Manila and Lake Taal
08.06.2013 - 12.06.2013 34 °C
Back in Lahad Datu we prepared ourselves for a night bus that would take us west, back to Kota Kinabalu (KK) where this saga started almost a month ago. Preparation consisted of drinking whiskey with lemon tea and eating one of the top burgers that I've ever got my chops around (4 patties, an egg, cheese and four layers of bread combined with an outrageous combination of condiments blew both my and Mike's minds). Unfortunately the bus made excellent time and dropped us at a town somewhere outside KK at about 4am. A local youth with a pimped up Proton raced us into KK with the happy hardcore tunes blaring. After some strong coffee and a walk around a market (once it had opened), where I copped myself a toad that had been turned into a horrific looking purse, we said our (emotional) goodbyes to Mike and headed for the airport.
At 2pm we landed in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. As soon as we left the airport the contrast between where we'd landed and where we were a couple of hours prior was huge. Suddenly we were smack bang in the middle of a stiflingly hot, manic city. Jeepneys (colourfully decorated old Jeeps left by the U.S. Army after WW2 and then converted into a form of public transport) crowded the streets blaring party music and adding to the cacophony with liberal use of their horns. It hadn't taken long to witness the effects of both Spanish and American occupation of the Philippines on the culture of the place. After a month of slow-paced travel, this was exciting.
We enjoyed the trappings of city life for a while. We dined on pizza and Korean bbq and even went to the Cinema to see a rather poor film about using magic to commit serious robberies (Now You See Me - 5/10 - fell asleep a bit). After a couple of days in Manila, however, we were pretty tired of the place and decided to head south to the Philippines' second most active volcano.
Taal volcano used to be a pretty big deal until it exploded with such vigor that it blew itself apart forming a huge lake with nothing but the top of it's cone remaining in the centre. A bus and a motorcycle-sidecar combo took us to a restaurant in the town of Tagaytay that overlooked the lake. These motorcyle-sidecar things are genuinely the most nerve-wracking of all the modes of transport I've used in my life so far; riding at the same height as all the bull bars of cars around you isn't a view that puts one at ease. Despite this, we enjoyed the stunning view and dined on a classic Filipino dish consisting of beef stewed with marrow bones, which create and extremely rich sauce, known as Bulalo.
A Jeepney and another, more prolonged, motorcycle-sidecar journey took us to the rather interestingly named 'People's Park in the Sky' (sounds like a euphemism for some kind of communist heaven). It's innocently enough just a hill that gives great views for miles and miles in all directions (we could make out smog-covered Manila 50km to the north), it has, however, seen better days. A huge concrete playground complete with a Japanese-style bridge over nothing in particular and even a small-scale attempt at a Roman theatre were particular favourites of mine. Further sidecar and Jeepneys took us to a hotel on the side of lake Taal where a considerable storm would confine us to our room, forcing us to resort to a tin of tuna and peanut butter for dinner.
The following morning was much calmer and we made our way around to the other side of the lake where we'd climb Mount Maculot - Google it and you'll be greeted with news stories of someone who died climbing it a couple of months ago. The idea was that it'd provide yet more top-drawer views. It was a short but very steep climb through forest and then dense grasses which sliced us up nicely. While no foreigners were climbing the mountain that day, many a Filipino climber stopped us asking for a photo. We reached the summit at the same time as quite a large group of Filipino climbers who marked the event by whooping and hollering for a solid five minutes. Thankfully, the views did not disappoint.
We left the mountain and continued south on yet more Jeepneys and sidecars until we reached Batangas, a port town from which we'd cross to the island of Mindoro and the final part of this tale.