Memories of Manila

(written back in Big Sur but I’ve only had the chance to post now…)

Since I’ve got the luxury of free time today, I’ll do some catch-up blogging. Where I’ve left off: we were just leaving Taipei for some beach time in the Philippines. It’s over a year ago now that we were at this point in our trip (First of all, MIND BLOWN. Second of all, ack, I have soooo much catching up to do!).

As I’d mentioned in my last post on the topic, we’d decided to stop in the Philippines for a bit of easy down time after two jam-packed months of shuttling all over expansive, intriguing China.

The easiest way to gain access to this archipelago was via its capital city, Manila. We’d heard other travelers’ advice and opinions about the place, which were pretty much, get out as fast as you can and the place is a cesspool (actually, more colorful language than “cesspool” was used in this case, but I’m trying to keep this blog rated PG).

Our guidebook didn’t disagree with this perception, but did a decent job tempering city’s negative aspects:

This is the sort of city you leave, fellow travellers tell us, immediately after arranging your ferry ticket out. To a degree, Manila’s earned its rough-around-the-edges reputation. After all, this incredibly huge metropolis is home to well over 11 million souls, with scores of hungry transplants from the provinces arriving each day. In other words, this is exactly the sort of place in which there’s bound to be a good bit of chaos…

For a city that’s not known as a major tourist draw, Manila sure has a lot to see. Because of its hugeness and its traffic, you’ll likely never see it all. As you explore, you’ll get an appreciation for a city that has been at the pinnacle of Asia – and almost at the nadir as well. And you’ll get a feel for the soup of cultural influences that combine to make Manila the free-wheeling metropolis it is today. Much of what’s best to see isn’t always at a traditional sight , but rather can be found in the life of the varied neighborhoods.

…If you’re a traveller who likes to get a feel for the pulse of a place just before the rest of the world storm in, it’s quite likely that Manila may just be the sort of town you’ve been looking for.

(Lonely Planet Philippines)

We are not such savvy travellers that I would claim we managed to read Manila’s pulse, but we did decide to spend a couple days exploring the city before heading to the country’s idyllic beaches. Even though we were happy to have a break from exploring culture and history after all that we’d taken in in China, I’m still SO glad that we gave Manila a chance.

Yes, it’s rough. Yes, it’s loud. Yes, it’s grungy. Yes, I saw more human feces on the streets of the city than I saw on the whole rest of the trip (heartbreakingly, it seemed there were more homeless in Manila than in any other than in any other metropolis we’ve visited on the trip).

But there was a lot more to Manila than its roughness. May of the sights we visited were beautiful and fascinating and nowhere else in the Philippines were we more readily able to tap into the sense of this complex country’s history and culture.

First impressions

Exiting the airport, my first impression was that we were someplace VERY different from the rest of Asia.

The air was warm and muggy but with a different feel to it than the tropical countries we’d visited in Southeast Asia. Our cab driver spoke English easily as we navigated through the traffic of, to my American eyes, well-known makes of cars and trucks to our hotel. Somehow everything felt nearly familiar to me, even as we entered our Spanish colonial style hotel. If I relaxed my senses, I could just about convince myself that our short flight from Taipei had landed us somewhere in the Caribbean, Mexico or Florida somewhere. This was a surreal feeling to have, knowing full well that we were still in Asia and not at all that far away from countries that had felt very exotic and foreign to me during our months of exploration.

The strange sensation of familiarity – and how at odds this put Manila to all the other places we’d visited in Asia – made me eager to see more of the city. All things considered, we managed to get around a decent amount in our limited time there.

Bits and pieces of Manila

We stayed in historic Intramuros, the walled neighborhood in Manila that was once the strong point of the Spanish colonists, where today one can still feel the echo of the conquistadors’ presence in the style of architecture; in fact “many of the buildings still have Spanish-tile street names” (LP Philippines).

We wandered a bit, exploring aspects of Manila as diverse as its rough but interesting Muslim quarter to it’s massive, overly air-conditioned and pristine western-style shopping malls. I hope the photos below can help give a sense of the diversity found within the city…

Photo impressions of Manila

DSC_0955The church of Saint Augustin in Intramurous
The oldest stone church in the Philippines. Completed in 1607, the structure has survived quite its fair share of disaster – from earthquakes to invasions by the British and the Japanes and the Spanish-American war in 1898.

DSC_0948 

DSC_0957

Beautiful massive doors and Spanish architecture in Intramuros.

DSC_0958Manila graffiti

DSC_0964

The Manila Cathedral

DSC_0968

Fire truck

DSC_0978

At Fort Santiago. Aside from its general historic significance, the fort holds a significant place in the Filipino psyche as it was where Jose Rizal, the Philippines’ national hero, was imprisoned prior to his execution by firing squad at the age of 35. A quick overview from Wikipedia:

He was a proponent of achieving Philippine self-government peacefully through institutional reform rather than through violent revolution, and would only support “violent means” as a last resort. Rizal believed that the only justification for national liberation and self-government is the restoration of the dignity of the people, saying “Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” The general consensus among Rizal scholars is that his execution by the Spanish government ignited the Philippine Revolution.

