11th of December 2014 we left Norway and after few days in Paris and unexpected one day stop in Vietnam we arrived to our first destination.
Philippines – Manila. Thanks to our couchsurfer Jay Lopena we had the opportunity to know the real Manila. The first feeling when we arrived at his place was a bit strange. At 1am, the narrow streets in this neighbourhood were totally dark. And we could already see that we were in the middle of one of the poorest areas with small houses made of old wood, concrete and everything else what was possible to find and use. The lovely lady, Gina was waiting for us at her house with kitchen and living room together. That was a place for 8 people. All family members from two years old small kid up to sixty years old father everybody was living there. We had two rooms for us with mattress and in the last room there was the father sleeping on the floor with his kids. We slept without saying one word we were speechless the first impression was very strong and touching.
In the morning we met Rodz (Jay’s friend), who had just finished his night shift. He works from 6am to 6pm, 7 days a week in a detergent factory. Although he was very tired, he was really interested to get know us, share with us some stories about his family. He even knew about Fernão Magalhães who was a Portuguese explorer that gave the name to one part of the city. He just knew the name in Spanish, so immediately asked José to teach him how to spell the name correctly. It was a big surprise seeing all that energy that Rodz had after 12 hour of work during the night.
The morning went fast and the kids on the streets started to realise that there were some strange people in the place so immediately they tried to find out who we were. We went for a walk with the father and surprise… all the kids were so excited running after us asking for pictures. The day in this place was magical. All the people were so kind and interested in us. The smiles on their faces were bigger than all the poverty they struggle with.
We should also mention that at this place we got rid of the first unneeded clothes from our heavy backpacks and we hoped that the people from the neighbourhood will find a better use for it
Sagada Mountain Province
After 13 hours in a bus we arrived to Sagada, mystical land of fairies and elves Sagada has a population of 11,244 people and is located 275 kilometers north of Manila.
Sagada is a town in the middle of the rice terraces and high mountains. The main attractions are related with the nature and history of the village. The main income for the locals comes from the tourism, which means that you should pay for everything: entrance fee to the village or tour guide even for a small walk (with the argument that foreigners can get lost in the mountains). It looked too expensive and as we are clever with good survival skills, so we decided to explore everything on our own.
We found the hanging coffins. While many cultures bury their dead, the Philippines have been hanging their ancestors on cliff for centuries.
According to Igorot culture, there was a benefit for hanging a coffin which is to keep the soul closer to heaven and placing them in a better position to watch over their families. Family members wanted to carry the corpse to the coffin at the cliff edge in order to be contaminated by the bodily fluids which they believed to contain the talent and luck of their dead relative. The corpses in the coffins were dressed in family colours to ensure their souls were recognised by their ancestors in the next life. Sometimes there is a chair hanged with the coffin, which might be the one in which the body stayed after passing, as part of the ritual.
Our main reason to go to Sagada was to investigate the rice production combined with the cultural life in the villages. On our way to Fidelisan village we found out that from here we could go just with a guide and pay the village fee in order to contribute to the maintenance and development. So we had to continue our way with Gloria, our guide.
It was an easy and nice walk down to the village just some 4000 stairs.
Our trip led us through the rice fields. Gloria explained us that everybody in the village owns a piece of land to grow their own rice. Some people have more land, others less and this land is inherited from one generation to another. With one harvest a year, Gloria can just feed her family for 3 months. The rest of the year she has to buy rice (in the Philippines everybody eat rice at breakfast, lunch and dinner). Everyone in the village is producing rice for their own families. Meanwhile we were walking thought the rice fields we could see people carrying wood from the top of the mountain to the village to build new houses and also a pig (alive) for a party in the village.
Behind those fields, there was a wonderful Bomod-ok waterfall where the kids were playing.
After visiting the overcrowded capital and the mountain part of Philippines our next steps led us to Palawan island (south of Manila). Here we spent Christmas in a small village by the ocean and from there we ended up on a small hidden island where it was just us and the wilderness. Blue sky, clear ocean, palm trees, coconuts and sunshine! We had a chance to experience the real island lifestyle test our survival skills and face the real wilderness. We had to hunt our dinner defend ourselves against falling coconuts and huge hungry reptiles. Two wonderful days passed really fast and our boat captain (who arrived surprisingly just with 1 hour delay) took us to El Nido. On the way we have seen a turtle, flying fishes and a whale shark. El Nido was far from our expectations. Tourism was there like a sickness. We felt like that we are a walking wallet as almost every single person was pushing us to buy something sell his services and charging us with triple price just because we are white. This is not how it should be. There is a tourism development program called “It’s more fun in the Philippines” which was created by the government in order to make the country more attractive for the foreigners and provide better and fair quality of services. This is the main idea which is really good because the income from more tourists would help a lot to the local people. Unfortunately as we experienced so far the local people are not able to understand and follow the right meaning of this program.
All in all we spent 3 amazing weeks in Philippines we are glad that we had the opportunity to visit and see this part of the world. We’ll send later some updates from the other countries.