“Do you know how beautiful you are?” he says.
I frown at him, forcing myself to look at him in the eyes, searching for the familiar “joke” or “game” that I would normally see.
I laugh nervously, telling him he was just drunk.
He shakes his head.
“I’m not drunk,” he drawls in his sexy, Spanish accent.
“I meant what I said,” he finishes.
And I believe.
It is one of the things I lost, being in destructive relationships in the past. I lost faith in men. In my judgment. In the people I met.
But travel has given me the beauty of regaining faith. Believing that not everyone is going to lie to you. That some people are really trying to help you. That not everyone will want to hurt you.
And when it comes to the people in Manila, I have never really had faith.
For so long, I hated Manila. I love its night lights and the way it looks from above. But the people, the scams, the traffic, the chaos – it’s all too much.
Staying at the Red Carabao Hostel, right smack in the middle of Manila has given me a lot to think about.
Red Carabao Hostel is located in Felix Huertas St in Santa Cruz, Manila just minutes away from Quiapo, UST, Recto and other known chaotic areas in the city. Before today, I honestly would never think to stay in this hostel – considering its location – but after staying a night and meeting the right people, I realized I was looking at Manila with full-blown hypocrisy and not a lot of faith.
The hostel is situated in a pretty decent street, wide and not at all crowded, as it is right at the entrance of the Chinese Cemetery. The building is tall, elegantly designed and has a pretty, wooden gate that makes it look classy, but ancient.
Once you are inside, the hostel main area is up two floors and you’ll see mementos and photos along the staircase.
The main area has a comfortable vibe, a slightly hip but seriously chill atmosphere that will make you want to stay longer. They have a dining area with a chic, but sophisticated-looking love chair facing a “What’s on your mind?” board. The table hosts a lamp, and is decorated with a multitude of pictures and memories of guests in the hostel.
The common room houses super, comfortable sofas, bean bags and rocking chairs fronted by a huge (and when I say huge, I meant huge!) television, book stands and a dvd cabinet.
For $8 (about Php400) a night, the Red Carabao Hostel can give you one of the biggest and most comfortable dorm beds I have ever seen, a big, soft pillow, free breakfast and water at your dispense.
The hostel also has a rooftop, housing a ping pong table, a billiards table and a small bar for evening parties and common dinners.
While the hostel is undoubtedly a great choice for backpackers and tourists, it wasn’t just that that made it a worthwhile discovery.
It was the positive-vibe, the Manila-loving, the travel-addicted ambiance provided and headed by the owner himself.
Never have I seen a Filipino more excited to tour tourists to Quiapo so willingly. Never have I seen a Filipino say his favorite place in Manila is Quiapo.
And his love for my city is as influential as my capability to convince anybody to go to Boracay within 5 minutes.
Aldrich, the owner of Red Carabao Hostel, portrays an image of any traveler. But his openness to Manila has shown his guests (me included!) the beauty of true Manila:
It is the kids outside who would run races with a foreigner, not for any racist, money-related reason, but just because it’s fun.
It is crazy Quiapo or Divisoria, our religious beliefs and traditions and capability to turn anything into a party.
It is the delicious P35 tapsilog just around the corner.
It is the hump-loving, dance-addicted crowd who just want a night of fun at a club.
It is every man who would provide directions, willingly help out, without expecting anything in return.
It is the tricycle driver who would ask once and twice, but never push too hard.
It is every driver who has brought people to their destinations without cheating them of their rates.
You ask if there are any, still, in Manila?
Yes, there are.
The true Manila is like the sunset over Manila Bay. The water may not be clean or healthy. But the sunset will always be as breathtaking and hopeful as any other sunset.
Have faith. You’ll fall in love with Manila too.
For more information on Red Carabao Hostel, visit their website at www.redcarabao.com.