So here are a bunch of islands getting struck by atleast ten typhoons each year and surrounded by volcanoes. Yet, there is a calmness in the air and a sense of vibrancy in the hue. There is a willingness to live, grow and enjoy. There is a reason to work hard and there is a reason to be called one of the largest archipelagos of the world even with all the calamities that have tried taking down the spirit of this country.
Welcome to Philippines, one of the very few countries of East Asia where English is the National Language. So, if you have inhibitions about traveling to this country then you should drop it right away. From the very first step you take outside the aircraft after landing here, you can sense the positivity of people around you. Everyone is smiling… the “hello” sounds genuine and there is a genuine effort to make you feel comfortable about your surroundings. There is a sense of hospitality that every taxi driver adheres to and conversations can range from politics to business, from family to career… apparently the drivers know it all. As a heads up, traffic can be really bad most of the day, so be prepared to talk about stuff rather than sit in the backseat and take a nap.
Like any other country you would see the big gap between the rich and the poor but there is no complaining. They work hard and they take pride in their work, to an extent that my driver wanted to name his unborn child as Rodger, the CEO of his company he is working for. Philippines was a Spanish colony so most of the names and architecture have a tinge of Spain attached to it. Don’t be surprised to find a lot of Nadals and Bernardos on your way while socializing. Transport in and around the main cities of Philipines is mainly through hired Taxis which can be very cheap from the American perspective i.e.$10-15 for a 40-50 km ride. The roads are full of SUVs and Trucks and hardly any Sedans or Hatchbacks. You can really see the love people have for bigger vehicles when 7/10 vehicles on the road are SUVs.
Tourism plays a major role for the economy of the country. Of course, imagine a volcano within a lake, then a lake inside the crater of the volcano, and then an island on that lake and… just put this in loop. The country is a part of the Pacific Ring of Fire i.e. it is surrounded by volcanoes and consists of a few within itself. Taal lake is one of those crater lake phenomenon. It is inside the crater of an active volcano. At Tagaytay, you can take a boat rise to the base of that volcano and then take a 4KM trek to that crater. Feel the purity of the mountain air and the view of water body from the top on your way. The soil is grey due to all the ash and temperature can be in mid thirties during the day in September. But all this is worth it when you reach the Lake and take a dip in the warm sulphur rich water (Girls take note, it’s good for the skin). Trek back to the base for a dose of local delicacy in the form of fried Bangus (fish) and Beef Adobo (A sweetened curry form). Rice is the staple food and is a part of all meals (The Indian in me was very happy about this) and if you are really a hardcore foodie and have the guts then try Balut, a developing duck embryo that is boiled and eaten in the shell itself. Tagaytay also offers a birds’ eye view of the country through a amusement park that has a giant-wheel on the concept of the London Eye.
Makati happens to be the business capital of the country with the tall buildings gracing the skyline. Few kilometers between those buildings and you come across the glittering streets of the real Philippines party life. Restaurant ranging from Arabic to local delicacies, almost all bars have dancers and more or less offer the Adult experience (Don’t judge me, I just peeped to know what’s inside).24 hour massage parlours to people selling Rolex on the street. The best brand shopping malls to cheap bargain Chinese products. You simply get lost in all the options the city has to offer in the evening, one simply wants to try it all and if it wasn’t for having to wake up early the next day I wouldn’t have come back either.
This trip wasn’t over until a visit to the beautiful islands (it’s an archipelago after all). Crystal clear waters, untouched wildlife and shorelines, white sandy beaches is what has made this island a paradise. It’s not rated as the best island of the east by National Geography for no reason, right? Just take a dip in the serene waters surrounded by small mountains and forget the world. Feel one with nature and walk through the white grains of sands bringing out the inner peace and the child in you at the same time. There are a lot of similar islands in the Philippines but this stands out.
All in all Philippines will give you an experience… it will give you a sense of hope and joy on your way back. It rejuvenates you and gives you enough reasons to come back again. Oh and don’t forget to ride the Jeepme (an elongated form of the jeep that can carry 12-16 people at once) or the Bike rikshaw (a carrier attached to a bike) they are trademark Philippines mode of transport. The fun lies in travelling along with the locals 😉