Monday, June 23, 2008

Pearl of the Orient

On my second-to-the-last day in the Philippines I scheduled a tour with the great Carlos Celdran of Celdran Tours. (If you are planning to visit Manila in the future, I highly recommend bookmarking his website.) His tours are among the best I’ve ever taken, and that says a lot coming from a person that LOVES tours, particularly walking tours and bike tours.

His tour, entitled Living La Vida Imelda! is an “architectural tour of the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex as seen through the life and aspirations of Imelda Romualdez Marcos.” I was intrigued with the juxtaposition of architecture and Philippine history, not to mention the woman herself. Who could forget Imelda and her 3,000 pairs of shoes? This was the woman who famously said, after her family was exiled from the country, “They went into my closets looking for skeletons, but thank God, all they found were shoes, beautiful shoes.”

I’ve been intrigued by Imelda ever since I visited Malacanang Palace in the late 1980s. Malacanang Palace is the Philippine equivalent of the White House, and for a time it was open to the public for tours. I remember going with my mom, wearing my brand new white peep toe shoes, feeling sophisticated and grown up. I was astonished by the fact that a woman could own THAT MANY pairs of shoes (and with labels like Chanel, Ferragamo, Givenchy and Dior! A girl can only dream of owning such precious jewels!), and a light bulb went off in my head. I’ve never looked at shoes the same way again. Currently, my closet is home to about 30-something pairs of fine-looking shoes, shoes that I adore and treasure.

The Cultural Center of the Philippines (or CCP) is located in Manila, and opened its doors in 1969 to promote and preserve Filipino arts and culture. It opening was attended by then-California Senator Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy, and has showcased the Bolshoi, Kirov, Royal Danish ballets, as well as contemporary American, French, German and Philippine companies. In its heyday, luminaries such as Marta Graham and Rudolph Nureyev posed alongside the former First Lady onstage.

It’s hard to imagine that such a promising young couple, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, would go down in history as one of the most corrupt leaders in the free world. In the beginning, the Marcoses were branded as the Philippines’ version of John and Jackie Kennedy. During his first term, Marcos made substantial land reforms, developed infrastructure, improved health care, and boosted the economy, leading others to see the Philippines as a country on the rise. Sadly, along with these improvements came human rights abuses, rampant corruption and embezzlement, and voter fraud. Marcos was finally thrown out as a result of the People Power Movement. I remember my parents participating in the and wearing lots of yellow at that time, the color of the movement. Marcos and his family were exiled to Hawaii in 1986, where he died three years later. The saddest part about Marcos, in many people’s eyes, was the great president he could have become.

In a way it was fitting that I ended my vacation with a tour like this. It reminded me of my heritage, my history, and how great this country was, is, and can become. Despite its many faults, it’s hard not to love your homeland, a country with unshakeable spirit and an abundance of natural beauty. I plan to visit again in the future, and have already created a list of must-see places that I didn’t experience this time around:

Mt. Mayon: This is one of the most photographed sights in the Philippines. In the shape of a perfect cylindrical cone, Mt. Mayon is one of the world’s most active volcanoes, erupting 14 times since 1900.

Banaue Rice Terraces: Natural landmark created by the Ifugao tribes nearly 2,000 years ago. The tribe created a sophisticated irrigation system using bamboo tubes and mud channels to bring water to the terraces. Growing up I thought it really was the eight wonder of the world, not realizing how subjective and oft-used the title is when it comes to landmarks.

Vigan: a Unesco World Heritage site since 1999, this city is an example of a Spanish colonial town with its cobblestone street, Spanish-era mansions and horse-drawn carriages. This city was spared from American carpet bombing during WWII when the Japanese fled the city.

Palawan: a true diver’s paradise, Palawan boasts some of the best wreck diving in the world at Coron Island and some of the most stunning marine seascapes at the Bacuit Archipelago. There’s also a subterranean river at Puerto Princesa that can make you feel like you are journeying to the center of the earth.

Apo Reef: one of the largest coral concentrations in the world, the crystal-clear waters of Apo Reef is home to diverse species of coral and underwater wildlife such as hammerhead sharks, turtles, and manta rays.

Donsol: once a sleepy fishing village, Donsol is the place to go if you want to snorkel alongside whale sharks. Supposedly you can see as many as 15 of these gentle giants during the peak months of February to May. The only catch? You have to be a decent snorkeller and in relatively good shape to keep up with the sharks.

Boracay: the one-stop shop for a beach vacation in the Philippines, where you can indulge in everything from relaxing spas and white-sand beaches to sports like windsurfing and diving. There are also many dining options, and there are many local clubs to spice up the nights.


This is my last post about my trip to the Philippines. I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experiences and learned something along the way.

1 comment:

Camels & Chocolate said...

Finally, a shark that isn't scary! I really want to go diving in the Philippines, but I've heard how heavily concentrated the water is with sharks, and I just couldn't handle that...