Monday, May 31, 2010

Jeepney Ridin'

"Jeepneys are the iconic Filipino mode of transportation. The modern Jeepney stemmed from when some resourceful individuals modified WWII surplus army jeeps for public transport during the withdrawal of American troops from the Philippines. Most jeepneys are brightly colored, and many have elaborately painted designs on the side, in addition to chromed-out hood ornaments."
-Excerpt from "Philippines Survival Guide - Part 1"

If you are lacking in funds and still need to get around Manila, Jeepneys may be a viable option. I was pretty much forced into riding one "as part of the natural progression of being poor" (a phrase stolen from my good friend Dan Barmats). One great thing about jeepneys is that unlike taxis, they will not try to unceremoniously screw you over.

As with anything else, safety is an important issue. I covered most of the essentials dealing with public transportation safety in "Philippines Survival Guide - Part 1," but I'll give a quick recap: Don't flash your cash/jewelry/iPhone/anything of value, dress down, try to speak ONLY in Tagalog, get to know the routes and landmarks, and don't look like a tourist chump (relax and put on your "everyday face"). Also, the driver will probably be darting in and out of traffic, all while collecting fares, making change, and checking in the rear view mirror to see that everyone has paid their fee. This is normal, do not freak out. Jeepney drivers are some of the most talented drivers I have ever seen, and they do this stuff every day. Having a heart attack will not help you get to your destination any safer.

If traffic is bad, you might want to wear an exhaust mask (a lot of tricycle drivers also wear them), or you can opt to put a towel or a handkerchief over your mouth and nose. Because jeepneys are open-air and nasty traffic means noxious fumes, you might want to invest a couple dollars into one of these options, especially if you ride them a lot.

While on most jeepneys the main thing you will have to contend with is a huge crowd of people stuffed in with you, on occasion you may find some more unconventional passengers, such as the gentleman above. I have seen everything from a child holding a baby duckling to a man with a pretty large partitioned cage filled with various birds to a worker bringing a bit of scaffolding with him.

Generally, here is how riding a jeepney works: First, look for the correct jeep. Their individual routes are painted in big letters on the side of the jeepney. Flag one down, and when it stops, squeeze into a seat. Say “bayad po” (more on this later) and pass up your fare money. When it eventually gets to the driver or his “cashier,” he will hold it up in the air, and then you state where you are going and how many people you are paying for. After that they will pass back your change, and you say “para po” or knock the roof (if it’s really loud) when you want them to stop.

The funny thing is that depending on the jeepney driver, you may be saying numbers in three different languages - English, Spanish, and Tagalog. Usually, the number of passengers you are paying for will be said in Tagalog, and the payment amount will be said in either English (spoken with a Filipino accent) or Spanish. Unless you are going REALLY far, most jeepney fares are under 20 pesos, so pretty much learn your Spanish numbers up to 20 and you are good to go.

What follows are some basic “Survival Tagalog” words and phrases that you may hear/use when riding on a jeep.
Isa – one
Dalawa – two
Tatlo – three
Apat – four
Lima - five
Saan ka pupunta? – Where are you going?
Saan ang (destination)? – “Where is (the destination)?”
Magkano sa (destination)? – “How much to go to (destination)”
Bayad po – Say this when you pass up your fare
Bayad daw – Say this when you are passing up someone else’s fare
Yung sukli ko po – “My change, please.” If the driver hasn’t passed your change back
Binigyan kita ng 20 pesos – “I gave you 20 pesos”
Malayo pa ba ang (destination)? – “Is (the destination) still far away?”
Para po/Sandali lang po – “Stop/Just a moment” When you want the driver to stop
Salamat po – “Thank you”

One final note:
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but whenever you can always try to get into a loaded jeepney. It will get you where you want to go a lot faster. The less people in the jeepney, the slower the driver will go and the more stops he will make, extending your trip.

REMEMBER - "A full jeepney is a fast jeepney!"

Enjoy your travels and take care!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Island Spotlight: Les Caraibes

As soon as I got out of the car, I was overwhelmed by the stunning atmosphere of Les Caraibes Resort. I don't usually like resorts too much, but I instantly knew I would love it here.

The shoreline was gorgeous, and the weather was perfect. I had a chance to kayak, and the view of the mountains and coastline created a total Kodak moment. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera because a slight spill into the pristine waters would have destroyed it, so no breath-taking pictures were taken at that moment. The friends I was with played volleyball on the beach court, and I have to admit, while competition was heated at times, everyone had fun. We maintained the same teams every game, which did nothing to take away from the competitive attitude.

After finishing each volleyball session, I would always make sure to take a running jump into the lightly rolling waves to cool off. The placid waters were like a rippling sheet of glass; I could see the sandy bottom at all times. There were also plenty of flat stones scattered in the sand, so I got to work a little bit on my stone-skipping as well. After tossing about every rock I could find, I noticed a couple henna artists that had a stall by the beach, and I got Superman’s “S” on my chest. I couldn’t resist; I had a dream the night before of getting the exact same henna work. Who am I to argue with fate?

After hours of mercilessly conquering volleyball opponents, fighting the ocean’s might, flinging small boulders, and becoming a superhero, it shouldn’t even be necessary to mention that I worked up quite an appetite. Luckily, the kitchen staff at Les Caraibes is top notch. Every meal was a new adventure, and I zestfully devoured anything the waiters put in front of me.

Choosing a favorite is next to impossible, because each dish seemed to get better and better. Spicy crawfish, crispy eggrolls, succulent glazed pork, expertly seasoned fish garnished with lemon and vegetables, and delicious desserts such as a refreshing frozen fruit crumble and rich leche flan stick out in my mind as some legendary indulgences to my taste buds that I experienced that weekend.

After taking the obligatory post-feast nap and enjoying another healthy dose of sea breeze and the cool waters, the sun started to creep down and I knew another dimension of fun was soon to begin. Slowly but surely, people started drifting into the resort’s bar area, where upbeat music was playing and a small group of guys was busy perfecting their darts game. The great ambiance was only surpassed by the skills of the bartenders. Any drink my buddies or I could think of, they were able to pull it together and do it with style. I witnessed everything served from margaritas to B-52 shooters to Pastis (a French drink that is like the little brother of absinthe). If beer is more your speed, the bartenders are also experts at prying off bottle caps, so you can rest easy.

For those who prefer not to drink alcohol at all, I highly recommend Les Caraibes’ refreshing selection of shakes. The flavors range from fruit-based like pineapple or mango with a splash of grenadine (my all-time favorite shake) to ice cream-based shakes filled with chocolate-banana goodness (a close second favorite).

When the long night of revelry and merrymaking with my friends was at a close, I retired to my welcoming and comfortable bed with amazing memories and slowly drifted off to sleep looking forward to more adventures the next day.

I had an outstanding time at Les Caraibes, and I have no reservations about recommending it to anyone and everyone as a phenomenal vacation spot. If you want to contact them to visit or book a room, here is their website for more information: