One of the Taal Island villagers (really: dirt floor huts and cows pooping everywhere and giggling teenage girls with MP3 players plugged into their ears) asked where I was from. "Canada," I said. I got a blank stare in exchange.
Welcoming committe at Taal Island.
My horse guide, however, declared that Canada, "It is a beautiful country." He made his declaration shortly after receiving a 500-peso tip form me. Which may make it tough for Blenz Coffee, who has newly opened up north in Manila under the tagline of "The Canadian Coffee Company."
Sunday, my hosts at PTCC took me to Tagaytay and People's Palace in the Sky, some 1.5 hours south of Manila, my first time out of the city of 15 million. The unfinished palace was started by dictator Ferdinand Marcos for his wife Imelda, but then he was booted out of office, and so it was renamed People's Palace. It is situated spectacularly on a mountain top with a 360 view of the plains, green covered rolling hills, lakes, and volcanoes. But very run down, since no money is spent on upkeep. which means the multi-hued molds and mosses growing over everything made it a colorful place, accidently.
Then it was down 6km of switchback roads to arrive at Taal lake, were an outrigger canoe was waiting for us. It felt like Amazing Race.
A half-hour across the lake, and then we were led to waiting horses, small ones, looking like scrawny Shetland Ponies. About a 3/4-hour ride on horseback to the top of Taal Volcano with a beautiful lake inside -- with the horse guide running and panting along side of me.
The volcano sports a lake, and is still active; we could see steam raising from vents. It is said it is possible to boil an egg in the water, but you have to arrive early in the morning to hike down there.
Earlier in the day, Trishia took me along to her church, Victory Fort Bonifacio of the Every Nation denomination, a large modern building that I guess holds about 1,500 and runs seven services on Sundays. A ten-piece band provided bouncy pop worship music (mainly Hillsong, for those in the know) for the huge crown of young people, who then heard a message on "Crossing Cultures." The sight no doubt would break the hearts of those fervent atheists who may have convinced themselves religion ought by now to have disappeared from a world where we have science providing for our comfort.
Saturday, April from the PTCC office took me on the 1.5-hour, 27-mile ferry ride to Corregidor Island. Manila Bay was choppy enough that some of the 200 passengers got seasick, and the all the resultant outfall that involves. The island is nicknamed "The Rock" but looks nothing like The Rock in San Francisco Bay.
Here's how strategic Corregidor is to Manila: when the Americans bought Philippines from Spain, they paid $20 million; subsequently, they spent $150 million fortifying Corregidor island, including a mile-long barrack for enlisted men, and a tunnel large enough to hold 1000 men, supplies, arms, and hospital.
Like the Maginot Line, it failed to hold, against the Japanese in WWII, and by surrendering the island the Americans also surrendered all of Philippines. It was just before the surrender that General McArthur headed off for Australia, saying, "I shall return." He did.
Today, the most pastoral place on the island is the Japaanese memorial to the dead of both sides.
Thursday evening, the two Brits who run the PTCC office took me out to a pub in the red-light district, somevtwo blocks from my hotel. It is not as bad as it sounds. If you want a "drinking companion" (a woman for whom you buy drinks at 10x the regular price), you have to go inside one of the seedy establishments with garish neon lighting, and doormen offering, "Discount, discount!" But the Brits know where to go, and so we spent the evening in a pleasant English-type pub frequented by mostly male expats, with no "girlfriends."
My minders and PTCC tour guides, Emily and April, are doing a terrific job minding me and touring me.