Christmas and Typhoons In The Philippines
The Adventures of The Roving Route #15
A few days before Christmas we left Moalboal and got ourselves settled in a really nice part of Cebu City. As the birthplace of Filipino Christianity, we thought it would be a good spot to celebrate. While we had a great time re-exploring parts of the city, it was obvious that Christmas is all about the lead-up. For the months prior, Christmas carols play, trees are decorated, and people are excited. Then Christmas day happens and people retreat to their home cities or houses with the exception of a mass or two throughout the day. It was clear that the day itself is very much for family, unlike other religious holidays like Easter which are spent at church or in the community. This all being said, we were not disappointed at all by this however it was just a bit different than expected.
When it comes to mother nature, you can only avoid her wrath for so long. A few weeks ago we spoke about how we narrowly missed being hit by a typhoon (the worst of it was just a 2-hour ferry north). This week another typhoon made landfall and devastated the country. Ursala, "the Christmas day typhoon" killed almost 50 people, destroyed billions of pesos worth of crops and land, and brought transportation to a standstill over the busiest period of the year! Unlike the first round, we were not left unscathed by the furious weather.
Our Christmas day started out great with a nice brunch up the road. That quickly changed when we took a look at the news. For the two days prior, it had been raining hard in Cebu but didn't seem to be that bad. That was not the case for the entire country. On the 27th we were booked onto a 24-hour ferry from Cebu City to the capital, Manila. Unfortunately, our boat was caught up in the storms and was prevented from leaving the port on time. This is where our Christmas day came in. Getting home from brunch, we found out our boat was canceled leaving our flight out of the Philippines in jeopardy. We quickly ran down to the port where upwards of 5000 others were waiting and luckily we were able to get a new ticket - but departing a day earlier! Though we did have a ticket to our final destination, it was quite the day of stress and not full of presents well, except for each other.
Packing up a day early and letting our hotel go to waste, we showed up to the ferry terminal almost 2 hours before the apparent departure time. Once again, a change of plans and the ferry didn't depart until about 6 hours later! It was alright though as it gave us the opportunity to delve into one of the most interesting programs we have come across. From what we understand, a program has been created to help train visually impaired people in the art of massage. It is a skill that does not require sight and has become very popular in the Philippines over the past 2 decades. While at the ferry terminal we had two masseuses, with a combined 30 years of experience, pummel and work our backs and necks for a half hour. While it was for sure not a relaxing time, they worked out a bunch of the kinks and knots in both our backs!
Though it was a few hours late and a day early, we eventually made it to the ferry and got to our room. Thanks to a lovely Christmas present from Margot and Ian, we were living in apparent luxury though anything with a private bathroom and costing more than $12/night is luxury to us. The place was for sure the largest room we stayed in for the last 2 months and one of the nicest. Slowly chugging along past countless islands, we finally made it to Manila.
Wow, what a difference the city is to anywhere else in the country. Metro Manila itself has almost 13 million people with the island of Luzon at over 60 million. That is over half the country's population on one island! Comparing that to Cebu City - the next most populous city we visited in the country - with its population of about 900,000, it was overwhelming, to say the least! The people, the smells, the traffic, and of course the poverty. As a general statement, until Manila, we didn't see an excessive amount of poverty, as the lines between farming land and cities/towns hardly existed. There was some begging, and in parts of major cities, you would see some interesting living situations, to say the least, but nothing too overwhelming. Manila was different. The prospect of jobs, the abundance of substances available to abuse, and people just down on our luck have caused some issues for some of the city's population. That being said, the friendliness and comfort level remained surprisingly high, even with these issues.
In Manila, we spent most of our time exploring the Intramuros district. This area was the home base of the Spanish for generations and became heavily fortified during the wars against the British and then subsequent Philippine Revolution. Even with all the fighting, the area is surprisingly well preserved and gives off a very European feel. It is also the heart of religion in the area so it's no surprise that the best-preserved churches are inside the walled city within a city! Our days exploring the area quickly turned into us becoming extras in the background of at least a half dozen weddings! These churches, while open to the public, are also the most sought-after venues to get married. The first day we explored it was a Sunday and there were lineups of wedding parties and their accompanied friends and family waiting their turn to walk down the aisle! While the venues were beautiful, as were the brides, the kids stole the show! Dressed in the cutest little outfits it was hard not to steal a few of them!
We fly out on the 31st to arrive into Bangkok, Thailand in time to celebrate New Years'. It will be tough to leave Manila this week as it signals the end to the first portion of our journey. The Philippines were amazing and somewhere that we cannot recommend enough. Slowly moving north in Thailand will be lots of fun but we will miss the people and the islands of the Philippines! We cannot wait to find out where the next year will take us! Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to everyone!
Cheers from Manila, The Roving Route