I always say, where you get off the bus makes a huge difference.

Day 1- We arrived around noon and as soon as we stepped out of the airport we knew we were somewhere new. The big city feel of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, was almost overwhelming. It was hazy, hot, humid and very crowded. Full of excitement, we ordered a Grab and headed to our Air B&B. Along the ride we could see right off the bat all the western influences that we had missed in Indonesia. There were food chains from McDonalds to Kenny Rogers Chicken and everything in between. We saw Outback, Longhorn Steakhouse and restaurants we recognized from Australia and Japan. This alone was enough to energize us after the flight. We picked an Air B&B near the harbor and the Mall of Asia. Our apartment had good wifi, cable tv and a laundry machine. Paradise after the last few weeks. We were pretty tired and Alyssa was suffering from Bali belly so we decided to just run across the street to the mall and grab a quick bite to eat at McDonalds and head home to relax and wash some clothes. We ended up staying in and catching up on some work and napping.

Day 2 – Alyssa still wasn’t feeling too well so we stayed close to home and just explored the harbor and the mall. We couldn’t believe how clean and modern everything was. The SM MOA (super mall, Mall Of Asia) was beyond impressive. Every store and restaurant you could think of. There are over 700 stores and 250 places to eat. There is an indoor ice skating rink, a soccer field and track complex, a multiplex Imax theater and an arena for concerts and events as well as so much more. We even saw schools on field trips. It is split up into different zones like a wellness zone, a cyber zone, a clothing zone and so on. The harbor was unimpressive but clean and built along the back of the mall so you could eat at any of the dozens of waterfront restaurants. We decided to join the Pork craze and try some of the Philippines famed Lechon. We got 3 different Lechon dishes and left feeling stuffed but very pleased.

Day 3- Alyssa’s belly was feeling much better so we were ready to do some real exploring. Where you start your journey in a new city makes all the difference. First impressions can make or break a destination. Coming here we had heard about the crime and poverty but when we got here we ended up in the high class, clean, modern and secure mall and harbor district and began to think all the warnings were over exaggerated. Up until now we were very impressed with Manila. We left our apartment and as soon as we crossed the river we knew things were changing. We walked through an area filled with people living on the side of the road in conditions that were stomach turning. The river that runs through the heart of Manila smelled worse than any place we have ever been. It’s so polluted that the WHO deems it unable to support life and unsavable. We found our first stop, The Upside Down Museum and had a blast playing around and taking goofy pictures. When we got done it was getting very hot so we decided to take a taxi across town to Rizal Park. This park is ranked as the #1 thing to do in Manila so we had to see it. We now have no idea how this park made any to do list. It is a giant rectangle unkept lawn with a statue on each end and a pool in the middle with a Chinese and a Japanese garden area. The gardens and the pools were full of garbage, there were stray unhealthy looking cats and dogs and small (under 7) children everywhere with no parents to be found. They would run up to you and demand money and then get made if you didn’t immediately hand it over. The park was full of homeless people, tourists, school groups and scammers. We saw children going to the bathroom right on the lawn. At one point we saw children with no clothes sleeping on the sidewalk with no one looking after them in the intense heat and squalor. We watched one Mom beat her little kids with a stick brutally for no reason and could do nothing about it. It was poverty at a level we had never seen before or had ever expected. 15 minutes up the road people were shopping and eating in luxury and here people were suffering. We researched and found out there are over 3 million homeless people in Manila and 1.7 million are children. We were so disheartened we just had to leave. The entire walk home we discussed what we saw just 2 blocks from the United Nations and US Embassy. The conditions on the walk home were no better until we reached the mall district. If we had ended up in that area when we arrived in Manila we would have probably gotten on a plane and left. We understand it’s all part of traveling as far as we do and that the world isn’t all pleasant but it still not easy to see. I have no regrets because without seeing the ugly I don’t think I could appreciate the beauty as much. Denying it exists wouldn’t help and I question a government that could watch its resources be destroyed and its people suffer to such an extent. They are currently undertaking a project to try to save what’s left of the harbor but they don’t believe it holds much promise. And why invest in a harbor when your people live in conditions that are so terrible? Let’s see what tomorrow brings us.