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Honeymoon Recap 7: Manic Manila

February 25th, 2011 No comments

The touchdown of Zest Airways flight Z2-171 into Manila marked the beginning of the end to our wanderings in the Philippines.  Darcy’s driver picked the five of us up and made the rounds though the bewilderingly dense traffic to drop us all off at our respective destinations about town.

Tracy and I were plopped right in front of the Somerset Millenium Makati, which Darcy was good enough to recommend and have his staff make us a reservation.  We checked in and quickly got settled into the relative luxury of our room with its stellar 18th floor view of the city, and foraged out to the nearby swanky mall complex known as Greenbelt 1 through 5 for a nice sushi dinner.

Back at our room Tracy was spent and so passed on our invitation to join Darcy and his peeps out at a bar he owned nearby, Heckle & Jeckle’s.  In the interest of camaraderie and raising a beer to the man whose resort and hospitality made such a difference for us the last 3 days, I set out myself into the warm Manila night.

There’s something I absolutely love about wandering about in an active city by myself at night.  The lights, the flow of people and the architecture all have a certain vibrancy that calls to be observed in an unhurried way that you just can’t do as well in daylight or with others around wondering why you’re smiling at everything with maw agape like some enchanted 6-year-old.  Conditions are perfect to wander aimlessly and be distract-able by shiny.  I found myself in a triangle-shaped park nestled among sky rises, faced on one edge by a slew of open fronted eateries with hoards of happy people enjoying things like late night ice cream, and throughout with bushes and trees strewn with elaborate strings of lights that put the typical Christmas yard decoration to shame.  Add in the summer evening perfume of the abounding plant life and you’ve got a faint sensation of magic in the air.

Eventually I made my winding way to Darcy’s bar.  It was a bustling joint with pool games being played, darts being thrown, and three Filipino women joining vocal forces to do a pretty darn good set of Alanis Morrisette covers.  I ordered a trusty Red Horse (by this time my well-established local brew of choice), and found Darcy in short order.

“Red Horse, eh?  That’s the beer of the poor people!”  For real?  I thought all along it was the good stuff… it was more expensive back in Boracay!  “Yeah, it’s a cheaper way to get drunk because it comes in those bigger bottles and is a higher percent alcohol.”  Ahhh… yeah, that makes sense: I started to notice the tendency for it to come in these jumbo-sized bottles of liquid fun back in Sagada.  It reckon the whole scenario was like some hapless Brit coming to the US proudly drinking Budweiser, the King of beers, presuming that we Americans somehow held fast to a reverence of monarchs.  Whatever, it tasted alright and facilitated a talented dance exhibition to Lady Gaga.

It was now at this point that I was invited to the strip club as referenced in the preface to this whole saga.  It was the next stop of the night for Darcy and his crew, and since we were all getting along so swimmingly I was a welcome tag-along.  At this point I did indeed have presence of mind enough to remind my new chums the vague inappropriateness that this would be, what with this being my honeymoon and my new wife back at the hotel sound asleep.  “Right on,” I was assured: “this one will be pretty mild, so it’ll be fine.  Now, the second one we go to, that’s gonna be inappropriate for a man on his honeymoon.  You should probably skip the second one.”

“Oh, and if the DJ announces he’d like to welcome back Darcy and his friends when we get there, he’s talking about some other Darcy.”

Fair enough.  In the interest of having experiences that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to confess to either my wife or the world, I happily joined the gang as they hopped into the Range Rover of fun bound for our next destination.

There the crowded smokiness to the cheesy choreography reaffirmed for me that, yep, strip clubs even in this part of the world aren’t really my thing for anything above, say, 20 minute doses of novelty (even if the men’s bathroom was bemusingly wallpapered with naughty cartoons).  That, and contrary to the observable taste in about 60% of the older white men we’d seen during our trip, I don’t really have a thing for Filipino girls.

With my confidence again bolstered about my recent decision to take a wife of pasty-white European descent, I finished my beer, called it a night, and gave thanks to my new friends for having me along and the fun times.

Darcy walked me out and awesomely summoned his driver to give me a ride back to the Somerset, further cementing his role in my memory as a bad-ass host.  Despite my earlier ramblings about loving to walk city streets at night, by this time it was after midnight and the tropical rains were falling in force.  Back at the hotel I stripped out of my smokey t-shirt and gave the report of my evening’s activities to a sleepy Tracy, who just chuckled.

