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Ist - 4th April

The Thriller in Manila is the third and final famous boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier for the Heavyweight Boxing Championship of the World, fought at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines on October 1, 1975. And they keep having re-runs on Cable TV. And there's another contest on soon - May 3 with Pacquiao and Hatton.

Well I said I would return to the 'Pines in my book and I have. Just spent the one night in Manila and decided to head for the hills - the Cordillera in the north of Luzon. First to Baguio, City of Lovers - well the pot-bellied kind with their Filipino girlfriends. Also called the City of Pines and there's plenty of those. Much bigger than I thought, about 250,000 inhabitants and apparently as many students - it is a centre for education. St Louis University. The coach crawls up the hill through forested slopes, then suddenly it hits you - the SM Mall built on the top either gets rave reviews or is considered an eyesore. But there are some great views from the balcolnies and amazingly for the Philippines, a vegetarian restaurant - called the Bodhi. Actually there are more vegetarian options now than a few years ago. Baguio is very much a mixed bag - parks, wooded areas, open spaces, but also a lot of traffic and some slum tenements.

Note about not eating dog meat - the prospect of catching rabies. The Philippines is the sixth worst country in the world for that. Up to 500 die every year from the disease. Just as well I've had the injections. Lots of mangy dogs around. They're really into Country and Western here - American influence, as well as basketball and cockfighting - shown on TV. Abba is popular too.

Then it's off to Sagada on the Halsema Highway up to 2255m, highest point on the Philippine Highway Network. Very overcast - weather very unpredictable up here so views not so good. And the hairpin bends make the Pai-Mae Hong Son route look like the M25. The bus company is called GL Lizardo - well it could be compared to a gecko scuttling over rocks and crevices, as the driver attempts to avoid the potholes, roadworks, landslides and oncoming traffic.

Sagada is a hilltown somewhat like Kalaw in Burma, as I remember. Temperate plants, forested slopes, and a cool moist climate until the sun comes out. I stay in St Joseph's Resthouse, surrounded by a hillside garden in the Matthew room, complete with Gideon Bible. The Philippines are 90% Christian, so here's a quote from Matthew, which I found quite appropriate.

Matthew Chapter 4, Verse 8.9.

"Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them: And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me."

And how the mighty have fallen in their worship of Mammon, unfortunately taking the rest of us down with them.

Very busy with Jeepneys - a very colourful extended jeep with facing benches for carrying passengers and festooned with Christian regalia, buses, mini-buses and trucks in the build up to Holy Week.

Echo Valley and Hanging Coffins - concrete blocks built into the hillsides, and it really does echo, witness a group of screaming Filipinos. Calvary Hill at Campo Santo - I wonder if anyone was crucified there. Kiltepan - a great view of the rice terraces and hillsides. Lumiang Burial Caves with 100 stone coffins stacked at entrance. Notice saying "Please do not get anything inside. Don't open the coffins." Then the heavens opened and I got drenched.

I would recommend Red Horse (extra strong) beer. Gives a real kick. 6.9%. Sorry for the pun. Only for domestic consumption. And orange vodka.

The guy sitting at the next table to me in the restaurant has just got up and screamed "There's a cockroach up my arse." Well, that's really put me off my meal. And I've noticed too that Filipinos are getting much bigger too - it's all the chips and pizza. Even Kim Jon Il likes his pizza - he has an Italian chef. And they're playing 'Stairway to Heaven' which will conveniently bring me onto the next instalment of my travels.


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