Two Americans in the Philippines: Part 1

By: Kelly Riley

The day we left for our trip….South Korea was the coldest I had ever witnessed! Sadly Rachel didn’t have vacation time when I did, so Nadia and I decided to go defrost for 9 days in the Philipines, and oh what a time we had!

Day 1: Travel to Manila, Philippines

Nadia and I are often seen sprinting through bus stations and train stations scrambling to catch the last ride back home. You would think eventually we would learn how much time we need to not have to be those frantic blurs of Waygookin rushing through the terminals. But we are slow learners when it comes to that.

We should have known we would be slow learners when it came to catching an international flight out of Korea as well. Standing in line for the security check point Nadia and I scarfed down some cold Quiznos subs as we prayed we would make it for the boarding of our flight. Our tickets didn’t tell us boarding times, but instead take off times, so again we left ourselves with less time than we needed.

“12:20…It stops boarding at 12:20….” Nadia recited. We could see the end of the security line.

“Kelly we have to sprint ok?” she said to me. I sighed but ultimately resigned myself to this fate. Korea was really good for cardio. We scooped our bags from the conveyor belt and started to run when we were immediately halted by another line….Immigration.

“We are never going to make it!” I growled as we shuffled through another line. I watched my phone as 12:20 came and left.

“I think we should still try…” Nadia said, I glanced skeptically at her.

“It’s already finished boarding though,” I said. But as we crossed over from Immigration she started running and I was left to try and keep up. We made it to this escalator that was so long it probably deposited us down 4 floors by the time we reached the bottom. Nadia had reached it ahead of me and charged down the stairs. I got caught behind two Korean women who seemed oblivious to my plight. I was about half way down the escalator when Nadia reached the bottom and began wildly gesturing at me to get the women in front of me to move.

I couldn’t hear her from where I was but her exuberant arm waving and fear on the faces of the Koreans around her let me know she was telling me to “make them move their asses”. When I finally reached the bottom and we made it off the shuttle we emerged to the gates. Then we discovered that our gate was the very last one. We took off sprinting again, dashing from people mover to people mover.

We could finally see the gate and the flight attendants were about to close it when they spotted the dashing waygookins. They waved wildly for us to hurry and somehow we made it onto the flight, sucking wind and wanting to die. We were on our way to Manila.

We had been warned to only get in the yellow metered taxis from the airport so we could avoid being royally ripped off. Which was nice…since being ripped off was a common theme from then onward. Tired and reeling from dealing with money conversions and foreign ATMs, we finally fell into a taxi that took us over to the Z Hostel that Nadia had booked us. It was an interesting place, they had a rooftop bar that had nightly performers and they gave us these bracelets with mini scanner cards that we could load with money and use at the bar and café.

rooftop manila
On the roof of Z Hostel

We ended up meeting two women from the UK who let us tag along with them into the city to find food. We had been warned about walking around at night, but we figured safety in numbers and don’t wander too far from the hostel… If there is one thing living and traveling abroad has made me aware of it is my race and what that means. White privilege isn’t some made up myth, it’s real, and no matter how much money I actually have or whether I’m a good person or not I am seen a certain way because of the color of my skin. It’s just a plain and simple reality. I am lucky to be born a white, American, but being a woman is a dangerous thing. This trip to the Philippines would really show me that.

Nadia’s skin was a similar shade to the locals and with her straightened hair they tended to ignore her, thinking she herself was Filipino. But I stood out with my nearly translucent skin and blonde hair. Homeless women and children kept coming up to me, following me down the sidewalk asking for money or just staring at me with eyes that had seen more than I ever would. When we reached the restaurant we saw a lot of older white men. They were almost never alone though. They usually had their arm around a too young Filipino girl. It made my stomach churn. This would be a common sight throughout our trip.

Nadia and I ordered potato skins which wasn’t something we had seen on a menu since America and Chicken Adobo, which was a local food. We did it up “Korean style” and shared our meals. Chicken Adobo is a famous Filipino dish, it’s very flavorful, salty and tangy and they gave us a mountain of rice. It’s hard to escape rice in Southeast Asia. After a day of traveling we were dragging and decided to turn in early. The next day we had to figure out how to reach Tagaytay.

chicken adobo
Chicken Adobo

 

Day 2 Tagaytay, Phillipines

After searching the internet and asking the front desk we found out we were going to need to take a bus down to Tagaytay. It would take us about 2 hours and the woman at the front desk scribbled down the name of the correct bus terminal to depart from to show the taxi driver. This deemed useless as we still had to say “Uh…Tagaytay?” to get him to understand us.

