During our first full day in Manila, I remember thinking that going to the Philippines had been a big mistake. If you read our Manila Chronicles post, you know my feelings about this city. We spent about 4 days there and believe me, those days have been the hardest days during our now almost 6 weeks trip.
But things changed a lot. This is the summary of our thoughts and emotions about this crazy, wonderful country.
Ever and I agreed that its food is definitely not the reason to visit the Philippines. Almost everything is fried and greasy, and it does feel like you are always eating fast food. We ate in food stalls on the street, small restaurants and big nice restaurants and we still felt that way.
However, we do recognize that the way they cook the pork is amazing. I have never loved eating pork, but that changed here. Roasted pork (otherwise known as lechon) and rice became my favorite meals!
Another thing about the food is that, very often (painfully too often), it is sweet. I guess that is what the locals like eating, because even when I ordered spicy garlic chicken, several times, it tasted like sweet and sour chicken. Bread is sweet, pastries are rather bland, pork is often cooked with BBQ sauce (which I truly dislike) and many other foods had a sweet taste.
Chocolate pastries were not tasty nor chocolatey. We tried chocolate muffins and other pastries with chocolate and they were truly disappointing.
To top things off, there was one time when Ever and I bought a couple of cupcakes at a small bakery in one of the local markets. We just finished eating our cupcakes when the bakery next door opened their door and a huge rat ran out. At that time we just prayed we wouldn’t get sick… we survived.
With that said, Halo Halo is DELICIOUS. I miss it so much! I wish I could have one every single day of my life.
We did, however, find some delicious food in the Bicol region. Bicol express (pork, sili, and coconut milk), sili ice cream (ice cream made with chili or pepper), pili candy (a nut, sort of like hazelnut), coconut candy, pili marzipan, sili/avocado/mango smoothie were all at the top of the chart of our Philippine meals. The only remaining stand out was probably the strange-but-delicious Chicken in Madagascar Vanilla Sauce. It seems like the name of the game is weird mixtures in the Philippines!
Also, their avocados are weird. 😛
Even though Filipinos often speak english, we still had some issues communicating with them. One of the problems is that they tend to nod when they mean to say no, which makes it weird when you offer them something; they nod but they won’t take what you are offering them.
Also, a lot of times, when given two options, they say “yeah.”
Ever: Do I turn left or right to go to Intramuros?
- Public urination is everywhere. From parks to walls to posts to in the middle of the street. I saw a man peeing in public every single day while in the Philippines.
- When we said we are mexicans they immediately say two things: “Marimar!” and “Marquez (Mexican boxer who fought with Filipino Manny Pacquiao some four times). Marimar (a famous Mexican telenovela from the 90’s, now translated to Tagalog) is way more famous than I ever thought.
- Filipinos stare at you with no shame. They will even turn their heads to keep watching you if they find you somehow interesting.
- Women reapply their makeup all the time. I know it sounds like a big complain, but I had issues getting to a sink to wash my hands because in the shopping malls there would be at least 5 or 6 women doing their makeup. Bathrooms are always packed with the women doing their makeup, the ones in the line to pee and the ones waiting for the women peeing.
- Karaoke. Apparently, filipinos reaaally have it for karaoke. We noticed in the malls that they had several karaoke stations, but things got real once we went to Puerto Princesa. Since electricity was on and off, every time it was off was the only quiet time we could enjoy. On weekends, people would start singing their heart out since the early morning and go on through the night. Air Supply songs are sung non-stop. We would just hear people singing when walking or while on the Jeepney.
- All Filipinos thought I was Filipina. And when I told them I was not Filipina, some of them still spoke slower to see if I could understand that way. Old ladies gave me a complete speech in tagalog before I could tell them I was not Filipina. Another guy told me that he was surprised I was not Filipina because I have “their” color. And my favorite time was when a little girl came running to me and called me “Mom”. It took her a couple of minutes to realize she was holding a complete stranger.
Impossible things to find in the Philippines
- Hand soap (an urban legend, even in shopping malls)
- Toilet paper (never found; even in some hotels and hostels, we had to pay separately for toilet paper)
- Flushing bathroom (long live the little bucket or the big bucket for calamities)
- Hot water (it made me save water as I would shower in record time)
- Dry bathroom (the shower doesn’t have a wall or curtain to separate from the toilet, so showering equals forever wet toilet)
- Trash cans (we had to hold our trash for a good while since trash cans are not quite available in parks, shopping malls, or on sidewalks)
- Tampons (if you are a girl travelling in Southeast Asia, bring your own or purchase a menstrual cup before hand)
- Napkins in restaurants (one time I asked a lady in a food stall if she had napkins, she got all red and whispered that they sold them across the street… she thought I was asking her about menstrual napkins..)
Now, I know it all sounds pretty negative. But it’s not.
- While food is not their forte, it is very inexpensive (we once ate for $1.40 for both!), their pork is rather tasty, and it is quick and easy to find. Although not the most sanitary, homemade food is the most common type of meal and we enjoyed it so much! In fact, the best foods we tried were from little food stalls along the street.
- We always felt safe when walking around the streets, even at night. When we got a flat on our motorcycle almost in the middle of nowhere, people were very helpful and tried to direct us to the closest tire shop. I never felt unsafe in either touristy or non-touristy places.
- Accent and all, it is generally quite easy to communicate as most everyone speaks English and people are always eager to help you with a smile. Our hotel/hostel/guesthouse hosts were always trying to help us with our itineraries and recommended us places to visit and how to get the best prices for our tours.
- Although karaoke might not be the most beautiful thing, it’s a healthy activity in which the whole family can participate.
- The country is full of beauty with rich green landscapes, fantastic beaches, and relatively easy transportation built for the masses (though not quite for the earth). You’ll use transportation means that you have never used before and you’ll learn to love it!
If you plan on visiting the Philippines, you are going to have a great time. Just be sure to come with an open mind, and be prepared to change plans relatively quickly. Oh, and carry a roll of toilet paper with you at all times!. 😉