The bass and snare of Beyonce’s “Ego” blared from the speakers inside the Hooters restaurant, across from my guesthouse. The image of the mega star on the flat screen TV – big hair, cunning smile, shiny legs and glam dress – lured you in as she sang and squirmed seductively in her seat. Of the half dozen flat screens, “Ego” showed on two, the theme song to the silent sports games that aired on the other screens. Behind the bar, a young Filipina bounced to the song as she prepared a drink for a customer. She exuded pure diva energy as she lip synced; her long, wavy hair, that was auburn with dark roots, swung from side-to-side – keeping in flow with her sauntering groove.
It was my last day in the Philippines. I wasn’t ready to go, but I couldn’t stay. Work called. Actually, it beckoned since I was out “sick” the last three days while playing hooky in Manila, a concrete paradise.
And there she was again, the waitress. Something about this woman’s bubbling presence made me stare with a faint notion of irritation as she bobbed back and forth from behind the bar and table to table, laughing with customers – a group of men in business suits. She was a brown-skinned, petite woman who looked like she belonged on a basketball team’s cheering squad, or, at the very least, someone’s beach babe. When she stopped to take my order, her cheerfulness hit me like a sandbag of humility to the noggin that was thick with unsettling thoughts from my day. I had to shake my shadiness loose. She smiled from cheek to cheek. It was genuine, so I did the right thing, and smiled back, genuinely. Before asking me what I’d have to eat, she complimented me on my outfit, told me I was pretty, and asked where I was from.
That Hooters waitress captured the essence of my experience in the Philippines, and the interaction with its people who displayed unbridled kindness, a carefree spirit and untethered joy. Service industry workers called me “mum” everywhere I went, and the men… Let’s just say their flirtatious exchange and wide-eyed, head-turning glances were refreshing – at first. Compared to Korea, where the men have not been conditioned to gawk at women of interest (thank goodness), it was nice to be noticed, but the attention of Filipino men off the street quickly became an annoyance – humorous and flattering, but annoying.
With only five short days of vacation, my plan was to optimize my time with day trips to four iconic destinations in Manila and the surrounding area: Intramuros, Taal Valcano, Corregidor Island and Banaue Rice Terraces.
I would highly recommend the Corregidor Island tour. Many of the reviewers recommend it if you like history, but whether or not you’re a history buff, I think anyone would enjoy and appreciate the beautiful ruins of the abandoned U.S. military camps, and the intertwining paths of the interesting relationships the Philippines had with the U.S. and Spanish, as well as how they came to be an independent country.
An old movie theater that the soldiers (American and Filipino) used. The last movie shown here was “Gone with the Wind.”
Banaue Rice Terraces
The Banaue Rice Terraces were the highlight of the trip. My travel partner and I decided against booking a tour company to take us there — the true story: we waited too late in the evening to schedule a pick up for the following day; the office closed at 5p.m. Nevertheless, we caught an overnight bus that took about eight to ten hours to get there. Although the reviews warned it would a bumpy, cold ride, it was tolerable: I dressed in layers, brought a makeshift eye mask to help me sleep, and had the luck and luxury to curl-up over two seats.
The Rice Terraces themselves were aw-inspiring. This UNESCO World Heritage site is the nature-based architecture of the indigenous people of Ifugao; they built the rice terraces by hand into the mountainous land thousands of years ago. It is an amazing experience that I’d highly recommend, but beware of the rocky trails, uneven stairs, and 900 steps it takes to view the Batad Rice Terraces, including the waterfall – which is optional.
I had an amazing time in the Philippines. Its stunningly sublime landscape, and the charisma of Filipino people will not be forgotten.