Friday, 15 November 2013

CYCLING THE PHILIPPINES - LUZON

MANILA, LUZON


PHOTOS


I gathered my stuff and headed to the tiny ferry jetty from where large motorized Bangka boats departed for the “Mainland” or Luzon Island. It was a quick crossing (about an hour) and once in Batangas City I headed north in the direction of Manila.

Unfortunately, the toll road does not allow bicycles (which is a pity) and I had no option but to take the much smaller and narrower road. Strange how the dangerous roads allow bicycles and the safer ones, with the wide shoulder, prohibits bicycles??

It felt like I was going slightly uphill (maybe I was, ha-ha). I continued on, past Lipa City, and once I reached Tanauan I decided to turn off and cycle to Talisay and see if I could get a boat across the Taal Lake to the Taal Volcano. I was rather disappointed, as the price for the boat to the island was quite steep and more than what I wanted to spent. I hate it when I get a feeling that I’m being ripped off. I took a rather basic room on the lake and just sat and watched the sun set over the volcano.

I really wanted to walk to the top of this tiny volcano as I find it quite fascinating. It is reputed to be the world’s smallest active volcano. It also (like all volcanoes in the Philippines) forms part of The Pacific Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped area of about 40 000 kilometres where a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. The Ring of Fire has 452 volcanoes and is home to over 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes.

7 November - Talisay – Manila - 88km
I was not looking forward to cycling up the hill I came down the previous day, but it turned out not as bad as expected. Far worse was the traffic into Manila. I followed what is known as the National Highway, which runs through all the towns and villages along the way. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper and Jeepney-to-Jeepney, all the way into the city. It took me nearly the entire day to cycle the short distance of 88 kilometres into Manila. Hectic stuff!!

Once in the city I looked for the suburb of Melati and found myself a decent-looking place to stay. I was happy to be in a solid-looking room ahead of the forecasted typhoon. A super typhoon was forecasted and the weather people estimated that it would be the strongest typhoon ever to make landfall in the Philippines.

Due to the typhoon, most flights and ferries were cancelled. I stayed at Pension Natividad, not the cheapest, but very comfortable and centrally located. The place was packed with people who missed their flights and ferries. A kind of jovial mood prevailed while everyone was waiting to see what to do next.

8 November - Manila
Although it was overcast and rainy, Manila was out of harm’s way and nothing came of the predicted high winds. The islands to the south were more affected and judging by the pictures on the internet, many islands were hit badly. Still people waited to see when flights and ferries would be operating again. Many of the guests in the pension could not make contact with their families, as lines were down and there was no way of contacting them. There was not much one could do but wait it out and see what will happen next. I went with John and Matthew (both living on Coron Island and waiting for a ferry) to the harbour to see if there was any other ship going to Palawan. There was none so we returned to the Pension and had a beer instead.

9 November - Manila
The weather was much better on this day so I took a walk around town. Manila is a very populated city (20 million people!!) and the city is therefore plagued by traffic and pollution. I was surprised to see an extraordinary large amount of homeless people. They, however, seemed very friendly and content living on the pavement amidst the fume belching trucks and Jeepneys.  I ventured on along the seafront, past Rizal Park, to what is known as “Intramuros”, the old Spanish capital. A crumbling wall still half surrounds the area, and although it was mostly destroyed in World War II, it was an interesting area in which to wonder about.

I walked back past Robertson’s Mall and picked up a few supplies, seeing that they have a rather well-stocked supermarket. Back at the Pension I sat talking to John, Mathew and Bjorn; we shared a pizza and had a few beers. I also learned that there will be a boat leaving for Coron Island on the Wednesday which sounded like a good idea.

10 November - Manila
I took a walk with Bjorn to the National Museum, which turned out to be rather interesting. I found the discovery of the Butuan Boats fascinating. The boats were excavated in 1997 and dates back to 320AD. These boats are evidence that early man in the Philippines was seafaring and that they were relatively technologically advanced. The discovery also revealed that they had contact and traded with areas outside the Philippines, as shown by the artifacts found on site. Even more fascinating is the fact that the largest sailing vessel of its kind yet discovered is currently being unearthed in Butuan City in Mindanao. Estimated to be around 800 years old, the plank vessel may be centuries older than the ships used by European explorers in the 16th century when they first came upon the Philippines.

After nibbling on some street food, we wondered off in the direction the Palace to see if we could have a glimpse at the 3 000 pairs of shoes, ha-ha. Along the way we passed a Sikh Temple celebrating the 544th birthday of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, founder of the Sikh Religion. We went inside and were soon issued with headscarves and invited to sit down and partake in the festivities. I had the best Indian food since leaving India. What a wonderful experience.

We walked past the Palace but there was nothing much to see, so we carried on to Chinatown which was a bit more interesting. Back at the Pension, I heard that another storm was moving in and once again the ferries and boats were not going anywhere.

11 November - Manila
It was Monday and I waited to see what the new storm was going to do. I took to the streets and cycled around the city looking for a bike shop but was unable to find the one I was looking for. It was not important so I gave up and returned to the Pension. I wanted to take a few pictures of the city skyline at night but was unlucky as it started raining, so I returned to my room with nothing to show for my efforts.

I had one more boring thing to do and that was to contact my bank to arrange with them the use of my bankcards in a foreign country. Apparently, there is now a new ruling. The South African Reserve Bank has made the ruling that South African bankcards cannot be used by clients living (i.e. temporarily, permanently, working or studying) overseas. Clients will be required, by law, to apply for permission from the SARB to be able to use their cards abroad. I, therefore, had to contact the card division, who then wanted to speak to me in person. I emailed them my telephone details and sat waiting, hoping that they would return my call while I’m still in Manila.

12 November - Manila
I had a rather interesting day as I braved the sea of Jeepneys and cycled (what felt like) straight into the lion’s den, LOL. I found the bike shop down a small residential lane, and while the professionals worked on my bike, I took a walk down the street. The street was blocked off, as a TV crew was moving in the following day to record a programme. In the meantime, a choreographer gathered the locals and in no time at all had them doing a wonderful routine!  Professionals can make everything look easy!!!

Once my bike was done, it was already dark and it was quite an experience cycling back, without lights, in the heavy traffic!!  Best was to follow a bicycle rickshaw (pedicab) as they don’t have lights either and they are pretty good at weaving in and out of the traffic. I was quite pleased with myself for making it back in one piece. LOL.

13 - 14 November – Manila
I took a stroll to Robinson’s Mall and found the ticket office for the ferry company. Friday was just two days away and so I bought a ticket to Puerto Princesa, on Palawan Island. The weather should be much better by Friday and hopefully the ferry will not be cancelled again.

Back at my Pension I was pleasantly surprised by a phone call from the card division regarding my bankcard authorization. That now seems to be taken care of for the next six months and then I will have to contact them again.

I was a bit baffled by the large contingent of American Peace Corps staff that moved into the Pension. They have been evacuated from Central Visayas after the typhoon and are now, indefinitely, in Manila.  They are staying here for free and still they are complaining that some of them have to sleep in the dormitory!  When I asked one of them when they will be returning he answered that the situation is uncertain as there is no way they can be taken care of!!  ……… Should they not be the ones taking care of the people who need help??   

I thought of going there to help and spent the entire day on the internet in order to locate someone to contact, but all to no avail!  That is not good - asking for help and then there is no way of contacting them.

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