White sandy beaches. Beautiful corals reefs. Tropical jungle with rich wildlife and the most beautiful waterfalls in the world. Hundreds of virgin, unhabited islands. Paradise on Earth- that was my imagination of Philippines. It’s all about right if I only didn’t forget about the natural disasters that hit this poor country every year. And that it was still Asia. And like usually in Asia you have a bunch of millionaires ruling the country, driving their BMW and not giving a fuck about the rest of the world.
Typhoons and earthquakes are nothing new for the local people, they happen a few times per year. But the last disaster, in 2013, changed the people’s perception on that. Many of them lost everything they had after the earthquake in order to be finished off and left for starving after the typhoon that happened 3 weeks later. The help was sent from all over the world. And now, 3 years after what do I see? Some buildings are still in ruins and the roads look like the earthquake happened just yesterday. Where did all the money go? You must ask the government… Most of the country is really poor, many people live in slums surrounded by litter and hordes of cats. Does the society see injustice in their country? I don’t know but observing the recent changes in the government the situation isn’t going in the right direction… The new president prefers to put a death penalty on drug dealers instead of thinking why people actually take drugs. I’ll tell you why. To escape the sad reality.
Another problem is overpopulation, at least in the capital of the country, Manila. It’s an absolute madness. The traffic is bigger than anything I’ve seen before and sometimes it’s literally faster to walk. Jeepneys and buses are the only form of transportation there besides annoying tricycles and a local train that you can catch after waiting for an hour in a queue. The funny thing is that outside of Manila the situation changes completely and it’s almost impossible to hitch as there are no cars on the roads. Fortunately, there are always buses running and, although slow as hell, they are incredibly cheap. Getting from one island to another is inexpensive as well but the boats are usually never on time. Philippines, although beautiful, is not well maintained by its population. Lack of awareness has led to river pollution, littering and even killing the animals. As tourism business grew rapidly during the past years local people try to lure tourists in a wrong way often feeding and keeping whale sharks in one place to increase tourist satisfaction. I heard also about very popular method of fishing- throwing grenades to the sea in order to kill as many fishes as possible. Well, surely you’ll get lots now but no one will bring damaged coral and new fishes back…. If you think anywhere you go you’ll find purely white beaches and expensive restaurants you’re wrong. Yeah, Cebu, Bohol, Palawan are full of if but if you take time to see the places where people don’t have McDonalds that’s where the real Philippines is- not maintained and forgotten by the rest of the world.
In the beginning I had difficulties perceiving the originality of Filipino culture until I finally understood that it’s a mix of many foreign ones that have been influencing the country for years. Although the attitude and the lifestyle definitely remained Asian, the culture itself for me is pretty undetermined. Spain left their Catholic churches, architecture style and, most of all, religion, that determines the life of Filipinos all along the line. Jesus greets you anywhere you go, even when you buy your favorite hamburger in a local Angel’s fast-food. Oh yeah, fast foods, that’s an inheritance from America. Filpino cuisine is not the most unique in the world and contains usually lots of grilled chicken or pork with rice along with burgers sold almost everywhere. The best thing I’ve discovered were Filipino bakeries where, obviously, you can’t buy a bread but the choice of sweet rolls is really impressive.
One of the good things that globalization brought here is the English language- everyone speaks it that makes interpersonal communication and travelling incredibly easy. Maybe that’s why Philippines are one of the favorite destinations for retired Europeans who live a happy life here with 30 years younger wives by their side. Sadly, sometimes it’s the only way for Filipinas to get away from the poverty and, as long as they have everything they need, they are happy. Paradoxically, poor situation doesn’t change the fact that Philippines are quite expensive, at least for the backpackers. The accommodation, for example, although more expensive than in China, has usually much lower standard and if you are on a budget you can forget about luxury or wifi. That’s why tourism is still dominated by families, honeymooners, rich Chinese and Koreans who have their holiday oasis here.
Despite all the discomforts, the nature and the people definitely make up the whole Filipino experience. It’s hard to find the country that remains so untouched and green like Philippines. If you removed all the roads and settlements you’d notice that it’s literally one big jungle filled with coconut trees and different kinds of fruits. The nature wouldn’t let you starve here. Poor maintenance and low tourist rate off beaten tracks can be an advantage as both the landscape and the architecture remains really authentic as if time hasn’t change it at all. Far from famous resorts you can barely find any tourists and the attractions are usually very cheap so you can enjoy the nature for yourself. Diving here is absolutely amazing. The coral reefs are in an excellent shape and both diving and snorkeling provides unforgettable experience.
I would call Philippines the “Asian South America”. A mix of many cultures made the local people very Westernized and open for other nations. Most of the locals are incredibly friendly, lovely and helpful, always ready for a chat. Asian lifestyle and European (mostly Spanish) spirit make the country very relaxed place to live in. Open-mindedness also creates tolerance towards the people with different orientations. Freedom of expressing yourself and your gender is admirable and doesn’t seem to surprise anyone in Philippiness. So far I thought Europe was a capital of tolerance but I think we still have a lot to learn… Most of the people don’t have internet at home but the madness of online games hasn’t omit the islands either. In every town you can find a few internet cafes always full of kids blindly staring at the computer screen. Besides basketball there are not many places where kids can play after school so the online world is definitely a tempting alternative. Capitalism hasn’t eaten the entire country, though, so it’s nice to see that most of the kids still enjoy playing outside and they’re not being addicted to their iPhones like European children.
Philippines are not perfect neither are they as idyllic as described in guidebooks. But it’s definitely a country where you can forget about the rest of the world, indulge in nature and learn from the local people how to be happy and smiling no matter what. It’s easy to criticize when you don’t have a proper solutions. I hope Philippines will find them soon and then I will be able to call them a Paradise on Earth.