I start this entry by apologising for taking so long to update the blog, usually I do it every couple of days and I have been so caught up in the last week that I had written the blog but not posted it. It took a very good and close friend to question where the latest update was. Well here it is, written through tired eyes, an exhausted mind and aching fingers…. Ok i’ll be honest, I’m just having too much fun 🙂
When it came to leaving Boracay I assumed I was taking the simple, streamlined journey of a bus and a flight which was what we were hoping for. Especially since we were completely beach bummed out. But, and as I have come to discover in our time in the Philippines it just wasn’t going to be that simple.
You have to understand, the Philippines is really badly organised, but rather than feel unorganised, it feels like it has been organised to be unorganised. Complete over use of the word, but organised chaos sums it up quite well. Everything is out of order, I am not kidding, out of order signs are slapped everywhere. The vast majority of ATM’s I tried to use would not accept overseas cards, and those that did would not take Mastercard and so I had to get robbed using my Visa. ATM’s are in none of the ports we used, bus stations or in any of the airports. Why? Because that would make sense and sense is not something high on the agenda of the Filipino government.
Anyway, we jumped into a tricylce to the port which screwed us good and proper. Jollys around the island are usually charged a flat fee of 20 pesos. But if you need to go the port which is a Fatema Whitbread throw away expect to get bummed to the tune of 150 pesos. Now 150 pesos is only about two quid, but the principle is that if you can get screwed – You will. Take the ‘terminal fee’ levied at every port in the archipelago, sometimes it is 20 pesos, other times 100 pesos and for what? Some of the terminal fees we paid were at ports that didn’t even have a terminal! Its like you pay the cash, some one rubs their hands and shoots off to the bar in recognition. Then add in the occasional environment fee of 75 pesos and you start to get really pissed off with all these niggly little extras that seem to be added at will and without sense or reason.
So I took my screwing like a man and then tried to suss out where to get the boat to. The port on the main island of Panay is Calapan and from there people spiral out further south into the Visaya’s or head to Ilolio (the islands capital)
Calapan has an airport but naturally our airport was a couple of hours away. At the port there was a through ticket which included a boat and then minivan to Kalibo for 200 pesos (£3) plus a terminal fee of 20 pesos (30p) within no time at all we were sat on a dodgy looking pump boat sailing off and leaving paradise in the distance.
I was given a sticker so that some guy could spot me as we arrived into Calapan some 15 minutes later, but it had disappeared. The sticker was no more and thankfully since we were the only white people on the boat we stuck out. The port at Calapan is dodgy, its literally a couple of pieces of wood strung together and floating about. Charlie thought he was on the krypton factor and Abi decided to drop her bottle of water. Naturally there is no shop at Calapan port because that would make sense.
The ride to Kalibo took around an hour and half and took us through some genuinely gorgeous scenery, though the road was mainly flat it was flanked by tropical foliage and mountainous terrain.
The Philippines is well connected by airlines such as Cebu Pacific, SE Air and Philippines Air Asia which does a couple of routes. Every single Philippine registered airline is on the EU blacklist deeming them unsafe and unable to fly into European Airspace. I did a little bit of research as to why, and it seems that the standards of pilot training, maintenance and security fall below the standards endorsed and expected by the EU. I was a bit unsure about the severity of the EU ban list and so we chose Air Asia for our flight from Kalibo to Clark (a city just north of Manila) and then from Clark to Hong Kong.
Having flown from some super dodgy airports throughout India and SE Asia I figured things couldn’t be that bad. I was wrong.
Kalibo airport is without a doubt a project to see how long an airport can run without management and structure. Its an absolute piss take of a place that is no bigger than a typical McDonalds yet is rammed with about a thousand people. Check in desks are literally a table and the scales to weigh bags are the old style mono things that must have a +/- accuracy of about 10kg either way. I could probably shit a better airport and it was a nightmare of illogical decisions and situations from the start. Seriously, just after we had entered the poor excuse of a room called the departure hall (no bigger than an average school classroom) the power went off. There was no back up generator, nothing. Did the security manning the now kaput X-ray machines stop letting people enter? No, they just winked, laughed and waved people through regardless of what the contents of their bags were.
Once checked we headed to some guy sat at a desk looking important who barked ‘terminal fee’ at me. Piss taker of the year 1999 we had to pay an additional 100 pesos each on top of the billion other airport fees we had already paid as part of our ticket. Its an absolute joke that the airport has the gaul to charge a terminal fee for such a snide airport, but no fee, no entry and so we coughed up.
