Cowboys, Jeepneys, and G.I. Joes
I thought Bangkok had traffic.
Manila (capital of the Philippines) has Traffic, with a capital “T”.
We arrive at the Manila airport at dusk, and queue for 45 minutes before enough taxis come and go, that finally, it is our turn to get a ride.
The airport is easily left behind, but the moment we turn on to the notorious EDSA, the main highway system through Manila, our taxi driver welcomes us to “Manila’s Free Parking Lot”.
Our hotel is only a few kilometers from the the airport. The traffic is pushing and weaving so closely together, not even pedestrians can walk between the vehicles. It takes an hour to get to our destination.
We booked a night at the Grand Prix Hotel, the pronunciation corrected for us by our taxi driver.
“Grand PRICKS, not Grand PREE.”
Inside of the bus terminal, the hotel is squeezed between belching buses departing 24 hours around the clock, and the EDSA.
Sleep is scarce.
It’s always a little nerve wracking for Erik and I being in such a new, foreign place, but with our extra 1.5 hours before we have to catch the bus, we mosie out along the highway, and down a few small side streets, away from the press of vehicles, into streets where people live. It is painted concrete walls and tin roofs, the alleyways with piles of dirt and dug up concrete. There are people everywhere.
“Where are you going?” welcomes us from every corner and shady shop entrance.
Out of a shadowy corner a voice calls out:
This was directed at Erik, standing 6 foot 3 inches with blonde, cropped hair. The Americans during WWII helped the Filipinos fight back the invading Japanese armies, and the Filipinos continue to have an affection for the Americans (The Phillippines were colonized first by the Spanish, then by the Americans, who took possession in 1898).
And America is still present, even though 1946 was the last official year of ownership. The fast food franchises are as thick as any city in the US. The young men run around in jean jackets and Levi jeans, the music in every car, bus, mall and park is American country music. The movies played on our bus are all Hollywood blockbusters. English is the official government language, signs are in english and pretty much everyone speaks some english (as well as Tagalog and their tribal language).
And then, there are jeepneys.
We are enroute to a farm far north in the Mt. Province. We arrive at the halfway point in Bagiuo after 8 hrs, and 4 movies later on our A/C bus.
Baguio is a city of ‘large proportion, set on the sides of the steep Philippine mountains. The city seems to slide up, down and over each mtn peak, houses and apartments with overlapping rooflines in a frozen landslide.
Downtown Baguio, we stay in our second expensive hotel of our 2 nights in the Philippines, and it’s an old, smelly affair with no windows.
Erik up to this point has been a bit hesitant about wandering the streets, since he was the one that spent several hours reading travel advisories before we arrived, all about pickpockets, kidnappings of foreigners, and wars between different tribal factions. But we had to get pesos from the ATM. On the way, I was lured to the outdoor night market. After wandering through clean and brightly lit market alleys bustling with shoppers and beautiful fruit, vegetables, cooked foods, and goods, I looked over and Erik’s demeanor had changed.
His eyes were lit up with the joy of new adventure.
The next day’s provincial bus ride is 7 hours long, not because of the distance, but because of the snaking of the roads through mountains that stretch over 2000 meters high.
The bus driver is animated, twisting and spinning the great big steering wheel of the bus, weaving the great metal beast up roads no bus should have to go.
The bus stopped for every hand lifted in a wave along the road asking for a lift, and the conductor jumped off to escort the new customer on board, helping with bags of groceries, lifting old women bodily on to the bus, going back for their cane. He delivered packages at homes, mail to various government buildings, envelopes of money to outstretched hand of a person waiting for the bus’s arrival, and he jumped up and down the roof of the bus to deliver construction materials (our bicycles were also up there).
When there was downtime for the conductor, he pulled out his bag of assorted leaves, nuts and powders to make his betel nut plug, popping the leaf stuffed with the narcotics into his mouth, chewing for over an hour, staining his teeth red. It’s called “Moma” here in the Philippines, and causes a euphoric feeling in the user, as well as the unpleasant side effect of mouth cancer, not to mention that it looks like you’ve just bitten into the neck of an unsuspecting victim.
Erik and I were the last passengers on the bus, bumping down road, when the bus driver finally stopped right off at the steep stairway leading up to Layog Country Farm.