My newly introduced travel partner, Lu Lu, was beautiful. Names aside, the Philippines certainly do have beautiful girls. Lu worked in advertising, and was just about to start off in a new firm. She was all for traveling to the North. And I was glad I passed the first Filipino test of saying I like the Malls …
Vince was all for another Mall, so this time I was introduced to one of the largest. The Mall of Asia. We’d taken the Philippines answer to the metro to get there. The LRT, a topside metro in other words. Blessed with good air-con, and a giant impractical ticketing system. It actually took longer to get to it, than use it to get to the mall.
The Mall of Asia, to its credit, is pretty damn big. It was also just as bad with security. However, having learned my lesson from the day before. I unpacked my camera, hard drive and valuables and stuffed them into all my pockets. Not an eyelid was battered as the little security mans metal detector went off behind me and I kept going. The guy behind me had his bum back prodded with a stick. Priorities.
More shops than you could imagine yet again. I pretended it was all so interesting, while thinking up of my plans to head north to the illusive hanging coffins. During all this I came across a hidden gem in the Philippines; CD-R King. An everyone jump like mad people to get the cheapest MP4 players, DVD players, memory cards, mp3 player and just about everything else that a cheap Chinese manufacturer can produce that fits in a pocket, type place. Like any good tourist I went straight for the cheapest of the cheap section! It was better than anything I had seen in China, and certainly prompted a second visit.
Lunch was again at the now traditional Jollibee. The burgers were by now loosing their appeal and I stared out over at the KFC. Then realized how everyone was so junk food oriented. I needed for sure to escape the Mall scene.
Lu was equally happy to get out. “So what are you going to see in the North?”
I fumbled with my wikitravel printouts. “Erm, the hanging coffins!”
“Ah!, that’s so cool I’ve always wanted to see them. When are you going?”
“I was thinking of the day after tomorrow.”
“And you don’t mind if I tag along?”
Was she mad? Or was she a prostitute? Shame on me for thinking this. But after China, Tibet and Nepal I wasn’t used to women being so forward. I could just imagine the trouble a Nepalese girl would get in for saying she was going on a trek with a foreigner. But Vince assured me everything was cool.
We wandered around the giant mall some more and then I noticed something quite odd. For a tropical country, they had very little fresh fruit juice for sale. There were juice sellers. But the closer you got, the more you would see stacks of glow in the dark powders and liquids. Artificial flavors ruled. I finally found an expensive stand selling pineapple, watermelon and apple. After that every thing came in liquid pre-blended form or a mixture of powders?! At least pineapple was popular.
We headed back out into the heat of the late afternoon. I was so dehydrated from the Mall’s AC that I really didn’t mind the humidity now. We left Lu with the promise of meeting up again to finalize our trip. I then managed to sneak in a comment about no malls. She looked at me with a frown. Maybe the Mall was a national treasure? She then started arguing with a jeepney driver who tried to over charge her by 50 Centavos. She didn’t back down. Vince gave me a double eyebrow raise. I didn’t know if it was a Filipino code for something not so good. Or maybe too good.
I spent some time investigating what else there was to do in Manila. Vince was happy just to sit out in the shade and drink beer. Or, maybe the Mall again. Taal Lake was an hour out from Manila, but the photos at the hotel were not so inspiring. What to do? Corregidor was a place that sounded interesting. An Island that was the scene of a fierce WW2 battle. I asked how we could get there.
“By ferry,” chirped the receptionist.
How I wished they had internet.
With no guide book I asked for directions on how to get there. I got a phone number instead and called.
“1999 Peso?!! For a half day!” I scratched my head and called Vince over. He called and got the same reply. Apparently the island was under the monopoly of a single tour operator. They charged what they wanted it seemed.
I sat back in the hotels garden and looked out into the quite street. I liked Manila. It was lively, colorful, and a had all the makings of a big city with several layers. And, relatively cheap, accommodation aside. But there was a lack of anything to do outside the mall. And to visit a lake, island or anything else cost a lot.
I then wondered if the rest of the Philippines would be the same? Expensive hotels. Tours only. And many many malls. I shook it out of my head as the smell of an evening bbq wafted in from the street. I headed out and was greeted by smiles of appreciation from a group of locals as I ordered 5 sticks of BBQ.
A bit sweet, but tasty. Tourist prices were high in the capital, but at least the people seemed nice. And, the food good. I vowed that on my next visit to the capital I would seek out and visit its non mall oriented side.
However my next destination would be to the north. And, I would be in the company of a beautiful girl who had an ability to bargain hard. Seemed to good to be true. Hanging Coffins and Rice terraces await!