I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!










Entries in philippines (3)


The World’s Best Beach


Today we are at anchor off Boracay Island in the Philippines.




This morning, tenders were being prepared and the ship was under scrutiny from the local police.  It’s the first time the company has called here, so it was a little bit of an unknown quantity.




It’s always fun watching the tenders launch and I stood for some time as they were hosed down, cleaned off and made ready for use.  In an emergency, that boat – #8 – would be our lifeboat, so I wanted to make sure all was tickety boo!




We’d had difficulty deciding what to do in this port.  Most tours involved sitting on a beach or spending the day snorkelling and whilst I’d be happy to be in the water, my hero doesn’t really enjoy such activities.  So, we chose a tour called “Island Hopping”.




When we looked closely however, the islands were these snorkelling platforms and the idea of spending the day in the hot sun just did not appeal.  So, we gave our tickets back and decided to use the tender and the free shuttle bus into town to do our own thing.  Before we did, though, we exchanged $20 for Filipino Pesos, because surely there’s be something to buy, some journal fodder or maybe a drink or ice cream?




After breakfast, we secured our place in the first available tender and joined a few other guests and a large group of crew members to go ashore.




Easy peasy to step off the secure stairway and onto the little boat, but there are plenty of staff on hand to ensure everyone’s ok.




Off we went.  Ten minutes maximum.




As we arrived, we spotted this service boat arriving at the same time.  Those outriggers make for a very attractive sight as they sail past and the first thing I noticed was the palette of colours – suddenly we were in a world of bright blue, lime green, turquoise, yellow and white.




We were greeted by people putting shell pendants around our necks – I’m never sure about these and took mine off immediately, lest it send out the wrong signal to people i the town (like here’s another sucker from that huge cruise ship out there)




There was also a group of dancers and drummers making a noise, too.




But the two smallest dancers did not look happy.  Oh dear.  It was ever so hot and they were dressed up to the nines in what could be seen as a very embarrassing costume!




Anyway, immediately our feet touched the ground, we were bombarded with offers to ride in this tricycle, go on that shuttle bus, go to this beach.  We needed none of these because we already had free shuttle transfers but it didn’t stop them trying.




We drove along a bumpy old road to the drop off point in town.  Alongside there were houses of all kinds, but mostly fairly simple places with tin roof and not much more.




It all had a scruffy air and wasn’t especially appealing in any respect.  Hope the town is better!




We were dropped off at the entrance to “the Mall”, actually a collection of beachy type shops, bars and restaurants selling nothing we wished to buy.




But we didn’t want to rush back so mooched a little here and there.




We spotted the self same bags as we’d bought in Manila yesterday at the same price as we paid.  That’s ok then!




I spotted some crochet sandals, “Hand worked, Madam”.




Since we had time, I tried a pair on for fun, but it merely confirmed, they’re not my style.




Passing this blackboard with a list of Premier League matches on it confirmed that really, this wasn’t our kind of place.




But we knew the path led down to the beach and decided that at the very least, we needed to put our toes in the water.  So, we kept going.




White Beach was pretty busy this morning, with families, youngsters and couples.  According to our port information, White Beach is the island’s pride and joy, regularly voted amongst the top 5 beaches of the world “thanks to its stunning 4 km of sugary white sand with palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze and the incredibly clear waters of the Salu sea lapping its shores”.




Well, yes, all of those things are true, but there’s not mention of the continual pestering for massages, sun lounger hire, boat trips, wanna buy pearls…and anything else you can think of.




Though the sea was indeed tropical blue, warm and mostly clear,




there were heavy growths of algae in some parts which made it rather smelly too.

I hate to say it, but we have been to far better beaches in so many respects.




Now, maybe the next five minutes affected my judgement still further, because at this point, I wanted to take a photograph of my feet in the soft white sand.  I scuffed off my Birkenstocks, bent down to pick them up and as I did, my camera fell onto the aforementioned soft sugary white sand.  Slightly panicked, I handed it to my hero whilst I gathered myself together and retrieved a soft cloth from my sunglass case with which to clean it.




