‘Twas an evening like many others for me in Manila–7AM and nothing to do. I could either read a book I was no longer interested in, or watch wealthy kids unknown frolic at the resort pool. I’ve taken a few ambles from my hotel, and the sights that the city bestows upon me never leave me bored. So I pulled up the trusty Google maps, and noticed a smallish green-space called “Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden”. The space outlined on the map wasn’t significantly bigger than the hotel property I’m staying in, so, for some reason, I didn’t really think “Oh, that’s the Manila Zoo**” but it was. I imagined some kind of urban park with extra stray cats, and fish that hadn’t yet been spit onto a fence. OK, maybe that’s harsh, and maybe I didn’t put much though into it. I just plotted my course and walked.
God Bless Us and our lean-to hovel
It didn’t take long before I was way out of my element and into the you’re-not-from-around-here zone. I’ve walked through uncomfortable parts of Manila. I’ve been stared at by Filipinos for being white and tall and wealthy, and this walk was no different. As soon as I crossed Roxas Boulevard and left the neighborhood of the chain pizza shop and the Krispy Kreme, I was in poor-but-not-squatter-slums-Manila.
The streets are crowded, the Jeepneys are close and belching, and there’s little separation between sidewalk and road, if any. As is typical, I drew a few glances, and a few people asked me to take their pictures.
The common thumb-and-index finger “peace” sign of Pilippinas
And then Lou asked me to take his picture.
I’ll call him Lou because I really couldn’t quite catch his name. He said it to me a couple of times, but it never stuck, and I couldn’t quite tell what he was saying. Anyway, above is Lou. He immediately became my Mabini Street friend, leading me along the way, talking with me about World War II, and inquiring about my business in the Philippines. When I told him that I was just exploring, he said something like “Good! I didn’t have anything to do today!”
So we wandered up Mabini until we were next to a wall of the Zoo. I told him that I wanted to see inside, and he immediately offered to go in with me. I paid 200₱ (about $4.50) total for us both to enter.
Wow, an elephant right near the front entrance, thought I. Actually, I was struck by how much the interior of the zoo looked a lot like the streets that bordered its walls–crumbling, dirty, and lacking funds for skilled maintenance. This isn’t entirely meant to be a review of the Manila Zoo, so I’ll summarize by saying that is was not an oasis in an urban jungle. It was merely a neighborhood in said jungle.
Lou really wanted to show me the monkeys. I don’t remember why, but our first loop of the zoo took like ten minutes as he was trying to find the monkeys for me.
Something about monkeys wrestling on cracked concrete near a clogged storm drain made me think of the world outside the zoo’s walls. Who was living in the cage?
My tour guide continued to lead me through the zoo, through I had to whistle at him periodically that I had stopped to take pictures of the animals. At one point we talked about buying some water, and he used the words “I buy for you” and I thought for a moment that he intended to reciprocate a little bit of the zoo entrance price (not that it was any big deal to me). When we finally found a vendor that was open that early, I learned that he meant “I’ll make the purchase with your money”.
A river of sewage runs through it.
We made a couple more laps around the zoo, and I insisted on a selfie with Lou, despite the awkward sunlight.
The biggest advantage of the tiny zoo is the intimacy with the animals. The crocs where within harms-reach. I dared not torment the ostrich as I have with so many birds before. One lion charged us as we walked by and I was a bit surprised and relieved that the cage held.
Caged, and sad.
Lou and I left the zoo with a lot of morning still to burn that night. We continued up Mabini Street, with Lou bringing up the topic of traveling to far-off Filipino provinces. I mostly indulged his broken-english discussion of such provinces right until he led me into a travel agency. He then started urging me to purchase a ticket to some far flung island. Um no. Thankyouverymuch, but no.
We continued up Babini Road, and I continued to pause to capture moments you just don’t see every day in the states.
In case you were wondering, this is where Skynet starts.
I wanted to get to Rizal Park, mostly because I knew how far that was, and it seemed like a bit of an accomplishment. When we got there, Lou still seemed to think that we would be taking some sort of vacation together. He was nice and all, but not really the type I would think about hanging on the beach in Cebu with.
So I started thinking about how to get rid of Lou. He had an agenda, but I’m not sure I really understood it at that point. He had no money and thought I would be entertaining him for the day. It was approaching 10AM at night and I was ready to catch a cab back to my air-conditioned hotel room. When Lou noticed that I was no longer following his lead, I told him I was done, and that I wanted to give him some money for his time. I offered him 200₱, and he indicated that he had some sort of infection going on in his ankles, and the prescription cost 500₱, and could I give him 500₱, please. I gave him 300₱ (his ankles weren’t bothering him enough to slow him down) since I didn’t have enough to give him 500₱ and catch a cab. I then set about finding a cab back to my hotel.
The first cab wanted 200₱ as an unmetered fare. I told him to f-off. I know that game and won’t play it. I’ve been told that cabbies do that to Pilippinas as well. The next honest cabbie got my fare. My pillow welcomed me. It was clean and cool, so unlike Mabini Street.
** The domain name manilazoo.org is for sale, if you’re interested. I can’t find an actual website for the Manila Zoo.