Roadtrip in the Philippines: From Manila to Baguio

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Our first two months in the Philippines were spent in Manila, and I will always be grateful I had that time to get to know the city. That being said, I’m a country girl by heart. Give me fields and mountains over sky rise apartment buildings any day. That’s why I was thrilled when it was time to hit the open road and head north to Baguio.

 

We loaded into our rental car in the morning and left the city while the mist was still hanging over the fields.

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We found a station on the radio that played classic American rock, and there were times, passing corn fields and listening to Bon Jovi, that felt like we were driving through Oregon again.

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But then I’d look a bit closer and remember that there are a lot more rice fields than corn, and that most of those trees are banana trees.

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But whether it resembled Oregon or not, it sure was beautiful.

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After a couple of hours we hit the mountains and I saw a whole new side of the Philippines.

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Far from the hustle and bustle of Manila people here build their homes right into the mountainside.

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We passed a lot of roadside stands, mostly selling food, but some selling hand made items. My favorite was this menagerie of statues. I’m not even sure if they were for sale, or just for decoration.

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As we neared Baguio, we saw more statues. The ten commandments is actually a pretty common one in theNorthern Philippines. I never did get the story on the giant lion head statue, even though we visited it during our stay.

 

Just after the lion’s head we pulled into our final destination: Baguio City.

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Last Impressions of Manila

 

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When we first came to Manila I wrote a post about adjusting to life in this big, foreign city. I was overwhelmed by the Filipino driving, the street vendors, and the sheer amount of people all around me, speaking a language I couldn’t understand. Every time I stepped outside our apartment I was reminded of what a strange and different place I was in.

But as we prepared to leave the city two months later, I realized I had come to see it very differently.

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The university/learning hospital down the road where Jake did his rotations.

The realization came in short bursts. When I was crowding into an elevator and realized I hadn’t even noticed everyone staring at me. When I was surrounded by people speaking Tagalog and wasn’t phased at all by not understanding what they were saying. When I ushered my kids onto a jeepney and passed the money from my husband to the next person on the bench without a second thought. It was all becoming comfortable and familiar for me.

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Sometimes there were more jeepneys on a given street than any other kind of vehicle

 

I also grew accustomed to the dangers of the city and learned how to avoid them. And by dangers I mostly mean the obstacle course sidewalks that could easily take out a clumsy person, such as myself.

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This particular cement block almost did take me out. I think it used to be the base of a lamppost?

Walking around the streets of Manila I focused less on the differences with America, and more on the beauty that surrounded me. I quickly learned to identify coconut, banana, avocado, and mango trees. Then there were trees like this one that I never could name, but loved anyway.

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I actually got in trouble for taking a picture of this one, since it was growing next to the U.S. embassy we regularly passed while walking along the bay. Apparently you aren’t allowed to take photos on embassy grounds.

Not to mention the gorgeous flowers.

We bought this pretty, natural air freshener from a woman on the side of the road. It’s not uncommon for people to stand near traffic lights and sell food and trinkets when cars stop.

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I also became familiar with the rhythm of the people who live there. There was this group of kids that was always playing in the street next to the grocery store where we did our shopping.

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I loved seeing fruit stands like this one, which were common, even outside of the local palengke (outdoor market).

 

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We also had our favorite shops, like the bakery down the street that sold sweet breads.

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Or the fruit shake stands everywhere, including the lobby of our building. If you’ve never had a fresh buko (young coconut) shake, you’ve never lived.

I loved taking in the city’s beautiful architecture and art while riding the train, or driving our rental car.

Manila is a truly wonderful city, with so much to see and experience. I’m so glad we were there long enough for me to stop seeing it as strange, and starting seeing it as home.

 

 

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The Martyrdom of Jose Rizal and a Light Show in the Park

IMG_20160324_171546 We went to Rizal Park regularly while we were in Manila. When we discovered this amazing playground we spent most of our park time there.  It’s a huge park, though, and we knew we wanted to finish exploring it before we left.

In our explorations we discovered this tribute to the Martyrdom of Jose Rizal, the Filipino hero who the park is named after.

There was a huge carved mural depicting major events from Rizal’s life.

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There was also a wall with Rizal’s final words, titled My Farewell, etched in Tagalog, English, and Spanish.

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And last, but not least, the life-size statues of Rizal in his moment of death, and the firing squad that killed him.

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Since it was evening by the time we were done, we decided to stick around for the light show in the fountain everyone had told us about. There was already a good crowd of families picnicking on the grass, waiting for the show to start, so we bought some hotdogs from the vendors that line the sidewalks, and joined them.

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The light show was great. There were colored lights shining on bursts of mists from the fountain, coordinated with music. It’s not something you can get a good picture of with cell phone cameras, but we gave it a shot.

