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The Filipino Theme Park

Me on the roof of a jeepney
Me on the roof of a jeepney

I remember my first ride on The Cyclone at Coney Island in New York. I was young, too young. Too small. I wore my stepfather's thick soled shoes so I could get on. It was old and rickety and sat in the shadow if it's dilapidated brother. Memories have a way of getting blown out of proportion, especially when you're young. I recall holding on for dear life.

These days just looking at roller coasters makes me sick; a phrase my father used to say that I never thought I'd understand. After my last blog post I unwittingly entered the largest amusement park I've ever been to. Like a kid in the long car ride intermittently catching glances at the elevated carts of the largest theme rides between buildings and trees as he approaches the park, I watched eagerly through the clouds as the magnificent ridges and valleys of a new park passed beneath me. "I want to go there."

Batad rice terraces
Batad rice terraces

I had heard lots about the park before: it had some of the best rides but they're always trying to rip you off. I had to see for myself. Like most large amusement parks this one was broken up into cities. The first one I visited was a peaceful place made up to look like an old Spanish settlement. Like the thick New York accent at Coney Island I expected to get greeted with unintelligible words, but instead I found that the park operators spoke with a clear Midwest accent.

Charming Vigan City Street
Charming Vigan City Street

I spent my first couple hours getting everything I'd need for the park including the deluxe information access package so I could optimize my short time there. I made a game plan and sprung into action. My next stop was to be a part of the park with the most attractions: haunted hill, cave tour, log flume, climbing wall etc. As sometimes happens in large places like this I got on the wrong tram and friendly park patrons tried to help but only made it worse and I ended up in a part of the park I didn't expect to be in. A place I didn't know anything about. A place packed with people for some reason but where the information kiosk was closed and the tram entrances were all far away.

But I figured it out and eventually made it where I was going. I met some nice people from a different city on the tram. We explored the new part of the park together. We rode lots of the rides. A slip on my part and operator negligence on the climbing wall left me plummeting toward the earth only to be caught a couple feet off the ground and left me dangling eerily close to the hanging coffins of the attraction next door. But I got back on and reached the top. I was having a great time. The steady clicks of the chains and gears were drawing me up higher toward the inevitable big fall. The last drop had left me terrified, wanting to leave the park, wanting to go home. One of those roller coasters that goes under the earth and comes up on the other side. You see it coming, you know you'll be fine but it's engineered to elicit an emotional reaction.

Hanging coffins of Sagada
Hanging coffins of Sagada

My time was running out and I knew I couldn't go on every ride so I rushed to another part of the park. Some other patrons held me up and I missed my tram, I knew wouldn't make it to that section of the park before it closed but I went anyway. When I got there I was surprised to find my friends from the tram earlier trying to talk a park worker into letting them in. I joined with them and after a long hike around the park we were finally at the ancient ruins section. After taking a rest we stripped down to our underwear and had a dip in the magnificent waterfall when no one was looking. But we all had to get moving, there was more of the park to see. So again we parted ways.

Waterfall outside Batad
Waterfall outside Batad

After many security checks I made my way to the park headquarters. Armed guards patrolled every alley. My deluxe information package had proved to be one of those scams. There was no information to be had. I figured the park headquarters could help me out. After many weary hours and visits to the various counters I had tickets for all my future rides. All I had to do was get on the first tram which left from across the park. But I was weary, I'd been running around in the hot sun all day and I'd burnt myself out. "What time is it? Only 1? Wow, I feel like the sun's about to set." But I knew I had to keep going. I'd paid my admission and by golly I was gonna get the most out of this park.

Batad City
Batad City

On my way to the tram a park operator introduced himself to me. He took me around to the various food stands and treated me to more than I could eat. I'd been running around in an excited daze for so long that I had forgotten to eat. He let me use the air conditioned park office to rest for a bit then showed me to the tram.

I treat amusement parks like binge drinking: I hope to have a good time, know I might throw up and expect to be a lot poorer at the end of the night. This theme park was no exception. No sooner than I boarded the tram to take me across the park than I started to feel sick, very sick, in every way. My car was an old rickety one that desperately needed to be upgraded, full of screaming children and their untamed pets. That part of the park ended up being a bust anyway: I bought my ticket, waited in line for a long time, but when they I got to the front of the line they said the ride was closed for the season. C'est la vie I guess. The ride operators were cool and invited me to their employee party. We drank and ate and sang karaoke. I preformed Born to be Wild. Now I'm headed to a more promising part of the park where I think my friends from earlier might be.

My Danish companions and I in a tricycle taxi
My Danish companions and I in a tricycle taxi

What really happened to me in the Philippines? I slept on the streets of the charming Vigan City, an old Spanish settlement and ought a phone plan with data service that's pretty useless; though none of the internet in this country is very good which is part of the reason I haven't posted in a while. A couple bus mix ups left me spending Saturday night alone in the shitty mountain city of Bagaio. I went to the hanging coffins outside the peaceful mountain town of Sagada where I met a couple really nice Danish guys and went rock climbing. I arrived too late in Banaue to catch the jeepney to Batad where there are over 2,000 year old stone walled rice terraces but happened to meet my Danish friends from Sagada and hired a tricycle taxi to take us part of the way and then hiked the rest. We explored Batad and had some adventures getting back to Banaue where I took another long and grueling bus ride to Manila.

After spending an exhausting 5hrs in the Manila airport trying to buy plane and bus tickets, I met up with a local restaurateur and food blogger who treated me to all kinds of delicacies and showed me wonderful hospitality. After resting for the night and enjoying some more food I took a grueling 14hr local bus to Donsol in hopes of swimming with whale sharks. I got terribly sick almost right way on the bus(read: 102.5°F/39.2°C temp, upset stomach, aching body etc). I spent my first day in Donsol fighting the sickness but met some nice Dutch girls who went swimming with whale sharks that day. The next morning when I went we couldn't find any whale sharks but I spent the day relaxing and the evening partying with the locals. Now I'm on my way to Palawan where my Danish friends from Sagada are and which I've heard nothing but good things about.

Sunset from the beach by where I stayed outside of Donsol
Sunset from the beach by where I stayed outside of Donsol

The Philippines has been a mixed bag. Everyone speaks excellent English and seems to be very lively and nice. The cities are wonderful and full of orchids and when I'm in one I feel like I'm on top of the world. Getting places is tough and when I'm in transit I couldn't feel worse. The local airlines don't accept foreign credit cards online and you can't pay for online bookings in person. The bus schedules are erratic and unpublished and the bus stations are often spread across the city. The local buses are overbooked and overflowing with crowing boxes and buckets crammed with chirps. I'm emotionally drained but I'm looking forward to future destinations. Coincidentally well timed emails from loved ones have helped me get by. I've met lots and lots of nice people, many of which I wouldn't be surprised to see again. Manila's huge and packed full of armed guards and security checks but it's not as bad as it was made out to be. I now have plane tickets for the rest of my journey but I've had to compromise and skip the Chocolate Hills and ended up spending more than I would have liked.

Soundtrack: Another Saturday Night (Sam Cooke)

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