After a 15-hour journey I arrived in Manila. A gust of hot sticky air instantly hit my face, making my curly hair look just a little bit crazier. I managed to make my way on to the right public bus, thanks to the invaluable travel information given to me by my contact in the Philippines, Jay. It’s pretty easy to get lost in a major capital city that boasts over 12 million inhabitants. My first destination, where I would meet up with Jay was Makati. Makati was the fancy part of Manila, it was sprawling with skyscrapers, luxury hotels, palm trees and gigantic malls. From the get­-go, everything was so different than I had imagined. However, it was nothing compared to what was still waiting for me…

Manila can be overwhelming - but so can the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. Read more about our guest author Petra's first glimpse of the Philippines.

Jay kindly took me to dinner and casually explained to me how to get back to his home, which was not that short of a distance. I of course shrugged and said: “no problem” – without thinking twice about it. Having dinner with a friend who’s a local and trying the local food in a popular restaurant made me feel very excited to be in a different culture for the first time. I definitely recommend giving fried salty fish a try! After our dinner, Jay invited me for a walk in the heart of the city. I was marching through the crowded streets with my backpack in tow, wandering around and taking in all the sights I never expected to see. Manila is a place floating in lights and never sleeps! Walking along bazaars, hearing the noises and non­-stop honking makes you wish you could stay awake forever.

Around 10 p.m. when the traffic slowed down a bit we were finally able to catch a jeepney to Jay’s home. Jeepneys are the main means of public transport and are covered by vivid colours and paintings. We eventually got off the bus and just walked and walked. The traffic in Manila is chaotic. Traffic lanes tend to function more as a decoration than as an actual means of navigation. After an hour and fourty minutes, we finally reached our destination. I was not prepared for what I was about to see. The environment suddenly changed, all the skyscrapers, luxury hotels and palm trees disappeared like they had never existed in the first place. This enchanting city had become gloomy and decayed.

Manila can be overwhelming - but so can the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. Read more about our guest author Petra's first glimpse of the Philippines.

Following closely behind Jay, I turned right then left and right again. Walking through narrow and dark streets I had already realized that this was going to be something I’d never seen before. I found myself in the so called ‘Sitio Santo Nino’ neighbourhood which is a true picture of the real Manila. From the very beginning I felt something different, I was surrounded by a warm and friendly ambience. All my senses intensified as I listened in on the gentle guitar playing in the corner, and caught a smile from an elderly lady. I walked slowly, my mind feverishly fixed on every tiny detail, trying to take in all that there is to feel in this mysterious yet kindly alive milieu.

All of a sudden we were passing by small homes and windowless houses made from an assortment of metal plates and wooden boards, or whatever materials they could find. You could physically hold the poverty in your hands… I was secretly hoping that we were not going to stop in front of these kinds of houses. But a couple of minutes later that’s exactly what happened. I stood at the door motionless for a moment, staring blankly at my new home, before taking a deep breath and stepping into the house.

Manila can be overwhelming - but so can the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. Read more about our guest author Petra's first glimpse of the Philippines.

Gina, Jay’s aunt, was waiting for me with a kind and welcoming smile on her face. She was in her mid 40’s but her deep wrinkles made her look older. I had to sit down immediately and tell them everything about my travels. During the conversation I couldn’t help but notice the poor conditions of her house, the mattresses were placed on the floor instead of a bed, and there was an unfamiliar smell of wet air. Gina was telling me about how Jay lives there with her, her husband and their seven children. Two of them even work night shifts, seven days a week in a food factory to earn money for the family… ‘We are not rich, and have lots of struggles, but still, as long as we have something to eat we are happy’ – she said. In her house there is no electricity. They use powered lamps for a few hours in the evenings. They have water, but it is dirty and unfiltered so they bring in 10 liters of fresh water to drink and use for cooking that usually lasts a week. They put all their savings into educating their children. The two oldest boys have already graduated from university. I didn’t say much about the living conditions in Europe, the differences could be measured in miles.

Manila can be overwhelming - but so can the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. Read more about our guest author Petra's first glimpse of the Philippines.

We were chatting for hours, when suddenly I felt very tired. I excused myself and politely asked where I could sleep a bit. Gina lead me up to a separated room that she prepared already for me, with clean bedsheets and a towel. Before I went to sleep, I had a look at the other room where the father was sleeping with their two daughters on his chest and two small boys next to them on the ground. I was moved beyond words. I went back to my room, sat down on my mattress and just started to cry. I couldn’t process the feeling, and the kindness that I got from this family. It was very hard to fall asleep that night after experiencing so many overwhelming things. The memories from that day are still vivid in my mind even now.

In the morning I woke up to the pleasant smell of breakfast and coffee. I went down and met the family, even the two boys had arrived home from their work in the factory. We ate together, having fish, fresh fruits and plenty of rice, which is the staple breakfast meal in the Philippines. Filipinos wake up early and eat a hearty breakfast. During the day they only grab a few snacks, and then eat a large meal again late at night. After finishing our breakfast the father showed me around the neighbourhood. It was amazing to see children in their uniforms going to school, the ladies sitting on the ground selling their handcrafts, and the men arriving from fishing. People were friendly, and for the majority of them, it was their first time ever seeing a foreigner. I enjoyed every moment with this big family and I will always keep in my mind that mischievous little girl who poked me then got surprised, I’m also made from flesh and blood just like her.

Manila can be overwhelming - but so can the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. Read more about our guest author Petra's first glimpse of the Philippines.

This experience gave me something that made me realize how lucky we all are. We are lucky because we can have a warm bath if we want, our fridge is full of food, lights can be switched on and off whenever we want. I started to value things that I just passed by before or ignored before in my daily life. I learned a lot from these people and I am grateful to get to know Manila differently.

Do you have similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them.


This is a guest post by Petra Vincze.

Manila can be overwhelming - but so can the friendliness and hospitality of the locals. Read more about our guest author Petra's first glimpse of the Philippines.

Petra is originally from Budapest but in the last few years found her home in the Norwegian mountains, in the vivid and alive South East Asia and even in a village in South Africa, living with natives as a volunteer. She was in the middle of her university studies when something changed. She left Hungary and joined to a voluntary program for 2 and half years. However her journey just started. Petra is currently living back in Budapest, sharing stories with the world and constantly looking for new adventures and inspiration.