Defensive Driver — Manila

The Captain’s announcement was not encouraging.  “The temperature tomorrow in Manila will be, wait for it, 95 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s 35 degrees Celsius.”  With 88% humidity it was just plain hot.  Suzi does not function well in high heat and I realized that I needed to change our plans to walk around Manila, seeing the sights.  There were four cruise ships in port and although we got off early there were no taxis at the taxi rank and a very long line.  Barbara, our on board “destination guide” suggested we walk to the Manila Hotel and try to catch a cab there.  On the way  Antonio, Tony, approached us.  We decided to take a look at his car before deciding.  I got the feeling he was someone who drove “on the side” not a professional cabbie.  He didn’t have a cabbie license with his picture displayed or a cab sticker on his new Toyota.  But everyone at the port, including the police, seemed to know him and give him a wave, and the first price he quoted was fair.  So I took his offer.

In the car I got further indication that he wasn’t a professional cabbie.  Riding in most third world cabs is like riding shotgun in a motor rally with a kamikaze pilot.  Tony is not a fast driver, he did not pass on the right, he didn’t cut people off, and while he would get his nose into a line of traffic to merge, he was not overly aggressive.  Tony said “I am a defensive driver.”  He’s retired after working in a civil service job at the port for 30 years.  No wonder everyone knew him.  He drives tourists as kind of as a hobby and to supplement his pension.  He’s perhaps overly conscientious about pointing things out to us.  “Look, a stand selling bananas.”  Or “She is selling mangos, very sweet.”  He was charming.

Tony worked hard getting three kids through college.  One son just moved to San Diego, another is in Dubai.  His daughter has in information technology and travels for her job to Melbourne, Australia every three months.  She brings him back Aussie T shirts (he’s wearing one today) and Cadbury chocolates.

We wanted to go to Tagaytay, a town 2,200 feet above sea level sitting on the rim of a volcanic crater where it would be cooler.  In that I was right.  Getting there was as interesting as our destination.  During the drive we saw a good deal of urban street life.  Then the city petered out into the suburbs, then some rural areas and bang, Santa Rosa.

Santa Rosa is becoming a satellite community with developments with names like “Greenfields.” Perhaps I should say future developments. There are a lot of empty platted lots with signs, banners and flags urging you to invest.  Move beyond “nosy neighbors.”  Get out of the high rise.  There are pictures of rows of houses interspersed with condos.  These are gated communities or will be when built.  Amidst the fields were a few completed tracts.  They contained relatively modest homes, not what I expected of a gated community.  Tony says they are not very expensive, only about a million pesos ($19,600 US).  The houses are an hour out of town.  One of Tony’s sons lived there before he moved to America, rode the bus into Manila and liked it.

While the developments were mostly empty fields a lot of the retail infrastructure was in place.  There were big enclosed malls, strip malls, private colleges and trade schools, and private clinics.  The strip malls had fronts selling exotic foods, at least exotic to a Sitkan like me; Shakeys Pizza, Starbucks coffee, Krispy Kreme donuts, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Kenny Rogers Roasted Chicken.  (In Havana people saw me with my white beard and portly profile and called out Papa, Papa Hemmingway. In Manila it’s “Hey Kenny Rogers.”)  What I didn’t see in these strip malls was food more common to Sitka, pancit, chicken adobo and teriyaki sticks.  Not to worry, those were available from the food carts that lined the road along with bananas and mangos, selling to construction workers.

In a little over two hours we were in Tagaytay, a town that stretches for several miles along the rim of a volcanic crater that itself is 75 KM around.  Inside the crater is Lake Tall that has other volcanos popping up as islands, 35 volcanic cones with 47 different craters.  Lonely Planet refers to is as a volcanic matryoshka doll.  There is a volcano in a lake that fills the crater of another volcano that sits in a lake that fills the crater of yet a bigger volcano.  Some of these volcanos are still active.  There are, what look like fish traps or fish pens in the lake.

The prime real estate in Tagaytay sits along the ridge looking down on the big lake.   To get a good view you really have to pay to park your car to get at the crater rim.  Payment can be as easy as buying a coffee.  At People’s Park (a former home of deposed President Ferdinand Marcos) you can enter for only 30 Pesos (67 US cents).  Otherwise much of the ridge is taken up by hotels, restaurants, health clinics, religious retreat centers (one Catholic center had a large sign “no death penalty”) at least one commercial picnic park and a Ferris wheel.  Back away from the ridge, where you can’t see the lake from ground level there are high rises, condos and hotels which, from higher floors, have views of the lake.  We stopped at a hotel with a great view and enjoyed a coffee.  The hotel actually has erected a picture frame to help you “frame” your shots.

On the way back Tony took us to some sites in Manila, including the Basilica of San Sebastian, a prefab steel building from the 1880s which Gustave Eiffel may or may not had a hand in developing.  (see separate post) and we made a drive through with some stops in the old walled city, the Inrarmuros, also the subject of a separate post.  The local mode of travel is the Jeepney, a jeep with an elongated body where people sit in benches along the side.  When the traffic stops people get in and out in the middle of the street.  At one point people just kept coming and coming out of a Jeepney like from one of those clown cars in the circus.  And on almost any street in Manila just look up and you will see a lineman’s nightmare.

We had a good day, and so, I think, did Tony.


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