Last Saturday I took the LRT (light rail transit) to Chinatown. The Lonely Planet said it would be busy on the weekend and it really was! There were wall to wall people, many wearing ‘club’ maroon tee shirts with gold lettering of club names or business sponsors.
I hired a motorbike with sidecar (their version of the tuk tuk) to take me around to the various sights. We visited Binondo Church (barely interesting), the 19th century Chinese wooden houses (fun to see), the Seng Guan Buddhist Temple (pleasant), and then were heading for Quiapo Church where a guard stopped us. I saw effigies being carried on costumed peoples’ shoulders and some rag tag drummers were adding some noise. After asking my driver and others, it finally became clear to me that I was smack dab in the middle of the Black Nazarene festival, one of Manila’s highlights! I learned later that the ‘real’ Black Nazarene statue carved from ebony and brought here in 1767 which resides in Quiapo Church is allowed to be touched on January 9th by throngs of people looking for its blessing. No doubt that’s why we were blocked from going into Quiapo Church. I saw imitation Black Nazarene statues—images of Jesus with long flowing hair, decked with flowers, being carried through the streets.
We moved on and went to see the Golden Mosque (barely interesting), the last ‘sight’ on my list. During this whole excursion the driver was holding a tiny puppy that was screaming in terror, sometimes putting him on the floor of my sidecar where he would piddle, or sometimes tossing him on the roof of the sidecar—then it really screamed!
Inching through the crowds and traffic to get back to the LRT, the motorbike ran out of gas! The driver called another to take me, which took a looong time even though it was only a few blocks. By this time there were marching bands, drummers, more images being carried and ever more people, many wearing the maroon and gold tee shirts.
The LRT was stuffed to the gills, but I rode in a ‘female’ car and made it back to the hostel—an interesting morning!
The guesthouse manager said that about 1:00 PM the throngs (about 1.2 million people!) move forward to touch the statue in a dangerous and chaotic scene. Every year there are some casualties from being trampled. Later according to news reports on TV, this year about 400 people were injured but no deaths were reported.
Early that morning I had received an email from an internet friend whom I had visited in China in 2002. She gave me the email address of a Filippina friend of hers in Manila. I sent the friend an email, mentioning where I was staying and suggesting that we meet for coffee, if possible. When I returned from the Nazarene festival she called and invited me to come to her house and stay with her, her partner, and two teen daughters. She said that the next day they would drive me to Tagaytay, my next destination south of Manila, for an all day outing. I taxied to their house and had a lovely time with them over a delicious dinner of several wonderful Filippino dishes, cooked by Elana.
Early the next morning Elana, her partner and I drove 60 km to the town of Tagaytay. This is quite a resort area for Manilians as there is a lake (Lake Taal) which is the crater of an ancient very large volcano; in the middle of the lake is the cone of a newer volcano that has its own crater and small lake inside it. The original crater has left a very high circular ridge 22 km long. One can drive around the ridge which offers many commercial enterprises as well as stop-off points for eye-popping views of the lake.
While we were driving to Tagaytay we were whizzingly passed by about 15 low-slung sports cars, apparently out for a Sunday morning spin with their club. Later while viewing Lake Taal we encountered them again; Elana pointed out one young man whom she said was the son of former President Marcos.
We had a marvelous dinner at Josephine’s Restaurant with lots of seafood and other Filippino dishes. One appetizer—sisig—was made with pork cheeks and another, kong ko, was batter-fried morning glory leaves with Hollandaise sauce. The owner of the restaurant was a friend/client of their Art Gallery; when he spotted us he sent the complimentary kong ko as well as dessert and coffee following our meal.
They dropped me at my hotel in Tagaytay, making plans for me to join them again in Manila next weekend. What lovely hospitable people!
I moved on by jeepney from Tagaytay to Talisay which is down off the ridge next to Lake Taal. That day was quite foggy/misty so the view of the lake and the volcano was mysterious. The resort where I stayed had a restaurant but I saw no signs of any cooking. Since there was nowhere else to eat, I took a chance on the bar-be-qued chicken and surprisingly I was served some of the best I’ve had! I see they do this by walking down the road and coming back later carrying already plated and saran-covered food. I assume somebody’s mother whips this up in her house—it did take a good bit of time which I spent with two beers.
The next day I went to San Pablo catching two jeepneys—one first to Tanuan, a sizable town/city as is San Pablo. I was the lone guest in the Sampaloc Lake Youth Hostel, overlooking Lake Sampaloc just on the edge of town. This was both good and bad; the good was that I had the whole place (and bathroom) to myself; the bad was nobody to interact with. The lake is ringed with several extinct volcanoes.
San Pablo was in the throes of a festival. The biggest thing about this was the noise. There were sternum-thumping speakers all up and down the main streets. I ate lunch/dinner at the food stands along the streets, trying one thing after another. Yum–those sweetened fried bananas with jack fruit in a crispy crepe. A couple of tangerines back at the hostel rounded out my menu for the day.
The next day I walked around the lake on a nice path, stopping in for breakfast at a Bed and Breakfast. The building was elegant, the food was poor. I did become acquainted with the manager, Josie, a Filippina from Canada. I told her I wanted to go to the Villa Escudero for lunch on Friday as the LP said there was a good cultural show combined with the lunch. As it is 10 km out of town, I asked her if she knew how I could get a jeepney. She called, got information, and suggested that the two of us go together on Saturday (not open Friday) and so we will. I will catch a bus back to Elana’s house in Manila after that.
Now I have walked downtown to send this and to see if I can find some more of that good street food.
I hope you’re all fine.