Our flight was due at about 4.30 and at about 4pm nothing had happened. I went to enquire and was told the biggest blag in airline blagging history “Kalibo airport has only 4 spaces for airplanes to park and we have no spaces so it is still in Manila” Pointing outside I said “but there is just one plane parked up, there are three spaces” amazingly and obviously the bloke lost his grasp on the English language. 4.30 came and went and after repeated attempts to get some kind of information I resorted to flight radar and learned that the flight was about 40 minutes away.
We finally boarded about an hour late and had a perfect 45 minute flight back North to Luzon and to Clark airport.
Naturally and expectedly we got shafted 300 pesos (£4.50) for the 15 minute ride to our hotel, but it was nice to be back amongst normality and away from hammocks and palm trees. I mean, we did love Boracay, but you just cannot get rid of the sand, and you never feel clean. So as we wound down the Philippines it was good to be back amongst clean crisp white cotton sheets and power showers.
Our final day was meant to be spent in and around the Angeles/Clark area but waking up that final morning I felt like doing something and so between us we decided to head to Manila for the day.
The journey from Clark/Angeles goes a little like this:
Take a Jeepney/Tricylce to Dau (few pesos)
Take a bus bound for Cubao (139 pesos – £1.80)
Hop on the MTR/LTR to wherever in Manila you need to be.
The MTR/LTR is essentially a fail attempt at a metro. What you have is three lines all completely independent of each other and so when you need to go from one line to the other you have a pointless and unfathomable trek to a different station. Its a bit of a joke to be honest, but we used it and made use of all three lines as we made our way to Intramuros – Old Manila.
Intramuros is a walled part of central Manila and was the seat of the Spanish government during the Spanish occupation (1521 – 1898) It took us ages to get to it, but we figured out that if we made our way to the ‘central’ MTR station we could probably just wing it and we were right, and eventually we walked into the walled old city.
Manila is one of those cities that doesn’t really have a lot going for it. I know that probably offends some 7 million people but its true. But everything that it does have going for it is centred around Intramuros and so as we walked under the gateway I was minutely excited and the kids could really have been anywhere in the world.
Stepping into the old city is like time warping back to 1800s Spain. Something that is instantly knocked out of you by the onslaught of hustlers trying to fleece you for a city tour on their pedal trikes. Knowing it was perfectly walkable we headed off and mooched about courtesy of some map I had found.
Ive got to be honest, it was a bit snide and not really what we expected. But within Intramuros we did happen to stumble across a little pocket of magic, a real quaint and beautiful little church called St Augustin. Turns out it is both a UNESCO world heritage site and a national monument. Originally built in the 1500’s it has been revamped a few times but has some how kept its charm and mystique. It took about an hour of our time and was worth every minute.
A funny thing which happened inside:
Abi lit a candle for her Grandma Joan who died a couple of years ago and Jack lit a candle for our dog Akira who died last year.
Notice Jacks finger on fire…
Notice Jack realising…
Jack proclaims “dad I don’t think kids my age should use matches…”
St Augustine church was the only thing worth seeing and only memorable thing we did in Manila which really does not stand up as a world class SE Asian city. When you look at the likes of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, or the pristine and world leaders that are Singapore and Hong Kong. Manila is a bit of a lame duck and is obviously a failed attempt at being like Bangkok complete with seven elevens and dunkin’ donuts. The city is not particularly eye catching but I think the big issue is that Manila lacks identity. Take away the tricycles and Jeepneys and the Filipino obvious is gone. That said, Manila is supposed to be dodgy, we did not feel unsafe at any point and thought the locals were friendly and helpful – If a little rushed.
On the bus back to Clark/Angeles I reflected on our time in the Philippines and I absolutely loved the fact that you can get anywhere you want as there always seems to be someone or something going that way. I thought about how friendly everyone we met were, most of whom expected absolutely nothing in return. From the best beach we have ever seen, the most stunning coastline, friendly locals and cheap beer. The Philippines needs time, and a lot of it. I was naive to think a fortnight would cut it and we merely scraped a pube like scratch in the surface. As alluded to previously, people compare the Philippines to Thailand and I realised its just not fair. Thailand has almost everything the Philippines has and then has stunning history and culture. But the Philippines is genuinely beautiful, on a quite unimaginable scale really. I think that the main issue is that things are a little rough around the edges. And after a while things get pretty exhausting.
And so as we sped down the runway bound for Hong Kong I wondered if it had all been worth it. The kids were all laughing and putting their hands in the air as they do every time we take off – They looked happy. From what they have told me they are having the time of their lives and if they’re happy then I guess I am.
Next stop – Hong Kong.