January 31, 2011

Island Hopping

I made it to Manila after a long, arduous journey of airports, running late and late flights alike, and a nonstop techno beat that made our beachy bungalow far from perfect.

I haven't slept more than two or three hours for at least four nights now. Our beach bungalow was adjacent to one of Mui Ne's hottest clubs that bumped techno beats from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m. We took sleeping pills, attempted going to sleep drunk and even put in our own headphones to try keep the noise out. Luckily our days were lazy, and I'm continuing to nurse a sunburned tummy.

We thought we would miss our flight in Ho Chi Minh, our bus was leaving more than two hours late from Mui Ne, and we were already cutting things close if we had left one time. Thankfully, due to Vietnam's avid disregard for traffic laws, we made it in four hours (instead of five) thanks to our driver's ability to play chicken and win every single time. 

Last night we slept in the Kuala Lumpur airport. And by "slept" I mean awkwardly finangled ourselves on hard plastic chairs and slept in a single position until some part of our body was numb (usually we had to wake up and switch positions every 20 minutes or so). We got coffee at Jenn's favorite chain and rushed to our 7 a.m. plane that we didn't realize we were running late for.

We arrived in Manila at last and had another three hour journey to our hostel. On the bus from the airport, a Filipino woman took us under her care and promised to find us a taxi. Bless her heart... we would have definitely gone to the wrong taxi stand. Manila is a chaotic, pseudo-scary mess -- but we got a reliable cab driver who didn't rip us off.

My primary mission for Manila is to check out where my grandpa stayed in World War II. I wanted to make sure to see The Great Eastern Hotel -- he was stationed just across the river from it. I can look at the hotel from my hostel. I can see the river too.

The next thing I wanted to see was the old Manila Post Office. Jenn and I got directions and hopped in a Jeepney (imagine a low-rider, extended cab Jeep with no windows). We ended up at a Post Office, it was hardly legendary though. It was a 1970s structure that had zero character and was definitely not the post office famed from the war. We learned that one is at least an hour away from where we were, by that time it was getting dark so we had to call it quits. We definitely gave it a diligent effort, but couldn't quite make it.

After the failed post office attempt, we tried to go to the Chase ATM (that's where Jenn's account is at, so she could avoid fees). We found the Chase tower and were sent to the 31st floor. We were greeted by a receptionist in a fancy office who made a phone call and asked us to go to a board room. 

The board room was extravagent but sterile. A phone was at the center of the table. After a minute or two the phone rang and we heard the receptionist run down the hall, open the door and "kindly requested" us to answer the phone.

Jenn answered and giggled as she said, "All I want is an ATM for some currency." ... "Oh, you don't have a bank in the Philippines? Ooops. Ok. Sorry!"

Only JP Morgan is here. Not Chase bank.

We couldn't help but laugh in the elevator down. It was sensational we ended up in a board room when all we wanted was an ATM.

Overall Manila has been cool, there are tons of police with guns -- even at 7-Eleven and Starbucks armed guards open the door as you enter. Just last week a bomb went off in my neighborhood I'm staying in (it is one of the main tourist areas). I can honestly say that I've been a lot less comfortable in places before. Manila isn't so bad. And I can sleep easy tonight knowing I'm on the 18th floor of a building just two blocks away from where my grandpa slept when he was my age. And I can guarantee this was a very different city when he was here.

Tomorrow off to Palawan! No ATMs. Possibly no internet. Plenty of beach and diving.

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