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The Manila Chronicles: How one city made me doubt our trip

Hey there! Ceci reporting live from Manila!

I started another draft to talk about our Manila adventures, but I decided to start all over again once I could organize my thoughts but especially my emotions about this city.

This is a summary about the good, the bad and the ugly things we experienced during our 4 day stay in Manila, Philippines. (DISCLAIMER: These are the chronicles of a brand new backpacker. Maybe with more experience, all these things would not bother or frustrate me as much as they did. Keep that in mind as you read!)

Here’s how it went:

  • We booked an Airbnb (Click here! We’ll each get $25 when you sign up for your first stay!) for the first three days of our trip to Manila. We didn’t realize that in the address, the apartment number was not included (we were staying in a 52-story building). We got to the building with our phones out of battery and we could not get the WiFi going on our tablet. It took us about an hour and an impressive amount of energy to contact the host to give us the apartment number. We will definitely be more careful on our next reservation!
  • We got ripped off at least twice (that we know of). A little too late, we discovered that the taxi from the airport should not have been more than 500 Php (about 11 USD) to the place we were staying at. We got charged 1300 Php (around 29 USD). We also got tricked by a man and his horse, Rambo, (irrelevant, but funny) in this sequence of events:
    1. Ever and Ceci are going to an area called Intramuros and are intercepted by a Kalesa (car pulled by a horse) and the driver follows us for more than two blocks practically begging us to give us a ride for 20 Php (50 cents USD). Then, he start saying he’s hungry and continues begging us for the ride. We said no, and no, and no, and left. Spoiler alert: Ever and Ceci feel like the worst human beings in the planet for not helping a hungry man. That feeling stayed with us for the rest of the afternoon.

      Kalesa in Manila, Philippines

      Kalesa in Manila, Philippines (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    2. Ever and Ceci are done with Intramuros and, on the way home, they are intercepted again by the same man and the same horse (Rambo) and were offered a ride for 50 Php (about one dollar). Ceci looks at Ever and whispers: We should help him. It is only 50 pesos (famous last words).

      Intramuros, Manila, Philippines

      Intramuros, Manila, Philippines

    3. Ever and Ceci hop on the Kalesa. The man is very friendly. A few blocks down, another guy hops on the Kalesa, sits next to the driver (looks like this guy is the driver’s boss) and starts chatting with us. Also very friendly.
    4. Then the “boss” asks us how much the driver was going to charge us for a ride, so we respond “50 pesos” and he says… “What?? No!!! It’s 850 pesos” (~19 USD). And Ever says.. “Uh.. no, we agreed on 50 pesos”. The driver is just quiet and doesn’t even want to look at us. And one more time, he says “it will be 850 pesos”. At this point, Ever and I are suffering the worst symptoms of humanity: we are hot, hungry and tired. Ever just says.. “then we are getting off”.
    5. Guy doesn’t say anything. Rambo and Kalesa keep going.
    6. Ceci is now very annoyed. Ceci tells the “boss”: “We will not pay that. Pull over. “
    7. “Boss” is not happy and makes Rambo pull over in the highway. We get off and the “boss” says that it will be 150 pesos (~3 USD). We pay him that, and when we are walking away he says.. “per person”. Ever sent him to hell and we just left. Rip me off once, shame on you, rip me off twice, shame on.. Rambo?
  • Manila is a city with 12 million people and there is A LOT of poverty. Extreme poverty. It is pretty rough and shocking to find people sleeping anywhere on the street. I am Mexican and I thought I’ve seen a lot of poverty, but this city is on a different level. It is incredibly heart-breaking.
  • The smells of the city cycle through: sweat, smog, fried food and trash.
  • Because of its size, Manila is a very, very busy city, making it impossible to just “relax”. 95% of the time I couldn’t find toilet paper (not even a fixture to prove that there was once toilet paper in that bathroom), or hand soap at the bathroom sinks. There are long lines for almost everything. It’s hot in the summer. Like, very hot. Like, you just want to sit and cry but you already sweat off your tears. They check your purse/bags when entering a shopping mall or the LRT (Metro). People drive aggressively. Heavy traffic. Drivers honk all the time. You are always in somebody’s way.


So, after all this time, did I actually enjoy something at Manila?!

Well, I’m not sure if the things I’ve enjoyed are a Manila-specific or a Philippines thing. Here are the 5 things I have loved about our trip to the Philippines:

1) The people are incredibly polite and smiley. Whenever we asked for directions to anyone, they would very kindly try to help us, from guards at the metro stations to people on the street. We felt welcomed in almost every place we visited!

2) Ever been tired of trying to pick up a stubborn food (like ground meat) with a fork and then inconspicuously push it with your fingers towards the fork? SUFFER NO MORE. Filipinos eat with a spoon in one hand and a fork in the other, making it a great combo to pick up food, hassle-free. At least I will keep using this technique when I’m back home.

3) Food portion sizes. If you look around, you will see very few overweight Filipinos. And their overweight seems minimal. The food portions in all restaurants look just normal, we haven’t felt overwhelmingly full or to the point where you know you overate and regret it for the next couple of hours. Food portions, in my opinion, are just right.

4) Halo-halo: Filipino dessert made up of ice cream, shaved ice, sweet beans, jello cubes, evaporated milk and what it seems to me like puffed rice. It doesn’t make any sense when I think about it, but it is incredibly colorful and delicious!!!!

Delicious Halo Halo! A fantastic mixture of stuff and things, all in one cup.

Delicious Halo Halo! A fantastic mixture of stuff and things, all in one cup.

5) Public transportation: The Jeepney, king of the roads in the Philippines. This is a vehicle with the front of a Jeep but modified to be long enough to transport at least 16+ people and decorated in a very crazy and creative way.

Manila, Philippines

Jeepney racing through Manila


There are many drawbacks about these vehicles both environmentally and  in terms of safety (and we do agree, they are HORRIBLE for the environment and quite unsafe.) But what we can say is that the Jeepney system works for all people and provides a lot of jobs. It is incredibly affordable (only 8 Php per ride), their routes cover almost all the city (or at least every place we went to) and they are easily accessible. How it works is like this:

  • You pick a Jeepney by reading the route of the Jeepney displayed on the cards hanging on the windshield, and painted on the side as well.
  • They usually honk at you to make you notice them (the courting stage). This technique actually works pretty well!
  • Once you hop on the Jeepney, you pass your money to the next person, and he/she passes it to the next person, and so on, until it gets to the driver. He will send your change back to you the same way. (the main stage).
  • When you reach your stop, you just say “Para, po!,” which we believe means “stop, please,” and then the driver stops (or almost stops), and by this, I mean that he will most likely stop wherever he is (in the middle lane of a high traffic highway, for example) for you to get off (and you just risk your life and hope nobody will run you over).

Other commuting alternatives are the pedicab (a little passenger cabin pulled by a bike), the tricycles (same passenger cabin pulled by a motorcycle), the LRT (Metro, light rail) and the buses (we didn’t use any). We only used a cab twice during our Manila stay.


So as you can see, a lot of adventures have happened in our trip to Manila. During this last week we also visited Banaue, Batad and Cambulo (they will be part of a whole new post), and little by little we are learning more of the Philippine culture and most of all, we are getting to learn how to be on the road for a long time. That means always figuring out housing, food and things to do because we don’t have our fridge and kitchen, apartment or even an itinerary for each day.


But you know what? Is not too bad. It’s just a new thing, and as any new experience, it needs to be enjoyed while figuring it out. 🙂

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