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Since it’s hard to find taxis at night we went ahead and walked home. We made up for saving money on the taxi by stopping at Jolibee’s for dessert. Totally worth it.

There are probably still sections of Rizal park that we didn’t see, but we were glad we got to see these highlights before we left. Maybe someday we’ll get to go back see if there was anything we missed!

 

 

 

 

JAIME C. VELASQUEZ PARK

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One bright Saturday morning we went to an area of Manila known as Makati. As our taxi weaved through the huge skyscrapers I smiled, recognizing some of them from the skyline I saw every time I looked out our apartment window.

In the heart of a circle of high rise condos we came across this adorable playground. The grassy fields were covered with people setting up tents for the weekly Salcedo market. There were lots of kids on the playground, and my boys were excited to make some friends. 

There was a group of kids making giant bubbles with sticks and strings. For my kids it was pure magic.

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Being in a foreign country can be tough, but the there are some things, like the pure joy of kids playing on a playground, that are the same no matter where you go.

 

Manila Bay

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I am what some might call, directionally challenged. I get lost. A lot. Also, I grew up in small town, and have never been very comfortable in big cities.

So I was more than a little nervous about spending two months in Manila. I spent hours studying google maps before we went, trying to get a feel for where our apartment would be, and what would be around it. But it still took me weeks just to become familiar with the few blocks directly around our apartment building.

Naturally, it was Jake who realized that rather than taking a taxi to Rizal Park, we could take a lovely walk along the bay that would lead us right there.

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Sometimes we saw families swimming and fishing.

And then drying their fish on the barrier.

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I may not be a huge fan of big cities, but I do love exploring new places, and becoming familiar and comfortable in new surroundings. I’m glad we spent enough time in Manila to start discovering its treasures.

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Fort Santiago

On day two of our Intramuros tour we checked out Fort Santiago, originally a Spanish Fort built in the 1590’s.

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I say originally because the fort has changed hands a few times. At first, most of the structures were made of wood, many of which were destroyed by Chinese pirates (Chinese pirates!!!).

After being reconstructed with stone the fort was occupied by the British in the 1700’s and by the Americans in the 1800’s.

Yes, that is a moat.

Finally the Japanese occupied it during World War II.

IMG_1048 Inside you can still see ruins from early colonial days.

But one of the most interesting things to see was the dungeons. These dungeons held the Philippine hero Jose Rizal right before his execution in 1896. Then, during the Japanese occupation they were used to keep weapons and prisoners of war. About 600 American prisoners died here.

The beautiful grounds, which, according to my Wikipedia research, were used as a golf course during American occupation, also held a small playground. It was a pleasant surprise after a lot of walking around with restless kids.

And that’s a rooster that was hanging out by the playground. It seemed like roosters were as common in Manila as dogs and cats.

IMG_1010 It was another great day of exploring a place rich with culture and history.

Easter Week and Intramuros

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Easter in the Philippines is a big deal. And from what I could tell, some of the days leading up to Easter are more significant than the Holiday itself. The big mall near our apartment completely shut down for the whole weekend, and, as we discovered, the major cathedrals were packed.

When we decided to visit Intramuros, we weren’t really sure what we were in for. It was something Jake had heard of, and it sounded interesting. When our taxi dropped us off a lot of drivers offered to give us tours in their kalesa, a horse drawn carriage, but we decided to explore on our own.

Intramuros, also known as the walled city, is the oldest district in Manila, and was the Spanish base in early colonial years. It has suffered earthquakes and invasions, and was almost completely destroyed during the Battle of Manila in World War II, but a lot of it has been restored or reconstructed and can be viewed today.

The Manila Cathedral was only one of six churches that were completely destroyed by the Americans and Japanese during the war. It was reconstructed in the 1950’s.

Much of the the wall of the walled city has survived. Some parts date back to 1590. It’s fascinating to see it woven through the hustle and bustle of modern Manila. The walls themselves have been renovated and form a boardwalk that people can explore.

After walking (running in the case of little boys with boundless energy) along the walls we came to one of the bulwarks designed for defense. The boys loved seeing the cannons and running down the ramps.

Not all of the structures have been restored. The Intendencia Ruins, a former government building, has been destroyed several times by earthquake, fire, and war. Now the ruins sit on a busy intersection and offer a chilling and fascinating contrast to the modern city surrounding it.

Of course, after all this exploring we were ready to grab some lunch at a carinderia.

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Our last stop was the San Agustin Church, the oldest building in Manila, and the only building inside the walled city to survive the war. The streets surrounding the church were packed with vendors in full festival mode, selling everything from balloons to prayers. We bought the boys bananaque (fried bananas on a stick), and soaked up the chance to see a familiar holiday celebrated by a different culture.

Visiting Intramuros during Easter weekend turned out to be the perfect time to see the old city.