If I say “at this point, it was still working”, you might gather what happened then.  Actually, I took this photo afterwards and though it sounded a little scary when switching it on, all appeared to be (almost) ok.

But then it wasn’t.  I wanted to find some shade, away from people who wanted me to buy things, do things or have things done to me – that bunch under the palm tree took the biscuit – for a price they would draw something on your body with a felt tip pen.  Huh?  Temporary tattoo be blowed!  I simply wanted to try to sort out my camera in peace, but it appeared to be impossible.  My hero had the right idea…use my phone for now and take my camera back to the cool of our room, when everything would be clean and hopefully contract a little in the lower temperatures.




So I took a picture with my phone to prove it’d be ok, but really, my heart wasn’t in it.   We waited for the shuttle to return to the jetty, and took the tender back to the ship.  Once there, I fiddled with my camera a little, managed to get a surprising amount of sand out of it – considering it was hardly in contact with the stuff and for such a short time.  By the time we were ready to go and have a bite to eat for lunch, it was at least switching on and off correctly.




When we returned from lunch and all was cool – including us – I switched it on.  Bingo.  Took a picture.  Fine! 


There is still the occasional crunch when the lens moves in and out but hopefully, for now, it’s ok.  Fingers crossed.




To prove it, I went outside onto our balcony to record where we’d been earlier.  We’ll look forward to hearing the stories our friends have to tell when they return from the beach later, but for us, I simply don’t think the world’s best beach matched our expectations.


Later that same day


In sombre mood, following the visit to the American Memorial, we headed on to the centre of Manila.




The very centre from which all mileages are taken, the huge flag flying from a mast right opposite the stadium where the Pope preached to six million people not so long ago.




Where there is also a monument to a national hero, Dr Jose Rizal.





“Let’s go to the Rizal Park”, said Alvoy, “you can learn a little about him”.




So we followed dutifully on, past the sign which said “The Martyrdom of Dr Jose Rizal”, into a small amphitheatre where a sound and vision presentation was under way.




“Welcome to the execution of Dr Rizal”, spoke an amplified voice, which continued to tell the story of his last days and how he walked to this very place to be shot.

We didn’t linger.  It was midday, the sun was hot and we hadn’t really expected to spend our day moving from cemetery to memorial to scene of execution.  Fortunately, it was almost lunchtime and we hoped to lift our spirits over something tasty!




Lunch was indeed very good.  Served in a traditional restaurant in the Intramuros historic district, there was a well laid out buffet with plenty of choice.




Entertainment, too!

After lunch we were invited to look around the Casa Manila, next door.  It was the most beautiful Spanish Colonial home, decorated in traditional style and had been a pet project of Imelda Marcos.  Sadly, no photographs, so I’ll try to find a link to an online source.  Suffice to say the furnishings were lavish, the guards were attentive but smiling and we were able to put our one word of Filipino to good use.  “Guapo”  Beautiful, handsome, stunning…




Just across the street was the San Augustin church, the interior of which is a World Heritage site.  The baroque altar was particularly beautiful.




It being Holy Week, however, the purple drapes were a particular feature.




Almost every image was draped similarly.




From the peace and quiet of the church, we returned through the throng of street sellers – “pearls” (3 strings for $5 – do you think they’re real?), hats, key rings…nothing we wanted, but interesting local colour, nevertheless.




Our next and final stop of the day was Fort Santiago, scene of Dr Rizal’s imprisonment and torture and of similar events throughout the history of Manila.




We preferred to mooch around the beautiful gardens,




to speculate what was being said to General MacArthur




and to take a little look around the handicraft shop.




Mind you, some of those handicrafts looked a little manufactured.




Some were of questionable taste, too.  Still, around the corner we spotted some pretty clutch bags and spent a fun time with the assistants, choosing a couple whilst dancing the Filipino tinikling dance (minus the bamboo sticks) that anyone who's travelled on a cruise in this part of the world will recognise from the Krew Kapers show.  Well, as soon as we heard that particular piece of music, what else could we do but dance!?