My wife is so awesome.

Soon to sleep, for tomorrow we travel.

 

Categories: Travels Tags: , ,

Honeymoon Recap 2: Beautiful Boracay

January 6th, 2011 No comments

(For pictures of this leg of our journey, visit Tracy’s blog here.)

You may recall my mention earlier of the Philippines being a little too rugged and not touristy enough.  Well, I apologize for sloppy storytelling when it comes to continuity because Boracay, the first major stop of our trip, was an exception to all that.  The small island only 7 miles long and as narrow as one mile wide in the middle is sublimely gorgeous, your true-to-form typical beachy paradise with white sand and warm, clear turquoise waters.

In fact it’s so typically paradisey that I’m actually going to skip over describing most of it.  It’s the sort of stuff that if you’ve already been, you know pretty well what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, well, who wants to hear the ramblings of some dude’s time on a beach when you’ve been rockin’ the non-beach thing all along?  So instead I’m going to opt for telling the weird stories.

Two of the three mornings in Boracay I found myself waking up around 3am, bright eyed and ready for adventure (jet lag can be fun if you embrace such early morning shenanigans).  The rooftop of our resort offered choice views of the partially clouded night, painted purple and yellow by the low hanging, jumbo-sized moon.  It was the kind of serenity you hope for if you’ve ever yelled out “serenity now”, and made a fine occasion for doing a few Sun Salutations (though in fairness to the sun, I was totally saluting the moon instead).  The sandy beach below at 4am, I found, makes a great time to sit on your butt and read Heinlein by the beach-facing floodlights of Fridays’ Resort while giving out respect nods to the occasional jogger who passes by.

One morning (after enjoying beach-side ninja training of a run plus bonus cove abs) I took to exploring more the beach with a single-minded mantra of “keep going”.  I just wanted to see how far I could take it to find what I would find.  Rocky ledge to shimmy around?  Keep going.  Some stairway through dense foliage with a couple dudes standing on it in my way?  Keep going.  Looks like I’m trespassing on someone’s private property?  Keep going.  Obscure, narrow, winding path with many steps leading upwards?  Keep going.  Resort security checkpoint?  Play it cool, like you belong there.  Actually I just let ’em know straight away that I was wandering about, checking out other cool beach-side places to stay.  I was welcomed right in, which gave me rights to strut about the property with impunity.

And what a find!  What I’d stumbled upon was this Ewok village-like formation of cabins and foliage strewn about a dense maze work of stairs and narrow paths, which opened into a system of interconnected sea-facing terraces with many nooks of cabanas and lounge chairs at varying elevations, all with spectacular views.  The place seemed deserted, which perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise since there were about 4 occasions during my journey to it that I thought I should turn back because I didn’t belong.  (In fairness, it is also quite new and “Secluded luxury” is one of their marketing tag lines.).

While staring transfixed by the view the nice lady appeared and handed me a rate card for the rooms on property.  At $20 less a night I was a little crestfallen that we’d already prepaid our 3 nights at the Two Seasons.  We did get to experience at least some of the awesomeness when we returned the next night for sunset drinks.

A now a tale from the Poor Planning Diaries.

Just minutes before we took to the beach bound for the nearest SCUBA dive shop, I realized I forgot my contact lenses (oh I had the case, it was just empty).  My vision is poor enough to make the natural splendor of tropical coral reefs look like boring blobs, so even when you discount the whole “safety” thing my lack of lenses might’ve rendered any diving opportunities this trip completely moot (and I do love me some diving).

I opted that we head for the dive shop anyway, reckoning that I’d “think of something”.  Along the way [confronted with the possibility that surfing would also be ruined for me] we contemplated zany schemes for damage control, like having our house-sitter ship ’em to Manila and we’d somehow pick ’em up there (terrible idea for its complexity).  Hey, what if I could just, you know, buy some contacts here?  On this tiny island?

I had my doubts given my state-side experience, which teaches me that no “respectable” optometrist will sell you contacts unless you present a prescription given during a complete eye exam within the last year (it’s been 3 for me).  But hey, we were in a new world here, presumably a little less sue-happy and perhaps a little less stringent in their dispensary of prescribables,  and I happen to remember my magic prescription number (-5.5)… so why not find out!  I had an hour or two to do it while Tracy got schooled in the PADI basics for her first dive.

