old. You have street foods, hustle, bustle, and much more opportunity for things to go wrong.

So I’m kind of excited.

Manila, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong. These places are going to be massively different than what I’ve experienced to date.

My last post on the Pacific will be up in a day or two. I’m doing a “Best of…” list for the places I’ve been.