When we arrived in Manila, it was overcast. The first rain we have encountered on our trip. The hostel we are staying at is great, it‘s called Our Melting Pot and if you are ever in Manila I highly recommend it! I think it was at one point a loft apartment which the owner, Ronald, has turned into a hostel. There is one big room when you enter with the front desk, a computer, sofa and small counter with a sink/kitchen area. Upstairs is an open air loft with 7 beds, lockers for each person and a bathroom. It is really clean and the woman who works here, Chato, and the owner are extremely welcoming and kind. They made us feel right as home the second we walked in the door. Only 7 people can stay here at once, it’s small but very homey feeling and I really like that. Mezaya’s friend Paulo suggested this hostel to us and I am so glad he did, it’s great.
Katie and I were extremely tired from getting up at 5am and traveling all morning, and since it is raining we decided it was the perfect spa day. Ronald suggested we go to Wensha Spa, which is the “most luxurious” and best spa in Manila according to him and our taxi driver. For 680 pesos, the equivalent of $15, we got 6 hours at the spa which included an all you can eat buffet, as many times as you want, unlimited access to the showers, Jacuzzi, pool, sauna, steam room, and a one hour full body massage. We took full advantage and spent a full 6 hours there. I also got a manicure for an extra 180 pesos (about $4). The buffet was Filipino food, vegeables, chicken, lamb, fish. We also tried a traditional soup called shabu-shabu, which is made with a clear broth, garlic, and chilis if you like spicy food. Then you add whatever you want to it, I had rice noodles, carrots, bokchoy, chicken and I even tried scallop and fish balls!
The massage was great, until I woke up the next morning with very sore shoulders! It was definitely the most unique massage experience I have ever had, complete with the masseuse sitting on top of me and pulling down my underwear for a complete butt massage! She stretched my body in ways I didn’t even know I could bend. At the end she got on the bed and had me sit in front of her then lifted me up into the air first with her knees then her feet and turned and stretched me in all different directions. We decided to have ice cream after then shower and use the Jacuzzis, no bathing suits allowed, only disposable underwear, which cost 20 pesos. Our manicure and pedicures were great. We sat in big comfy reclining chairs, equipped with our own private Tvs and headphones all in English!
On Thursday morning we were woken up by Chato, because Ronald had put together a full itinerary for us for the day and he didn’t want us to sleep in too late, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do everything on the agenda. There is another American staying here, John, who worked and lived here as a missionary, and just came back to volunteer and help with the flood and tsunami relief efforts. He was kind enough to be our guide for the day. He lived in a small town outside of Manila while he was here and hadn’t done some of the more touristy things that were going to do so it was also fun for him too. First we went to the Alaya Museum, we learned all about the history of the Philippines and the people. It was actually quiet interesting and I learned so much! It was great being with John too because he could tell us some really interesting things we otherwise never would have known. For example, the taxi drivers here have to pay a rental fee for their taxis everyday and for the gas, in all it cost about 2000 pesos a day to run. Some of the drivers work 24 hour shifts without breaks just so they can break even, others take 3 hours off! He speaks the language, Tagalog, so it made it a lot easier for us to get around, even though mostly everyone here speaks at least a little bit of English. Tagalog had many English and Spanish words, which I could pick up in some of his conversations with the taxi drivers.
After the museum we went to lunch down by Manila Bay. We went to dampa, a type of Filipino restaurant where you pick out the seafood you want and choose how you want it cooked, then they prepare it they way you want. The second we stepped out of the cab, a server from each restaurant, I’d say there were at least 15, came running at us telling us to choose their restaurant and that they’d give us a good discount. We let John do all the talking and we ended up getting a good deal. All the seafood is sariwa, very fresh! We tried so many different Filipino dishes, we had enough food to feed a family of 10! I ate wasting food, but John told us that the servers and restaurant staff eat our leftovers, which made me feel a little better because it would be their meal for the day. We had Sinigang, a type of sour soup made from a fruit, or seed, I’m not quiet sure called tamarin. We had ours with milkfish, which is one of the most popular fishes here. It is a white fish and has a little bit of a sour taste, and a lot of tiny bones! We also had milkfish ihaw, which is prepared by cooking it on an open grill with hot coals. It was stuffed with their version of a chili sauce, which was essentially peppers, onions, tomatoes and spices. We had HUGE prawns, the biggest I’ve ever seen in my entire life! They were cooked in a garlic butter sauce and they were delicious! We also had calamari, served with their version of marinara sauce which is pink and I think it was made with mayo and ketchup! The Salmon was my favorite dish, it was very simple, prepared with just a little bit of butter and garlic. And I tried crab for my first time (well first time other than in sushi!). It was pretty hard to get the meat out of the claws with just my hands and a fork! For dessert we had fresh pineapple and the most delicious mango ever.
