We were supposed to spend a day or two in Manila, and then head straight to the provinces to enjoy a beach vacation, lolling among the hot sands, lazily downing fruit shakes and chatting amongst the soft ocean breeze as we watched the kids play energetically in the waves.
Typhoon Nona changed all that in a heartbeat.
Less than a week before my arrival, my friends’ parents’ house was completely destroyed, as was a large swath of Mindoro, the island on which we planned to vacation.
We ended up spending ten days in Manila, but by God we DID get to the beach. Even if it wasn’t until my last two days in the Philippines. Even if it was a different beach, on a different island, without the family. Even if it took us 14 hours to get there. Even if we only got to spend 24 hours there. Even if our return trip was 16 hours long. Even if one of my friends had to go directly from the beach to his parents’ house to help rebuild.
And you know what? I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
Because every heartbeat is precious.
Arriving to Manila – Meeting For the 200th Time for the First Time
My heart knew who they were, but my brain didn’t believe they were the same people inside the computer screen until. I eagerly drank in how they walked, talked and interacted with other people in their hometown, but couldn’t connect them to the people I knew from the computer screen.
Once they took me to their home office and I saw the green wall, fluttering flowery curtains and heard the roosters crowing as I had so many times on the screen, my brain went “AHA!!!” THIS is my friend!
How strange the human mind.
My grandfather fought in World War II in the Philippines, but he lived to tell the tale, so he was not present among the interred. Despite not finding his name, and not expecting to, the formidable stone slabs with thousands upon thousands of names of deceased Filipinos and Americans inspired awe in all of us.
The Bambike company is not only environmentally conscious, but socially as well, and employs, feeds and houses an entire village to make these bicycles from scratch. The bikes are comfortable, functional and beautifully crafted. We watched a video about the creation of the company, the village and the bikes, marveled at the oddness of them, and then took off on the bikes to see the city.
Naturally, one of the guys absolutely HAD to use the monster-tire bike, and he grinned like a little boy for the entire trip.
Did you know that Manila was the most-destroyed city of World War II, after Warsaw? Yeah, me neither. Little remains from before that time, and Intramuros is one of the few surviving areas.
We gaped at city walls, cathedrals, museums, and president-faces. We ate sandwiches, egg ice cream, snack cakes and chocolates. We disported ourselves thoroughly and had a wonderful time.
Manila Lights & Sights
I went to Manila to meet my friends, and they showed me their home, their neighborhood, their friends and their city unashamedly, in all its misery and glory. I saw the skyscrapers and the slums, the graffiti on one wall and the beautiful and deep messages on the posters on another, the super-rich and festive and the destitute, also festive. In Manila, I learned to appreciate and hold space for so many contradictions.
And I am truly grateful for all of it.