During the day the streets of Manila were even more packed. The sun beat down on us and I tried my best to avoid it’s rays as I had forgotten sunscreen. I could just buy it here I naively thought. Turned out I wouldn’t be able to find it till about half way into our trip. Filipinos are naturally darker and therefore it’s just not a hot commodity. But it was a straight necessity for me due to the fact that even an hour of sun exposure will cook me the color of a steamed lobster.

The traffic in Manila is so thick a 5 mile drive will take ten times as long, so when we arrived the taxi driver squeaked over as close as he could to the edge of the road and we hopped out. The buildings were all on top of each other but there was no denying the giant buses poking out of the arched ceiling. Our next task was to try and discover how to buy a ticket and board a bus. We wandered into a building and Nadia asked to buy a ticket. He waved us in a direction outside and to the left. Luckily, living in Korea had prepared us for vague directions and wandering as we made our way in the direction he pointed. We turned a corner and another arched building of buses appeared. Easier than we thought.

“This has got to be where we buy the tickets,” I said and we pulled open the glass door.

“Hello, where can we buy a ticket to Tagaytay?” Nadia asked him. Almost instantly he began to answer her in Tagalog, the common language in the Philippines. Nadia looked at me, her patience wearing thin.

“Did I not just ask him in English? Girl you better talk to him,” she said and I quickly stepped up.

“Hello, can you tell us how to get to Tagaytay?” I asked. By the power of being a white person, he answered me in English.

“Yes just take this bus here,” and he pointed out the window. Then the guy beside him said to follow him and he walked us right up to the bus. The buses are just like the express buses of Korea, so we felt right at home. For the American non expat readers, its similar to a coach bus that gives tours. Fairly comfy indeed. The bus pulled away and we wondered how we managed to get on without buying a ticket. Turns out in the Philippines you board the bus and then someone comes around, asks your destination and gives you a ticket with the price on it. You then pay in cash.

“I really hope Tagaytay is more tropical, you know? That it actually feels like a vacation,” I said as we settled in for the drive. Every so often the bus would slow down or stop at a crosswalk and a random street peddler would board the bus selling whatever food or drink he had. One man boarded and smiled so brightly when he saw me.

“Beautiful!” he said to me, clearly knowing little English. Then turned to Nadia and spoke in Tagalog asking her to buy his treats. Nadia obliged and we sampled what would become one of our favorite snacks of the Philippines called Biscocho. They were bread sticks about the size of our hand, crunchy with a light and sweet glaze. They also seemed to melt on your tongue. We knew it would take about 2 hours to reach Tagaytay, we also knew there would be no bus terminal due to how small the city was…so we had to try and figure out when we were to get off. Luckily Nadia struggled her way to the front of the bus to ask the man we bought tickets from and we looked to him expectantly every time the bus stopped. Finally he waved to us and we quickly rushed off the bus.

biscocho1
Biscocho

We most certainly weren’t in Manila anymore. There were 1 story buildings lining the streets and lots of trees. We had the address to the resort and looked up and down the street for a taxi to flag down. Men called to us, flashing pictures of the volcanos in our faces offering to guide us. Drivers of these motorcycles with metal side cars welded on also called to us, asking where we wanted to go. The term rickshaw came to mind and they were so tiny I didn’t think the two of us would ever fit into one, much less with our bulging backpacks.

tricycle
The Rickshaws or Tricycles.

We wandered around for a bit when we spotted a white man climbing out of the back of a jeep. He was accompanied by a Filipino woman who thankfully looked close to his age and we chased after them.

“Excuse me! I’m sorry to bother you but do you know where this is?” The white man looked at us oddly, and upon inspection of his face he didn’t look like he was from North America. Luckily the woman took the paper from us and attempted to help us.

