Sun 11-Apr-10 08:16 PM | edited Sun 11-Apr-10 08:19 PM by kdsmithjr
well, folks. I did it. I was in the phillipines from march 14 to march 21st and it was an awesome trip. I want to return to live there! the people i was with or met were just incredible and i felt more comfortable there than i do in my own country (USA). As a person of color (i am a black american) I have never experienced such openness and genuine acceptance and nowhere even a hint of disdain because of the color of my skin.
I sort of took the counsel given here about driving. I had planned to stay in manila my first two days there, just to get acclimated and deal with any possible jet lag (the flight from jfk is 22 hrs and 45 mins--china airlines rocks!!). Because i grew up in NYC and was keenly aware that having an automobile can be more of a liability than an asset, I stayed in a 'condotel' in makati city (sort of akin to midtown manhattan's relatioship to metro nyc) for my first two days. Then, on the morning of the third day there, I took a taxi back to NAIA (manila international) and rented a car for the remainder of my week that. That morning, with new rental in hand, I was bound for Baguio City. One of the workers in the car rental place, hearing i had been there for two days and been around manila, offered to drive me and my rental north, to the northern edge of manila, on the main road to Baguio for 500 pesos (about $10 and mostly to cover the cost of him gettting back to work at NAIA). He and I and Jasmin (a filipina I'd been chatting with on the net for nearly a year and who love photography and who stayed with me during the week there) snaked our way thru mid afternoon manila traffic and, beginning about 2:30 pm or so, Jas and I were on the way to Baguio (no, she doesn't know how to drive).
That 4 hour or so drive was a quick education in driving in the "phils." Contrary to common advice given, it is do-able to an american driver but...(this is a big but) people who are anal retentive about driving rules or who can't pass muster as a NYC cab driver (i was in college in the 70's) or who don't consider themselves "aggressive" behind the wheel should heed the common warning and use a driver instead. The warning you see on TV during commercials with stunt driving that say "do not try this. professional drivers shown" absolutely apply in the Phils! The Phillipines is physically the size of New York State and Pennsylvania combined. Here those state have about 30-35 million residents. There are 92 million filipinos living in the Phillipines. Translation? There are people everywhere; even 'rural' areas between towns have lots of traffic and pedestrians and mopeds and motorized tricycles/moped-sidecars all over.Once you get into the 'groove' of how you need to conduct yourself behind the wheel, driving in the phils is no different than driving in NYC (sort of).
It gets dark there earlier than it does in my home (Ithaca, ny), so my intro to driving there included driving on serpentile narrow roads winding thru the mountains, climbing the 5,000 ft from manila's sealevel to Baguio's 900 to 1500 meter level--in pitch darkness. My accomodations in Baguio were very reasonable and the people were great. The phils is very different, yet very much the same as the USA. The malls there could easily be transplated to anyplace in the USA and they are just as packed as ours. The scenery was incredible, the weather perfect and jas and i were taken around baguio for 4 hours for about 500 pesos. I spent time at the botanic gardens, checked out the presidental retreat (kinda like their "camp david") and i spent a good two hours shooting at the phillipine military academy--the "west point" of asia. After two days in baguio we get back in the car and pointed ourselves back towards manila. we actually went through manila on the way to a town south of there called Tagaytay and the famous Taal lake. A "caldera" is a geologic formation that is, essentially, a water-filled crater of an "extinct" volcano; essentially a "lake" formed in the crater of an old volcano. Taal Lake is a caldera, but it is unique because in the middle of Taal Lake there is another, smaller volcano, also "dead", whose smaller crater is also a caldera; essentially you have a scenario where there is a caldera within another caldera! The bigger caldera, i.e., Taal Lake had a connection to the sea hundreds of years ago, but that was cut off in an ancient eruption. As a result, though, Taal Lake was one of the world's fresh water sardines and one of only two species of fresh water "true" sea snakes (all deadly elapids--related to kraits and cobra and coral snakes). My room there for two nights was perched high atop the rim of Taal Lake's caldera wall and i took a motorized outrigger boat to the smaller volcano and rode a horse up to the rim of the smaller volcano and it's caldera. Having Jasmin along was great; she speaks english well--as do many filipinos--and she could clue me into some cultural norms...and she taught me to eat "filipino style." I've attached a few shots.