There were two colourful marching bands playing for us as we disembarked and were given beads and a fan to welcome us to the Philippines. This is the first time we’ve had such a warm welcome! Also in port docked beside us was a U.S. Navy Ship, the Bowditch. Finding a taxi/van we all piled in and off to the mall we went to change money and get connected to wifi for a bit. The Phillipines are 90% Christian, mostly Catholic, and yet there is a very high crime rate. Armed guards are everywhere and to enter the mall you have to go through security like in the airports.
Next we headed to Intramuros – the old walled city and Spanish Fort. It’s amazing how much like Mexico it is with the Spanish influence. Even the greeting ‘como estas’ (how are you) is the same in Tagalog as in Spanish. We rented a horse drawn carriage to take us through the old town, there are some beautifully manicured gardens here and lovely old hotels. In the fort was a simple white cross marking the grave of 600 men, Philippine and American whose bones were found in a couple of small cellars that had been turned into dungeons. More evidence of the Japanese occupation during WWII. Very sobering.
Walking from there we crossed over a very dirty, greyish brown river and saw little boys having fun diving into the water, I would not want to swim in that river with garbage here and there floating on top! Then we found ourselves in Chinatown. Everything here was crowded, loud, dirty, and the air thick with exhaust. We passed some young women set up by the side of the road with torn tarps tied to give shade, there were several young babies, one was 3 days old. My heart ached for them. We gave the mother of the infant some money and then had everyone wanting money, it was a drop in the ocean, wish we could do more. Manila is not the biggest city in the world but it is the most densely populated with 11 million people crowded into it.
To get back to the ship we rented a bike with a side car – that was quite the ride! Between busses, around cars, on the sidewalk, the wrong way, u-turns, alleys and shortcuts all with the diesel exhaust in our faces! The cost for this 40 minute ride was $50 pesos – around a dollar. Just before arriving at the ship the driver asked if we would like to meet his family, his home was on the way. So we turned into a small alley that had lean-to’s on either side with clothes hung from everywhere and kids galore. We met his wife and 3 of his five children and took some pictures. Needless to say, we left him all the money we had left, $800 pesos, not much for us but probably a weeks wages for him, felt good to bless this hard working family man with his toothless grin. Wow – we are so incredibly blessed, I feel humbled and so very grateful.
Beach day! Boracay is a beautiful little island only 4 miles long, shaped like a bone, you can easily walk to the other side at the narrowest part. Even though the distance is not long, one side of the island is extremely windy and filled with kite surfers – it looks so fun! Too bad you have to have 2 days worth of training to do it. The other side is very calm with stunning beaches of white sand soft as flour stretching out for several kilometers in either direction. Less than 10 years ago this island still had natives living in the jungle part on one end of the island and only a couple small hotels along the beach. Today the jungle side is dotted with houses and the beach is lined with little shops and several small hotels and restaurants.
The cruise ship anchored out in the bay and we were tendered to shore in a small boat. We walked the shoreline, swam in the crystal clear water, had a $5 massage right on the beach, soaked up some sun, drank fresh pineapple juice, watched the kite surfers, and bought some pearls (not expensive perfect pearls, but real ones 🙂 a wonderful souvenir from beautiful Boracay. While we were on the beach a little girl about 8 years old dressed in her school uniform came to see her mom who was one of the massage ladies. She was singing ‘Let it Go’ complete with the hand gestures and totally lost in her own little world. I couldn’t believe it! All the way here on a little island in the Philippians, Frozen has made it’s way. Our world has gotten small!