“Well there are no taxis here, you could take a Tak Tak, is that ok?” she told us, and an extremely eager driver of one of the rickshaws rushed up.

“Oh, he knows where this is?” Nadia asked, we were both unsure about boarding this strange little contraption.

“Oh yes he lives here!” she assured us. So Nadia climbed into the little cabin, pulling her backpack onto her lap. I slid in beside her, hanging onto my bag for dear life. There was no door to this thing, and we were a little less than a foot above the road, the ceiling barely missing our heads. Nadia handed him the paper with the address and off we went.

“What an interesting way to die…” I tried to laugh and Nadia returned my laugh just as uneasily. The tak tak rumbled along, and we tried as hard as we could to not freak out. We could feel every bump as the dirt bike revved beside us. But then the trees opened up and we had a glorious view over the cliff and out onto the water. The trees were dense and lush and the water sparkled, shimmering in a circle around the volcanoes. This….was the view we came for.

The tak tak took us about 15 minutes down the road away from the main street and then turned left down a less populated road. We passed a 7eleven, which seem to infest all of Southeast Asia, and if I’m being honest, is a comforting sight. But then the buildings faded and were replaced with shacks and fruit stalls. Someone would catch a glimpse of me inside the tak tak as we drove and their eyes would either widen or they would smile. Guess a foreigner in a tak tak wasn’t as common a sight here. Our driver abruptly turned down an abandoned dirt road and my stomach dropped. Nadia and I exchanged fearful glances.

“Nadia, where the fuck is he taking us? I think we might die, oh my god he might be actually taking us to murder us,” I hissed under my breath. He turned behind a lone brick wall and I envisioned a crowd of men, all ready to rip us from the side car and slit our throats. My first thought went to the umbrella my friend had let me borrow. It had stabbed and scratched me multiple times already and would serve to be the best weapon at our disposal.

“I’m gonna come out swinging this thing, then we gotta kick him off the bike and take it ourselves, ok?” I growled as he turned the tak tak through an archway and then into our resort.

“We are here!” he announced, turning off the engine. Nadia and I stumbled out of the tak tak, glancing around, trying to realize we really weren’t about to be murdered.

“How much?” Nadia asked.

“150 pesos,” he replied, smiling. It seemed kind of steep but we shelled out the money and he tried to give us his phone number to call him to drive us again. We declined, and he hesitantly left.

“Oh dear lord that was scary. Now where do we check in?” I asked, and we glanced around. The resort was beautiful. To the left of the entrance was a bar/dining area all made from wood. Beyond that was a pool surrounded by bamboo huts that we assumed served as the rooms. The only thing out of place was we were the only people here.

“Where is everyone?” Nadia mused and we began to explore in search of an employee. Behind the pool was a room that looked like it once was an entertainment hall. It was quiet, disheveled and very dusty. We continued on and found a Chapel that was also made from gorgeous wood…but still, not a living soul.

“This feels like a horror movie…” I said and we continued wandering the abandoned resort. Finally we spotted someone, a young man sitting on the steps in front of one of the bamboo huts with what looked like an AC filter in his hands.

“Oh hello! Do you work here?” I asked. He looked up, completely shocked to see us, but nodded.

“We were trying to check in,” I continued. He nodded again, and held up a hand, asking us to wait, and he rushed off. We wandered towards the direction he left in as we waited.

“Oh my god, a baboon!” I gasped, spotting a 7 foot cage to our left. Inside was a fairly healthy looking baboon. I walked up to say hello, when he quite aggressively slammed against the cage and barred his teeth at me. Note to self, avoid this monkey. The young man finally came back with who we assumed was his mother. Nadia told her we had a prepaid stay with them and showed her our paperwork. She didn’t say so but it was quite clear she had no idea we were coming.

“Well you can stay in this room if you’d like,” and she walked us over to one of the smaller bamboo shacks. She opened the door and a small bed lay in the corner. We glanced down and could see straight through to the dirt below. We tried not to react in horror as all I could think was I was back at Girl Scout camp.

“Where is the shower?” I asked. In between the two rooms was a shower and toilet combo that looked straight from a slasher film.

“How much did you pay?” she asked. We quickly converted our Korean won purchase to US dollars and her eyes widened.

“Maybe you would like an air conditioned room?”

