Well the first thing you learn in the Philippines is the name Rizal. You will see this name christening streets, parks, schools, and buildings in every Philipino city in addition to museums and palaces. Dr. Jose Rizal was a famous revolutionist who was executed by the Spanish in 1896 and is a national hero. They have sculptures, paintings, and cartoons depicting his final moments as he falls forward when he is shot by the spanish fireing squad. Not a cheery image but it leaves a lasting impression. And when you consider how catholic this nation is, it’s little surprise that a man in his death throws would be immortalized. He wrote an inspiring poem about sacrifice for the people which he had smuggled out from prison by his sister in an old oil lamp. This poem and his willingness to die for the people inspired and motivated people to start a revolution. If you are interested in his story you can check it out here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/José_Rizal
So we spent some really enjoyable time learning all about him at his park, museum, and just about everywhere. The tourism set up is not that great in Manila, and it’s hard to get clear instructions on what to see, but we managed to explore the area between storms. The center of Rizal Park has a very imposing statue of a Philippine warrior grasping a large sword that has to be about five stories high. Across from the statue is The National Museum. The museum is a gorgeous building but instead of having you enter on the grand sweeping staircase, they have you enter through the service entrance, not very impressive. Once we were inside though we were amazed with the quality of the exhibits. There was a great record of a Spanish shipwreck, the San Diego, including the breakdown of all the pottery, weapons, and treasure on board. This exhibit takes up one floor of the museum but it was so interesting that I spent an hour looking at different pottery techniques in ancient times. Then we walked into an exhibit of the history of the people of the Philippines, and an explanation of all the different languages and dialects spoken here. The final room on that floor had a bunch of jars that looked like a combination of R2D2 and C3PO, done with out the talents of a Lucas Arts. These were urns used to place the dead in a cave. The urns were sculpted to look like the person that passed away. They had trap doors in the belly to put the bones and ashes in, skinny little arms, and an exaggerated head.http://philmuseum.tripod.com/archaeo.htm
One of the best ways to explore a city is too set up an odd goal, for example guitar sheet music in Barcelona, Walking Dead comics in Melbourne, and for us, a highly rated vegetarian restaurant in Manila which was in the heart of China town. China town has a chaotic cramped feel to it, making it very hard to find the vegetarian restaurant we were looking for. The entry to China town had a beatiful decorated pagoda style archway similar to the ones in Philly and Washington D.C. Once you enter China town the entire city grid system goes out of whack and you have very twisty one lane streets with vender stalls all over the place blocking sidewalks and streets. Chaos is the name of the game here, and not being hit by a vehicle is tricky. And of course once we crossed under the arch the gods let loose a drenching rain storm. But we found the Happy Vegetarian and had a delightful meal of fake meat products cooked philipino style.
Seeing how we were soaked, we worked up our courage to try some of the most insane public transportation that I have seen since Guatemala, the Jeepney! The jeepneys in Manila have the front end of a jeep wrangler mixed with a bit of Model T, and a long covered truck bed with benches on either side. You jump on through the opening on the back, and I mean jump on. They rarely stop completely. So be quick. They are all garishly painted, bright purples, reds, blues, really a rainbow of colors. And they are decked out with enough details to rival an art deco theater. The majority of themes are religious based, with lots of iconography. The next most popular theme are superheroes, with Superman being first, then Spider Man and the Hulk. I was looking for my character designs, but apparently One Eyed Jack has not reached the Philppines yet.
The type on the jeepneys are grafitti based, with bold crazy fonts that would make any spray paint weilding kid envious. They often have protruding fins, signs, mirrors, and grills. The windsheilds have enough stickers, teddy bears, and bobble heads to make the amount of clear windshield to be a few inches at most. They even have suction cup stuffed animals to the windsheild. Vision is always an overrated sense and it’s no wonder that crossing the streets is so dangerous, the drivers can barely see the street.
Normally you would think this was to give the tourist a show, but like I said earlier, they really do not have a good tourism infrastructure. This is what all the locals travel in. In fact, most tourists are a bit shy in trying them out. They tend to motor around in airconditioned vans with private drivers.
So we found one jeepney that had the hand painted location on it matching the one street besides Rizal Street that we knew, Mabini Street. Well all our intrepidition was for nothing, we paid our eight pesos (about twenty cents US) and hopped out near our hotel, Mabini Mansion. We really felt like the adventure had begun.
Just about everyone here seems to have a motorcycle of some sort. It’s not uncommon to literally see grandma, mom, three kids and the driver who I assume is the dad all on one motorcycle. Everything is transported with them, with loads that are unweildy and downright dangerous. Helmets are used on occasion, but more often than not they will be strapped to the back of the bike. The driver will be working his cell phone while a cigarette dangles out of his mouth and his flip flops work the gears. You can hop rides on the back of the bikes. At one point I saw two motorcycles riders whipping up a mountain trail with two girls with full mountaneering back packs on. These woman are much braver than I.
The other forms of transportation are tricycles and bicycles. Trust me it’s not what you think. The tricycles are cheap Chinese or Japanese motorcycles that are imported, and then the philipino artist do what they do best, they customize them. They add a sidecar with a frame that goes over the actual motorcycle. Sometimes it’s just the sidecar with the roof, other times the entire motorcycle has a windsheild and roof. There are usually racks on top for carrying just about anything, and you see just about everything up there including people. Some are so rickety you fear for your life getting in them, others are the rolls royce of tricycles. Now I did not know this at first, but they have diferent styles on each island. I have no idea why, but at least on the islands we traveled too they did. On Bohol island, they had the motorcycle inside a large metal box, with an open back. This one we dubbed the vancycle. On Palawan island they had a more standardized one with one frame inclosing the bike and sidecar. Sorta like a mini boxster with trunk space and roof rack. These were kinda boring with not nearly as much personality. Then on all the islands you see how people have customized them for personal use, everything from lumber materials, portable cafes, luxury vehicles with booming sound systems, to livestock transportation. I have even seen 7 live pigs going one way and then the slaughtered pigs coming back, dripping blood down the street as they go.
Then there are bicycles, which as you could guess is the non motorized equivalent of the above. They come just as varied as the above. These are cheaper than tricycles, but obviously take longer. Some of these were so rickety that not even on my bravest day would I risk getting in them.
A traffic jam would not be a traffic jam here if there were not a mix of all the above in the hundreds following their own rules in the busy streets of Manila. So if you feel like playing a game of Frogger where you are the frog, then I highly recommend visiting the streets of Manila.