"Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in the Philippines (A Very Warm Welcome)!"

Traveling and backpacking is really an adventure, but besides I want to help people in the poorest parts of Manila in the next month as a volunteer of Smokey Tours (part of World Activity Philippines). Manila is an enormous city, and with around 12 million inhabitants is this metropolis arguably the most densely populated city in the world. Everywhere you can feel the crowded day-life in the metropolis and people are very busy. Surprisingly are the big shopping malls which are everywhere (even the office of my volunteer organization is located in a shopping mall at Sining Kamalig Gallery). The main public transport vehicle is the jeepney, an old American jeep which is used as taxi. To escape the big city there are many beautiful islands with magnificent nature, and up the north there are the world famous rice terraces.

On Christmas eve I arrived in Manila, and I felt directly very welcome. Already on the airport I met Shirley (from the Philippines) and she invited me to celebrate Christmas eve with her family. Christmas has been a big event in the Philippines, since seventy percent of the population is Catholic. All family members are together and guests are invited for having dinner. When I arrived at Shirley's family, there were around fifteen family members in the house and the whole neighborhood was invited as well. One of her sisters has prepared a huge meal with a lot of Philippines specialties, such as sinigang (meat in sour broth), adobo (cooked chicken/pork in garlic, vinegar and soy sauce), milkfish, balut (egg with inside the embryo), lechon (roasted pig on spit, VVV compliant) and and halo-halo (ice cream with sweet beans). The hospitality of Filipinos is great and I am glad to spend Christmas eve on a traditional Philippines way, thank you Shirley!

The main purpose for me to do volunteer work is to help poor people in the Philippines, we did with volunteers a great thing on Christmas. We bought ingredients to make 170 sandwiches and we give the "home made" sandwiches with a orange and a bottle of juice to homeless and very poor people which are living in the streets of Manila. Everyone was very thankful to get a sandwich and we wish them a merry Christmas. The best thing I ever did on Christmas and great that we could give them something extra for Christmas!

I am volunteering in Manila for the organization World Activity Philippines. One subsidiary part of the organization is called Smokey Tours (http://www.smokeytours.com/#home-1), which provides five different kind of tours for tourists; the slum tour, market tour, cemetery tour, bicycle tour and cockfighting tour. The main purpose of the tours is to provide local people a job and income, mainly they are working as tour guides. Furthermore, the tours are created to make tourists aware of the poor and miserable life circumstances of the people in the slums of Manila. In January I will start with my project. My mainly activities will be creating and improving the bookkeeping system and make the tour guides aware of financial important issues in their life.

One of my first days I participated in the bicycle tour, which took me into the chaotic traffic of Manila. The tour took me through the area of Gotamco with some touristic highlights such as the San Agustin Church, Rizal Park and Fort Santiago. The tour gives a nice view of the day-life in Manila. After a while we got used to the traffic and we could enjoy the variety of different parts of the city. Our tour guide explained a lot about the history of the Philippines, he had nice anecdotes about his previous tours and his own “day life” in the Philippines. Finally he bought us a refreshing coconut. A awesome tour with a lot of sights and great stories about the city (many thanks to the tour guide)!

New years' eve I spend with Suzan (another volunteer) and a lot of other backpackers in San Juan, which is a surf town in northern Luzon. To be honest; surfing is not really my kind of activity, it is very hard to do and you need a lot of patient to catch the right wave. Spending new year on the beach was incredible, the fireworks was everywhere and beautiful and the beach-party after midnight took up till the early morning (as it should be). Off course I went for my first new years' swim ever. Guess, it is even better than in Scheveningen (but without Unox beanie)!

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