Vanilla in Manila

Dear fantastic readers of our blog:

Hi, it’s been a while. We left you hanging in Thailand, though you probably were filled in on the highlights of our adventure in this interim in one way or another. I wrote this post on the flight back from China, probably while wearing the fake Beats we were all rocking on the flight, so don’t mind the fact that it’s in present tense (yes I know even when I wrote it it already happened, o well!) I’m posting this on the bus from Maryland to NYC (ya wifi!) and even the familiar feeling of typing on random public transportation and trying to figure out how to move the photo links on Padmay is bringing me back. I’ve been a real life, bills paying, cleaning supplies buying, 9-6 job grown-up for just over 2 months now, and being able to re-read this post was a nice reminder of what an awesome adventure I was privileged to have with some very awesome people. TOW: Hoping for a reunion someday, if nothing else than to kick your butts at pictionary again. Readers: Thank you for sharing our adventure with us, it made it 10x more special to know we had wonderful people back home laughing and freaking out along with us. I love and miss you all!

-Ali “from professional blonde group photo taker in Asia to auditor in NYC?” Briggs

The Air Asia plane touched down at the Manila Airport at approximately 8:20 PM local time. A look of peace spread across Clifford’s face as the smooth voice of the flight attendant spoke the words he had yearned to hear for 5 long years: “Welcome home.”

After being briefed on a few key Tagalog phrases like “salamat” which means thank you, Cliff decided we were prepared to enter his (half) mother country. We were greeted outside by Ate Joy (pronounced ah-Tay), our tour guide for Manila, as well as Raymond our driver. Cliff’s mom organized for them to help us around Manila and they have been super awesome so far. We first dropped our bags off at the Manila Eurotel Hotel where Priya noticed a sign above the front desk which read “Please deposit your weapon at front desk”. According to Cliff everyone in the Phillipines is packing heat, most likely to swiftly resolve any conflicts resulting from karaoke, the national pastime. We took a few minutes to convince the front desk that 4 boys could not in fact fit into 3 twin beds and they would need to bring a cot, then we were off to Aristocrat for dinner.

Aristocrat was Cliff’s pick for chicken barbecue. As it was proclaimed all over the restaurant walls and menu that they had the best chicken barbecue in town, we all ordered it and different variations of San Miguel beer (the official beer of the Phillipines) and were very pleased with the outcome. 3 pieces of juicy chicken came skewered on each plate next to a mound of garlic rice. The chicken was blackened and glistening in all the right places, having been marinated in some sort of magical concoction for hours in traditional Filipino fashion. About 1 piece of chicken in we began to experiment with dipping the chicken into different combinations of java sauce (an intensely peanuty sauce) and hot sauce (we can’t help it after India!). Cliff ordered 2 cups of dinaguan soup for us to all try as well. Thick and black, it tasted pretty good but no one could get the fact that it was made of beef blood out of their head to eat much more than a spoonful.

Joy our tour guide suggested we try halo-halo, a brightly colored parfait style dessert that was displayed prominently in a picture on the place mats. Cliff had warned us the Filipino food was different and we might not like it, but the chicken and even dinaguan had been so good we decided to dig right in to the halo-halo when it came, mixing it first with a spoon and pouring condensed milk on top on Cliff’s suggestion. Whoever invented this dessert clearly got confused and mixed up recipes for a jello mold, tacos, and I’m not even sure what else, kind of like on Friends when Rachel mixes lady fingers and tacos by accident. Ingredients:

Yam ice cream, ice, red jello cubes, pineapple, hazelnuts, and beans

The first bite I took was actually really good, I got a mixture of yam ice cream (which is bright purple), condensed milk, and ice cream. Different but still dessert-like. I dug deeper for my second spoonful, finally reaching the nuts, jello, and beans. That was my last bite. Still, I have high hopes for the equally popular cheese ice cream (keso).

After dinner we were pumped to check out a bar Cliff read about online as one of the top ten most bizarre bars in the world: The Hobbit House. This Lord of the Rings themed bar was not far from the restaurant, and after we couldn’t convince Joy to come in and join us for a drink we entered the bar through the circular door and were greeted by hobbits. Not really hobbits but close enough, the entire wait staff at the Hobbit House are little people. It was dark and a band was playing an excellent cover of “Country Road”. One of the hobbits came to our table with drink menus and a lamp to hold over the menus. I know it was Lord of the Rings themed but I couldn’t help feeling like I was at Gringott’s.

