Manila is most unlike Hong Kong. I didn't feel safe, despite (or because of) the ubiquitous armed guards. They search everyone to get on the Metro, and once inside, there is a separate area for women. There is a 10pm curfew for juveniles. The streets are dirty, even downtown and in the historic Intramuros area. There are pawn shops, beggars, shantytowns, and girly bars. There is a brown cloud from pollution, and that lovely smell of raw sewage. I didn't take many pictures because I didn't want to draw attention to myself. But all the people I met were friendly. Everyone speaks English. And I was able to get away to a beautiful beach in a matter of hours. Now I'm on the island of Mindoro. Ahhh... White Beach is most unlike Manila!
I spent a few days on White Beach, and then did some spectacular scuba diving at Sabang Beach. I am an experienced, PADI-certified diver. I almost drowned !!!
I was 31 meters deep in a beautiful canyon. Everything was perfect until my regulator malfunctioned. My next breath was sea water! This was very bad. Water got into my lungs and I coughed it up. To make matters worse, my regulator was still broken. I couldn't breathe! I was too deep to sprint to the surface. I would have died, but my diving buddy, Laurent, was nearby. I swam to him, gave him the hand signal for TROUBLE, and then stole his regulator. But the water in my lungs prevented me from getting anything like a normal breath of air. What a nightmare! Laurent shifted to his backup regulator, and we started to ascend. I struggled to breathe between my coughing and gagging, but I knew I would be OK; I had air and I was going up. I was never happier to see blue sky. I spent the next three days in a hospital in Manila. My health is now fine, but I'm still mentally shaken. That was the closest I ever came to dying. I flew to the island of Palawan in search of the perfect beach to chill out and reflect on life, a quiet fisherman's beach where I can swim (on the surface!), a beach near the jungle where I can hike, a beach with no dive shops!
Palawan has wonderful beaches, well-preserved jungle, and hospitable people who invite me to drink beer in the karaoke bars. It rains every day, so my beach time has been limited, but that's OK. After my near drowning, I'm happy to be with friendly people. And karaoke is cheap entertainment.
The Philippines is the only predominately Christian country in Asia, and most people speak great English; it used to be an American colony. Before that it was a Spanish colony, so Tagalog has words from Spanish such as the numbers, the days of the week, knife, fork, spoon, and of course, church. The Philippines reminds me more of Latin America than Asia, with all the Christian and Spanish influences. It's a unique culture. One island I purposefully avoided was Borocay, because that's where all the "tourists" go. Filipinos are such nice people that I saw no point in spending more money to not hang out with them.