From there, we returned to the ship, where preparations were already being made for our departure.  Sad farewells were made as crew guests were asked to go ashore and we made our way to deck five to watch our departure.




What cuties!  These four were the most precocious bunch!




The band played,




The dancers began their show




and a few families waited to wave.




Slowly, as the ship moved away from the quayside, the band, the dancers and everyone else formed a long line and accompanied by the strangest arrangement of Auld Lang Syne you could imagine, they wished us bon voyage.




Manila had proved to be a fascinating city, not at all what we expected and in many ways, far more South American in feel than Asian – I imagine as a result of the Spanish heritage.




As we left the harbour, the sun was setting over the volcano and we couldn’t resist standing and taking another twenty photos as it sank low in the sky.




We watched as the tug arrived to take the pilot home.  Thankfully he had assistance in making what looked like a pretty precarious leap from one ship to another




Yes, I’d have waved enthusiastically having made that transition safely, too!




Dinner last night was in the steakhouse, where the menus are large and the portions not much smaller!




So after dinner, my hero and I took a stroll in the warm, late evening air.




We admired some of the new decor, in particular the way some areas of the ship have been enhanced and made more attractive.




We didn’t linger however, for there were blog posts to write, emails to read and plans for tomorrow to be made.

There is simply never a dull moment.


Manila, old and new


Our first time in the Philippines, so we said a quiet “kerching!” as we stepped ashore this morning.




When we first looked out of the door this morning, we caught a first glimpse of the Taal volcano and as we approached the port, found ourselves surrounded by shipping of all kinds once again.  These Asian ports are busy places.




Some sailed quite close which gave us a chance to take a look at the traditional style of fishing boat here.




I like to see these things and to wonder what life must be like when it’s spent sitting in a small boat like that for most of the day.  What do those two fishermen talk about?




A degree of concentration must be needed because they are sailing amongst some pretty huge ships.  I counted 28 from our balcony and guess there were a similar number on the other side too.




We decided it was time to get up and start our day.  No good hanging around daydreaming when there’s a new city on the horizon.




We were lucky and snagged our favourite table, so watched (and listened) as we approached our berth.  It looked like there was a bit of a welcome party!




I love arriving into a port like this, when before we even arrive my attention is grabbed by colour and, well, life.  I mentioned in yesterday’s post that a good number of the crew are Filipino and we knew that Manila was going to be a highlight for that reason alone.  Whilst we were going to be heading off into the city, we understood that more than 500 family members were coming on board to see the ship and visit sons, daughters and parents who are away from home for so long.




So there was every reason to bang a drum, do a dance and make a noise!




We left immediately after breakfast, running the gauntlet of these sweet young women, being given beads, fans/sunshades and photo opportunities galore!




Welcome to the Philippines!




Now, sadly, the light made recording the journey rather tricky; I’m sorry for the reflections on the window.  But to begin with, we passed grand buildings such as the Manila Hotel, from where General MacArthur commanded operations during WW2 and this, the government assembly building.




Before long, however, we began to see evidence of Manila’s tightly packed 19 million people and to get an idea of how they live.




We passed hospitals, many of which boasted teaching facilities and high performance grades by means of banners on the facade.




I’m not sure how much of an achievement it was to perform the first successful percutaneous mitral valve repair in the Philippines but it’s good to know Dr Timothy’s team’s success was celebrated.  What was even more interesting is that all of these signs are in English.  Our guide explained that there are so many dialects and regional languages that for many, English is the preferred means of communication.  Fascinating!




Our first stop was in the Quezon area and was a street full of large, open barbecues where normally there’d be a rank of spit roast pigs sizzling.  It being Holy Week, however, there was just the one – possibly placed to demonstrate the process for our benefit?




