Right On The Wrong Side Of Town

Manila is teeming with traffic.  The thriving metropolis in the Luzon Province of the Philippines has every mode of transport imaginable including: jeepneys, motorbikes, rickshaws, horse-drawn carriages, all jostling for the right of way.  However, the colorful jeepneys dominate the streets.  The drivers artfully maneuver in and out of traffic, vying to pick up passengers as they go to their respective destinations.  To travel a short distance, could take double the time due to the overwhelming amount of buses, cars, trucks, etc., on the road on any given day.  To be punctual it is advised to leave hours ahead of the expected arrival time.  As I mentioned in previous publications, there seems to be no respect for road laws especially in the densely populated areas where everyone is competing to get ahead of the other.  The only fiat obeyed is the traffic light, there, everyone stops and goes as directed.

I arrived in Manila safely after a terrifying drive from Sagada.  Inquiries on how to get to the hotel in Quiapo, a bustling commercial district in Quezon City was easy, and like a pro, I quickly boarded the back entrance of the Victor-Cruz jeepney, instructed the driver to stop at my hotel’s address, and sat back to enjoy the ride.  We headed down the wide boulevard, stopping intermittently to let passengers on and off.  When the driver gave the nod alerting me of my arrival, I hesitated for a moment.  I thought there must be a mistake and that he did not understand my initial request, but he insisted it was my stop.  I disembarked looking around in bewilderment.  A few seconds passed when a neatly dressed security guard approached me.  Seeing the puzzled look on my face and obvious travel bags, he ushered me to the entrance of a building which looked hardly like a hotel.  I noticed the hotel’s name on the door but was still skeptical when he told me to ride the elevator to the third floor.  Not wanting to be scammed, kidnapped, or robbed (it’s amazing what goes through your mind when you are suspicious of everyone and everything) I asked again, and he assured me I would enter reception on the third floor.  Strange that a hotel would begin on the third floor versus the lobby entrance of the building but who says it can’t begin at any level.  So, I rode the elevator to the third floor saying my prayers all the way.  Because I am a budget traveler, price sometimes override quality, comfort, location or room amenities.  Bracing myself to experience mediocre service and a lack-luster stay at this establishment ran counter to my low expectations.

Albeit surprised at the twist of location, I can only say good things about the hotel that began on the third floor.  From the moment I stepped off the elevator,  I was greeted by the manager and reception.  Check-in time was not for another six hours so my bags were taken, I was shown to a powder-room where I could freshen up, given a map of the attractions in the area, and a bottle of water.  Even though I was tired and very sleepy, I decided to walk around the neighborhood to pass the time.  On the map was the Intramuros, a must-see lodestone in the vicinity.  A rickshaw ride helped me cover the important points within the 166-acre walled-in city.  The Intramuros is a significant national heritage site and historically important.

On the way to Intramuros and mere steps from the hotel’s entrance, food and vegetable stalls, specialty vendors, sweat shops, and hustlers ply their ware.  Because of my curious nature, I wandered onto the side streets and into a sea of people buying and selling every conceivable thing you can imagine.  The labyrinth of makeshift setups was close and tight-knit as I meandered from street to street inspecting and gazing on things I did not recognize or that were unfamiliar to me until I realized I was lost.  Determined not to overreact or to ask for directions, I kept on walking, all the while, conscious of the curious onlookers who would smile, finger point, stare and sometimes even dare to ask a question.  I bumped, brushed, edged my way along the thronged streets seeking an exit.   I eventually stumbled upon the well-known Quiapo Church overflowing with worshipers, a customary practice every Friday.  It became a distinct landmark, and that day was the way out of the maze for me.  Back at the hotel, I checked into my room which was spacious, comfortable and clean.  Room service was efficient and attentive.  They went the extra mile to give me a daily dose of vitamin C (thanks to Nestor who brought limes along with my breakfast) when I felt ill the last two days of my stay.

As usual, it is my custom to find and fellowship among people of like faith wherever I go, and Manila was no exception.  I located my church, this time riding in an air-con jeepney to get there.  Even though I arrived late, I enjoyed the service and later socialized with a few folks who became fast friends.  They took me under their wing, invited me that same night out to dinner, and from there, itinerary plans were laid to give me a tour of the other side of Manila lest I should walk away thinking that Manila was a completely run-down, dilapidated, poverty-stricken city.

These recently acquired friends jokingly enlightened me to the fact that I was living right on the wrong side of town, in the heart of a non-descript location.  Up until that moment, I had indeed accepted that the city’s infrastructure was derelict, old, ugly and in need of serious repairs.  Thanks to friends:  Mary Ann, Edgar & Resa, Matt & Ellen, Ricky & Lisa for changing that perspective.  They treated me to an excursion (showing off the other side of Manila) I would not have witnessed or experienced where it not for their kindness, hospitality and love of country.  We drove to well-known points-of-interests nearby Quiapo like: Rizal Park, home of the Filipino Performing Arts, the picturesque boardwalk with arresting views of Manila Bay, and SM-Mall of Asia – a sprawling complex of stores and entertainment  galore, the largest of its kind in Asia.  Surrounded by casinos, hotels, million-dollar high-rise condos and affluent neighborhoods, the mall is a major destination for foreigners and locals evident by the huge number of shoppers on a daily basis.  The time spent with my new friends was sweet and relaxing.  We ate, laughed, talked, got to know each other and had an enjoyable day site-seeing in Manila.

Community Peeps, the Southeast Asia exposé was long.  This is the final account.  As I recounted each episode, it was like reliving the moments over again.  The best and most memorable experiences have been those I’ve had interacting with the natives of each country and fellow travelers.  They are priceless.  I have not eaten rice nor plan to for a few more months.  Jet-lag has confused my internal body-clock in that when I should be sleeping I’m awake and vice versa.  Hope you enjoyed the reading and are eagerly expecting to view the photos.  The selection is extensive, but I will do my best to bring you the most interesting ones.

All, thanks for reading this post.  Remember to select follow to receive timely updates, click like to show your love and support, share on your social media page, or comment in the box below.  Did I tell you where I am planning to go next? Take a guess and tell me in the comment section.  I will let you know if you are warm, hot or way out in the Antarctic.

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