Philippines Day 14: Puzzled

Our last day in the Philippines, we’re to meet the Fernandos at White Beach at 9 and catch a large bangka ferry back across to Batangas at around 9:30. The day kinda summed up our trip in general. The plan is to join them with Oly’s godfather’s for an early lunch, some shopping, and then on to Tagatay to go zip lining and take a boat to the extinct volcano in a lake, spending the night in the area before leaving early morning for Manila airport and home.

We had trouble finding the Fernando clan at first, but walking down the beach we thought we would be easy to spot and flag down. What we didn’t expect was that our guide from the previous day was the one to do it. He just wanted to say hi, but had seen them and pointed us in their direction.

Luz had already bargained for tickets for the group and basement prices by the time we found them. She was sitting in the shade like the matriarch of the family, cool and collected.

We had some pesos to burn and did some shopping but only found 1 item before we were hurried off to go catch the boat. Only when we were on the boat, we had to wait for nearly 45 minutes while everyone sat around relaxed waiting for god knows what. The boat was a very large bangka the size of a large motorboat, but still constructed out of food with beams going through the center of the boat connecting he outriggers. We had to walk up a steep gangplank with our bags from the beach and then duck under and step over large beams like we were running and obstacle course.

Jenn about finished up Cloud Atlas but when it got rough she handed the book to me and went and chatted with Oly. I thought they could use some time to themselves and worked on my journal, then read some of Cloud Atlas myself.

Arriving in Batangas I was shocked at the throng of people, it was like a mosh pit of people waiting for various boats, so very different from when we left for Puerto. The people harassing us for a taxi hadn’t changed, but Jenn had gotten tired of it and much like my companions in Thailand started joking with them about needing a Taxi to California. I feel like she’s reached her breaking point with the “sir-ma’am, do you want to go snorkeling?” “need a trike?” “where are you going? White Beach? Puerto Galera?” “how about a massage later?” It’s more than one can take in a lot of ways. It’s hard to get to our car, and we’re trying our best to keep close to our Filipino guides, people walking in front of us asking if we need a taxi are just in the way and it’s easy to be short tempered with them, I have to remind myself that they’re just trying to get by even if they don’t know what’s the best way to go about getting western clients.

We drive towards town to meet the god father who is actually a real father in the church. Crammed 6 into a truck with 5 seats. The Fernandos are a religious family. Luz notes that we’re quite far behind time and suggests we’d be better off getting any last minute shopping we need done at the SM mall while they have lunch. We have a laundry list of friends and coworkers we wanted to pick up things for.

The mall is a crush of last minute shoppers trying to get something for loved ones days before xmas. The last few year’s I’d been so good about my xmas shopping, usually getting gifts by Halloween, however, this year with our trip we had planned to get our gifts in the Philippines hoping to bring back more interesting items. The biggest problem though is that with us backpacking we’ve been concerned not just for the added weight but for the fragility of many of the gift items we had on our list so they’ve had to wait until it’s nearly too late. This ruins our opportunity with lunch with a Filipino pastor that sounded delicious with spit roasted pig called lechon we’ve been hunting for this entire trip. We did finally get to try Chow King, one of the major chain fastfood restaurants in the Philippines, and an important part of our cultural education.

Back in the car our friends raved about the meal saying unlike last night’s 4/10, this was more like an 8/10 or 9/10! Gah!

Now we were on our way to Tagaytay. We had hoped to get there by 3pm to ride the zipline before it closed at 5. Only it takes longer than expected even for locals to get to where they’re going and some added traffic meant by 4:45 we were nowhere near where we needed to be. We could see glimpses of Taal volcano out in the lake, the major draw of the place, but that was it. We also quickly saw Fantasy Land, a was to be Disney Land that never really took, a fantasy castle with dragons and all.

