Friday, June 11, 2010

The Philippines, Part 4: Taal Volcano, Tagaytay.

The next morning Sheila, Elaine and I left for Taal Volcano located in Tagaytay, a few hours south of Manila. Along the way we stopped for breakfast at McDonald's. I had a delicious Big Mac with fries and a coke. Breakfast of champions. As we arrived in Tagaytay the temperature was noticeably cooler than Manila. It was refreshing to escape Manila's miserable heat for a day.

Sheila took us to an area in town with a view point, nestled in between little boutique shops and restaurants. It was quite pleasant there. It had a laid back atmosphere that I enjoyed and with a panoramic view overlooking the lake and island. Again a pleasant escape from the manic streets of Manila.

To reach the island where the volcano is located, you have to hire a boatman. There are a number of these men standing around holding signs advertising their services. We pulled up to one and Sheila began negotiating. Well, I wouldn't necessarily call it negotiating. Here's how the conversation transpired:

"Yes, yes," the man said, "You want to go to Taal Volcano?"

"How much do you charge?" Sheila inquired.

The man, who had one hand on top of the hood of the car, leaned over and looked inside. He began to mumble, configuring the price in his head.

"Uh, I'll take you there for 1 million dollars," he said casually.

"Okay. Deal. Does that sound reasonable for you guys?" Sheila asked.

Okay, okay. I may be exaggerating here a bit, but it's safe to assume he was overcharging us and Sheila didn't appear to have any negotiating skills whatsoever.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" I said. "Are you kidding me? That's way too much. It shouldn't cost THAT much to take a 15 minute boat ride. No way."

The man leaned over and began to negotiate with me, seeing that I was calling the shots around here.

"Okay, sir. How much you pay?"

I got him to come down well over half from what he initially charged us. I'd been traveling 7 months at this point and had a relatively good idea how much things should cost. So get the hell outta here; hommie don't play that. ;-)

Sheila, stick around with me kid and I'll show you the ropes. You have much to learn, young grasshopper.

The boat was a decrepit piece of "work" which splashed water on us the entire ride there. I sat in the front and held a large tarp to prevent all of us from getting soaked. Once we arrived at the island, we paid the entrance fee and guide fee. It was compulsory. I wasn't happy about that, but it only set us back about 1 USD. So whatever, I guess.

As we began our trek up the volcano, we noticed that we were being followed. Yes, we had about 5 people tailing us on horseback. We told them to go away, but to no avail. They just continued to gallop up the mountain behind us.

So annoying.

"Sir, sir." he repeated. "You want to take horseback?"

He continued to remind me how difficult the trek was and how much easier it would be for me (us) to rent a horse. As the 3 of us trekked up the mountain side by side, with the touts on horseback in toe, I couldn't help but to whistle the song "Battle Without Honor or Humanity" from the soundtrack to the movie Kill Bill.

Eventually Sheila gave in, as she'd recently injured her knee climbing Mt. Kinabalu in Malaysia. And since Sheila decided to get one, Elaine followed suit. But for me, it was a matter of principle now. I couldn't let these touts get the best of me. So I began to jog up the mountain; much needed exercise, anyways.

The view as I was jogging up the mountain was beautiful. I took a few breaks here and there to enjoy the splendid scenery.

The view at the summit was also breathtaking. I was so happy to reach the top, now exhausted and drenched in sweat. Phew! I quickly found a bench to sit on and enjoyed the refreshing breeze. The 3 of us took our time, enjoying the spectacular scenery. Life was good. ;-)

On the boat ride back, Sheila found an area in the very front where you couldn't get wet. There was something angelic about Sheila as she stood at the edge of the boat. And Elaine took a photo of the very moment I was thinking this.

After a delicious but unfulfilling meal at the Pancake House, we headed back to Manila. Sheila and Elaine got caught up on their 'girl talk' as I was asleep.

Sadly, the time had arrived in which Elaine had to part ways. It was great seeing and catching up with her. She said she would be in Las Vegas in the next few months, so maybe my brother will be able to see her too. Oh, Lainerzzz!

The next day I got a lot accomplished: I uploaded my last Vietnam blog, planned my route, and bought 2 plane tickets. I was doing work. I decided I would travel north to Banaue to see the rice terraces, to Donsol to see the whale sharks, and then to the island of Samar where I would stay with a friend's family. I was going to be busy for the next 2 weeks.

Because I was leaving the following day, Sheila decided to take me out for dinner. So sweet. She took me to a restaurant called Cloud 9, with an amazing view overlooking metro Manila. Over dinner Sheila opened up and we began to have a plethora of deep, stimulating conversations. She began revealing things about herself that were unknown to me prior to that evening. With Sheila, there's definitely more than meets the eye.

Next Stop: Northern Luzon (Banaue, Batad, Sagada & Bagiou)


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