Sour Milkfish soup
Delicious prawns in a garlic butter sauce
Milkfish stuffed with chili paste, complete with hundreds of tiny bones. Not very fun to eat!
After lunch we headed to Intramuros. In this area is the old Fort Santiago which was built to protect the city in 1571. The walls stretch 4.5 kilometers surrounding about 2.2 acres of land that was once a medieval city full of churches, dungeons, schools, monasteries and wealthy residences homes.
Inside Fort Santiago
We also went into the Manila Cathedral that was having a graduation ceremony for a nursing college.
After WWII the US Army left behind all their jeeps, which the Filipinos have turned unto Jeepneys, which is their public transportation system. We rode in one, and when you want to get off all you do is jump out the back! Mezaya gave me the name of one of her friends, Paulo, who lives here in Manila and we met up with him for dinner at his favorite Filipino restaurant.
We had all sorts of Filipino dishes, fried baby shrimp, mussels with a cheese sauce, Squid adobo (adobo is soy sauce with vinegar and garlic, all which I did not like, chicken, garlic rice (they put garlic on EVERYTHING!) and an eggplant salad with a kalamansi dressing, which is more sour than a lime! For dessert we had the traditional halo halo, which is shaved ice, condensed milk, garbanzo beans, red beans, ube (purple yam), jackfruit and jello chunks in it. Minus the beans, it was good! We also tried Buko Pandan, young coconut mixed with milk on top of gelatin and a friend banana and jackfruit langaka (like a sweet spring roll). Lets just say that my stomach was not happy with me for the rest of the night, or today!
Eggplant, tomato and onion salad & oysters
Halo-Halo served in a coconut!
This morning we got up and went to the coconut palace, which was built for the pope’s visit in 1981, even though he opted not to stay there. Of course it was closed so we could only see it from the outside. Today was extremely hot and sunny, which was a nice change from the rain but way too hot to be outside all day so we headed over to the Mall of Asia, the biggest mall in Asia! It has every store imaginable and an indoor ice skating rink! We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon near Manila Bay, we went to the Aquarium and walked for miles along Rizal Park, the grandstand for parades, and Manila Bay.
The beach was covered in trash and the water looked very polluted. But has we walked down further past the US Embassy, the Philippine’s Navy base we and the Manila yacht club, it was a little bit cleaner. We also went in side Manila Hotel which is the oldest Hotel in the city and it is gorgeous inside!
We were going to Paulo again for dinner tonight but he was running late and we were nervous we would be late for the airport so we had to cancel. Little did we know we would have plenty of time once we got here.
Our flight boards in about an hour, and I’m so excited to see Mezaya!! Being in the Philippines was an interesting experience. I did not really like Manila so much but I would love to come back and visit the rice terraces in the north or one of the thousands of islands and beaches! We were nervous about coming here because of the floods and tsunamis but the city is fine, they cleaned up and recovered quite quickly. We could see from the plane windows, and were told by others, that there was still damage in many of the small towns and provinces outside the city. Today John went to an orphanage to deliver supplies and he told us how the babies there almost didn’t survive the storm. A dyke broke right outside the orphanage and within minutes there was 6 feet of water while eventually rose 3 more feet. They had to swim with the babies above their heads to another building for safety, and everything was ruined; their clothes, diapers, toys supplies and food.
Manila is the most poverty stricken of all the city’s I’ve ever visited in the entire world, I’m sure there are poorer places but it’s the worst I’ve personally seen. When we were stopped at red lights, children and women with infants would knock on our window and beg for money. Children would come up to us while we were walking down the streets and put out their hands or cups begging for money too, it just broke my heart!