I set off on Monday morning toward Robinson’s department store in hopes to find the office to buy a ticket to get to the Clark Airport for when Ray and I go to Malaysia. The Lonely Planet has been a heaven-send, though only somewhat reliable (thing change quickly) and I soon got lost. I got adopted by an old guy who decided to be my tour guide (though he had no qualifications and had less of an idea where he was going than I did!). I reluctantly followed him off course for about 5 blocks from where the ticket office should have been, trying to ditch him several times, but he was pretty persistent. Finally he just asked for money, I gave him 20 pesos, and tried to find my way back to the correct street again. I was on my way back, feeling somewhat perturbed, when the “Schwarma Snack Center” sign caught my eye. I stopped in there for a falafel and hummus pita sandwich and a mango/banana shake (yum, what a lunch!) . I had found my way to “Middle East Street” in Manila and I couldn’t have been happier! A young couple about my age walked in and sat down at the table next to me. The husband said, “hey this is our table (pointing at the one I was sitting at) and asked if they could join me.” I was delighted to meet them. The husband, Zaid, is from Oman and the wife, Maricris is from Cebu (Philippines). She had been working in Oman at a shop that made fancy chocolates. Zaid kept coming back and back to the shop, buying chocolates for everyone and anyone he knew. Maricris thought he really liked chocolates, but the truth was that he really liked her. Well that was 5 years ago, and now they have a cute little son and another baby on the way. They were in transit to Cebu and didn’t have much on their schedule until the next day. When they heard I was going to the Imelda Marcos shoe museum, they said they would like to come along. I was glad for the company.
We caught the LRT (light rail train) in the wrong direction accidentally. None of us knows our way around Manila very well. We ended up at the crazy-busy Pasay rail station on the South Side of town. Then we took the MRT train around to the Northeast side of town. It was so tightly packed I was touching about 10 people at once. Let’s just say that it was an intimate Filipino experience! I thank my lucky stars that I’m tall, otherwise it would have been hard to breathe. Then we got off the MRT train one stop too far, so we had to backtrack a ways. We got a taxi and rode over to Marikina, hoping that the museum would still be open. We were exhausted, hot, and sweaty after a 3 hour trip to Marikina which should have only taken 30 minutes had we known what we were doing! But thankfully the museum was open, and we visited 750 pairs of Imelda Marcos’ 3000 pairs of shoes. It was quite a sight! After that we went to the local fruit market and indulged in mangos, grapes, papaya, tangerines, you name it! Maricris taught me the best way to eat a mango (I've been making a mess all these years when I really didn't need to...you just slice off the two sides and then make a criss-cross pattern in the fruit. When you flip it from concave to convex, you get lots of little squares of mango that you can eat right off the peel, thus getting the mango juice in your mouth rather than on your face like I usually do). We caught a jeepney back to the LRT and took the LRT back to Ermita (where we had met) and said goodbye. I grabbed my backpack, took a shower, and went back to the LRT station again to try to find the bus to Banaue in Northern Luzon. From the LRT station, I got in a taxi which got stuck in traffic and it turned out that the bus station had been relocated to different place than the Lonely Planet said. We finally found it, with only 5 minutes to spare (thank goodness I made a prior reservation!) and I hopped on. By that point I had lost my voice and I was completely exhausted, but so happy to be on board. The bus looked to be on it’s last leg, and I was a bit nervous about spending an all-nighter (9 hour) ride through the mountains on it, but I was just glad to be on board and resting. The air conditioner was freezing (I had nothing long sleeved) and the vents would not close, so I stuffed a plastic bag in them, put my towel over me and fell asleep.
The next morning I woke up in Banaue, a small town surrounded by beautiful rice terraces which have been there for 2000 years. The Ifugao people developed an brilliant way of irrigating all these terraces from the top down to the bottom by diverting mountain streams from terrace to terrace all the way down the mountain. Of course because machinery cannot make it up the hill, all the work is still done by hand. I hired a guide, Joven, to show me a traditional Ifugao village. He explained that his people were once fierce head-hunters, but not anymore. Another interesting thing is the level of English fluency among Ifugao and other hill tribe people! Because it’s a world heritage site, there is a huge tourism draw, so after their traditional tribal language, they learn English as their second language instead of Tagalog. It’s amazing how multi-lingual they have become. Tourism is a blessing and a curse…it disrupts their traditional way of life, but there are many positive things about it too. It provides jobs to young Ifugao men and women who would otherwise move to Manila and leave behind their home. It provides markets for older Ifugao men and women to sell their carved rice guards and beautiful woven fabrics. It also gives the tourguides a reason to understand the traditions and history of their people so that they can share it with others. The next day Joven and I hiked up and across the terraces for 3 hours. It was a magnificent scene, and truly gives a better idea of the immense scale and amount of labor involved in cultivating rice on a steep hillside. That afternoon I caught a bus heading toward Bontoc for my next desitation: Sagada.