My blog has the ambiguous subtitle: thoughts of a traveling mind.
My mind often wanders off into strange thoughts and dreams or just ideas about the world. Some of these ideas you can read on this blog.
But sometimes I actually get to travel, and there is so much new input that I can’t make sense of it just yet. So I write. And sometimes, on some days, I allow others to read along.
Today is one of those days.
Four flights, twenty hours on nine different buses and two boat rides in fourteen days.
A sensual overload in smell, taste and emotions.
A lot of pictures and the inability to put into words what I have seen – these were the Philippines.
After three days, I sit down with my notebook and a pen.
I have to, I just have to write. I need to process all of this somehow.
These shoes have gone through mud and rain.
They have taken me to foreign terrain and new experiences.
They invite you to come along.
So tie your laces and let’s begin, shall we?
Episode 1. Cebu.
I guess that’s the word you’d most likely use to describe Cebu City.
We land around four in the afternoon and get a cab into the city. The streets are crowded with many vans and Jeepneys – remnants of US colonial history now used as taxis, which can take about 15 passengers. They stop whenever you tell them to, so traffic is a constant stop and go. In between there are hundreds of motorbikes, the preferred method of transport for the Filipinos. Technically, there are lanes, but everyone just goes back and forth wherever traffic seems to be moving along. The outside temperature is around 35°C with 70% humidity and I’m glad our cab has got air conditioning.
After we have reached our hotel in uptown, we explore the streets to find some dinner and end up at a really nice restaurant with a garden terrace. To the background music of soft pop ballads we order green mango juice and seafood – the perfect start to an extraordinary vacation. With seven hours of time difference, jetlag hits us quickly and we drift off into sleep very soon.
The next day we walk downtown to explore historical Cebu. The Philippines have been a Spanish, then an American colony and you can see traces of both if you take the time to find them. This proves to be more difficult than expected and a casual stroll through the city center resembles more a fight against masses of people on the streets, crazy traffic and a thick cloud of smog.
The constant honking and the yells of people, combined with an excruciating heat, are nearly unbearable. I can feel sweat running from every pore of my body and my nose picks up the smell of burning trash and urine. We walk by men sitting in front of their shops, gawking at us who don’t fit in here at all. Past naked children playing in the dirt with toys made from trash. I had heard of the country’s poverty – now I see it and it breaks my heart.
In the midst of traffic and crowds of people we find the Cathedral St. Nino and head inside. The Filipinos are mostly Catholic and you can find golden ornaments and figurines of saints everywhere. Since they have fans, we sit down and watch the service taking place at the moment.
People kneel or stand.
They kiss the Jesus figurine.
They seem very devoted.
God is all around the globe, in all his different facets.
When we move on, we cross the Plaza Independencia and reach Fort de San Pedro, a former military base right at the waterfront. Its old stonewalls tell the stories of Portuguese conquest, Filipino tribal chiefs, friendship and war, strength and defeat. As we walk along one of the balconies, I feel a raindrop on my cheek.
This drop quickly turns into a midday downpour. This is quite typical in tropical countries during rain season and it’s a welcome relief for us sweaty and exhausted travelers. We sit down on a bench and watch the skies open, pouring down heavy, warm rain drops.
For about an hour, the noise of the city is drowned in the sounds of nature.
We pause, we slow down, we reflect.
At night we stop at a supermarket to buy bottled water and some soap. From the loudspeakers they play an entire One Direction album. Soft pop really seems to be THE choice of music here. When I ask a Filipino later why that is he tells me, “We are just emotional and sentimental people.” Maybe we shouldn’t tell them then that the band doesn’t exist anymore…