Reggie, Oly’s sister has unusual interests including a fascination with Puzzle Mansion, the home of a Guinness Book of World Record holder with over 1000 jigsaw puzzles framed and completed. Neither Jenn nor I, or Oly for that matter understands the attraction, but Luz is on board so we swing in to have a look. To our amazement the place is also a B&B with skyhigh prices. 100p each gains admission into about 600sqft of wall to wall jigsaw puzzles of all size and complexity and a tour by the clearly fame seeking owner proudly showing off her life’s work complete with certificate of the record secured by a mere 30 puzzles over the previous record holder. The owner is so very proud of her accomplishment and breathlessly escorts her guests from one puzzle to the next describing the complexity and why it’s interesting (often because it’s a print of a famous painting) or difficulty. Reggie is enthralled, and Marc seems nearly at the same level. Jenn and I can’t help but chuckle at the surreal moment as we watch the two wait on the owners every word taking pictures of the pictures cut into pieces and re-assembled. It was like falling down the rabbit hole. Oly wasn’t as amused as us and seemed to just want out. The kicker being at the end when the owner asked if we’d like a picture with her and the certificate suggesting the beautiful Oly hold the frame. It was like a joke only we were invited in on as Oly put on a happy face. Then it was Jenn and my turn, we had much less trouble smiling for the camera as the strangeness of the moment was worth the price of admission. At the end Jenn was asked for a kiss by the owner and got a bizou bizou on the cheeks.

Outside was a jeepney pained all up in Puzzle Mansion colors. The fun wasn’t over as it apparently served as the perfect photo op with Oly and Marc playing the part of driver and passenger, or everyone hanging off of the side of the vehicle. Half of our group was so into it, well to be honest Jenn and I were too but for different reasons than the other 3. But to each their own!

Here we were, all day in the making at the Puzzle Mansion hanging off of a bright blue and white Jeepney having missed our goals for the day because of the cost of moving from one place to another had drained our clocks. We had such awesome goals: ziplining, a boat ride, great views, but what we got instead was a room full of puzzles and pictures with a Jeepney. Jenn had a good sense of humor about the whole thing. I suspect if you didn’t you’d go mad.

With it now dark we started our hunt for a hotel room. We passed by a number of really nice looking hotels that were probably out of our price range before stopping to check out the prices of some place that looked more reasonable. For 2800p you could get a tiny room without AC, not that it was hot, but it would get stuffy potentially. Or for 1800p you could get a tiny single bed room in a rundown hotel. We decided to get some snacks and mull over our options. We put it out there that since we have to go back to Manila in the morning and Luz was driving us either way we could stay at a hotel in the city for cheaper with a shorter drive to the hotel and they could just stay at home. After chowing down on some random pastries it was decided that would probably work best and we went looking for dinner.

Lonely Planet recommended Josephine’s for dinner so we gave it a try. The décor was really Christmas festive which Jenn loved, and everything seemed really nice and upscale. We knew what to expect for main course prices thanks to Lonely Planet so we got our seat. Apparently in years past this joint was rated the best restaurant in the Philippines, but I suspect it would have a hard time today. The service was horribly slow and at one point I had to grab the waiters arm to get his attention since calling out to him didn’t work. The food was fine, the Fernando’s grading it a 7/10. Saddest of all though, the menu said they served Lechon, the spit roasted pig sold down to the quarter on Weekends and Holidays. Well today was Sunday just a couple of days before Xmas. Jenn convinced me to spend the $30 for us to get some since I’d been talking about it all week and didn’t want to have regrets. Only fate chose since they didn’t have it today. If it wasn’t going to be today, it wasn’t going to be this trip. Disappointed with that aspect we paid our large part of the tab having thanked everyone with a carafe of wine.

The drive back to Manila was mostly silent, everyone was exhausted, them more than us I think, and we felt like we’d failed our mission. We were dropped off in the Makati neighborhood of Manila at the GoTo hotel. Apparently we were very lucky to get a room with them so booked no beds larger than a twin were available. Not wanting to risk our room we settled for just over 2000p (~$50). We picked up some water and Cloud9 bars next door and stayed up chatting about the trip in retrospect. I’ll talk about our conclusions in my final entry tomorrow for the trip. Makati was pretty nice and upscale, lots of clean high rise towers. Manila has such a large breadth of difference from one neighborhood to the next. One area is heart breaking slums, another a historic old walled district, while others still modern and clean. It feels like a city looking for its identity, more towards the future than the past.

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