Agoo-ing, Agoo-ing, Agoo-gone from Manila

We sent out alarms for 4:30am, figuring that traffic would be light in Manila at 5 in the morning.  For once, something in Manila went as planned.  We caught a cab at around 5 and we were off to the Victory Liner bus station.

Everything in Manila is a long ways away, or so it seems.  We were in the cab for over 30 minutes, with only a few little stops for traffic.  And this got us to mid town, around Quezon, I think.  Then, confusion in the bus terminal.  Praxy got in line, but the bus didn’t go to Agoo, it went a slightly different route that bypasses Agoo.  At the time, we didn’t understand.  Later, it proved to be a minor hassle.  We were also told our bus was number 231.  I didn’t believe that when bus number 1291 showed up at 6:00am and took on passengers.  I asked and sure enough, that was our bus.  Sheesh.  Turns out the “231” was the kilometer that we were supposed to get off.   Almost missed our bus.  Sooo much to learn.

But we had our tickets, and that was very important.  We got the last two for that trip to Baguio, no standing on this trip.  And lucky me, I my seat ended up in the front.

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This was a very serene and leisurely drive, the driver was in no hurry.  We left about 5 minutes early as the bus had a butt in every seat.  Occasionally we got up to 60mph or so on the freeway.  Alas, the freeway ended about 30 miles from Manila and we had to deal with two way traffic the rest of the way.  Except for the towns, the trip continued at a rational pace with a break/rest stop about every two hours.  I bought chips and a soda to drink, there was no way for me to know when the bus was leaving.  Also, was the cooked food OK of us tender tummied Americanos?

We watched two movies while in route.  The Other Guys and Prison Break.  The Other Guys was an illegal copy (with warnings popping up throughout) and subtitled in English for the people away from the speakers.  Whoever translated it had no clue as to an American accent in English.  The movie totally sucked, but the written dialogue was everything from confusing to downright hilarious.  The only thing that the translator seemed to get right was the swear words.  Prison Break was a legal DVD; It was a good movie and the English subtitles were accurate.  Notice I watched the movies.  Thanks to the meclizine, I never got sick once.  Haven’t got sick since I started using it.  

During the drive, I was texting Connie and found out that we were going to miss her place.  Confusion reigned again, but we finally figured out that Rosario was going to be our stopping point.  (I figured out before we left that Rosario was going to be our destination.  The language barrier had reared it’s ugly head in Manila and created a lot of confusion)  She hired a driver to pick us up, she doesn’t drive in the Philippines.

Off the bus and off to her house.  It is beautiful.

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Situated in Santo Thomas, her house is surrounded by other nice houses.  No slums here.  Construction continues…

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A new back gate, replacing a bunch of rotting wood.  And…

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Granite countertops for the unfinished kitchen.  This guy has worked over a day on this piece, and looks to me like there will be at least 4 more to form.  He is doing all the finishing freehand, and I have no doubt the the work will be beautiful to behold when put in place.  This job will take over a week I’m sure.

Our room is huge and has air conditioning.  This theme keeps popping up, air conditioning.  If an American from the northern states ever visits the tropics, air conditioning becomes important.  Some people adapt well.  I’m doing fair.  I see Filipinos sweating around me frequently, but they seem to recover quicker.

Since neither Praxy or I slept well the night before, we turned in early.

Next morning we were up early.  Connie decided that we should visit Baguio and her sister.  Sounded like a great plan to me, I wanted to see the area from the start.  Baguio sits at a high elevation, meaning the weather is cooler.  I wanted to visit to file information away for a possible winter home after I retire.  Out to the main road to catch another Victory Liner to Baguio, only this time stay on the whole way.

After about a 20 minute wait, one showed up.  There were three empty seats, none next to each other.  Lucky for us.  No one got off in Agoo and several more people got on.  Standing room only for two hours.  And what a two hours.  The road to Baguio made the road between San Carlos and Bacolod seem flat.   Mile after mile of steep grades, narrow road, sharp and blind corners, and sheer drop offs.  The scenery was totally spectacular.

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See the road snaking around the hill?  We had just gone through there.  Lots of slow trucks.  A few heavy trucks that were broke down.

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Sticking my camera out of the window on the return trip in the rain.  This truck was stuck in place all day.

Climb, climb, climb, and finally into Baguio.  Baguio is a large city poised on the top of ridges.  There is hardly a bit of flat ground that hasn’t been dug out with a large bulldozer.  Almost every house, rich or poor, has a million dollar view.  Which means traffic congestion.  Not bad, though.  There are no pedal tricycles (no way) and traffic moves right along on a lot of one way streets.   First up was to meet with Connie’s sister, then hail a cab to go see some sights.  First up, Mines View Park.

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Weaving and climbing in the taxi, we arrived at the most famous view in the area.  There were the inevitable crowds of street vendors, just like Mexico, trying to sell everything imaginable.   Walk right by them to see thisIMG_4980 (1024x683)

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Up on one of the ridges looking into the open air.  I tried to stitch some photos, but my computer didn’t like them.

Back in another cab and find some lunch.  There was a long row of restaurants not too far from the overlook.  We checked them out and I suggested that the ladies choose where they wanted to go.  But, in the Philippines, the man is kind of expected to make the choice.  So I peeked in every one of them.  Most were empty.  But, one had a decent crowd.  AH HA!  There is always a reason that one is busier than the others in a place like this.  That place has the best food.   So I proclaimed, “HERE”.   And we sat down to a rather expensive (by local standards) but scrumptious meal.   Baked chicken, sweet and sour chicken, hot and spicy shrimp, fresh veggies with shrimp paste, rice, and oxtail soup.  Everything was great except for the shrimp paste served with the fresh veggies.  That stuff stinks and it tasted as bad as it smelled.  I like shrimp so I tried some, then reached my water glass to wash the nasty taste out of my mouth.   Only one thing to do about that revolting experience.