It being only 10 o’clock or so in the morning, it wasn’t particularly tempting, but maybe later…




Mila’s operation seemed to be a family run service and the children were playing around as their mothers sat chatting.




Across the road, the barbecue pit competition looked altogether more serious though, don’t you think?




The importance of religion in the lives of the people here was clear to see from the moment we climbed on board our coach.




I failed to get a picture of the sign “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” on the traffic lights, but here and there were similar reminders of the Catholic faith which plays a large part in the culture here.




Having passed the North Cemetery and all the related flower shops by, our next stop was to be the Chinese Cemetery, which is quite a landmark here because of the vast mausoleums built in a kind of town.




We drove through streets of these buildings, each one with a tomb inside, some with bathrooms and other facilities but actually, built simply to house the dead.




There are the usual inscriptions on the tombs, but also red and gold markers for those still living – reserved signs, effectively.




And there are simply streets and streets of these elaborate buildings, which, when we considered the cramped conditions of the people living in the areas we’d just driven through, seemed faintly ridiculous.




Down each little passageway, we could see more, slightly less lavish structures but they went on and on as far as we could see.




A few were nicely tended and showed photographs of the family members interred but surprisingly, most were dusty and didn’t seem to have been cared for terribly well.




It’s surprising too, that some choose to dump their rubbish in such a place, isn’t it?




Well, customs and culture are different the world over and maybe it’s unfair to make assumptions from a half hour visit like that.  We left the mausoleums and began our way to the next stop when we found ourselves in the middle of a funeral procession, on its way to somewhere in the cemetery.  Reminiscent of a New Orleans style event, the hearse was preceded by three bands playing solemn music and a group of professional mourners.  Alvoy, our guide said he thought the size of the procession indicated a person of some considerable wealth and as the hearse itself approached, that seemed very likely indeed.  The hearse itself was surrounded by the men of the family, each one holding a red ribbon tied to some part of the car.  Others walked behind, holding a ribbon around a group of people walking within the ribbon boundary – hard to explain and I was reluctant to take photographs of such an occasion, for obvious reasons.  All of these men were dressed identically in white and cream and I assume the women were in the cars which followed the procession – a series of large, prestigious 4x4 vehicles with similar red ribbons attached to door handles and aerials.  Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all of this, someone carried a large photograph of an elderly lady, the deceased, I assume.





Whilst we’d been at the cemetery, the clouds had come over and taking photos was a little easier, thank goodness.  So, driving through the centre of Manila, we were able to capture the hundreds (thousands?) of jeepneys which are the main means of transport here.




The streets are colourful but one thing was to be seen on almost every street: small shelters used by people living on the pavement.  The homeless people of Manila appear to be able to set up semi-permanent places for themselves and perhaps we missed an opportunity to find out more about them from Alvoy as we drove.




Though the traffic was horrendous, several side streets had been closed to traffic and games of football and basketball were taking place. 




Each traffic jam was an opportunity for someone to walk between the cars selling cigarettes (individually or in a packet), drinks, popcorn.




If there was a flat surface, even if it was on top of a storage container, then someone was possibly sleeping there, or taking a nap.




But then, we turned into Forbes Street, the Beverly Hills of Manila, and suddenly life took on a rather different appearance.




We were driving through wealthy Manila then, where high rise apartments and five star hotels line the streets and where the American Memorial and Cemetery is to be found.  Here, the remains of more than 17 000 soldiers are to be found, together with the names of 36 thousand  more, all killed in WW2. 




It’s a dignified, sobering place in similar vein to Ypres and the way in which these soldiers, sailors and airmen are commemorated is equally impressive.




There are beautifully created mosaic maps which describe the events in this part of the world.  Did I say in an earlier post that I’d never heard of the Luzon Strait?  Shame on me.




The central chapel was beautiful with rich blue mosaic tiled walls and a peaceful atmosphere, in spite of a constant flow of tourists trooping in an out.




But as always in such places, it’s not only the individual name which touches the heart




it’s the sheer numbers.

More from Manila in my next post.