“Yes, please!” we both said, She brought us over to a much nicer side of the resort to a cabin that had a beautiful bamboo porch and a large bed, TV, indoor bathroom and a solid floor! We agreed to stay here and she left us with the key.

“Oh excuse me, could you tell us how to get into town? We are hungry,” Nadia called after her.

“Oh you can take a Jeepnee that says Tagaytay on it into town. Then you will need to take a tak tak back. But if you pay any more than 50 pesos, he is ripping you off, ok?” she told us. We glanced at each other remembering our “150 peso” ride here. So began the “let’s take advantage of the foreigners” adventure. We quickly stashed our backpacks and headed out to the road. A Jeepnee, which looks like a metal army truck with the back cleared out, pulled up. There were two men hanging off the open end of it and they moved aside to let us climb in. Just like the tak tak the roof was very low. There were two benches spanning the sides of the Jeepnee and the locals scooted over to make room for us. The reaction we received was half sheepish glances and half unabashed staring as we took our ride into town.

jeepnee
A Jeepnee
jeepney
The view of the inside.

We pulled into a depot looking area and climbed out. I was immediately bombarded with tak tak drivers all asking me “where are you going ma’am?” and Nadia was left to pay our 20 peso fare. Nadia finally was able to get me away from them as we walked off towards the shops and restaurants. The wind was pretty rough, so I was struggling to keep my dress in place as I tried to follow Nadia. She wasn’t slowing down and kept glancing back at me and all around us. When we finally walked into a restaurant that had a beautiful view over the cliffs and the volcanoes she explained that while I struggled with my clothing, she was witnessing men rushing down the street at the sight of me, and dashing across the road.

“Sorry if I was being a little much, but you know, I grew up in some pretty sketch places and I was getting some scary vibes,” she explained. Let’s just say, I was very thankful to be traveling with her. I can be one oblivious woman. We scanned the menu, set on sampling more Filipino food. We settling on Pork Sisig and Pancit with a side of rice. I also ordered a San Miguel, which was their version of a Budweiser. The trays arrived with our sizzling meals and we dug in. Each came garnished with these small limes that even Nadia, who wasn’t a fan of limes, fell in love with.

Crispy-Pork-Sisig

pastas-pancit-bihon-flickr-dbgg1979-3852511838
Pancit

We stopped into the 7eleven after our meal and grabbed two large bottles of San Miguel, pastries for the morning, and flagged down a tak tak for the ride home. This second journey in the metal container was far less frightening, and we let ourselves enjoy the vibrant shades of green rushing past us. The driver pulled into the resort, and he too tried to give us his phone number. We declined and began walking into the resort. He stayed though, glancing around suspiciously, punching buttons on his phone and Nadia and I felt a rush of panic. It was as obvious to him as it was to us that we were the only people here at this resort. We walked down a different path than the one leading to our room as our paranoia got the best of us. He finally left and we headed back to our room.

taktak
Our progression of reactions to the Tricycles.

“What if he comes back later? Like, it’s obvious we are ripe for the robbing,” we mused and the more we talked the more afraid we became. We looked around the property, figuring out where the exits were and what we might do if someone invaded.

“We need to chill out…” I said, and poured us some beers. We were in such a beautiful place with no responsibilities and we were letting our minds run rampant with worst case scenarios.

“Want to play a questions game?” I asked. I had recently played it with another friend, it was super simple, 1 person asks a question, the other answers then they do as well. Then it’s the next person’s turn. We kept playing, learning each other’s favorite holidays, which for both of us was Thanksgiving due to the family time but minus the stress of gift giving during Christmas. Slowly the sun faded, and our anxieties along with it. We survived our first day in Tagaytay, and tomorrow, we were bound and determined to witness the beauty of this city.

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4 thoughts on “Two Americans in the Philippines: Part 1

Add yours

  1. Fun story! I wonder where you got the idea of going to Tagaytay? There are so many other beautiful places in our country.

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      1. Is this your first time? If you’re into beaches, Palawan would be great. Lots of beautiful beaches there. If you like inland tours or old cities, Ilocos could be a good start. And if like mountain climbing, Luzon(the Philippines’ largest region) could take you to dozens of mountains.

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