VISITING THE COUNTRY OF ISLANDS

When we first discussed about a probable international destination we wanted to visit together; neither me nor my husband thought it would be Philippines. But when the frequent business travels made it almost difficult for us to spend time together, I decided to accompany him on his business trip to Philippines’s capital city, Manila

The first thing google told me about Philippines was the density of the country and safety concerns. I formed an opinion basis it and felt unsafe to travel there. But the reality was different.

When I landed in Manila, the first thing which struck me was the city’s infrastructure which made it a lot like the West. The city hosted skyscrapers, but it also hosted parks. Despite the crowd, there was discipline. Despite the rush, there were queues. Despite the traffic, there was lane driving. Despite the busyness of life, people seemed to enjoy their evenings.

We stayed at the Picasso Boutique Residences in Makati. Picasso has fully serviced apartments, an art gallery, a spa, gym, terrace and in-house restaurant. It is close to several restaurants, corporate offices as well as has an adjacent park and 7-ELEVEn two blocks apart. This made my stay comfortable; especially since I too was working over the weekdays from my room. The hotel staff was extremely polite and seemed to do their jobs with a lot of passion.

The first evening, we went to the bay area. The bay hosted a large mall, the Mall of Asia. We ate at the ‘Royal Indian Curry House‘ at the bay. We relished the tasty food and felt lucky to find such a taste and quality of North Indian Cuisine. The restaurant had largely Indians but also local people seemed to be enjoying the Indian food. Since it was Saturday evening, the whole place was bustling with people of all ages: couples, families, college friends. The bay not just offered good food but also several live music bands were playing. The rides made it even more fun. We strolled around the area and also took a fun ride in one of those. The calmness of the water, the lightning and thunders added to the romance in the moment.

The next day, we had booked the Tagaytay ridge tour with Filipino Travel. Our driver, Mr. Mario arrived in his SUV. Our first stop was the Bamboo organ Church. As the name suggests, the Church had an organ made entirely of Bamboo. Had we visited the place without a tour guide, we would probably have just seen the Church and came out without knowing its rich history and story of the organ. But the church officials gave us a detailed tour about the organ and its history. We were fascinated not just by the history but also by the passion of the person explaining all of it to us. His deep connection with the organ reflected in his selfless attention to the details. He wanted to make sure no tourist went without knowing everything about the organ.

The Bamboo organ

Our next stop was at the Jeepney factory. Jeepney, a converted jeep, seemed like the national public vehicle of Philippines. The guide explained how the vehicle got its name “Jeep + Knee” and became the version of a Jeep that could carry up to 30 people. He mentioned how an average family had 7-8 members and the vehicle was moulded to the needs of the family. He also told how some of the recent political regulations was changing the future for these vehicles, which were the cheapest and the most popular public transportation system in the country.

We headed to the Tagaytay ridge which provided a good view of the the smallest and lowest volcano in the world. On our way, we were awed by the city’s roads. No matter if we crossed a business district or a country side; no matter if we were in the streets where the richest lived or in slums; the roads were clean and without any cracks, potholes or bumps. This spoke a lot about the city.

The coffee shop had many good quotations to reflect upon.

The volcano view was humbling. As was the chance spotting of the Buddhist worship centre of the Soka Gakkai, Philippines.

Local Fruits@Tagaytay

The guide was a great conversationalist and he kept the journey exciting for us; sharing local anecdotes around a diverse range of topics: politics, agriculture, language, corruption, lifestyle, national heroes, infrastructure, auto industry, taxation, rich and poor divide, boxing, coffee and so many other conversations. We learnt about the cat coffee from him. We also saw a boxing match together. Mario was extremely well read and open to share. He wanted to make sure we went to India with great memories. Be it choosing an awesome coffee shop to take a break or ensuring we got to savour the local delicacies, be it arranging an exclusive jeepney ride for us or about waiting patiently for us to take pictures and get good views; he seemed to be enjoying his work. We did not sense any ill motivation what so ever behind his hospitality. He truly made the journey totally worth it for us.

The spoting of Bajaj Auto

The weekdays were packed with work and largely uneventful. Other than trying the few restaurants for dinner, there was not much to fill the days other than work.

  • We tried an Indian restaurant “New Bombay“. The food was not worth the price, nor was the service. I wondered if that was how people were making an opinion of Indian food, then it certainly was way different from the reality.
  • We tried wooden pizza at one of the Gino’s Brick Oven Pizza outlet. The pizza was crispy, the servers extremely polite. The restaurant served a different honey to be used as a topping on the pizza. When we asked if they had any vegetarian soup and the restaurant did not provide those, they compensated by offering hot water (a thoughtful gesture, since we were a little wet due to the drizzle).
  • The Wholesome Table Salcedo offered organic food named to bring happiness. The drinks were named as ‘Be beautiful’, ‘Be Awesome’, ‘Be Wonderful’ and many such positive named drinks. We had a bowl and one of these juices and were again awed by the server’s passion

Friday evening , we visited an open place called ‘The Greenbelt area’. The place had open malls, restaurants and even a church surrounding a garden. The lively atmosphere of the place made for a memorable evening.

On Saturday morning, we visited the local morning market a few blocks away from our hotel. The place had a positivity around it. The shopkeepers were as passionate in having a conversation with us as the Indian shopkeepers are for selling. A lady stopped us and told how she was a quarter Indian because her grandmother was Indian. Her husband was an Australian and she was a Carribean and they shared a love-hate relationship when it came to cricket. Such conversations helped us feel at home and brought joy and happiness. I was also stopped by a lot of people appreciating my wedding bangles, asking if they were gold and wishing us well when we told we were recently married.

On checking out, we went for a Bambike tour to the city of Intramurous. The walled city felt very different from the corporate districts a few Km away. The spanish had definitely left a lot of influence of the culture of Philippines and this reflected in the architecture of this city, which was once a colony of the Spain. The 2.5 hour bike cum walking tour took us to churches, forts, gardens around the walled city. Our guide for the day was extremely passionate and detailed in his attempt to make sure we took their history back home. The colonisation , the world wars and several earthquakes had so much story to tell. Doing the tour with people from different nationalities made it even more special.

We left for the airport full of memories to cherish and certainly a different picture of Philippines than what we had when we first decided to visit this country. A lot of respect for the people who take pride not just in their infrastructure but also in their culture; who smile and accept you with open arms. A city which had the density of Asia but the infrastructure of America – Thank you Philippines!

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Author of "My Beloved's MBA Plans", "Because Life Is A Gift" & "Corporate Avatars"

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