Short Version: 9 days. 6 locations. 32 hours of bus rides. 3 hours on a ferry. At least 8 cheesy omelets. And countless bottle rockets to ring in the New Year. Our time in the Philippines proved to be a great vacation – a break from all that is Korea, restful, filled with good food and outstanding views.
12/24, Manila: Hands stuffed deep in our pockets against the cold, we stood outside the Novotel Hotel, the very place we had first come in Korea. It was Christmas Eve, and we had just left school around 5:30 that evening. Backpacks on, we waited for the bus to the airport. It wasn’t until we settled into the reclining chairs on the limousine bus that we finally breathed a sigh of relief…Winter Vacation. A phrase that still holds the power it did when we were in 3rd grade. After a couple hours of a traffic jam, customs, and what I believe to be a 2-day-old-Spamburger, we boarded our plane out of Korea.
We arrived around 1 a.m. at the Green Mango Hostel, seeing some of our first Christmas decorations of the year en route. We were quickly given a Merry Christmas San Miguel on the house and went to bed shortly after to the soundtrack of holiday fireworks all around us.
GREEN MANGO HOSTEL, CHRISTMAS EVE
12/26, Sagada – After a Christmas dinner of chicken alfredo, quesadillas, and a philly cheese steak, we took an abodmen-clenching bus ride, attempting to keep ourselves upright on snakelike mountain roads. We finally arrived at our first true destination. Sagada is a small town in the Cordillera Mountains, north of Manila – a seemingly perfect blend of local flavor and tourism-friendliness. For the next 3 days, we drank in the surrounding bluegreen mountains with some light hiking, slept in, and ate! Yogurt, thick and homemade, paired with granola and fruit, grilled cheese sandwiches, curried vegetables, cheesy omelettes and real, live toast…amazing. On our second day there, we followed the gravel road out of town in search of a pottery “studio.” What we found was 2 women, one incredibly pregnant, working in the middle of the woods, dried clay all over their clothes and hands, making beautiful pottery in this extensive, wall-less shack. We bought a few items that we just couldn’t leave without, but the best part was watching them work in the absolute quiet of their surroundings.
12/29, Banaue – Around 6 in the morning, we threw our bags on top of a jeepney and climbed in. A jeepney is the wayward child of a bus and a taxi. An elongated jeep, each jeepney runs its own route, leaving only when full of anywhere from 8-22 people, somewhat like an Arican matatu. For the next 3 hours, we traveled over bumpy roads on the tops of the mountains, veering around stomach-flipping curves that overlooked 1,000-foot drop offs. For long stretches, all we could see were the green tops of the mountains, silhoutted like dinosaur spines against the rolling, white clouds that were below us.
We arrived in Banaue, took in yet another cheesy omelette, and set out on a long walk. Banaue is home to 3,000-year old rice terraces, carved out of the mountain by the Ifuago people who are native to the area. These terraces take up every available inch of space, starting in the valley and stairstepping their way to the very tops of the mountains. Dubbed the 8th Wonder of the World, the rice terraces live up to their label. It was a little overwhelming to think of the work that had gone into what were seeing – it was beautiful and gigantic and GREEN!
12/31, Puerto Galera – Despite what our plans had been, the bus company did things its own way, so we left Banaue a day earlier than planned, bussed for at least 15 hours through Manila to the Port of Batangas (go ahead, say it like a triumphant superhero BATANGAS! -some words are just fun to say). We spent New Year’s Eve on the beach, at a quiet small-scale resort outside of the main part of town. Though it misted throughout the day, we took a long walk through the jungle in search of a waterfall which we think we found, and spent the day on the beach.
That night, we went to an actual PIG ROAST – you know, the kind where the pig is wrapped in giant leaves and has an apple stuffed in its mouth. It was an excellent meal, and we waited out midnight near the ocean, listening to its waves and watching thousands of bottle rockets explode down the beach, set off by just as many individuals, long before and after 12:00. Another day with sandy feet, and we returned to Manila, spending most of our day at The Mall of Asia, waiting for our 3 a.m. flight back to Korea.
We returned refreshed, having had a true break from Korea. The Philippines, I think, is about as un-Asian as it gets on this continent. I would be hard-pressed to differentiate a Philippino from a Latino, and the linguist in me, without understanding a word, revelled in their language Tagalog, which is an effective mixture of Spanish and Malay that just plain sounds like Spanish. I was also surprised at how much so much of the Philippines resembled East Africa – in both good and difficult ways. Poverty anywhere is hard to play witness to, and of course there were the busses with no apparent schedule, the hotels that didn’t have the reservation, cockroaches, and potholes bigger than my bathtub. But there was the beauty of the undeveloped, the chaos of everywhere-stray-dogs, genuine smiles from people with no ties to tourism, the community of overloaded busses, the color green, fresh fruit, all-day rooster crows, unpaved roads with no mention of sidewalks, and bright colors in unnecessary places.
And now we’re back…our trip essentially marking the halfway point of our Korean adventure…
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