Ryan spotted the “Flaming Frodo” drink on the menu and we were sold, ordering a round for the table. The drink consists of a flaming shot of vodka that is then dropped into a glass of beer. Our hobbit waitress slowly brought all 7 shots and beers to our table and lined them up, then spent the next ten minutes trying to light the shots on fire with a lighter, continuously yelping “ouch!” as the vodka didn’t light and the flame touched her fingers. We repeatedly told her it was ok, we didn’t need the Flaming Frodos to be on fire, but she was persistent. Finally another hobbit came over and squeezed something clear out of a bottle onto the shots, and they magically were able to light. We still aren’t sure if we took partial shots of gasoline but had faith that the substance was straight from the firey pits of Mordor.

The rest of the drink menu was very extensive, with beers from all over Europe and Asia. We each picked ones we hadn’t tried, with Stephanie’s Belgian grapefruit beer being the most unique. The boys have a 6th sense for cigars at this point and sniffed some Filipino made ones out at the front of the bar, so we enjoyed those and our beers while singing along to classic rock cover after classic rock cover. The bar was pretty empty and the band was loving us. We were having an awesome time but finally left as Joy had sprung a 7AM pickup on us so we could sightsee in Manila before our 11AM flight to Puerta Princesa the next day. Raymond drove us back to the hotel and we fell asleep pretty instantly.

About 5 hours later we woke up, packed our bags, and headed downstairs for breakfast before the pickup. We waited maybe 45 seconds in the hall for the elevator but still it felt bad so we were greeted with a peppy female voice recording saying, “sorry for keeping you waiting”. So polite.

Breakfast seemed to be an interesting mix of east and west, with omelets, toast, and pancakes as well as garlic rice, mixed vegetables, and fried ham. Cliff showed Steph and I how to eat the ham on top of the rice, very delicious though it was no puri bhaji. Joy bounded into the lobby with way too much enthusiasm for 7AM and we were off to Rizal Park.

We first walked on a bridge across a lake with a huge model of the Phillipines islands in the water, it was really cool and Cliff pointed out where we would be flying to later that day. We kept walking through the park, noticing lots of people running and determining the Phillipines was one of the more active countries we’ve visited. Unfortunately the Arborium, a botanical garden and butterfly sanctuary, wasn’t open that early so we visited another botanical garden in the park as well as an area dedicated to Dr. Rizal, the namesake of the park and the man responsible for inciting the masses to rise up against their Spanish rulers when he was executed at the end of the 1800’s.

By this time more people were out and about in the park, we even saw a Cinderella style horse drawn carriage, sadly she was not inside. With the sun starting to come out in full and our impending flight, Raymond picked us up at the other end of the park and we were heading back to the airport less than 24 hours since we were last there, though already it felt like we had seen so much of Manila.

We were surprised that we never actually had to show an ID anywhere in the airport, and security was easier than normal as our bags were overweight for a domestic carry-on and had to be checked. Our plane to Puerta Princesa was full of Filipinos going on vacation to the beach, what the area is known for. We even saw kids who had elected to use their carry-on allotment for their foam water noodles, why didn’t we think of that! Super tired from erratic sleep since our Sleeping Beauty like sleep-in till 2PM way back in Delhi, we tried to nap on the hour long flight to no avail. The flight attendants talked loudly over the intercom for the first 20 minutes, going over any and all possible safety and plane information possible in both English and Tagalog, including the fine for stealing the flotation device/seat cushion. Just when we thought the loud speech was over the flight attendants began playing trivia with the whole plane, with prizes for right answers and about a third of the plane clapping for correct answers. Alas, we are excited for the flight back to not even attempt to sleep but rather dominate at trivia.

We landed at Puerta Princesa airport, very small with only 2 gates, picked up our luggage and waited for our hotel pickup as rain quickly began to replace the sunshine. Everyone was excited for island hopping rain or shine, even Cliff who had never been to this part of the Phillipines. Our new tour guide, Darielle, picked us up and we were off for a Pinoy adventure.



One Response to “Vanilla in Manila”
  1. Elsa M says:

    At last, a blog about your adventures in the Phil. Enjoyed reading it. Hope to hear more about your Puerto Princesa adventure. Keep it coming. Thanks

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