Philippines:The Start (where is everyone)

As I write this, I have been in the Philippines for one week.  So far, it’s been very interesting traveling.  Quick side note-I did not lose my ATM card, I’ve now successfully entered and withdrawn money in two countries consecutively without issue.

Because I flew into Manila on Christmas day, transport options were extremely limited.  No Grab drivers (the Uber of Asia) were working, I couldn’t find a shuttle to the metro train station, and the cheap taxi line was long and missing one key necessity, taxis.  After talking with a couple of the unofficial taxi services, I threw in the towel and agreed to the Christmas special price (I mean that price was really  special for the driver).  It was good timing on my part though because I was first in line when everyone else realized the situation and also started agreeing to the inflated prices. I still waited another 20 minutes but I was the first and only person to get a ride during that time.

My hostel had very good reviews but when we pulled up to it, I certainly questioned my choice.  It was in the middle of a block that looked pretty rough, definitely a local and not touristy area, and a tricycle terminal (motorcycles with sidecars are used as taxis here and called tricycles; this was one place they congregated for passengers to get rides) was just around the corner.  When my overpaid taxi driver pulled up to my hostel, he gave me that look of…are you sure this is it.  

Well it turns out, it wasn’t bad.  The neighborhood certainly was local but it was vibrant and I felt safe.  Also, people in Manila love their malls and not one but three malls (including the highest-end mall I have ever seen) were just a couple blocks away.  That night I went to one of them to eat and it was packed with Filipinos.  Spending Christmas at the mall is a popular thing to do here.

I stay in hostels to meet other travelers so imagine my disappointment when I arrived in a new country, eager to hear and learn about other people’s travels, and I’m the only person in the hostel.  But, I stayed in Manila a couple more days walking around the city and even though it’s a city, I liked it.  People were friendly, smiled and said hello or Merry Christmas often, and were always up for conversation.  After being in very touristy places the past month, it was kinda nice as I could count on one hand the number of non-Asian faces I saw during that time.

I booked longer than I initially planned in Manila because I needed to extend my visa past the standard 30 days.  On my first day after arrival I jumped in a Grab and headed to the immigration office.  As soon as I got out of the car and he pulled away, a security guard saw me and asked if I was there for a visa.  I said yes and he told me they just moved the office a couple kilometers away.  So, I had a nice leisurely walk to the new office (which btw is now in a mall), and when I got there, I saw a sign that said, “Sorry, closed for Christmas holiday).  I knew it was the day after Christmas (I spent the night before in a mall after all) but traveling, especially in warm weather really makes you forget these things.  So early the next morning I went back to the new location geared up for the post holiday line, but in less than 30 minutes I was out the door with my visa extension in hand. Very quick and easy.

I left Manila the next day and flew to Cebu island.  This time I chose one of the big hostels in Cebu City to make sure I was around other travelers. It had 220 beds, a pool, a bar, and all sorts of tours to book.   Unfortunately, the one thing this hostel also did not have was guests.  For the second straight time in the Philippines, I was the only person staying in my hostel.

But that motivated me to quickly get out of Cebu City to a coastal town on the other side of the Island called Moalboal, and that is where I finally found travelers in my hostel and the fun and adventure began…