For more on Rizal, please click here. 

DSC_0983

Filipinos walking Rizal’s steps towards where he was executed

DSC_0986DSC_0991Manila

DSC_0998

Pedicab driver taking a nap between jobs

DSC_1000I loved the Jeepneys!

DSC_1004

Reading the paper as a bus rolls by

DSC_0013

Outdoor market 

DSC_0018

Walking to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. The bridge we’d just crossed was clearly a place to sleep for a lot of homeless people, with many corners having obviously been turned into outdoor bathrooms. Not the most pleasant walk…

DSC_0026 

Selling flower garlands outside the Basilica

DSC_0040DSC_0033

Devotion at the Black Nazarene

DSC_0044In Manila’s Muslim quarter

DSC_0046

Homeless; possibly trash pickers since the child was in a dumpster

DSC_0052

Manila

DSC_0062

A homeless man surveys golfers inside the Club Intramuros golf course

DSC_0084

Indoor skating rink at one of Manila’s insanely huge, western-style malls

DSC_0086

Getting ready for Christmas

Santiago street art – wow!

It’s been a busy week or so. The Navimag Ferry dropped us off in Puerto Montt. From there, we did a little side trip to the island of Chiloé (more on our time there in another post).

We did a bit of sight-seeing while there, but we also got down to work, sketching out the upcoming weeks of travel and then filling in the details – researching, checking out reviews, finding out about transportation, booking hotels and tours. Somehow I always manage to forget just how much work the planning part of this trip takes. The work always pays off though, and I’m really excited for the next stops on our roster… Watch this space. 🙂

In the mean time, we left Chiloé, and we’ve been in Santiago, Chile’s capital city, for a few days now.

I didn’t know what to expect from Santiago. Prior to getting here I really didn’t have any mental image or feeling about the place. People we met while traveling had told us that it didn’t have Buenos Aires’ sophistication or edge, but while it might be missing the wow factor, it is a very “livable” city.

We won’t spend nearly as much time here as we did in BA, but Santiago’s making a really good first impression on me. It’s certainly feeling quieter than BA, but it’s got its own certain magic.

For one, I didn’t expect the city to have so much incredible street art. It has a very different feel from BA’s graffiti. Buenos Aires’ street art is amazing – I don’t want to take anything away from that – but the stuff we’ve seen in Santiago feels warmer and more whimsical and it seems to be just about everywhere. I am definitely a girl with a soft spot for whimsy, and I can’t help but fall for a city that embraces art with open arms the way Santiago seems to. If I have time at some point, I’ll have to do some research to find out a bit about the street art scene here (i.e. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the things we’ve seen are actually commissioned murals, but I really have no idea).

In the mean time though, I gotta share just SOME of the graffiti/murals we’ve seen around the city. Check out the gorgeousness below! 🙂

Here and now plus a bit of BA graffiti

Taking a break from the China catch up for some current events…

It’s our last weekend in Buenos Aires. We’re leaving the city on Friday, for our final destination in Argentina: Ushuaia. I’m really excited for our little foray into Patagonia, and in the mean time I am enjoying the heck out of what’s left of our time in Buenos Aires. We’re having a lovely weekend here with gorgeous spring-like weather and I’m soaking in as much sun and warmth as I can before we plunge into winter: the current temperature in Ushuaia is 3 degrees Celcius, 37 degrees Farenheit. The sun is rising around 10 in the morning these days and there’s a 60% chance of snow tonight. Brr! 🙂

I’m also trying to savor as much as I can in general. We still have a lot of travel ahead of us, but the truth of the matter is that the end of our big trip is starting to loom on the horizon. It’s still months off, but when you’ve been traveling for over a year and a half, a few months (or what ever it will end up being – dates are NOT set in stone) will naturally feel like a significantly smaller portion of time.

At the moment, our utterly amorphous future is a fun place for my mind to wander. Happily, some of the earlier pressures of feeling like I have to “figure it all out” have eased. I’m actually doing a decent job these days of trusting that the future will work out. As a result, daydreaming about what might be is a fun exercise only and in the mean time I’m actually enjoying and showing up for the present in the way I often desire, but seldom manage to. I’m not entirely sure what’s shifted but I’m sure the yoga helps, I imagine the finite timing of the rest of the trip is a factor as well, and I’ll put the rest down to grace. For which I am grateful.

I might write more about all three of those things later on, but in the mean time I want to share about the graffiti tour we went on in Buenos Aires yesterday.

(In fact if my photo card reader wasn’t playing up, I’d share a post-appropriate a picture here that we took of some simple but philosophical graffiti in Salta that said “Usted está aqui y ahora”. In English “You are here and now.” Good to remember. :-))

BA street art!

