We both flew into Manila, Philippines on the same day, I had wanted to hitchhike a boat, but I had been too lazy to try. Lena, a Russian who I had met in Cambodia but who now lived in Indonesia flew in from Brunei and me, an American who lived in China flew in from Hong Kong.
From the sky Manila was unlike any city I had ever seen, instead of a vast identically sameness that most cities seem to have, manila was different. In a city mostly full of simple family homes, several clusters of skyscrapers rose together like single trees among short grasses. From the ground, however, manila was like every other city in the world, encumbered in thick traffic that bellowed out thicker smoke. Luckily our trip would take us through the rural areas more than the city.
Lena and I met outside the airport and threw our arms around each other. Three years ago she had been my couch surfer, for over a month she had lived with me and she had become as close as a sister. She still looked the same, a sharp smile that curved like a crescent moon, long brown hair interwoven with strands of bleached blond and eyes that matched the clear sky.
We stayed in Manila that day and night, resting, preparing, and planning. We had all we needed, flashlights, sleeping mats, tents, covers, a full sized pillow, food and thanks to our couch hosts we soon had a plan.
“Let’s go” Lena said the next day as I still rubbed the sleepiness from my eyes. “It’s already late”
“We can head out tomorrow. Let’s explore the city first”
“No, you are too lazy, if we stay here we will never leave. You promised me adventure, so we are going now, we are going to hitchhike the Philippines.”
She was right, and it was time to go. I slung my pig sized backpack on, tied the ties tight and headed out.
We took the bus to the nearest toll road, we weren’t about to try hitchhiking inside a major city. It can be done but it’s not worth it when you can take a bus for next to nothing.
“You can’t go this way”. A police officer said as we approached the highway. “No one is allowed to go past the toll road on foot.”
“It’s ok, we’re not going that far, we’re going to hitchhike”
He gave the innocent smile of someone who wanted to help but was completely unsure of what we were talking about.
I held my thumb out to show him. “Oh no, you can’t do that here, no one will ever pick you up.”
I let out a little sigh, there isn’t a country I’ve been to that people don’t tell me that hitchhiking is impossible. “Just watch, it’s easy” I added as I walked around him.
On the turn ramp that merged into the highway cars lined up for the toll both. I walked to the roadside and held out my thumb, the first car stopped.
“Where are you going?”
“Anywhere down the road.”
“Put your stuff in the back,” he said as his trunk popped open.
Our first driver took us down the road and dropped us off on a highway gas station. Highway gas stations are the holy grail of hitchhiking, from these places you can hitchhike almost anywhere.
And so we did, but only after we got involved in a commercial.