“Traffic, traffic lookin’ fo my chapstick, feelin’ kinda car sick, there’s a Ford Maverick.”
So, that’s not from the Philippines, but it definitely describes Manila. Traffic.
I was quite confused when I first got to the Philippines – I felt like I understood half the language and the other half was Chinese (to me). Well, it felt like that because it was true. Tagalog is the primary language in the Phils and a lot of its etymology comes from Spanish, due to the long period of rule by Spain. The rest comes from the several Asian influences on the country.
This week, I spent time in three major areas of the Philippines and unfortunately, still can’t seem to spell it correctly on the first try (one L, 2 Ps, one N – how hard is it??). Manila is the worst city in the world for traffic. I’m not saying that, science is. And it definitely feels like it. But I still got the chance to get out and see the city (lots of city and malls), and just out of the city to Tagaytay. Unfortunately by the time we got up to Tagaytay, it was already dark, but the temperature was cooler and it was a nice escape from the city.
Then I went to Palawan, another island, housing the Underground River (one of the new 7 wonders of the world and the largest navigable underground river) and El Nido. El Nido was an absolute WOW. You can take one of four day trips to island hop and it did not disappoint. On a small canoe, you head out among all of the beautiful, towering islands north of Palawan. It sounds pretty flash, but you get a whole day of island hopping, with lunch and transport, for about $20.
Fact: You will exponentially increase the likelihood of me wearing the hard hat that you want to protect my head by explaining that it also will keep guano out of my hair.
Then I headed off to Cebu, where I spent a relaxing few days. Most people who go to Cebu go to Oslob to spend time with the whale sharks. I had heard about it and thought it was really cool, to be that close to such massive animals (largest fish in the ocean – that we know of). But then my darn conscience got involved. I’m working on a separate post about this, but the quick summary is about asking questions.
One thing that I’ve become quite passionate about while traveling is making the right decisions. Not just right for me, but for everyone involved. In this case, making the right decision for both me and for whale sharks. In researching the facility, I found conflicting information. On one hand, some say that it’s good for the animals – they aren’t being held captive in any way, they are only receiving a small portion of their diet from the facility, there are strict rules around touching/interacting with them, and in the end, people having experiences with the fish reduces the demand for their fins. On the other hand, they are wild animals being fed, being taught that boats and humans mean food, their behavior patterns are being modified, those strict rules aren’t enforced and they show physical scars.
I hadn’t reached a conclusion. So I asked around to other travelers. They all said it was fine, the fish didn’t seem constrained or harmed in any way. But it still didn’t settle. I knew that just by being undecided that I had my answer. I reached out to a friend in the industry, and she did some research because she’d never heard of them.
Her answer solidified mine, “I wouldn’t do it.” When I thanked her for her help, she thanked me for asking.
And that was enough of a reminder. Asking questions and getting information is kind of a pain in the ass. But it’s only with that information can I make the right decision. There are the overtly bad – the tiger “sanctuary” in Thailand where the tigers are drugged – that still receive tourists by the drove. So it’s that much harder when it has a subtle impact. But that’s our JOB as travelers.
Why does the tiger sanctuary still operate? Because they still get visitors. Just like why are there still drug cartels? Because people still buy drugs. We can’t make change by attacking suppliers. As long as there is demand, it’s like playing whack-a-mole. So as travelers, let’s control the demand. Dare to say no to the great selfie in the name of saying yes to the right decision.
What did I do instead of seeing the whale sharks? Well, there was a typhoon on the way, so I didn’t want to spend a bunch of time on buses to get to beaches that I couldn’t swim in, so I experienced Cebu in the city.
I went to an Irish pub with a Welsh, a German and a South African to watch rugby. There’s no punchline, it was just Saturday night. We also went out dancing with the locals, and paid a “foreigner” tax to get in. I don’t love when foreigners are charged more, but I’m ok with a $2 cover to keep the place local. We also had a day at the mall. Now, that doesn’t seem like a “travelly” thing to do. And I definitely wouldn’t have if I was traveling for a week, or even a month. But when traveling for any longer, I think it’s “ok” to hit the movies (I actually think it’s “ok” to do whatever you want when you travel, it’s your trip to design for yourself). Plus, in the Philippines, malls are part of the culture. So it wasn’t retreating into a Western haven.
But it was definitely a grand decision rather than being outside in the hot city to stay in, play games in the arcade, eat lunch and hit the movies.
Other bonus of the mall? I found a backpack slightly smaller than mine for a great price, so I’ve down-sized. I still feel like I have too much stuff, but when I get away from the water and drop things like my snorkel and mask, hopefully that feeling will get better. It’s amazing how much you think you need, but hardly touch, even in 6 months. How do I justify buying a new pack? Well, I’ve had the other one for over 10 years (and actually didn’t pay for it – I got it with rewards points) and breakfast in the Phils was about 35 cents each day, so it’s all balance.