Here are three video's including my two stops before arriving at the Manila airport.: LAX and Hong Kong!
When I arrived at the airport I had never felt so miserable. I held my name overhead on a sign I’d drawn and then walked outside with my obese bike box and luggage in tow. I was hoping to find a friend of Chuckie’s, who was to pick me up and help me settle in, before driving me to Subic. The sweat was starting to form, as I didn’t get the chance to change from my compression tights and socks and long-sleeve top and pants. The humidity was overwhelming and I hadn’t even stepped outside!With name in hand I finally reached the airport’s exit doors. There was a barrier between the outside population and the throngs of arriving passengers. I felt like I was coming out of prison or maybe looking at one. Police were directing everyone but no one seemed to listen. Before long Chuckie’s friends found me. Their car was an econo car not much bigger than a refrigerator. After some maneuvering, we departed the airport’s chaos, with my bike box tied down in the car’s tiny trunk and my luggage in my lap. Sweat continued to flow but I gave up caring.
Chuckie’s friends were JR and his girlfriend, and JR’s mom ‘Fe’ (Iron!). They were so unbelievably gracious. We headed out onto the streets of Manila.
The traffic was as unbelievable as the humidity. Cars were weaving in and out and then back in, but going nowhere slowly. Everyone limped along at 25miles per hour, tops. There were literally thousands of motorbikes and cyclists with carriers. I was shocked by the sheer floods of people. But it wasn’t like LA traffic where everyone is out for him or herself. Here, they seemed to show respect for one another. Even though it appeared crazier than Los Angeles, it had a rhythm that seemed to make sense, though it’s hard to explain. Horns beeped to acknowledge your wanting to get into the lane next to you (although no one actually drove within the lines!) and every single car would let your car in. It looked like millions of ants – all with a singular purpose. Pedestrians crossed wherever they wanted while cars were literally centimeters away from one another, but there was no road rage present.
We soon started passing miles of shacks – often made out of warehouse material, cardboard, etc. Of course they weren’t shacks but homes. At first I was overwhelmed with the “poorness” I saw. But then realized that this is their way of life, and all they know.
JR pointed out “Pegasus!” and smiled. I was informed that it was THE whorehouse for the rich. It was sad but funny at the same time and we all laughed. The hundreds of taxis on the highways were basically like the back of a pick-up truck – people just hopped in and out.
First we drove to the Boyd’s family's house (Boyd is Fe’s other son) where I met his wife, little girl, mother and father-in-law and niece and nephews. Their house looked like a warehouse opening to a narrow side alley. The entire place was no more than a few hundred square feet, including the upstairs. I9 people live there.
The family took me in with open arms and everyone was so friendly and genuine. These are people that own very little, but in truth, they have everything. I was in shock in more ways than one.
"JR" and his girlfriend not only picked me up in Manila (a 2+ hour drive from their house) but they didn’t sleep that day, as they just got off night shift at the call centers they work at (apparently all the call centers – TELUS, Verizon, UA airways are situated here in Asia. From North America, you call their information centers and are transferred across the world!). After our brief stop at their home, they ended up driving me all the way to Subic Bay, in the opposite direction of Manila! They never balked or made me feel bad (though I felt awful!) but instead, they were sincere with gratitude that they got to offer their help. I have never experienced such kindness from strangers before.
In the picture here I’m trying to show the respect for elders that is ingrained into this society. The children take the back of his or her hand and then taps the elder’s forehead. The grandfather is teaching his granddaughter how to do it. The young one did it to me when I arrived but I couldn’t capture it on film and I didn't know what it meant at first.
Charmi, Boyd’s wife, was very helpful and gave me a cell phone to use for the duration of my trip. Just like it is back home cell phones are everywhere here; the difference is that I’m able to call Canada and the US for only 5c a minute and I don’t have to sign into a contract or anything! In Canada it costs more to just own a cell phone, let alone use it, than to have one here and call all over the world. I’ve already called home a couple times. I will be doing so a lot I think.
The Jimeno family – Boyd and Charmi, JR and his girlfriend, Fe and their older brother (I didn’t get his name!) took me out to lunch for some authentic Filipino cuisine. I’m not sure what I ate but it was delicious! There was rice, something pronounced as "boulley" (which had stomach and other insides of an animal in a peanut soup sauce), a fish dish, chicken, and a few other unknowns. I tried a bit of everything. The only thing I was certain I didn’t like was the texture of the stomach. Uugh. Here is a video of "Raj", Boyd's nephew. He loved the camera!
After lunch, we proceeded to try to make our way to Subic. I asked how long it would take and Fe said, “3 hours.” I was still amazed. Nothing fazed these people! No matter how far, how long, they were going to get me to my destination in style. Fe even insisted I try to sleep. I guess it was obvious jetlag had me in its grip as I could barely hold my head up! I was out in seconds, to the soothing sound of cars honking and roadside roosters.
When I woke up, I was shocked. I was on a beautiful road with very few cars and was able to see for miles. The countryside was incredible: endless grasslands, volcanic mountains jutting up in the distance and smoke rising god-like from the grasslands. I saw well-fed cows (or I think they were cows!), untouched greenery and grass huts everywhere. I felt like I was in a dream.
We went through 4 or 5 toll stations and almost ran over a runaway rooster as we made our way to the freeport zone in Subic. We managed to find the Forest View hotel after asking a few locals. It’s where I’ll be living for the next three months. The place is nothing like what the website displayed, but it will do. It will have to do! I almost stepped on a cockroach the size of a golf ball as we entered the house. Charmi quickly just walked over and stepped on it without a second thought. It was an everyday occurrence to her. I wished I hadn’t screamed so loud!
Next, I had to pick up some local currency, pesos, to head to the local grocery store. The Jimeno family drove me down and wanted to be sure I had enough food to eat. I guess they expected me to be bigger! Again, I was overwhelmed by their hospitality.
The grocery store was more like a convenience store. I was in trouble. I asked where the fruits and veggie section was. They looked at me with a puzzled stare. There weren’t any, of course. Luckily, there were a few stands out on the sidewalks that had some apples and oranges for sale and I scooped nearly all of them up. For someone who eats a lot of vegetables, this looks like it’s going to be a problem. All that was available was processed food, with labels I would never comprehend (not unlike ours back home, really!). I ended up picking up some canned fish (though I just found out my hotel room doesn’t have a can opener!) and two packages of frozen peas and carrots, with no known expiration date. Apparently there is another market nearby that opens in a few hours, so I’ll try to venture over there with a teammate, if they’re willing.
I’m happy to be here, even though I feel lost! After all the hustle and bustle I made it safe and sound. I met up with one teammate already, LC (who is from the area). We were both getting ready for bed in the same complex. I plan to meet the others soon, when they wake up!