We’ve arrived safely in the sweltering heat of the Philippines. Actually, it’s not sweltering. At least, not for the locals. When we stepped off the plane it was 28 and humid. With tropical downpours. I was still dressed in a thermal t-shirt (guarding against midnight temperatures at Auckland airport!). So it wasn’t exactly cold on arrival.
The 15 hours flying on Malaysian Airlines was pleasant, but without the hi-tech comforts of Air New Zealand. The airline has friendly staff and plenty of leg room. But once the seats recline, personal space disappears. You can almost change channels with your nose.
Once in Manila, our first encounter with officialdom involved a surprisingly sour immigration officer. She checked our passports, then quizzed Arlene on my status. When Arlene explained I was her husband, the official disapprovingly noted a discrepancy in surnames. She eventually waved us on – clearly still unhappy. Many Filipinos are conservative Roman Catholics. The sour reception might have been motivated more by moral concerns than any threat to homeland security!
Outside, there was a much warmer welcome from our hotel driver Don. Don had been waiting over an hour in the heat of the airport’s unsheltered car park. As you would expect in these colourful parts, Don drove with great tenacity and no lack of aggression along the crowded motorways and narrow village roads leading to the charming resort town of Tagaytay. This is where we will be based for the next four days. Tagaytay is a small but popular holiday town of 60,000, nestled in highlands, two hours south of Manila. The resort overlooks a stunning lake with a volcanic island – the famous Taal volcano.
Our hotel – Taal Vista – is large and regal, with an interesting history of politics and wartime occupation. Over the years, the Taal Vista has attracted many dignitaries. They’re drawn here by the area’s cool climate and the hotel’s panoramic views of the volcanic lake. The dramatic visuals can be admired from the hotel’s huge back lawn. The view from the guarded front entrance includes ramshackle market stalls, fruit and vegetable stands and a new McDonald’s. Whenever my innocent face appears on the street, a dozen ‘unofficial’ guides appear from nowhere. They hassle for motorbike rides to town, or boat tours of the lake. But they’re good humoured and dealing with them is all part of the fun.
Highlights so far (after just a few hours in the country) include the amazing colour and chaos of Manila where shanty towns and rusty slums compete with sprawling apartment blocks, towering billboards and a distant skyline of modern office towers.
The second highlight was the two-hour drive to Tagaytay. Once off the motorway, most of the journey is along a narrow road where cars and motorcyclists routinely duck and dive to avoid colliding. Amongst it all were hundreds of school children, wandering in pairs along both sides of the road – oblivious to the mayhem around them. There are no footpaths on this busy route. The speeding traffic passes within inches of children as young as five. But they seem to instinctively know the dangers and they happily co-exist with the endless stream of cars and trucks roaring past.
Here are a couple of photos of the nearby volcano, captured this evening from the front lawn of our hotel.