47. Looking for a paradise. Manila-Legazpi-Basey-Bato

“Did we take the right plane??”, I thought when we were passing the busy streets of Manila on the way to our host. It felt like South America. The old Spanish buildings, hot, humid air and crowds of young people ready to party somehow made me feel like I’ve been there before. Once we got to Nuki’s place in the middle of the night we were already surrounded by new friends- two gays and two transsexuals. That was an interesting beginning.

Nuki was a great, soft spirit with a beautiful long hair and a shy smile. Although I liked him from the beginning we didn’t really have time to talk with him much until two days later. It happened that the day after we arrived he organized a jungle party for the couchsurfers and his friends. After a short night at 8 am we rushed to our bus that took us 2 hours outside of Manila. The place was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by endless hills and pure jungle. It was beautiful. After everyone pitched their tents, the party started. There were mostly Filipinos, studying or working in Manila, but a few foreigners came as well. While most of them were very easy-going, funny and “mainstream” there was still many interesting individuals and artists to talk to. One of them was Isaac, a Nigerian guy studying in Manila. It didn’t take long to see that besides a typical energy and African enthusiasm he was also a great friend and a poet with a honest, sensitive spirit. A real highlight were the chats with trans girls whose stories entertained us for most of the evening. It was the first time I’ve had such a close contact with people like that and I’ve never thought I’d feel so naturally and great around them. The truth is that most of these girls are more feminine that all the “born as girls” I’ve ever met altogether. I understood that being born in a wrong body is real. And it’s definitely not easy even in a country like Philippines that is (at first glance) very open-minded. After trying my face painting skills on J.Lo (she didn’t seem too satisfied…) the fire was made, the drums came into play and the dance started. I don’t remember too much from that night but I only remember the moment when sitting and admiring the sunset above the jungle I heard the music. When I closed my eyes it took me to a completely different universe and I stayed there till the morning.

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Our jungle camp
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Polish-Nigerian friendship 😉
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Morning meditation session

An endless speech of Eastern European woke me up. A Polish guy, a holistic healer came to teach us how to live and how to meditate. Great if I only didn’t feel more chaotic around him then I was on my own. High energy, disjoint thoughts and an endless monologue, it’s crazy how difficult it is to find a teacher who can be a real role model… In the afternoon we went home in order to continue the after party. Together with 2 German couchsurfers and Nuki we went to Z bar with a great views of Makati district and then to a hidden reggae bar with a cool, underground music.

Next morning we got up all sweaty. The heat was unbearable and we had to get to the center to find a service where I could fix my camera. Although it was only 7 km away the trip took forever. Traffic in Manila is horrible and, as taxi wouldn’t have been faster, we chose a traditional form of transportation, a jeepney. After changing 4 times we entered Panasonic office where a young lady was energetically typing something on a typing machine. Did I move back in time? Despite my fears I left my camera there and spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Intramuros old town, full of relicts of a Spanish colonization. Although I liked the spirit and the architecture of the city, the poverty of Manila slums, the litter and the smell of old socks around the rivers made me wanna go home as soon as possible. Till the end I thought Manila had a metro. Well, there was a local train but it didn’t resemble metro at all. After changing the lines few times and getting confused by “reliable” advice of the locals I found myself in the middle of a storm. The rain poured like crazy and in 15 min all the roads were blocked and flooded. After drowning in puddles I managed to catch a taxi home, observing the hell going on outside. When I saw a little barefoot kid playing with a gun toy and a paper ship in a massive puddle I understood that this was real Philippines…

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Manila slums
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Inside the jeepney… 😀

The local flights were really expensive so we decided to hitch to Bohol. We left the city in the morning getting a train to the outskirts. Travelling there was a piece of cake- everyone spoke English and everyone wanted to help. But no one was going long distance. After a few rides we lost hope until, suddenly, a miracle occurred. A guy who picked us up in San Rafael was going directly to Legazpi! We drove with Boris through Luzon for the whole day and got to the city at night. It was a shithole. For 2 hours we were looking for a place to sleep but the prices were shocking. Finally we found a single room for £8 with a tiny bed, CR and a mould on the walls. As I got used to Chinese comforts it took me a while to accept Filipino standards and the prices…

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Train  station in Manila 🙂

In Legazpi we had the whole room for ourselves as our Filipino host left for delegacy. As it was a conference center with lots of staff around we had everything we needed there. There was not much to do in town except spending hours in an internet cafe along with game-addicted school kids. We lived right next to Mayon volcano, though, so I decided to get there on my own. The place was really poorly maintained and most of the road was under construction. At least the entrance fee to Cagsawa church, right in front of the volcano, was cheap. I wasn’t lucky to see Mayon as the clouds from coming typhoon covered the whole volcano. But the best part was actually the area around it, covered with green rice fields and buffaloes bathing in the mud, where local people worked hard on their little farms. It was one of the most charming places I’ve seen in Philippines.

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Cats love conferences!
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Beautiful Mayon volcano

Hoping to see the volcano the next day I climbed Lignon hill early in the morning but the clouds were even darker that day. We decided to go to Donsol instead. It’s a tiny fishing village and supposedly one of the best spots for diving with whale sharks in the country. Forgetting about the transportation issues in Philippines we finally got there after hitching any possible vehicle, including an ambulance. Donsol was everything but not a touristy town. It had only basic services available and the seaside was even poorer than the center. Surrounded by the stilt houses and litter I noticed two little boys playing with trash in the water and my heart broke. That is why you travel. To open your eyes and appreciate what you have, emphasize with the fate of the others. Despite their poverty, people living in the slums were truly friendly, curious and seemed happy living in their little community. As basketball is a national sport in Philippines it wasn’t difficult to find a local court where boys passionately played in their flip flops. These kids don’t know what PlayStation is. Better for them. The beach was almost completely covered by the sea and there was no one except a couple of kids fighting the waves. It was clearly out of season there.

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The coast of Donsol
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Making ships from styrofoam…

After leaving Legazpi we had to catch a ship to Samar. Although I was told the ship was leaving at 12 we had to wait till it was full. Asia. We spent 2 hours observing little hooligans jumping from the ship to the sea and poor fishermen fishing the dinner with their kids. I was told Samar is even poorer than Luzon. As in the evening there was no cars at all we got to Catbalog by bus and found a cheap Havana lodge. Our goal was to get to beautiful Sohoton National Park. We got there the next day and the prices quickly brought back to earth. The Eco Lodge had the monopoly on the entire area and provided all the necessary services including a “compulsory” boat ride, local dancers and a guitarist. Are you kidding me? We quit and decided to walk to the waterfalls where we didn’t pay a penny and had a chance to see a local tribe. There was a disaster training the next day so we had a chat with the organizers who told us about the damages of the earthquake and typhoon that happened in 2013. The loss was indescribable and I really hope that the next time people will be more prepared…

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Balantak Falls in Sohoton National Park
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Local tribe

Fortunately a bridge connects Samar with Leyte so we got to the port in Bato by bus. There was no ships in the afternoon so we had to wait till the next day. Walking around the busy town I knew there wasn’t many tourists there, everyone was ostentatiously staring at us. Sitting on the pier we started to think about our journey. It has been 11 months and I just realized how much we’ve been through during this time. Travelling lifestyle became so obvious that sometimes you forget you are on the other side of the globe, in a place that some people only dream of. So many things happen every day that you often forget how much you’ve learnt and experienced. There are definitely a couple of stories that we can tell to our children one day and moments that only we can understand. There were good and bad moments, that’s for sure. But we survived and we are still here. Together.

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Food market in Bato
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On the way to Bohol!
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