Now then, on the beach of Boracay there exists a reckless abundance of people brandishing little cards featuring small pictures of activities with large, inflated prices just beneath, so many so that “Water sports today?” may be confused by the untrained eye to be a traditional island greeting.  With such eagerness to help me get onto a sail boat for only 5000P (about $125 US) I figured I’d reply in earnest what I did need.  “Water sports today?” said the next such fellow along my sandy path  (how do they know I’m a tourist?  Ah, right: I have been judged [accurately] by the color of my skin!).  Instead of the “No thanks” that I was getting good and polished at saying,  I stopped in my tracks, looked him square in the eyes, and replied: “Right now, no, but what I am looking for is some contact lenses, can you help me with that?”

As eager to be helpful as any good salesman is, my new friend Dwayne offered to wander along and help me on my quest to and through D’Mall in search of my odd need.  We talked as we walked of hobbies we enjoyed, he when not hustling activities, me when not saying no to them, and found common ground in dance and bemusement that I suck at basketball.  He was a cool guy.  The second shop we tried at had just what I needed.  The friendly woman who tended the counter asked only for my prescription number in answer to my question (as opposed to demanding to see my papers like in the US, which now seems kinda fascist by comparison), and then wandered over to the display case to pluck out a small box.  900P and a quick use of the backroom with a sink and I was set.  Perfect vision.  No wacky postal pickup in Manila required.  Dwayne you’re the man, and a gentleman for making me work to convince you to take my 200 gratitude pesos.

Ah, and the diving was most beautiful and laden with 20/20 visual goodness.

I’d like to end my recount of Boracay with a tale of how even in splendorous paradise the simple joys never go out of style, and that simple joy is a happy hour bucket of beers.  During a beach walk when things were not yet happening at the tender hour of only 9pm, one of the hustlers at a club bar smoothly offered and got us situated at a cheap plastic table whose legs were planted in the sand just 10 feet from the rising midnight-tide.  200P (about $5 US) for six bottles of cold beer is a bargain at your local friendly dive bar, and seems triply so on the beach in Boracay.  We partook of a local brew called Red Horse while staring out at the sea.

By the time we finished the first bucket and started on our second, the bar scene behind us had filled out with a great mix of both locals and tourists, and the DJ was cranking out some bumpin’ tunes.  A Lady Gaga came on and, perhaps thanks to the graces of moderately consumed alcohol, Tracy was game to rock it out with me (yeah I like to dance to Lady Gaga, so what?).  We gave it our Red Horse best in our center, solo spot on the dance floor, and for it entertained locals and gringos alike.  I know this because they were both clapping and cheering at song’s end.  (That now makes 2 countries abroad in which I have been applauded for dance prowess, sweet!)

The night was rounded out in perfection when we happened upon a beach-side food vendor, serving up some tasty meat thing between 2 weird pieces of bread toasted nicely on his little grill of hot coals.  Ah, the simple joys.

Categories: Travels Tags: , , ,

Unlikely Yoda

September 7th, 2010 No comments

Yesterday I drank beer with homeless people.

It’s not what I intended to do when I stepped out into the neighborhood streets that temperate and sunny Labor Day afternoon.  I was headed to the capital square for some peaceful people watching to enjoy the lazy day, so my detour wasn’t a total misfit.

How I happened to while away 2 hours on the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue was one of those precious offshoots of my tendency to engage anyone in conversation when given the opening.  Two older fellows were settled about the sidewalk when I strolled by with my characteristic goofy grin (which a walk in warm weather often causes), and one of them was interested enough to ask me how it was going.  I answered in earnest, returned the question in kind, and before long I said “Well heck, you guys mind if I just take a seat and hang with you a while?”

And that’s how I met Bruce, a self-described “slightly-used-up hippie”, and Gary, a fellow in a wheelchair who had less to say than Bruce.  For my choice to accept the graciously offered 24-ounce can of Natural Ice from the brown paper bag (still kinda cold!), I was rewarded with a slice of life far removed from my ordinary and a dose of new perspective.

