skull Goodbye Manila skull
skull Manila, Philippines skull

Back to Manila

December 28

After snoozing in bed for way to long we had breakfast and a coffee on a lounger in the sun. I was not ready to leaveÖas usual. But our ride eventually came and, practically kicking and screaming, I got in. Back to Manila for us!

We checked back into the where2next hostel and they greeted us like old friends. We went to the fancy mall for dinner and had an spent most of the night in the lounge in front of the tv. The place had the usual mix of backpackers and we chatted about traveling. We met three young people who were studying in Seoul, South Korea and had fun reminiscing.

Swarmed by the kids

December 29

While traveling in southern Philippines someone had told us about a Real Manila Tour he had done and loved. It was just a guy who had grown up in the slums of Manila and had been one of the lucky ones to get out. With help, he went to school and got a decent education that included the importance of family planning. He has only two children with his wife that he can support and will make sure they have the same advantages he had. At the moment he works in hotels and does this tour on the side. The tour, by the way, is free. It starts around 8 am in the lobby of a budget hostel. Everyone puts on matching t-shirts and listens to a brief explanation of what the tour will involve. We then walked down the street giving goodies left over from yesterdayís tour to the street children. We arenít usually a big fan of giving to street people but our guide assured us that giving food to the street kids was okay. They have nowhere to go, no money, no food and that likely their parents were brought up the same way. Unlike in other countries/cities, by giving we arenít encouraging them to beg as opposed to going to school or finding a job. Those things will likely never be possible. We are simply just helping them survive.

Our guide

A few blocks away we caught a jeepney. Iím embarrassed to admit that it was hard to see; I had a tough time keeping back the tears. In the jeepney we were given more information and I had a good cry. I commend anyone who has the strength to help at this level. I felt very much like a coward.

Our jeepney dropped us at the fringes of the slums, or one of them. There are over 526 slum communities in metro Manila, housing about 6 million people. SIX MILLION PEOPLE live in areas that are deteriorated, hazardous, unsanitary or lacking standard conveniences such as running water, on-site sanitation and electricity. (Jamesí Note: in several places we saw locked shipping containers labeled as tools for building collapses. I guess when it is common enough it just makes sense to keep the equipment on site.) They can be found on vacant private or public lands, usually along rivers, near garbage dumps, along railroad tracks, under bridges, beside industrial establishment and alongside mansions and malls in affluent areas. Just think of it: Canada has a population just over 34 million total. Ontario, Canadaís most populous province/territory, has a population just over 12 million - in an area (1,076,395 square km), about 2000 times the size of Manila. There are almost half the people in the slums of Manila that live in all of Ontario. Itís frightening.

Not improving his love of children

We left the main road and walked through tiny alleyways past familyís living rooms, small stores, ladies doing laundry and more kids than I could count. It was dark, crowded, filthy, and noisy and smelled like raw sewage. I wondered how you could not only live here but survive. We attracted a lot of attention from the kids and they started to follow us and were excited to talk with us. James, who isnít a big kid fan, ended up with a gang of boys swarming him. He was lifting them off the ground with his arms and they giggled and hung on until they had to let go. This went on for most of the walk. We visited a playground and walked past the school. The poverty was shocking. We were seeing an area of Manila that isnít advertised in the glossy brochures.

We came to a store ran by two single moms and (honestly, no pressure from our guide) threw some money into a hat and bought basics. Rice, canned meat, instant milk and cookies. We then bagged them for handing out. We spent the next half hour or so giving a daysí worth of food to people we passed in the streets. Each bag cost less than $3 CAD but it could very likely be the only meal these families got today.

Living in the slums and under the bridge

We wound in and out of side alleys and decrepit buildings and ended at the train tracks. We followed them a few feet and took a turn under the bridge. For the last seven years or so homeless families, people who couldnít afford to live even in the slums, had built a ďhomeĒ under the bridge. We were told bridge living is common, one of too many to even count. The bridge offers them protection from the weather but when it rains too much, especially during typhoon season, the water raises and can wash out the entire place. Forty five or so people lived in the dark, dank, claustrophobic space under the bridge. They had small fridges, mats for sleeping, chairs, tablesÖeven a few old TVs. It was home for them.

We gave out what was left of our meal packages and I wish I had of donated more. As we wandered back to the main road to find a cab we were all very quiet. Our guide handed out friendship bracelets and explained we were now friends of Manila and to pass on his information. He asked us all how we heard about him and it was all word of mouth, from other travellers. Again with no pressure he asked if we wanted to buy the t-shirts. We all did and knew a few more bucks would make it to the slums of Manila. I strongly recommend anyone visiting Manila to give up a morning and do a Real Manila Tour.

Typical alley
(Click on picture for link to video, appx. 6MB)

We had planned from the beginning to leave this afternoon for some souvenir shopping and Iím surprised we did. The morning had left us both feeling guilty, the thought of shopping wasnít top of the list.

We had a quick lunch at the hostel we decided to visit a market known for cheap pearls. After this morningís tour I had a hard time thinking of anything else. Wondering how I could help, where my time and money would be best used and who to trust with itÖ.was all I could think about.

We decided to take the subway to the market or part way then a cab. It still took forever but at least we werenít sitting in a cab. The market ended up being packed, even too many people for me. We wandered around a bit and found the prices to be geared towards tourists; so more than we wanted to pay. We ended up back at the Mall of Asia to do some last minute grocery shopping. The huge grocery store had a surprising selection of international foods.

With our grocery shopping done we went looking for a cab. ďsighĒ I havenít minded Manila at all but hate the traffic here. Our cabbie decided to take a short cut. It didnít seem like one but we were moving forward almost the entire time; such a nice change from the sitting. I have no idea what route he took but we saw a bit more of Manila. It really is huge!

As usual, as I got ready to leave I reflected back on my time. I hadnít really known what to expect of the Philippines. Iíd met people who loved it and hated it. So many people, and things we read, said it could be dangerous, especially Manila. Maybe it was the lack of expectations or the open mind I had but I fell in love. Itís not a big ticket place like Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam nor would I suggest it as your first or only SEA holiday. It had friendly people, beautiful landscapes from paradise like island beaches to cool mountain hideaways. It was cheap and easy to travel through. I think I got a good taste in the five weeks we had spent but could happily have spent five more.

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