I'll begin here with the stark realities of Manila - an over-populated metroplex riddled with poverty and perhaps more sad than anything, 'street children' who have not and probably will never enjoy any of the comforts you and I too often take for granted. I continue to ask myself, how can a society accept this - moreover, how can a government simply turn a blind eye on their future population?? Perhaps one of these children will one day stand-up as an adult and through his/her leadership, do something about the sub-standard ways of life deemed acceptable today. We thought poor conditions in Bombay couldn't be matched - Manila is equally as bad and in many respects, much worse - particularly as it relates to children. Having said that, much good can be found here as well. First, some of the negative images.
OK…back to the beginning, and more pleasant thoughts. Our arrival this morning was wallowed in smog, but not surprising for a city of 19 million. Much the same as Puerto Princesa, we were once again pleasantly greeted on the pier with singers and dancers. Many of our crew are Philippine natives, and we were told there were 1,700 family members expected to greet their loved ones. Hat’s off to Holland America for making arrangements to allow these guests onboard for the day to see firsthand how their husbands, wives, sons & daughters live and work at sea for months at a time! The ship was later swarming with relatives and widespread smiles! Restaurants were open to all – the children of course gravitated to the ice cream counter, to the extent that a second booth had to opened. It was heartwarming to see such joyful, loving reunions!
We left the ship at 8:30 and boarded a bus for our morning tour. During our pre-arrival lecture, we were told about the traffic conditions in Manila but until you experience it firsthand, photos don’t begin to capture the chaos & shear pandemonium. Iconic Jeepneys are the main source of public transportation – roughly 8-12 passenger vehicles of every imaginable color. Motorized tricycles are the second most popular, followed by scooters. Again, the congestion & unruliness makes your head spin – I’ve NEVER seen traffic like this anywhere, where even the ‘red lights’ are merely a suggestion!
The same as Puerto Princesa, our bus once again had a police escort between stops. As an extra measure of safety, we were also flanked by walking guards. We’re not sure if the increase in protection was because of possible assault or just protecting us from the bizarre traffic, but none of us ever felt threatened in any way, although Manila, as with any large metro area, certainly has its adverse element. We started our tour not far from the pier at historic Rizal Park and the old walled city of Intramuros, built during the old Spanish colonial period. The park itself is quite beautiful and the city well-preserved. We next stopped at the Manila Cathedral and then the San Augustin Church, the oldest structure in the Philippines and also a World Heritage site. While one can marvel at the beauty of the structure and the religious statues bejeweled in gold & silver, I really have to ask myself AGAIN if the monetary priorities of the church are completely appropriate with so much malnourishment & impoverishment apparent throughout the city, particularly the children. At any rate, a beautiful, educational tour.
Before returning to the ship, we drove through one of the street markets of several blocks – elbow-to-elbow – all forms of fruits, vegetables, trinkets and knick-knacks – you name it, it was there!
We were back at the ship in time for lunch – great timing! After a quick salad, Cheryl and I hopped on the complimentary shuttle arranged by Holland America and we were off to the mall. Most everyone has been to the Mall of America in the U.S. by now – the mall in Manila is like the Mall of America on steroids…much larger (if you can believe it) & much more diverse in restaurants, retail outlets, & product offerings. You enter through a security scanner – females on one side, males on the other. Purses and bags are hand-checked for weapons, and guards pat your lower back to insure you’re not wearing any type of explosive belt. Age & gender doesn’t matter – everyone is checked. I was comfortable with the process – it was fast, efficient, & non-evasive. I appreciated knowing that we were going to have a safe shopping experience. The people in Manila and for that matter, everywhere we’ve been in the Philippines, are extremely friendly. If you travel as a couple, you will always be addressed by Ma’am/Sir – you will always be greeted and thanked – at least that was what we experienced and everyone we’ve talked with on the ship had the same encounters. Genuinely very nice people!
The last shuttle from the mall back to the ship was scheduled at 4:30 – we left at 3:00. Once back, we showered, went to Happy Hour, and then had a casual dinner on the Lido deck. The singers and dancers who greeted us earlier in the day were still performing on the pier – yes…all day long they serenaded passengers leaving and returning to the ship! They were joined by a high school band of approximately 35 members toward the end of the day to give us yet another memorable farewell. Coincidentally, the city of Manila was hosting an international fireworks competition that evening in the harbor – the Italians vs. the Dutch. We were scheduled to leave at 6:00, but the Captain announced that he planned to anchor in the harbor after leaving the pier so that we could watch the event from the ship – what an extraordinary treat for everyone! We didn’t know that countries actually competed in fireworks displays – nor did any of our friends. Apparently, this was to be Manila’s 4th annual event! Bring it on! Once we dropped anchor, the ship continued ‘crabbing’ in the strong currents, and we didn’t know exactly where the best vantage point would be to view the show, nor did anyone else. Cheryl and I headed for the top and backend of the ship – sure enough, chairs were setup along with a portable bar, and the Captain’s wife was comfortably seated. With Karen there, we figured she had an inside scoop (from someone) so that’s where we setup camp – WRONG! The ship continued adjusting in the currents and once the anchor grabbed the bottom, we swung portside to shore, which is exactly where our cabin is! We raced back to the room – Cheryl with her rum and me with my wine…we settled in our lounge chairs and waited for the show to begin at 7:30.
Just the title “International Fireworks Competition” leads one to believe and expect a pretty spectacular show, but that wasn’t the case. Both countries put on good shows and we saw some unique effects (circles & hearts) we hadn’t seen before, but they weren’t great. We’ve seen better shows back home, but all-in-all, a nice experience and one that was appreciated by all.
Not to end on a sour note…we had our first death – a gentlemen in his early 50’s – his wife found him slumped in their cabin – cause unknown. A memorial was held earlier today. His body will be off-loaded in Hong Kong and flown home. Sad situation – they were only married a few short months.
Off to China – scheduled to arrive Monday morning at 9:00. The Hong Kong sail-in is advertised as one of the most dramatic in the world – last year we had fog & rain. The weather forecast is sunny and 72 degrees – we sure hope it holds so we can get some great pictures to share! We’ll be there for 3 days, 2 nights.
Captain's Log now updated to include Makassar & Puerto Princesa: CLICK HERE