As I mentioned before, I am a bit behind on blogging. This one was started back in March after visiting a friend in the Philippines… Some day I’ll get to my return to Oz and more on Russia. But first things first...
Every place has a slogan – in the Philippines it is “It’s more fun in the Philippines.” Well, I can’t say what “it” is, but I can say the traffic was the most “fun” I’ve ever experienced.
A friend and former co-worker is from the Philippines. We spent almost 8 eight years working together and although it broke my heart when I learned she and her family were moving back home, part of me was already thinking ahead for a future visit (imagine that!). Kaye had said she would welcome visitors and I warned her I was probably the one person who would actually show up knocking on her door. [Warning to all: if you extend any sort of invitation, implied or actual, chances are extremely high that I will show up.]
We exchanged emails on a regular basis and in February I was lamenting the cold, winter weather and was ready for some heat. I sent her a note saying I was ready for a tropical vacation “hint, hint” and she replied she was ready whenever I was. In the words of Jim Carey “Alrighty, then!” so I immediately looked at the calendar and picked some dates early April. Almost right away, a business trip slated for March to Australia was getting pushed into April so that wasn’t going to work (and as luck would have it, it
is now was rescheduled for May – go figure). Because I could afford to be somewhat flexible, I looked for some dates in March where I could use my global upgrades and a voucher. Long story, short I was able to book the flight one month out.
As per usual, I had travel every week so the time flew by and the next thing I knew I was frantically looking for summer clothes (after a year, I still have a lot of belongings in boxes, again “go figure”). Four flights later (Portland to San Francisco to Honolulu to Guam to Manila), I had arrived. As with any long flights, you feel a bit disoriented arriving in a new country and whilst finding immigration and my bag was easy enough, I was confused on exactly where I needed to to to actually meet up with Kaye. A hotel driver asked me where I was going and I told him I was meeting a friend. He kept asking my name which I thought was strange. Finally, I realized that you met your party in designated areas by your surname. It was all making sense now! Once I crossed the road, went through a tunnel and rounded the corner I was where I needed to be. (If it sounds confusing, it was… especially after 24 hours of travel!) There was a wall of people yelling and waiving behind a fence. Because it was dark, it was hard to distinguish faces as I scanned the crowd. A man next to me tapped my on the shoulder and pointed to my friend who was one of many waving her arms over her head. Now my vacation could begin in earnest.
She had told me she would hire a driver to drive her car so she could pick me up and I quickly figured out why. Before we were even out of the parking lot I could see why a sane person wouldn’t want to drive in Manilla. There didn’t seem to be parking spaces per se; it appeared you just stopped where you were and parked. In addition to the cars parked willy nilly (that is my best word for traffic in general) so just backing up and getting out of the lot seemed challenging enough but I soon realized that it was only just beginning. The roads are packed with cars, scooters, motorcycles, tricycles (motorized) and jeepneys. Throw in pedestrians and you have a free for all. Lines designated four lanes but it is merely a suggestion. There may be one vehicle driving down the center blocking both lanes or more often than not, there was at least three or as many as five driving side by side jockeying for position. Motorcycles come at you from all sides; they are there one second then gone the next but you must be aware they can come out of the smallest hole, from any side, at any time. And then there are the horns. I thought New Yorkers used their horns a lot. But Filipinos take it to a whole new level. They honk so much I’m not even sure why they bother as you can’t really distinguish where they are coming from and from what I observed, no one really pays attention anyway.
It was late when I arrived however you wouldn’t know it by the number of people still out bustling about. Bless Kaye’s heart for taking pity on me for my long travel and stopping at Starbucks. Yes, even at midnight I can drink coffee with extra shots (the ADHD brain isn’t affected by caffeine – if anyone tells you differently, they are wrong. ADHD is treated by stimulants, which have the opposite effect on an active brain. Oh, look! I digressed again…) I didn’t have any Pisos yet so she had to buy but after my journey and being assaulted by the heat and humidity, it was the best drink I’d had in a long, long time. She was also kind enough to stay up with me for as I winded down once we got to her house. Of course, I didn’t really get to sleep the first night (nothing new there).
The next day was about getting oriented with the Philippines. But as usual, first things first (meaning Starbucks). Like most international stores, Starbucks doesn’t open early (our stores typically open 4:30 or 5 whereas most of the world doesn’t open before 7 or even later). Even in the light of day, the traffic is crazy, chaotic and kinda fun… if you are the passenger. I watched Kaye expertly navigate the various obstacles in her way whether it was a car, scooter, jeepney, bike or pedestrian. I was impressed. Even more so at the words that came out of her mouth. There aren’t many sweeter than Kaye, but she can swear like a trucker when behind the wheel. That’s my kinda gal! It was easy to see why she had trouble driving in the US. As bad as we think our traffic is, it has nothing… and I mean NOTHING… on the Philippines. And I’ve been to many countries that would make you think twice about driving (London, New York, Bangkok, Beijing) but there wasn’t anything that would convince me that actually driving would be “more fun” in the Philippines. Not even when Kaye offered to let drive to Starbucks Sunday morning. No way, no how. Not even for coffee. I could just imagine her car all crumbled up in the middle of the road. I couldn’t handle that kind of responsibility. But it certainly elevated my respect for Kaye’s ability to deal with stressful situations.
And then there was the parking. I’d never been any place where you parked two or three cars deep. It was like the world was one big rental car lot with cars lined up one behind the other. If you happened to be the unlucky one parked up front, it’s up to business to have someone to untangle the mess when you decide to leave. Imagine this at Starbucks where people come and go. They had a young security guard who stood at the door and kept a watchful eye on who drove what vehicle in order for people to leave. He was often in the middle of the road stopping the oncoming traffic so someone could back up into the street. Trust me when I say this was not an easy feat. Not by a long shot… people may or may not stop. Often, they just drove around him and kept on their merry way. Sometimes, cars would be making a u-turn or pulling into the same lot as someone was attempting to leave (left, right or straight – forward or reverse, it was a free for all).
Ever the gracious host, Kaye ensured I had my daily fix (actually my twice a day fix in the oppressive heat) even though she loathed driving. And on the last night, she took me to Shakey’s Pizza (Our second time… such a blast from the past! Remember Shakey’s mojo potatoes? So, so good!). This was after spending most of the day at a water park so we were famished. Easy enough to pull in the parking lot but when after we ordered we realized there was a birthday party in the private dining room. As we ate, we watched more and more people arrive for the party. When it came time to leave, it was a nightmare. It wasn’t as simple as a car double parked behind her – it was three layers deep with an additional car parked sideways. It took no less than six people moving their cars for her to back out – and even then, it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. There was a busy bus terminal virtually next door which meant there was a constant stream of buses and people to further complicate things. Not only did she get help from the patrons of the pizza parlor but several guys sitting on their tricycles. You would think once we got out of that mess, we were home free. But this is never the case. There was still the getting home part amid all the various vehicles that inhabit the roadways. Just another commute for the Filipino driver, but a world of entertainment for the American passenger. One thing for sure, is driving isn’t for the faint of heart!