After the Azamara Quest made port calls in the more exotic
locations of Bali and Komodo Island, Indonesia then Sandakan, Borneo, Malaysia
and then Puerto Princesa, Philippines our ship arrived in the city of Manila,
Philippines for an overnight stay. To be
honest, I have never heard much of anything positive about Manila as a tourist
destination and, to be sure, that a somewhat strong anti-American contingent
|Intramuros, Manila, Philippines|
The Azamara Quest provided a free shuttle to the Mall of
Asia, a gigantic mall that I am sure was of interest to some and was near the
large Ferris wheel I would never ride.
And I had no interest in an eight hour tour with over three hours on a
bus traveling out of town to a farm to make pasta or to see some resort. I say this especially since the cost of tours
on Azamara Club Cruises are, to be honestly, ridiculously expensive. (Not just in Manila, but everywhere.). Yes, there was a tour to Intramuros and
Chinatown, but at $128 per person for a 5 hour bus tour fighting the notorious
traffic with a short horse and carriage ride I figured there had to be a better
Not really being enthusiastic, and after recovering from the
two hours of drumming that greeted us at 6:30 a.m. (just thinking about that
again makes my head hurt), I did some work and then headed out in the early
afternoon for a walk as the Old City (Intramuros) and Rizal Park was right
across from the port. (With the overnight stay, I could take advantage of not
having to rush out or rush back to the ship; a very nice touch.)
Being fairly well traveled, and being from New Jersey, I am
pretty confident when I venture out alone.
But my antennae were up almost immediately and I was looking for
something that made me feel like I was in a good place. Rizal Park, at least the part near the port,
didn’t look so good (and really wasn’t too impressive) and Intramuros is not
like a quaint walled city like you find in many European cities but a sprawling
area with some historical buildings and extreme poverty interspersed.
And then small horse and carriage came up to me. He offered me a 30 minute ride for 50 pesos
(about $1.25). So let’s just stop here
for a moment. While Manila has a very
poor population (there are very rich and very poor with little in between),
there wasn’t any way I was hopping onto that carriage and getting off for 50
pesos. He knew it and I knew it. It was, to be sure, a “friendly” game of “tourist
rip off…or not”.
My Filipino driver’s first attempt was to guide me through
the aquarium or the mall. No
thanks. Then, after a series of
questions about my marital status and love life, an inquiry if I would like to
spend the afternoon with a 14 year old prostitute. No thanks.
So then it was if I would like the big tour which was “very special” but
I should understand he works on commission so he only gets 30% of what I
pay. OK, let’s do the special tour.
|The Jeepney is the locals mode of transportation|
So now, rather than sitting in traffic that doesn’t move, my
driver starts driving down back alleys, on the wrong side of the road, running
red lights. He stops at every monument,
statute, plaque, viewpoint, etc. To be
honest, through his broken English, I am getting to see just about everything there
was to see. (And also to be honest, I
didn’t feel the need or desire to stop anywhere along the way, so it was just
fine sitting in my little carriage.)
|Having your horse and carriage go the wrong way down the road|
takes care of the traffic issues and give a unique perspective
(The large No More Lice sign was “interesting”)
After Intramuros it was on to Chinatown – supposedly the
oldest outside of China. Being from the
New York area it wasn’t really that impressive, but it was the place where my
view went from seen dozens of government paid workers lazily sweeping leaves
and rubbish with old palm frond brooms to cesspool smelling waterways and
As we passed Rizal Park on
the other side, I saw what looked like a bit of a subterranean shanty village
with dirty faced young children who smiled and then tried to climb onto my
carriage to steal my wallet and camera.
My driver had to kick one especially aggressive girl who was probably no
older than 10 off the carriage and told me to be careful because she bites
people. (She actually tried to climb on the
rear of the carriage as he sped things up.) No photos because everything was tucked well away!
As I knew my now two hour carriage ride was coming to an
end, I checked my phone’s map app to see where I was relative to the port…just
in case he tried to play games. And
games he did try! He stopped the
carriage next to some large trucks which hid the road to the port and said the
price was US$50 for his horse and US$50 for him, but since he only gets 30%,
that meant $150 for the guide, or $200 total.
So I said to him, knowing it was more than he probably makes in a week
(but not wanting to be unfair as I legitimately am a tourist and a gold mine)
that he told me 50 pesos for 30 minutes, but I would give him US$50 total. He protested…a bit too strongly…figuring I
was alone and, incorrectly, unfamiliar with where I was. So I looked him straight in the eye and
said, “I’m from New York. Don’t F*** with me!
” He took the $50 and shook my hand.
And thus he won the game of “tourist rip off…or not” because he got a nice fee for two hours of
work and I won because I really got to see Manila (the good, the bad and the
ugly) and some of its dark underbelly.
I was also quite happy that I was able to return to the
safe, comfortable and friendly confines of the Azamara Quest. (Yes, when you go to some of the less
pristine cities, having the security of an upscale cruise ship does make things
better…a lot better than feeling trapped in your hotel room.)
And then, in stark contrast, Azamara Club Cruises held its Azmazing Evening in the
Intramuros’ Fort Santiago. The VIPs were
taken to the event in a ubiquitous Jeepney, though this one was quite upscale
with curtains, upholstered seats and video karaoke (which, fortunately, nobody
took advantage of).
We arrived after a
10 minute ride (that would have been at least 45 minutes in traffic just hours
earlier) to a beautiful greeting with band with dancers (akin to a high school
marching band) playing American songs with some very enthusiastic dancing, as
well as snacks of fried bananas, ice cream and more and rum punch.
The setting was beautiful and there was an open bar with
local beers, wine and soft drinks as well as buffets with light snacks.
After everyone arrived (most in regular buses) and were
seated a rock band went on stage and played Beatles music and got quite a few
couples up dancing. Then more folkloric
talent came on and then the evening ended with fireworks.
It was a very nice two hours…and a reminder that the
Philippines has a hugely multi-cultural heritage from indigenous to
Spanish to American and more. While you
might think this could create confusion, exactly the opposite seems true: Filipinos have a very secure and proud
feeling about their culture no matter from where some aspect of it was
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for more information on an Azamara Club Cruise
or any other cruise or vacation.