I think enough Natty Ice on a sidewalk will make a philosopher out of anyone, and sure enough rich conversation ensued.  Depending on your state of mind and willingness/ability to assign useful meaning, the platitudes spoken forth by my new, slightly-used-up hippie friend were either pointless drivel or priceless nuggets of wisdom.  I took to panning for gold while he spoke of the freedom of sleeping by the river while not owing or being owed anything to or by anyone, never believing people in this world who will try to tell you that some things are less important than others, and the marvel and celebration of how I’m willing to get up everyday and do things that no one else is willing to do (I’m still not sure whether or not those statements were referring to any activity in particular).

Whatever was said, I took to listening constantly for the gold coming from one who had lived a life very different from my own, because why not?  I figured worst case I’d shrug it off after enjoying a beer and company on a nice afternoon.  So we waxed philosophical and I did my best to grasp the words of my sometimes seemingly contradictory host.  Along the way there was even a jam session, featuring a fellow named Luis Small who stopped by with a steel drum, Bruce rockin’ the harmonica, and generous offers of a swig of brandy and a hit off a spliff.

This was way more fun than I was gonna have at the capital square, even if I did pass on the brandy and spliff.

It was my bladder that eventually had me be on my way.  “Hey Bruce, I totally gotta pee.   Thanks for the beer, do you mind walking with me to the liquor store on Colfax so that I may return the favor?”  After assuring him I knew I didn’t owe him anything (he wanted me to be super clear about that), it was my pleasure to take a 2 block stroll, wander in, and wonder out with a replacement king can Natural Ice plus 2 more.  I like to think of it as repaying my karmic beer debt, with interest.  With a hearty handshake and a hug I was off.

So Bruce was my Yoda for a day: the mere act of trying to figure out what he was saying gave me useful perspective on my life.  This morning during abs in the 6:30 Yoga Sculpt class I envisioned him in the cliched, starry background in the corner of my mind’s eye, telling me in prophetic tones how I get up in the morning and do things that know one else is willing to do.

It made me push just a little bit harder.

Red Rocks: First Impressions

July 1st, 2010 No comments

The stunning splendor of the Red Rocks Amphitheatre“Hey buddy, you doin’ alright?” Jason asked.

“Yeah, I’m good,” barely turning my head to acknowledge the inquiry into my well being as I continued staring out into the distance.

They thought I might be stoned.  Somehow.

Couldn’t blame ’em, for during the first 45 minutes of settling in on our high seats, sipping a cold one and waiting for dusk to fall so that 8,000 attendees could enjoy the evening screening of John Hughes’ 1986 masterpiece Ferris Beuller’s Day Off as part of the most excellent Film on The Rocks 2010 summer series, I was off in my own little world, enjoying a spiritual journey of experiencing universal oneness that gave me the glimpse of being profoundly connected to everyone and everything around me.

Now, that sounds like a hippy-dippy brand of cliched BS, so allow me to explain.

There are a number of traditions and disciplines that teach, in essence, that all of us and all of existence are but different manifestations of the same, infinite, divine presence.  My 45 minutes of staring out and focusing on sites near and far was but a meditation on that idea.  It struck me as sort of a god’s-eye-view of so many things from near and far.  From my seat at Red Rocks that night, you could see:

  • The city of Denver rising in the far distance, looking as peaceful as can be.
  • The ever marching line that separated night from day as the sun set over a dozen townships.
  • Clouds that loom and the shadows they cast as they drift across miles of rolling hills in the distance.
  • The blackening sky that stretches beyond the clouds, where the very satellites that capture the aerial views of google maps zoom around.
  • The majestic, rising stone formations above that have probably awed and inspired people for thousands and thousands of years (i.e. since well before some dude had the good idea to etch a series of wide bleachers and call it a venue).
  • 8,000 generally happy people hanging out, enjoying being outdoors while awaiting a good show.
  • My love sitting and looking cute beside me.
  • A tall, tasty pint of beer in my hand.

All of these vastly varying perspectives I could experience in the same moment.  I couldn’t keep the smile off of my face and even broke into laughter more than a couple of times.  I don’t know for sure why, maybe it was the beer.  Everything just seemed to fit together and existence itself seemed like a really fun, and well put together game, ripe for enjoying.

And thus was my first experience of the natural splendor known as Red Rocks Amphitheater.  Good place to catch a classic movie, too.

Categories: Enlightenment Tags: ,