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Yep, another halo halo.  They all ordered the regular ones and jokingly surprised me with the big one.  No problem, I was pretty full from lunch but up to the task.  I finished mine first and by a good margin.   After all, I have an image to uphold.

As we sat there, I commented that the sky looked like rain.  I was told, “Nope, Baguio fog”.  I acquiesced.  Twenty minutes later, you guessed it, rain.  Pouring.  I hailed a cab as it started, and the deluge was on as we drove to the next tourist site.  Nope, cancelled.  Too much rain.  So we took off for the Baguio SM mall for a few supplies,  It is conveniently close to a different Victory Liner terminal.  As with all malls this time of year, it was crowded with people.  Not buying much, but wishing they could.  Hoards and hoards of people in the mall with no bags of purchases.  Walking around and around, dreaming I think.  The only places that really seem busy are the cell phone shops.  They are inexpensive by American standards, my very basic phone was 999 pesos, or about $22.00 US. 

This, too, was cheap.  A pretty good queue.

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It was pretty obvious to me that not many of these people had seen cotton candy.  This was the first time for this little girl, she would gaze solemnly at the cotton candy, them beam a smile at her mom.  Then curiously stare at the Americano who was trying to sneak a picture.  I was shooting from the hip, trying to act like I was disinterested and looking elsewhere, then lucked out on this photo after several tries.

A short walk across and down the street to catch a bus back to Agoo.  No problem, we were on our way 10 minutes after we arrived.  Another bus for the coast appeared as we were pulling out.  Very very busy for the bus lines.   And down, down, down, the windy road we had come up in the morning.  Going down is much faster, but it always makes me nervous.  The drivers ride the brakes hard.   Very hard.  But they know what they are doing, I never smelled the brakes on our bus at all.  I did on plenty of other busses passing by.   I’ve yet to see a bus piled up, but I saw one at a break stop that had obviously hit something very solid on the driver’s side.  That driver’s reward was going to be wet feet if it rained.   Maybe that driver was swapping out that bus for one that wasn’t improperly ventilated. 

Back in Agoo, the workers needed some parts.  But, no driver.  He was driving people back and forth to Manila in their private cars.  I volunteered to drive to town and Connie immediately accepted my offer.  Me and my big mouth!   Time to man up. 

It was easier than I thought it would be.  There are two things you really have to watch out for. 

1.  Faster traffic that is overtaking you or oncoming.  Busses are especially bad.  The drivers are quite good, but they tend to be overly aggressive at times.   You also get to play bus tag.  (One shoots around you, then suddenly you are panic stopping as the bus stops for a fare.  Then the bus zips by you again, and again jambs on the brakes again to let of a person with shopping bags and a fighting chicken.  Then around you again.  Etc.  Let that bus go and another will soon start the same game again.  Arrgh!  Moral of the story; drive at least slightly faster than the bus’s average speed if possible.)  Cars with drivers like Michael (see Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride) can also surprise you.  I saw two trucks almost collide in front of me yesterday from one unexpectedly trying to pass the other.  They missed by maybe two inches.  Everyone else seems to be fairly predictable.

2.  Pedal tricycles.  The worst in my opinion.  They can pop out from anywhere and their speeds are very low.   They have no lights, drive right in the middle of the lane, and most are rust colored by, you guessed it, rust.  They blend in with the road and are especially hard to see in poor lighting.  I refuse to drive at night here for that reason, my night vision isn’t the greatest any more and the last thing I want to do is kill someone.

I have a lot of experience driving in Mexico, perhaps 12,000 miles with a lot of it pulling a 26 foot 5th wheel trailer.  That practice paid off.  You have to be careful, and give other drivers all the room you can.  Because they are trying to do the same thing.  I was driving serenely and confidently along at about 10 mph and almost took off the passenger side mirror on a concrete post, I missed it by an inch.  I knew the pickup was OK, but I forgot that I also had to account for that extra little distance for the mirrors, about 6 inches outside the wheel track.   There you have it.  Sometimes, you have to drive with about 6-8 inches of clearance in mind around you, and at speed.   This is almost unheard of in my part of the US. 

Many people hire drivers in the Philippines for this reason.  The professional drivers are used to the traffic and inexpensive to employ.  Connie’s driver is a motor tricycle driver in the Agoo area.  He is friendly, he’s not reckless, and he is familiar with the roads and hazards.

I’ve made four trips to Agoo, and managed to do it safely with one fair sized mistake.  Lucky for me, the other person was watching out and there was no danger of a collision. 

Our time here in Agoo is coming to a close.  Praxy’s family is expecting us in Cavite on the 24th.  This means another crossing of Manila.    I’m stealing myself and planning.  Planning to get a motel in Manila if the traffic is too outrageous and continue the trip on the morning of the 25th.  Manila is NO place for a country boy like me.  Can’t wait to put it behind me.

We leave for Manila early tomorrow morning.

12/23/2011  11:30am

About Ken

I am a federal employee that loves to travel. I don't get any time off during the busy salmon tagging season, March through November. So, I save my leave and explore the warmer parts of the world during the winter.
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