I’ve been a casual fan of graffiti ever since I wrote an article on it for the sadly now defunct magazine Inside Switzerland. It’s impossible not to notice the graffiti in Argentina in general and specifically in Buenos Aires. It’s a strong and significant part of the country’s art scene as well as it’s political discourse. Plenty has been written on the subject by people much more informed than me. Here are just a few articles if you want a bit more background:

http://maisonneuve.org/blog/2012/03/27/political-legacy-argentinas-graffiti/

http://www.therealargentina.com/argentinian-wine-blog/street-art-in-buenos-aires-so-much-more-than-graffiti/

http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/story?id=7697519&page=1#.T-dIJu2RSfQ

Some of the main points of note about graffiti here – it’s not illegal unless the owner of the property that’s painted on files a written complaint. Graffiti tends towards either the political or the lighthearted – it does not carry a heavy association with crime or vandalism here as it does in some other countries. Politicians actually hire people to paint their names or campaign slogans on buildings or walls. This of course isn’t real graffiti, and many artists focus a lot of their efforts on spreading political commentary of their own on the streets. But a lot of street art is truly art for art’s sake alone. Whimsical and colorful creations can be seen all over the place, and some of the pieces have actually been commissioned by neighborhoods who want to brighten their little corner of BA.

We took a tour yesterday with Graffiti Mundo, a small company that does a lot to support street artists in BA (they’ve just this week opened at a gallery in London and are currently working on a documentary and book). It was a lovely, sunny day to be exploring nooks and crannies of the city, many of them unknown to us. We finished up at the gallery run by the artists (with a handy bar attached), where we got to watch one of the members of the collective bs.as.stncl working on a new piece that is motivated by the current political/financial situation in Argentina – the same thing the protest during our first week here was about. It’s a picture of a mousetrap with US dollars as bait. I’m hoping we’ll see it up on a few walls before we leave the city. 🙂

Here are some pics, from the tour and from other days wandering around BA:

Maradona is everywhere of course. Here he is in La Boca.

La Boca

Graffiti about La Boca in La Boca

Tags in San Telmo

“No Bailarás” – “No dancing”. San Telmo

Murals in Palermo

“La ciudad es de todos” – “The city belongs to everyone”

One of my favorites. 🙂 In San Telmo

Murals in San Telmo

A mural about the forced disappearances during the military junta in the 1970s and 80s

Street art by rundontwalk

Stencil detail

Penguin! 😀

Our tour took us to see a different kind of street art. The artist Marino Santa María has transformed his street with brightly colored tile murals on his and his neighbor’s homes. The artist just happened to be hanging out when we showed up – this is him with our lovely tour guide Cecilia. Barracas.

Street art by bs.as.stncl

New interpretations of Argentinian figures: a gaucho with a double guitar, a rare photo of Che Guevara and a strung out Maradona feature in this piece. I love the detail of the gaucho’s shadow on the sidewalk below.

Elephant stencils

I love this whimsical piece, with grates transformed into boxy bicycle wheels.

A memorial to a friend. Palermo.

Mural. Palermo.

Back at Graffiti Mundo’s studio/bar

An insanely intricate bit of stencil work!

Pics from Uttarakhand

We spent a few days in Rishikesh, of Beatles/Maharishi fame

DSC_0106.jpg

Stalls outside a temple

DSC_0109.jpg

Building detail

DSC_0115.JPG

Cool cow graffiti

DSC_0119.JPG

Shadows at sunset

DSC_0122.JPG

View from the bridge

DSC_0123.JPG

Monkey sentinels on the bridge. Very cool – but after hearing stories from two people who had been bit by monkeys in India, it was a bit nerve wracking to pass within swiping distance of them. 😉

DSC_0298.jpg

Beautiful Ganges and mountains

DSC_0301.JPG

Cheeky monkeys trying to break into a temple

We left Rishikesh, traveling by bus from Haridwar to Kashipur, and from Kashipur on to our next destination, Ramnagar.

DSC_0341.JPG

Waiting in the bus station in Haridwar

The reason for going to Ramnagar was access to the Corbett National Park, a large reserve for tigers and many other animals. We didn’t see any tigers on our safari, but enjoyed it very much none the less. 🙂 Pics from the jeep safari:

DSC_0354.JPG

DSC_0357.JPG

Spotted deer crossing the stream

DSC_0358.JPG

Spotted deer

DSC_0372.JPG

Crossing paths

DSC_0379.jpg

Termite hill against a tree. These hills were everywhere. Apparently they double as bear buffets.

DSC_0385.jpg

Safari elephant being taken for a breakfast walk

DSC_0390.JPG

Langur monkey

DSC_0405.JPG

Roadside shop in Ramnagar

DSC_0406.jpg

Marigold wreaths