A Self Conscious Explanation
We landed in Saigon late last night and my nostalgia for the Philippines just set in as I began reading notes I made during our trek in the non-Asian Asian country. Though we board a bus in a couple of hours for the border of Vietnam and Cambodia, I feel a deep urge to write more about the Philippines, far more than I have space or time for as we move forward in our time warp on the Mekong Delta. At the very least, I need to dedicate at least two more entries to this enchanting Filipino land. Here I’ll provide a miscellany of snapshots highlighting some of the key features that make this country so unique in all of our travels, and in the next blog I intend to describe the most important element of the Philippines.
Manila and Sagada
These two towns should never be spoken in the same breath. They represent two diametrically opposed places. I try to dedicate my blog to being grateful for the good things. So Manila, I’m grateful we got out alive.
Sagada on the other hand represents tourism done well. This town feels almost untouched, nestled in a high, quiet valley in the Cordillera. Tourists come and go, enjoying the eco-adventures of hiking and climbing and caving, but the locals don’t focus their lives on travellers. We are not harassed to buy mass-produced trinkets made in China; we are not yelled at to come eat in restaurants; and even if we wanted to hail a moto or a tuk-tuk, there are none around . . . this town is made for walking, for exploring the inside of the earth in mystical caves while wading through refreshing underground streams, for eating homemade yoghurt at every meal, for just existing as a human being in the arms of a distant people in a distant place.
Mirienda and Filipino Fare
There should be more Filipino restaurants in the U.S. Period. The food here is far better than expected. Now, maybe this is because they have this incredible time of day called Mirienda. Mirienda happens twice a day and it’s described as “snack time,” which is really just a clever way of having five meals a day.
At mirienda you can dine on the local noodle dish Pancit, barbecue pork skewers, rice with a spicy soy sauce and/or (depending on your hunger level, so mine is always “and”), the ever famous, vinegary, sumptuous, chicken adobo. Along with countless other dishes, the Philippines is an over-looked, unassuming culinary delight. Just avoid the boiled pig.
Was that Ringo Star?
We somehow managed to avoid the famous art of Karaoke while in the Philippines. Lindsay and I remain distraught that we didn’t perform the classic duet “I Got You, Babe,” but the island country will just need to wait patiently for our triumphant return as Sonny and Cher.
Second to Karaoke though, the Philippines loves, adores, cherishes, its cover bands. In the matter of two nights we heard one band cover everything from Paul Simon to Frank Sinatra to ACDC, while on the next night a band covered early Beattle’s hits for nearly two hours. And these are not lounge singing annoyances . . . these acts, both vocally and instrumentally, cover classic songs with beautiful precision. For obvious reasons, the current lead singer of Journey is from this land. And I won’t be surprised if a resurgence of 80s hair bands or psychodelic protest music doesn’t come our way from the locals’ ability to perfectly impersonate just about any rocker known to man in the last 60 years.
Not Another Bus
Remember that mystical place called Sagada I just spoke of? Well, getting there is not simple, and yes, somehow we ended up on another adventurous ride. I assume that somewhere in this world a calm, comfortable, cozy bus exists, but I don’t think I’ll be on it any time soon.
For our ride to Sagada, I reached for a sense of comfort from the red light blinking “God Bless Our Trip” at the front of the bus, but it just never came. I am pretty sure that our driver either ached with a death wish or he was training for a high-speed, mountain bus race. I serious doubt either, though I still need some rationality for him passing two vegetable trucks on a blind curve with only a foot to spare from plummeting off a sheer cliff.
While not trying to gain peace of mind from the red neon blessing at the front of the bus, I gazed out the window at peak tops coated in fog like a mystical scene in middle earth. And vegetable terraces climbed with grace up hillsides, built by humble human labor. This is the great dilemma with dangerous, difficult bus rides: the windier, steeper, bumpier, clunkier rides are always back-dropped with the most stunning scenery.
Without Our Guide
Finally, we must give our dear friend Sherry, our guide in the Philippines, a big huge public thank you and shout out. Without her, we are lost. The minute she put us on a taxi bound for the airport, we got scammed. The taxi driver of Manila managed to tweak the meter in a sneaky sort of manner and over-charged us for our ride, not by much, but I’m glad I didn’t buy that 50 cent ice cream earlier in the day. So Sherry, thanks for keeping us safe and showing us your incredible world.