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Going back to Manila: including Baguio, Sagada…

Since last blogging we’ve been pretty consistently on the move. In one marathon afternoon to night we made it off the pretty unimpressive beach at Panglao Island, from Tagbilaran to Cebu to the airport to Manila to a bus terminal to Baguio at 6 in the morning. The bus was nice except for the Beegees DVD played twice and the lights and the radio.

The Philippines is an interesting place and I’ve had lots of interesting thoughts, but I can’t remember them all. The Americana is eerie sometimes, and Baguio is full of country music. It seems that (other than the country music) the Philippines is one place that an American colonial presence hasn’t destroyed.

On our return to Cebu we encountered, amazingly, our first trouble with taxi meters. The cheeky bandits surrounding the ferry pier wanted something like P750 for a ride to the airport. We muttered a bit, walked around, and found one.

The flight was pretty normal.

Getting back to Manila, we lost P80 to some sleight-of-hand at the coupon taxi counter. Oops. We got to the bus terminal anywhere where we took our aforementioned hellish bus ride six hours north to Baguio, at the foot of the Cordillera mountain range (yes, that is a little redundant). There we took a taxi to Benguet State University in La Trinidad, the nearby capital of Benguet. We were escorted by security to the “executive house” and generally treated like kings as a result of the wheel-greasing by our host, Professor Mina, who had met Trevor at a student affairs conference in Hong Kong.

BSU is primarily an agricultural college, but also includes a teaching college and laboratory schools. They’ve done a lot with what look to me limited resources, including American-vintage buildings. They have a Marketing Center stocked full of delicious local produce, which we raided repeatedly. The pineapple-papaya jam tartlets are particularly good…

After a dinner with some of his colleagues and a very short night on the town (we were still tired) we left early the next morning for a less-comfortable bus ride on twisty mountain roads (not always sealed) to Sagada, in Mountain Province. Sagada was a nice enough little town. We had a ridiculous several hours in a couple caves, violating what would have been millions of dollars worth of safety regulations in the US and having a muddy and mostly fun time. It wasn’t so fun toward the end when the guides kept following the girls in the front and blocking the light from my next steps. My personal highlight was probably the dip in some bone-chillingly cold water.

The next day’s bus trip wasn’t any less exciting. This time I was in the back, needing to hold on to stay in my seat, and the bus was full. The views, however, of mountain passes and terraces, were no less spectacular. The whole region seems very… wholesome, down to the signs encouraging us to eat more vegetables and do no drugs.

The dominant language of the power structure, Tagalog (rebranded as “Pilipino”) is not so popular outside of the Manila area. English is the lingua franca even when tribal languages are the L1.

We stopped by the executive house on our way back before checking out the fireworks display for the end of the local flower festival. Unfortunately, many of the festival’s purported half-million visitors were too, and only sheer luck and unmitigated gall (a favorite phrase of mine) managed to snag us a taxi to return to our bags at BSU. Security arranged for a taxi to get us from there to the bus terminal, where the same hordes were going to Manila. We got tickets on what seemed to be an older bus pressed specially into service.

This bus ride was mercifully better, and I probably slept through most of it. There was a minor snag at first as the bus had individually numbered seats up to 45… and tickets had been issued up to 48. It got ironed out, though, and there was no TV, and the lights were dimmed, and the curtains were quickly pulled over the air conditioning vents. I can’t complain at all about the ride, and I sat in the middle of the back seat (at the end of the aisle) which afforded me unlimited leg room.

Once in Manila, we made our way to and checked in to an absolute dump, the Mabini Pension, which I may write more about if all our stuff hasn’t been stolen while we’ve been out. Not recommended.

The Philippine version of the popular Asian squat toilet seems to be the seatless toilet. I’m not sure which is worse.

Right now, we’re in a massive mall having sought out a specialty hot chocolate shop mentioned in Cebu Pacific’s inflight magazine. Pretty lame. Earlier, after resting, we ate at the Shawarma Snack Center (not bad save the yogurt sauce on my pants) and walked around a bit of the historic walled Intramuros (yes, redundant again for the hispanophones) area, including the seemingly cursed Manila Metropolitan Cathedral (take 6, dating to 1958) and the San Agustin church (stone, dating to the 15th or 16th century, and obviously less cursed).

Assuming we can make it back to the pension and through the night safely, tomorrow should be an early morning taxi ride for Trevor and Kerensa and a lazy progress toward the airport for Nicole and your truly, flying at 1455. You’ll probably hear from me next from Hong Kong.

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