Note to self: Tell the bank when you’ve got a flight!
I’ve been really enjoying the progressively laid back approach on this journey. At the very beginning of the trip in New Zealand, I could spend a full day planning out the following 3 to 4 days. Accommodation, transport arrangements, activities, gyms etc. Now, almost 3 months in, it’s almost day by day. I can arrive in a place just based on a recommendation, with no accommodation and a foggy view of how long I’ll be staying…and it’s just working out.
However, now sitting at the airport having just arrived in Manila I’ve been stung by my lack of planning for the first time, a mistake which I’ve never made while on holiday and now I’m getting caught out after 3 months of being a ‘seasoned’ traveller: I have no cash, and my cash card isn’t working due to the bank’s fraud prevention!
Apart from my host, I also have a friend in the city who I can contact, but without cash to pay for a disposable sim card, I have no way of getting in touch with them……..or the bank. My phone has also died (listened to too many podcasts on the plane), so even asking a kind stranger to borrow a phone will be no use without the numbers to hand.
Hmmm……….I sit down on one of the empty benches next to the exit door. I’m feeling surprisingly calm about it all and just trying to run options through in my head of the next step, while at the same time making a sensible list of to-dos for my next flight:
- Tell the bank where/when you’re going!
- Write down, on paper, the numbers you may need!
- Keep a bit of juice in your phone on the flight!
After 5 minutes I find my ‘out’! £5.32 of Skype credit J I fire up the laptop, and within 30 minutes of using the (thankfully free) airport wi-fi to call the bank, my cards are activated, I have some cash, I have an activated Filipino SIM card, and I’m in a cab on the way to Makati.
Another to add to the list:
- Keep some Skype credit for emergencies! :-)
I get my first taste of the urban chaos of what is central Manila at rush hour on a Thursday night. The 8km ride from the airport to Makati takes around 90 minutes.
I’m excited! Despite the many lessons from school about meeting strangers online, I’m about to stay at a flat with Robert, a person who I’ve never met before, having only exchanged a few emails with, and have only a vaugue idea of what he looks like from a Facebook link!
After getting in touch with Christian from BJJ Globetrotters a couple of weeks back in Sydney, he advised that I sign up to Matsurfing.org. a couchsurfing-like facility where BJJer host other BJJers looking to travel and train. I found Robert’s details, sent an introduction email and received back the following really friendly response!
Great to get your email, thanks a lot for contacting me! We do have things in common: I am also new to Matsurfing and I am – after having gotten a blue belt in 2011 – back again to very basic white belt stuff. So cool that matsurfing works! I only signed up less than one month ago and you are already the 2nd person who is writing me, despite being Manila for sure not a top travel destination.
I love your blog, if you want to check me out a little bit more, my contact details on Facebook uses the email I am writing you from.
I remember that I wrote that I travel a lot. I will not be here from May 16 to 31. So you are very welcome to pass by either before May 16 or from June onwards. It would be awesome to have you here.
Let me know your plans and do not hesitate to ask me if you have questions related to your travel. My Philippine mobile number is +63 XXX XX XX XXX, I am also on WhatsApp.
Have a nice May 1st,
P. S.: You will be my first BJJ Globetrotter guest – courage! ;-)
And after a few back and forth emails containing flight details and general advice around navigating from the airport to Robert’s address, here I was standing in Robert’s beautiful apartment having a chat to my new host.
“You must be hungry? I’ve got a home-made curry heating up if you’d like some?”
I could tell, I was going to like him already! :-)
Robert, an Ex-Pat from Austria, was really welcoming and chilled out, a great host and very easy to get along with. We spent the night eating and talking about our backgrounds, BJJ, photography (another hobby that we share, exchanging ideas and pics that we had taken), and living Manila. After a delicious home cooked meal (it had been a while!), the 24 hour journey had caught up with me and I had to bow out to sleep.
Despite Robert having a set of his own mats (carefully disguised as a couch!) for me to ‘surf’ on, I got the spare room where I found a little welcome package waiting by the pillow :-)
The next morning, I wake up and am about to start some wandering to find my bearings. I shower, fill up a water bottle, and as soon as I open the room door I’m greeted by Robert’s maid, Edith. Before I even introduce myself she smiles and says,
“I’ve made you breakfast”, and points towards the table.
“Hi, I’m Craig.” We shake hands, and she laughs….i’m not 100% at what :-)
This feels very strange. I’ve never felt completely comfortable being waited upon and after bumming around from hostel to hostel for the past 3 months it feels even more surreal than ever. It’s one of those moments where you just hit the pause button…how did I get here? Suddenly I’m standing in the middle of a completely alien city, about to explore, in a beautiful apartment, and my breakfast has already been made for me just sitting on the table. Just 36 hours earlier I had been desperately hand wringing clothes and drying them over a hostel bunk bed trying to get them dry enough to pack and take on a flight!
‘I’m just going to go with it’, I thought to myself, I don’t think there is going to be many other situations on the trip that I’ll wake up with breakfast already prepared……it was delicious!
For the next few days I wander around Makati and some of the surrounding areas, trying to take in a bit of the city. Manila is hot, bustling, and big! A concrete jungle. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere where you can walk in a straight line for about an hour and not spot a tree or a bit of greenery! I found some in the end in the form of Washinton Sycip Park.
In the evenings I was either training with Robert, or meeting up with an old friend who also went travelling around 3 years ago and afterwards decided to settle and work in Manilla for a while. Kev, and his friends Ian and Alex, took me around some of the restaurants, night markets and bar scene around Manila. The regular haunt became the hostel (that both Kev and Ian used to work at) Pink Manila, where we spent a lot of time chilling out on the rooftop bar, drinking 75p beers and with Ian (who is a great cook) knocking up snacks from the kitchen for us.
At the weekend, Robert took me exploring around some of the other Manila areas including the markets, the walled city of Intramuros, the Rizal Museum, and some of the makeshift housing areas. Hopping from place to place in trains, taxis and tricycle cabs, it was like visiting 7 different places in a single day!
We saw a bunch of kids singing karaoke on the side of the road next to their home on the side of one of the most polluted spots of the Pasig river. You couldn’t even see the water as it was covered in growing weeds and smelt of the garbage that had been thrown in from the makeshift housing which lined either side. As I was walking by, a local spotted me taking a picture and laughed, “Nice river hey?”. The girls too, even though they looked like they had nothing, they were all smiles and laughs….apart from when trying to wrestle the microphone off one another when the next song came on!
We took a bicycle cab across town and the driver-stroke-tourguide started chatting to us.
“You like the air con?”, he said pointing to the open window frame opposite where we were sitting, the breeze was coming in as he pedaled.
“Where are you from?”
“Manchester, U.K. How about you?”
“I’m from the U.S.A sir”, he replied. “U.S.A…..United squatters union”, he laughed and then stood up on the pedals to get some momentum up the incline.
“How long are you here for? I’ve been back here 2 years now, I was away for a while.”
“Just a few weeks”, I replied. “Where did you return from?”
“Yes sir, I was in prison for a while……..I used to rob tourists.”
My eyebrows went up. His face said that he wasn’t joking this time.
“Yes, unfortunately yes, sir. But I’ve changed now sir and started a new page” he smiled, “Would you like me to turn the air con up?” he laughed and pedaled faster.
We finished the day up in Rizal park, which was absolutely packed full of locals, looking to relax and enjoy the cooler evening before Monday began. The park also had a cool scale model of the country.
After a week, my first Matsurfing adventure had come to an end. Thanks Robert for taking the jump with me! For putting me up, putting up with me, showing me around and all the training, rolls and chats we had throughout the week :-)